A model schoolgirl? It’s Anna Dewis

Her childhood treasure is a model school, but was copywriter Anna Dewis a model schoolgirl? Well, we don’t know because we didn’t ask that question. Sorry. But we got some great answers, nonetheless.

What object are you writing about and what were your first thoughts when we told you?

“Oh God – my school was nothing like that.” My object is a model of Finmere Primary School which was designed for supporting new teaching practices. My primary school was the same one my mother had attended; in fact one of my teachers had also taught my mother. It was anything but modern.

What lost object from your own childhood would you like to own again, and why?

Nastase on a stripey-kit day

Probably my school satchel. It was covered in the names of boys I liked from my year plus pop stars like Elton John, sportsmen – I particularly liked Ilie Nastase – and even Prince Andrew (I had strange tastes back then). As a chronicle of my teen predilections between the ages of 11 and 14, it would be fascinating to look at again.

Hop into a time machine and it will take you back to one specific hour of you childhood – where and when do you want to go, and why?

I’d go back to 1970 and our junior school production of Oliver. I was 10 and playing Nancy – a part I was quite smug to have bagged. Unfortunately, when I came to sing my torch song, “As long as he needs me”, I missed the spotlight and sang my heart out in the dark. It’s been downhill ever since.

Can you surprise me with one unusual fact about your childhood?

I used to dress my five year-old brother James as a girl. He had curly blonde hair and a cherubic face so I’d regularly put him in a dress and an Alice band. Even when he wasn’t being cross-dressed, people thought he was a girl including our dentist who called him Jane until he was in his teens.

What’s the earliest thing you can remember writing?

I wrote a really rubbish song about ice-skating inspired by my mum’s parquet flooring. In the days before fitted carpets, we had a large rug in the living room surrounded by parquet which was very slippy. I used to slide about on it pretending I was skating. Needless to say, my song rhymed “ice” with “nice”.  Say no more!

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Fast cars and robot dreams. Meet Ian Douglas

Ah, envy. Of all the treasures in the Modern British Childhood exhibition, this is the one your humble blog editor would have chosen. But step forward Ian Douglas, the Scalextric is yours.

What object are you writing about and what were your first thoughts when we told you?

I was allocated Scalextric. My first thought was, “Phew, that’s lucky”. It was such an iconic part of my childhood, I knew it would be exciting to write about. And my brother had a phase when he was into it big time. (Our editor adds: Whatever. I was all-Morden Cubs Scalextric Champion. Two. Years. Running.) 

Hmm. This almost merits a caption competition. Almost.

What lost object from your own childhood would you like to own again, and why?

Gosh, that’s a long list. I came home one day, around nine or ten years old, and all my beloved teddy bears had vanished. Someone had thrown them out, although in later life both my parents denied responsibility. But then I’d also bring back my precious Zeroid robots. Have you seen how much they fetch on Ebay today?

(Our editor ads: This TV ad claims Zeroids can go forwards AND backwards. I mean, is that even possible? Wow)

Hop into my time machine and it will take you back to one specific hour of your childhood – where and when do you want to go, and why?

One Christmas Eve spent beside the tree, hypnotised by the colour of the fairy lights and having a spiritual experience. Or one of the hours spent in the penny arcade in Portugal in 1971, while an older local boy taught me to aim and shoot the fairground rifle. A rare moment of comradeship in an otherwise solitary childhood.

Can you surprise me with one unusual fact about your childhood?

No. Born in the East End, moved to Essex. Two brothers fifteen years apart with me in the middle. Totally normal. The interesting bits I’ll keep to myself, thank you very much, heh, heh.

What’s the earliest thing you can remember writing?

The Saga of Ogg the Giant. Written on sheets of Basildon Bond, a page per chapter. The thrill was exhilarating. I think I was about five.

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Rebel without a fishing permit? Hello Simon Parsons

You don’t see this kind of thing very often. A blog post that links Teddy Boys, British Skiffle (is there any other kind?) and fishing. If only my Dad knew. We have writer Simon Parsons to thank.

What object are you writing about and what were your first thoughts when we told you?

When I got the made-to-measure Teddy Boy jacket I thought – “Childhood? Really?” Of course it’s about that awkward transition, where you realise you want to wear clothes your mother would never pay for. It’s about stretching your wings and flying, about seizing an identity and about being a rebel with or without a cause.

Tell these guys that hair “product” is a metrosexual invention. Dare you.

What lost object from your own childhood would you like to own again, and why?

The battery-powered record player my Gran bought us – followed by all the Beatles singles from ‘Love Me Do’ to ‘Eleanor Rigby’ (b-side ‘Yellow Submarine’). The battery would die, but with a new single came a new battery and the relationship between my parents and my gran would temporarily tighten. I accidentally learned to read by deciphering those record labels.

Hop into my time machine and it will take you back to one specific hour of your childhood – where and when do you want to go, and why?

We always had holidays in North Wales at its most westerly, wind-worn point. One day each year we’d get dressed before dawn on an ebb tide and follow the sea out to the cliffs. The August sun broke over a rocky headland where crystal clear technicolor pink and purple pools lay bejewelled with sea anemones, careful fish and nail-sized crabs. [Our editor adds: I like that sentence. A lot.]

Can you surprise me with one unusual fact about your childhood?

My brother and I went fishing. For years, we used old rods our granddad gave us. We read all the books, followed all the rules and never caught a thing. Not once. Never. Our fatal mistake: to believe our Dad. “Stay away from the other fishermen lads. The fish get wise to them.” We did as we were asked. Wise fish…?

Not so clever, this one.

What’s the earliest thing you can remember writing?

I didn’t write at home except to write tags on Christmas presents. ‘Merry Christmas Mum. Lots of love Simon’. I didn’t write at school after we were warned: “Only proper writers may begin a sentence with and or because.”

“Because I like cycling, I asked for a bike for Christmas.” So began my next composition. So ended my primary school writing career.

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Milk time again – it’s Rhian Harris

Something a bit different on the blog today. We don’t have a writer completing our interview Q&A, we’ve given the honour to Rhian Harris, Director of the Museum of Childhood. Rhian is the brains behind the Modern British Childhood exhibition. Oh hang on, turns out she’s a prize-winning writer after all. 

If you could write about one object in the Great British Childhood exhibition, which would you choose, and why?

The 3/4 of a pint milk bottle, 1970s. I find this simple object very evocative. It has many levels of meaning, from the personal – I distinctly remember drinking the luke-warm milk before break-time – to symbolically representing a nation feeding its children after the war.

Milk. Evocative stuff, isn’t it?

What lost object from your own childhood would you like to own again, and why?

My Fisher Price School House – I absolutely loved it! It had magnetic letters that stuck to the roof and mini-figures that small hands could manipulate easily. It provided hours (actually years) of imaginative play. I remember, after I’d had it a while, painting and drawing all over it so it resembled a multi-coloured den rather than a school.

Hop into my time machine and it will take you back to one specific hour of your childhood – where and when do you want to go, and why?

I would love to revisit Christmas Eve when I was about seven and to recapture the unbelievable giddy excitement and almost unbearable anticipation of what the next day might bring. Getting ready for bed, the strong feeling I would never fall asleep (I always did) and willing the next day to come…

Can you surprise me with one unusual fact about your childhood?

I attended the Miners Strike March in 1974 when I was six (I came early to politics!)  There was a long coach journey from Harlech, North Wales, to London.  Whilst on the march and seated on my dad’s shoulders, I shouted through a megaphone “Thatcher, Thatcher, Milk Snatcher”. No idea what I was saying but very topical for Modern British Childhood.

Look closely… nope, can’t see her

What’s the earliest thing you can remember writing?

I entered a writing competition when I was about nine, run by my local library. I had to write about my favourite character in a book. I wrote about Pippi Longstocking and won! I was overjoyed and given a book as a prize – The Brothers Lionheart – signed by Astrid Lindgren herself.

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Red welly boots? Here comes Abby Worth

Four names, but who’s the odd one out? Minnie Mouse, The Queen, Allan Ahlberg and Gary Lineker. If you want the answer – and how could you not? – you’d better read our Q&A with the welly-boot-loving writer, Abby Worth.

What object are you writing about and what were your first thoughts when we told you?

I’m writing about a Quentin Blake illustration from The Witches. To be honest, my first thought was ‘oh no!’ As a child, I hated his spidery, spiky, black-eyed scribbles. They were frightening and ‘adult’. But like anchovies and Nescafe, Blake gets more palatable the older you get. And it’s a rather perverse challenge to write about something you’re not overly keen on.

What object from your own childhood would you like to own again, and why?

A red, sticky marzipan cake in the shape of a fairy toadstool house, made for my 4th birthday (and made mythical due to a lack of photographic evidence). My own memory is a mere snapshot: candles aflame, little upturned faces glowing with awe, myself all aglow with pride, my mum probably in the background somewhere just thanking God it hadn’t melted yet.

Hop into my time machine and it will take you back to one specific hour of your childhood – where and when do you want to go, and why?

Boots on, ready for mischief

Without a doubt, back to the moment in this photo (right). Wearing those red welly boots and too big trousers, bumbling along through sweet peas and elderflowers towering over my head. My garden’s always been a wild, overgrown one and as a child it was a practical jungle, full of adventure and magic.

Can you surprise me with one unusual fact about your childhood? 

By three, I’d already had major head surgery. I was born with Crouzon’s Syndrome, which meant my skull was fused as a baby (very painful, because as my brain grew it had nowhere to go). So the clever Great Ormond Street doctors took it apart and put it back together like a jigsaw to make room for my burgeoning cerebrum.

What’s the earliest thing you can remember writing?

We used to have letter writing time on a Friday afternoon in Ms. Plimsoll’s year two class. I had a strict weekly rotation between Minnie Mouse, The Queen, Allan Ahlberg and Gary Lineker. The only one who wrote back was the Queen, and it was a half-arsed attempt because she just put a Buckingham Palace brochure in an envelope. Tsk.

Junk mail monarch?

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Partying backwards with Katie Treggiden

It’s the longest day of the year today. The nights are drawing in. But cast aside those gloomy thoughts and bask in the bright, shiny presence of design geek and award-winning blogger, Katie Treggiden. Katie, over to you…

What object are you writing about and what were your first thoughts when we told you?

I am writing about the Ladybird dressing gown sold by Woolworths in 1981. My heart sank, as I was only two in 1981 and had never heard of it! I was hoping for something I remembered! Luckily some of my lovely twitter followers shared their memories with me, and I’ve been able to merge those with real memories, to write something meaningful.

Is it me, or is that cover just a bit too busy?

What lost object from your own childhood would you like to own again, and why?

I have an old beaten up nightie case shaped like a dog, imaginatively named Doggie. I once lost him briefly and it was terrifying! Luckily we were reunited.

Hop into my time machine and it will take you back to one specific hour of your childhood – where and when do you want to go, and why?

I don’t remember how old I was, but my Mum threw me the most amazing ‘backwards party’ for my birthday one year. We all wore our dresses back to front, ate jelly and ice-cream before our sandwiches and I was known as Eitak Nediggert for the day! (My friend Hannah didn’t appreciate the joy of a palindrome that day!)

Can you surprise me with one unusual fact about your childhood?

I didn’t have an imaginary friend, but I did have two imaginary dogs! They were little terriers and used to go everywhere with me. I think they might have been called Pepsi and Shirlie!

The real Pepsi and Shirlie. Happy days.

What’s the earliest thing you can remember writing?

I remember writing my name at nursery school. Katie Treggiden. That’s quite impressive for a four year old! They gave us cards to copy from and I turned mine over because I already knew how to do it. I was a precocious child!

[Ed, here’s a “classic” Woolworths ad. 1980s advertising was soooo good.]

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Mule envy and dreams of the cane – make way for Michael Rosen

Well, I think all our writers have finished their first drafts now, with the exception of one or two stragglers. The quality has been just stunning, so it’s time to celebrate. And what better way of doing that than inviting Michael Rosen onto the blog. He may a best-selling author and former Children’s Laureate, but he gets the same questions as everyone else. (Must say, I do like the sound of his parents, and tip of the hat to Mr Scotney – well done, Sir)

What object are you writing about and what were your first thoughts when we told you?

From that classic episode about the dangers of Super Glue

I’m writing about Muffin the Mule. My first thoughts were of this as something that I could never own and never have. We didn’t have a television and I think my parents thought that television was either not worth the money, was all lies anyway, was too frivolous for serious people like them and you could get it all from the radio anyway. I used to watch Muffin the Mule round at my friends’ houses and found the whole act rather strange and a bit mournful. One day a girl brought a box to school and took out a big metal Muffin the Mule and I was torn between wanting to play with it and pretending to be like my parents and be scornful of it. Really I rather liked Muffin and wanted it.

What lost object from your own childhood would you like to own again, and why?

For a while I wanted the cane I was caned with at primary school, but when I visited the school for its 50th anniversary (I was a founder pupil), they gave it to me. I would like something from my grandparents – perhaps the ship-in-a-bottle that was on their mantlepiece. It was a liner and I would stare at it, trying to figure out how it was put in there because it seemed to be bigger than the neck of the bottle.

Hop into my time machine and it will take you back to one specific hour of your childhood – where and when do you want to go, and why?
I can remember many magic moments around being told stories or being read to, usually by my parents and my brother. But I think I would like to celebrate the fact that our headteacher, Mr Scotney came into our class every week and read us a chapter of what seemed to be the most exciting book ever written ‘Hue and Cry‘ based on the film of that name. I would like to go back to one of those sessions when he read to us, and there were no tests, no questions, we could just sit there in awe of the story and being excited by it.

My wife’s Dad was an extra in this movie. Synchronicity?

Can you surprise me with one unusual fact about your childhood?

In 1956, my parents took us to East Germany which was at the time a Communist country whose real name (in English) was the German Democratic Republic. My parents were on a teachers’ delegation and all day, my brother and I had to amuse ourselves – but we got bored and bit naughty so our parents had us put with two families in the countryside. I couldn’t speak a word of German but stayed on a little farm, not far from Weimar. I’m fairly sure that no other 11 year old British boy or girl ever spent any time at all staying with an East German family between 1945 and when the wall came down.

What’s the earliest thing you can remember writing?

A poem about a train slowing down. I can only remember one line from it: “And now the train is slowing down.”

Didn’t they buy a lot of books

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