Chillies and Childhood

It was a dark and stormy night in rural Aberdeenshire, so we sloped off to the greenhouse to pot up the chillies while the wind howled round and the rain hammered on the roof. Six of them were home-grown, from a dear little Scotch-Bonnet type thingy the Real World Consultant bought in Brick Lane which obligingly germinated in the propagator, four ‘Variegata’, two Prairie Fire, and four others I’ve forgotten the names of. We now have something of an incipient chilli farm; so our summer visitors may be in for a few surprises. Though I am far from certain we have seen the year’s last snow, and morally certain we will have more frost, we continue to push the envelope of Aberdonian horticulture: I have a pot of home-grown Morning Glories coming along, the jasmine is flourishing, and I picked the first rose of the year last week.
One reason why we were feeling particularly keen to combat a sense of excessive Northernness is that we were down in the beautiful South at the weekend, seeing some dear and valued friends and doing some final bits of research in the British Library for a couple of books. At this time of year the sense of going back in time as you go 700 miles North is particularly strong; London was basking in spring sunlight, and my mother’s street was alive with magnolias and camellias. Meanwhile at home, the first daffs were reluctantly unfurling, and half my scillas haven’t come out yet. One year, we managed to be in Italy around this time and ended up having one Spring after another, which was wonderful.
One thing we did in London this time, apart from admiring the magnolias and lunching with the DVFs, was to go to Pollock’s Toy Museum while it still exists, which it will not do for much longer because the lease is running out. Pollock’s is the epicentre of the Juvenile Drama –– toy theatres, that is to say –– and the museum itself is a melancholy and wonderful place, full of toys of all nations. By and large, played-with, which is part of the charm, they have battered Hornby trains, teddy bears with sucked-looking ears and scruffy dolls’ houses, alongside antique dolls of great value, including one which crossed America in a covered wagon, an American metal moneybox in the shape of a notorious Tammanay Hall politician (you give him your nickel, and he slips it straight into his own pocket), touching tin toys from South America made out of oddments, and a Sicilian puppet of Orlando Furioso. The museum also offers a variety of very odd moments in the drama which is English childhood: they have a collection of Brittains toy farm animals, which were very much a feature of my own youth, I had quite a collection of the animals, bought one by one with pocket-money from the Ealing toyshop called, due to its ineradicable tile fascia, the Confiserie Franšaise; many of them are still travelling about with me in a shoebox and do regular duty entertaining the very young. But it’s hard to know quite what to make of the fact that once, in the deeply un-PC days of yore, Brittains included a Village Idiot among its human models, suggested to them by Queen Mary, though it certainly tells you something about the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas. It was curiously sad to find that Chinese children of the sixties had toy Red Guards; there was one of those too, and sad in a different way to find that there had been, for about three days, a Falklands War Game; Pollock’s managed to snag one before they were whisked off the market.
But the real point of the place is the Juvenile Drama. There is a magical room full of toy theatres of all kinds, the biggest and grandest a Danish one set up for a spectacular ‘Aladdin’. A most unexpected modern one, with an Art-Deco proscenium and set up for a clever drawing-room drama by Mr Novello or Mr Rattigan, any number of barnstorming nineteenth-century pantos, patriotic dramas such as ‘Black-Eyed Susan’, Orsino the Enchantress wreathed in snakes, much else besides. They have drawers and drawers of prints of Mr Keane, Mrs Kemble, Madame Vestris, Mr Charley Wagg, Joe Grimaldi, in full drag as Richard III, Juliet, the Fairy Blowsabella, the Bandit Rodrigo, a clown, hamming it up like good ’uns, gesticulating like semaphores. The prints are just black and white these days, though when they were first in circulation, they used to be sold as ‘penny plain or tuppence coloured’, the colour being brave splashes of blue and red gouache, plentifully bedizened with gold-foil and sequins. You could always colour them in yourselves: we have laid in a fair supply on the grounds that this may be our last chance, so we will experiment. Go and see it if you can, it is a true Wunderkammer. And you can buy a mask of a Cardinal for 99p, which might come in useful some time.

One Response to “Chillies and Childhood”

  1. Trish Says:

    What a wonderful description for those of us who have never been to Pollock’s!

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