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Tuesday 31 March 2015

Mum’s Little Bear

I’ve written about all kinds of objects, documents and other treasures my dad kept squirrelled away, but hardly anything of my mum’s. This is mainly because she rarely kept things. She was hardly ever sentimental. When belongings had served their purpose they were either given away or thrown out. It was the fate of many of my toys. So anything she did keep must have been very special.

When they closed the church where she had been a Sunday School teacher during the early years of her marriage, where she began to build a social life for herself having escaped the suffocating village of her childhood, I was surprised to find she had brought home one of the children’s tiny wooden chairs from the church schoolroom. It must have been associated with many happy memories.

Looking at the bustling supermarket and car park that now occupies that site you would never know a church had once been there, or imagine the happy community it supported through not only worship and other religious activities, but also coach excursions, children’s groups, tableaux depicting Biblical scenes in Whitsuntide processions, a youth club and a very active drama group. Small towns used to be like that, although to me, catching the tail end, it seemed just as claustrophobic as my mother’s village must have been to her. She put the little chair in the loft where it stayed for several years. I don’t know what became of it. It would be satisfying to think it still in use, the favourite chair of a small child somewhere.

She also had three small toy figures, each around four inches tall, which she kept in a tin high on a shelf in the built-in kitchen cupboards that seem to have been constructed with the house in the 1920s because the neighbours’ kitchens were all exactly the same. One of the figures was a wind-up clockwork monkey with a red coat and beret, a yellow scarf and black trousers, which banged a tin drum hanging from its waist with drumsticks held in its hands. Another was a blue-uniformed toy soldier that came with a tiny knife which you used to cut the soldier in half, except that after the knife had passed all the way through his abdomen, the soldier remained intact. I’ve no idea how it worked, possibly some combination of moving hooks and magnets. There seems to be nothing like it on the internet but the drumming monkey was very similar to ones made by Schuco in Nuremberg during the 1920s and 1930s.

Schuco mohair teddy bear powder compact 

Again, I have no idea what happened to the drumming monkey and the immortal soldier but the third figure I still have, a delightful miniature golden mohair teddy bear which was definitely made by Schuco before the war. Its head turns and its arms and legs move at the shoulders and hips, but it also has a secret. When you remove its head it opens out to reveal a mirror, powder compact and lipstick holder. Traces of powder remain in the oval metal recess behind the powder puff. The lipstick holder slides out of the neck tube. Evidently, being in such good condition, with its original felt puff, it’s worth several hundred pounds.

Schuco mohair teddy bear powder compact

Assuming that at least two but possibly all three of the toys were made in Germany, then how did my mother acquire them? Presumably they were given to her when she was a girl, but I cannot think of any member of her family who travelled abroad. Living close to a sea going port there were other local men who did, but I know of no one who would give her presents like these. Or were they bought in England? If so when, and by whom. I wish I’d asked when I still could.

Egyptian leather handbag

The little bear was inside the last of my mum’s objects I still have, a nineteen fifties Egyptian leather handbag where she kept her notebook and diary and birthday lists. I’m not sure she liked it, and don’t think she ever used it as a handbag, but she kept it because it was present from my aunt and uncle’s period in Aden.

I remember at the same time they gave me an Arab man’s silk headband known as an agal (a bit like this), and a large square of white cotton material known as a keffiyeh, which are still worn together by Saudi kings and throughout the Arab world as protection from the sun, dust and sand. I don’t know what happened to them either. I wouldn’t have been seen dead in it. Not even in a Biblical scene in a Whitsuntide tableaux.

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