One Sunday I was taken to see an enormous house. I was about four or five and I am not sure how we got there, not owning a car. Somehow, the four of us, and my two formidable spinster aunts arrived at a house so big that my child’s brain assumed that it was Buckingham Palace. That was the only big house I knew, as it had been shown to me in a picture book. All around it was a magic forest with millions of trees and Bambi lived in it, my Dad told us. Inside were immense echoing wooden rooms full of people winding along looking at stuffed animals that smelt awful, and delicate ornate china cabinets, which I was carefully kept away from. I was getting really bored and was just wondering if I should pinch my brother, when through a double set of polished doors I saw a wonderful sight.
It was a doll’s house, taller than me, and a child of my small size would have easily fitted inside. I was about to test this theory, but anxious adults reading my mind had already placed a restraining hand on the bow tied around my dress. Wriggling was hopeless; some more subtle tactics were needed. I waited, smiling innocently and pointing to things that I liked to make them think I was content. Then I gave my little brother a good kick and as he screwed up his idyllic features and wailed, I was released as everyone rushed to comfort their good little treasure. I was free. With all adult attention elsewhere I dropped onto hands and knees and crawled into the little kitchen for a proper close inspection.
It was all real, real saucepans and pots, real cups on the carved wooden dresser. Little fingers opened the oven and a big chicken was roasting inside. I was a bright kid and pronounced loudly that it was ‘only plastic’. That gave the game away. My mother gasped, desperate not to be the parent of a naughty child or a wailing little boy, however cherubic. A firm hand reached in and grasped the back of my frilly knickers.
I was hauled out with gentle care and lifted up. I looked into my father’s handsome smiling brown eyes and he was trying to look very cross. Beside him, my mother flounced in annoyance and returned to her wailing pet – I was a lost cause. He sounded very stern – ‘You scamp!’ I smiled back and was placed firmly on the floor, my knickers and frills rearranged carefully and my hand held tightly for the rest of the day.
A few months later, my birthday came around and after an agonising breakfast when everyone pretended they had forgotten the day, I was led down to his workshop. Placed on the floor, with lots of room to crawl inside, was my own doll’s house. Far better than the one in Buckingham Palace. The furniture was made of cigarette packs and matchboxes, all covered in wallpaper and sticky-back pretend wood paper. The pots and pans and little cups had come from Woolworths and it even had the same carpet as we did. And no plastic chicken – there was a real egg, slightly out of scale in a basket on the kitchen table.
I was the happiest, luckiest little girl ever.