The year was 1968. I was 6 and there was a doll at the top of every girl’s Christmas wish list to Father Christmas. A Tiny Tears.
That’s her on the left in the box looking so angelic and cherubic and real-life. She drinks (water through a bottle which is squeezed into the hole in her mouth) cries ‘real tears’ (actually there’s no saline here – again, it’s water) she wets her nappy (because the hole in her mouth is connected by a tube through her body to the hole between her legs) and her limbs move realistically (as would anyone’s if their rigid limbs were connected to their shoulders and hip joints with a floppy piece of stitched fabric, but still… it’s 1968, what do we expect?)
And so the words TINY TEARS appeared at the top of my list. I knew my parents knew who she was because the advert on the telly had that melodic jingle “Tiny Tear… Tiny Tears… she’s my very own baby…” and I’d join in singing it every time it came on.
Come the day, I knew. KNEW even before I’d unwrapped the paper that this box didn’t quite feel the same shape and size. And then there were the words staring back at me…not spelling T.I.N.Y.T.E.A.R.S but something altogether more… well…. the 1968 version of a SuperSavers equivalent – because we were nothing if not a fugal family.
I cannot begin to describe the depth of disappointment which flumped like wet pastry from my throat to the base of my belly as I held the box containing this usurper of my desires. I couldn’t even look up; couldn’t say ‘thank you’ because I was so flummoxed – and I didn’t even know the word ‘flummoxed’ existed.
Fast forward half an hour or so and I was trying hard not to demand to know how this baby would drink its ‘milk’ because there’s no opening to push the teat of the bottle through (the bottle is one of those ‘closed’ ones with the magic milk which disappears when you tilt it. A terrible, terrible joke to play on an impressionable little girl on Christmas morning). And if it wouldn’t drink then it surely wouldn’t wee. Also, when I laid her down, her eyes stayed open like the creepiest baby you’d never want to meet. Ever.
Now I’ve never liked confrontation; never felt comfortable being the one who causes a ‘scene’ or a commotion, and certainly I’ve always steered clear of voicing my displeasure because I don’t like the idea of upsetting anybody – especially anone who’s bought me a present, however badly chosen. And so I sat in a great deal of silence with this plastic monstrosity until my Nan and Grandad came round. Then I collapsed in abject misery into the pelt of my Nan’s foxfur coat and wailed as if I was expecting an Oscar for it.
I explained to her (because she was easier to talk to and never flew into a rage like my parents did whenever something was discussed they didn’t like, weren’t expecting or wouldn’t listen to) that said doll wasn’t the one I’d asked Father Christmas for – perhaps he couldn’t read my handwriting? This doll didn’t drink her milk, wouldn’t pee and certainly hadn’t cried once even thought I’d been dutifully pressing her belly ever since she’d been taken out of her wrapping – quite forcibly by now, it has to be said.
My Nan, as diplomatically as she could, took the doll to my father and explained the issue. He huffed a lot. My mother rolled her eyes and sighed a lot. Children dying of starvation on the other side of the world whilst some others complain that they’ve got the wrong sort of present was alluded to and all the while I stood at the doorway waiting to see what might happen; what could possibly happen. Was Father Christmas contactable on Christmas day or had he shut up shop for a week like everywhere else?
My dad grabbed the doll by its ankles and stormed off down the garden path to his shed.
A little while later, my Nan handed me back the doll – which strangely now had two (vice-like) dents on each side of her head and an unevenly-shaped hole between its rosebud lips. Using another doll’s bottle – a refillable type with open end – I was encouraged to ‘feed’ my new baby and wait to see what happened.
What ‘happened’ was that shortly after I’d gently leant the baby in the crook of my arm and begun squeezing the ‘milk’ into her mouth, she started peeing through the join of her neck, her armpits and hip sockets. (No connecting tube from mouth to freshly-drilled pee hole). I leapt to my feet screaming, ran to my bedroom, abandoning Basil Brush and Magic Roundabout Annuals, Selection stockings and Pretty Peach perfume creme and sobbed miserably until the smell of Christmas pudding steaming on the stove became too great a pull to ignore.
Funny how a mis-managed present can scar a girl for life. I avoided dolls from that day forward and I’m eternally suspicious of any kind of gift – however well-intentioned.
I wish I could take that girl by the hand and encourage her to laugh at the absudity of it all today. Still, a very Merry Christmas to all my followers and to anyone who happens to be reading this. And a peaceful, Happy New Year to one and all.