I tend to view childhood through extremely rose-tinted spectacles. (Most likely because puberty was so horrific.) I forget the scabs and scuffles, and relish memories of sucking honey out of flowers, rolling down hills and seeing how long I could get away with not changing my knickers. It might not have been Enid Blyton, but it was bags of fun.
Despite the recent proliferation of rather adult celebrations, spring – my first English one in years – has led to me feeling rather childlike. Or should that be childish?
I forgot how lovely and fresh days could be, how bouncy the grass, how blue the sky… oh I could go on forever, and it would sicken you more than a Guinness followed by a Baileys chaser. Or a lollipop milkshake.
Instead, I’ll get my kicks by having picnics and by taking a trip down memory lane. Over on our sister site Apocalypse Book, I’ll be posting about favourite books from childhood for the next week or so.
Later this week I’ll launch Miss Penn Recommends, a regular feature in which I imagine myself somewhat Watch with Mother-like and champion books for kids and the young at heart. (I have finally come up with a valid reason to while away the day in children’s bookstores!)
In the meantime, here are a few of our favourite things from days gone by…
Miss Penn, The Last Unicorn
Growing up in Cambodia in the days before the spread of pirate VHS meant lots of sharing and rewatching. That was fine. We memorized every line and sang along to every song. Taking turns to act out characters increased the fun exponentially.
But the one film I didn’t get to watch nearly enough was The Last Unicorn. It’s the magical story of a unicorn who (surprise surprise) believes she is the last of her kind. She seeks out other unicorns, getting caught up with a magician, outlaws, a lascivious tree, a raging red bull and a prince along the way.
I still remember the first time I watched it. Or started watching it. I was at my best friend’s, and then my mother demanded I come home. I really didn’t want to – we were about halfway through, and I was completely enthralled. The next chance I got, I begged my best friend to let me borrow it – or finish watching it at hers. As it turned out, she’d borrowed it from someone else, and they’d already taken it back. And I didn’t know them.
So for what seemed years, I was unable to find out what happened to the softly spoken, sad-eyed unicorn. I asked my friend and tried to imagine it, but it wasn’t the same as seeing it for myself. We even forgot the title! Finally, the day came when I saw it in the market, the unmistakable unicorn staring at me from the case. I snapped it up and popped it in as soon as I got home. It was every bit as wonderful as I imagined.
Now I’ve got it on DVD AND the original book that inspired the film. I check on both now and then, just to make sure they’re still there. And – phew!- they still are.
Miss Thropist, Thomas the Tank Engine
I have very vivid memories of enjoying anything and everything related to Thomas the Tank Engine as a child. I think my first encounter with the characters from The Rev. W Audry’s The Railway Series was a Ladybird book called Thomas and the Missing Christmas Tree. The anthropomorphised trains seemed especially magical in the snowy setting, and it provided a gateway to further train themed adventures- both on paper and on the TV show narrated by nobody’s favourite Beatle, Ringo Starr.
My dad dutifully taped episodes from television for my (and his) re-watching pleasure. In fact he recorded new episodes onto the same tape so many times that it started to degrade , becoming impossible to record over again. As I was growing up those episodes were watched frequently, as was the live UB40 concert that was on the same video. And neither of us has really forgiven my mother for giving it away to my younger cousins.
Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, with remakes and reboots threatening to ruin misty water colour memories. And over time Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends has become incredibly ugly. Nonetheless, trains are still awesome, and the most attractive means of long-distance transport by a long shot. And I still have plenty of happy memories of playing with the train toys I was given piles of when my sister was born.
Clearly I’m not the only one with fond memories of Thomas either:
Miss Day, Abble the Dog on Wheels
Abble. What a stupid name for a toy dog. God knows why he was called that, as he was in fact truly awesome. A life-sized springer spaniel with wheels on his feet so I could ride him around, the way I never could with real dogs.
Abble was the most perfect toy, so amazingly dog-like that my actual dogs would growl at him, freaked out by his realism. I’m sad and a little ashamed to say he now lives in my parents’ attic. His fur is somewhat matted, but he still looks great.
My heart pines for him more than a little, thinking of him up there all alone. When I complete the move to my new home – a cottage! – I’m finally going give him the toy-retirement he deserves and keep him proudly by the fire place.
And maybe ride him around occasionally…
Ms Elaine E. Ouse, The Animals of Farthing Wood
Me and Miss Thropist (my big sister and my other bestest pop cultural thing from childhood) watched our The Animals of Farthing Wood video over and over again until the sound went. That didn’t matter to me because I knew all the words, but Miss Thropist had tired of it by that point.
This probably saved her from brainwashing. But I was indoctrinated. Now I’m a VEGETARIAN. The Animals of Farthing Wood taught me that it wasn’t children that burned up the world – it was not yet our fault.
In the show, a group of animals are forced out of their home by developers (probably Tesco). They decide to work together and use their different navigational skills to find a new home. And they don’t eat each other along the way. Fox and Vixen were my favourite. And it was nice.
I consider The Animals of Farthing Wood one of the first animations to traumatize children into having environmental concerns. It’s a trend continued by the likes of Ferngully, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Ice Age, Rio, Wall-E and Avatar, usually on DVD and often in 3D.
But I still love video tapes in general – screw all of you out there in the future.