The Bagpuss Effect or Why I like Old Stuff

Once upon a time, not so long ago . . .

Sometimes I wonder why I favour old and worn over new and shiny when I was raised by a mother whose sole purpose in life seemed to be updating and replacing anything and everything from her shoes to the kitchen sink. She was the sort of person who would throw out a perfectly good handbag simply because she’d had it a couple of years. In contrast I still have and use the first bag I bought myself as an independent adult. I have nothing of my childhood because my mother had a habit of throwing out our things as soon as we had out grown them. I do however have an old child size shopping basket and a copy of Alice in Wonderland that belonged to my mother before they were passed on to me. The basket served as a peg basket when my first husband and I started out penniless and then later on it resumed it’s role as child’s play thing when the children came along. It lived on a shelf beside a shabby old wooden shape sorter I found in the Red Cross shop for 50p, a beautiful patchwork ball made of different tiny floral prints, also from a charity shop and a crudely made cloth doll I made on my trusty old 1920s Singer out of an old skirt I’d made in my teens. Those four items stirred something within me, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on until one evening, whilst doing our weekly supermarket shop with a toddler and a baby both sleeping soundly in the trolley, I stumbled across a Bagpuss VHS in the non foods aisle.

As the magic of Postgate and Firmin came flooding back from my childhood I suddenly understood why that little collection of things on the shelf made me feel the way they did. I adored Bagpuss as a child, but the memories of watching it had themselves become saggy and a bit loose at the seams, not enough to have faded completely, but enough to leave little ghost memories. It was these faint barely there memories that were being brought to the surface by the collection of shabby old toys on the shelf and from that moment on Bagpuss was very much back in my life. Had I called my eldest daughter Emily because of one of those faded out childhood memories? I can never be sure but one has to wonder and little did I know that seventeen years later my love of Bagpuss would bring me and my second husband together, and that I would end up meeting Sandra Kerr who did the music and was the voice of Madeleine the rag doll and most of the mice.

My daughter with Sandra Kerr and the original cushion from the Owl of Athens episode.

But I can’t let dear old Baggy take all the credit for my love of all things old, faded and handmade. Some of the other childhood programmes I watched had also left little ghosts of memory working away in the background. The Flumps and Fingerbobs both helped nurture a sense of resourcefulness, while things like Ivor the Engine and Camberwick Green simply helped me form a love of old worldness, a fondness of simpler times gone by. I always had a sense that the world moved too fast as a child, and even now I often reach for Bagpuss as an antidote to 21st century living. Nothing beats singing along to the Bony King of Nowhere or getting lost in a story about a Hamish or dear old Uncle Feedle in his cloth world ‘all sewn up with a needle’. Oh to live in a patchwork cloth world!

I hesitate to mention Pipkins. It seems to divide people in conversation when reminiscing in our social circle. Usually it divides me from everyone else because I loved the scruffy old hare and his friends but everyone else just remembers Hartley as mangey and slightly sinister. What can I say, maybe my weirdness radar doesn’t work as well as everyone elses?

I am convinced the programmes we watch as small children shape our lives in ways we aren’t always aware of. I’m just glad I was lucky enough to experience what I consider to be the golden era of children’s television and grateful that enough of it was later released on VHS and DVD so I could enjoy the magic all over again with my own children.

From play thing to peg basket to play thing to sewing basket!

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