My mother used to knit my vests which, even for the 1950s, was unusual. Most of the other girls my age had hand knitted cardigans, mine were often shop bought, but for some reason she always knitted my vests.
Nearly 40 when I was born, my Mum was also the product of older parents. My maternal Gran and Grandad, what little I remember if them, were true Victorians, very religious, very stern, clothed in black and ancient.
Grandad in his nineties, still wore a bowler hat and waistcoat; Granny had an umbrella with a duck’s head handle and a fierce expression. I longed to be like other girls, have a Nana with blue rinsed hair and wear Marks and Spencer’s vests, preferably the ones with blue or pink ribbons. And how I longed for dainty aertex knickers. Mum didn’t knit them, thanks goodness, but I swear the ones I had to wear would have withstood a nuclear blast.
I had an early rebellion about wearing liberty bodices, I always chewed up the rubber buttons, but those knitted vests were indestructible. Grown out of, they would be unravelled, a bit more wool bought, and a new set knitted up in no time. Women who had lived through the war knew a thing or two about recycling.
My big rebellion came when I was about eight. Firstly I tied my knitted pixie hood to the top of the tallest tree I could climb. I did contemplate doing away with the vests but didn’t dare.
Quite by accident I found a way out. On a trip to town to buy shoes I threw an enormous tantrum. I wanted a cherry red pair with straps not my usual sensible laceups. My Dad made my big, brown shoes so shiny with polish that the boys on the school bus had started to call me ‘conkers’. I desperately needed different footwear. To my amazement the tantrum worked. I got the shoes and the power I wanted. If used sparingly those tantrums served me well.
I didn’t get the dainty vests I craved, much too frivolous, but at least the scratchy horrors were replaced by sensible white interlock. I even managed to tantrum my way into a pair of blue and white baby doll pyjamas and a startling pink swim suit, complete with saucy skirt. Only occasionally I took the tantrums too far and all I got was a smacked bottom and sent to bed but, on the whole, it was worth the risk.