Monday, 16 July 2007

Tantrums and vests



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.

19 comments:

countrymousie said...

I had a knitted swimsuit once - dont even go there!! Lots of hand knitted stuff all my life - mum was an avid knitter - I used to be but am out of the habit now.
A 50's child myself - but dont remember a bought cardigan or sweater.

Preseli Mags said...

Fantastic! What imaginative children coming up with the nickname 'conkers'! That made me laugh, but I bet it wasn't funny at the time.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

"Conkers" You had me laughing out loud at that one! I got called some names too but they were much worse than Conkers!

I remember my Nana being a serial knitter and her needles constantly tapping together at breakneck speed. I can't remember her making anything of any significance though. I must ask my mum now.

Crystal xx

Suffolkmum said...

I laughed at the Conkers comment too - sorry! I had a Nan with a blue rinse who knitted and crocheted all the time - being a child of the seventies, I was permanently in orange ponchos!! I think my daughter has caught on to the possibility of the odd tantrum working too.

Elizabethd said...

I wore liberty bodices too!

Cait O'Connor said...

You brought back memories for me of my young life. Liberty bodices and tantrums in clothes/shoe shops. And those navy blue knickers!

snailbeachshepherdess said...

No we had grey knickers ...yuk yuk yuk! I remember the vest saga as well...used to take 'em off and hide them under the bed!! And I had polished brown lace up shoes ...and white start rite sandals in the summer!

Pondside said...

No knitters in my family, but I had to wear horrible thick blue bloomers - against the cold. Imagine my horror at having them peep out from under my skirt. I always had sensible shoes but once was sent out with my father who bought pink leather shoes with a strap - bliss! My mother was livid!

Fennie said...

I had a great aunt who used to knit me things and who even had a duck's head umbrella come to think of it and a stole made out of fox fur with two glass eyes and a sprung jaw with which to bite and hold it's tail around your shoulders. This had all the fierce expression you could wish for. And when our woolies wore into holes they were darned, and darned again. Goodness what we have to be thankful for.

toady said...

Just catching up with you. Love the ghostly cat story. I never had knitted vests but always had the sensible option be it underwear, shoes or knitwear. And of course my older sister's hand me downs, shudder. Toady

UN PEU LOUFOQUE said...

I wonder if I am too old to try that technique?

Eden said...

Every now and then a girl sees a pair of shoes she simply must have. It happens and can't be denied.Especially if they are red!

CAMILLA said...

I loved your nostalgic account of days gone by. My mother was a great knitter, I marvelled at the speed she used her needles. I remember when I was going to have my first day at Girl Guides, I craved for a bright Red pair of shoes, I was told by my mother that Brown would be the colour, but somehow, I managed to get my own way. School knickers - horrid thick Navy Blue, and I had quite forgotten about the Baby-Doll Pyjama's, I had a pair in Pink!
Thank you for your comments.
Camilla.x

Posie Rosie said...

Oh the shoes sounded well worth the tantrum!! Knitted vests...the stuff of childhood memories, loved reading your blog, it evoked such happy memories.

WesterWitch/Headmistress said...

Oh no - I itched all the way through your blog . . .I had lovely soft vests - short sleeves for the winter and straps for the summer . . .funny how the word vest, for me, brings back happy memories of childhood.

mountainear said...

What a lovely evocative blog. I was a child in the 50/60's - oh, and I did think I suffered terribly. Chilpruffe (sp?) vests WITH SLEEVES. At our little primary school it was almost OK - but entering the wider world at aged 11 with woolly vest and liberty bodices...oh, the shame. We all had to wear grey knickers so that wasn't too bad - until we realised that they were only on show on gym days and if we were lucky and mum would agree something nicer could be worn. Aertex maybe! You'd couldn't make children do that now thank goodness.

I craved a pretty quilted dressing gown from M & S with little rosebuds on it instead of the sensible and sturdy Ladybird one which I knew was my fate. Cue long, sustained and effective whine. Reader my dream came true!

and finally - what were liberty bodices for anyway?

kathleen said...

I have seen those old photos of my relatives, long dead from Austria and Scotland. Severe, always dressed in black, never a smile among them. They didn't seem to be the least bit happy, or maybe they simply hid a mouthful of bad teeth.

What ARE liberty bodices?

Zoë said...

A Liberty Bodice was not unlike a vest, and had also been called emancipation bodices (that might make more sense to you) as an alternative to the strictures of a corset that had been worn by women and girls alike previously.

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