The Fur Coat

In 1951 my mother bought our family’s first television set. I’m not sure why she did it because, in one sense, she could ill afford it.  She had capital but no income. The government allowed her a widow’s pension of a few pounds a week but it was useless because they then subtracted every shilling she earned. She got a job working as a clerk for Jowett Cars but it was pitifully paid. My two older sisters both had jobs, too, and I supposed they paid her board but, in general, the household income was meagre.

Maybe she saw the TV as a cheap form of family entertainment or maybe she bought it to act as a babysitter for me and my little sister, Bridget. Bridget was three and my mother found a place for her at a nursery school attached to the school I went to. I’m not sure now how it worked except that I had to pick her up everyday and bring her home. Nowadays we would have been taken into care if such an arrangement had ever been discovered. Then we were just one such story among many in the neighbourhood.

I can think of a third possible reason for the TV, though. It could have been an act of defiance. There were one or two things like that, things that my father and mother had talked about getting or doing and that she was damned if she was going to miss out on even though he had died. The fur coat was an example.

He had always promised her a fur coat. I guess it was part of the romance in their relationship, the idea that at some point in their lives, when things sorted themselves out, he would enable her to dress up and be a lady. Sometime in the early fifties she bought herself one. It was black beaver, a wonderfully soft and luxurious garment with fur that riffled in little waves when you breathed on it. She can’t have worn it more than two or three times. She never had the opportunity to go anywhere where you might be justified in wearing a fur coat. Later on, after we came to New Zealand and her life took on a few other middle-class accoutrements, it was never cold enough to justify wearing such a thing. She kept it for twenty years, wrapped in plastic, hanging in her wardrobe. I wonder now if she ever took it out and looked at it. Maybe they were times, in secret, when she slipped it on. What did she think about as she stroked it?  Because you couldn’t help but stroke it. It was that sort of garment.

The TV was a console model in yellowish wood. It had thin cabriole legs and twin doors with little wooden knobs. I guess Bridget and I watched it a lot in our after-school, home-alone days. She was very fond of Andy Pandy and Bill and Ben, the Flower Pot Men. I can still remember the theme tune of the former, with its vacuous lyrics. (They seemed vacuous even then, when I didn’t know the word.)

Andy Pandy’s coming to play, la, la-la, la, la-la,
Andy Pandy’s here today, la, la-la, la-la.

I guess you can find someone singing this on YouTube somewhere, I haven’t looked.

Little sisters (or brothers, for that matter) have a special capacity for innocence. They teach you about naïveté, I suppose, and perhaps give you a sense of being more worldly than you really are. You tolerate their ineptitude when you are responsible for them. It makes you feel superior. At other times they are just irritating. I can still hear the childish sing-song with which Bridget recited a poem she had learnt at school. In fact, I can still remember a chunk of it. I must have listened to a few of her proud performances.

It was called Elizabeth and it was about a couple of children going fishing. One reason I remember it, perhaps, is that it is told not in the voice of the title character but in that of her (presumably) elder brother. It is also, in its trivial way, about losing your relatives, so it might have made a subconscious connection.  

But when we’ve hooked them safely on a cunning bended pin
Elizabeth gets anxious and her worryings begin.
She wonders if the fish we’ve caught are sad without their mothers.
She wonders if they’re missing all their sisters and their brothers
Or perhaps she thinks they’re mummy fish and worries, as a rule
To think they may have babies left lamenting in the pool.

I don’t know if she remembers any of this herself. I must ask her.

One Response to “The Fur Coat”

  1. Alison Wale Says:

    Just thought I’d pop in to say “Hello” as I have a blog with the same name (except I’ve got capital letters!)
    Why did you call your Blog “View from the Teapot”? Just interested!!!

    Hello, anyway

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