IN 1954, the year I turned ten, Santa Claus left me a black doll. Beautiful she was, with deep brown eyes and a head of short, dark nylon curls. Unfortunately, that year, Santa Claus also left me a red plastic hairbrush!
"That doll'll be bald by Boxing Day!" my Nan prophesied darkly, as I showed her. By applying the hairbrush, I'd made the nylon curls stretch past the doll's ears. "Leave it be, our Carol, and do summat useful!" said my mother.
Reluctantly, I put the doll down and let my mother nudge me in the direction of the kitchen and the waiting Christmas Day mountain of Brussels sprouts. But all the time I was peeling them, I was silently dreaming. In the afternoon, when the rest of the family was sleeping off their Christmas dinner, I'd have another go at my new doll's fascinating hair.
With any luck, by tea-time, it would be down to her shoulders.
How many times, I later wondered, as I sat on the fender among the snoring, had I prayed for waist length, curly hair?
Remembering the anticipation of going to sleep on such a prayer, I yawned. Then I thought of the opposite feeling, next morning, when I woke up to find I still had the same old straight and boring mousy mop that always looked untidy!
Sticking out my tongue in concentration, I applied more pressure to the hairbrush and to my delight, the thinning strands of artificial hair continued its progress down the back of my inanimate new pal. If only Nan hadn't opened one eye and fixed me with a knowing, penetrating glare, I would have been in seventh heaven!
I expected another telling off, but over tea, Nan just seemed very quiet. She turned her back on what I was doing, and took some wool out of the knitting bag that she carried everywhere with her. That was better, I thought, as I applied the red hairbrush, guiding the now straight nylon hair right down over the doll's backside. Now I could concentrate on letting her hair grow right down to her feet.
"Rapunzel," I whispered silently to myself. At this rate, she would be able to let her hair down for a prince to climb up!....
By Boxing Day morning, just as I had been warned, the black doll was bald! The nylon strands had eventually and inevitably come away from her smooth dark scalp, leaving only a few stray hairs that reminded me of the dog's ball, when he'd finished chewing it.
"I told 'er – you should've used the 'airbrush on your own 'yed, our Carol!" my Dad teased when we filed into Nan's for Boxing Day dinner. And even the thought of the home-made pickled shallots couldn't cheer me up as he went on: "Looks like the poor doll's bin scalped!"
"Now, 'arold!" To my surprise, Nan held up a reproving finger. Then, as Mom went to hang up our coats, she gently took the bald black doll from me. "I said 'er'd be bald by Boxing Day!" she reminded me. "But still – no use cryin' over spilt milk. You go an' look in me knittin' bag, our Carol, an' I reckon yo'll find summat to make you feel better!"
Curiously, I went to the bag and opening it, found a small parcel wrapped in tissue paper. Inside was a doll-sized knitted hat, bright red, with a white pompom on top.
"Oh Nan – it's great" I exclaimed, "And it fits just right!. How did you know?"
"You'd be surprised what I know, my wench!" Nan grinned, tapping the side of her nose, as everyone burst out laughing. "Now – 'oo's ready fer some turkey an' chips?"
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