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March 16, 2003

The Golly Sweater

Max spotted that the photo of me from 1983 showed me wearing a sweater with the Robertson's Golly on it, and commented that you couldn't buy one of those now.

In fact, you couldn't buy one of those then; it was a handknit by my mum. I absolutely adored that sweater, and of course I wouldn't for one second dream of wearing it today, and find it difficult to imagine I ever did. It's one of those Past is a Foreign Country things. Like lots of British children, I had a collection of the Robertson's badges (my favourite was the astronaut), and a golly at home (not one of the soft toys that has survived).

Even in 1983, that sweater was distinctly edgy; wearing it was a political statement about the way in which the desire never to offend tends to sweep up lots of perfectly innocent bits of everyday life, like favourite children's books about outwitting tigers and eating more pancakes than are good for you, or children's tendency towards the over-literal. Or, indeed, golliwogs. A completely wrong-headed political statement, but there you go. I was young.

And what of the books? The story in Little Black Sambo isn't racist, but the names and illustrations appear racist to modern eyes. There's a version,
Little Babaji, where the names and illustrations have been changed, but everything else is identical. Epaminondas is harder; this may be the most perfect read-aloud story ever, and all little children love it. (Sara Cone Bryant, who collected this tale, was an expert on telling stories to children). But it's set in a time, and a place, and the cadence of the story is dependent on the dialect in which it's told. Perhaps we have to let these things go.

Robertson's eventually gave up on their trademark golly, because it was no longer any damn use as a marketing device. And I'm sure the sweater wore out long ago.

Posted by Alison Scott at March 16, 2003 09:41 AM

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There's a small shop in Peterborough that sells teddy bears. I was quite surprised when I walked past last week to see two or three Gollies in the window. They were limited editions, all had "#x of y" tags on them rather than prices, so I don't think they're cheap - but I'm glad they're not completely wiped out.

Has Marianne's fascination with Enid Blyton revealed any doctoring of the stories to remove the golliwogs? Or is she only interested in the Wishing Tree series?

Posted by: Max at March 29, 2003 11:50 PM

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