Thursday, 11 April 2013

A childhood shopping experience

Brighton Crescent today is not much changed from the Brighton Crescent of the 60s. The shops have gone and in their stead, sprung cafes (hey, dog-friendly!). But I am glad the shop houses look exactly the same as before. I am not sure whether the automobile repair shop (the first unit in the row) was the one which has been there since 70s, Can anyone confirm that?  Picture taken in April 2013.
My imitation Barbie doll as I remember her.
THERE have been many quests in my childhood. One of them was in search of a cheap but "grown up" glam doll -- preferably one which looked like Barbie but without the price tag. Didn't mind her sister Skipper too, who had long and silky ash blond hair. Mum finally took pity on me and got me Skipper at a stall at Gay World. We went there occasionally especially when they were having "Expo". Gay World was always having "Expo". Tay Koh Yat Bus No, 9 would take us there from Serangoon Gardens.

Skipper was cheaper than Barbie -- so I had Skipper. But I yearned for a Barbie -- the glamour associated with Barbie was irresistible.

In the 60s, there were many street side shops selling cheap toys. They have water floats, rubber balls and stuff hanging in plastic nets in the front. Their interiors were usually dark but seemed to promise a whole new world to one peering from a bus travelling past. My first foray was to hop off the 72 bus on the way back from school to go look at one of those shops along Yio Chu Kang Road. Nothing there... only those big baby dolls with big blue eyes which never seem to go out of fashion for the longest time. I went through a few during primary school and they were still around at the shops when I attended secondary school.

I don't think I did credit to this popular baby
 doll from the 60s era. It had blue blinking eyes and long lashes.
They had removable arms and legs too
and soon you find an arm here, and a leg there, not because
they broke, but because of restless fingers. My eldest
 brother's favourite cartoon which he drew himself
was that of a limb, captioned "Made in Japan". A lot of goods
then were made in Japan, and because they were made
hastily to fulfill market demand, QC was lacking.
But not this doll (I am not sure where it was made, Hong Kong
probably), but it lasted and lasted.

Those were the only dolls I had aside from one which was inflatable and black with woolly locks and with those close-shut buttons for eyes... you know those plastic buttons which give a different picture when you look at them from different angles? The world of Barbie was opened to me at a friend's place when she showed me her family of Barbie dolls. This friend had a sister who subscribed to Women's Weekly and so had a whole stack of them which she lent me... and I was also hooked on magazines since then.

Now,  for my second foray... Brighten Crescent looked very promising indeed. I could see a whole row of shops (from my 72 bus) lining one side of the street before the residential houses further in. I believe the row of shophouses is still there today -- and worth a revisit.

Brighton Crescent revisited. Shops no longer there, but it felt very much like the old Brighton Crescent I knew. Note the gate of the house to the right? It looks so much like those low gates of houses (with an old fashioned letter box attached) I used to know in Serangoon Gardens! I used to swing on one side of such a gate as a child till I got a scolding from mum. Picture: April 2013.
The thrill of exploring those shops! Though they didn't sell any dolls, they did sell a range of stationery that a student could die for. Not sure whether kids still use erasers (more commonly known as rubbers for us in those days). But we sure used it a lot in our time. They came in an exciting range of designs and colours. There were those which were even perfumed and were translucent like jellies. And I distinctly remember they had a drawing of a cute deer on one side. Trouble with those rubbers was that they tend to stick onto rulers and pencil boxes and leave ugly marks when you peel them off. As rubbers, they were not very effective actually, and left black smears on the paper.

No lack of childhood flowers, shrubs and trees in Brighton Crescent. You find hibiscus, bougainvilleas, palm trees, casuarina trees. They all lend such a homely feel to the whole place. I think residents in this area have a better deal than those staying in Serangoon Gardens where renovation knows no bounds and all sorts of design exist now, compared to the low terraced and bungalow houses of the 60s and 70s, even up to the 80s. Pictures: April 2013.

I finally got my cheap girlie doll at Mubaruk at Serangoon Gardens. It had blond hair done up in a beehive. It had eyes which could close (not like Barbie's, which were painted on). But it would do for the time being. My mum and I would sew tiny clothes -- blouses and skirts. She eventually had a shoe box full of clothes. My only complaint was that I couldn't restyle her hair.When I saved enough, I got myself an imitation Barbie doll. I couldn't remember how much it cost, must be like $20 which was a lot of money in those days. Although it wasn't a genuine Barbie, its legs could be bent into various poses. It had real shoes which could be taken out and changed.  I didn't tell mum I spent my savings on  the doll. I hid it in the darkest corner of my cupboard and only took it out now and then to admire.

When I left The New Paper in 2001, guess what my colleagues gave me! A Barbie doll! Yay!
One of the dresses my mum and I sewed for Barbie. The scraps of material were from my mum's friend who did patchwork blankets. As some were already cut neatly into rectangles, they came in rather useful for tight skirts or shift dresses. One  can spend hours looking at the scraps, the designs and the colours were just too enthralling.

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