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gertrude

July 2018

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Girl's Own Annual

Mother Tells You How

Since the second-hand bookshop closed, the best place in town to look for older books is the museum shop. The book I bought there yesterday isn’t very old and I paid too much for it but it brought back so many memories I couldn’t resist. Some of the images leapt off the page at me, I knew them so well. That’s because, way back when even quite poor families had newspapers and magazines delivered, my weekly treat was Girl comic. I’m very displeased with the publishers, though, for making fun of my old friend. Here’s how they sell it: ‘Mother Tells You How’ might appear to be an over-the-top ‘50s spoof, but is in fact a wholly genuine period piece. There is no irony here, and it’s the well-intended, earnest instruction that provides such high comedy in our very different times.’



Mother Tells You How to make a bed/lay a table/keep cool may seem ridiculous but the compilers overlook certain factors. The target audience for the comic may have been teenage girls but as with most comics the readership was actually younger and most readers would have been ten or eleven, as I was when I read Girl. There’s also an aspirational aspect to all these hints; most of the girl readers would not have come from nice middle class homes like Judy’s (see below) and could only dream of having her bedroom and her clothes. ‘our very different times’ have also changed since 2007 when this book was printed. In a recession ‘make do and mend’ makes sense and when more and more people are crafting, hints on knitting, crochet and patchwork don’t seem funny at all.




Judy’s family live in a well appointed ‘contemporary’ home. Mother always looks elegant, never shops without donning a hat and gloves and is never too busy to help Judy learn something useful.



Father rarely appears. He is occasionally seen at the table expressing his appreciation of something Mother has told Judy how to cook. He obviously provides well for his family as both Judy and her mother have extensive wardrobes, which they constantly freshen up or refurbish with useful tricks. They even go to fashion shows.



Judy has a much younger brother, so that she can learn about childcare.
In this picture she doesn’t look too impressed by the new baby.



Jill is Judy’s friend. Her role is to appear in the last frame of the strip admiring Judy’s new dress/hat/bedroom chair etc. Judy goes to lots of parties (a chance to make an old dress look like a new one) has lots of friends whom she likes to invite to the house (‘What can I give my friends to eat that’s new and interesting?’) and goes rambling and camping (how to keep safe, warm and comfortable). Both Judy’s parents travel abroad occasionally, which was quite uncommon then.



There are two distinct Judys in this book and this later version is the one from ‘my’ era. For some reason I remember this next strip very well; I suppose it seemed very exotic.




Can you tell what mother plans to make out of these?



And if you’re preparing to celebrate the royal wedding, why not take a tip from mother?



OK, some of it is quite funny. But I love it.

Comments

(Anonymous)

Baked alaska seemed so sophisticated - and the only time my mother tried, it all melted!
Love those old comics. I used to get Princess and remember a serialisation of The Scarlet Pimpernel which I loved even though I was only about six. (You're quite right, the real readership was much younger!)
What a shame! I've never dared try Baked Alaska myself.
My sister had Princess but I've never seen a copy since.
Please tell me what they did with the milk tins and stockings!

And mmmmm, baked Alaska...
A phone?
Ha ha! That was cocoa tins and string.
You can't guess? A 'fireside tuffet'!

(Anonymous)

I feel I must have had a deprived childhood ... no fireside tuffets in our house! (For Little Miss Muffet, presumably?)
You are not alone. We didn't have one, either.

(Anonymous)

Girl comic

I loved Girl comic. My parents had a newsagent's shop and therefore I could read more or less what I wanted provided I returned it to the counter in pristine condition! But I had my own comics that I could keep - Girl and School Friend. Of course, School Friend had been published for many years before Girl, and it had the wonderful Silent Three and Jill Crusoe, but Girl was shiny and new, like a lot of things in the 1950s. I loved Mother Tells You How and one of the ones I liked best was when Mother told you how to prepare for a guest ... she showed Judy how to prepare the guest bedroom, even putting flowers in it, and if my memory serves me correctly, making sandwiches into which she had put chives. I'd no idea what chives were, nor had my own mother! We called them "chivvies"! This was very pre-foodie era, we'd not seen a pepper or a courgette, and a melon was something we only had as a first course on Christmas day!
One of the stories I liked in Girl, apart from Wendy and Jinx, was Belle of the Ballet - she once wore a lovely pale blue and white striped dress and oh, how I wanted that dress! Your post has really taken me back to when I was ten!
Margaret P

Re: Girl comic

Ten is nice! 'How to prepare for a guest' is included in this book. You have to remember an extra blanket and a hot water bottle in case your guest is cold.
I loved Wendy and Jinx and Susan of St Bride's, also Lettuce Leefe (sp?). I have a few of the annuals so I can still read some of these stories.
You're so right about the pre-foodie lack of sophistication. In one lesson Mother Shows You How to make Pineapple Surprise. The surprise for me would have been to see a whole, fresh pineapple!

(Anonymous)

Re: Girl comic

You could have come to our house and put 'chivvies' on the 'horse's duvvers!'
We were distinctly poor when I was young, so my stepmother, who was "arty"(which meant that she spent her evenings designing wallpaper patterns to earn some extra money) painted all the National Dried Milk tins and added labels - oats, flour and "porage", which we all mocked her for. There was a lot of making do, and much mending, but happily she wasn't any good at darning, so we got new socks when they got hole-y.
I bet Judy's mother knew a way of using up old hole-y socks! National Dried Milk, eh. And Welfare Orange. My mother had a little spray thing which fitted the neck of one of those orange bottles, and used it for damping the ironing.
Very clever - they were nice little bottles. I was in an advert for Welfare Orange when I was a baby, but not one that comes up if you google it (think my mother's got a copy somewhere as she was in it too!)
No! I bet it's a cute picture.

(Anonymous)

I remember Welfare Orange. I wasn't allowed to have any because I was the oldest!
Mouldy swizz! I remember it as delicious.

(Anonymous)

Girl comic

I have been unable to resist ... I have now ordered a copy from Amazon Marketplace. I shall love it, I know!
Margaret P

Re: Girl comic

Oh you will, I'm completely in love with it. I was miffed to find I could have bought my copy more cheaply on Amazon Marketplace but then, I was supporting a local institution I'm very fond of.

(Anonymous)

Girl comic

Sorry, can't work out what horse's "duvvers" are. I must be thick!
I wish the publishers of this book would bring out another series from Girl, which was Real Life Stories. When my mother died and I went through her possessions, I found things which I had kept as a child but which had been, I thought, thrown away. One such thing was a cut-out from Girl, dated 28th Sept 1955 (I would've been 11 that year) and it was the story of Mary Stuart of Scotland, no 82 in the series. I kept it not because I was particularly interested in the Scottish monarch but I loved the clothes she was wearing, and this brought back memories of my attempts to draw and paint them. On the reverse if part of a serial called vicky and the Vengeance of the Incas, beautifully illustrated but not sure whether this was a regular picture story, like Wendy and Jinx, or a one-off serial.
Margaret P

Re: Girl comic

Hors d'oeuvres. New to me, too, but I've often heard people say 'horses' dovers' for a laugh.

I learned a lot from those real life stories: I remember Gladys Aylward, Florence Nightingale, Edith Cavell and many other heroines.