Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Who really needs a brand new bicycle?

A small packet popped through my letterbox yesterday and in it I found a book I'd recently purchased entitled 'Milly Molly Mandy & Co'. Happily this now completes my Milly Molly Mandy collection.

If you've seen my recent posts you'll already know I'm a big fan of these charming stories that were written and illustrated by Joyce Lankester Brisley many decades ago. Although modern paperbacks are widely available all my books are hardbacks and date from the 1940s and 1950s. As you can see they aren't in pristine condition but as I love the feel and smell of vintage books that makes them even more appealing.

Just in case you are interested in collecting the MMM books yourself here are the titles with dates when they were first published. They have all been reprinted on a regular basis and are available from several online second-hand book sellers.

1). Milly Molly Mandy Stories (1928), 2). More of Milly Molly Mandy (1929). 3). Further Doings of Milly Molly Mandy (1932), 4). Milly Molly Mandy Again (1948), 5). Milly Molly Mandy & Co (1955), and finally 6). Milly Molly Mandy and Billy Blunt which was published much later in 1967. This last book is more difficult to find and therefore prices are way beyond my reach.

Whenever I feel the need to escape reality and spend a short while in a gentler less demanding world I know I can turn to any of the stories in these books. Yesterday I chose 'Milly Molly Mandy learns to ride'. The story begins when MMM sees a wealthy school friend riding a brand new bicycle and of course she longs for one too, but she knows a new bike is out of the question.

As so often happens, her friend Billy Blunt comes to the rescue and shows Milly Molly Mandy (and little friend Susan) two large old rusty bicycles in his dad's garden shed. Not deterred by the state of them the three friends take out the bikes and set about rubbing them with bunches of grass to clean them. After several hours scraping, rubbing and oiling the bicycles are in a fit state to ride. Finally Billy's dad adjusts the saddles and the friends are ready to test their machines.

Of course there is much rattling and creaking as they ride across the rough grass and bruises and scrapes are many but they all have the 'bestest' time and by the end of the day they have learnt to ride.

This little tale brought back happy memories of the old bike I owned as a child. It was a hand-me-down from a family friend and much too big for me to begin with, but I persevered and eventually learnt to ride it (but not before several tumbles into a nettle patch).

My two brothers were several years younger than me and as family funds were more plentiful when they reached bike riding age they inevitably received brand new ones. But as I'd loved my old bike it has never occurred to me to complain.

Milly Molly Mandy and friends come from the 'make do and mend' age when items you owned were treasured and repaired when broken. I wonder what the author of these gentle tales would think about our own throw-away society where 'shiny new' and 'state of the art' items are keenly sought and young owners of unfashionable hand-me-downs have to be prepared for ridicule and in some cases bullying by their peers.

In Britain the cost of living has risen sharply in the last few months and we are all unhappy about having to pay more for almost everything. It has become a time to prioritise and consider whether certain purchases are absolutely essential, but adjusting is proving difficult for many. Yesterday I watched a typical TV interview with a large group of mothers who were angrily complaining that they'd been forced to take on extra part time work so that their families could continue living the life they'd grown accustomed to. The parents and their kids apparently couldn't imagine going without their usual holiday this year and of course the latest fashion wear and accessories for the coming summer were an absolute 'must' . . . . . . In complete contrast to these angry mums there followed a news bulletin showing yet more pictures of the utter devastation wreaked by the tsunami in Japan. Lone souls, silent and dignified, could be seen wandering aimlessly through mile upon mile of unrecognisable debris trying in vain to locate the places where their homes once stood . . . . . . How dare we complain?