Helen Martin: History cannot be airbrushed

The golliwog on the Wardie Primary mural. Picture: SWNS
The golliwog on the Wardie Primary mural. Picture: SWNS
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I had a golliwog. There, I’ve said it. In fact, every friend of mine had a golliwog too because in the 1950s they were as common as teddy bears.

We learned to read using a book about a little black boy called Sambo whose relatives, I seem to recall, had bones through their noses, not to mention collecting our golly labels on jam jars. Save enough and you got a proper golly brooch.

That was the way the world was and back then we never thought any of that was racist. Most unusually for the time, there was a black girl in my class. After a moment of mild curiosity everyone simply forgot what colour she was. We didn’t think of ourselves as “white” or her as “black” she was just Elizabeth.

We hooked up on Friends Reunited over 40 years later and again I forgot she was black until she mentioned it. I wish I still had her contact details because I’d love to ask her what she thought of the Wardie Primary 1930s-restored Alice in Wonderland mural which includes a golly complete with striped pants.

Following a complaint from a black lady who deemed it offensive, the police have been called in to investigate the alleged “hate incident”. And if the golly had been painted today I would agree with her. But in 1936 a golly was as inoffensive as a beach ball, just a regular part of the toy box and something you’d expect to see in every child’s bedroom.

You will notice I usually drop the last syllable. The word “wog” does make me cringe but most of us referred to our toy as “golly”.

We cannot simply airbrush history to make people of the time seem more enlightened than they were. Apart from anything else, these are our childhood memories and we have a right to them. It would also be a huge mistake to think the existence of golliwogs in the 1950s meant the people who owned them were inherently racist – although doubtless some were.

The fact is that apart from Elizabeth and her family, I didn’t meet another black person until I was in my 20s. We were innocent and it would be fair to say completely ignorant of any black culture – hardly surprising since the scant misinformation we had came from missionary tales, early Tom and Jerry cartoons and naïve music teachers who taught us to sing minstrel ditties like “De Camptown ladies sing diz song, doo dah, doo dah”.

Did that ignorance make us racist? I don’t know. The subject of racial equality or the need to discuss it rarely arose then for children in a predominantly white Scotland. We were aware of black people, who had served alongside our parents in the war, being treated badly in the United States and we were impressionable ten-year-olds when Martin Luther King gave his historic “I have a dream” speech, causing our mothers to cry and our fathers to clap.

We were also the post-war generation who were brought up on first-hand victim accounts of Nazi Germany and the holocaust. At the same time we were used to a world in which a woman couldn’t take out a hire purchase agreement. And when I started work and began paying tax I received a letter from the tax man asking me to get my “husband or father to sign on my behalf”.

Looking back, the world was full of persecution, inequality, atrocity, war crimes and ignorance we wouldn’t tolerate today. But erasing the “offensive” bits is not the answer, otherwise people wouldn’t be queueing up to see The Butler. The Wardie golly isn’t an offensive toy for today, it’s a historic 

Mum (and dad) is the word for play champions

A senior councillor in Edinburgh is to be appointed as the city’s “play champion”, to encourage children to get involved in outdoor activities and “fun approaches to learning”.

An expert said: “By encouraging children to go outside and choose what they want to do, you are increasing their sociability, they get to know each other and it’s healthier because they’re running about instead of sitting on their backsides.

“A play champion would make sure play is on the agenda and help people understand its importance.”

We used to have thousands of them. They were called parents.

£2 for a pie? You are talking mince

IT came as no surprise to me that a Which? judging panel put Aldi and Lidl first and second in a blind tasting of mince pies, with Harrods fifth and Fortnum & Mason bottom.

Both Aldi and Lidl pies worked out below 30p each. But what left me speechless was the cost of one F&M pie – £2.16. There is no possible justification for that price, even if it came top.

It could have been worse. The rich people’s store is also selling 200g of Scottish smoked salmon for £15 (Lidl £2.69) and 160g of Edinburgh shortbread for £4.95 (Lidl 210g of shortbread for 57p).

A snob and his money are soon parted.

Pest take it with a pinch of salt . .

According to independent commercial pest controllers, Edinburgh is being taken over by super vermin which are resistant to standard poisons. The council says nonsense, it’s all under control. I smell a rat.