"It's Muffin!" I am heard to cry, making a speedy bee-line to a glass display case in which a slightly-worse-for-wear, but distinctly recognisable, string puppet is gazing out at the world around him with an
air of mute melancholy.
Here we are, the Eldest of the Darling Daughters, Katie, Eleanor and me at the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green to see an exhibition of Childhood between the
Olympic years of 1948 and 2012. Guaranteed to be of interest to us all, we reckon, children that we are - or were.
Katie and Elle watch in stunned silence as Annette Mills, on a small black and
white screen, carols the "Muffin the Mule" song in that posh and high-falutin' voice which was a prerequisite for TV presenters in the 50s. They don't actually say: "Poor you!" but it rather goes without saying. Incidentally, when did children's
TV presenters stop being your maiden aunt and become your big sister / brother?
Then the Eldest of the Darling Daughters finds her favourite exhibit - an actual third-of-a-pint milk bottle of
the type served up to millions of schoolchildren over the years until Margaret Thatcher, then in charge of Education, put a stop to it. Katie and Eleanor are treated to the whole story. Not, that is, of the political storm surrounding
the cessation of the morning milk round, but what it was like to be a Milk Monitor when their Mum was at school. How one person had to pierce the milkbottle tops while another inserted the straws. How it was The Best Job in the School - far better
than being Ink Monitor or Book Monitor or Chair Monitor. Katie and Elle do their best to look impressed but: "Did they really give glass bottles to five year olds?!" Oh yes, they did. Health & Safety hadn't been invented then. On cold, winter
days when I was little, I tell them, the teachers used to warm up the milk on the radiators so that thick skin formed on the top of the milk. Ugh! we all shudder, with feeling.
further evidence of the absence of any Health & Safety considerations as we watch black and white film of children building a bonfire, climbing trees, playing in a playground fraught with infinite hazards. How did we ever live to grow up? I wonder.
Though here's Tufty the Squirrel, dispensing road safety messages in the 70s - we never liked that squirrel, did we, kids? He was just such a prig! But, look, it's Dave Prowse (aka Darth Vadar from the Star Wars films) dressed as the Green Cross Code Man.
D'you remember how he came to Staplehurst Primary School and lifted the headmaster above his head?!
Hey, move on! Here's a bright red Chopper bike - was there ever a bicycle so daringly different?
- wish the Son And Only were here to see it. And here's a red dressing gown complete with ladybird buttons - every one of my four had one of these dressing gowns in either blue or red. I think I might still have a ladybird button in my Button Tin. The
dressing gowns came from Woolworths, which is also no more. Enough said. Even better, here's a model of a boy wearing "typical boys' clothes" from the 70s, according to the label. And, look, he is wearing the EXACT brown stripey jumper which
the Middle of the Darling Daughters used to wear. We take a photograph to show her, along with one of me and Muffin the Mule.
We find a Tiny Tears doll and I explain how once, years ago, there
was a call for people to loan their Tiny Tears dolls to another exhibition. Even had we been able to find it, there would have been no point loaning the doll belonging to the Youngest of the Darling Daughters as, for some reason known only to herself,
she had scribbled all over her forehead. (She was, nevertheless, a much-loved doll...)
Throughout the exhibition, there are poems illustrating the thoughts and emotions which the various exhibits
inspired in their writers. I love the poem about Sylvanian Families which compares the idyllic existence enjoyed by these whimsical animal folk with the harsh realities of life today. The world of Sylvania is much beloved of our Eleanor (though
how she reconciles this with her latest obsession with The Hunger Games, I cannot fathom.)
We've reached the Nineties and the Noughties and Katie and Elle
are delighted to discover all four of the Teletubbies on display. This is history as they have lived it. Katie finds a picture on her mobile for me of the girl who used to be the Smiling Baby of the Teletubbies programme. She's all grown-up.
That's what we do. We grow up. Childhood is a precious, but fleeting moment in time, beautifully captured in this exhibition for all four of us - the child of the Forties and Fifties, the child of the Sixties
and Seventies, the child of the Nineties and Noughties, and our very own Millennium Child.
Like childhood, this exhibition won't last for ever. Catch it while you can.