Category Archives: Toys

OUR FIRST JOHN DOBBIE TOYSHOP

Simon aged 3 and me looking in at our first bow-fronted toyshop.

It was 1962. Simon was 2½ and Bernard was 4 months old. Josh was working full time in our dental practice up in town and I was working part time in the dental practice I had set up in our small terrace house in Wimbledon.

Despite the fact that we were both working, we were overdrawn, having taken on too big a mortgage. We cast about for ways of making some extra money and finally decided to open an educational toyshop. It was such an ordeal getting two small boys ready to go up to town to find some toys that didn’t fall to pieces almost straightaway. The word you thought of then when someone said ‘toys’ was ‘broken’!! There was a very good toyshop owned by Paul and Marjorie Abbatt in Wimpole Street and Heal’s had some good toys, particularly at Christmas, but it wasn’t easy dragging the boys up to town.

We approached local agents in Wimbledon village only to be told none of the shops ever changed hands. All of them had been there for ages. Then, just before Christmas, one of the agents rang to say a small shop had come on the market.

It was ideal. A reasonable rent for a small bow-fronted shop – just one’s image of ‘Ye Olde Toy Shoppe.’ Winter 1962-3 was the coldest for years and we almost said ‘no’. I remember inspecting the premises, still with a post-pregnancy weak bladder, and finding the loo frozen solid.

Having managed to borrow £500 between the bank and a friend of my sister’s, we spent £250 on fitting it out and £250 on stock. If we visited any shop that stocked attractive sturdy toys, we turned them over to look at the labels to find the suppliers. We also managed to find some craftworkers making beautiful toys to order, as well as sturdy wooden toys imported from Scandinavia.

I wrote to all the Sunday glossies to tell them our shop would be opening at Easter and to our great good fortune the Woman’s Page editor, the wonderful late Moira Keenan, wrote about us on the Sunday before Easter. Fantastic!!

That Wimbledon shop later moved to a larger shop in the High Street and we opened a second shop in Putney. We never made much money out of them though it was a wonderful experience. Finally, having had enough of running John Dobbie, we sold the Putney shop in a property deal, and the Wimbledon shop to a couple who had opened a shop like ours elsewhere.

I decided to return to medicine, hoping to specialise in dental pathology. The professor who’d invited me to come and see him, if and when I was ready, had retired and when I approached his replacement for a job, he turned me down saying ‘A married woman with four children and no expertise – you’ve nothing to offer.’

Five years later I was a consultant pathologist with an international reputation. When we met later he swore he’d never said anything of the kind – but he had!!

‘Woman in a White Coat                      paperback

Lots more stories like this in my memoir ‘‘Woman in White Coat’. Buy it on Kindle at £2.99 or as a paperback on Amazon at £9.99

http://bit.ly/Woman_in_a_White_Coat

There’s a TIGER in St James’s Park Underground Station

Tiger shop at St James’s Park Underground
A selection of cheap goodies

I was so pleased when my husband Josh told me that the Danish Company TIGER Copenhagen had opened a store in St James’s Park Underground station – only a stone’s throw from where we live.

It is a small branch but there’s always something I don’t need but must have!!

Although our daughter Louise’s children are now going on for 20 and 17 we still like to buy them silly little things when they come to visit and there’s always something that takes my fancy in TIGER.

My First Teddy Bear

A lovely gift from the Gothenburg Airport shop
A lovely gift from the Gothenburg Airport shop

I never had any soft toys as a child – we were too poor for such luxuries. We had a game of Ludo and that was that, but Josh and I showered our four children and grandchildren with soft toys. Josh especially finds them irresistible. Our John Dobbie toyshop always had loads.

When I saw this gorgeous soft cuddly teddy bear in the Gothenburg Airport shop I had to have it. He sits on my bedside table with the two or three books I am in the process of reading and sometimes creeps into bed with me.

As a child, I lived in a cramped cold-water tenement in Petticoat Lane. We played outside whenever we could, though on rainy days we’d slip into the unused communal laundry room on the top floor of our block.

Memoir extract from Woman in a White Coat

Continue reading My First Teddy Bear

Fabulous Steiff Shop, Hamburg

Loads of bears
Loads of bears

There was a Steiff shop in the arcade near the hotel where we stayed in Hamburg. It was full of bears of all different shapes and sizes, some clothed and some not.  There were other stuffed animal toys too but it is the teddy bear with  that we most associate with the Steiff name. We bought them for our own children but they were much too expensive for us to stock in our John Dobbie toyshop. We stocked a selection of very nice teddy bears but at affordable prices.

Margarete Steiff began the company in 1880 and was later joined by her brother Fritz and nephew Richard. She originally made elephant pincushions but later made a variety of animal toys.  It was her nephew Richard who created the famous teddy bear. The ‘button in ear’ was devised as a distinctive brand feature to stop other toys being passed off as Steiff toys.

Excerpt from Woman in a White Coat
Writing about  of teddy bears reminds me of one of the saddest episodes in my memoir involving the death of a young child.

With only two days left before Christmas, the pathology department at St Jude’s Cancer Hospital had been quiet all day. The surgeons put off non-urgent operations until after Christmas, so that patients could spend the holiday at home. There had been very few specimens to process and most of the staff had gone home early to get in some last minute shopping. By four o’clock the department was deserted. I had already got one arm in the sleeve of my coat when the phone rang. I was tempted to ignore it but having four children I always worried in case it was about one of them.
‘Hello,’ I said ‘Pathology department. Dr Waterman speaking.’
‘Steven here, Dr Waterman. I think you’re on for post mortems. Can you come down? I’m all ready for you.’
‘Oh Steven, can’t it wait until the morning? I know tomorrow’s Saturday and Christmas Eve, but I don’t mind coming in specially. I need to get over to Hamleys and buy a present for my neighbour’s new baby before they close.’ Continue reading Fabulous Steiff Shop, Hamburg

Simon doesn’t look the same either

Simon with some of the gorgeous toys we sold in our John Dobbie toyshop
Simon with some of the gorgeous toys we sold in our John Dobbie toyshop

Our elder son, Simon, is now in his fifties and like Joshua, my husband, he is now bald, tho’ he still has deep blue eyes and long dark lashes to die for .

When I had him in July 1960 I was completely sloshed.

 

 

Extract from my memoir Woman in a White Coat
I was bored out of my mind. Joshua and I had moved from our basement flat in Central London to a small terraced house in Wimbledon and I still didn’t know my neighbours. With only the two of us living there, the house took less than an hour to clean. Now I couldn’t even do that. My blood pressure was up, my legs were swollen and I was told I must rest until my baby was born.

I was delighted when David and Lilian, Josh’s cousin and his wife, invited us to dinner. It was great getting of the house. We were greeted with a glass of dry sherry – no nonsense about alcohol being bad for my unborn child. Dinner was delicious – a rich goulash with dumplings and Lilian’s luscious strawberry cheesecake. We shared a couple of bottles of Hungarian wine with our meal and, while the smell of our filter coffee still lingered, we sipped the cognac we’d brought them from Paris.
As I leaned back to pull my enormous belly away from the table, a trickle of warm liquid ran down the inside of my leg.
‘I think my waters have broken,’ I said, ‘but I’m not due for two weeks.’
Lilian put her arm around my shoulders.
‘Better early than late, Abby. Come on. I’ll fetch you a towel. It will soak up most of it.’
I eased myself into our old Morris car, making sure the towel was securely stuffed between my legs. I shifted uncomfortably, sticking to the shiny black seats. The car had very little in the way of suspension, so there was a spirt of liquid every time we went over a bump or dipped into a pothole. Continue reading Simon doesn’t look the same either

John Dobbie Toyshop

Our toys
Simon and me peering in at our toys, many handmade, some imported

We opened our john Dobbie toyshop on Monday April 1st 1963, two weeks before Easter. The little bow-fronted shop in Wimbledon Village with multiple small panes of glass was exactly right for a toy shop.

From my memoir Woman in a White Coat
Simon was 2½ and Bernard 6 months old. It was still not allowed for the names of doctors or dentists to be associated with business, or to advertise in any way. Simon always called himself Dobbie and John Dobbie sounded like a good solid name. We took on a sparky red-headed manageress sent by the employment agency three doors away from our shop.

On Easter Sunday, Moira Keenan’s piece about John Dobbie appeared in the Sunday Times. We were off to a great start.

 

Writing every day

John Dobbie S

One of Colin Fulcher’s beautiful designs for the bags of our John Dobbie toyshop.

I tried Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages so many times when I was writing Woman in a White Coat but always gave up after a few days. Writing a blog is different. it’s addictive. I wake in the night thinking of things to put in next day. I wake early, make myself a cup of coffee in my fancy Eileen Bodum cafetière and  make my preparations for dinner – if it’s my turn to cook. If there’s less cooking to do in the evening I find I have more appetite for an evening meal I’ve cooked myself. I turn on my computer, look at my emails, check my account and with great pleasure click on my blog. Not a chore. A pleasure!!