Princess Elizabeth’s coronation.
A committee was formed to organise our street’s celebrations and they decided to hold a fancy dress parade as well as a party. Not trusting the weather although the coronation would be taking place in June, arrangements were made for the party to take place in the church hall at the bottom of our road should the day be too cold.
It was a foregone conclusion that our fancy dress ought to reflect the coronation. Most of the boys reckoned dressing up and then parading along in front of loads of people was sissy and they weren’t going to take part but we girls had dreamy, if slightly inaccurate visions of being dressed like a glamorous bride with the addition of a jewel encrusted crown.
At best Mum’s sewing was mediocre and on her limited budget buying material to make long dresses for me and my younger sister was out of the question. White cotton bed sheeting might have done at a pinch, but she only had one she could spare. With the best will in the world, it wouldn’t stretch to two dresses.
Undaunted, she and dad put their heads together and decided that between them they could rig us out as soldiers. Girls as soldiers? We weren’t very happy with the idea, but dad swept us away on a tide of enthusiasm, promising we would win if we put ourselves in his hands. We, he said, would look sensational, but if I’d known that we were going to end up looking like the toy soldiers from The Nutcracker Suite, I would have thrown a wobbly and refused to take part.
Dad’s first idea was to make fur busbies so that we looked like Grenadier guards, but he was unable to scrounge anything remotely resembling grizzly bear fur, and instead made two large, black hats out of cardboard which he painted with shiny black stove enamel — which is when the Sugar Plum Fairy look emerged.
He scoured junk shops to find brass buttons and cap badges, while mum dragged gran’s temperamental Victorian Singer sewing machine from the cupboard under the stairs and cut out jackets and trousers from the sheet.
With no pattern to follow and never having made trousers before, she cut out a square that wrapped around us with nothing to spare, sewed it into a tube, sewed up the middle and down again, cut between the two rows of stitching and elasticated the tops.
From the same sheet – my sister was only little – she cut two tops all in one piece arms included, and dyed them red. For the final touch dad made a baton from an old walking stick and a knob from a brass bed – for balance he said – and we spent a lot of time in our back garden while he taught me how to twirl it – but I wasn’t very good. My heart wasn’t in it. I just wanted to be a queen.
The big day dawned cold and grey. Shivering in our thin cotton outfits, Elaine and I took our places in the parade. Only one family in the street had a television, so apart from the dozen or so people who had squeezed into her living room to watch the event live, the entire neighbourhood, bundled up in winter coats and scarves, turned out to watch.
For what seemed like eternity we paraded up and down the street accompanied by oohhs and aahhs from the neighbours and taunts from the boys.
Mum and dad were standing on the edge of the pavement outside our house, and when I sneaked a quick look at them I could see mum was on the verge of crying with pride, whilst dad was waving his arms around and shouting, ‘twirl the bloody baton Diane.’
I thought it would never end. It was all pointless because there was a girl who lived a few doors away whose parents had more money than us, and whose mother made clothes for a living. She was wearing a gold crown, and a beautiful long white satin dress with a blue sash over one shoulder and of course scooped first prize. It caused a certain amount of sour grapes amongst the other parents, because for weeks her mother had been telling everyone she was going all out to win and how much she’d spent on material. Another girl was dressed as the Queen but her outfit wasn’t sewn half as well, so she was given second prize as a lady in waiting.
Elaine and I won third prize. I suppose it was a walkover. Although there were a few brave boys dressed as soldiers, none of them had brass buttons, scarlet tops and huge black hats like ours.
The prize giving was to take place in the church hall before we got stuck into the sandwiches and iced buns.Cold, and a bit fed up because we hadn’t won first prize, Elaine and I trooped into the hall and while it filled up made two circuits to wild applause from the helpers who’d been busy preparing and setting the tables, and had missed our perambulations outside.
The man in charge who was up on the stage tapped the microphone and cheerfully shouted that he wanted the prize winners up there with him, whereupon, instead of letting us walk up the small set of stairs at the side of the stage, two enthusiastic helpers grabbed us under the armpits and heaved us onto the stage to join the master of ceremonies. Unluckily for me as I landed, the strain on my wrongly cut and made from the thinnest part of the sheet trousers was too much. The trousers split from crutch to waist and my bum burst out.
Dying from embarrassment as I accepted our book token prize, I thought that as long as I kept facing the front I could sidle off stage and no one would notice what had happened. Wrong.It simply wasn’t my day. The same bright spark who’d suggested putting us on the stage then said he wanted us to parade around the hall for one last time. To complete my humiliation, the same helpers hauled us down from the stage. As they swung me to the floor there was no hiding my knickers. I’ll never forget how the boys jeered as I pointlessly walked with my knees together and my hands held stiffly at my side in an attempt not to draw attention to what had happened to my rear end.
I was so mortified I couldn’t even cry. I just wanted to go home and hide for at least a year but for once in her life mum didn’t realise quite how upset I was and rushed home to get a dress for me to change into. It didn’t help. The food stuck in my throat, as the boys teased me unmercifully and over fifty years later when I met up with one of them, he still remembered seeing my knickers.