The little girl who loved dolls – Plaster of paris figures and the apricot tree


When we were living in the house on the plot, we used to often visit our Aunt and our two boy cousins. You have already met Ian and Gary in the story about the mud house that collapsed. Our Aunt lived in a lovely house in a suburb in Johannesburg. She had a very nice garden with a proper swimming pool, a swing and a huge apricot tree. During the summer when the apricots were ripe, they used to fall to the ground. A lot of them burst and were spoilt during the fall but there would be a few nice ones if you were prepared to look through the fruit on the grass under the tree. The fallen and smashed fruit attracted a lot of insects, including bees and fruit beetles. I was scared of both of these as I had an allergy to bees and the fruit beetles were big and black with yellow on their wings.

One warm, sunny afternoon we went to visit my Aunt and cousins. Ian was making figures out of plaster of paris using a moulding set he had been given for his birthday. I had never seen anything like this set. It contained bags of plaster of paris, a white powder that you mix with water and which sets quite hard once it has dried. Doctors used to use plaster of paris to make castes for broken bones when we were children. These castes were much more fun than the current removable castes made from plastic and all your friends would be able to write nice messages on your caste. It was a sign of great popularity to have a caste filled with messages and signatures when it came off at the end of four to six weeks. The set also contained three moulds of Goofy, Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse and tubes of paint to paint the figures with once they were dry. Ian had made a few figures already and he showed Catherine and me how to make plaster of paris by mixing the white powder with a bit of water. You needed to be careful not to add to much water as then the figures would be to “sloppy” and would not set properly. The mixture felt quite warm once you had added the water and mixed it well. Once the mixture was the correct consistency, you scooped it into the moulds and left them to set for about an hour. Ian said that Catherine could have one of the figurines we made and that I could have two. I choose Goofy and Mickey Mouse and Catherine got Minnie Mouse.

We swam in the pool while we waited for the figurines to dry so that we could unmould them and paint them. My Aunt’s pool was very big and the shallow end was not all that shallow for us at that time. We still had a lovely time swimming and splashing and making water bombs by jumping into the pool with our bent legs clasped to our chests. The result was a huge splash and lots of waves in the pool. We also made swirl pools by wading around and around the shallower part of the pool in a circle until the water gained momentum and created a current that helped pull us around. The swirl pools used to get so fast that it used to pull us younger children under which was a bit scary.

Eventually, after we had checked on the progress of the figurines countless times, they were dry, and Catherine and I could paint ours. We painted them quite meticulously. Making sure we didn’t mix the colours and that we outlined all the facial features and clothes before filling them in with colour. I was very proud of my artwork at the end of the painting. I took one of my figurines outside into the garden to play with around the pool. Being of a curious nature I decided to dip my new figurine into the pool. Disaster struck immediately, just like the little girl in the story book who was curious and fell down a deep rabbit hole. The paint on the figurine ran and, worse still, the plaster of paris melted into a sticky mess. That was the sad end of Mickey Mouse. I kept Goofy though and gave him to my Granny Joan for her birthday. That was the last time I thought of that figurine until four years later when Granny Joan died. We were living in a town in the Western Cape at the time of her death and my Grandparents lived very close to us. I can remember going into Granny Joan’s bedroom after she had gone to the hospital and not come home again, and seeing the figurine of Goofy sitting on her dressing table. I can remember feeling quite amazed that she had kept this all those years and feeling quite tempted to take it. I didn’t though. Somehow, at the time, it didn’t seem like the right thing to do; it felt almost like stealing. I do regret not taking it now as I am sure it was thrown away not long after this.

I digress, however, as our day at my Aunt’s house was not yet over. After the figurine catastrophe, Ian and I decided to climb the apricot tree. It was a very large tree and the branches were quite spread out but I did manage to pull myself part of the way up. Getting down was a little more troublesome for me and I fell, landing in a bruised heap in the rotting fruit at the bottom of the tree. Sadly, this little endeavour resulted in my spraining my wrist and my having to wear a thick bandage around it for a few weeks. This experience did not discourage me, in any way, from climbing trees, roofs and walls. It did have the adverse effect of putting me off apricots which I still dislike to this very day.

Robbie and Michael Cheadle are the co-authors of the Sir Chocolate Book series

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56 thoughts on “The little girl who loved dolls – Plaster of paris figures and the apricot tree

  1. Great story, although I’m sorry the apricots had to pay for the fall… You brought memories, as I had one of those plaster of paris kits to play with (I can’t remember the exact figurines, although they were Disney characters too, for sure) and I remember they got hot as they dried. I was no good at painting though (and that’s carried on into adult life) and none of them survived for long, but I remember it was very exciting at the time. I hadn’t thought about that toy for year… Thanks, Robbie!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the stories of your childhood, they remind me of my own and also of the Enid Blyton stories I used to read. You are right about the plaster of paris casts being nicer than the plastic ones of today. My younger son, Henry, broke his wrist playing rugby 3 weeks ago and is wearing a black plastic cast which is making his wrist sweat and he finds it quite disgusting. They don’t ‘breathe’ like the old plaster casts did.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Kim. I read the stories to my boys and they said they reminded them of Enid Blyton as well. I am a huge fan of hers so I was ridiculously pleased. You also can’t draw pictures on the plastic casts [smile]. I hope Henry’s wrist heals quickly.

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  3. If I was a a Freudian I would think… hmmm a plaster figure brightly painted and now Robbie makes all sort if confectionaries from moulded sugar paste and of course I also had in mind the scent of apricots (related to almonds for marzipan). Then it all went horribly wrong when I got to the end and learned you don’t like apricots to this day!… Lucky I don’t believe in Freud! But still a great story. South Africa just sounds stunning!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, my husband would say that I do everything back to front. He is a very patient man [smile]. South Africa is very beautiful and we have wonderful weather. We are a developing African country so we have our challenges but so does the developed world it seems…

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  4. I love the memories you share, Robbie. They bring back fond glimpses of my own childhood. I remember making swirls in the shallow end of a pool with my friends, climbing trees and picking wild fruit in a nearby field.

    It sounds like you had quite an adventure that day.Even if it did end with a sprained wrist, what fun memories!

    I was really touched by the mental image of the Goofy figurine in your grandmother’s bedroom. She clearly treasured your gift.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think, in my case, that it was the smell of rotting apricots that did it! Ugh! You are very lucky – I was a naughty little thing and had a few mishaps over the years including fracturing my pelvic bone in three places.

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  5. Poor old Mickey Mouse! How sweet that your grandmother keep the Goofy figure you made, I bet she treasured that.
    Sounds like you were quite adventurous Robbie when you were younger climbing trees and rooftops!!!


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