The other day a friend from the West Country sent me this fantastic card in the post.
She would be staying in London for a while, cat-sitting, she said - did I have time to get down to the East End? So I made time for a flying visit yesterday.
We met at Liverpool Street, from where she, in her vivid blue jumper and me, in my new bright green coat, took a rainbow-coloured No. 8 bus
to see a large pink stripey cat (not the one my friend is looking after.)
More on that in a minute.
First we stopped at what must surely be one of the most memorable and wonderful East End caffs (or is it a restaurant? or a greasy spoon?) in the city - E Pellicci. Everyone is greeted like an old friend, many are old friends - it's no wonder. Hugs, chat, banter. Total warmth. It's noisy, vibrant... just real. A far cry from the English tea room vibe which proliferates around my locality - sweet as that can be for visits by ageing relatives, sometimes I feel what I can only describe as an underlying sense of uptightness to our rural establishments. You couldn't get much further from uptight at this place, though. I had a lovely cuppa and sponge pudding with custard and learned how to say my friend's name with an authentic Italian accent. Loudly! The ebullience of our host was contagious. The surroundings are interesting too - beautiful Italian art deco marquetry on the walls had been put in during the 1940s, the old cash till (think Open All Hours) is still in use; the same warm and welcoming family have run this place for over a hundred years on hospitality and home cooking - why change?
After good conversation and a sugar fix, my friend and I dash on up to the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood.
This is where we see Bagpuss... and Professor Yaffle..
... as part of a small, but beautiful, exhibition of the fabulous world of Smallfilms - Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin's creations that are forever lodged in the memories of those of us who spent our childhood in their joyous company.
Bagpuss was a bit after my time - first aired in 1974 - so, lovely as he and his companions are, I didn't get that same special thrill at seeing him.
I got my special thrill from seeing these, ohh! the Pogles! My favourite!
Look at little Tog on the right. He was some indeterminate species of animal, sort of squirrel-like with rabbity feet. Apparently they all had to have weights in their feet to stop them falling over during filming.
"I'll be respectable when I'm dead, Mrs Pogle," says Amos (on the left). "Until then, I'll shout and sing as I like". Go for it Amos!
The witch was extremely scary, I mean really scary, and even scarier to see pinned up under glass yesterday. Apparently a number of stories were planned for the witch but were never screened because the BBC thought them too frightening. I tried to take a photo of her but I think she cursed it as all I ended up with was a nasty black smudge.
If you remember Pogles' Wood, then you'll no doubt recall Noggin the Nog. I love the artwork for this 2-D animation classic. I'm currently working on a book with human characters (actually Mary, Joseph and their lickle baby, the one that was born on Christmas Day) and, quite coincidentally, I'd recently been looking at some of Peter Firmin's illustrations for inspiration, so it was brilliant to see his work for real. Look at this wonderful art for the Ice Dragon!
And then of course we have The Clangers.
They were a bit larger than I expected. Peter Firmin's wife knitted them and apparently some of their space-age clothes were inspired by pictures of Twiggy.
And you can't have Clangers without Froglets, nor the Soup Dragon....
"Don't you remember the Iron Chicken?" I heard a young bearded man say to his friend in disbelief.
Don't you remember the Iron Chicken?! I couldn't get a good shot of said chicken, but I must say it was lovely to see him again after all these years.
Well, it was good to see them all, after all these years.
Clanger, Bagpuss & Co is on at the V&A Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green, until 9th October.