Jade Whittaker (whose initials, I have just realised, matched those of the organisation that bound us together) was my best friend until I was about nine. She was the first person I ever heard use the word “sexy” – she tried to make me say it, too, but I refused on the grounds that I knew that it was rude, though I was confounded if I knew what it meant.
Jade’s family had a fair bit more money than I did, and as a young girl in the early 90s, she of course had those little plastic animals produced by M.E.G. and Vivid Imaginations: Puppy in my Pocket. I was crazy about those little dogs, to the extent that I used to try and get invited round to her house to play with them. She had so many, and the pink “Play and Display” house… everything. Strangely, although I am definitely a cat person, the Kitty variation never grabbed me in the same way.
But I came to the craze a little late, and the market had moved on. M.E.G. were trying new, ever-tackier, ever-more-desperate attempts to capture the Vivid Imaginations of their easily bored target audience. What corner had not been exploited? Bunny, Pony, Teddy, and finally (most gruesomely) Baby gradually took over the shelves of my pilgrimage in Woolwell Tesco and Toys ‘R’ Us. Puppy was old hat and I was bereft.
If you, too, used to collect them, you might remember that you got a list of all the puppies manufactured at that time, called a Collectafile, one of which Jade gave me so I at least had the pictures. There, on the last page, was a glimmer of hope. A number to dial to help you fill the gaps in your collection (or, in my case, build it from scratch).
I used to get £5 a month pocket money if I had done well in my lessons – which I always did, not because I’m particularly clever but because my mother is the most amazing teacher. Once a month I would wake like it was Christmas morning, because pocket money became Puppy In My Pocket money. They were £1 each and another £1.50 postage, but it was always the same lady on the phone, and she got to know my voice, and ended up always letting me off the postage so my £5 could buy a whole five puppies.
Occasionally some extra money from walking the dog two doors down would help my cause and get me one or two more for the month. I saved up tokens from cereal boxes and got the house and the hospital and the exclusive puppies. In many months’ time, I had an empire. And it occurred to me this month, as I arranged them proudly on my shelf in my Edinburgh home, that what made them so much more special – so much more important – than any other toys I have ever had… was that I bought every single one myself, with my own money.
Time has passed. The telephone number doesn’t work any more. Puppy In My Pocket has been resurrected in new twee varieties two or three times since then. But I still collect those originals. I still hope to fill the gaps. Yes, they are plastic dogs and I am 25, but I still love them.
And Jade, wherever you are now, I hope you’re happy and I hope you got out. And I bet you’re well sexy.