Friday, March 23, 2012

Tale of a Talking Doll by Victor Sullivan

Unfit for purpose? No way!
© 2012
The doll's name is long forgotten, even by its owner, but I clearly recall the ache in my ribs from laughing, as I write this almost forty years later. Perhaps some tool had slipped, perhaps I had over-tightened a screw, perhaps it was something I should have done differently but the outcome will go down in the annals of our family history.

The doll was quite a novelty. She talked; and when she did she spoke quite clearly. This was years before the era of miniature electronic speech implants that are now commonplace in many toys.
A string with a knob on the end dangled from the doll's back which, when pulled and released, randomly initiated a typical toddler expression such as "I want a drink of water,"  "Please put me to bed," "Kiss me goodnight" and a few others in similar vein. Our daughter made good use of the talking feature and was always glad of an opportunity to show off her doll's verbal expertise.

Came the sad day when a tearful little girl appeared with a silent doll in one hand and the mechanism's activating string in the other. She approached me, her technically orientated Dad, fixer of everything.  I confidently gave comforting assurance that it would be quite a simple matter to restore the doll to her former verbosity and thus produced a hopeful smile on that tear-stained face.

There followed an exploratory examination of the doll necessitating the use of scissors on clothing and other indignities that eventually exposed a clever sound reproduction device. It operated on Edison's mechanical principle using a tiny plastic disk with several short mechanical sound-tracks recorded on it. A stylus and diaphragm reproduced the child-like voice as the disc revolved. The disk was driven by a speed-controlled clockwork motor, wound by pulling the string.  On release, it activated the mechanism. My technical experience and understanding of such basic principles would clearly be of benefit in the circumstances and my daughter would soon hear the the familiar accent of her doll's voice once again. Simple!

Kitchen table cleared for doll-surgery, tools laid out, (most of which I knew I would not need but I had a most impressive-looking tool-box in those days and it made a good impression), temporary lighting was set up, a magnifying glass ready for use and with my daughter's anxious and challenging eyes staring from the opposite side of the table, the operation commenced.

Dismantling the mechanism appeared straightforward – at first. Things became a little tricky when I attempted to attach the winding cord. More in-depth dismantling of the  intricate mechanism was needed. The watching eyes became increasingly anxious, perhaps justifiably, as the critical reassembly steps commenced. Eventually I uttered a triumphal, "DONE! Now test it."

The six-year-old looked doubtful but she gingerly reached for the cord, prepared to test her beloved doll's vocabulary. Watched by both parents and two brothers she slowly pulled the cord and paused for dramatic effect before releasing it...

From the doll came a ponderous, very deep, male, (very male), voice worthy of an XX certificate, that requested: 
"Please put me to bed."

The audience exploded with helpless laughter. Somewhat bemused initially, then upset, the doll's owner quickly succeeded in sobbing and laughing simultaneously. Then she pulled the cord again and released it. In a tone that would have made the toughest Chicago gangster sound genteel by comparison, the slow voice growled threateningly: 
"I want a drink of water." 

We shrieked and doubled up in uncontrollable paroxysms of mirth, eyes streaming. Through my tears I saw a new, mischievous glint in my daughter's eye as she reached once more for the doll's cord and pulled.
"Kiss me goodnight" said the eloquent doll in a deep, sexy tone worthy of an XXX certificate and a red light above the door.

My offer to undo the damage was voted down by everyone, including our daughter. That night and for weeks afterwards members of the household could be caught stifling a snigger every time a deep, inappropriate voice could be heard coming from her bedroom. 

During the days that followed the operation the doll was taken to visit our neighbors in order to demonstrate the result of my attempted repairs. They all laughed as expected and I felt that they looked at me in an odd way whenever we met thereafter. If life became dull in our house the doll's cord would be pulled and we would all be laughing again. I remember hoping we wouldn't be obliged to attend any funerals. Choking down suppressed laughter on such solemn occasions is rarely successful and is prone to being misconstrued. The possibility was a source of worry as the sound of any low-pitched male voice could easily trigger a memory of that doll's demanding voice, three octaves below normal: 
"Where's my potty?" 


  1. Victor, I haven't laughed this hard in ages!! I love reading your stories because they are always filled with humor, and leave me feeling happy & smiling!

  2. OMG...that's the best real life story I've heard for a very long time; like Sandy; leaves me feel happy and smiling, A LOT.
    Thank you for sharing!!