Anyway, I gave up and called my friend whose children I was out foraging for and she uttered the most magical words I had heard in what felt like years – gift cards. Crisis over, I was able to stagger into the nearest childfree zone and fortify my central nervous system with a gin and tonic. The whole shambolic episode did get me thinking though about the transformation that seems to have taken place in the world of toys. Almost all the toys I saw were linked to films or TV characters which I don’t
remember being a feature of toys from my own childhood.
Barbies must have been around when I was a girl but I didn’t know anybody who owned one. I remember a friend had a Sindy, my sister had a disco doll who I think was called Pippa and I had a Tressy. That Tressy was my pride and joy, with a strange button in the navel area which you pressed to make her hair grow. How I loved her beautiful, cascading hair until my brother, in a fit of pique took a pair of scissors to her, leaving me heartbroken and Tressy with a crew cut.
Board games featured heavily in my childhood although they were a source of much frustration to me. For a start, we usually got one as a joint present between my brother, sister and me from some skinflint relative at Christmas. To add insult to injury, I was the only family member who liked to play them and, let’s face it; Cluedo, Scrabble and Monopoly are no fun on your own. From time to time, I would successfully badger my brother and sister into playing with me but it always ended in tears. We could never rise above our personality traits. I would become fixated on the rules whilst my sister would play ruthlessly and competitively and my brother would throw the game up in the air, effectively stopping it in its tracks, the second it became clear he was going to lose.
As I got a bit older, I spent the six months leading up to Christmas pining for a Girl’s World, which was basically a plastic head. I can’t remember how old I was but I would style the hair and apply makeup and, for a while I harboured the idea of being a hairdresser. Given that every time there is a survey carried out about job satisfaction, hairdressers are said to be the happiest profession, I probably missed a golden opportunity there. I was put off the idea though when I mentioned it to my mother and she guffawed with incredulous laughter. In fact, I seem to remember getting a similar response every time I shared my career hopes with anyone. I suspect it had something to do with my general lack of patience and somewhat grouchy nature. Come to think of it, working with scissors probably wouldn’t be a great idea after all.
The thing that brought us the most fun as kids was the cheapest and simplest gift of all. Every Christmas, someone would get us a colouring book and crayons each and that, without a doubt would be the hit of the festive period. We would spend hour after hour, stationed at the kitchen table or sprawled on the living room floor, engaged in colouring competitions as deadly serious as the Turner Prize. I’ve not seen a colouring book for years and don’t even know if they still exist but just thinking about them has rekindled an urge to colour.
Another Christmas staple was the annual. As a preteen, I lived for my weekly Bunty comic and there was nothing better than getting what was essentially a big fat version of it once a year. Once I became too old for the Four Marys, Penny’s Place and Moira Kent, I progressed to Jackie magazine and the yearly annual was a delight, filled to the brim with fact files on Starsky and Hutch, Donny and Marie and The Bay City Rollers. It’s nice to see that the annual lives on; I almost fell over a big pile of them in WH Smiths the other day. Although, like the toys, they seemed to be mostly spin offs from films and TV shows rather than comics.
I suppose the biggest change in the world of toys came with the onset of computer games. Most kids seem to spend all of their pocket money and spare time glued to the computer, killing zombies or waging wars. Consequently lots of the things that brought us so much pleasure back in the 70s now seem ridiculously quaint and out of date. It would be easy to see this as yet another indication of how commercialism is shaping our lives but let’s not forget how we viewed the toys that our parents held so dear. I remember scorning the idea of a whip and top which my mother talked about with such fondness and don’t even get me started on the hula hoop.
There are some toys that have remained timeless. Lego for instance remains a best seller despite being popular back in the day. I had to confiscate a yoyo the other day at school when a kid almost took his friend’s eye out with it. I have even removed marbles from grubby little hands that should have been busy writing about the demise of Macbeth. Some things it seems never change.