The Bible tells us that when you are a child you speak as a child and understand as a child, but when you become a man, you put away childish things. I’m not so sure. I prefer the bit about there being a season for everything and a time for every purpose – “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” etc. And I think that the time to be childish and play with games does not finish with childhood.
I recently bought my nephew some Lord of the Rings LEGO (sorry if he hasn’t already opened his present, but he’ll know soon enough…) with a little Gandalf, a hobbit and a horse and cart. One of the pictures on the box showed Gandalf feeding the noble steed a carrot, which was bigger than the horse’s head – it was all I could do to wrap up the box without tearing it open for a quick play. I loved LEGO as a kid, and it seems I still do.
It made me think about my favourite toys as a child. Of course, there were the cuddly animals who went everywhere with me – they were great companions and could be dressed up and made to play all sorts of games. They were often lined up in front of a blackboard while I taught them stuff. I’m not sure I was a very good teacher because I definitely had favourites who got most questions right (little swats) and some who were very thick and had to be beaten with the bamboo cane to improve their learning ability – yes, I’m afraid this was the 70s.
Some of them remain in my old room at my parents’ house, some are in a box in the attic and some have travelled around the world with me. There is a scene at the end of The House at Pooh Corner, in which Christopher Robin must go to school that breaks my heart. “But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the forest a little boy and his bear will always be playing.”
Books were my other great love, and I disappeared into them for hours and then made up adventures and stories of my own to play – they were fantastic for imagination and literacy development, but I’m not sure they can be counted as toys. The games I played (either with friends or aforementioned cuddly animals) were interactive, but the books themselves weren’t.
When it was the last day of term at school, people brought in board games to play – do they still do that, or is the whole of schooling just one long doss these days? Others had Buckaroo or Operation. I used to like Monopoly but the game usually lasted for hours and ended up in tears and tantrums (when Dad said we had been ganging up on him. He was right, we had). For some reason I was never a fan of Scrabble or Cluedo – too much unnecessary speculation resulting in frustration.
I liked Guess Who, although I didn’t have my own version and it took me a while to work out the right questions to ask. (“Is it third from the left in the second front row?”) I had a game called Headache which I loved. I used to draw up tournaments between all my cuddly toys (which went from group stages to knock out rounds) and play it for hours in my bedroom. I think it was the Pop-o-matic bubble in the centre of the board that held most appeal.
I went through a cards phase as a teenager, although I didn’t really know any games except gin rummy, whist and patience. I used to play Racing Demon with Our Gracious Hostess and her sister in a furious frenzy when I was meant to be doing my homework. It got pretty raucous and her parents tried to ban us from playing it, which meant that we just did it more – oh what fun we had ‘but at the time it seemed so bad...’ Well, we were hardly sniffing glue or nicking cars were we?
I had a couple of dolls, but mainly I liked their accessories. Sindy had a horse and a tent, so she could go riding or camping. When my sisters were at big school and I wasn’t yet, they very kindly made me a whole set of school books and a uniform for her – I think they made a hockey stick and PE kit as well – which was wonderful, but they wouldn’t actually play any games with her (or me, for that matter).
My brother ‘played’ with me – by which I mean that he threw my cuddly toys down the stairs (or out of the window) claiming they had found a secret passage. He would wait until I had gone down to collect them and returned upstairs again before he threw the next one down. It was hours of entertainment – for him.
I also remember a game in which we ‘raced’ cars along the hallway. This involved hurling the toy vehicles as far as we could along the carpet until they thudded into the skirting board (sorry, Dad). We raced them in pairs and, again, I drew up a knock-out tournament. The ambulance was pretty good, although the articulated lorry was crap, especially when it was carrying plastic pipes.
And then there was the stuff we did outdoors: playing football, shooting the netball, whacking a tennis ball against the side of the house, skipping (both ‘normal’ with a rope and French with knicker elastic), rollerskating along the footpath, and batting a shuttlecock back and forth with Our Gracious Hostess. We had favourite shuttlecocks and always tried harder with those ones so they could win the tournament – I think there may be a theme developing...
And I loved my bike. Mum always said ‘Stay where I can see you’ but she wasn’t actually watching. I rode my bike up and down the kerb a lot (sorry, Dad) and once Our Gracious Hostess rode hers into the river and I had to sneak home and find some dry clothes for her to change into while she hid in the bushes so her parents would never know. Yep, we were dangerous. Our man in London says we used to ride round and round the green cackling in a terrifying manner, but I don’t believe it (the cackling bit).
So, I guess if I had to sum it up (and I really should), this would be it.
5 Favourite Childhood ‘Toys’:
- Cuddly toys
- Board Games
- The Great Outdoors