Toys? I hear you ask.
Yes, toys, I reply.
BECAUSE TOYS ARE IMPORTANT!
There a show on Netflix called The Toys That Made Us, a documentary about the history of some of the word’s most popular toys. So far it has covered Star Wars, He-Man, G.I. Joe and Barbie, and future episodes later this year will be about Hello Kitty, Star Trek, Lego and Transformers.
Inspired by that show, here are the toys that made me. Some of them may have helped make you, too, so read on…
Plasticine played a prominent role in my childhood. I remember the thrill of getting a new packet of it for Christmas, with the different colour strips all neatly lined up, immaculately grooved and pristine. I took great care to keep the colours separate (I hated them getting mixed up) and spent hours carefully crafting replica vegetables (why?). In fact, I can’t remember what else I used to make with it; surely I did more than just roll up bits of green to make peas?
The smell of Plasticine isn’t quite as lovely or as distinctive as that of its arch enemy Play-Doh; I don’t think we ever owned any Play-Doh in our house, perhaps my parents were prejudiced against Play-Doh or maybe Plasticine was cheaper and less messy? Perhaps I thought it was cool because of Morph? Who can say. All I know is that my own kids have only ever had Play-Doh. I think it is time to introduce them to the joys of Plasticine peas.
Let’s be specific here: I had the Talking Commander, plus a couple of Eagle Eyes, and a random selection of older, 1970’s dolls (let’s just call them what they were: dolls) that were handed down to me from older boys who lived in the house behind ours. The Eagle Eyes models had eyes that you could move from side to side, via a switch on the back of their heads, whereas the Talking Commander had a cord on his back, and when you pulled it he would say one of the following phrases:
Give me some cover.
What’s the password?
Enemy tanks approaching.
Advance in single file.
Send out the patrol.
All really useful phrases for trying to chat up my sister’s Sindy dolls with, right?
I also had a lot of Action Man vehicles and accessories, including a tank, a ship, a jeep with a trailer, a plane that shot missiles, a helicopter, a police motorbike, a dinghy, a tent; you know, the essentials of bloody warfare, bringing death and destruction to all.
My best mate and I used to play with our toy cars in my front garden, zooming them down the long path and digging driveways for them among my mum’s flowers (I’m sure she loved that).
Why do children like making traffic jams with toy cars? That’s what I did if I was playing alone, I’d set these little cars in a large circular jam, driving slowly, slowly around the carpet, for as long as I wanted.
I kept all my cars, and now my sons play with them. They don’t make traffic jams; they make car parks. Some of these cars are over thirty years old, and they remain indestructible. I can imagine my great-great-great grandchildren will probably still be playing with them, making traffic jams and car parks for hours on end.
It is unthinkable to imagine my childhood without Lego; my big 3 toy staples were Cars, Lego and Action Men (until Star Wars came along…more on that next). In the late 1970’s / early 1980’s there wasn’t the vast plethora of Lego systems that there are now; Lego was just Lego. I had one simple train set (push along, not battery powered), a bus stop with a bus, a snack bar and one piece of road (I know, it sounds so exciting!) and then later a small moon base. Like some of my other toys, my Lego has now been passed on to my sons, and it has become mixed up with all their broken Ninjago sets. I sometimes see Lego components that I recognise as my own among all the carnage, and feel such warm waves of nostalgia that I could spontaneously combust.
Like millions of children all over the world, Star Wars toys featured heavily in my 1980’s childhood. I had a Millennium Falcon, a rebel transporter, a Scout Walker, a speeder bike, Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer playset, Jabba the Hutt and lots of action figures. Conveniently, my best mate lived next door-but-one, and he had completely different Star Wars toys, including Boba Fett’s ship and a landspeeder. By playing together, we could instantly expand our Star Wars universe. It was amazing.
I have previously written here about reenacting my Star Wars childhood with my own sons. Naturally I sold all my Star Wars toys when I was about thirteen, and with the proceeds I bought a new board game. Sigh.
So, Plasticine, Action Man, Matchbox Cars, Lego & Star Wars were the most important toys to me when I was a child. What were yours?