VERY few of the toys of my youth remain. My daughter rediscovered my teddy bear Andrew a year or two ago.
Andrew is virtually bald. What hair remains is greyer than my own, though his has faded from sunlight and the surreptitious application of household chemicals when I, aged seven or so, tried to put some emotional distance between ourselves. Whereas mine is just running out of the natural pigment melanin.
Andrew now sits dolefully in the study, casting a somewhat stern eye over guitar practice, computer googling and coffee drinking. He is not unloved, but he could be forgiven for thinking he is. He rarely gets a cuddle now.
It’s funny what becomes a child’s favourite toy. It’s rarely the all singing, all dancing plastic intellect-enhancing item that cost a zillion quid at Mothercare or the Early Learning Centre.
I’ve seen children unpack an ‘educational’ toy from a cardboard box, put it to one side and use the cardboard box as a house, the polystyrene packing as snow or furniture, and the bubble wrap as ... well, bubble wrap. Does anybody do anything with that stuff other than pop it, irritatingly?
One of my favourite toys was the lid of my mother’s Singer sewing machine, which became a boat. I’d punt it all over the dining room floor, using a wooden spoon for an oar. The pirates’ cave was under the dining table and the harbour was the tiled fireplace, before you ask.
My favourite game involved a fort made from old Swan Vestas matchboxes. This fort was manned by blue and yellow marbles, who were the Cavalry.
The red and green marbles, who outnumbered the Cavalry, were the Indians, and they would attack the fort.
It’s impossible to imagine, now, what was so fascinating about this solitary and ridiculous charade, but it kept me quiet for hours.
Did your parents ever put a clothes horse on its side and cover it with a blanket to make a tent? Hours of fun: no expense whatsoever. These days, children wouldn’t recognise a clothes horse if it got up and kicked them.
Grandson Harry’s first birthday was marked by the arrival of a number of very clever toys in bright, alluring, primary colours. Yet he is attached to a simple set of stacking cups, and will not travel without them.
Harry has an item called Flat Stanley for comfort. I’m afraid I don’t know where to begin to describe Flat Stanley. He’s half cloth, half puppet, I suppose, but he’s probably the least expensive of Harry’s play ensemble.
Charlie, on the other hand, has fads, of which a loud whistle is perhaps the least sociable. His comfort cloth stays in bed because, say Bethany and Rick, if he lost it in transit somewhere he’d be heartbroken.
“He has a pair of maracas that go everywhere with him at the moment,” says Bethany. “We think he’s going to be musical.”
Maracas and whistles: he’s going African. Well good for him. You can’t come too early to a love of music.
The penchant for human beings to make something out of nothing is called imagination, and it’s one of our most precious gifts. I’ll be praying Charlie and Harry find it, and having found it, never lose it.