The greatest toy on earth!

Our children are constantly bombarded with images of shiny new bits of plastic in colourful wrappings. Adverts on tv, in comics, online, in the laminated book of dreams known as the Argos catalog. Even kids’ tv shows seem to be nothing more than vehicles to sell us associated toys. A walk around Tesco can be dangerous and expensive if you happen to wander too close to the screaming neons of the toy aisle.

Our kids are being programmed to desire these cheaply made, expensively priced plastic playthings, and once they want them, they won’t be persuaded otherwise.

My sitting room and my daughter’s room are covered in boxes containing toys. The kids have a crate of cars, three crates of teddies and other soft toys, a large box of Sylvainian families, an equally large box of octonauts, shelves of craft toys, a kitchen and several kilos of play food, Lego by the bucketful, and a massive collection of wooden railway tracks. That’s not everything…

Despite this considerable selection of playtime goodies, there are other items which rank among the favourite toys. In the bath are a jug and an empty bubblebath bottle. In my daughter’s room is a box full of toilet roll middles, egg cartons, cheesy football tubs and miniature cereal boxes. The lounge is home to wrapping paper tubes, empty water bottles and cast offs from my wife’s wool supplies.

These “toys” have to be stored alongside the shop bought variety, and are treated with as much care as the most expensive items that belong to the kids. The reason why? These items don’t have a single purpose.

The multi level garage from the early learning centre is a multi level garage from the early learning centre. The long cardboard tube has already been a telescope, a sword, a broom, a microphone, a megaphone, and a medical instrument this morning.

The child size plastic kitchen is always a child size plastic kitchen. The empty lemonade bottle is now a spaceship, a car, a baby bopper (big sisters are lovely, aren’t they?), wheels for a car, a robot…

So what exactly is the greatest toy on earth? A child’s imagination.

If you tell a child what a toy is, that is what the toy will always be. But if you let a child decide, the possibilities are endless.

Pink is not the problem

Oh Lego! Why hast thou forsaken decades of good toymaking to shit in your loyal fans’ eyes with the monstrosity that is Lego Friends? What has possessed you to manufacture something so far removed from the unisex wonder of your original brick based play sets?

When I was little I played with Lego. My brother and I amassed a huge collection of it, comprising various sets and types. Everything from what would now be called Lego City, through Robin Hood, space, and pirates. My younger sister inherited this collection and enjoyed it as much as us boys had.

My wife and her sister had a large collection between them too. The most fondly remembered part of theirs was a formula one style racing car that my wife received as a gift when her sister was born.

My stepfather, his brothers and his sister all used to play with Lego together; a toy that spanned the genders and the ten years that separated them.

My father in law and his brother and sisters played together with Lego.

None of these people ever said or thought that it was only a boys toy. So why have Lego themselves suddenly decided it is? Why the need for a girl specific version? Who knows. Maybe it’s purely a profit driven thing. Maybe some misguided executive had it in their head that girls couldn’t play with Lego because it’s a construction toy. Whatever the reason, it’s pissing me off!

I want to be able to share my love of Lego with both of my children; my son and my daughter. I don’t want to have to play Lego with my boy and Lego Friends with my girl. I want to play Lego with both of them. Why would anyone want to allow a gender divide in their play?

Now the problem I have with Lego Friends isn’t that it’s very pink heavy. To be perfectly honest I don’t really care what colour Lego is! It’s the idea that girls need their own different Lego, that they’ll only play with Lego if it’s pink, that the figures need to be changed from the interchangeable, asexual props to play, into fashionable teens with an obsession with cute fluffy animals. Even the soccer practice set comes with a kitten.

Do we really need another toy manufacturer pushing our daughters towards this image of how girls should be? That their highest aspiration should be to bake cakes, wear pretty clothes and take a fluffy animal with them everywhere? Really?

Childhood lost.

Forgive me for I have sinned.

I have forgotten the pleasure of simple things.

I have let my imagination dull as my youth has faded.

I have forsaken Peter Pan and taken berth with Captain Hook on the Jolly Roger.

I have grown up…

Luckily, I have a little Lost Boy and a slightly bigger Lost Girl to remind me of the wonders of being young and to show me how to play again.
The sitting room is covered in toys today, same as every day; plastic food, octonauts, doctor’s kit, cars, and numerous other carefully, skillfully designed and manufactured playthings. These toys are played with day in, day out and loved, sometimes to bits. The kids never tire of playing with them, making up games around them, but I do.

There are only so many times an adult wants to play doctors before they’re sick of being sick. Only so many games of rescue the sea creatures before you want to drown yourself. Only so many times you can eat a pretend ham sandwich before you do a Mama Cass. But the kids could play these same games every day, sometimes more than once a day, without getting bored.

My mind is numb toward these games now. I know that when a piece of plastic toast is presented to me I need to make a fuss about the lack of cheese until I’m presented with a toy magnifying glass and I can finally see it. I know that when the medical case is handed to me I’m going to see patients with whichever symptoms have been shown on Get Well Soon that week.

If I had any hair to tear out I’d be flexing my fingers right now.

A saving grace appeared this morning in the form of a Slinky. A toy with no real purpose, no preset way of playing with it, no expectation. The kids were using it as an elephant trunk, a dog lead, a chasing toy, a Tigger tail, a tunnel… This simple twisted length of multicoloured plastic entertained my children for almost an hour and caused giggles by the bucketload! I remembered it simply as ‘the toy that falls down stairs’…

So there it is. The proof that I have lost my imagination, lost my way, lost my childhood. I’ve grown up and I may never find my way back to Neverland.

The Great Happyland funfair disaster of 2013

Happyland is a peaceful place, inhabited by gentle plastic figures of all races, creeds, ages, and bodily ability. They live in harmony with one another, leading simple lives in their little plastic idyll.
The farmer tends to his animals, the toy shop till rings up another sale, a young mum pushes her baby in a pushchair, the village children play outside the cottage, none with a care in the world.

Then the fair came to town.

It seemed like such a happy diversion for the village people, a day of fun and frolics, rides to enjoy, ice cream to eat, jolly music to listen to. But now the rides lie silent and unmoving, the ice cream melts under the unforgiving sun, the music now a cacophony of screams from the injured, pleading for help in the hastily assembled field hospital.

What could cause such carnage I hear you ask? Who is responsible for the levels of destruction and the melting ice cream? Where does the blame lie?

Improper adherence to health and safety procedures.

The rides may have looked like fun with their gay trappings, brights primary colours and jaunty tunes, but there were a string of failures to ensure the safety of those who were drawn into the spiderweb of funfair deceit…

None of the rides had seatbelts or high backing to ensure the customers would remain seated throughout the duration of the ride. The pirate ship swing tipped above a safe angle, which coupled with the lack of seatbelts or safety bars meant that passengers fell out on the upswing.
The carousel reached dangerous top speeds sending riders careening off their horses and into the ground.
The rocket ride spun awkwardly and toppled over, spilling bodies across the fairground, crashing into another ride before finally ceasing its deathly twisting.
The ferris wheel engine forced the ride to spin faster and faster until the ramshackle passenger cars carelessly tossed their occupants through the air, sending them crashing sickeningly into the hard ground beneath.

Daddy isn’t allowed to play Happyland anymore.