Friday, 14 March 2014

Toys and games

Today's children have all manner of toys and games to play with, as well as apps for  iPhones and other handheld devices.  But back in the nineteen-fifties and sixties we had plenty of playthings, including things that we had made for ourselves.  And I never remember once saying or feeling that I was bored.

Some types of toys are just the same today as they were then, or modern versions of them perhaps. The first toy that I can remember having was my Teddy bear.  I dragged it about by one of its arms and it went everywhere with me. Andy had a toy monkey - perhaps appropriate for the cheeky naughty boy that he could sometimes be.

Another early toy that I remember was a dog on wheels that you could push around. Now that I think about it, it was probably a way of getting me to move from the toddling to the walking stage.  Later, in what was possibly a quite expensive toy, was a little peddle car that I could drive around the garden in. And then of course my first bike.

On a smaller scale we had various glove puppets, painting and drawing books, board games like snakes and ladders, draughts and jigsaw puzzles. We could amuse ourselves using tracing paper to create our own pictures, or playing hangman or noughts and crosses. We played with marbles a lot too.

Grannie and Auntie Edie used to play cards quite a bit so we got into that too, first with snap and happy families, then onto patience (solitaire) and more gambling type games. When we stayed with my father's sister Bet and her husband Fred in Matlock, Fred had us playing with his Pokerdice kit.

I really loved my dinky toys. I managed to build quite a good collection including buses, lorries, ambulances and police cars, and my favourite - a Rolls Royce. I really wish I had held onto them, but like many of my toys they eventually got passed on to Andy and after that who knows where.  Across the road there was an Italian family called the De Lucas and one of the De Luca boys showed me how to use bicycle oil on the car wheels to make them run smoothly.  At one point I bought a big piece of hardboard and painted roads on it that I could drive the vehicles around on.  Later I  built up a collection of Hornby OO trains with a station, track, level crossing and bridges to run my beautiful Mallard engine on.  Then there was a Scalectrix set with cars that we could race each other with. Like many boys at that time we had a Meccano set that we could use to build things with.  Ron Sharp had a more advanced engineering set up with moveable steam powered parts.

We had outdoor games to play too, of course. Football, cricket and tennis in the garden or at the rec.  We were very lucky to have such a big garden to play in. We used to annoy my father by turning the garden seat on its side to make a small goal. He let us use his old and really heavy cricket bat before we got our own. 

We also built a tree house in a damson tree at the bottom of the garden. We put together a gokart made from bits of wood and various old pram parts that we could get our hands on.  Steering was by a piece of rope with a pull of it to the left or right as required.

Like many children I went through a stamp collecting phase so I got to know about strange countries which helped me with my geography of the world.  I  had a John Bull printing set and imagined myself to be a magazine editor as I created poems and short stories to show my parents.  I had an autograph book into which went autographs and comments from friends, family and some Watford footballers.  Something else I wish I still had!

We played a lot with my parents' record player, an old Bush turntable which I eventually inherited when my parents upgraded.  Even before we bought our own records we would play classical records of my mother's and some old 78s that Auntie Edie gave to us.

We also played games at the Church Youth club and then later in the Sixth Form Common Room at school. It was in these places that I got to play table tennis, billiards and table football.

Looking back I was very lucky in the range of toys and games that I had, not to mention the space and freedom afforded by our large back garden, the recreation ground, the woods and the green. And I haven't even mentioned the books I had at home and via school and the libraries. That, I think, deserves its own separate blog post.

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