Memoirs of an Octogenarian : Toys.


My earliest memories of toys are of an annual sale of second-hand toys held just before Christmas in the war years at Bolton School – where my father was a teacher. In fact I do not remember the sales themselves but the fact that our Christmas presents were obtained at those sales by my parents. These sales were for teachers and parents and must have been the only chance for parents to obtain presents for their children as no toys were available in shops. Four such presents I remember well.                                                                                                    The first, in the early years, was a box of rubber building blocks – about the size as the much later Lego bricks – with an assortment of acrylic windows and doors. This provided endless hours of fun for the lengthy days and nights of the war, and could be quickly carried under our indoor, Morrison, bomb shelter (which also doubled as our table and was of heavy steel construction).


 The second was a O gauge steam train. This was more my father’s toy, and necessitated a lot of swearing and a strong smell of methylated spirits. The track that came with it was rather limited – only really producing a large circle around the table and with bends that were not always negotiated by this hissing fiery monster!

steam train (2)

The third present was a pedal fret-saw – which I thoroughly enjoyed. With off-cuts of ply-wood from the school’s Woodwork Department I produced a large number of painted Christmas Tree Decorations and the figures for an Advent Calendar (the original real religious calender).


Hobbies weekly 1

The fourth present I remember with fondness, and frustration, was a large cardboard box of miscellaneous Meccano pieces. Truth to tell I never really mastered Meccano and was always frustrated with the results, or lack of them!

After the war, in 1946, we moved to Suffolk where my father took up a post at the Grammar School in Ipswich. Toys were still scarce and new toys almost impossible to obtain. My parents must have trawled possible sources and came up with one of the first releases of Dinky toys – this one, from a pre-war mould, was of a Packard Saloon – painted in military green – marvellous. Dinky Toys

Also during the war we made our own simple toys out of scrap material. I well remember two such toys. The first, and the most popular for youngsters, were ‘tanks’ made out of an old cotton-reel of my mother’s, a slice of wax candle (candles were very common in households during the war), two matchsticks, and a rubber-band. One wound these up and let them go to pursue their erratic way across the floor. The second was to make small swords out of pins and wire insulation – many a sword fight during those years!
Thinking of cotton reels, I think my sister became expert in ‘French knitting’ – a craft which defeated me!

French Knitting

It was some years before toys arrived back in shops to any great extent – raw materials were still scarce until well into the 1950’s.  My next step was, with a friend of mine, to be into ‘bikes’ – but we could not afford new ones so we became friendly with a local bicycle shop who not only sold bikes but also repaired them.  We were allowed to trawl his workshop and assemble bikes from the various old bits and pieces on the, rather untidy, shelves. We learnt all about frames (Reynolds and Accles & Pollock double-butted tubing, etc.), how to assemble derailleur gears, and test the merits of dropped handlebars as opposed to the traditional forms.  Toys were then not in my scheme of things again until my own children came along – and that was a different world and a different story.

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