Sunday, October 08, 2006

New Record Player

The faithful old gramophone mysteriously disappeared, as did many old toys and books that one parent or another thought I wouldn't miss, not long after my own first record player arrived one Christmas when I was about seven.
It was a Dansette; green stick-on vinyl-type-stuff on the outside off-white plastic beneath the lid and, with two chrome knobs for tone and volume. It failed to work on Christmas morning, which probably miffed my Dad more than it did me, but once it was fixed I made good use of it for years.
I never got into pop music much – Dad said it was all rubbish and to prove the point he played the finale of the ‘1812 Overture’ at high volume on his Stereo and sat me in the middle of the room for full effect. I was strictly a Popular Classics kid after that, which didn’t really do much for my social life.
I spent many an hour slouching on the floor with the record player on, looking at the plastic band around the electricity lead, and wondering what the cryptic wording meant: ‘Green and yellow earth, blue neutral, brown live.’ It made no sense - I had never seen green and yellow earth.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Old Record Player

The digital age is still very young, but already it seems odd to think that there was a time, not so long ago, when we all had to do everything without it. Physically the world LOOKED much the same when I was ten or fifteen - give or take a few hairstyles and chrome-covered cars - but it worked very differently. No internet, no cash machines, no mobile phones, only three TV channels and only a test card on them for most of the afternoon.
Take music. Since the appearance of the personal stereo in about 1980, we've had four of five generations of similar machines, leading up to the current wave of hard drive MP3 players with memories big enough to store the entire collections of connoisseurs far too old and wise to ever think of buying in to such a tacky fad as the iPod. (An Archos or an iRiver, maybe. Just because they're not iPods. )

Going back a bit before even the Walkman, my introduction to music was an old wind-up gramophone that must have dated from the thirties. It was black, smelt of dust from the felt mat on the turntable and of rust from its decaying mechanism. You could still buy boxes of needles for them at that time, in little tins the size of matchboxes. You were supposed to replace them after every use, but of course that was a marketing ploy, like the toothpaste adverts that show the stuff being squeezed onto the brush generously enough to make you pass out from minty-flavour overload.
We had a few wooden cases full of 78s that Dad probably got from the salerooms. The oldest record in that box, I think, was a seven-inch 78 called 'Dreams on the Ocean', a Victorian melody performed rather tinnily by a combo called The Kiddyphone Band. It's since been de-hissed and transferred to my external hard drive as a WMA file, but it's just not the same without the shabby label on the original record, which showed a couple of chubby elves gazing delightedly at a gramophone that some careless soul had evidently left behind in their forest glade after (one fondly imagines) an outing from Oxford in a long-nosed Bentley with a hamper of expensive wine and salmon sandwiches, followed by some genteel debauchery with a couple of waitresses from a posh tea room, involving the sort of external hard drive that all students are familiar with.
When I got my first record player for Christmas when I was about seven, the gramophone disappeared. I still miss it a little.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Chunky Wax Crayons

One Christmas when I was four or five I got a box of about eight big chunky wax crayons. My cousins must have been around soon afterwards because Grandma Betty recalls that my younger cousin Kerry was playing with them and started peeling the paper off. Appalled, and with uncharacteristic assertiveness, I said ‘You can’t take the paper off, Kerry!’
I can, Dennis!’, replied Kerry, as she cheerfully continued to do so.

Yellow Submarine

...which I never owned.
I did have a small toy plastic submarine. I don't remember it in its intact state; I only remember it getting broken when Grandma Ethel trod on it on the dining room floor. Accidentally of course. No doubt I got a curt rebuke along from Mum along the lines of 'Well, you shouldn't leave your toys lying around'.
I wanted another submarine all the same, of course, and there was a nice yellow one from the Beatles film in the window of Johnson's.
Mum said she would buy me the Yellow Submarine if I managed to go a certain amount of time without wetting the bed. I never did get it, though I feel sure I must have passed the required timespan by now.
I'm tempted to give her a call immediately and remind her of the deal, since there's one of those very submarines on Ebay with an asking price of £35, and only 25 minutes of the auction left to go, but it's now 12.15am and she'll be asleep so I'd better let it go. Shame.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Spinning top

Well, we all had a spinning top, didn’t we? It made that humming noise when you got it going fast enough. I found that a bit magical when I was three, which I suppose was the intention.
I haven't seen this particular spinning top since I was about five years old - nor have I thought about it much since - yet I can remember as if it were two minutes ago, the feel of the plastic handle, the strange helical shape of the rod beneath it that diappeared into the machine to set it spinning when you pumped the handle up and down, the distinctive rattly noise it made when you did that, the oddly ripple-shaped cross-section of the body, the holes around the rim that were there to make it hum, the humming noise itself and the dusty, rusty metallic smell it gave off. I don't recall the design on the top at all, but I do remember the multicoloured blur what it was spinning. What an odd thing memory is.

Crow Shoot

This was my sister Wendy’s, and appeard one Christmas when I was about five. It was a bit like a miniature funfair stall; an clockwork thing enclosed in clear plastic, with a gun that fired ball bearings at tin-plate cut-out crows that went by against the backdrop when you wound it up. I only remember seeing it on Christmas morning, so I assume it didn’t last long, like many of these things. Not the sort of thing you'd be likely to see these days - shooting birds or animals is a bit of a no-no in the toy manufacturing world, I think... shooting each other in video games is fine, of course... I suppose because you know what you're getting into, not like the poor crows.
This brings to mind something else I once had... a shotgun that fired a sucker dart, which came with - no kidding - a clockwork plastic rabbit. I don't remember actually trying to shoot the rabbit with the gun more than once or twice, possibly because you had to get someone else to wind it up and set it off.... or else do it yourself, then pick up the gun and aim at the rabbit's bum - a much smaller targer - before the clockwork ran out.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Rattly Tubes

Two tubes of transparent plastic, one green, one red; about eighteen inches long, divided into compartments; each compartment had a hole in the middle to let the balls pass into the next one. Each tube contained eight white balls and eight black ones. Wendy & I thought the object was to get the balls from one end to the other quicker that the other person by shaking the tubes like hell and driving my mum nuts. More likely you were supposed to separate the white balls from the black ones but we never thought of that.

Other toy cars

When I was very young, four or five, I had a whole heap of battered old toy cars that for some reason were kept in an old white vinyl shopping bag which probably looked stylish when my mum carried it around town in the mid sixties.
Among said vehicles were a tin-plate American-style police car about eight inches long, no doubt full of sharp edges, a blue-and-cream Dinky or Corgi ice-cream van with sliding side windows, a tiny Batmobile complete with plastic Batman and Robin, a little electrician's van, and probably about a dozen others. The only ones from that bag that I remember ever being new were a green Tonka beach buggy - like all Tonka toys, so tough you couldn't possibly break it - and a silver-grey American-style car with a neat convertible roof that flipped over into the boot when you turned the door handle.
Most of the battered old cars were undoubtedly quite old already when I had them - it never occured to my to wonder where they came from, but it's quite likely that they once belonged to Malcolm and Jeremy Dunlop, the older boys across the road. From me, they were passed on to Neil Brison, who no doubt battered them even more.... though he went on to work for Jaguar so perhaps I was instrumental in that. Or not.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Matchbox cars

I was nuts about cars when I was a kid. Perhaps because you could go places in them. One of my favourite books was a big Richard Scarry hardback, full of elaborate illustrations of townscapes and landscapes full of roads and vehicles and buildings and people - or rather, animals masquerading as people, and evidently getting away with it because there were no real people around to take issue with them. My favourite page of this book showed a country landscape with a road winding across it from one page to the next, so you could follow it with your finger, and imagine travelling along it. And that, I suppose, was also the appeal of Matchbox cars - those tiny yet durable little models that were cheap enough to buy every week with your pocket money, and (cunningly) numbered, so you had to collect the whole series. I think they went up to 75... and each one changed once in a while, so you never really had the lot.
Some had doors that opened, some had bonnets with an engine underneath, once in a while the boot opened too, and just one or two had all three. They were the best ones. Most were modelled on real cars, but a few wacky designs were completely original, if often implausible.

I used to buy one from Egdell’s, the shop on the corner, every Saturday as soon as I got my pocket money. I eventually had 48, enough to fill the specially-designed case which I got for Christmas or my birthday one year.

One of the earliest Matchbox cars I had, when I was about five, ended up in the zebra enclosure at Edinburgh Zoo.

My Old Toys

This sad picture is of Harecrag rubbish tip just outide Alnwick, Northumberland, circa March 1986. Scattered across the surface of that day's refuse are various items from our garage, victims of a massive clearout just before we moved house. I can see my sister's spacehopper, bike and blackboard, my Dad's telescope and golf trolley, and nothing at all of mine, now that I think about it, but there must be some of my old toys down there somewhere - if not scattered across the surface, then further down, deep in the landfill, crushed or fragmented, rotted or rusted... somewhere down there are the earthly remains of the dozens, if not hundreds, of large and small, cheap and precious, treasured and transient toys and trinkets and trappings of a 60s infancy, a 70s childhood and an 80s adolescence... and now, a modern memory - recalled from beneath a heap of grey matter as deep and murky as Harecrag Tip, that you, gentle reader, may marvel at the myriad simple ways my generation found to pass its time in the days before Playstations - or perhaps just to think - 'bloody hell - I had one of those too.... they were crap.'