The photos in the Great Universal or Grattan catalogue always made the toys look better quality, more glamourous or just more fun than they usually turned out to be. They were pictured being played with by beautiful happy children who probably never fell out with each other or their parents, who lived in large detached houses in Surrey, went to smart Chav-free schools and got to go to Disneyland on their holidays. Their world was brightly coloured, full of wonder and smelt of fresh ink. There was a sense that if one could only have access to their wonderful toys, a small part of their world could be yours.
In reality, of course, once the excitement and general mess of Christmas Day had faded, when the smell of turkey had gone and the piles of crumpled wrapping paper had been stuffed into bin liners and thence into the bin, the untidy heaps of presents sorted into disconcertingly small piles and placed at the bottom of the stairs for filing, and even the next morning's holiday TV of old Tarzan movies and Flash Gordon serials had been disposed of and Dad had settled into his armchair for, God help us, an entire afternoon of racing, those much-coveted toys were laid bare to scrutiny in the cold light of Boxing Day and that which was once so wanted was now invariably found wanting.
Never was this so true as of the Adventure Kit.
This consisted of a glossy box in a sophisticated, adult shade of grey, containing a pair of binoculars, a compass, a sort of plasticky satchel type thing, a whistle and (the box proudly announced) a *REAL* camera. The catalogue photo showed the usual shiny kid, in this case looking a bit like the boy out of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, standing in an unseasonally summery
field of tall yellow grass and dandelions against a hazy backdrop of not-uncomfortably- wild-looking trees, his camera and plastic satchel hanging round his neck, examining something in the distance through his binoculars, probably a giraffe. Not an adult in sight of course.
Although it still looked very smart in its box, and still even felt little glamourous when it still smelt of new plastic, reality soon backed it into a corner. My first, and I think only, outing with the Adventure Kit was to the Column Field, all of five hundred yards from home, with Alistair Robson. There were a few trees there, but not much to look at or photograph that I hadn't seen every day since I was three. The only wildlife was four stone lions and a couple of furtive teenagers with cigarettes.
Adventure (the lesson was) does not come from Grattan's Catalogue.