Sunday, March 16, 2008

Plastic jumping bean track type thing

So many toys from the 70s conjure up images of people at large toy companies sitting about in boardrooms trying to dream up ideas for the next thing they can persuade a viable number of kids to pester their parents into buying, if only the TV ads are jazzy enough. One such thing was this clunky contraption, which I've forgotten the name of. It consisted of three plastic plank-type things, about a foot long, each with four semi-circular grooves running the length of it, and a hole at each corner on the top and bottom where a rod of dowelling fit in, so you could connect the three planks together and stand the thing on the floor. Now came the fun part. you had four plastic bean-shaped things - a plastic shell containing a ball-bearing - that would roll end-over-end down this track. You had to set them off at once and race them.
That was it. It got dull pretty quicky as you can imagine, but I bet the TV ads made it look fantastic.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Polaroid Super Swinger Camera

This was my second camera.

My first came from Hamleys, the self-styled 'finest toy shop in the world' ('biggest', in the days before Toys-R-Us) on a family trip to London in 1973, when I was seven.
It was small and black, and had no control except for a shutter lever on the side and a knob to wind the film on. My sister Wendy got one too.
For the rest of the holiday, I picked and chose my subjects carefully, as I only had one reel of film, then had to wait about two weeks for the developed pictures to come back from the chemist's.
When he finally came home with the little blue and white folders from Boots', Dad gently broke it to me that none of my pictures had been printed, because none of them had come out well enough. On one of the negatives, if you held it up to the light you could make out a distant silhouette of Big Ben. The rest were blank, or faint blurs. That's what 28p bought you in 1973. (Wendy's were fine, of course - she always seemed to have all the luck).
I was rather put off photography for a while by that experience but I'd recovered enough by Christmas of the following year to be besotted by a Polaroid instant camera in that year's Great Universal catalogue. (It must have been on the pages of grown-up toys... which always looked so much cooler that the others.)
It arrived on Christmas morning in a nice grey box bearing the glamorous smell of fresh plastic. It was big and clunky like everything from the 70s and I loved it. It came with a box of flashbulbs, and a pack of film the size of a small book.
When you looked through the viewfinder and squeezed the inch-high shutter knob, you saw a little red sign light up at the bottom of the field of view that would tell you if the light was right. If not, you'd have to use a flashbulb. If it was, you could press the button down a whole inch with a satisfying THUNK, then pull the paper tab out of the side of the camera - which took a bit of force as well - and the picture would come with it, stuck face-down on the paper. Unlike later Polaroid cameras, it didn't develop before your eyes - you had to wait a full minute before you peeled it off. Too soon, and you would be punished for your impatience. Also unlike later Polaroids, the pictures didn't fade with time - they only had to survive the ravages of an eight-year-old's storage system... though my mum foresaw that and for my birthday, got me a very cool photo album with stick-down pages and an antique world map on the cover.
The camera seems to me now like one of those things from the 70s that was just waiting for a digital age to do what it tried to do, only so much better.

The album is long gone, and the camera was consigned to Harecrag Cemetary for Deceased Consumer goods a few years ago when the plastic around the eyepiece perished, but the pictures survive. Here's the very first one, of Wendy looking eager to see the result.