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U3A Writing: Toys Wich Didn't Beep

…Certainly nothing I ever played with as a child ever needed batteries, except one very prized torch…

Elizabeth Robison remembers days when children’s toys were powered with imagination, rather than electricity.

There's a photo of me and my Mum, taken on my third birthday in June 1946, by a street photographer in Llandudno. We're striding out looking like an advert for Start-Rite shoes. I am holding a doll which had just been bought for me as a birthday present. It's a wonderful photo and the background details are interesting also: the women's clothes and the white bands painted around the trees during the recent war-time blackout. I remember the day, but I don't remember the doll.

Fast forward to Christmas 1951. Our family must have been at sixes and sevens that year because my sister, Margo, was born on December 30, and I think that my Mum must have gone into hospital on a false alarm just before Christmas because I can remember staying for a few days with my grandparents who never had Christmas decorations. They did, however, allow me and my brother to make some paper chains from strips of newspaper joined together by wallpaper paste, which we spread with our fingers from a saucer.

Mum must have been back home again for Christmas Eve, because I was in my own bed, sleeping next to a maiden aunt who was presumably there to baby-sit if Mum was whisked off to the hospital again. While she slept I awoke early and explored the contents of the pillow case Santa had kindly left me at the end of the bed.

Here I found the most beautiful Red Riding Hood doll, the best and most exotic present I had ever received. Playing with it while the aunt snored away, I tried to fix the legs so that the doll would sit, and horrors - the legs snapped off and I was left feeling scared, guilty and terrified of what my parents would say when they found out. I don't remember the immediate outcome, but I do know that the doll was mended at the doll's hospital and was as good as new.

A favourite toy because of the great noise that they made were treacle tin stilts - tins pierced on each side at the top and threaded through with string for you to hold at knee-level while you clomped around the back yard or the pavement. My uncle later made me some very posh wooden stilts, and at some point he also made us a bagatelle with ball bearings to shoot into cups made from a semi-circle of hammered-in panel pins.

The same uncle was doing some carpentry at my grandparents' house and I had great fun making ringlets for my hair from the wood shavings. I also remember improvising plaits from six of my grandmother's old lisle stockings. I put the tops one after another over my head and then I could plait three on one side and three on the other. I can remember all the adults laughing as I tossed them over my shoulders as if they were real plaits.

The side wall of a neighbours house was an ideal place for playing two balls. The numbers one to six all had a particular action to accompany them. I particularly remember that number four necessitated you bouncing the ball under your bent right leg, while number five required a nifty number where you had to bounce the ball behind your back.

The same uncle made me a top and whip, which reminds me of the seasonality of children's games - top and whip would shade into hop-scotch or conkers or skipping. A big rope was a great asset for group skipping if you could get some poor sops to turn the rope while the others 'ran in'.

All in together, girls,
Never mind the weather, girls.
O-U-T spells OUT!

Vote, vote, vote for Winston Churchill Here comes Attlee at the door,
Attlee is the one who is having all the fun,
So we don't need Churchill any more,
Kick him out!

I remember enjoying playing with my brother's Bakko set where metal rods went into perforated plastic squares. You could then thread on bricks and windows and roofs and make replicas of the red brick semis that were going up everywhere in the 1950's to replace homes bombed out during the war.
Piggy-in-the-middle, hide and seek, What's the time Mr Wolf - I seem to remember more activities and games rather than toys as such, and many home-made and improvised things - certainly nothing I ever played with as a child ever needed batteries, except one very prized torch.


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