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A Shout From The Attic: Upset And Mismatch

Ronnie Bray recalls childhood games from a less-affluent age.

My e-mail inbox receives notification of electronic instruments at bargain prices. For a few hundred dollars I could own the latest in technology and be one step ahead of my neighbours, if they are not two steps ahead of me already. For less that two hundred dollars, I could be the proud owner of one of the many game consoles that have become as essential to youngsters as air, water, and bread and jam were when an I was but a lad, as the Bard would have put it.

The offer I get most often is for a bargain priced Gameboy® - an instrument that can only be removed from the hands of children by a surgical operation following the administration of a general anaesthetic. Parents who get the offers I get can buy one for their little darlings for a little under $200, and that represents more than a week’s income for some folk at the bottom of the economic heap. The pity is that children do not understand economics or poverty until it comes to something they cannot have because their parents cannot afford it, in spite of the well-known and oft-stated fact that “everyone’s got one!”

There were times when I felt mean and endured the inevitable pangs of guilt that tug at the heartstrings of parents who know that their children are denied things that everyone else has got. Having said that, I must confess - and I do so with undying gratitude – that Matthew seemed always to be understanding whenever it was needful for me to tell him, “We can’t afford it.” I never saw disappointment on his face, never saw a temper tantrum rise from whatever disappointment and frustration he felt at the denial. He seemed to understand the fundamentals of economics, the primary one being, that if you do not have the money to spare, you cannot afford it.

I never cried for a Gameboy®, and. if I had, no one would have known what it was during the thirties and forties when I was trying to grow up. We had what I will call Gameboy® precursors. A precursor is a forerunner, predecessor, or herald of things to come. These treasured objects were relatively easy to obtain, although, like many object of desire, they came in different qualities, from Yuck to Wow! Mostly I had Yuck, but I am not complaining now because I did not complain then. I was glad to have what I had, and did not envy those who were blessed with WOW! models because the Yuck kind was inferior to the Wow! sort only in the materials used to make them, and, thereby, in one other feature that some considered important.

I am speaking about the little puzzles in a box with a glass or clear plastic top in which were a variable number of ball bearings that the operator had to settle into small indentations on a gaudily printed backing sheet that could portray anything from animals, wild and domestic, to rudimentary tin can space ships that owed much to Flash Gordon serials, and florid imaginings of what yet-to-come interplanetary travel would be like.

The main difference was that the cheap versions had backings that seemed to be printed on rice paper overstocked by a Bible publisher, and the luxury versions had backing of cardboard one sixteenth of an inch thick. The difference was that when you had a ball in one of the holes in the cheap versions, too much tilt to get another ball into another hole would cause the first ball to leave its setting and you began all over again. The balls resident in the cardboard were almost unshakeable, although a violent sneeze could dislodge them at the same time as it dislodged something nasty from the nostrils.

Those who were very poor could make their own by dismantling one of the wheel bearings from their big brother’s bicycle, selecting a few of the greasy bearing balls, washing them in the sink in mother’s best porcelain Willow Pattern dish with paraffin to remove the grease, dislodging the crystal watch glass from father’s Sunday hunter, cutting up the photograph of Great Aunt Emily – in whom the family had high hopes of a sizeable bequest at her demise - standing by a mammoth aspidistra, punching holes in her eyes and teeth and in the buttons on her sombre black no-nonsense bombazine dress, then sticking the lot together with the glue pot from under the kitchen sink.

This course is not recommended for children who have a desire to remain in the warmth and light of a loving family circle, but those who wish to spend their remaining years in an orphanage or other institution, it has been known to bring about the desired effect. As far as I know, no child has managed to construct their own Gameboy® by dismantling and abusing family treasures, but perhaps we are already breeding a generation of children who are capable of so doing.

What did my elders say as I juggled the rudimentary ball puzzle? “You don’t know how lucky you are. When I was young all we had to play with was a peg doll and a marble out of a pop bottle.” Strange as it seems, I envied their past-age toys because they sounded like a lot of fun. I don’t envy those who have Gameboys® because I don’t have the mental capacity to understand what is supposed to happen, and I no longer have the reflex speed to see and annihilate whatever monstrosity it is that comes and gets my icon while I am trying to understand what is happening and make good my escape.

So, even though I like to see youngsters enjoying their expensive and parent-povertising electronic gadgets, as far as I am concerned it is no Upset at not having a Gameboy®, because even if I had one, it would be a Mismatch!


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