Today toy shops are bright lively places, full of glossy new games, electronic toys, dolls that can do everything, and thousands of pieces of plastic bricks. Drones fly around threatening our privacy. Most of the things on sale require skill but no imagination. How different life was as a wartime child, when all we needed was imagination.
I remember I had a golliwog made of black socks and wool hair, some puzzles, and rag books, then for a special treat I actually had a real doll, she came from Germany and was swapped with another family for some items we had. She was beautiful and had eyes that closed, she said Mama too. Her hard bisque body was a nice shade of tan, and my mother spent all her spare time making rompers and little coats for her. Wool was begged from friends or sweaters were unravelled to make the tiny garments.
There was so still very little in the shops. Toy shops in Bristol were not places of colour in those bleak years. The shelves held, jigsaw puzzles, card games like Happy Families and Snap, and there were some very poor quality celluloid dolls sold in Woolworths. Wooden building blocks were the Leggo of the day. That was the extent of toys on offer. Even footballs were not really available; a pigs bladder stuffed with newspaper had to do. The steel and all other materials were needed for manufacturing war items, so toys were pretty low on the list.
Then it was 1945 and things were still tough, although the war was nearly over. When my brother began to walk and annoy me more he was given a tin whistle and a drum. Which was not conducive to peace and harmony in the house. The toy factories had started to work again… Toy tanks were popular, and so were soldiers, we could also buy farm animals, I played for hours with the little lead painted animals. The steel and all other precious materials needed for manufacturing war items were at last easier to get. Shops gradually stocked more childrens toys. I was given a hard felt Dutch doll and wish I still had her, I think it was a well -known make and worth a few dollars now. Soon for the rich kids there were train sets and Meccano. My brother did have Meccano.
Yet those years taught me how to amuse myself, I made endless families of dolls from worn out socks, all with smiley faces stitched in darning wool. With my brother to help, we made tents from blankets, and forts from old boxes, we scraped roadways for the toy cars, and built mounds of earth for battle grounds. I could read at six so read everything I could including the lurid Sunday Papers. We listened to Childrens Hour as we ate our meals. Then slept in a freezing bedroom surrounded by my hand made sock dolls – ah, memories.
Will children today be doing the same as I am – looking back with nostalgia? I suppose they will, as we don’t know just what inventions will take over the Nintendo, selfies and interactive computer games will one day be old stuff, discarded on waste tips. The virtual world awaits, where they will have mind games not actual games. It is positively scary. But if you had shown my grandmother a drone she would have said it was evil and from outer space. Perhaps she might be right. Bring back the rag doll. My children have nostalgia about the first game they could play on TV, it was a primitive tennis game and now they fall about laughing when they remember it. Each generation has it special memories, doesn’t it?
What are your toy memories?