Searching out a Pirate Ship for our grandson recently, I started to reminisce about toys. The toys of my youth, in the 1950s and 1960s. One of my earliest memories is of a spinning top, like the one in the picture. My Mum would spin it for me, and when I was old enough to be able to push the plunger on the top, I would play with it on my own for what seemed like hours, never becoming bored with watching it spin.
Many of my childhood toys were home made. My Dad was a useful carpenter, making me a sword and shield, so I could pretend to be a Knight, and a wooden gun, for when I wanted to play at being a soldier. The best thing he ever made me was a wooden fort. This served as housing for many varieties of my figures, from Cavalry and Red Indians, to Foreign Legionnaires and Arab warriors. For a long time, it became a farmhouse for my toy animals, until I got a ‘real’ toy farm, and was also used as a garage for my collection of toy cars. My imagination made it into anything I wanted, and I would happily sit on the floor arranging it for hours.
As my parents’ financial situation improved, I was bought a large plastic castle. This was amazing to me at the time; with turrets, flags, battlements, and a drawbridge that could be raised and lowered. I would line up my Knights on the top, and attack the castle with others. Each week at the shops, if I had been good, Mum would buy me one soldier, animal, or Knight, and I would stand for a long time before making my choice. I looked after all my toys too, never breaking them, or damaging them. By the time I was eight years old, I had around a hundred or more figures of all kinds, and kept them in boxes after I had been playing.
When the 1960s arrived, better jobs and widespread manufacture meant more money available, and a wider choice too. Birthdays and Christmas would see fabulous additions to my toy hoard. I received many toy guns, (no political correctness back then) and they were usually very authentic too, with working parts and plastic bullets that sometimes fired. I got metal cannons that fired matchsticks from a spring mechanism, and even a medieval catapult, that I used to attack the plastic castle. One year, I was decked out in a full Roman Soldier outfit, complete with armour, short sword, and plumed helmet. Heading off to play with the local kids, I could have passed for a Roman invader from history, at least as far as I was concerned.
Age and dexterity made it possible for me to make model kits too. I was lucky to get many aircraft models, as well as tanks and artillery pieces. These spiced things up in my games with toy soldiers, and my improving imagination meant that I could do things like glue cotton wool to the planes, simulating them being shot down. Unfortunately, I had little patience when it came to building these kits though. So my propellers never turned, and my tank tracks were fixed solid. My Dad became frustrated with this, and took over the construction himself. I suspect that was the main reason he bought them in the first place.
I still went back to my old fort and castle though. Being an only child, I could play out with local friends, but in the house I had nobody else to play board games with, or compete with when playing the many plastic toy games that were becoming popular then, like ‘Ker-Plunk’, or ‘Connect Four’. I never had any electronic toys either, as I was too old by the time these became affordable. As I got too old to continue to play with all these toys, and spent more time out riding my bike, I slowly passed them on to younger relatives, always hoping they would be looked after, and reluctant to see them go. When I see such things being treasured as antiques now, I regret not being able to store them all away.
Let me know about your childhood toys in the comments. It is always fascinating to see the changes in such things, over time.