Jane Bradley finally admits her parents might have been right to resist rampant consumerism and ‘must have’ Christmas toys
When I was a small child, my parents were wise people. There, I’ve said it. I might not have thought so at the time, but looking back, they actually had extreme sense in what appeared to me to be fairly strict rules on toys. The overarching theme in our household gift buying philosophy seemed to be “nothing in excess”.
So while my friends opened giant pink, plastic My Little Pony Dream Castles on Christmas morning, I would be given one miniature, multi-coloured nag, so that I could “join in” with my classmates. The year that everyone else received giant Care Bears the size of their heads – which talked, or squeaked or sang songs – I had a small, silent, pink one with a teeny tiny rainbow on its stomach. I joined in.
Of course, there were certain things which appeared under the tree in abundance. I had fairly limitless Lego and plenty of Meccano (my dad was an engineer with hopes that his daughter would follow in his footsteps) and my room boasted a bookshelf to rival the National Library of Scotland.
I had everything I needed in terms of proper, playable toys. I had a bike and a doll’s house and most of the major board games: Scrabble, Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit. I wasn’t deprived in any way, but I was not allowed to indulge in the faddy toys, the ones my parents knew, in all of their wisdom, would be played with on Christmas Day and then thrown to the bottom of the toy box, never to be seen again.
It makes me sound like Laura from Little House on the Prairie, but I can remember almost every toy I ever owned – and I cherished each one.
I still have many of them, beautifully looked after and without any pieces missing, that my own daughter can play with when she visits her grandparents. My husband, who had, shall we say, just a few more toys than me as a child, was astounded to find that a tiny Lego treasure chest still contained every single one of the six microscopically small gold coins that had come with it when I got the set – the coveted Dark Shark pirate ship – in 1990.
If you’d asked me when I was an eight-year-old, I almost certainly would have pledged that I would act differently when I had my own children – showering them in as much plastic tat as they could take.
But now – and I never thought I would say it – my parents got it right.
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The LOL Surprise Balls which I have written about in this paper as this year’s “must have” toy ad nauseum, make me come out in a cold sweat. The word “Hatchimal” just sends panic into my brain – and my wallet. I have no idea what a Fingerling is and the dogs and cats which purr or bark when you stroke them – unless they are actually living and breathing pets – just freak me out.
The modern-day children’s toy sector is consumerism at its worst. The giant LOL Surprise Ball contains layer after layer of wrapping, to reveal little “treats” such as tiny mobile phones, clothes and bags. The final prize is a couple of plastic dolls – which the kid may well already have, as the little moulded creatures are also available in smaller balls – are aimed at youngsters who are collecting them (at around £10 a pop). This Christmas, the giant version costs £60.
The fad cashes in on children’s love of unwrapping parcels – an overblown, consumerist-nightmare version of the age-old party game. Meanwhile, it indulges pester power, fuelled by the unnerving YouTube “unboxing” video trend which showcases other youngsters unpeeling layers of packaging from parcels, which is, I am told, strangely addictive for the under tens. Even Playmobil and Lego have got in on it with their “Collectible” mini figures in little plastic bags which make it impossible for buyers to know what is inside. Yet this is all part of the fun.
The problem is that we are buying into it at a rate of knots.
The whole thing horrifies me. YouTube has been banned in my house for at least the next 15 years, while I am seriously considering buying a remote croft with no Wifi and only cows for company, until this whole internet thing goes away.
I’m not sure whether every generation sees “progress” as a bad thing. The fairly modest Care Bears and chunky, pony-shaped toys which represented consumerism to my parents in the 1980s, now seem to me to be a far more palatable and wholesome alternative to what we have today. I worry that my dislike for this kind of stuff comes from a fear of modernity and an early-middle-aged craving for the cosiness of the good old days “when I was a girl”. There is some inevitability in that, after all. A friend told me with horror the other night that what his nine-year-old daughter wanted most for Christmas was tickets to see Little Mix, while one of my daughter’s school friends – aged five – announced proudly in the playground the other day that she has asked Santa for a mobile phone. Whether the bearded man will deliver such a thing or not remains to be seen, but the desire is there. They are, at even this tender age, being seduced by blatant consumerism. On a Christmas shopping trip this week (focusing on the educational board games and gender-neutral Lego section),
I had a sudden guilt pang that my own aversion to all of this stuff will turn my daughter into the playground outcast, the strange kid in the corner, who has only a wooden cup and ball to play with and whose most exciting stocking present is a mouldy orange.
So off we went, my husband and I, on a hunt through Jenner’s Hamley’s concession for something pink and sparkly to assuage the need for such things. “OK,” I said, as we paused in front of a lurid display of plastic Shopkins paraphenalia. “She can have one. But just one. The smallest one they have. It will let her join in, at least.”
My own words echoed through my head as we stood at the cash desk. It was the Care Bear crisis of 1986 all over again. I have finally turned into my mother.