THE FACT OF THE MATTER
Meccano, the must-have toy for every self-respecting boy in the Christmases of my youth, celebrates its 120th birthday this year and is still one of the biggest selling toys at this time of year. Also a staple in Santa’s sack is Lego, voted a year back by a Channel 4 survey as the ‘Greatest Toy of All Time,’ and is, as I write, flying off the shelves via online orders.
I watched the Late, Late Toy Show the other week. I had not done so since way back when my own three children were young and Uncle Gaybo was at the helm of the annual event which has gone from strength to strength since it first aired back, believe it or not, in 1975. Since the RTE Player came about, the show has garnered a global audience. Here at home more than a million people tuned in to watch Ryan Tubridy last week. The show exceeded expectations, despite the lack of a live audience and other Covid-19 imposed curtailments. Well done young Ryan and all involved in making for a memorable night. Just what we all need, given the year we are having.
Meanwhile, half of that Channel 4 poll’s Top 10 were high-tech console games but Lego was joined at the top of the tree by fellow oldies Monopoly (1934), Scrabble (1948), and Scalextric (1958).
For very young children, old Teddy bear has been arriving in many homes at Christmas since 1903. The Teddy Bear was named after the hunting and shooting US President Theodore Roosevelt. The first fluffy creation was marketed as Teddy’s Bear after creator Morris Michtom sent one to the president and got permission to use his name. By 1906 it was a huge hit as a child’s toy and, oddly, a women’s fashion accessory (don’t ask!). In 1932 Irishman Jimmy Kennedy — he of Red Sails In The Sunset fame, allegedly written abour Portrush in Co. Armagh — added the familiar lyrics to the 1907 hit Teddy Bears’ Picnic.
For young girls, Barbie has been the preferred Christmas visitor since 1959. Watching her daughter Barbie giving her dolls adult roles, American Ruth Handler saw a gap in the market for a doll in adult form. She put the idea to her husband, who’d founded the toy-making giant Mattel, but he dismissed it as a folly. Ruth persevered, and the controversy over the first Barbie’s pneumatic bust and sexy swim-suit propelled it to 350,000 sales in its first year.
More than 1.2 billion have sold since.
Sometimes, it seems like it was only yesterday but it was the Christmas of my ninth year and I so wanted to emulate Bruce McLaren in his Grand Prix winning Cooper Climax that I desperately wanted Scalextric from Santa Claus.
I was wavering between believing in the man in red and dismissing it as hokum-pokum, particularly having burrowed my way the previous year into the back of the wardrobe in my parents’ bedroom, but decided it was to my advantage to carry on ‘believing’ and write my letter to Santa.
My father muttered something about Scalextric being very expensive and that maybe Santa would not be able to afford it as he had so many children to visit and “things like that don’t come cheap”.
But, believer or not, I had every faith Santa or whoever would deliver and I could give McLaren a run for his money.
Scalextric had been on the go about six years by then: a train set on speed, life in the fast lane, leaving my Dinky cars in the shade. I just had to have it and hoped against hope that I had been mistaken in my bout of scepticism when burrowing through my parents’ wardrobe.
Well, Christmas morning 5am arrived and I awoke starry-eyed with anticipation of my stocking weighing heavy on the bottom of my bed.
I never got my Scalextric that Christmas of my ninth year.. I do not remember now what I got instead, only the disappointment that my future as a McLaren was truly dashed.
It was probably too expensive for Santa, my father said.
Johnny down the road is getting one, was all I replied.
But I swore there and then, young as I was, that if I ever had children I would make sure that whatever they asked for from Santa they would get.
Funny though, down the years the two boys never asked for Scalextric, despite its enduring popularity.