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Toys from your childhood.

We have this nostalgic, almost romantic, view of happy childhood memories of playing in sunbaked gardens with our toys that were so de rigueur back then.  I am talking about the 70s for those of you old enough to remember such classics as Stretch Armstrong, Slime, Etch-a-Sketch and Subbuteo.

Granted, some of these were indeed way ahead of their times and provided hours of fun. But some were just plain odd and downright pointless. Here are some of my favourite toys that were quickly packed up in its original packaging and left to rot in some musky old shed.

Swingball – I presume the aim of this game is to improve your forehand and backhand, but the only skill I learnt from this hazard-on-a-stick was to avoid being hit in the back of the head with a tennis ball traveling at 36 miles per hour. The object of the game was to be the first one to get the ball to the top of the pole, using plastic paddles that looked like Chinese-made mini tennis rackets, thus releasing a piece of cheap plastic on the top to indicate a winner. The ball was attached to a piece of rope or cord that would wind around a spiral piece of metal track, thus enabling either opponent to hit the ball so hard that the opposing fool would have to duck out of the way to avoid being concussed by the target ball. If the combatant then proceded to demolish any sense of self belief or courage that you may have had the ball would continue to travel up the spiral and to the top, releasing the pathetic plastic pop-up egg cup.

As I mentioned earlier, unless you are a sadistic tennis semi-pro, the only thing you can do is stick your plastic paddle out at full stretch in the vain hope that somehow it will stop the ball. Now, in my day, these paddles would way about 4kg so when you are a 26kg stick insect you can’t really hold it for any extended period of time (in fact only long enough to execute a pathetic air swing, much to the mirth of your opponent). Oh, and the other thing I learnt was to play on with huge blisters and callouses on my hand from gripping the paddle as if my life depended on it.

This is how the manufacturers would have you believe how easy it is to play (look even grown ups can play Swingball with children):

What it doesn’t show you is that Daddy is actually thrashing the living daylights out of young Johnny – look at him he isn’t even lifting his racket because he knows he just needs one well-timed shot to scare the bejesus out of his son and win the game.

This is a more realistic reaction (complete and utter bewilderment as to why anyone would want to play this game in anything other than mayoral chains and a 3-piece suit):

My worst childhood nightmare (barring a bunch of clowns playing swingball):

Space Hopper – now if someone had said to you (as a 6 year old child) that you could have a giant red plastic testicle to bounce up and down on in this day and age, you would be locked up and have the key not only thrown away but the locks changed every night by a nice big bloke with tattoos called Violet. But that is exactly what the Space Hopper was (albeit with some horns to hold on to. Honestly, I think half the toys and children’s shows were invented by some sex-starved hippies blissfully stoned off their rockers). The premise with this bouncing gonad is that by sticking this swiss ball with a freaky animal face on it between your legs you could propel yourself down your local high street without the need for walking. There were some recorded incidents of 7 year old boys that bounced as high as 25 metres in the air without injuring themselves or their private parts. The fact that you were in actual fact hopping on your own and using your feet and legs to propel yourself meant nothing to the geniuses that marketed this toy. You can try it yourself: crouch down in the middle of the room and bounce up and down and see how far you get. Now put your hands near your crotch area as if you were holding a bull by the horns and…hey presto! You have just used an imaginary Space Hopper. Feel cheated? I did.

Here is a picture of one of the world’s most useless inventions:

(Although I do actually think this guy has a swollen testicle coming out of his jeans – “I sat in gum!”)

Skateboard – a rather energetic way of getting nowhere fast. Still used today by normally couch-ridden and pedestrian 27 year olds who think that its quite gnarly to work in IT during the day and extend a middle finger to society by carving up the pavement on a piece of wood slightly bigger than a paddle pop.

Pogo stick – literally a stick that goes nowhere…fast. 

Scooter – almost as pointless and wanky as a skateboard, but at least you can rest your hands on the handlebar. Can’t imagine how we managed to stop ourselves from slamming into a postal van in my day; we never had the thing you stand on that makes the back wheel lock up. I think we just used to jump off and watch it sail into the side of our neighbours’ cars. See also skateboards that have a mind of their own.

Etch-a-Sketch – great if we lived in a world with no curves or round things.

Choppers – another name for a bicycle with one small wheel at the front and large one at the back. I still can’t work out why they had to be different sizes. I mean you don’t see a Hells Angel riding along some Californian highway with a tiny baby wheel at the front and a large one at the back. My only guess is that it makes steering it easier, but this cannot be true either as I remember riding home from school one day on my fake Chopper – I think it was called a Scrambler (which I actually shared with my brothers – how 3 boys can share 1 bike I will never know) – and I hit a pothole and the small wheel virtually disappeared into the tarmac and I went arse over tit onto the road. The handlebar was dented and twisted but I think we managed to fix it. But the handling was atrocious; because the front wheel was so small as soon as you turned 45 degrees the whole thing would topple over and you would end up with the handlebars wrapped around your midriff and grazed knees. Anyway, they were very cool in those days. They had this white band on the seat, which was so long that you could have fitted 3 people on it, that had a safety warning on it: ‘This bicycle is not constructed to carry passengers’. Not designed to carry passengers? You could have transport a whole Vietnamese family and their entire worldly possessions on one of these bikes. Anyway, you judge for yourselves:

Raleigh Chopper Mk1 (circa 1971)

Raleigh Chopper plus drug dealer (circa 1987):

Raleigh Chopper Mk2 (the only real difference between this and the Mk1 is that this one now has a automatic gearbox taken from a ’67 Ford Mustang):

Now that I think of it, these toys are not so much useless, its just that the misguided marketing boffins were from a time when life was simpler when a stick and ball were all you needed to keep boredom at bay. No doubt some of these are now regarded as retro-cool; but I for one won’t be bidding for a slightly used and deflated Space Hopper that’s for sure. A vintage Chopper on the other hand…