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5:15pm on Saturday, 31st October, 2009:

Old Toys


My dad had been ssorting out his attic a couple of weeks ago and brought these down to give to me:

They're my "blue cavalry"", from when I was a kid. My brother had 19 "grey cavalry" plus about 60 crusaders (yeah, knights-in-chainmail crusaders).

We also had large numbers of cowboys and indians, plus a wooden fort my dad made (which was the best toy I ever had — it was miles better than the forst you could get in the shops). The cowboys, indians and fort were given away years ago, and I thought I'd seen the last of my cavalry, too, but no! My dad had kept them in case either me or my brother had had sons (or, theoretically, daughters interested in toy toldiers).

I don't just have mounted ones, I have footsoldiers too, but I left those in the box:

I was particularly pleased to see my cannon plus the team of four horses needed to pull it, which was the envy of my friends. The cannon itself has lost the firing mechanism somewhere (it might be in the box) but I still have a cannonball for it. The rig for pulling it has a broken wheel, too. Still, it's in surprisingly good condition given its age. It's at the front left here:

The building is the town jail. We had lots of buildings when I was a kid, but when we got older we shot them up with an air rifle. Two saloons, the livery stable, the sherriff's office ... sigh ... those were happy days. I have a boxed set of buildings in my attic, which I think may also have some Mexicans in it (yes, Timpo, the manufacturers, made all manner of Wild West stereotypes, except human females). Maybe I'll have a look when I get home.

When we were kids, we'd set up a town behind the sofa in our house, and leave it there for two weeks or more until we were asked to put it away. Our house wasn't (well, isn't — my dad still lives here) all that big, and only now do I realise how much of an inconvenience it must have been. It was with these soldiers, plus the cowboys, indians (nowadays Native Americans) and later Mexicans that my brother and I perfected the skill of using games to tell ourselves stories. We had elastic-band guns (pistols that fired up to 4 elastic bands in rapid succession) for combat, and our soldiers had a ranking system based on their neckerchiefs — the leader of my cavalry had the only green neckerchief we possessed, which made him the highest-level figure we had. These weren't the only figures we did this with — we built societies out of Lego, too — but they were for when we felt like playing on an epic scale. I don't know if today's kids have enough free time even during the holidays to spend two weeks playing a single, vast game that they made up as they went along, but my brother and I did.

Yes, I am alert to the place these games have with respect to my urge to create virtual worlds. So many of the best of our childhood games were like that, now I look back on them.

The heyday of these figures would be when I was between the ages of about 7 and 10. We'd take them into the garden and play with them all day. To this day, Dot (my dad's second wife) still finds the occasional one buried in the soil.

We gradually stopped playing with them as much as we'd like because it was too easy to lose their weapons and hats, sometimes their heads, sometimes entire troops that we forgot where we'd hidden them, plus we had to take them in at the end of the day or they'd get stolen or rained on or chewed by dogs. Also, we couldn't afford to buy more of them; their price almost doubled and our pocket money didn't. We moved instead to playing with paper aeroplanes with pilots drawn on separate, smaller pieces of paper.

That, however, is a story for another day...

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Copyright © 2009 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).