Getting to know yourself

big movie tom hanks playing with toysPlaying is weird for adults, we do it with children when we have to, some of us enjoy it (I clearly do or you wouldn’t be hearing from me as much) but some adults genuinely feel very uncomfortable with play. However, strip away the shield of a child/children and we all start to look very similar.

I have a confession to make, when it comes to play which is unsupervised by a child, I personally get a bit uncomfortable. I’m not saying I can’t do it, I’m not even saying I can’t have fun with toys, I’m just saying it feels a bit weird. So lets think about this.

I work in a toy shop, I’ve been around toys in this kind of environment from when I was fourteen years old till eighteen then since I was twenty two until now. Obviously I played with toys as a child and I was still making Lego sets at about twelve years old, so apart from four years at university and a couple of years between stopping playing with toys and my first job in a toy shop, I’ve basically been around toys for my entire life. Put another way, toys have played a huge role in my everyday life for pretty much my entire time on this planet and even I feel a bit strange picking up a toy and playing with it when there aren’t any kids around.

I have no alternative frame of reference but I’m guessing that if someone who has had unsupervised access to toys for their entire life can feel a bit peculiar playing in the absence of children then there’s perhaps little hope for other adults out there. The thing is that culturally we see toys as the things of childhood. To play with an actual, bona fide, child’s toy is to use a well-recognised cultural object out of context. Children are the guardians of the toy, to use one, one must typically have a child as one’s guide or one risks feeling ‘silly’.

There are people I know who seem to be exceptions to this rule, the great majority of these are mothers but I do know a few non-mothers among them. These are the kind of people who can pick up a puppet and strike up a conversation with another adult (no kids in sight), or who can hunker down with some toy trains and shout out a big proud ‘woowoo!’ in a shop full of ‘grown-ups’. So why do the rest of us have trouble?

1415469969384_Image_galleryImage_Harry_Enfield_as_one_of_hI’m inclined to think it’s got a lot to do with how we define ourselves, or at least it relates to the character we consider ourselves to be. As a teenager I was happy to live in the fringes, be seen as weird etc. but as an adult (and especially as a parent) I have to admit that I’ve become a bit more…normal (for want of a better word). I want a good life for myself and my family and being too unusual can get in the way of job prospects and friendships with other families, so I play my part as an ordinary guy.

To be honest I’ve played ordinary for a long time now, for so long that the hippy-dippy, weirdo pseudo-communist of my teens is hard for me to relate to. In short I’ve purposely become ordinary because ordinary is easier. Teenage John was was a bit of a mess, he had goals but no drive, and so many interests that he had a hard time keeping track, he slept entire days away and took friendships for granted. The sad fact of the matter is that I’ve produced a self-imposed bubble of ‘normalcy’ around myself to avoid becoming him, and one thing that ‘normal’ adults don’t do is play with toys (unless they’re playing with children).

So back to play and what it can tell us about ourselves, for me play exposes my attitudes regarding normalcy in adults and perhaps this is the real heart of what makes me uncomfortable. I lets me see what I’ve done to myself (for what are admittedly good reasons) to become the man I am today. I love playing with my children, and relish in pretend play when I’m with them but on my own or around solely other adults I doubt you’ll see me playing like that.

I know that play is a beneficial part of any person’s encounters with the world (I’ve discussed this before) and it makes me a little sad to realise that I’m the one responsible for my feeling of discomfort when playing alone. However, simply recognising this isn’t sufficient to let me enjoy toys in the same way I did as a child, or in the same way I do when I’m with my own children.

Thinking about how you feel about play (and toys) can have a profound effect on the way you view yourself. For me I recognise that I’ve gotten a little boring as I’ve ‘grown-up’ and that’s not very easy for a ‘toy shop guy’ to admit, but it also lets me see that who I am has been my choice and there’s no reason that I have to accept any part of my character. Perhaps this is simply a silver lining to a very small issue.

I still love toys when playing with with my children and I think toys and play are absolutely vital components of a healthy childhood (and adulthood). I’ve simply had to admit the peculiar fact that when push comes to shove, as an adult making decisions on how I’d spend my own time, I’m unlikely to choose playing with toys as a top activity. The next step is figuring out why I’ve produced this self-imposed exile from this little corner of the world of imagination and play.

Sorry for the downer today people, feel free to share your own revelations about yourself that you’ve discovered through play. Lets hope there aren’t too many boring old fuddy duddys like me out there. As always thanks for reading, All the best, John

Barbie’s toilet!

wpid-imag1365_burst003.jpgThis post is basically just a chance for me to talk about Barbie’s toilet and here it is. Who would have thought that Barbie had a toilet? For that matter, who would have thought that she had enough internal organs to need a toilet? (Sorry that last bit was a bit nasty, but seriously no woman has a waist that small without something weird going on)

Children and power

superman and the flash duke it outWhy is it so important to be the ‘fastest’, the ‘strongest’, etc. etc.? It’s a question I’m asking myself more and more now that my two are hitting that wonderful ‘isn’t it fun to hit my brother’ stage. I understand that competitiveness is to be encouraged but sometimes it seems genuinely nonsensical. I’ve had squabbles over who can fly the highest (basically bound by the laws of imagination; i.e. infinite) and other utter insanity that I just can’t get my head around. So again (and again) I find myself asking myself, why is it so important to them?

Ordinarily I can get myself into my kids’ shoes fairly easily, despite the fact that so much of their play makes no ‘real-world’ sense, there’s normally some internal logic to it. However, this imaginary one-upmanship looks like nothing more than an exercise in futility to me.

At the start of Toy Story, Andy has the toys duke it out in this kind of competition but the key thing is that his imaginings stop after about two rounds (basically because there’s only one child playing):

“I brought my attack dog with the built-in force field.
Well, I brought my dinosaur who eats force-field dogs.”

The story is alarmingly, brain-achingly, different with two children in the mix. Thankfully I’ve had a dry spell of this for the past few weeks but there isn’t a doubt in my mind that the spectre of the debate over ‘strongest’/ ‘fastest’/’furthest’/’most immune to damage’ etc. etc. returns.

It will no doubt start along the lines of “well I’m lava proof!…well I’m as hot as the sun!…”wellĀ I’m sun-proof!…” and it will degenerate (along with my sanity) from there.

Is it just me that get’s utterly sick to the back teeth of this or are there others out there with a similar dread for what I call the pretend-power arms-race? Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments below. As always thanks for reading, Cheers, John

OK fess up, are you reading children’s fiction?

J._K._Rowling_at_the_White_House_2010-04-05_9Re-blogging from the website for my new children’s book:

“To even out the ratio children would have to be getting through a whopping nine books for every one book read by an adult. Someone, somewhere, is reading a lot of kids fiction…” read more here:

OK fess up, are you reading children’s fiction?.

A quick tip for cleaning wooden railway pieces

I just uploaded this to my youtube account and thought I should share it here too. I originally found this tip in the comments of another website and it’s proved to be really useful and it has a great finished effect (without having to use chemicals). Hope it helps someone else too:

 

We are what we do

SCH SM Boss Smurf (W)“Papa smurf has really taken his CES (Chief Executive Smurf) job to heart, round the office the smurfs have started calling him ‘Alan Smurfer’ (though none of them say it to his face, they don’t want to be told ‘you’re smurfered’).”

I write product descriptions, it’s not my only job (not by a long shot) but some days it takes up most of my work hours. Recently I had a couple of pretty mammoth sessions and as I got more tired I unintentionally got a bit more creative (as you can see above). With this in mind I’d like to share some of my favourite product descriptions that I’ve written in the past few days.


schleich dragon hunter gremlin ankylosaurusSchleich, Dragon Hunter

“If you threw a Gremlin, Battle-cat from He-Man, a dragon and an Ankylosaurus in a blender…well you’d have a broken blender for starters…but if they somehow converged into one creature then THIS would be it (and if you don’t get the references in this sentence we now feel very old).” You can buy him here.


Sometimes you look at a group of linked toys and a story just emerges spontaneously. That’s what happened with business Smurfs. It started with ‘Marketing Smurf':

SCH SM Marketing Smurf (W)Schleich, Marketing Smurf

“Last month’s smurf numbers are smurfing smurfable, if we keep up the smurfle media campeign and really push our bricks and mortar smurfs we’ll be in for a smurfer of a year!”

But once he was on-board the others all seemed to find their own place in the office, next came ‘Accountant Smurf':

schleich accountant smurf figurineSchleich, Accountant Smurf

“We’re going to have to switch to generic coffee in the break room if we want to get our smurfspenditure down to smurfable levels but I don’t want to be the one to tell lazy smurf, it’s the only thing that smurfs him smurfing.”

After these I wrote Alan Smurfer or ‘Boss Smurf’ up (you can see his description above) and couldn’t help but feel that the middle management in this place would feel a little strained. This is where Manager Smurfette stepped in:

schleich smurfette manager figure figurineSchleich, Manager Smurfette

Smurfette is at her smurf’s end, why did she ever agree to manage this team of smurfless smurfs? The CES (Chief Operating Smurf) is demanding increased performance, while the accountant keeps smurferring on about lazy smurf’s coffee consumption, and the marketing team keeps telling her “It’s all smurf! We’re building smurfial media presence’ but that doesn’t translate into cold, hard smurf!


jack-reusen-cover-front2There are a heap more product descriptions but I don’t want this post to run on and on. Before I finish up I thought I’d do a wee plug. I’ve written a story book for children aged five and up (and for reading age of six or seven and up) called ‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame.’ It’s part one of a series and we’ve got a fully fledged website (and blog) about the book and the characters, if you find your way over there I’ll be very grateful. The kindle edition is out now, click here for a list of links for purchase in different countries.

As always thanks for reading, I feel like it’s important to be creative wherever you can and I hope you enjoyed a few of my wee sparks of creativity. How do you express yourself in your workplace? Do you find it easy to let your creative side out for a spin or do you feel as though you have to curb it until you get home? I would love to hear your own experiences in the comments below or even over on Twitter, Cheers, John

Has Amazon lost its way?

amazon box lost in the rainIn my eyes, back in the early days of online shopping Amazon was Cinderella and Ebay, and the many others who have long-since left us, were her ugly stepsisters. For years I smugly admonished friends and relatives who used Ebay, it baffled me that they somehow expected to get what they paid for. In my eyes Amazon pushed for trust every step of the way whilst Ebay (and other sites) left sellers on a very loose leash, allowing all kinds of admonishable behaviour (and you never felt like the sites penalised people for their less-than-honourable selling practices).

Like I said Amazon was the diamond in the rough that was online shopping at the turn of the century. It was the Cinderella to a host of ugly step-sisters, but it turns out Amazon turned up at the ball in a mask and it’s becoming clear that she ain’t no Cinders.

I have been an Amazon customer since I was a student, about five or six years after they started trading (that’s more than a decade ago). Back then I bought books (it was all you really could buy from them in those days), but within a few years I was buying all kinds of things, mainly at Christmas, as Amazon started filling its warehouses with an increasingly broad stock range. Thanks to Amazon (and Amazon alone) I grew to love online shopping, I was sold.

I still love online shopping (though there are a number of things I would always rather buy in person) and Amazon’s digital services are fantastic (and don’t have the high-end price tag you pay to start using iTunes). However, I’m becoming aware of Amazon’s ethics (or lack thereof) more and more. From allegations of tax wrangling, to price wars, to their apparent reluctance to police their growing catalogue of ‘merchant’ stores, there are more and more factors that are putting me off Amazon.

According to 'The Selling Family' Matt C received this counterfeit Frozen Playset directly from Amazon a few days before the big announcement.

According to ‘The Selling Family‘ this is one of the counterfeit Frozen sets

The ‘merchant’ stores in particular are a sticky issue for me, it’s getting harder to tell whether you’re buying from Amazon or from some third party merchant and the problem with third parties who can remain fairly anonymous, is that it’s easier for them to do less than honourable things. Recently there was a bit of controversy when Amazon’s top selling toy actually turned out to be a counterfeit Frozen play set (basically sub-standard tat with ‘Frozen’ written on it), you can find out more about it in John Baulch’s article here. Amazon has since ‘frozen’ third-party sales of Frozen toys but to be honest the damage is already done.

Put on top of this the fact that they price out basically any brick and mortar store, and the fact that even distributors are starting to have problems supplying the retail behemoth, and I’m starting to like them even less. Their only redeeming feature in my eyes is their digital content and the ease of use people can have in accessing the music, videos, and ebooks that they’ve purchased from Amazon.

Unlike purchases from itunes I’ve found Amazon’s attitude to digital content to be surprisingly relaxed; you buy it and then you decide how I want to use it. However, this doesn’t really undo the fact that they don’t pay taxes in the same way that traditional retailers do, nor does it counteract any of the issues addressed above, so despite the fact that I’ve still got a small portion of Amazon fandom I’ve got to admit to a growing dislike for the company.

Sorry for falling a little off the typical toys topic but after reading the articles I’ve linked to above I felt pretty miffed at a company who always used to have a lot of support from me. As I said, I was a full Amazon advocate, trying to persuade friends and relatives alike to buy from them, I don’t do that any more and that’s a sad thing to realise, it’s never good to see a company you trust and admire drop so drastically in your estimation.

Am I the only one with this peculiar sense of loss in regards to Amazon? Do you feel like you’re mourning what Amazon was/could have been or do you still hold them high in your estimations? As always any comments are more than welcome and thanks for stopping by, feel free to have a wander through my other posts, and you can catch me over on Twitter, Cheers, John