Traditional toys

Traditional/’retro’ toys, who plays with them? We sell a lovely range of ‘retro’ toys and games in the shop and today as I was unpacking a delivery I came across another blast from the past: ‘magnetic fishing’. This made me feel pretty old to be honest since I remember playing with this when I was wee and now it’s ‘retro’ (does that mean I’m retro? I’m only twenty-*eherm*). But aside from the reminder that I am by all accounts, in the eyes of kids and teenagers everywhere, a ‘grown-up’ it also got me thinking about the play involved in these kinds of games. There a few factors that seem to be in place in these kinds of games: First at least the first couple of tries kids will probably need a bit of adult supervision and this is what I wondered about, parents seem less into supervised activity now than when I was a kid. Second these games are highly unlikely to turn up in an advert on TV.

I’ll often be told by a parent in the shop that they don’t want something which they have to supervise for the whole time, parents are more into child-independence and trying to get their kids to figure out things themselves now than they were about ten years ago. As a result craft sets and games seem to suffer since in these cases since these kinds of toys are pretty themed towards supervision. Of course not everyone is as into this style of parenting (if they were we probably wouldn’t stock much in the way of crafts and games) but for those that are we’re unlikely to see many sales.

The second problem (the lack of TV advertising) goes against ‘retro’ toys/games in a different way. Parents (and grandparents) will remember playing with these kinds of toys when they were kids but because they’ve never heard their kids talk about them (not seen them on TV) they worry that their kids wouldn’t like/want them. Along with this is a kind of standing assumption that kids are very different now in terms of tastes and activities than they have been in earlier generations. This is really odd, of course it’s a completely obvious tautology that every generation will, in some way, be different that the last one, but to go from this to form the belief that this somehow makes modern kids fundamentally different in terms of what they might like to play with is kind of bizarre.

Of course I’m different from my parents, and from my grandparents even more so, but this didn’t stop me from enjoying pick up sticks with my mum and dad and Chinese checkers with my granny when I was a kid. I had a games system and I had a good collection of transformers that I played with regularly but that didn’t make more traditional toys and games any less fun, the only difference was that as a child of the eighties I was bombarded with adverts in a way that my parents and grandparents had never dreamed of. As a result of this advert saturation I needed to be persuaded to try something I hadn’t seen on TV, it must have been a bit of a hassle for my folks but I’m glad they did it because I got to try out even more things than some of the kids from my class.

Roll on an extra twenty-something years and parents seem even more reluctant to take the time to show these old things of to their kids. It’s hard to compete with the adverts but kids trust their parents about what might be fun (at least when they’re fairly young) so it shouldn’t take too big of a push and the bonus is that these ‘retro’ toys aren’t seasonal, they don’t suffer from the same loss of interest that their TV advertised brethren do. Whilst, for example, the ‘best’ action figures match the latest, most popular, film or TV show, the retro toys are classics, less subject to whim but still catered for whimsy. It’s a kind of win win in terms of the money you spend since retro toys are often cheaper and importantly they’ll stay in the background getting played with for years unaffected by changes in trends.

So out of interest who still plays with ‘retro’ toys/games, who’s taken the leap with their kids and tried to introduce them to something a little unfamiliar? Please let me know in the comments or over on the shop’s facebook page. Also don’t forget to catch up with the exploits of Sto and the Dulthans in my continuing story cube story over on my other blog (a new chapter is coming soon).

Story Cubes

Today I thought I’d talk about (and use) a product that I really have a soft spot for: ‘Rory’s story cubes‘. The basic idea of a pack of story cubes is that you roll the dice and create a story which uses all the images you see in any order you like. It’s challenging but fun and even kids that aren’t able to read can have a go and take their imagination for a spin. For a while I provided a ‘free sample’ on our facebook page every Saturday night by taking a photo of some cubes rolled randomly and leaving it up to people to leave a story as a comment. The sad thing is there weren’t many takers so I’ve not been popping them up the last couple of weeks but today I thought I’d get the ball (or should that be dice) rolling again by trying something a bit gimmicky.

I’ve decided to try and write a 10-20 chapter book (haven’t decided yet) in which every chapter is a roll of the cubes. I’ll use the three different kinds of pack turn by turn and try and eke out the roll into about 500-1000 words (though I’ll do more if it seems to work). I also run a writing blog which follows my attempts at writing (mostly talking about what it’s like finding time to sit down and write) so today I’ll be cross posting this post onto there and from now on the story cube story will be played out in my writing blog leaving this one free for me to continue to talk about toys and play in general.

OK so here goes the first roll (starting with ‘voyages’ cubes because they’re my favourite), I’ll roll and upload the picture for reference:

Chapter 1

In the topmost floor, in a gleaming white tower, right in the centre of the arid city of Dultha, a strange and frightful weapon was being crafted. Sto’led, the court enginician and advisor to the king, was hard at work forging components in the blistering heat; his small forge radiating a gentle glow as he hand-forged mysterious little components, peering over his tiny little glasses, carefully working his craft. The image of a forge might conjure up the idea that Sto’led (or simply ‘Sto’) might be a strapping great lump of a man, as we seem to expect of a blacksmith, but Sto was a quiet, unremarkable man whose pallid complexion and stooped stature left the impression of someone of anything from forty to seventy years old (no one wanted to ask him his age though). Despite his diminished stature he had a quick and clever way of moving that often took people off their guard and there was no doubt that his wits were as razor sharp as the weapons he so often devised for the king’s guard. He had learned his metal-craft at a young age but his many years venturing in foreign lands had changed his outlook and upon his return to Dultha it was clear that he was something very different to the other smiths. This fact didn’t escape the king’s notice as Sto’s reputation quickly grew within the king’s court with each new curious creation.

Sto’s latest creation was in a whole other league than anything he had ever attempted before and if he was successful (and in his quiet way he was certain he would be) then the entire continent might see a shift in power as the king’s men found themselves equipped with what Sto had called ‘the hydrostatic equilibrium manipulator’ or as the king had suggested ‘the hydra’ (as the men would be unlikely to adopt a name that no one but Sto would understand). When Sto had originally pitched his idea to the court he had been met with a room full of completely blank stares as no one could fathom what the darned thing was supposed to do. Because Sto had talked about steam at one point, and because steam was easy to understand, they had all adopted the idea that he was making something that would make cups of tea for the guards. However, Sto persisted in trying to explain the significance of his idea and finally boiled it down to a fairly simple explanation “The hydra will make water (any water) appear or disappear, all by the press of a button”. With this he had the entire court’s attention and eventually received a good portion of its money also. According to the king, they would do anything to make this contraption a reality.

The finishing touches were in place and the device’s most vital components installed including a peculiar liquid which Sto kept under lock and key in his private chest at all times and which, according to Sto, could be “the end of us all” if it were ever to enter into the wrong hands. He had acquired the peculiar liquid on his travels and wouldn’t let anyone know more than that (even the king). Many years before he had allowed a sample of its power to be demonstrated by taking a tiny drop many miles from Dultha city, beyond the Kabir mountains and far into the desert, the cloud which the explosion produced could be seen over the mountain tops. This alone was enough to persuade anyone that Sto was not exaggerating about the power of this strange liquid. However the truly shocking effect of the explosion became clear a few months later as the aloe farmers who lived between Dultha and the mountains started to complain that their entire crop of little cactus-like plants had mysteriously swelled to alarming proportions and died.

In further months it became clear that every well in the area around Dultha was full of fresh clean water and more surprising still was the change in the catacombs below the palace, an area unexplored and unused for centuries was now flooded, and as the water rose so to did the catacombs’ ancient secrets, as Sto developed a hobby for venturing deep within in his strange underwater boat. Sto’s treasure hunting had already brought a moderate increase in the wealth of the king and the court and the extra water in the area was gradually changing the landscape from the familiar reds, yellows and browns to include dramatic bursts of green. Sto’s demonstration had made him more than simply a court favourite, now all the people of the Dulthan kingdom were in awe of this strange little man.

He ceremoniously took the new device (he was not comfortable calling it a weapon) and placed it into a customised case with a heavy lock and proceeded down the spiralling staircase and into the courtyard of the palace where the demonstration was to take place. He had requested a few weeks before that a large dip be dug into the ground in the shape of a rectangle of 30 feet by fifty feet wide and around five feet deep graduating on to about eight. Bricks had been used to line the hole and decorative tiles had been set onto the brickwork in the pattern of waves (something never seen in Dultha) to form a tight seal over the brickwork.

The palace court was in attendance, as were many of the city’s inhabitants, as Sto came into view the rabble of chatter died down and a hushed pause followed the king as he came to meet Sto at the agreed site of the demonstration. the king was to be the first to use a hydra and no one (apart from Sto himself) was entirely sure what to expect. The king lifted the device from the case, sampled the weight of it and inspected the very first hydra ever built. It was surprisingly small made up of a fat cylinder with a leather padded handle. As with the great majority of Sto’s creations it was a thing of intricate beauty hiding within it frightful power. The overall effect looked similar to the shot staffs which the men in the lands to the north used for hunting (the northmen rarely used them on people which the people of Dultha were particularly thankful for). The king assumed that Sto must have taken inspiration from these northern weapons and if that was the case he was sure to find what the northmen called a ‘trigger’. Sure enough there it was and just as the king was about to press his finger on it Sto stopped him: “Your majesty please be careful of where you aim the hydra, the receptacle i designed should be adequate to accommodate the effects of one short blast.”

The king aimed the hydra at the centre of the tiled hole and gently squeezed the trigger very briefly, there was an alarming crack in the air and a peculiar sensation came over every one present. At first nothing seemed to be happening but within minutes condensation began to form around the edges of the pit, condensation turned to drops and the drops turned to trickles and within five minutes what lay before them was a huge deep pool of crystal clear water. In the shocked silence that followed Sto coughed to clear his throat and turned to address both his king and his countrymen: “Your majesty, people of Dultha, may I present to you all Dultha’s first swimming pool, thanks to the nature of the hydra’s effect this pool will never go dry.” At this there was an uproar in the crowd as the people rejoiced in the miracle that had been bought to them by this peculiar little man.

The next demonstration proved to be more dramatic: as Sto took the device from the king and made his way to a huge metal drum filled with water, the tank had been painstakingly filled from town wells in the weeks leading up to the demonstration and in a matter of seconds with the press of a trigger Sto emptied it of of all of its contents. Just as the true implications of this feat dawned on the watching audience a carrier crow landed beside the king. Ubertas, Dultha’s more fruitful and fortunate neighbour had once again attempted to cease control of some of Dultha’s outlying villages, if this news had come to them on the previous day there would have been little which the people of Dultha could have done but now they were prepared. Thanks to Sto Dultha’s time of plenty had come and, with this move of aggression, Ubertas had just ushered in the end of theirs.