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

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!…”well 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?.

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

How many people do you buy for at Christmas?

Found this picture over at 'Buried in Bricks'

Found this picture over at ‘Buried in Bricks

I can safely guess that most people probably buy for their kids and for their other halves but other than that there seems to be a lot of variation between people. Some buy for friends and their kids but miss out cousins and other extended family, whilst others seem to keep it all in the family spreading their spends sometimes very far.

I recently found myself on a netmums message board (sorry that’s probably some kind of mumsnet blogger sin I just committed) after a google search and was quite surprised at how much people’s gift buying varied.

It wasn’t just the cost (as you can imagine there was a lot of variation there as well), to be honest the thing that struck me the most was the differences in how people look at gift buying.

Most seemed to say that Christmas is a time for being with family and friends and enjoying their company but that’s where the unified voice ended. There were people spending a bucket load on their kids and then not really buying for anyone but one or two close friends and immediate family, then there were people who were very reserved with spending on their kids and themselves but who seemed to buy gifts for extended family and a host of friends.

In our house we buy for family we see a lot: grannies and grampas, great grannies and our siblings (and their partners and kids), we buy some bits and pieces for friends we’ll be meeting near Christmas, and obviously we buy for the boys, and my wife and I buy gifts for each other.

As something a bit different I thought I’d pop a survey in this post (it’s up top) as I thought it’d be interesting to see what different people do when it comes to Christmas shopping. What do you think, should people keep their spending close to home or should they spread their gifts far and wide? As always thanks for reading, all the best, John

The eternal problem of getting gifts wrong

sb10069978x-001Christmas is coming. There’s no use pretending it isn’t, and I apologise if you think I’ve just used a dirty word, but parents everywhere are already being given hints by their kids as to what they might be asking Santa for.

These little tips at this early stage can be a blessing and a curse in equal measure. On one hand you can listen to these tips, take them seriously, get ahead of the buying frenzy and be sure that Santa will be set to provide. However, on the other hand there’s the problem of timing: Is it too soon? Will they change their mind? Will something better come along between now and Christmas?

I’ve been experiencing this struggle, with growing trepidation, for about four or five years now (the first couple don’t count, they’re too young to really have a preference). In that time we’ve (fingers crossed) yet to make a mistake, though we have had a couple of close calls. The key thing for us was to make sure that the Santa letter was written before any purchases were made, that way we can hold the children to their list. That may sound a bit mean but Logan especially is becoming quite familiar with the finality of his list.

But what do parents do when their child, for one reason or another, finds it particularly hard to deal with that kind of finality? I’m genuinely intrigued by this, of all the parenting juggling acts that seem necessary for parents this is, by far, one of the most potentially stressful. How do you ensure you get exactly the right thing for Christmas day whilst preserving the magic for your child?

Also how do buying habits differ for parents of children with developmental delays, I may be wrong but given the delay in development I imagine there is a longer period in which you risk being caught out. In cases like this even greater tact and creativity must surely be in order. There is one woman I know of who is in her twenties and still believes, and I have nothing but admiration for her entire family (especially her siblings) for their ability to keep the magic alive for her through such a long stretch.

I’d love to hear any special tricks or techniques any parents/carers may have come up with to figure out the right gift, buy it before they’re sold out, and ensure that their child doesn’t take a huge u-turn on their chosen gift come Christmas day. Any and all comments are very welcome (and feel free to pop over to twitter to talk about it too). Thanks, as always, for reading, Cheers, John

Everything’s more exciting when you whisper

treasure-chest‘Shhh keep really quiet and come and see this!’ Even if you’re just getting your kids to head through and eat their tea, somehow it just gets so much more interesting when you treat it like a big secret.

You can’t do this too often or it loses its magic. You also have to make sure that the ‘secret’ is actually something special or your kids are just going to think you’re nuts (‘shh look, I found a chair!!!’). However, this little trick is a handy thing to keep in your back pocket for times when your kids just aren’t doing what you ask. For example, if you get creative with what dinner looks like then you can sneak them to the dinner table and show them the crazy culinary creation.

Whatever you choose to do you get to take them on an adventure. Everything gets more interesting and it’s never a bad thing to look like a guide in the eyes of your children. A lot of the time as a parent your position of authority takes a ‘bossy’ or even ‘disciplinary’ tone. There are times when this is unavoidable and even necessary but being a guide offers parents a chance to retain authority whilst removing feelings of conflict.

Playing at being a ‘guide’ can offer a welcome break from having to be ‘the boss’, whilst at the same time managing to stay in charge. You definitely shouldn’t over-use it but every now and then it’s nice to not be the bad guy when getting your kids to eat their tea, head to bed, or even do their homework.

Have you ever used something similar to this to get your kids on-board with something that ordinarily causes conflict? How well does it work for you? Do you have other tricks that allow you to stay in control without having to be ‘the boss’? As always, I welcome any comments/suggestions, feel free to comment below and you can catch me over on twitter any time by following this link. Thanks for reading, Cheers, John