When you’re a child, the significant dates were marked by big celebrations, things like Eid or Christmas, New Year’s or birthdays. And when you were in school, the more friends you had, the more birthday parties you would go to.
“Not another one,” my Mum would mutter. “How well do you know them? Were they at your party? What did they get you?”
The answers would determine just how much she would spend on a gift, such as a Matchbox toy, some Lego, or an Airfix kit of a ship, car or plane.
No one seems to make Airfix models any more.
I can’t tell you of the hours I spent, with my tongue firmly gripped between my front top and bottom teeth as I tried to put replica planes together and trying not to put the glue all over the newspaper where you’d spread everything out on to begin with.
You had to break the plastic pieces off, try and file down the little knobs of plastic that held them together, and then glue all the pieces together in the right order, following the instructions.
“Who took my nail file?” my sister would shout, and I’d try and hide the file under the newspaper.
When the whole thing was put together, if it was good, I’d get little pots of paint out, and then paint, trying to keep the brush within the lines. And when it was dry, there were decals that had to be soaked in water that were then carefully slid into the right position to finish it off.
Meccano. That was another great toy.
It was full of metal cogs and strips and bits and pieces where you could build cranes and trains and rollercoasters, with the entire creation held together with little nuts and bolts.
It wasn’t a toy for little hands — one brother ended up in the emergency ward because he stuck a nut up his nose and a doctor had to extract it with a tweezers. Yep, Tony had a screw loose!
One Christmas, Santa Claus left us a toy train set. For the next few years, every birthday or Christmas or as soon as there was enough pocket money saved up, we’d buy more engines, carriages, wagons, signals. The layout would be laid out on the floor for weeks at a time — and the Meccano cranes would be used to build bridges between shoe boxes, and then other cardboard boxes, and paper tubes were used to build tunnels, and then the Lego would add buildings and it was a whole little wonderland where the trains ran on time.
You knew we were getting older when the train set came out less and less, and the Lego didn’t seem to have the same appeal.
That Christmas, Santa Claus left a cassette tape recorder. You have to be of a certain generation to know what I’m talking about. Then you’d buy blank tapes and try and record songs off the radio.
The knack was to get the microphone as close to the radio speaker or the television, and everything would be just right until my sister was looking for something. “Who took my nail file?” would inevitably punctuate the recording of Bohemian Rhapsody and the Top 20 countdown.
The tapes were then used in the family car — the latest models in the late 1970s had a radio and a cassette player, except that very often the tapes became stuck and the tape would end up in a big knotted mess that you spend hours trying to salvage by moving a pen slowly though the spindles. You have to have done it to know what I mean. Even if you fixed it, the tune was never the same because of the inevitable kinks in the tape. That, and the “Who took my nail file?”