In 2015 I took a walk around the estuary of the River Kent and nearly walked my feet off. Half way along the route, passing a farm with a load of fairground rides in storage, an idea came to me: a museum containing all the toys and games of my childhood.
A search of Ebay revealed a lot of these games and selling for a lot more than we paid for them at Christmas and birthdays in the 1970s. I made a list of some of the exhibits. It would be an interactive museum with visitors free to play the stuff on display:
A simple game, as the best ones always were, you rolled the dice and moved around the Haunted House, passing from room to room until you arrived at the staircase. First one to the top won.
The obstacle to success was a ball bearing down the witch’s chimney, and no, that’s not a euphemism for something filthy. Every turn, you dropped a ball bearing down the chimney in the middle of the board and where it came out was anyone’s guess. If it hit your player you started again. I doubt I would have played this game much if it hadn’t been called Haunted House.
Possibly the noisiest game ever invented. A tall plastic tube filled with marbles sitting on a bird’s nest of plastic skewers. The game involved taking turns to remove a plastic skewer without bringing down the pile of marbles.
When it did come down, with a crash, it disturbed Coronation Street, even if you were playing it in someone else’s house . . . in another county.
Apparently there’s only one curling rink in England. With Rebound you could play curling all year round in your own living room.
My memory of this elongated game with its rubber band rebounders and ball bearing curlers, was finding it underneath my mum and dads’ bed weeks before Christmas. The sense of anticipation almost led to nightly hyperventilation. The game didn’t disappoint, but like 90% of Christmas toys, it was played so much the novelty had worn off by Boxing Day!
My cousin Thomas – once described by my brother-in-law as the angriest man who ever lived – came round the house one night to have a look at Tournament Golf. He and his mate had come up with an idea for a golfing board game and wanted to see if it was similar to one already in existence. In Tournament Golf you had an 18 hole course on two sides of the board, and a very nice course it was, and you’d spin the arrow in the box lid to determine how many spaces you travelled after choosing which club to use from a card.
The beauty of Tournament Golf, its advantage over the real thing, was not getting wet through in the pouring rain, not getting stuck behind the divot-hacking learners and never losing a golf ball. A perfect accompaniment to Pro-celebrity Golf on BBC2 on a Tuesday night.
I didn’t have Mousetrap, but my mate Shaun Steele did. What I remember about it was a card that said ‘bang your head,’ one of a number of misfortunes your player endured during the building of the mousetrap.
Not content with leaving it there, I insisted on asking my Uncle Jimmy to say bang your head. His toothless pronunciation, ‘bang yer yed,’ had me in stitches every time. Tiny things amuse tiny minds as they say.
Now here was a raucous bit of hows-yer-father if ever there was one. More deranged than Bucking Bronco, more violent than Hungry Hippos, Battling Tops was dangerous.
The game was played on a round dished plastic rink. At each point of the compass four notches to which the battling tops were attached, attached by wrapping string tightly around the stem of the top so that when you pulled the key the top was released, spinning at several thousand revolutions per minute, into the arena along with up to three other equally vicious spinning tops.
Sometimes there’d be a moment’s calm as the tops eyed each other, briefly touching and nudging like prize fighters, but then they’d hit and be off like angry wasps, colliding and clattering in a frenzied gladiatorial battle to the death. At other times they’d hit head on straight from the start, threatening eyeballs and small pets.
Some people just didn’t get it, others, like me, laughed ourselves to incontinence. Purile mayhem, hilarious chaos. Simplicity in a whirling hornet’s nest of plastic fury.
Of course the problem with the Museum of Childhood Toys and Games is that people would nick the dice, and pilfer the players. But in a curious twist of experience it would be a toy heaven with probably little appeal to modern kids used to playing games on computer.
So perhaps it would be by special invite to those who, for one night only, want to recreate those excellent moments when the only worry in life, the only concern, was the extraction of a plastic skewer, the emergence of a supernatural ball bearing, or being hit in the face by a flying piece of plastic.