In the news today was a report on gender specific toys and how they are slowly being eradicated, even large retail chains are now not specifying a gender regarding any toys they sell. It’s quite saddening that they are blaming toys for the choices you make when looking for a career as an adult, it takes nothing into account regarding other aspects of your upbringing; social status, opportunities and schooling. I played with Action Men but didn’t join the army, Fuzzy Felt didn’t make me take up a job in haberdashery just like playing on a space hopper didn’t set me on course to own a bouncy castle renting company. Kerplunk was also a favourite although careers involving spears and balls are thin on the ground it may have contributed to my Kerplunk like mental state.
Anyway, one range of toys that did help me came apparent this weekend when I reflected back on what made me turn to model making and maquettes for the Impossimals and just where did I get the skills. It was this.
Airfix kits and their associated products. Thrills were a little thinner on the ground during the 70’s so to be able to lose myself in a make believe world was a treat.
It goes without saying that the aircraft were the mainstay of the Airfix range but I only built a handful of these, I wasn’t that obsessed with decal placing and erecting undercarriages. Instead I was more interested in the whole construction processes and the toolkit you needed to complete a construction the basics of which I still use to this day.
Scalpel, tweezers, scissors, sandpaper, drill bit, ‘rat tail’ files and of course glue. The instructions and attention to detail in most projects was meticulous, I loved that. I once used the feeler of a prawn (I kid you not) to paint in the detail of a soldiers eye on one particular model after discovering I didn’t have a fine enough paint brush. It seems the days of being an anally retentive arse with an obsessional eye for detail had started quite early on.
I had a particular draw to the historical figures collection, again it was down to the detail and an obsession with dates and timelines. Far easier to construct they were nightmares to paint correctly, unfortunately it’s a toy that wouldn’t survive today, I mean how many eight year olds would willingly build and paint historical figures when given the choice between an iPad and the latter?
Building construction skills came from the Airfix scale models of forts. I used to mount these on boards and recreate the entire landscape using papier-mâché and faux bushes made of specially bought lichen. Balsa wood extended the forts and heated needles allowed me to burn small bullet holes into the surfaces. They were then decorated with dry brushing techniques to make them match the photos in books I had about the Second World War.
They encouraged you to take things apart and examine how they work, one popular range the collectors series did this with working engines. It was an invaluable lesson in engineering that I still remember to this day and helps lateral thinking and the creation of working objects I include in the Lost Impossimal sets. It was joined by two other toys of the time, one taught simple electrical circuitry using a spring loaded motherboard the second was the Salters Chemistry Set, forty eight chemicals if I remember with a hundred experiments and access to spirit burners, pipettes, delightful magnesium and the chance of making the perfect stink bomb.
So my toys didn’t exactly push me into a career but what they did do was give me the skills to choose and gain a little experience in many disciplines. Not a bad thing.
And yes, that is my Airfix catalogue, I still hang on to it and flick through it fondly for in those pages is something very special indeed, my childhood.