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Monday, March 19, 2012

Four bob well spent (3)

My hopes were thus cruelly dashed, by the evil hand of capitalism and being seven years old. I slunk away a little from the shop window, determined never to look at its contents again.

My mother came along, having crossed the street from Friends Department Store, and noticed me standing outside Stobo's, not-looking but looking sadly at the Stationer's window.

'What's wrong?'

Mothers seem to know when some disaster has overtaken the applets of their eyes.

'I was going to buy... it was 3/9 but only the arrow and it was more than a pound....'

I admit my lip was a bit trembly.

Mum looked in the window, and saw the price-tag on the bow now clearly displayed side-by-side with the three-and-ninepenny arrow, and quickly assessed the full extent of the tragedy.

An item over a quid was not a matter she could help with. Sympathy, yes, but not £1/1/6 worth.

'Why don't you go into Woolies like you always do, and play with the Wheelos? I've got buttons and things to get from Manahan's and not a lot of time.'

Manahan's. "MANAHAN'S ARE MARVELLOUS" was their ill-grammared slogan, but that shop was full of the most boring things in the world, like clothes and knitting wool, large bolts of dress fabric, and very strange undergarments that women squoze their bellies into. And buttons, obviously.

Give me Woolworth's toy counter any day. There were trays of toys just beyond the reach of toddlers to put their grotty fingers in, but full of magical things I could pick up and fiddle with. Those were the days long before that sort of unyielding plastic no-one without a pair of tinsnips and a lot of swearing can open.

And there was always a Wheelo, which I loved and would play with in Woolies for hours. A Wheelo was a yellow wheel, strongly magnetised at its axle, which ran up and down a stout wire.... hang on.... let me check something. Yes! To my amazement and joy, I find they're still around, in their retro glory, only they've gone wild and made the wheel red instead of the traditional yellow.

That's not right. They should be subject to Heritage Protection.

So now you understand. But that little movie demonstrating Wheelo action on the page is disgraceful – they have no idea of the proper art of spinning the Wheelo.

Even the Wheelo failed to lift my spirits. After a few thousand perfect executions of full Wheelo cycles, I walked disconsolately along the trays of toys, picking up and discarding items I'd played with fifty times before.

Then I saw it.

It was brilliant red, it was plastic, and it had three arrows with sucker things on the end of each, all sealed in cellophane, on its own stand in the corner.

I'll give you three guesses.

But its cost, about which there was no doubt because it was emblazoned gaily on a large card in red numbers, was 4/11. One penny short of a crown - five shillings; and nearly a silver shilling more than what was in my buttoned pocket.

I gazed with a similar longing for this plastic bow to that which Romeo must have nurtured in his bosom manly chest for fair Juliet. I could not leave. Romeo had his problem; I had mine, no less anguishing than his.

Mum came along looking for me.

'Come on. Uncle Frank will be here soon to pick us up. What are you staring at? Ohhh.... I see.'

She saw.

'It's only 4/11,' I said, with spaniel eyes. 'I've got four shillings. I just need ... eleven pence. Not even a whole shilling.'

She buckled. She had witnessed the result of the debacle at Stobo's, after all, but she did not yield until picking up the object of my passion and looking at it long and hard. It was, after all, Made In Japan.

The fifties was an era where cheap low-quality Japanese toys were flooding the market, and the chain stores were on to it like a flash. It was barely a decade since the end of the war, too, and bitter memories were still fresh. Little did I know that in another decade I would be buying a Datsun 1000 car, far higher in quality than anything produced in Australia, and shortly after, that Japanese optical and electronic goods would be the apex of quality worldwide.

But she was right to be suspicious, as lots of toys broke the minute you got them out of the packet, and she examined it minutely.

'All right. I'll find a shilling. But on one condition.'

'What's a "condition"?'

I didn't really care what one was; I would have agreed to anything. Lucky my name wasn't Faustus.

'It means you can't do it.' Mum was not about to explain the legal niceties of contract law.

'You can't open it till we get home.'

She obviously had visions of my terrorising the good people of Gladstone by firing suckered arrows indiscriminately in all directions before we got to Uncle Frank's car.

She could have been wise to impose that clause in the contract. Alderman Stobo would have been the first to go. A rubber-suckered arrow right between the eyes.

Look, I know I said I'd finish this this time around, but I didn't Swear to That on a Stack of Bibles or Cross my Heart and Hope to Die, did I? I have other things to do, and you can wait a day or so, can't you?

I'm afraid what I said earlier turned out to be a non-core promise, but I didn't know it at the time. I had no intention of doing a Scheherazade. Honestly. Cross my heart, but I refuse to hope to die.

I have sorely tried your patience. I apologise, fairly sincerely. But heck, I started this at 7.45 am, my stomach is grumbling piteously and it's now near lunchtime, and I haven't done a thing else. Give me a break, hey?


  1. Such a great story. I love it! Wherever did you find that photo of a red plastic bow?


    1. I created it in Photoshop based on a very different image, and on my memory.

      Blogs are good for forcing me back to graphics. I'm adapting slowly to using just one hand when I need three!

  2. Just letting you know I'm not one of the impatient ones Denis tap-tap-tappity-tap Really tap-tap I'm not tappity-tap ;)


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