A good toy is a good toy… for boys or girls

The Evel Knievel rev-up motorcycle.

The Evel Knievel rev-up motorcycle.

Hopefully, by the time this column returns next week Santa Claus will have visited chez Tideswell and made two little girls very happy once more.

On Christmas Day the most difficult decision they will probably have to make will be which toy to play with.

I reckon Santa knows them well enough by now to realise that they aren’t really girly-girls – if such creatures ever existed.

The truth is my two are just as likely to play with Nerf guns, walkie-talkies or superhero figures as they are to dress up as Disney princesses or play school with their teddies.

Yours truly wouldn’t have it any other way and I’ve positively encouraged my daughters to play with whatever toys take their fancy – not simply the ones packaged in pink boxes and involving fairies and ponies.

The news (Tweeted to a Labour politician) that Marks & Spencer is to become the latest high street name to make its toys ‘gender neutral’ (I hate that phrase) is a good move in my book.

When we, as a family, browse the toy aisles in any store my girls are just as likely to get excited about toys which have been marketed specifically for boys.

If you delve in their dressing up box, alongside the fairy gowns, wigs and cat outfits you’ll find holsters and cowboy guns, swords and shields.

Ask my two about superheroes (usually considered a preserve of lads) and they can name virtually every Marvel comic book character and tell you their powers.

Talk to them about Dungeons and Dragons and they’ll tell you that clerics have the best chance of defeating zombies because they’re undead. Obviously.

Today, our eldest – Lois – gets to take a toy into school as it’s the last day of term.

She has chosen the Tauriel action figure – complete with bow, quiver of arrows and two swords (as has her friend Lizzie).

So while other girls in her class will be playing whatever they’re playing, Lois and Lizzie will be re-enacting scenes from the latest Hobbit movie. And why not?

This doesn’t mean my Lois and her younger sister Mina won’t want to read the Rainbow Fairies books in bed at night anymore, or have their nails painted by mum, or make bead necklaces for their friends or collect Beanie Boos.

It just means they like a bit of variety and I’m glad they don’t feel boxed in to playing with things which are only fluffy or pink.

When I was four I used to follow my cousin Joanne around like a sheep. I thought she was marvellous. (Obviously you still are, Jo). Whatever Joanne played with I wanted too. Consequently I nagged my mum for a doll and she gave in. Lord knows what my dad must have thought.

My doll’s name was Susie and I have vivid memories of carrying her around and talking to her.

At one stage she was definitely in a relationship with my second-hand Eagle-Eyed Action Man and they lived in a shoe box.

Bear in mind I was born in 1972 and even back then toys were marketed very specifically along male/female lines.

I grew up in the age of games and toys like Tank Command and Tin Can Alley, the Evel Knievel rev-up motorcycle and Scalextric – all aimed at boys.

But, in truth, my favourite toy up until high school was soldiers – something which saw no television marketing.

I had a tin of tiny plastic ones which included British and German Second World War soldiers, Napoleonic infantry and U.S. cavalry troopers.

It was a collection I’d built up over several years and that tin went everywhere with me.

Mum and dad will tell you it kept me quiet for hours and I dare say they didn’t know they’d got me most of the time.

Then I discovered Dungeons and Dragons and the experience of creating adventures while playing tabletop games with your friends.

That is, I suppose, the beauty of a good game or toy. It feeds your imagination and it doesn’t really matter what it is or who it was targeted at as long as it achieves that aim.

You see, despite what those toy marketing gurus might think, girls like to build Lego and boys like to dress up. Thankfully, Father Christmas had this sussed a long time before Marks & Sparks started mithering about it because of the politically-correct brigade and a few crusading politicians.

Read my Personally Speaking columns every Friday in The Sentinel

I’d rather be sledging than join hordes of retail zombies

I’ve never really understood the phenomenon that is the post-Christmas sales.
I think it stems from the fact that I’ve always had a problem with TV advertisements over the festive period.
As I sit there with a warm turkey bap and a glass of port on Christmas Eve the last thing I want to be assailed with is summer sun package holiday deals.
Neither do I want to know the opening times of various furniture stores for their half-price sales.
It somewhat kills the mood of the special night for me to be told that I MUST get down to such-and-such a place by 10am on Boxing Day.
Must I? Really? Can I not just enjoy the Christmas holiday period instead?
Truth be told I’d rather eat my own head than be involved in a retail feeding frenzy 24 hours after I’ve opened my Christmas presents and discarded enough packaging to gift-wrap Ceramica.
I mean, have you seen the queues for the sales at Next? You’d think The Beatles had reformed.
I like a bargain as much as the next bloke, but standing in the freezing cold for hours on end so that you can be the 734th person through the doors at a glorified jumble sale strikes me as a bit sad.
You can go shopping anytime and, if you’re smart, you can pick up a good deal all-year-round.
But how many times in recent years have we actually had a white Christmas to savour?
What about spending a bit of quality time with your family instead of elbowing pensioners and disabled people out of the way in pursuit of branded jumper in the wrong colour that you won’t wear for another nine months?
There is something deeply tragic about jumping in the car on Boxing Day, battling to find a parking space and rejoining the rat race.
Is another day’s rest at home or a walk in the winter wonderland outside so unappealing?
Credit crunch? A time of austerity? Tell that to the hordes of zombies who have been riding their plastic in the past few days.
I suspect many of them will come to regret the unnecessary purchases and dread the hefty bills that will be dropping on their doormats next month.
We should also spare a thought for the poor sods who are dragged in to work at the check-outs and in the storerooms when they should still be putting their feet up.
As much as I understand the importance of the High Street to our economy and as much as I am a technophobe, I am delighted that we have now reached a tipping point and that internet shopping is becoming the preferred choice for many people.
Perhaps it will make us realise that the Boxing Day sales aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
I accept that faith, the church and spirituality are lost on many of us but surely to goodness we can find more worth in the Christmas period than trudging around shops as if it’s just another weekend.
I defy any of those people gridlocked around Festival Park yesterday to tell me their shopping trip was worth the hassle.
If I had my way – with the exception of grocery sales – I’d ban shops from opening between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day in an attempt to encourage people to rediscover the simple joys of life.
I took my girls sledging on Boxing Day. In all honestly, there wasn’t that much snow left – it was more frozen leaves and ice.
But I dare say we had far more fun with their shiny new toboggans than if we had gone shopping.