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Archive for the ‘Toys’ Category

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The Smurfs

Posted by Big Boo on May 25th, 2011

The SmurfsI think my first encounter with a Smurf wasn’t with the comics or even the cartoon series, but with the little plastic figurines of the Smurfs that were given away as part of a promotion with a petrol garage. Wikipedia claims it was BP, but that’s only partly right. It was actually a chain of garages called National, which admittedly BP happened to own, but as far as the general public was concerned it was National. They even had a little musical slogan “you’ll get service with a Smurf“. Thanks to Kitty’s Cavern for clearing this one up for me.

There obviously wasn’t a National garage close to us though, as I remember we only had a couple of the freebie Smurf toys. My sister had a Smurfette one, and I remember having a Smurf that was black instead of blue. It always puzzled me at the time why he was black, but in this case I have to thank Wikipedia for putting my mind at rest, as the black Smurf was actually a blue Smurf who was bitten by a fly and went a little insane. He was the central plot for one of the Smurf comics.

Before National used Smurfs as a promotional aid though, I had never heard of them, despite the fact they were actually created way back in 1958 by Belgian cartoonist Peyo. Whilst they are known in Belgium as De Smurfen, which is where the English name for them comes from, they were first given a French name, Les Schtroumpfs.

This odd name came from Peyo asking a French friend to pass him the salt at a meal, but he had forgotten what the French word for salt was, so said “pass me the schtroumpf” instead. This led to Peyo and his friend continuing their conversation substituting the word schtroumpf in place of other words, thus inventing the manner in which the Smurfs tend to speak, substituting the word Smurf for other verbs and nouns. Whilst you could normally work out what they were saying from context, “I’m smurfing my smurf to the smurf” could mean anything really.

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Roller Boots

Posted by Big Boo on May 20th, 2011

Roller BootsThe first pair of roller skates I ever had a go on were a pair that were given to me, if I remember correctly, by my cousin. These were a pair like the small inset pair in the image accompanying this post, consisting of a couple of metal rails with wheels on that could be adjusted for size, and piece of leather to stick your toes in and a strap to tie up around the ankle end of your foot.

Forgive me, but they were rubbish. The wheels didn’t really run very smoothly so you didn’t so much skate as just push your feet forward and slide along a bit.

This would have been the late Seventies, so forward time a little bit and suddenly there is a craze for a new style of roller skate. These consisted of a pair of proper boots that looked like trainers that went above your ankles, which were attached to a plate with four smoothly rotating ball bearing mounted wheels (they looked very similar to the sort of wheels on a skateboard) and a big rubber stop under the toes which could be used to come to a halt.

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French Knitting

Posted by Big Boo on May 9th, 2011

French KnittingI’ve never managed to get the hang of knitting. I remember my Mum trying to teach me as a kid and the result was always the same. I’d be able to do it for an hour or so before I got bored, then when I went back to it ages later I had forgotten how to do it again. French Knitting therefore was perfect for me.

I’m not sure quite what made it French, but it certainly was knitting of a sort. You were never going to be able to knit a jumper with French Knitting, but you could make an endless supply of bracelets, coasters and um, worms? The technique also goes by the names of Spool Knitting and Corking.

French Knitting involves using a (usually wooden) cylinder with four nails hammered into one end. It is often referred to as a French Knitting Doll, since the cylinder is quite often shaped and painted to look like a doll. You thread wool through the cylinder and then proceed to loop it in a special way (which I admit I’ve forgotten) around the nails. As you proceed you knit the wool together to form a long thin chain of circular knitting.

I first tried my hand at French Knitting after seeing instructions on how to make a French Knitting Doll in a Ladybird book full of arts and crafts. You could make one out of an old wooden cotton reel and four short nails. Of course, this option is not really practical now given that cotton reels are generally made of flimsy, mostly hollow plastic, but you can buy ready made ones from places such as Stocking Fillers.

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Space Harrier

Posted by Big Boo on April 29th, 2011

Space HarrierI always looked forward to our family summer holidays at the seaside. One of the big highlights for me was being let loose to go around the amusement arcades that litter most British coastal towns, as it was one of the only chances I got each year to see the latest arcade videogames, which in those days were soooo much better than anything you could play at home (at least graphically).

One year my jaw dropped immediately when I saw Sega’s Space Harrier. There was a big crowd around the machine and rightly so, as Space Harrier was certainly a game to behold, not just because of it’s then amazing graphics, but more because of the hydraulic chair that you had to sit in to play the game.

At the time those simulator rides where you sit in a capsule and get tipped about whilst watching a piece of video (usually of a rollercoaster or a high speed car chase) and Space Harrier was basically that kind of idea scaled down to accommodate just one person.

Once strapped into the game’s chair, you had a big aircraft style joystick between your knees to grab hold of. Pulling the stick unsurprisingly moved your on screen character (a cool looking dude in red shirt and blue trousers and armed with a huge gun that also somehow enabled him to fly) but it also tipped the chair you were sitting in up, down, left and right, thus putting you off your game in the process.

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Stocking Fillers - Suppliers to Father Christmas
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Commodore 64 Relaunched

Posted by Big Boo on April 15th, 2011

New Commodore 64Given that we’ve just had April Fools Day, my immediate reaction on reading the news that the Commodore 64 was about to be relaunched was that it must have been a joke that was just slow in getting to me. But no, apparently it is no joke and the good old Commodore 64 is indeed coming back.

Except of course it isn’t. Not really. Sure Commodore are bringing back something that looks like a Commodore 64, right down to the little red power LED at the top right of the machine, but look closer and you’ll notice the keyboard isn’t quite right (four cursor keys and five function keys – I remember having to use shift to move the cursor up and left) and the ports on the side and back of the machine look distinctly PC like.

Yep, it is of course modern PC components somehow squeezed into a C64 shaped shell. That said, it isn’t quite as clean cut as being a Windows based PC. I’ve read that it presumably can run Windows, but when you buy it you get a version of the Linux operating system, whilst we’re waiting for Commodore OS to turn up.

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Sylvanian Families

Posted by Big Boo on April 13th, 2011

Sylvanian FamiliesBefore I go to far I have to admit I always thought of Sylvanian Families as a toy from the Nineties, but no, it is indeed a product of the Eighties. I think the reason I think this is because it did enjoy a period of high popularity at around the same time as things like the Ty Beanie Babies, mainly due to adults starting to collect toys proactively.

The Sylvanian Families range of toys harks originally from Japan, and comprises a number of sets of animal families, all anthropomorphised to look more human. For the most part the animals are of the woodland variety, so there are bears, squirrels and hedgehogs, but you can also get dogs, cats and even penguins.

The dolls stand at around 10cm high, and are covered in a very short flock material to make them feel furry. Unusually for this sort of toy, though in keeping with it’s name, you buy the dolls in family sets usually consisting of mother, father, son and daughter. They are even given a family surname.

However, whilst the animal families are a big part of the appeal of Sylvanian Families, the big draw for many is the huge range of additional things you can get to go with the dolls. The concept behind these toys actually owes more to old fashioned dolls houses then to collectable figures.

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Posted by Big Boo on April 4th, 2011

M.A.S.KSome cartoon series in the Eighties were notable for being more a glorified TV advert for a range of toys rather than just a piece of children’s entertainment, and M.A.S.K. was no exception to this. This doesn’t mean that the cartoon wasn’t good, indeed far from it, as a poor cartoon is not likely to make kids want the accompanying toys, is it?

M.A.S.K. was a high action cartoon aimed squarely at young boys, and can best be described as a mix between Transformers and Action Force as it featured cool looking vehicles that could transform into even cooler looking vehicles, and a group of highly trained action men and women.

As the dots in the name suggest, M.A.S.K. was an acronym. It stood for Mobile Armored Strike Kommand (how Kool is that?) which was an organisation intended to fight crimes that were carried out by the also acronymed group named V.E.N.O.M. (Vicious Evil Network Of Mayhem – so no mistaking them as the bad guys then!).

Both M.A.S.K. and V.E.N.O.M. were made up of experts in various different fields, each of which drove their own appropriate vehicle. When the need arose, these special agents could don a special piece of head gear (a mask, see, the acronym works on two levels) and their vehicle would transform itself into something with a bit more oomph, whether that be in speed terms or just extra firepower.

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Real Transformers On Their Way!

Posted by Big Boo on April 1st, 2011

Real Transformer?The Transformers toy range is one that most people will be familiar with, either through the toys themselves, the cartoons or the more recent Hollywood movies or one of the many other forms of entertainment they have been adapted to. There’s no denying it’s a really cool concept, and it appears it’s one that may actually be about to become reality.

Boffins in America (no, not Japan as you might have expected) have released news that they have a working prototype of a real Transformer, that can transform from robot mode into a drivable car in the blink of an eye. Not only can the car drive around, it is also possible for the robot mode to walk, albeit with a bit of a stuttering pace at this stage, though the makers are working on this.

Not convinced, check out the video clip of it in action below…

OK, so it’s just a bloke in a suit, and the top of the car doesn’t sit nicely with the wheels when in car mode, but you have to admit it is very clever. A bit sad perhaps, but clever. Given today’s date I couldn’t resist stringing you all along though… 😉