The pleasures of toys (not that sort!)

Prior to the arrival of our little bundle of joy, I’d see those parents with a wicker basket of handcrafted wooden toys for their children – ‘we don’t believe in consumerism’ – and I’d think: ‘what a bunch of bloody hippies. Go back to smoking roll-ups and drinking herbal tea, the grown-ups are talking.’

In hindsight I think they’re geniuses and I really wish we’d had a rule about toys long before Izzie was born.

The problem is that without a clear idea of what you want, toys have a tendency to multiply. My lounge has turned into a multicoloured mayhem of shapes, materials and textures. It’s like living inside a Disney cartoon, complete with jaunty music, flashing lights, and twee sing-songs.

You see, Lizzie is obsessed with trawling around charity shops and baby jumble sales and returning with endless bargains in pink plastic and green felt. Bargains that ring and chime and jangle, and aren’t really bargains at all when you can’t walk from one side of the lounge to the other without stepping on something that squeaks, or dances, or blinks at you.

Most of the noisy toys are from a company called Vtech, and I have nothing against them. Individually. My problem comes from the fact that when the table is singing, and the walker joins in, the toy TV controller sings its song, and the toy phone starts to warble, it creates a cacophony so unholy it can summon Satan.

Worse, they seem to have used the same woman to voice all of them. ‘Watch some TV with some friends,’ she says, along with ‘can you find the duck,’ ‘ring home,’ ‘who’s calling,’ ‘now I know my abc,’ all at the same time. The voices never stop. These things are meant to teach kids, not make them schizophrenic.

And that’s just the start of it.

I’m not sure the lessons are as productive as they might think. Apparently, rabbits go ‘boing’. Never heard that myself. And one toy from Fisher Price sings, ‘five little cookies make a yummy snack.’ Really? I’d have thought five little cookies make a baby fat!

And thanks to it being in the public domain, every single one of them plays Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. That song’s always bewildered me, even as a kid. ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are.’ It’s a freaking’ STAR! The answer’s in the question. Okay, when Jane Taylor wrote it way back in 1800-and-whatever, she probably thought they were ‘God lights’ or ‘angel smiles’, or something, but damn, can’t we change it to reflect current understanding?

Twinkle, twinkle, little star, you’re a ball of hot gases undergoing nuclear fusion, that’s what you are.


The ABC song, which I’ve noticed has the exact same tune as Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, and which all the toys also play, is driving me utterly insane. In American English it work fine: ‘T U Vee, W X, Y and Zee.’ But the toys have all been recorded in British English, so she sings: ‘T U Vee, W X, Y and Zed.’ It doesn’t seem to bother Lizzie, but every time the song starts up I cringe, waiting for that awful, jarring non-rhyme. The only way I can cope is to sing along with it, substituting  Zee for Zed. And doing that fifty times a day isn’t relaxing.

I think there’s a reason the musical drum Lizzie brought home a few weeks back was so cheap, because if you ever want to torture someone, this thing was designed by the Marquis de Sade. Every time you tap it, it plays a note. The notes it plays seem to unite to create ‘The Wheels On the Bus.’ But it doesn’t play ‘The Wheels On the Bus.’ There are extra notes crammed in there at random, and others arbitrarily removed. If you were to sing along to it in your head, as you do automatically, it would go like this: ‘The wheels on round and round, round and round round, round and round, the wheels on the round and round, all all day day long.’

‘Just turn them off!’ I hear you scream.

I fully agree. But you clearly don’t appreciate the depth of my problem. Turning them off isn’t as easy as you might think. You find a switch and flip it, move onto the next one, only to discover you haven’t turned it off at all – you’ve simply switched it from ‘annoying tune’ to ‘annoying song’, or increased the volume, or switched on the lights so you can enjoy your own disco/epilepsy. One of them even rolls around the room, forcing you to chase it, and once you’ve caught it, it spins a chicken over the top of the off-switch, as if laughing at you: ‘ha, the only way you can reach this switch is with lightning reactions, or else you break it!’

Funnily enough, despite all the bells and whistles she can choose from, Izzie’s fallen in love with a little cuddly green dog that has become something of a security blanket. Well, not the dog, actually – the bone attached to the dog by a little blue cord. She’s only happy when she’s clutching this blue cord, the bone on top, the dog dangling down under her feet. She drags the dog around behind her, trips over it, gets it stuck on things. Instead of using two hands to pull herself to her feet, she only has one free nowadays.

It’s made dressing her, or changing her nappy, or strapping her into the car seat or high chair, an absolute nightmare. Because she has to let go of it so you can put her arm through the sleeve or the strap, or avoid getting poo on it, and letting go of it is not something she’s going to do without a fight, followed by excessive amounts of screaming.

She even sleeps with it now, and I have to admit, I’m happy to let her if it keeps her quiet.

She’s asleep, we have fifteen minutes to turn off all the toys!

So here’s to the hippy parents with the handcrafted wooden toys, roll-up cigarettes and herbal tea – I take mine with milk and a sweetener, thanks. See you at the commune!

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