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Dry your Tiny Tears: these are the top childhood toys

As the Late Late Toy Show reconvenes on RTE tonight, TheJournal.ie gets misty-eyed at the memory of Manta Force, Sindy, Mr Frosty and the Big Red Fun Bus.

The dreaded Cabbage Patch Kids dolls
The dreaded Cabbage Patch Kids dolls

TONIGHT’S LATE LATE Toy Show on RTE is not really about whether Ryan Tubridy wears a Christmas jumper or one of the performing kids gets stagefright at the crucial moment. It is what it has always been: about the toys. Kids these days circle pages in the Argos catalogue for their Christmas wish list. In the 1980s, they watched the Toy Show before making any final draft of that letter to Santa.

In a fit of nostalgia, TheJournal.ie remembers the classic toys of the Irish childhood. (And rings Mum to ask her if Mr Frosty is still in the attic. Chemically-coloured and flavoured crushed ice drinks is what Ireland really needs right now.)

WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE: Polly went in your Pocket, Sindy was the less trampy sister of Barbie and it was perfectly natural to dress toy doormice up in frilly pinafores as long as they belonged to the Sylvanian family. Tiny Tears peed in her pants and leaked through the eyeballs, and had an even more babyish sister called Teeny. Dolls were freaky in the ’70s and ’80s. Don’t get us started on the Cabbage Patch Kids…

ACTION STATIONS: Action figures were de rigeur for fighting sitting-room wars. Manta Force rocked, Action Force trumped Action Men (“they were for nerds”, according to a well-informed TheJournal.ie writer) and GI Joes were a rarity sent over in parcels from The Cousins in America.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and A-Team action figures marked you out as a TV viewer with malleable parents.

SPACE INVADERS: Anything Star Wars-related was jealousy guarded from the clumsy fists of younger siblings but the Millennium Falcon was the prize toy in the SW collection. It was Han Solo’s spaceship. It was butt-ugly. It was awesome.

Check out this stop-motion video of a Millennium Falcon being built from Lego.

BUILDING BLOCKS: Speaking of Lego, those plastic click-together pieces were the building blocks of our childhood landscapes. Meccano and Scalextrix (which is apparently making a comeback) were for the more mechanically-minded. Show-offs.

THE FISHER KING: It is hard to overestimate the influence of the New York-founded Fisher Price toy empire. There were few households in Ireland that didn’t have a Chatter Telephone, a pull-along dog, hopping frog, xylophone or other preschooler paraphenalia with the Fisher-Price tag on it. Chatter Telephone appeared in Toy Story 3 this year.

WE ALL FALL DOWN: If it didn’t come with a warning from your mother that you could take your eye with it, it wasn’t worth having. The smell of sulphur from cracking cap guns, four-wheeled rollerskates and the hip-hop of space hoppers and Lola balls. That’s an active childhood.

COLLECTOR CRAZIES: Like collecting plastic submarines (insert baking soda to work) in Kellogg’s Cornflakes, some toys’ popularity can only be explained by mass mania. Those Tamagotchis, digital pets that ‘died’ if you didn’t press their bleeping buttons every ten minutes? Furbys? Beanie Babies? We went crazy for the craze.

THE APPRENTICE: Toys can be educational, right? Certainly this little lot seemed designed to skill up kids and get them out there earning a few quid. Proper order too.

Budding ice-cream parlour owners got Mr Frosty, a slushy drink maker which basically served up crushed ice mixed with day-glo colourants.

Would-be hairdressers were given Styling Head, a free-standing doll’s head whose hair could be brushed, crimped and braided and their face painted with accompanying gaudy make-up palette. Many a weeping child soon discovered that, once cut, Styling Head’s hair didn’t grow back.

‘L’ plate bus drivers got the Big Red Fun Bus. Forget a dolls’ house – an entire family lived in a a bright-red double-decker Roadmaster. How amazing would that be?

Fledgling designers got Fashion Wheel. It’s not clear whether Marc Jacobs got one in his Christmas stocking but its mix ‘n’ match approach to bottom and top half items of clothing led to many formative fashion disasters.

Those with a flair for artistry were given Etch-a-sketch. By a process of twiddling two knobs, a masterpiece was conceived. Possibly created as a fiendish parental plot to stop budding Bacons from scrawling on the hall wall in felt-tip pen.

And then…. there were the toys you didn’t even know you wanted until you saw an ad for them on TV (or on the Late Late Toy Show). Do these vintage ads still sway you?

Watch Bullet Man do himself an injury in this 1970s Action Man ad:

A Barbie Styling Head with Exorcist-style creepy turning head:

Kids: Don’t ever point your gun at another person, okay? Except this one:

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Mary

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