Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images Children playing with various toys, in the background are paintings of the Creation and the creation of Adam. Engraving by A. Bosse, 1636. Engraving 1636 By:

The way we were: playtime

Extracts from Lesley Blanch, Geoff Dyer and Jonathan Meades
November 12, 2019

Lesley Blanch describes her Edwardian childhood in Chiswick: “In winter during the long, dark evenings that set in around three o’clock, we spent more time indoors at home, sampling simple indoor diversions. As a special treat we were allowed a large, iron-bound box of ancient playthings which had been discovered by my father in some antique-dealer’s cellar. This had a mysterious quality, like its contents: a painted cup and ball, a baby’s silver-gilt rattle with a coral handle, too babyish for us, but its tinkle fascinated the cats. Then there were delicate lengths of crimson silk thread for the intricacies of Cats’ Cradle, long rolls of black paper with miniature scissors attached for cut-out silhouettes, and an only half-filled scrapbook contained beautiful engravings of rustic scenes, sheep penned under a tree, a black bird on a bough, or an ox drinking from a stream.”


Geoff Dyer notes in an essay: “We were the war children. Born a decade and a half after the Second World War ended, we devoted all out energy to recreating it. If the 1930s saw a period of escalating military expenditure then the 1960s saw us imaginatively rearming. Show me a picture of any Allied or German plane and I will identify it without the aid of conscious thought. We can call this condition, common to all boys of my generation, Airfixation. There were many strands to our war experience—comics, films, toys—but the core experience is represented by Airfix. Designed to reproduce the machinery of war in miniature... Airfix provides us with all the necessary parts; if we assemble them piece by piece and glue them together we will have a model of the larger experience and process by which the War was recycled.”2


Jonathan Meades notes in his autobiography: “We are persistently shocked when children go straight from Lego to legover. We shouldn’t be. It is as though there is a collective will to stunt them with toys, to prolong infantilism and delude ourselves about states of innocence... When, after they had both died, I sold my parents’ house, I got rid of a cupboardful of toys which had collected decades’ dust. I excitedly anticipated that the past would come rushing back. Each of these rusting tarnished pieces of metal or plastic is, surely, a potential trigger, a mnemonic of some bright day in 1959, a correlative of a particular sensation. They were however doggedly mute. It took time in that house whose purpose was finished to realise that this was a pitiful and self-pitying exercise: I was trying to freeze myself, to transport myself back to the land of yore, to dream days which had, actually, been no such thing. I was trying to do to myself what parents do to their children.”