By LESLIE ADRIAN
MINK buy those
. . . none of them are big enough for Tim to swal- low,' 1 heard a lady shopper 'say in John Lewis's recently. Under the circumstances—the bright corridor of toys which Lewis's extends for the season — it might have seemed a rather lugu- brious comment to make
when faced with nothing more serious, as she was, than a bagful of blocks. However, I thought the remark was immensely significant and per- haps the key to toy-shopping this Christmas. For after looking over the toys in a great many shops both inside London and out, I found that both shopkeepers and consumers are deeply concerned with safety in toys.
The belief that safety should take pre-eminence over simple appearances has been growing for some time. Happily, the recent Watford Con- sumer Group Report on toys was given extensive newspaper coverage and helped to confirm the feeling that bright, pretty toys could be horribly fallible in practice and that even the well-estab- lished old firms could make toys that literally stuck in the craw.
The Watford Report emphasised particularly the dangers of badly finished tin boxes (on pencil cases, for example), breakable polythene and cheap plastic toys, insecure joining and fixing of nuts and bolts. The Report was compiled, not from comparative experiments on individual makes, but by letters from worried parents and general word of mouth.
Underscoring the Watford Report's findings concerning insecure joining in the big mobile and so-called 'durable' toy is a survey in this month's Which? on children's wheelbarrows; out of the seventeen models tested, only one model, a Sunbeam, was given a clean bill of safety health; the other sixteen, five of which were Tri- ang models, were found to have great disadvan- tages dealing with insecure jointing, excessive lead in paint and sharp metal joints. As a god- parent of a six-year-old girl who took a terrible headlong dive off a Tri-ahg scooter the first day out because of loose nuts in the handle-bar, I was not surprised or sorry to see this firm cen- sured on these grounds. Tri-ang are the Big Daddy of the British toy industry worth an annual £42 million and will no doubt survive this criticism as well as the fact that a number of toy stores (Abbatt's of Wimpole Street, to name an important one) do not stock their wares. How- ever, 1 hope it gives them pause.
The most striking trend in toys this year is the swing away from tin and plastic towards smooth, uncoloured wood, and the reduction in the num- Iser of mechanical toys propelled either by a winding key or by an electric battery. The safety inherent in a good, hardwood toy is self-evident ----no jagged edges, not even the paint chips to worry about. One avant-garde store-owner, wax- ing child-psychological (another, though less seri- ous, danger in the toy world), told me that he stocked wood toys in such abundance because he thought that the urban child had been too removed from nature and needed the feel and texture of wood to remind him of absent trees. Be that as it may, it is certainly true that wooden toys can now be purchased for the cradle
age and such beginner basics as rattles and teeth-
ing rings can now be found in smooth, unpainted beech wood. Of great simplicity and apparent
durability are those conceived by the Danish de-
signer, Kay Bojesen, which I saw at Abbatt's and at John Dobbie's in Wimbledon. They looked as
if they could withstand the attack of a shark's tooth, let alone a baby's, something which cannot be said of the plastic variety (the Watford group found that the Kiddicraft 'Sensible' teething chain wasn't really very sensible at all as the metal chain was breakable and that the same firm's blow teether split into two under tooth pressure).
Anyone who, has watched very young children at play will have noted how much pleasure a simple box, or even a cardboard carton, can give, both as a repository for toys and a place to get into. An advance on a grocer's carton can be found at Galt's, Great Marlborough Street, WI, which stocks some handsome toy boxes, mounted on castors for easy moving and with the wooden joints dovetailing at the corners for safety. They can be used as a storage space for toys, as a push- cart, for playing house, or just simply as some- thing to bash about=--they look as if they'd with- stand the blows (the medium-sized one is under £3, the big one nearly £5).
Wooden trains which children can join and push around without the aid of an electric battery (which invariably runs out, rarely to be replaced, anyway) are in great evidence this year. 'Children like to act upon a toy, not just sit back passively and watch a toy move without their aid,' Audrey Stevenson of Abbatt's told me. Attractive ex- amples of the pushable, hand-worked train for the one- to three-year-old, with easy knuckle joinings, a bright red engine and multi-coloured box cars arc sold at Abbatt's and at John Dobbie's, 19 Church Road, Wimbledon. Both these shops stock Escor trains, planes and merry- go-rounds, also free, like the beginner's train, of swallowable axles or wheels. On Escor models, even the joining nuts are wooden.
Though a toy idea can be ageless, like Noah's Ark or a doll's house, it, too, can be adapted to the more modern, and safer, materials. A real
doll house winner, in my estimation, is a wooden one made by Vitali of Basle, Switzerland, a Frank Lloyd Wright dream, airy, light and open, flat roofed, with the stairs on the outside of the house and each room clearly visible fom the e‘ terior. Cubistic, beech furniture is sold separate!) in bedroom, kitchen and sitting-room sets. 28s each—not much more than the rather nasty plas• tic variety. (House and furniture at Abbatt's.)
Two choice Noah's Arks in smooth woods arc Yootha Rose's hand-built ark in white deal (ex. elusive to John Dobbie's, 75s.) and a brightly coloured Disneyish version at Gait's (72s. 6d.; with twenty animals, Noah and Mrs. Noah painted on thick wooden slabs like exaggerated jigsaw puzzles.
The Watford Report mentions the high mor- tality rate among dolls whose pop-in rubber- ended legs and arms break off, and also the pro- pensity of dolls' glass eyes to fall inward in a ghastly manner after much use and immersion (though the rubber ones with washable hair are advertised as bathtub companions). For this reason, I. was pleased to see what a variety of pretty, soft, cloth dolls and animals were in the stores. Heal's, of 196 Tottenham Court Road, WI, has some charming Victorian rag dolls made by Elizabeth Hale, which are imaginatively put together with muslins, chintzes and ginghams which evoke the period.
A dashing use of fabric in toys is one of Heal's strong points. Kristin Baybars, a one-time Heal's employee who now makes toys exclusively, has used the most futuristic fabrics for her zany, stuffed toys; hungover-looking owls, bulging-eyed fish, blazing felt and linen suns (at Heal's and John Dobbie's). Miss Baybars' creations are sophisticated and seductive enough to please any adult. In fact, maybe they are for adults (they're too bulky for a child to sleep with). Which brings up an important point. Who do we buy toys for? Ourselves or our children? It will be interesting to see what the toy report of the Research Insti- tute for Consumer Affairs has to say on this sub- ject in their new report which is to be released in the New Year. The topic has been too little explored.
Soft, washable, terylene-lilled dolls, designed and hand-made by Grace Furse, called 'Mother Hubbard Toys.' and based on Mother Goose nursery rhymes, would be safe in the hands of the youngest child (at Harrods). Miss Furse pro- ceeds on the theory, a logical one, I think, that little girls love bags that zip and articles that fit neatly into one another. She doesn't stint on the number—with the Old Lady's Shoe, for instance,
just like the old lady herself, you acquire a lot of tiny children, easily undressable and with no dangerous fastenings. Other of her dolls-within- dolls sets are Humpty-Dumpty, Baa-baa Black Sheep, Sing a Song of Sixpence and the Queen of Hearts.
It was with some hthor that I read in a Sep- tember issue of the Daily Herald that America's 'Barbie' doll was soon to be sold over here. Barbie is a huge-busted, foot-high celluloid doll with bouffant hair and the wardrobe of a successful call-girl. Barbie's fantastic appeal has been given some dark psychiatric interpretations in the United States which her recent acquisition of a muscular boy-friend, Ken, hasn't helped to dispel. Having, on a recent trip to America, myself seen one Barbie dressed in a sable wrap, décolleté hind evening dress and diamantd heels, I was not' sorry to find that she hasn't yet made the sea trip over. Perhaps her trip has been delayed by the appearance of a modified, infinitely less sinister British opposite number called 'Sindy.' Sindy is a 'Pedigree' doll (at Hamley's) and is a swinging young teenager, all right, with red boots, black plastic raincoat, baby doll pyjamas, jeans and cape coats. She has a wholesome outdoorsy side to her, too, and from her wardrobe sets one gathers that she rides and skates. Barbie stay home.
Desks are ideal toys, I think—they make a good piece of nursery furniture with a two- or three-year life span, they afford pleasure to the child and are also good receptacles for drawings, crayons and paints, a comfort to tidy mothers who are always hectically in search of order and the space in which to create it. In desks, the desires of parent and child co-exist on the hap- piest plane—I wonder if the RICA toy inquiry will agree? Kiddicraft has manufactured a hand- some one this year for the kindergarten-aged child which is part stool, part blackboard (the blackboard, fringed with an alphabet, is the top of the desk) and converts into a separate stool if desired (at John Lewis's).
There is a sad tapering-off of toys for the eight- year-old; it must be assumed that this age group should be beginning to put away childish things and concentrating on books and sports in their leisure time. This is unfair thinking, to my mind, as eight-year-olds, faced with the upcoming crunch of the eleven-plus, need a strong reminder that they haven't quite yet been ousted from the nursery. A beautiful toy, still nursery yet grown- up, to bridge this uncomfortable gap, is a two- way wooden painting easel, four feet high, de- signed for two children to paint together, and with large trays at the easel base for paint pots. Paint can be applied directly to the board and sponged off or else paper can be clamped to the easel (at Abbatt's and Galt's). As so many of the most thoughtfully designed toys I saw were at Abbatt's, Galt's and Heal's, I was delighted to discover that these stores do a mail-order business and that their goods are not restricted to London children. A toy buyer has so little redress when he is landed with an ill- conceived or treacherous toy (as if the accident incurred weren't punishment enough!) that the cautious, dedicated designers and storekeepers can't be overpraised.