Musings from A Seasoned Ruby Laner: Life Was Simpler Then

I was chatting with a friend a few days ago about how we spent our free time when we were children. Of course, the most obvious difference between then and now is that we were more free. There were fewer vehicles on the roads, so we could set off for adventures on our bicycles without much risk of accident. Safety helmets for cyclists had not been invented, so our hair blew free as the wind rushed through it, adding to the sensation of speed.

We ran and jumped and played simple games together, mainly within sight of our homes, but sometimes not. As long as we were home by dark, our mothers did not worry. In winter there was a steep field nearby where we took our sledges. In summer we had an old clay pit which we called the Wall of Death, like the old circus attraction. If you rode your bicycle fast enough you could rise higher and higher up the side of the pit. Alas, at that time my bike had no gears and the Wall of Death defeated me.

We tried to remember what toys we had, and how many. I can remember my toy cupboard, which was actually a built-in wardrobe. Maybe my clothes hung above the toys, but I was not much interested in clothes. Though I did not have a school uniform until I was eleven, we all wore much the same ā€“ cotton dresses in the summer, cardigans, sandals with socks. In the winter we had skirts and warm 'jumpers'. In the summer holidays I could wear shorts, and to this day putting on a pair of shorts gives me a quick rush of excitement, as though I have been set free. What others think of the sight of me happy in my shorts is best left unsaid.

I tried to recall my toys:

A doll I didn't like. I am not a doll person ā€“ you either are or you aren't ā€“ and I recall being disappointed when I opened the box. I was a polite child and pretended I liked it.

Rupert, my teddy. I still have dear Rupert. I also had a couple of panda bears, both inherited from cousins. They were both eaten by puppies in later years.

A scooter, followed by a succession of bikes as I grew taller, but probably not more than three in all before I grew to adult size. I used the scooter so much that the welded joint broke in two. The final bike was pink and had a lipstick holder! I was too young for lipstick (I don't think I wore it till I was sixteen) but it made me feel very grown-up.

A wonderful toy farm, made by my parents, and populated with painted lead people and farm animals. The hedges surrounding the farm were made of loofah coloured with green food colouring.

A skipping rope.

A tennis racket.

A game called Jokari, which was a pole with elastic at the top, attached to a ball. You hit it with a wooden bat.

Several jigsaws, a few board games and colouring books for wet days.

Small wooden spinning tops. We coloured the tops with chalk and made them spin using a leather-thonged whip.

Lots of books.

One Christmas what I really wanted was a hammer. I can still remember waking up on Christmas morning and seeing it in the top of my stocking. It was a dainty pin hammer and I still have it. I use it for hanging pictures. As you can see, I was a bit of a tomboy!

My friend Diane had some wooden stilts, made for her by her father. For one wonderful week she lent them to me. Thank you, Diane.

When I see the toys that have survived from those days, I marvel, as we had so few. Of course, because we had so few, we took very good care of them. They were used, but they were cared for, because if we broke them we could not expect a replacement until the next Birthday or Christmas. That's when we got our toys. Why should we be bought toys at any other time of year?

The exception was the seaside bucket and spade, which normally had to replaced annually. They were made of thin painted metal and the combination of abrasive sand and salt water meant that, even if stored carefully, they were rarely fit for use the next year. With these I would build sandcastles on the beach, for hours on end, with turrets and moats for the tide when it came in, and shells for decoration. Near the beach we could buy little paper flags to stick into the turrets as a finishing touch.

My favourite of all, though it wasn't strictly speaking a toy, was the Dressing Up Box. This contained party dresses of my Mother's which were beyond further use, and Fancy Dress costumes she had made for the Fancy Dress Balls that were so popular at the time. I would spend hours dressing up as .. what? .. characters from stories, I suppose. Eventually I moved on into Amateur Dramatics, and my ability to turn a piece of fabric into a convincing piece of costume proved useful.

I don't want to be one of those people who criticise the children of today. Far from it. They have so many toys vying for their attention, I wonder how much they can value each toy. They have video games to stimulate their imagination, but the pictures are there for them, ready-made. What better stimulus for the endless imagination of a child than a book? What greater freedom?

**Pam serves as a Customer Support Consultant on the Ruby Lane team. She has been a Ruby Lane shop owner for ten years and a partner in her family Antiques business for forty years. She is based in the UK. If you have suggestions for topics youā€™d like to see her discuss send them to

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