THE sales figures for Top Toys of Christmas Present aren’t in yet, but it’s thought that the evergreen Barbie franchise will be well represented on the list, given the huge summer success of the Barbie movie.

The bog-standard Barbie Movie Doll is the bookies’ favourite for top spot – yer basic Barbie with one outfit from the movie retailing at around 74 smackers, which is about 60 smackers more than when Daddy Squinter was in the Barbie market 15 or 20 years ago.

If you don’t want your child’s Barbie ruining her fashionable outfit by living in a shop doorway in the city centre, the Barbie Dreamhouse will set you back £220 (three-storey slide, pet lift and pool included, rates and electricity and gas bills optional extras).
Expected to be on the list too are 

• Lego City range, with choices including an eco-house, an Arctic exploration vessel  and a hospital with maternity unit (Greta Thunberg captain doll optional extra).  
• The Spider-Man Ultimate Web Warrior, which comes with a host of action sound effects and a range of spoken lines (including ‘How much?’ and ‘Are you havin’ a laugh?’).  
•Cabbage Patch Gymnast, with birth certificate and adoption papers (Covid vaccine certificates optional extras).

Notice anything about these four toys? No? Well, it strikes Squinter that they are all playthings that are designed for one person – three are dolls and one is an assembly kit. That’s not to say you can’t have a doll party or that you can’t get somone to help you put together a box of Lego, but overwhelmingly these toys will be played with by one child, which in the age of the smartphone and in a post-street games society is probably par for the course.

All of which got Squinter to thinking about the Toys of Christmas Past – the insanely desirable items that he craved as a child and boy but very rarely got. And another thought occurred to him – most of the toys that were coveted by kids way back when were designed to be played either with others or outdoors.

So for those of you old enough to remember when the creation of BBC2 was the pinnacle of technological achievement, or for those of you keen to know how your parents/grandparents passed the time once upon a time, here’s a list of Toys from Christmas Past.
On the sprawling Argentinian Pampas, gauchos bring down galloping cattle not with a lasso, but with two heavy balls attached to a string which they hurl at the legs of the animal, the resulting entanglement bringing the beast to the ground. When Squinter was a boy, Clackers were a smaller version of the bolas, designed not to stop half a ton of South American beef in its tracks, but to make a deafening clacking noise when repeatedly brought together. Unfortunately the early Clackers had a tendency to explode, showering kids with deadly shrapnel; and if one of those flying balls struck the user or a bystander, then shrapnel injuries were the least of your worries.
Small cast-iron pistols that fired caps or morsels of potato were popular weapons in the schoolyards of Squinter’s boyhood. While the capguns were technically much more advanced than the spudgun – a roll of caps on a revolving cylinder enabled the user to fire multiple shots without loading – they were much more reliable. Why that was Squinter still doesn’t know, but even though the firing system was a much simpler one – the muzzle was stuck into a potato and the starchy single bullet fired by compressed air – the spudgun’s failure rate was abysmal. The downside of the capgun was that the smell was rank – so rank that kids came to love it. As kids do. 

Raving Bonkers
Two flimsy plastic boxers inside a flimsy plastic ring, the fighters’ fists operated by two hyperactive children by means of flimsy plastic handles. What could go wrong? Well, everything – and it did. The ring wasn’t anchored to the ground, which meant that it usually ended up mid-air with contestants doing considerably more pushing and pulling than pressing or punching and you’d be be lucky if the thing lasted to New Year’s Eve. Then there was the scoring system. A direct hit to the chin and the boxer’s head would pop up on a spring, signalling a reset. But as one of the heads was always on a feather trigger while the other was stuck tight, winning depended not so much on skill as choice. (See also slow and fast Scalextric cars.)
Stretch Armstrong
Stretch was a muscular wrestler in skimpy trunks who could – just as it said on the tin (or box) – be pulled to just about any shape or length. Why you would want a wrestler with two-feet-long arms and six-inch long legs was never clear to Squinter; nor was it clear what you were supposed to do with a wrestler with grossly distended body parts. What was clear that the promised ability of Stretch to return to his original dimensions decreased with every pull so that after a matter of days Stretch could no longer fit in to his box and the challenge was not to stretch him from one foot to three, but from six feet to twelve.
A two-person shoot-out with ball-bearings, to make a long story short. Across a rectangular board, the metal balls are fired by means of a weapon that’s a kind of a cross between a gun and a slide. They are directed at a puck on the table with the aim of propelling it into the opponent’s goal. The problem was, the weapons jammed more often than Bob Marley and in the mad scramble to reload this meant that tempers were likely to flare with the result that what few rules were in existence were likely to be dispensed with. The board would be tilted, for instance; a hand used to cover the net; the puck taken off the ice (sorry, board). The good news was that the guns could not fired with any real effect at your opponent.
Think Jenga with cocktail sticks and balls. A see-through plastic cylinder with a fistful of marbles supported on a base of thin plastic sticks, the challenge was to extract a stick without causing one of the marbles to drop into your marble-tray (the person with the fewest marbles at the end being the winner; no jokes about Jim Allister, please). Apparently the name of the game is onomatopoeic – meaning KerPlunk is the sound the marbles make when they drop; although in Squinter’s experience if the game was really named after noises you’re likely to hear while playing then it should be called ‘F*** sake!’
Etch A Sketch
In this 60s ‘classic’, monochrome drawings are created on a small screen by moving around aluminium powder by means of two knobs (apparently Ant and Dec are in discussions for a TV version). The advertising would have you believe that you are capable of creating a Dutch Old Master, but in fact the images were only as artistic and accurate as they could be when created by dust and twiddlers. Throw in the fact that the screen soon became dirty with powder left behind after multiple screen cleanings and it became rapidly apparent that the game was best suited for creating crude graffiti. Which is possibly why it was so popular in Belfast. 
Hungry Hippos
Another marble-collecting adventure – the idea this time being not to avoid them but to get as many as you can. Four multi-coloured hippos are ranged around a ‘pool’, their large mouths operated by the players via a lever on the animal’s back. As marbles are fed into the pool (no, they don’t sink, it’s not a real pool – stop being clever) your hippo’s mouth is opened and closed in an attempt to eat as many marbles as possible. Sadly, the game is utterly dependent on the pool being situated on a completely flat surface (otherwise the balls will roll into a certain hippo’s mouth) and since the game is not secured by nuts and bolts to the table, and since it is most often played by over-excited urchins, the prospect of a level playing pool is remote.
Mouse Trap
A multi-dimensional board game in which two to four players attempt to stay out of the mouse trap for as long as possible, avoiding a series of Home Alone-style booby-traps and anti-personnel tricks. The game gets more complicated as it goes on since the players can build up and enhance the traps as they go, making things tougher for their opponents. Needless to say, alarm bells should have gone off when the inventor decided to incorporate a building element as building requires parts and materials and in the hands of children parts and materials go missing. So while a brand-new game might bring hours of fun, when tiny plastic bits and bobs start to go missing from day one the game’s appeal diminishes considerably. (For more on missing bits, See also Monopoly and Cluedo.)
Space Hopper
There was a time when you couldn’t walk 50 feet without seeing a brightly-coloured bouncing ball with room for a jockey and ears instead of reins. Trouble was, the thing could never decide whether it was a form of transport or a game, and so some kids and their pals would simply horse around at their front door while others would use it to go to the shops. Since the Space Hopper was designed for tarmac and concrete streets, it had to be made out of a sturdy material – and the sturdy material that was chosen, as far as Squinter could make out, was recycled hot water bottles. And while this was ideal for the streets of Dublin or Glasgow, it was not meant to be used on streets where a four-day riot has just taken place. And, take Squinter’s word for it, a bicycle repair kit doesn’t hack it with a slashed Space Hopper.