Sunday, November 29, 2009

James May's Toy Fair

Some very old Meccano. Guy is trying to build a Spitfire from it at the moment. It's just as fiddly as I remember but maybe that's the point.

I took Guy along to this Toy Fair linked to James May's BBC series on Saturday, as we have both been enjoying the TV programmes looking at the history of great toys from his (and indeed my) youth. Well, not exactly. I was always first and foremost a Lego person with Airfix a close second. However I never had Scalextric or Hornby. I was only an intermittent Plasticene person; mainly making dinosaurs or cetacea. I had Meccano but never really took to it.

Anyway we pitched up to Camden Council's rather dingy HQ on Saturday. The average age of the children there was rather younger than I expected being in the 7-8 range rather than 12 like Guy. Each of the key featured toys had there own stand although there was a surprising lack of stuff for sale: possibly something to do with the outlook of the People's Republic of Camden.

James May (in the tasteful jumper) and the Hornby layout.

Guy does have Hornby and enjoyed the rail layout. He was very taken with the Hornby Orient Express set which was a hefty £350. Guy tried it on from the start with an argument along the lines of "as you and mummy went on the Orient Express for your honeymoon she wouldn't be cross if we bought this". Hmm! Bad luck Guy!

Guy wonders where his Aston Martin is. Spun off, probably.

Guy spent quite a lot of time at the Scalextric track racing an Aston Martin; which is his favourite car despite it being as common as muck around here. It's partly to do with James Bond I suppose but then my brother in law has one so Guy gets lots of rides around the Hampshire countryside in his DB7.

L to R: Mike Costin, Keith Duckworth and Uncle Wally with the Ford Cosworth engine which my uncle commissioned while head of Ford PR.

The other aspect, I suppose, is that my uncle, Walter Hayes (my mother's brother) was Chairman of Aston Martin and commissioned the DB7 as his first action on being asked to take over the firm by Ford. He once told me that lots of people asked him at the time if he could get them an Aston at cost price. He replied of course. Cost price would be about 15% more than list price!

We had seen them setting up the world's longest Scalextric track at Brooklands, not far from where I live, which is where our local Tesco is (and there is also a very good car and aircraft museum- Hawker used to have their factor there) for the James May's Toy Story TV programme on Scalextric.

Things from the Lego House

Guy made some Plasticene flowers (not very well I was relieved to see) decided he didn't want to make an Airfix Spitfire ("I can do that at home") but enjoyed talking to the designer of the Lego house (4.5 million bricks!). This had been built at Denbies Vineyard, which is not far away from us in Dorking and we drove past it a couple of times. Talking to the Lego lady she said that when she first started designing Lego objects to go into the house she designed them on paper. Gradually, however she didn't need the designs and could design in her head as she built. This is something, sadly, disappearing from the best toy in the world given that nearly everything they sell is, as far as imagination goes, now no different from an Airfix kit. You just build it from a plan. I built everything from Lego and had to make up my own designs. I used to build whole fleets of battleships and refight Jutland on my carpet or hover tanks from The Trigan Empire my favourite comic strip from Look & Learn magazine.

James May wandered around the stands most of the day and participated in a very enjoyable question and answer session. He seems to genuinely believe that youngsters in Britain have lost their ability to construct things and that doing things with our hands uses a part of our brains that we use less and less in a screen focussed world. Certainly, I saw the effect his programme on Airfix had on Modelzone in High Holborn the week after. The place was packed at lunchtime, unusually, and you couldn't get a model of a Spitfire from any manufacturer!

Arthur and his excellent book.

On the Airfix stand Guy did succeed in getting me to sign him up to the Airfix club where we got a rather splendid Fleet Air Arm trio of kits which were exclusive to the club. I was also delighted to meet Arthur Ward, the author of The Boys Book of Airfix, which I really enjoyed reading recently. I bought an Airfix desk calendar for my office and some rather splendid Airfix box art drinks coasters!

Barbora, whose accent was such that she could have successfully signed me up for anything!

One stand there was for a website called Toy Collector which has its aim as nothing less than creating a Wikipedia for every toy ever made. Ambitious if nothing else. I probably spent far too long talking to the fetching Toy Collector lady, Barbora!

Guy and his hero

Guy's day was made when James May signed his book for him. Given that the queue of people wanting to get their books signed was huge it was very nice of him to let Guy pose for a picture like this. Most people had to snatch one whilst he was signing. Guy, however, being an assertive sort of boy, explained that he went to the same school that James May's brother is a music teacher at. This, as Guy had realised, went down very well with Mr May! Guy loves Top Gear of course but also enjoys James May's other science/enginnering TV shows as well, and hasn't put his book down since!

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