At home we have a largish cupboard under the stairs. At first it had a hoover in, some cleaning products, a few bottles of wine, and various other odds and ends with no particular home. And a box of tidied-away toys. By the time we left it contained toys and pretty much nothing else. Boxes and boxes of plush and moulded plastic, most of it hardly played with. Some had been popular once but were now ignored. Others had been caught when Janet or I tried to smuggle them out to the car boot under the cover of darkness, becoming firm favourites… for a day or two.
Maybe other kids play with their toys more, I’m not sure. But with the choice of two friends the same age to play with, there’s often no need for toys, and no time to sit quietly and play with them even if they get remembered. However exciting it looked in the shop, no piece of plastic compares to a sister for rampaging around with. And when there is an opportunity to sit quietly, books win out over toys nearly every time. In fact the only toys that got any serious use were the active ones: the trampoline, balls, rackets, light sabers, dressing up clothes… whereas dolls, dolls houses, Barbies, My Little Ponies and the other miscellaneous girly toys were left forgotten in their boxes.
Yet despite knowing this, I was worried that my girls would miss their toys when we travelled. They were only allowed to bring one teddy bear with them, no toys, and one small shared set of pencils, pencil crayons and paper, some felt tip pens each, but nothing else.
Luckily, they haven’t missed their toys at all.
I guess the garden full of sticks we left at home should have been clue enough, but wherever we’ve gone, my girls have found sticks, stones, pieces of discarded string, leaves and flowers to build games around. They all became enormously attached to their trekking sticks. And we’ve spent days skimming stones on the river in Sauraha. Sticks and stones provide more fun than the boxes of toys ever did.
And why shouldn’t they? Everywhere we go the local children are also playing with sticks and stones. Up in the Everest Region, where everything has to be hauled up the valley by a yak or a porter, I never saw a single piece of moulded plastic.
OK, bear with me now. At this point, please imagine for me the sound of screeching tires, the needle scratching off a record, or whatever other sound effect they’d use in a movie to show that the narrative has just come of at a hairpin turn, flown into a chasm and crashed into flames. Because I paused at this point in writing this post for a day or two, wondering how to wrap it up, and at the same time my girls persuaded me to buy them some sweets from a local shop. Some sweets that came with a small, moulded plastic panda. Which they love.
These little pandas have been played with constantly for days. They’ve been to space. They’ve explored. They’ve fought baddies and each other. They’ve been on all manner of adventure and all the while, the sticks lie forgotten. And the stones are left abandoned. These days, the only toys that matter are Panda Policeman, Panda Nurse and Panda Chef, moulded plastic heroes that beat sticks and stones any day.
So much for my knowing sermon on simplicity. I’m off to play on my iPad.