It is a mark of adolescence to (pretend to) get rid of the toys of childhood – a sort of clearing of the decks for the bulkier and distinctly less fun items that come with aging like boyfriends / girlfriends, student loans, mortgages, babies, pensions, the urn for your ashes and so on. However, it is a mark of adulthood to rediscover the toys of childhood and clasp them to your brooding, nostalgia-ridden bosom as if the grasping of physical objects of a previous era can bring back the carefree days of youth.
It is with this slightly melancholy thought that we introduce you to the oldest known rocking horse, a 17th century chunky creation made of softwood and elm that somehow survived the Civil War. It has had one careful owner that was possibly Charles I and may have had therapeutic uses – the young king Charlie had weak legs after suffering rickets and this wooden rocking horse could have been used to build up strength in his lower appendages.
The horse has been bought by a collector for the V&A Museum of Childhood in East London, which is currently closed for a massive refurbishment but due to re-open in December this year. Museum staff are amazed at the find: “Like so many historical toys it could so easily have been destroyed by woodworm, thrown away, or put on a bonfire,” says Noreen Marshall, curator at the Museum of Childhood. We’ve all experienced the throwing away or sacrificial burning of toys to mark the end of childhood – or just to make some room under the bed for the slightly more grown-up stash of cheap drugs and unused home gym equipment that comes with adolescence and early adulthood. So we’re pleased to see that somehow this benign wooden beast has made it through so many centuries untouched.
On the subject of childhood toys, the contest to find The Hamleys Prize For Best Toy 2006 is underway. Having already chosen the best toys in individual categories such as The One They Thought Was Just Magic and the Toy For Tomorrow, the panel chaired by Virgin Radio DJ Christian O’Connell will pick one overall winning toy, to be announced at a ceremony at Hamleys on 15 October.
In the running for this glamorous and let’s face it, extremely lucrative award are: Tomy’s Brain Drain (winner of Bright Young Things Toy), Lego Mindstorms NXT (winner of Toy for Tomorrow), Safari Hide And Seek, Lil Luvables Fluffy Factory (winner of The One They Thought Was Just Magic category), Kiddimoto’s Superbike, reCreation’s Cranium Family Fun Edition and Fisher Price’s Star Station. We haven’t checked with Hamleys but we doubt that 17th century wooden rocking horses are eligible for this competition – which is a shame because it would have been funny to see anxious parents trying to purchase one of those for their offspring this Christmas.