Thursday, September 07, 2006

Original Sindy

The magical thing about my childhood is that it consisted largely of dreaming about what life would be like when I was old enough to leave home and determine my own waking up time and what I would have for dinner. I never forget just how boring it was compared to adult life. This is just as well because adulthood usually lasts a good deal longer than childhood so needs to be a lot more fun. As Frank McCourt so elegantly put it in Angela’s Ashes, ‘a happy childhood is hardly worth your while.’

School was tedious beyond imagining but there was never the stress of change involved. Every day was the same. Teachers were as lethargic as the pupils. Lunch was a brown bread sandwich with something called luncheon sausage on it. I now understand this to be an amalgam of parts of an animal that don’t look attractive enough to sell whole. There was also a pre-peeled orange with the skin neatly replaced. You chucked this about for a minute or two after you’d finished eating to see how many different shapes you could make. It usually broke up after about the fifth throw. You never thought about food, it just wasn’t that interesting.

With around two and a half million children in Britain considered to be obese, you can’t help but wonder whether they are thinking of anything else. It’s been reported today that over twelve million children visited food websites in a three month period in 2005. Junk food manufacturers are, quite rightly, being heavily criticised for direct marketing to children through text messaging, podcasts and chat rooms.

Advertising to children is not new. I was a member of something called the Coca-Cola Bottlers Club in the 1960s. This involved going to events at the local Rotary Club and dancing to Tom Jones’s What’s New Pussycat for an hour or two on a drizzly Saturday. You’d get a goody bag to take home which contained a bottle of coke, a badge and a yo-yo. It was universally acknowledged that Coca-Cola made the best yo-yos.

There was television advertising targeting children, especially around Christmas. I seem to remember regular interruptions to my favourite show The Littlest Hobo. This was a show about a dog that befriended down and outs so it contained little opportunity for product placement. There just weren’t that many products for children. Boys had a choice of Meccano or a cricket bat and girls had to pick between two very different teenage dolls. I don’t remember anyone having both.

The rather fulsome figured Sindy doll was considered by my mother to be a better role-model companion than the more vivacious Barbie. You had one doll and lots of clothes, most of which were crocheted by your grandmother. I seem to remember spending a lot of time hunting through the Australian Women’s Weekly looking for crochet patterns for evening dresses and ponchos.

Childhood should be about learning a whole lot of things that make absolutely no sense at all at the time but which later come in very handy when you can no longer be bothered learning anything new. I will always be grateful for lessons in Latin. With even the most rudimentary Latin you can practically speak Italian, or at the very least, read the instructions in train stations. A friend asked me the other day if I thought there was a difference between being an adult and being a grown-up. My instinct was that I am probably the first but not the second.

Every now and again I request a Google alert for something that interests me. I get all excited when I see that I have twelve unread emails and then find that eleven of them are Google alerts and the other one is a message from my accountant reminding me to do my tax return. Imagine responding to a text message thinking it was from someone you fancy that you just gave your number to and then finding out it was from Ronald McDonald inviting you down for yet another calorie-packed happy meal.

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