|of Kites and cakes||9 April, 2012|
I had an idea to invite a few friends to fly kites on Easter Sunday, the closer the date came, the poorer the weather looked. Many friends had prior commitments with family and I was thinking perhaps we'll concede on this one and run at a later date. But on Saturday I had a call, 'we'll see you there, might be a little late but have kites at the ready.' Great, but the weather still looked grim, and drizzle on the beach is no weather for kites.
We have driven to Woolacombe from Minehead many times in all conditions (honestly!) and found the coast there can often be a different world. Sun on the hills might mean a sea fret on the coast (cold mist over the beach). Rain on the hills can be clear and sunny on the beach, that's not to say we haven't had our share of rain. But in summer time when you're going in the water anyway the rain isn't an issue, and at least it's warm. But Easter looked grim, the reports (I checked them all) were grim, should we, shouldn't we?
On the Sunday morning another call came through, 'See you there, we have no kites but have cake, is that O.K?' Of course it is, and off we go, a sack of kites all bagged up (seven in all as we forgot Davina's!,) cake baked and iced, picnic packed, puppy hyper, fabulous.
Well Woolacombe didn't disappoint, it was cloudy but not too cold, there were times of wind, and times with none. So cakes and kites took it in turns, more friends came than we were expecting and it was a great day. I flew the Red Baron (thought it would be difficult but really, really easy,) a few diamonds that we sell aswell, the Big Pirate always flies even in the lightest of breezes, and I even got to slide around the sands fighting against the skies with the power kite. Fabulous indeed.
Before we left we made tea with a Kelly Kettle (boys and fire!) and a pub lunch on the way home it was a tremendous day that I'll remember for ever.
Thanks everyone for coming, the best days are always those stolen from the jaws of defeat.
|The Lost Day||29 February, 2012|
So it's called a leap year, it feels like natures landed on community chess with Advance to Go, a celestial payout that gives us an extra day after saving up over four years. Feels like it should be a bank holiday, a day to do something different or unusual, a day that kind of doesn't exist but does. It's called a leap year because it's a day that law used to leap over, that's why the convention of ladies asking for the hand in marriage was acceptable on this day and no other. It was a day that didn't exist in the eyes of the law, surly this is why it should still be free, a day untaxed and foot lose, a day to fly kites and eat cake!
So the question is why aren't we doing something amazing today? Or perhaps you are, Christopher Columbus used this day to great effect when his ship was grounded in Jamaica for over a year and the natives generosity had run dry (the crew had stolen and mistreated the islanders). The natives had had enough of this abuse and so withdrew the food supply, the ships men were happy to take what they needed by force, but Christopher Columbus thought there should be a better way.
At dusk on the 29th February 1504 he called the elders to a meeting and said that God was unhappy with the islanders treating us this way, and as a sign of this will remove the moon from the sky. The natives probably sniggered, but then slowly the moon began to disappear eventually becoming just a hazy red shadow of it's former self. the islanders then begged forgiveness at which point Columbus slid into his cabin to convene with god! After a while he returned (48 minutes of totality) the moon then began to reveal itself once again, and Columbus declared he had spoken to God and god had forgiven them.
Perhaps this day will become useful to us again and not just the rather archaic tradition of ladies being able to ask for a suitors hand in marriage. So I vote for a free day, a day at liberty where we can embrace old traditions, and what better thing to do with a leap day than to do some leaping! So pick up your chalk and draw a hopscotch on the pavement, and take a step back from the complexity of the modern day.
|Legacy||17 February, 2012|
This week in the shop it became so evident about the legacy of selling good toys, (I worry a little about over doing this, of course I am going to say the good stuff on my blog) but the reality is that generally we do pretty well. We have taken time to choose the toys we sell, we trial them, fiddle with them, watch children play with them in the shop, read about them, and listen to my customers review them. But it is the latter here which drew me to write this post as this last week especially I have had some truly great feedback.
What is this magic toy I hear you say, well actually there have been quite a few, the balance bike stands out, as do a few of the other ride-ons, and wooden swords (kids are always excited about our wooden weapons!) plus as pictured the Giraffe click clack.
Some of these just catch the children's imagination, others are just darn good design. For example the click clack keeps it's wheels inside itself so they are always there ready to be slotted into the top again and again, time after time. It is twice as much as the one standing next to it on the shelf, but that one throws it's cars out, and although it's a good seller too, it's the Giraffe which punches way above it's weight, pound for pound.
Recently, I trawled miles and miles of trade fair stands (no exaggeration!) with literally thousands of wooden toys each, and I am constantly thinking, are these the toys which have that elusive x-factor legacy? I see so many great toys, but how many of these will make it through all the hurdles to become the one that my customers come back in years to come and say 'that was the best gift we gave.'
I don't have any top tips here for the must have toy, all children are different and their play creativity is different too. What I will say is that each toy is like a seed, and some bloom and flower and are gone in a day, whilst others seem to plant deep roots and have a play legacy which is truly astonishing.
|The rope trick||19 December, 2011|
Last week I took my sons for a walk in the local woods, something we often do all year round and since we have a new addition to the family (beautiful dog called Fable) we are out there more often than ever before. I have been on lots of adventures with our cheeky boys and usually they involve some form of tree climbing (see high tea!) or story telling walks (see and there stretched across the path) all of which are low cost or no cost. But this one was a little bit of inspiration from my boys themselves, 'Can we make a rope swing Dad?' Of course we can Son, I'll pop the rope in the bag and off we go.
But when we were walking I had this thought, could we make a slack line? We found a great spot high above Dunster with these very sturdy pine trees, and what was really good was the soft pine floor, there were a couple of rocks and pine cones which are less that friendly to land, but in no time we had these cleared and the rope lashed up. It only took a few simple knots to get some tension, but as you can see No 1 son actually doing pretty well, even in wellies! I must confess that my attempts were less successful but I had a go never the less. (No photos of that as I wasn't on the line long enough!)
So Toy Ahoy tip for great stuff to do with your kids, take a rope. I might actually start selling it, slack line anyone?
|And the winner is!||29 November, 2011|
We would just like to say a big thank you to all the parents and keen diabolists that supported the Golden Sticks competition that we held for Minehead's late night shopping.
We were overwhelmed by the turnout and astonished by the high level of the tricks and skills being performed; it made judging and choosing an overall winner incredibly difficult. We had originally planned to award one overall winner and two runners up, but we chose three runners up in the end!
Adam won the contest overall as we were so impressed by the slick mix of tricks, at one stage performing with two diabolos at once, plus amidst all this showmanship he also dropped it less than anyone else! Adam was awarded the Golden Sticks, a certificate plus a choice of Diabolo goodies. The runners up were also awarded with certificates and a choice of new Diabolo sticks to continue practicing and perfecting their tricks.
If you would like to watch a short film simply click on the link.
Toy Ahoy Golden Sticks 2011 Film
Buoyed by the success of the evening we are already planning next year's competition. It would be great to see more girls enter next time as we only had two step up to perform this year. So all of you get Diabolling!
|The Diabolist poster November 2011||11 November, 2011|
Getting a lot of interest from the local diabolists, new tops and hubs just in with Carbon and Aluminium sticks the weapon of choice. Do need to focus on the competition format and also wet weather contingency plans, anyone have a gazebo or two?
It's all very exciting indeed.
|Toy Ahoy's Golden Sticks Diabolo Competition||22 October, 2011|
Where - Toy Ahoy, Minehead
When - Friday 25th from 5.30
Why - To win the Golden Sticks Award of course!
How much - Just you're blisters!
What else - Minehead late night shopping from 5.30, there will be a stilt walker and plenty going on in the town.
Finer details are still to be arranged, but it is likely that we will have a free style session from 5.30, then those ready to step up to the plate at 7.00.
So it should be a fun evening and the Diabolo hero of the night will be awarded the Toy Ahoy Golden Diabolo accolade, a badge of honour that is the talk of the under town, and will be theirs for the year to come.
If all goes well then perhaps Toy Ahoy will hold the event again next year, and we'll see about 'defending titles' and 'raising the bar', but that's jumping the gun just now.
See you on Friday 25th November 2011, pop in the shop, and let me know you are wanting to enter, and get those super tricks super slick.
|Radio Radio - What did you say?||1 October, 2011|
This morning I was interviewed on BBC Radio Somerset on a discussion about children and weapons, well more specifically whether children should be allowed to play with toy guns.
When we opened Toy Ahoy four years ago we were very conscious of what toys we felt were appropriate and which were not. Plastic has never been on the radar and so replica pistols are something I would not have in the shop. But we do sell a lot of wooden swords and shields, bows and arrows, and pirate pistol's which are pictured above.
'Make sure you don't point it at anyone, especially when you are putting the arrow on', I say. My wife often recommends the collection of a few tin cans to make a target, I like the crochet blanket. (You can hang them on a hedge, they have a target shape to them, and are nice and big so easy to hit!)
But the majority of my customers are happy to let their children have wooden swords and shields, and when you watch them play it is very much role play, these are props for what is a wooden sword but a whittled stick!
Occasionally I do have customers who won't allow their kids to have weapons of any kind. But children are resourceful, they will build it out of Lego, find a stick which is pistol shaped, or just use their fingers. The funny thing is those parents I know who are the most placid, and do forbid such items, seem to have the children who enjoy the roughest games.
Their kids always make a bee line for these toys, and there is a decent argument here to say that children need this valve in their play, to enable balance in personality. Little boys can be naturally quite wild and full of energy - we can't constantly squash this instinct it has to be managed and guided so that wild play is still safe play.
I felt the interview went well, I made a point about respecting the choices we make as parents to consciously provide a good grounding for our children. We all make decisions, as I for one will not take my 12 year old paint balling (he has asked many times!) I will build camp fires, whittle flutes with pen knives, make rope swings in the forest, but shooting people in play is not something I feel comfortable with. Killing imaginary dragons and wild monsters on the other hand is far more acceptable in my book.
Surly it's those parents who are not actively engaged in their child's upbringing who are the real concern, those who don't make considered choices whether it be the TV they are exposed to, or the computer games they play.
What I do know is that I love the toys we sell, the shields and swords are fabulous, and this summer has shown that they are appreciated by parents and children alike. Let kids be kids for they will become adults far too soon, we must cherish their innocence and enjoy it with them the best we can.
|Better than a pony||9 August, 2011|
Nearly every child that grew up in the 1970's was to be seen bouncing around on their beloved Space Hopper. They were even a featured race at school sports days and I am please to report still are at some primary schools. Mine was a red tomato, Heinz Tomato Soup ran a special promotion and my Mum saved the vouchers to send off for the free toy. I went everywhere on it, across the village green to the local sweet shop, built show jumps for it (painted neatly with black and white stripes) and even built a stable for it to sleep in at night. In fact writing this I am amazed I didn't give it a name.
At Toy Ahoy we have a great retro Space Hopper available in Classic 70's orange of course. Price at £14 it comes complete with a foot pump and makes a great summer toy for active kids.
Who needs a scooter or a pony when you can travel via bright bouncing ball!
|It's Competition Time Whilst Toy Ahoy is On Holiday!||14 July, 2011|
It's time for the Toy Ahoy family to take a holiday. The shop will be left in the capable hands of Zoe whilst we go exploring, and we will be travelling in little 'Tallulah' advertising Toy Ahoy where ever we go.
So if you spot us on our travels you could win a prize...
All you have to do when you spot us is send an e mail with the details of where and when. A photograph would be even better!
The only rules are that you have to spot us between the 23rd July - 30th July and we have to be outside of West Somerset!!!
Happy Tallulah hunting?
The Prize? All entries will be placed into a draw and the winner will receive a £50 voucher to spend on goodies at your favourite Toy Shop!
Deadline for entries is Saturday 6th August 2011.
|High Tea anyone?||21 May, 2011|
Living in Exmoor National Park you kind of take for granted the places available for family fun. So many of my customers come to this part of the country to get away from it all, to run away and have a family focused and stress free time.
When they arrive it takes a while to work out what there is to do here, and I am often asked this very thing (apart from where are the loos, and do you make all this yourself!)
It's a great question really because we are so used to experiences being bought and sold, we go to the pub, out to bowl or perhaps the cinema, a trip to the Zoo, or on the steam train. All of this hits the wallet hard, but when it comes to flying a kite or walking in the woods then it's a whole different thing.
Somehow less truly is more, my father has a stock phrase of 'happy as a sand boy', which kind of rings true when you just dig in the sand with your kids for a few hours. I have observed a strange mono culture with playing on the beach though as everyone must dig a castle, it must be round perhaps with a bucket turret or twelve. What about digging a boat or a little dragon to ride the coming tide? Our family has a love of drawing mazes, especially the labyrinth style one that has only one path all the way in to the middle.
There is an easy trick to this involving drawing a cross then kind of linking the spires one at a time, that's a terrible description but I am sure you'll work it out with a little thought.
And this it the nugget, it all needs a little thought, a random walk in the woods is great but put one on your agenda with a cafe in the middle and you have cake destination (Watersmeet cafe is a good choice up from Lynton or better still down from Rockford (this Bing OS map is a good overview) There are tones on Exmoor and also along the coast and all free!
And then there is the good old climb a tree for high tea. The one in the picture we spied on a great woodland walk beneath Dunkery Beacon. It is actually a pair that both have natural platforms inside to stand on (and size up your enemy!)
We took just enough string to make a basket that could traverse the gap between them, and my eldest son had been given the task of provisions so the basket was loaded with little treats for each trip.
It's funny because these pictures were taken only a month or two back but my boys seem so much younger there. I wonder if that happens to all of us when we climb trees, make dens, tell stories as tall as the trees and step into a free world.
|and there stretched across the path was a golden chord stolen from the heart strings of . .||23 April, 2011|
At Toy Ahoy we pride ourselves in rich and diverse range of books and toys, these are on the whole traditional and quite classic across both ranges, but our customers (and us) want more than the run of the mill, and why shouldn't we. So it's always rather exciting when you find something which doesn't seem to fit in either camp but is bright, fresh, new and Toy Ahoy to the core.
I am talking about the Storyworld cards, it is a very simple concept, you have a pack of cards, all with different illustrations on, you choose a couple and then weave them into a story of your making. When describing them to customers I say they are the keys to a tale and then the penny drops of their potential. Parents buy them for walks in the woods and teachers buy them to energise their pupils imaginations. So many have heard their pupils say 'but I don't know what to write about', no problem lets see whats on the cards!
It's really as simple as that, when you open the box, the first card might have an Old Man, a Labyrinth, an unexpected visitor on, then you look closer and the visitor may be holding a box, well what's in the box? Why is he unexpected, where does the little door lead to, where is the balloonist going in the sky behind?
When you start asking the questions the story just tells itself, and if you are feeling a little stuck then each card has a few pointers on the back to get you going.
I have taken these cards for walks with my boys many a time, once we were walking at Brendon (the valley of Lorna Doone - or just the valley of Doone as we like to call it.) We walked and told (made up) the story as we went along, then the path rose up a steep field into a wooded hill top and just before the crest we were stopped by a chord that crossed the path before us. It came out of the wood on the left and went into a darker (spruce) wood on our right! Where did it lead, where did it come from, who put it there and more importantly what was at the end?
We ventured on to find the answers to these questions and wove the journey into the story as we did so. But the aspect of the Storyworlds cards I have enjoyed the most is weaving them into my own storywalks which are now published for all to enjoy. Take a look at the tinyurl.com/storywalks web or the tales from the Combe (http://storywalks.blogspot.com) blog as the reading of these tales is something different again, but I shall talk about that in another post perhaps.
So what was at the end of the string, well you'll just have to come into the shop and ask me to tell you a story?
|Burried Treasure!||29 March, 2011|
I had some customers in the other day who were very excited about buying a pirate flag. I asked them if it was for a bedroom wall, 'Oh no, tomorrow we are having a pirate party down on the beach,' they said. 'And today we are going to bury the treasure!' ' Oh.' I said. ' Yes.' they said, 'treasure!' and off they went with a shovel and some goodies to dig a hole in the beach and bury some treasure for their little ones to dig it up (after they have deciphered and glued the map pieces back together.) Their parents had done a similar thing for them many years ago.
Fantastic I thought, what a great idea, I shall plan to do something like that for my little boys birthday in June. With a shop called Toy Ahoy it's impossible not to have lots of piratey stuff, but the idea of buried treasure, a map and a hunt are too good to pass up.
So if you're in town and you seen some swashbuckling pirates digging for doubloons, then don't be alarmed, it's the done thing around these parts. Perhaps you should prepare your own? let me know how you get on.
|Read to me.||16 March, 2011|
Recently there has been a lot of promotion and press about World Book Night a week or so ago, we sell lots of books in both our shops (Number Seven Dulverton as well as Toy Ahoy) and feel proud to do so. A million books were given away to strangers. A publicity stunt to invigorate and get people reading again, or another erosion of the independent book sellers market and further de-valueing of the medium!
At Toy Ahoy we sell primarily picture books for tiny people, Dulverton has a far broader stock list (and age bracket) with classics amongst the fresh titles which we hand pick with great care. When I sell a picture book I know that the parent (or whoever) will sit with a little person on their knee or in bed to read. This is an amazing one to one connection, super precious time with our loved ones, where we venture into their land of tales, the domain of childhood.
For me both my sons are easy to put to bed, they know there will be stories, some told, some read, some sang (badly I must add!) My oldest son is 11 now and he has not been read to in bed for a while, but he reads every night never the less. But last year we went to Cornwall and read aloud an Enid Blyton book. The boys laid on the bed every morning for the next few pages of a book which was as new to me as them (my wife read them as a child but I was too busy balancing on the wall in the garden and making very long flag poles from bean sticks to do reading.) The tales are just what you expect with smugglers and intrigue, it's all out of date, rather odd, (even the book smells musty) but is brilliant because of it. I hope these will be memories that last for ever in my children's minds, they will in mine.
I think in many ways books are journeys, they take you out of this place and put you in another's shoes, with children's books we can share that journey, which is a unique and brilliant thing, and although the tech might change (iPad, Kindle) reading and sharing will remain the same.
So will book shops disappear in the same way that record shops have gone? Will the Kindle replace everything like the ipod or MP3 player? Is the iPad the future of newsprint and magzines? The tablet sized format is the right shape, as light as a book, is kind of touchy feely in a way (sort of but sort of not aswell!)
Who knows, only time will tell, the truth is our accessibility to the written word has spiralled and evolved, the publishers monopoly has been eroded by blogs, peer reviews, and social media. Every one can become an author as the tools to self publish are right here (whether they should is another matter!)
So the animal is changing and metamorphosing, those holding the territory can feel the land slipping away beneath them and we as the reader have more choice but the same amount of time to spend on it. Do we read a book, catch up with twitter or our surrogate family on Facebook, or perhaps do something really retro like watch TV!
|The Tall Trees||24 February, 2011|
There has been so much press around trees of late, probably because the government wants to sell them all. I often have people in the shop extolling the merits of timber toys over plastic. Can you say why wood is better I ask, well it just is, it's more isn't it? and of course I agree.
Whether it's the feel, the smell, nostalgia or the weight of the eco conscience that pervades the modern press, I am not sure, but I do know that I like trees.
I have the honour to live near some of the most splendid woods in the UK. South from Dunster, pretty much all the way to Exeter runs a wooded valley which I have driven in sun and rain and loved every inch of it. The woods closest to home and my shop are owned by The Crown Estate, and the National Trust, and most of them are inside Exmoor National Park. I know the majority are crops, planted on poor ground and technically the most invaluable of all lands to buy or sell. But walking in woodland is like nothing else for me, and when you break cover to heath and hill top, you feel like you are accelerating into the heavens, and the sky is that much wider and brilliant after the enclosure of the forest.
I love the toys we sell, and feel connected with wooden toys in a way that plastic can never deliver. Wood is a doing material, I walk in woods and know they are crops, I have a timber bed, wooden windows in my house, wooden spoons for stirring soup, and a fire pit up the garden for cooking fish in the summer. Wood is useful in a myriad of ways, it grows now, all around us and so has this carbon neutral ticket. I feel both sentimental about it and practical because it's all of these things and so much more.
So take your wooden toy, play with it, dent it, crack it and glue it, break it and fix it again, and then when it really has finished it's useful life then you can always burn it, roast marsh mellows over the heat and reminisce!
|Toys Maketh the Man||12 February, 2011|
It's toy fair season and I have just read a very interesting article about gender. I have blogged before about grandparents only buying pink toys for their little princess, or a 'physical' outdoor ish one for a boy. But this went much further back, citing research by the London City University in to infant gender rolls being determined from as early as 9 months!
I find this area fascinating, not only the findings which continue to astound me (and also at times go, surely you knew that!) but also the practicalities of researching on such young people. You can't just ask a kid if he / she likes pink when they are still grasping at sitting up. But there are observations that have been made for many years, ie when you smile at or blink at a very young child (I mean new born here) you do get a response.
For years there was a school of thought that all children were born as blank canvasses and all learning took place from birth. This would mean we school children on gender rolls, but if we are aware that they are not born as blank canvases and that there is pre birth knowledge, then we can entertain the thought that gender is not a result of learned response.
I remember my mum saying that my play (I should remind you I am male here) was very different form my sisters play, with lot more hiding and sneaking about apparently! Watching my own children, who are both male gives me a very one sided view in respect to hands on experience. But I believe the truth is far more diverse, and that there is a lot of research grants still to be cut on this very subject.
We do school our children on gender rolls, whether it's the clothes or hair cuts, or the toys we fill their room with. One of the observation tests is about preponderance, whether the child will chose the action toys over the caring corner, the child is sat with both in full view and is observed which way they go. Of course the boys gravitate to the activity toys generally, which is what we would expect, but is this due to their disposition or more the familiarity with 'that type of toy' in their bedroom. Again it's probably a mix of both, there is no child who has been isolated from these kinds of influences as it is essential every child is immersed in education from the earliest age, how else would we learn?
This debate will rage on for years I suppose, the real story is complex and difficult to isolate. The idea that gender is specifically one of two states in itself is the seat of many hypothesis. All I know is when a child comes into my shop, I am interested to see where they go, do they touch everything, or only things with wheels, do they change the letters on the easel and tug Daddys shirt for the chalks and art kits, or jump on the balance bike. What I have observed is a mix of all these things and much more.
|Alternative reality games in Somerset||4 February, 2011|
I read recently about alternative reality games, you probably know about them already. They are puzzles that take place in reality but have a set of modern parameters for the followers to complete in able to get to the next piece. One involved solving a puzzle which released an email with GPS and time co ordinates in it, if you went to that place at that time then you would see a plane spiralling a message into the sky which would solve that part, and then give you vital information to solve the next riddle.
I am not sure you would get me jetting off to the requested GPS, but I love the ideas, the chase and the reward being as simple as I've done it.
The above image is from a tale that takes place near Porlock Somerset. To read the tale you have to journey to Porlock Weir, with GPS enabled device. (Possibly your mobile phone - fully charged!) The tale happens over the walk, as you journey chapters are revealed till at last the story is complete and you are at your destination. Of course you could walk that way without any device, and it would still be worth it, as the woods around here are stupendous. But having the story along aswell takes you to another place. It's a little like finding a hidden sculpture deep in a forest clearing. Someone took time to make, time to craft and then site all those years ago. Was that done just for you? Why did you see it? Was it the light, the hour, the angle, all coming together like an eclipse, after all those years hidden in the undergrowth, it can make you feel very privileged.
The story walks were created in this way, there was no big puzzle beyond the tales themselves, and you can't read the tales without walking the trail. Each chapter reveals the next location, so you don't know where you are really going at all!
You said tales, yes there are some other walks hidden in the hills around here too, and who knows I may put a code in at the end of each. Some kind of cypher to unpick a hidden web page with a special tale to download, revealing a clandestine destination only for those with mind and heart ready to venture into the inner circle!
|Bamboozeled the green revolution||10 January, 2011|
Give me flight little bambo machine!
There has been an eco revolution going for some time now, perhaps it has never stopped from the 'make do and mend' of WW2 days. Just waxed and waned with the public's (or should I say press) interests!
Here at Toy Ahoy we have very little with batteries in, the majority of the toys we have are timber or card in construction. I so often hear people say they love wood, plastic doesn't have the heart or feel about it. Of course there are many great plastic and resin toys out there, but wood pips it past the post first for me every time. I know it grew recently and so all the carbon trapped in it is from this lifetime not a millennia ago. and interestingly there seems to be a great cultural revival for traditional wooden toys at present
The trade fairs have eco stands dotted about them, their brochures are printed on sustained and recycled materials, the messages of the big corporations are to consume with ecology in mind (less packaging.) I heard on the radio just the other day that the recycle of card in a cereal box is just 14 days, meaning that from collection from your door step, to being mashed, pulped, boarded, re printed and then redistibuted as a cereal carton (with cereal) is just 14 days, that is quite something.
So, back to the toys, the new Hape bamboo vehicles are sensitively packed in brown card with inks that bio degrade but still look great. The products are hard wearing, and should last a lifetime, (however long that may be these days.) But the best thing about wooden toys is after they have been loved and dented and re glued and love again, and again and again.
When they have truly come to the end of their long play life, then you can burn them!
|are you an artist?||19 November, 2010|
Last week I stopped at the local farmers market and oddly enough found a stall selling paints and canvases. As I admired the sets the stall holder approached me and asked ‘are you an artist?’
At Toy Ahoy we sell a diverse range of art kits by the French company Djeco, and having taught Art and Design at degree level, I have a good idea what is required to energise creativity. If you give a child a flat football then they are not going to be very happy. It is the same with art equipment, but the difficulty is in knowing what’s good and what’s not.
I remember in my childhood we had a drawer of pens of every colour and hue and not a single one with ink enough to draw a line! How often have you scrabbled though your child’s pen tin with the same result?
When we found Djeco we were chuffed to bits as the kits are full of great art equipment, rich flowing colours, and bags of fun. But more than that they are surprisingly diverse in subject and themes, and the age brackets proffered are very helpful. From Drawing a Fashion Show to simple colour by numbers, there are kits suitable for ages from 6 upwards and for all abilities.
Djeco’s choice of illustrators who pen the initial designs are also fresh and distinct, I have customers who after a long time choosing the ‘first’ kit for a child, have now been through nearly all of them!!
The kits are priced between £15 and £21 and are available in the shop or here on the website www.toyahoy.co.uk
So what did I say when asked if I was an Artist? Well you’ll have to come in the shop and ask me in person!
|The Ark of display||5 October, 2010|
When someone asks me what do you sell, I say traditional wooden toys, then usually there is a light that goes on and we talk about nostalgia for a while. This leads to insights usually from the customer about their child's approval of a toy in a way they were not expecting. I suppose these are the great surprises our children bring forth that tell you I am an individual and my perspective on important things is different to yours!
Of course we are always watching to see if these are signs that need support but more often than not it's just really endearing behaviour that will define us in unpredictable ways. Just this week I had a chat with a fellow Somerset business member and we came round to talking about Arks, as these have been this years best seller for us at Toy Ahoy. She recounted her daughter used to love pairing items, having two or more things that are the same in her hands. In fact she expanded on this saying that she used to relish having lots of little things as similar as possible in her hands at once, like Tiddlywinks or beads.
This got me thinking about a conversation I had with my wife years ago, I was at the top of the stairs and she was at the bottom, then I realised whilst talking she was looking up the banister rail. What are you doing I asked, and she said, just lining things up! It was very funny at the time but I think these are essential skills being used in non conventional ways. When we learn our letters we are looking for repeating patterns, shapes and forms. In the shop Davina is truly exceptional in display, grouping items to make visual sense across colour, age, texture, style, size and of course repetition. It sounds simple but then all crafts do, then take years to master, I step back and let the true artist do her magic.
So why has the Ark has been such a strong seller for us? Well possibly because it is not gender biased nor is it too pricey, and of course everything comes in two's even Noah and his wife! Take a look for yourself.
|the forever toy||29 July, 2010|
I often have children in the shop honking the bike horns or blowing through the slide whistles, but today I had a little girl who played Doe a Dear on my new activity walker from Mumbo Jumbo Toys. What a treat and a great achievement! I am really happy for children to play in my shop, but don't get me wrong I am definitely not a crèche (at times a gentle intervention is needed! Usually due to over exuberant swordsmanship on the forecourt!) But having toys out of the box ready to be handled is an essential element of Toy Ahoy.
So often parents and children are distracted by packaging and promised benefits only to be disappointed in hindsight (and see the purchase disappear amongst a heap of other toys when home!). But having the toys out and on display gives us all a chance to see exactly where each child gravitates. Perhaps they are more interested in role play with the fire engines and Budkin figures or maybe more physical game play with the push along animals, or rubber balls?
Patience is the key and often customers who come to Toy Ahoy are on holiday and have a little extra time, life in Somerset is definitely at a slower pace. (Then they rush off to catch the steam train or open top bus, but that's a long way from the rush hour commute!)
When we first opened we were worried that the products on our forecourt would be abused (which they are to a degree!) but it's rarely a problem which is testament to the strengths and durability of wood, and the quality of design. But what I have found to be the most disruptive and abusive factor is the British weather, a wooden xylophone was never designed to withstand the British rain! I often rush outside to rescue them with a towel!
Is it worth it? The simple answer is yes, if I can connect a child with the right toy then the child is happy. Put very simply when the child is happy, then you are too as your precious money has been spent well.
Everyone who buys a gift wants it 'to be the one' a toy that is of the moment or time or place. My forever toy was a tent (though I was about 9 so a little older than the average Toy Ahoy child.) My wife's was a swing ball which she played and played and played. I wonder what my children's will be and how many of Toy Ahoy sales will be the forever toy.
|Why choose wood?||31 May, 2010|
Why choose a wooden toy over any of the alternatives, I was wondering what you thought and so drew up a little poll to find out. If you think there should be another answer then comment and I will include.
|At what age do girls choose pink?||29 May, 2010|
I often have grandparents in the shop who will not buy anything for their grand daughter unless it is pink. Whether it be a book or tea set, pink it must be, and the 'girlier' the better. I was wondering where this came from so I did a little research and found that apparently the colour preference of gender started in the 1920's but boys were pink!
Apparently pink was closer to red (certainly after a few washes!) and red is very masculine. At the time girls were predominately blue which was derived from the association of the Virgin Mary's dress and purity.
So when was 'little boy blue' published I thought to myself, surly that's a lot older; and the answer is mid 1700's, and probably sung a lot earlier than that. In the 1940's though the die was set as girls became pink and boys blue and the true catalyst for this is a mystery (to me at least.)
It could have been snow white in her flowing dress and rosy pink apple, or the boy kings clothes, whatever the reason we chose these, they are now the de facto standard. From a shop keepers perspective, colour coded babies are a boon, the last thing I intend is to offend and getting the gender right in respect to the recent addition is essential. I remember being referred to in the female until I was about 11 much to my mothers horror, (she still brings it up now!!)
|Mosaic in The Park||16 April, 2010|
Davina has been busy organising this exciting art project and no
doubt my technical skills will be called upon to help fix the
finished pieces in place! Lets hope that the sun shines so that you
can all enjoy playing in the park and paddling in the river -
remember to bring a towel. Also, if you are going to bring a picnic
there is no need to bring a pudding as Styles Ice cream will be on
hand donating a percentage of their sales from the day to the park.
The unveiling will be at 4 pm so I do hope as many of you as possible
can attend to give your support. The children involved should all be
very proud of their achievement and have thoroughly enjoyed working
under the guidance of professional mosaic artist Adam Stanley - who
based in London has relished being able to come home to Minehead to
work on this project. The results are stunning and Davina loves the
fact that a lot of the reused broken ceramics were found in a nearby
Dunster garden - it reminds her of the excitement she had as a child
when finding broken crockery in the earth at her Grandpa's allotment.
Toy Ahoy will be donating prizes for those of you who are lucky and
skilled in the games on the day.
We must acknowledge and thank the following for funding this project -
ARTLife, Exmoor Sustainable Development Fund(DEFRA), Dunster parish
Council and Dunster First School.