In less than three months now we will be welcoming our first child into the world, our little boy. Actually, he’s already with us. Everyday, I feel his kicking and moving around. It fills me with the most pure kind of happiness I’ve ever felt.
One thing I know I’m really looking forward to is playing with him. I might be nearing 37 but there is also a 7-year-old in me, especially when it comes to loving toys. As a kid I was, and still am, a huge Lego fan. I used to make great castles and cities, often with my dear friend Barn. We staged elaborate jousting contests and battles. I also collected miniature soldiers, thousands of them from many different periods – WWII, the Zulu Wars, and the ancient Romans. My favourites were from the Napoleonic period. I collected hundreds of French, British and Russian cavalry and soldiers. Some of them I painted, but only a small number. Barn and I would often spend hours setting up elaborate battles and then take turns knocking them down with a cannon using the lead taken out of pencils as ammunition (much more accurate than match sticks!). We made up our own rules. One I recall was the elbow rule. Which was simply that our elbows had to be on the level of the battlefield. We hadn’t embraced the era of strategic bombing! After several turns we would regroup the soldiers still standing, making as much use of the cover provided by toy trees, cars and trucks, and fencing from an old toy farm. I still have most of the Lego and all of the miniatures, all that is except for those that were sucked up by the vacuum over the years.
On our last trip to Europe I took quite a few photos of the toy shops and displays that we came across. I’ve included a slideshow of them here. There is a great train set in Berlin, complete with cable car, and a display that Ophelia and I found in a hotel window in Venice. I love the attention to detail and how the setup is used to tell a range of stories at once in a manner that is reminiscent of Flemish painting where you’ll see many different things going on in the background. There is also a formation of Roman soldiers, a testudo or tortoise, that we found (appropriately) in a shop close to the Pantheon in Rome and a collection of ancient toys at one of the fabulous museums in Berlin (Maybe the Altes Museum, but I’ve forgotten which one for sure). I’ve also put in a couple of photos of some of my favourite old toys and figurines, including the cannon mentioned above.
Well, this afternoon we were walking past our local toy shop in Montmorency, Honeybee Toys, which specialises in high quality wooden toys. For a while now they’ve had a great wooden castle on display. Looking with more intent now, I started to think. While it beautiful, the castle is not elaborate so at first I thought that it might only suit a young child. But then I started to remember how I used to play. So much of it was improvised and imagined. As a child I would have added whatever detail I wanted in my mind. Similarly with the miniatures and other figurines, we would give them movement, give them voices, and provide our own sound effects to the game. Our play was never limited by the toy itself. The toy was merely a starting point. Our imaginations took care of the rest.
Thinking about this now, this dimension of play is something that I imagine kids who mainly play on computers probably miss out on. Though even then I know from my own limited experience how the mind can still add dimensions to these games.
There is certainly an element of genius in the way children use their imagination in play, and I know for myself, its something that I really want to cultivate more of, especially in this period of transition. It’s a reminder that the quality of our experience is not necessarily limited by our material conditions. Similarly, thinking forward we really are only limited by our willingness to play and to imagine not based on what is, but what we want to be there.
We create this sense of possibility when from this place of creativity we ask, or even suggest, ‘what if?’
PS. You might also like to check out Ophelia’s blog about imaginary worlds.