Batteries not required

In Child on November 30, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Here’s another one from the archives, just for fun – and to remind you please to tell anyone who might be interested that they can now find my column on here. If you subscribe it will plop into your inbox each Saturday.

This column dates back to 2007 and there’s a neat circularity linking forward to right here right now: the wooden doll’s house mentioned below is currently for sale on eBay.

Looking back at the Christmas pics from that year I can’t believe what a baby Peggy still was; the shift from five to eight years is exponential. Here she is, as she was then, with her friend Sacha Murray-Threipland.

‘Tis the season to be anxious tra la la la la etc. In my case this year’s Christmas shopping stress is concentrated on one topic: what to buy my five-year old daughter for her ‘main’ present.

It is, you might say, a sweet problem. She has so much already in real terms, she’s lucky to be getting anything else at all, on top of such taken-for-granted privileges as nutritious food, clean running water, education etc etc.

But putting that aside – and I don’t think she is horribly spoiled by current Western standards – it is a conundrum. Do I buy her what she wants, or what I want her to want?

I’ve mentioned before the vintage baby doll’s cot that I have left gathering dust up in the attic, after facing up to the fact that I like it a lot more than she would. What she likes is plastic. Preferably pink, glitter an advantage. What she would really like this Christmas is a Bratz doll styling head, which comes with glitter lip gloss, glitter hair clips, glitter eye shadow etc.

She’s not getting one – and I’m just glad she doesn’t know about the Bratz Party Wagon I saw in a toy shop this morning, with its Primping Parlour, Hot Tub, and Chill Out Zones, not to mention the gaggle of little whore dolls that come with it, because she’s double not getting one of those. Barbie I can just about bear, but Bratz dollz are foul.

But there is part of me that wonders whether I shouldn’t just give in and get her one of those monstrous objects. It would almost be worth it for the look of joy on her face when she unwrapped it. However, this tiny triumph would be swiftly expunged by the collective look of horror on my mother, sister and husband’s faces, so I won’t go there.

I just need to find a middle way between the tasteful wooden dolls’ house I bought her last year and which she put up a valiant attempt to look excited about, while clearly disappointed. (My husband’s not keen for a repeat of such a purchase either; it took him all of Christmas Eve-ening to build the bloody thing from the flat pack…)

She’s spent the past year customising it with stickers and scribble in an attempt to make it look more like the Princess Glitter Fairy Ballerina Tinkerbell Dream Castle she really wanted. Now I consider it ‘ruined’, she thinks it’s bearable (and quite a useful cupboard).

But then, on the occasions when I have given in and bought the cacky tacky present, after the initial excitement – and inevitable insertion of a gross of batteries – she seems to tire of them pretty quickly. I haven’t seen much play action with the walking, neighing, rearing Barbie horse she had for her birthday (clip clop clip clop, neeeeeeeigh, crash, as it falls over).

So I have made one decision, nothing with batteries any more, which is not as easy as it sounds – toys have gone mad with battery-powered special features.

Singing Troy Bolton dolls (really, I saw one today…), wise-cracking Shrek toys and amplified Barbie guitars seem hilarious at the time of purchase, but quickly become intensely irritating. Especially to adults who have of alcohol previously partaken.

Even worse than living with these chirping tchotchkes is that landfill sites are choking up with the discarded batteries and the toxic metals (cadmium, mercury and lead) in them can leak out and contaminate soil and ground water. So I’m recycling any the batteries we do use and not buying anything else that needs them.

So what to get? I still don’t know, but another factor I should take into consideration is choosing something I wouldn’t mind playing with myself. Because I know the greatest gift I could really give my daughter this Christmas would be more time down and dirty on the floor playing with her.

No batteries required.

PS This is what she might be getting this year…

  1. It is Zhu Zhu Pets for my lot this year. With trimmings that go with them. Quiet cute really but hard to come by with most places sold out

  2. In unison with so many before me, the Sydney Morning Herald will rue the day they lost your wonderful column!

    My personal favourite was a column you wrote in September 2009. I was helping my mother pack for an overseas trip on a Saturday afternoon, and things were becoming quite tense. Her suitcase wouldn’t close, and she simply refused to believe that anything less than 3 blue jumpers were absolutely necessary (“but they’re 3 completely different shades of blue!”). In frustration I had to take a break, and read the Good Weekend containing a Style Notes column that described exactly what we were going through! It felt as though you knew what we were doing at precisely the right time! I made my mother read the article, and the rest of the packing experience was much more light-hearted, with both of us breaking into fits of giggles whenever Mum wanted to add something completely unnecessary (e.g. a travel iron weighing over a kilo) to her suitcase.

    Ever since I have wanted to say thank you, and now I have an opportunity to – so thank you, and good luck!

  3. We bought Monkey the (now discontinued) Madeline dolls’ house some years ago. It is a simple cardboard-and-plastic house, illustrated in the manner of the house in the books, and Monkey LOVES IT. These days, Pepito, Madeline (x2), Danielle (“Dudu”), Nona, Miss Clavel, etc. are joined by Angel Barbie, Prince Eric, Ariel, and three Doras, but it continues to be the hub of much animation, and her little girlfriends love to join in. You can see one here:

  4. Unfortunately for my parents, I was one of those kids that lay on the ground kicking and screaming unless I got what I wanted. Consider yourself lucky Maggie that at least pretends to like it.

    She will look back at the special things that you chose for her, rather than those that were chosen by advertising budgets on children’s television programs and be thankful! I’m sure of it!

    Milijana xxx

  5. Oh Maggie, I’m so glad I’ve found you here!

    Your column in the Age on Saturdays was part of my weekend ritual. My gorgeous 6 year old son would lie beside me in the rumpled “big bed” while I sipped milky coffee delivered to me by my husband. “What is Maggie saying, Mum?” would be my boy’s query as he snuggled closer to me. On other mornings I remember him scurrying down the hallway having retrieved the paper from our driveway: “Here’s Maggie, here’s Maggie for you, Mum!”

    As you well know, a significant number of your readers are older people. I recall my distinguished elderly neighbour (in her eighties) knocking on my door a few years ago. “Dear, do you have the Saturday papers? David has thrown them away and I’ve missed my favourite column. Do you know it? It’s that Maggie Alderson…” I was delighted that we had your column as a common interest and rushed out to buy a couple of your books for her. (And yes, I loved your poignant column about your elderly friend who had lived such an elegant and interesting life.)

    So thank you for being a part of my weekends for so long. And thank you for continuing online!

    • Your comment made me CRY it was so touching. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE print it out each week and givie it your neighbour. I am absolutely heartbroken to be losing touch with those people. Their letter meant so much to me. xxx

  6. Back again! Must tell you that your column about animal prints changed my outlook.

    I’d never been one for animal prints but because of your column I started looking and thinking about it (and discovered not all prints are equal). To my surprise, I found out that my husband (who I’ve been with for 20 years) quite likes leopard print. Then one of my favourite designers brought out a dress in the perfect trans-seasonal print in a super-flattering cut and I bought my first piece of ‘pard.

    That dress has been a real friend. When I want something simple that will make a statement, out it comes. When I’m feeling a bit blah and lost and need to feel sexy, it’s the answer. Looks great at night in cold weather with black opaques and black patent skyscraper heels. Looks stylish on a winter’s day with flat boots and a vintage 1950s evening scarf (black wool shot with silver) wrapped around my neck. Looks Sofia Loren (except I’m blonde, but you get the idea) on a warm night with big hair, silver hoop earrings, silver bangles, chunky wedge sandals and bare legs. (Sometimes I add a red patent clutch bag for that unexpected pop.)

    Not sure when I’ll invest in more animal print and what shape it will take (underwear, scarf, dress?) Thanks for getting me started!

  7. Loved that column Maggie & I actually did follow thru & enforce a no batteries required rule for all gifts given & received that year! I am so glad to have found you…my Saturdays have not been the same but will be even better now that I subscribed & can actually comment if I feel the need. I have to say your articles on roscacea let me know I wasn’t the only one to suffer although the foot twirling never did work for me. Was it you who mentioned antibiotics made you feel depressed or not??? I wish you all the best with your new ventures & hope your mum stays well.
    Sharon Xx

    • The best thing I’ve found for rosacea now is mineral make up. Covers it up perfectly and calms it down. That has made a real difference. Thanks so much for subscribing – and please tell anyone you think would enjoy it. I’ve got to get the word out!

  8. As Maggie mentioned, the doll’s house is up for auction on eBay – here it is –

    Absolutely gorgeous!

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