Thursday, January 28, 2010

Old toys

A happy memory from childhood in the 70s was that of our mother being a part-time sales agent for those Tupperware products. I can still recall the weekend Tupperware parties at our old place that gathered neighbors and my mother's colleagues from the hospital. Had good times looking at all those colorful catalogs of plastic home products, and matching such images with the few samples that mother gets to show to her prospective clients and buyers. But the really fun part of this whole Tupperware selling business, and the one thing that drew the interest of both my brother and me, was the fact that if mother got to sell a certain number of items and earned the required points, she could get us these wonderful toys for free.

And that's how we got this set of building blocks which were not really blocks but square tiles, around 1 inch x 1 inch, that came in red and blue colors. A good part of the whole set consisted of white rectangular blocks of connectors with grooves that let you slide in the tiles' edges. The set also included these black round pieces, often used as wheels, but which could also serve as interesting accessories like headlights, lifebuoys tied to the side of ships, round windows, and just about anything else that young playful minds could imagine. These wheels came with yellow connectors that went through the center. So, that's all there was to it really. Not as complicated as your average Lego set nowadays. But with just a box of this Tupperware Build-O-Fun, you can already build a train, a car, a ship, a spacecraft, and an airplane.

My brother and I had some really good times building all these things, copying the pictures at first, then moving on to experiment with our very own designs. And this was how one day I created my "inter-dimensional telescope", which, as its name indicated, allowed one to take a close look into other realities and universes. An activity that took up much of my playing time and imagination during the next few days. Pieced together this tube-like object from the Build-O-Fun's red and blue tiles -- a tile for each of the four sides, and about 5 to 6 tiles long. Then I filled it with all sorts of small objects, including a green plastic model of a World War II machine gunner, shredded pictures from a landscape magazine, strands of differently colored threads from my mother's sewing kit, marbles, small playing cards (called "tex"), rubber bands, tiny pieces of broken toys, star apple seeds, pieces from my rock collection.

Kept the tile at the other end of the tube slightly unaligned, which left a small slit for one to peer through. And that's how I was able to get a good glimpse of the alternate realities that those cartoon series on TV were talking about. Just had to shake the tube to see a different picture each time -- from the small green arm perched on a rock inside a cave, or a scene from that Tarzan or Zorro tex seen through the distorting lens of a marble-like universe, to the weird multicolor clouds of a gaseous world, and black alien pods in an underwater tunnel. Most of the other kids in our neighborhood will take a quick peek through the slit and either confirm what I saw with this "I need to get mother to buy me the same vitamins he's taking" look on their faces, or persuade me afterward to build a plane or a bus with our Build-O-Fun set. That's when I realized that a toy can be also a personal thing for kids.

But if my brother and I had some experiences back then that could be responsible for any iota of creativity or inventiveness that we have now, these should include the Build-O-Fun. Guess one couldn't find this toy anymore in the market. My recent casual search online brought me to this advertisement for a vintage 1966 set (with the box "a bit tattered" but otherwise in excellent condition). Comes to around 10 bucks. But I need to pay another 8 bucks for the shipping costs from Melbourne. I wonder if my daughters will enjoy it.

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