Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Meccano at Christmas

This Meccano Magazine cover from December 1954 is a perfect evocation of the mid-1950s. Soberly dressed small boys stare at a window display of pristine toys and models. These are the wonders of the age, beyond the reach of all but the most generously indulged child. For the rest they remain unattainable. Childish exuberance was greatly frowned upon – the solemn duty of every child was to grow up with the greatest possible speed and the least possible fuss. These were serious times – excitement and frivolity were in short supply where they weren’t actively discouraged. Recreational activities were either sporting or educational – entertainment in any but the most modest amounts was undesirable, an irresponsible diversion from the business of forming a new generation of productive economic units. Note how the boys are wearing scaled down versions of their fathers’ outfits in coarse woven fabrics – gabardine, tweed and worsted. (One of the few pleasures to be had observing the latest infant generation of the House of Windsor is their adherence to this anachronistic dress code.) Physical comfort was held in low esteem so textiles with the power to irritate the skin were broadly held to be character-forming. Caps were worn to make young people more easily identifiable, especially in instances of antisocial behaviour. Among the most serious offences a child could commit was to neglect to wear a cap. As the years advance the tendency to romanticise the experiences of childhood marches in step. Nostalgia begets amnesia and the discomforts are forgotten. Sadistic schoolmasters, school bullies, knitted swimming costumes, itchy baggy underwear, damp and unheated homes and a diet of overcooked flavourless stodge all fade away in the diffuse glow of the lost Golden Age that never happened.

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