Life & Culture

The toys that parents hate

Chanukah is over, but the presents remain. And chances are, some are really, really annoying you.


All the parents I know have at least one toy in their home that they hate with a true passion. The remote corners of our house are stuffed with playthings that have been made to “disappear”. I might climb a ladder to reach a high-up piece of cooking equipment, and down will fall a toy trumpet once given in a party bag. How it got up there, one can only speculate…

The one my husband and I agree is the worst we have ever owned is a Winnie-the-Pooh telephone. Not the proper Milne/Shepard Winnie-the-Pooh, but the fake Disney Winnie-the-Pooh, for which I have a visceral loathing.

Depending on which button you press, a different character makes a statement in hysterically-enthusiastic Disney-speak, relating to the arrangements for a forthcoming picnic: “We’re having a picnic! Wanna come?”

It is almost impossible to play with it in any way other than the pre-programmed scenario, so you are forever doomed to plan a picnic that will never actually arrive. It is a bit like the lover in Ode on a Grecian Urn who is forever about to kiss the maiden — “Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss, Though winning near the goal” — except with over-excited, anthropomorphised woodland animals.

Almost as bad is a set of Thomas the Tank Engine trains which says different phrases when you press a button.

This wouldn’t have been too much of a problem if they had only done so when you pressed a button. What actually happened was that we would be sitting peacefully in the living room once the children were in bed, when with no warning a voice would ring out from across the room in the Liverpudlian tones of Michael Angelis, narrator of the Thomas the Tank Engine TV series: “I’m a really useful engine!… I’m always on time!”

It was like having three people in our marriage, with one appearing only unpredictably and speaking exclusively in a series of self-aggrandising stock phrases.

I did a brief survey of parent friends to discover which toys they found most annoying. It was no surprise to learn that the answer is, overwhelmingly, those that make a noise: singing dreidels, squeaky hamsters, drums and trumpets, quacking ducks…

I think that this is partly because toys that make sounds pretty much always make horrible sounds — but also because you cannot get away from them. You are forced to experience the toy along with your child.

The obvious solution is to give the toys a clandestine batteryectomy, and then pretend that they’re broken when your child asks. This works beautifully for pre-schoolers, but once they get a bit older, they unfortunately tend to become well versed in the field of AA Duracells and mini screwdrivers.

It also transpires from my research that people can become involved in fantastically passive aggressive present-giving wars.

One friend, for example, gave her 14-year-old niece a pair of gold lamé leggings for her birthday. In revenge, the friend’s six-year-old received a drum kit.

Another gave her nephews a set of eight noise sticks for Chanukah — one for each night. These are long sticks that you bash to make a sound, and are not only extremely loud, but make excellent weapons, too. In return, my friend’s small daughters received a set of bells and some pillow-fight cushions in the shape of swords and nunchucks.

Yet another gave her friend’s son an ant farm, and in retaliation, her own son received a Nerf gun. “We are still finding foam bullets behind the sofa four years later,” she says darkly.

No one, however, is more talented at buying truly awful toys than the children themselves. This fact is demonstrated by my daughter, who bought with her pocket money at a recent school fair, when I wasn’t looking, possibly the most sinister object I have ever seen. It is a giant furry bunny with cold, dead eyes, and an unbelievably belligerent expression.

When you press a switch, it waggles its ears and makes squeaking noises. The effect is presumably supposed to be cute, but it seems abundantly clear to me that the squeaks are actually satanic invocations in bunny language.

That rabbit now sits on her bed, making plans for the day it will unleash its evil upon us.

It is obvious, therefore, that we are doomed. The only upside is that if the bunny gets us, we will no longer have to listen to Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends planning a picnic.



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