I only remember one occasion when I actually stated what I would like for Christmas. Every other year I simply said ‘I’d like a surprise’. I was generally quite happy with whatever I had at the time. Having only one TV channel and no toyshop catalogues meant that I wasn’t too aware of what else was out there. Most of my play was outdoors building forts, making things, cutting up the new lino (sorry Ma) and generally getting up to mischief. Don’t worry I’m not going to go into an Angela’s Ashes or Bill Cullen ‘we were so poor…’ kind of a tale.

I only remember a handful of the Christmas presents I received as a young boy (not too long ago :)). One of the surprise presents I received one Christmas morning when I was 14 was a Prince August Soldier Making Kit. There were four moulds in the kit. Two for infantry, one for cavalry and one for a cannon. To make the pieces you melted lead and poured into the rubber moulds which were clamped together.

It didn’t take me long to use up the lead that was supplied. Luckily at the time my Father had a roll of lead that would have been used in construction work. Having an endless free supply of raw material I decided to go into business for myself. I don’t know if it was my idea or if someone suggested it, but I began my first self employed venture.

I had the product. I set the price at 10p for infantry pieces, 15p for cavalry (you got a horse) and 20p for a cannon (the wheels worked). The place where I sold them was in the small sweet shop we had attached to the pub. The promotion was via a large A3 size poster I made saying ‘Create Your Own Battles, Recreate History’.

I was never really into playing with small toy soldiers myself, but I knew others who were. So it was worth a try. I sold the lead pieces unpainted. It was too time consuming to hand paint each individual piece. Anyway “who was I to choose the colour of your army? You’ll have much more fun painting them yourself”.

As is always the case, there were a couple of casual buyers and a couple of fervent collectors. Although I didn’t know what it was called at the time, Pareto’s Principle (the 80-20 rule) was certainly in place. I rewarded the big spenders by keeping the best unblemished pieces for them. Money given for sweets was being diverted into unique handmade collectibles and miniature armies were growing under beds in the village.

I was rolling in the dough, fast cars, loose women, exotic holidays……well, maybe not. I was ok at saving, helped in no small part by the fact I lived over a sweet shop! I’m not exactly sure why I stopped selling the soldiers. Maybe the buyers found some new craze. Maybe the moulds were on the verge of disintegrating from constant exposure to molten lead. Maybe I just got fed up of it and wanted something new. Probably a combination of all of the above. Anyhow a new opportunity presented itself.

A farmer who drank in our pub had some baby pigs (bonhams) for sale for £25.  The sow had a litter of around 10-12 bonhams. I did the maths. 10 bonhams at £25 each was equal to 2,500 lead soldiers at 10p each.

I was going to go into pig breeding!

But that’s a post for another day. I guess the idea of this post is to encourage the buying of gifts that encourage kids to create something, to make something, to build something, to bring out their imagination. Encourage them to start their own little micro enterprise. Let them learn, let them succeed, let them fail, just let them at it.

Have you any memories of presents that brought out the best in you or that taught you a lesson?


4 Replies

  1. Turning 1 into 2 it’s a great concept. I grew up in a mom and pop store near Boston, back in the day, when hard work and saving mean’t you were a little better off with each step you took.

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