My Mum Knitted Cardigans For My Action Men

With Robinson Crusoe in our ears and an Action Man in our hand, we're getting nostalgic for yesteryear and reclaiming our youth one Doctor Who giant maggot at a time.
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With Robinson Crusoe in our ears and an Action Man in our hand, we're getting nostalgic for yesteryear and reclaiming our youth one Doctor Who giant maggot at a time.

To say I have a hard-on for nostalgia would be wrong. It’s more of a soft-on: a reversion to boyhood. And I cannot help it.

Neither am I alone. Mention Doctor Who and Giant Maggots to anyone of a certain age and watch their gobs gape as their pants fill up. Everyone who was in front of a telly during those 1973 teatimes remembers that story, the green slime and those mutant larvae (actually stuffed condoms). I bought the VHS then the DVD, to relive the action repeatedly, while my wife glared at me like I’d stuck on Back Door Girls 74 over breakfast. The giant resin and sticky-back plastic – careful now, step away from the nostalgia keywords – bluebottle that buzzes the Doctor was hilariously poor, but it didn’t matter. I saw the Giant Maggots and I was eight years old again.

Why is nostalgia such a draw?

During ‘internet research’ for something or other a while back, I chanced upon the theme tune to Robinson Crusoe, all doleful strings and rioting facial hair, a series I loved as a kid, and I literally wept in front of my Mac. Tears streaming down my cheeks, as if I’d lost a family member. Maybe that was it: I was mourning the passing of my youth.

Yet I wouldn’t go back and have my time over again, even if God appeared in a cloud offering hard cash in a booming voice. My mother sent me to junior school in an elastic bow-tie and shorts. I joined Friends of Barclay James Harvest. At my first sixth-form disco I asked a girl I’d barely met whether she wanted to go camping with me. Talk about girl afraid.

I’ll never make that mistake again, Morrissey. No.

Yesterday I spent a good hour searching the web for images of old covers, from books I’d read as a child. I so vividly remember Dad coming home from work one evening – mid-Seventies, I’d guess – and handing me Richmal Crompton’s William and the Moon Rocket in the kitchen. I was sitting at the breakfast bar; he had the tea caddy behind him. For a kid raised on astronauts and hooked on William, it was the ultimate gift. I googled that one first.

The original Newnes cover bore no dice, nor did the Macmillan reprint. Then I found it, the Armada edition: bell-bottom typeface and colour illustration, of William and Ginger scoffing fun-fair confectionary as the eponymous hero clutches a bowl of goldfish. (I recall my original disappointment that nothing remotely rocket-like appeared there, despite the title.)

I’d held that book in my hands when I was a boy. I’d have rushed upstairs and lain on my bed, to lose myself between its pages, back when The Sweeney was on telly and the sight of Ken Dodd scared the shit out of me. Once again, I misted over.

But perhaps my biggest (smallest?) soft-on is reserved for Action Men.

"Mention Doctor Who & Giant Maggots to anyone of a certain age & watch their gobs gape as their pants fill up."

I received my first Action Man on my 8th birthday, this naked plastic fella in a box, pre-gripping hands, along with a World War II Tommy’s uniform. It was love.

I went on to collect dolls, uniforms and weaponry as if I were starting a war. The Talking Commander (‘Action Man patrol, fwwwwall in!’), Royal Lifeguard, chap with metal detector, German Stormtrooper and Staff Officer, Scorpion tank, machine-gun nest, French Resistance Fighter, Jungle Fighter, helicopter, guard dog… And when Christmas passed and the pocket money ran out, my Mum knitted cardigans for them. One in yellow, one in green.

Only later in life did it strike me that she’d invented the world’s first Action Man Val Doonican. Complete with sub machine gun. Had Palitoy ever produced a rocking chair, he could have serenaded me with King of the Road then blown the head off Action Man Max Bygraves. Now try telling a fucking story.

There’s something incredibly evocative about those figures in their finery, like they’re nostalgia-crack. Check out Action Man HQ and peruse the vintage versions.

If you too were a collector, I bet you’re a mess now, tears mingling with snot and drool. You’re clicking through the figures going, ‘Had that one! And that one!’ You probably want to buy them all over again, even at the vastly inflated collectors’ prices. (I picked up the Action Man Spaceman and Space Capsule not long ago, because my parents deprived me of them as a kid.)

And rest assured: you are not a loser. You’re not. It’s innate in all of us, that compulsion to delve backwards. To travel in time in our minds to a scene from yesteryear, when we were innocent and sitting on Santa’s knee seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

It’s about cosiness and home, about having no responsibilities and the days to fill. It’s a break from today’s nasty realities, of Etonians in power and celebrities who set in.

Just don’t delve too far. I bought that copy of William and the Space Rocket, and the stories were rubbish.