Monthly Archives: September 2013

Do Androids Dream of Plastic Tortoises

Do Androids Dream of Plastic Tortoises?


“I know what you’re thinking”, says my best friend. “It’s terrible. But it does work.”

He’s talking about a plastic play centre in the shape of a tortoise on wheels that he and his wife have bought for V’s first birthday.

They should know, with two boys aged 3 years and 14 months. At first, I thought my bemused reaction to this toy was that it was plastic and gaudy. But that’s not the case: we have a set of gaudy, plastic stacking cups that V loves and we love them too, being unbreakable, light to carry around and dishwashable.

Neither do I have a preference for ‘good, old-fashioned’ toys. I don’t think that a generation of children brought up on wooden rocking horses and hoop and stick sets produced a generation of well-rounded, socially responsible adults or superhuman geniuses. Toys in our house don’t have to be made of wood and come in a Farrow and Ball colour scheme.

So it’s not that our tortoise play centre is plastic, or brightly coloured, or even cheap. It’s that it attempts too many jobs at the same time. It has flashing lights. It has the voice of an American that sings or encourages you to push the button with the right shape or number or colour on it. It clicks when you turn a knob. It fires out plastic bricks. It is intended to be an educational toy. But, as my wife and I have found with trying to balance working from home with raising a baby, you can’t effectively do two things at the same time.  And in the end the tortoise experience becomes a melange of stimuli.

The tortoise isn’t education, it’s distraction. We’re using it to delay using the television as a proto-babysitter.

Three weeks later, me and F. have a slight air of “We’ll, it’s in the house, now… And she does like it…” You can’t control what people will give as gifts for your child. Neither can you predict if your daughter will take to the gift.

V. likes the tortoise. But she doesn’t love it. Not like her stacking cups. Those cups were bought by Grandma for not special reason except that V. didn’t have any. They are the simplest things in the world but to our daughter seem endlessly fascinating.

The Pink Panther Strikes

Yesterday I took V. out to pick up a few things at the supermarket. Parking her pram up at the till, I paid for my things then we sauntered out of the shop and began walking back home.

After a minute or so, I looked down at my daughter and stopped in my tracks.

“Veevee”‘ I said to her. “Where did you get that Peanut Butter Kit Kat Chunky?” She takes her teeth away from the chocolate bar and looks up at me innocently.

I used to have a fear, when I was a boy, that whenever I’d leave a shop the security alarm would be set off. I would have visions of a guard rushing up to apprehend me and I would be in Big Trouble. So much so, that I’d hold my breath every time I walked out of a shop entrance. 

It’s been a while since I’ve felt like that, and I should think so, being in my mid-forties. But there’s always an element of the 12-year old in all of us. And he came back to me as I stood over V., considering a her ill-gotten gains.

I looked back over my shoulder, in the direction of the shop. There was no security guard running after me. On closer inspection of the chocolate bar, I found that the wrapper was still intact but it was clear that the contents were going to be damaged by 6 tiny teeth gnawing at it.

My daughter isn’t going to learn a valuable lesson, at just over one year of age, by returning the item to the supermarket. On the other hand, there’s long-held fear of being caught shoplifting when I haven’t actually taken anything.

So what do you think I decided to do?