“Where’s the on/off switch?”

I’m making Christmas presents.

I haven’t even got the wheels on yet, and I’m nervous. This one’s made of wood. They’re all going to be made of wood, but I have my doubts that anyone under the age of 20 knows what wood is any more.

I’d like to make something a little more contemporary, but I don’t have a degree in quantum physics, or micro-electronic technology, and it’s almost impossible for a bloke with a hammer, a chisel and a bag of nails to make a convincing Barbie Doll, so it’s a train. With a coal tender.

“Where’s the on/off switch?” asked my wife.

“It’s wooden. It doesn’t have batteries. There isn’t an on/off switch.”


Interesting word, Mmmm. It can mean anything from “yummy” to “keep massaging, but a bit further to the left” and – as in this case – “you’re an idiot if you think any child is going to play with that if doesn’t go ‘whoo,whooooo’ when you press a button, move into reverse gear at the flick of a switch and grin like Thomas the Tank Engine when you tickle its tummy.”

But I don’t care. If I remember one thing from my childhood it’s that size matters.

That doesn’t mean I was physically mature for my age; it means that if I’d been given a diamond the size of a walnut, I’d have willingly swapped it for a packing case full of horse poo.

There’s promise in a big present. It could be anything! Lots of small things; or something really… well… big!

My wooden train is big. The sort of thing that will break your sister’s arms and legs if you run over her with it. It doesn’t need gadgetry.

I’m not ready to believe the microchip was made to appeal to children. And just because computer games are made so small you have to press the buttons with a little stick, doesn’t mean kids prefer them teeny.

Has anyone ever made a really big computer game? One that you work by jumping up and down on the keys? It would cure the national obesity problem at the same time.

Children need big presents; it’s a well known fact. What’s the good of a Pet Shop … device! … when it doesn’t even fill the foot of a sock!

They even advertise – proudly – that you can buy “the littlest pet shop”.

Where’s the biggest? That’s the one I want, and even that won’t be big enough. It won’t even get bigger later, the way a St Bernard puppy would (although I suppose it won’t widdle on the carpet, or chew the legs of the Chesterfield either).

But what’s it going to look like on Christmas morning, underneath the tree?

Like a piece of the pattern on the carpet… that’s what.

Not my train! My train is going to block out the rising dawn. My grandson is going to wet himself in his eagerness to rip the wrapping paper off (and if anyone exhorts him to slow down and unwrap it carefully my peace and goodwill to all men is going to come to a sudden stop).

He’s going to be wriggling with excitement. He’ll say “Oh wow! Oh wow!” and his eyes will shine like locomotive headlights cutting through the night on the Nullabor Plain.

“And,” says my wife, “he’ll say: ‘Where’s the on/off switch?'”