The Toy Stall

“We’re charging twenty pence for most stuff, less if you need to,” the businesslike mother intoned.

“Fifty pence for the big things, no more than one pound for anything.”

“Got it.” I scanned the toy stall, the big draw of our school Christmas Bazaar, critically.

There were two Buckaroos, Tumbling Monkeys, two tattoo sets (both from different suppliers) and any number of jigsaws. Action figures, cars, baby toys, cuddlies….

The sentry of the toy stall for the last hour bustled gratefully off, leaving myself, my husband Phil, and my daughter Maddie in control.

The race was on.

Hordes of children with small change and predatory mien appeared, as if from nowhere.

We are old hands at The Toy Stall. We do it every year. We know how to quash the price when the five-year old in pigtails approaches the tables with her last five pence. We know the action figures and the Tonka trucks sell like hot cakes, and the baby dolls and the pink Barbie buses tend to shift slowly,Β if at all.

“Excuse me,” asked a mother speculatively, “which of these games have dice in them?”

Oooh, now you’re asking, we said. We have no idea. Β And, for the next fifteen minutes she patiently investigated every single game on the stall. Because you can do that at a Christmas Bazaar. The bustle just goes on around you.

“Excuse me, how much is this?” a mother asked. Her daughter stood by a small plastic globe which had panels of coloured glass in it. Clearly, the little girl expected a deal to be done.

“She has no idea what it is,” the mother continued wryly, “she just wants it.”

Each to her own. I had a feeling it was a battery operated disco ball light, but who knew? It looked like something out of Close Encounters.

Twenty pence please, I grinned, and the little girl walked away, delighted with her purchase.

The rise and fall of voices continued companionably. Intelligence reached us through various children, of Christmas commerce elsewhere: the cake stall, where some very professional cupcakes were being snapped up and brought to the toy stall before eating; the tombola, where Felix’s friend Tommy had just won three bottles of whisky on the trot; and small humans drifted in covered in ornate face paint creations: a bumble bee. A butterfly. A spider.

“What’s that?” a strident small voice enquired.

“What?” I asked, following a very definite line of sight. It seemed to be travelling towards an impressively large box of Plasticine modelling clay.

“Oh, you mean the Plasticine?”

“Yes!” she said triumphantly. And then her face fell. “Oh, no,” she added, “Mummy says we’re not allowed it.”

I nodded sympathetically. “It can get into the carpet and never come out,” `I sympathised sagely.

“No, the little girl rejoined, “my two-year old sister keeps eating it.”

Fair enough, I mused.

Phil looked at the stall towards the end of the hour. It was depleted. “We have shifted some product today,” he announced with satisfaction.

We would not have made huge amounts: not at twenty pence a pop. But every kid who arrived at our threshold had a whale of a time; and most had walked away with something they were pleased with.

I was affordedΒ a few snatched moments at the bookstall, and walked away with a Schott’s Miscellany I have been after for ages. It cost me fifty pence.

And there inside the front cover sat a short summary of the afternoon’s events by – of all people – Virginia Woolf.

“Let us not take for granted'” she wrote,”that life exists more fully in what is commonly thought big, than in what is commonly thought small.”

Today, small humans came to spend small amounts of money on small toys in a small province somewhere just outside London.

And rarely have I seen more life than this afternoon at the Christmas Bazaar toy stall.


32 thoughts on “The Toy Stall

  1. This brought back so many memories for me. I am presently in the hiatus between grown up children and baby granddaughter, but I can see it won’t be long before I join the toy stall queue.

  2. You really brought the event alive for anyone who wasn’t there, Kate. It sounds like a good time was had by all. I would have to disagree with Virginia Woolf though, because, like those children yesterday, I feel that there is much joy to be found in the little things. Which in turn makes the big things seem even bigger. Have a lovely Sunday! πŸ™‚

  3. I’m truly full of admiration. When the children were young I found every excuse not to involve myself in fetes, tombolas or indeed any gathering of children and parents. My wife thinks it a great injustice that they even speak to me now, let alone be friends with me. Unfortunately, nothing has changed, and I pride myself on the imaginative excuses that I still create to avoid fetes, tombolas and the like which are now filled with old people, like myself, who have come to live out their lives in France – land of the fete:)

    1. Me too, if truth be told, Fiona: but it has become part of the family routine over the years. We had torrential rain yesterday, but coming home with virtually half of the toy stall meant everyone was preoccupied with their purchases for the rest of the afternoon. It was lovely πŸ™‚

  4. Might I inquire, as a denizen of the U.S.:
    What is a tombola?
    What is fifty pence or twenty pence compared to a U.S. dollar? Just wondering.
    The Christmas Bazaar sounds like it was fun.
    I recall we’d have little festivals or school carnivals, maybe around October, when I was in elementary school. It was usually held in the school cafeteria and if you bought a ticket, among other things, you could hold a fake fishing pole and dangle it over a hung-up sheet, and you would get an unseen “bite” and a toy would miraculously attach itself to your line!
    It’s those simple things I remember with unadulterated happiness.
    Cracking pecans while sitting on a porch, drinking Dr Pepper with my grandmother for an afternoon break, helping her shell peas in the summertime.
    Listening to soap operas in the kitchen on the old red radio while Grandmother made custard and other good things. See, you’ve started an avalanche of thoughts.

    1. A tombola: everyone donates bottles and a ticket is put on each. You draw out folded tickets from a barrel and some of them might win you a bottle. Or three. And licensing laws do not seem to cover them πŸ˜€

      You’re right. The simple things are the ones which are most significant for our happiness.

  5. I think I would have had a better time at your Christmas Bazaar than a Flea Market I once turned to in desperation. For two years, when our daughters were much younger, I searched in vain for the very popular Cabbage Patch dolls. Finally, I found them at a Flea Market – for a much higher price than normal. After that Christmas, wouldn’t you just know it, the dolls were available everywhere at much lower prices. Arrrgh.

    1. That’s happened to me in the past, Judy. Some toy makers should be disciplined: profiting from this already costly time of year!

      Thank goodness for the second hand stalls in life.

  6. Through the years I’ve been a part of so many Christmas bazaars and many of them were so similar to what you’ve described here. I don’t know what it is about them that makes me go all gooey inside. The children find them magical! Thanks for the link to Schott’s Miscellany! I wouldn’t know it, but I can certainly understand that this is just your type of purchase! πŸ™‚

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