Dan Dare finds space in the box

Craig Fleming surrounded by his new Christmas gifts, including the Dan Dare Electronic Radio Station, in the late 1950s.
Craig Fleming surrounded by his new Christmas gifts, including the Dan Dare Electronic Radio Station, in the late 1950s.
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The nuts and bolts of Christmas morning for most children must be those shiny new toys waiting to be discovered and unwrapped.

But I recall one December 25 when there were not as many nuts or bolts, or anywhere near the number of accompanying pressed-out metal pieces, as I had been expecting.

A Dan Dare Electronic Space Station, made in the 1950s, sold at auction recently for �90.

A Dan Dare Electronic Space Station, made in the 1950s, sold at auction recently for �90.

I wasn’t a greedy or jealous kid by nature, but I was soon convinced there was some other young lad out there, possibly in the same East Lancashire village, already playing with a gift that was intended for ME. Let me explain.

Poring over catalogues in the run up to the big day, I had set my heart on a Meccano set.

Not just any set, mind you, but the mind-boggling “Number 10” which, if you ignored the true scale of the pictures, would make it possible from the pieces within to create a crane that would reach my bedroom ceiling.

My letter to Santa had been very specific in the detail. I even provided the name and address of the toy shop in Manchester I had visited with my grandad and therefore knew the box was in stock.

A Dan Dare Electronic Space Station, made in the 1950s, sold at auction recently for �90.

A Dan Dare Electronic Space Station, made in the 1950s, sold at auction recently for �90.

So what did I get? Meccano set Number Two and its accompanying accessory set 2A.

Yet despite Santa’s supposed spanner in the works, within the hour I had happily discovered that “Number 10” would have been way beyond my skills after all and that my low numbered boxes contained more than enough pieces to build whatever my imagination decided on.

In contrast another 1950s Christmas brought me the Holy Grail of gifts, one that was not even on my wish list. It was a Dan Dare Electronic Radio Station, complete with an impressive dial to turn, a plastic tower, a searchlight, interplanetary transmitter, and a space tele-buzzer operated by a splendid tapper key.

According to the instruction booklet it also had the ability to “send and receive voice and code up to half a mile”.

Now I had to take manufacturer Merit’s word for that because the two walkie-talkie handsets were actually connected together by blue and red wiring and by no s-t-r-e-t-c-h of the imagination was this ever half a mile long! A good job really as the wiring was always getting tangled and at times my home resembled the Minotaur’s labyrinth with cable on view at every twist and turn.

I sincerely hope every reader gets exactly what they are wishing for this Christmas, although I admit to the odd worry about any young occupants in those many Blackpool houses with “No Cold Calling” stickers in the front window.

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Last week I shared the experiences of working as a temporary postman at Christmas.

We’re talking about 44 years ago when I was a sixth former, and things have changed – not for the better.

I still have admiration for the deliverers, but I don’t hold Royal Mail itself in the same high regard.

In most sacks I lugged round in 1969 there was usually at least one envelope that, for one reason or another, had been popped into the box without the necessary stamp.

The senders were presumably given the benefit of the doubt. Rather than assuming the culprits were deliberately trying to buck the system by avoiding having to pay postage, it was thought that with so many cards being written and then popped into the box at once it was easy to miss one by accident. They were all delivered safely to their destination, stamp or no stamp.

Today, envelopes are judged by weight, size and even depth, which means the person receiving the item can end up being a costly loser.

A couple of years ago an official note was popped through my door telling me to go to the local sorting office as there had been insufficient postage on an envelope. I was expecting a particular letter and could not ignore the request. When it was my turn, the postal worker (not sure what the official title is) was actually laughing loudly and, taking my money, handed over the erring envelope with the words: “It’s only a Christmas card.”

It happened again last week – there was £1.09 to pay, of which £1 was the excessive handling fee.

And, to think, it was only a Christmas card...