Matchbox Models

Actual size of drawing, 5×3 cm.

There’s a scene in Joby, Stan Barstow’s novel of childhood in a small Yorkshire town, where Joby has to decide which of his small collection of model cars he’s going to take with him when he has to leave home because of some family trauma. The boy lines them up to assess the personality of each car and eventually goes for the one that seems mundane but dependable, rather than the flashy and spectacular.

Sand and gravel steam wagon, one of Lesney’s Matchbox Models of Yesteryear.

I must have gone through a similar process with this Dinky Toys die-cast van (above). At a time when we wanted to buy an Emgee Memo Stamp (a kind of hand-held duplicator) to print a little club magazine, my brother Bill and I sold most of our childhood toys to Steele’s Surplus, the secondhand shop in the wooden hut down the road (now a beauty and tanning salon), but I decided that I couldn’t part with this van which, even in the 1960s, seemed to have the dependable and practical look and feel of a bygone age.

I kept this Matchbox Austin A50 because it reminded me of our family car in the mid-1950s, an Austin A40.

It originally came to us secondhand, with a box of cast-off toys that had belonged to Mick, the son of our butchers, Mr and Mrs Thompson. I notice that I’d replaced the nearside front tyre with a slightly larger spare, which you could buy in a pack from the newsagents. It’s now the van’s only tyre with legal treads the other’s are bald.

The Bedford Removals Van (below) was a smaller scale Lesney Matchbox model. This was a gift and I went to bed clutching it in my sweaty hand during our annual seaside holiday at Filey on the Yorkshire coast. In the morning the transfer on the side of it – ‘MATCHBOX REMOVALS SERVICE’ – had been rearranged like an anagram in a crossword.

I was so taken with the model and the concept of removal vans in general that when we moved from Wrenthorpe to Horbury, my sister Linda and I persuaded our parents, and the removal men, who should have known better, to allow us to travel in the back of the van. I imagined a great adventure that consisted of sitting in comfort in an armchair on the journey but by the time that we got to the end of our road, my sister and I were convinced that a large piece of furniture lurching and rattling over our heads was going to come crashing down on us.

As we slowed down at a junction in the centre of Wakefield, passers by might have heard the muffled sound of two young children shouting ” Help! HELP!”

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