Belfast Telegraph

Tellytubbies torture from Christmas past

By Frances Burscough

One of the advantages of your kids growing up is that you don’t have to venture into toy shops any more. As I remember only too well, the moment December arrives, these stores become like the final frontier in the great battle for the latest Christmas “It” toy. 

This year apparently, it’s the dolls from the Disney film Frozen; or “Foundered” as they jokingly call it in Belfast.

But in my day – ie when my first son Luke was a kid in the early 90s– it was all about the Teletubbies. Plush and cuddly replicas of Tinky-Winky, Dipsy, Laa Laa and Po — the official authorised BBC collection — were apparently available in all good toy stores and had been emblazoned all over the adverts but seemed to have sold out completely every single time I went looking.

Remember there were no eBays or Amazons back then. If you wanted something specific you had to be prepared do the legwork and pound the pavements, end of story. The most coveted one of the lot was Po, the baby of the bunch, who wore a red suit and had a round aerial on “his” (her? its?) head for communicating, although as far as I can remember, all it could say was “Eh-oh!”

People were actually queueing up outside overnight to bag themselves a Po that year. Scuffles broke out and poor traumatised Pos were even used as whacking weapons at checkout. 

Next in order of desirability was Tinky-Winky who was the “mother” (father? cult leader?) of them all and thus the boss of the bizarre subterranean Teletubbies compound. If you couldn’t get a Po, then a TW would be the next best thing. As for Dipsy and Laa Laa, well they were like the George and Ringo of the Teletubbies and only really acceptable in an “if-all-else-fails” scenario.

But alas, by the time I got babysitters organised (well you can’t possibly take a child into Toys ‘R’ Us can you? It would be like voluntarily entering the Seventh Circle of Hell...) and made the trip across town to the AbbeyCentre, the shelves were all but empty. All that remained was a solitary Noo-Noo (the loveable vacuum-cleaner type sub-character with a hose for a nose) in a damaged box and so I put myself on the yard-long telephone waiting list and bought naughty Noo-Noo as back-up while I waited anxiously for their call.

Of course, the call never came.   

Naturally, there were the obligatory competitive mums waiting to pounce, who had bagged the whole set way back in October, and took great pleasure in bragging about it over coffee at Mother and Toddlers. I suppressed my annoyance and comforted myself with the thought that their child would almost certainly grow up to be a spoilt, unappreciative, self-harming drug addict. 

Meanwhile, someone knew someone whose grandma was a good knitter and who had actually cracked the knitting pattern for a Po...but it was all a bit hushed and nobody knew exactly who, where or how much she charged for the under-the-counter service. 

I did even consider the cheap replicas on Bangor Market (“Get yer TallyTobbees nay!! – A tenner the set!”) but close inspection revealed them to be Made in Taiwan teddy bears dressed in babygrows with aerials made of pipecleaners. Look, I had my standards and that didn’t include becoming the laughing stock of Mothers and Toddlers for a tenner...or risking my sons’ eyesight with a pipecleaner for that matter.

So although Luke had written “Teltobs” (sic) at the very top of his letter to Santa, what he actually got that year was their domestic help.

Still, he was so caught up by the magic of Christmas and overjoyed that Santa had been on Christmas morning that he yelped and danced with delight.

 “A Noo-Noo!! My very favourite Teletubby!”

Bless him. He always was a sweetheart. He’s now 22 and reading English at university in London. This year, he says all he wants for Christmas is to come home and see his mum.

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