Like most people who have children, my house looks like an explosion happened in toys r us and a plastic apocalypse ensued. We are unofficially sponsored by V-tech, market leaders and makers of edu-tastic, ear-worm spouting robots, baby walkers, electronic books and play computers. In short, they make something to delight and exasperate all household members.
My children LOVE these toys, so when a birthday gift is unwrapped to reveal another of their oeuvre, I fight the urge to demand the receipt and resign myself to the fact that we will all be singing a new range of poorly written ditties before the night is through.
1. Little Singing Alfie
Is there a home in the land that does not have one of these? We have two, both purchased two years apart by the same dear, forgetful Uncle and Aunt team. Both of the kids have found hours of fascination with this jolly little buffoon, so I owe him a lot.
My beef is that so many educational toy makers seem to think that c is the last letter of the alphabet and that the next number after three is infinity itself.
Whilst your child can learn some letters and numbers from this thing, they will be hard pushed to find a situation in which only the first three of each will suffice.
Okay, so Alfie is not the only guilty party here, but he is a smily little face that represents this lack of ambition.
2. Toot-toot Drivers
When deciding to buy this for my son, I read this hilariously written and perfectly accurate review. For some reason I still bought it.
I would take a picture of my son playing with it for you, but it has long since gone in the bin after a glitch in the matrix caused it to repeatedly restart the songs from the beginning but never reach the end. The effect was akin to listening to a scratched record playing a terrible song. It was relentless. Only one car remains, and even Jet is keen to make sure it is always switched off before the whole cycle of musical torture can begin again.
3. Baby Singalong Microphone
I bought this from another frazzled looking mum at a nearly new sale for 50p. Now it is in my possession I would happily pay someone to take it off my hands, were in not for how much my daughter loves it.
My issues with this are numerous.
- The microphone has a button for you to select different animals. Your average nursery rhyme is not enhanced by an animal ‘singing’ along. It’s just weird. Some of the sounds are so electronic it is almost impossible to work out which animal they are intended to represent anyway.
- One of the lyrics goes ‘do-re-mi-fa-so’ on a downward scale. This is just incorrect. It should be singing ‘mi-mi-re-re-do’. Everyone I have spoken to about this looks at me with a sympathetic head tilt and changes the subject.
- The left hand button purports to change between ‘rock and roll’ and ‘classical’. These categories are comparable with describing Katherine Jenkins as a classical musician and Snow Patrol as a rock band, and would be better described as ‘ragtime’ and ‘waltz’.
- The microphone is programmed with the same faux child chuckles as Alfie. In reality, the sound of a child laughing is one of the sweetest you can hear. Vtech have taken this wonder of nature and made it evil.
- The worst of all is an earsplitting version of “London Bridge is Falling Down” in which the vocal and instrumental lines are delivered simultaneously IN DIFFERENT KEYS. WHY, VTECH, WHY? This makes my ears bleed.
Having said all this, I must hand it to them. The sheer range and number of songs this item plays is incredible, meaning that every time I accidentally kick the damn thing when trying to navigate the sea of crap that has become my living room, it will start playing a tune I could swear I have never heard before.
4. Splash and Learn Duck
He’s yellow and buoyant. His songs are not too bad. It just doesn’t feel right to encourage children to bring battery operated toys into the bath.
5. Learning Fun Party Set
We have only had this for a short time – Stella received it for her birthday from my lovely friend Laura. Both of them love it to the point where they have become quite competitive over who gets to play with it. Jet has made it his mission to learn all the little jingles about the various cakes, pressing the buttons repeatedly until it gets to the point in the cycle where it plays the one he wants to hear. He is now walking around the house singing a little ditty about “a sweet and crunchy treat”. In fact, the only thing that bothers him about this toy is that whilst the jug has a nose, the cups do not.
My cup has no nose…
My problem? Some of the rhythms of these enchanting cake-related melodies bare little or no relation to the words, which have been clumsily shoehorned in where they don’t fit. The natural pulse of the words doesn’t gel with the pulse of the music, making it difficult to even understand what is being sung. Whilst I know that winning an Ivor Novello award is not really what they are going for, a little improvement in this area certainly wouldn’t hurt. Because, Vtech, people have to actually listen to this you know, repeatedly!
I wish some of the no-doubt enormous development budgets that go into producing these toys were spent on getting Ed Sheeran, or any of our other talented songwriters involved. I’m sure if they were, a more pleasing effect would be produced. You know, if they brought out an Elvis Costello or Morrissey version of one of their toys I would stand in line to buy them. You can have that one, Vtech.
In conclusion, although these may be the bane of your life if you have ears and have ever heard actual music, the children love them. So what do I know? One thing I am sure of is that I will continue to own many of these treasures for years to come. In the mean time – pass me the ear plugs!
Join the campaign! #NoMoreWeirdToyMusic