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In praise of - childhood toys.

IT was difficult not to be gripped by a sense of nostalgia yesterday when reading of the passing of Andre Cassagnes, whose finest invention, the Etch A Sketch, was a favourite childhood toy of millions of people.

Hooked on Etch A Sketch as a 10-year-old, I liked how, whenever you ran out of creative inspiration, you simply gave it a shake and the screen would return to its placid grey colour.

Despite, in time, coming to look primitive next to more sophisticated toys and games, Etch A Sketch did sell 100 million units, and was, a decade ago, hailed by the Toy Industry Association as one of the 100 best toys of the 20th century.

I sometimes think back to the childhood toys and games that kept me absorbed for hours: not just Etch A Sketch, but also Spirograph, Subbuteo, Action Man, KerPlunk, Scalextric and Lego. I was once told off for playing the rather noisy KerPlunk, with its cascade of marbles rattling into a plastic base, and thinking this was somewhat unjust until I looked at the clock and realised it was after midnight and dad had to get up for work in six hours.

There was also an evocative football board game called Soccerama (endorsed by England great Alan Ball in glowing terms – "The best game I've ever played"); and yesterday, an online photograph of it, coupled with the reports of Cassagnes's death, triggered in me an irresistible sense of nostalgia for a time when life seemed to consist solely of playing with these toys and games in carefree rotation, and trying to assess which ones would have to be cleared out to make way for the newer ones that would arrive at Christmas. I always wished I'd held onto all these toys before leaving home – if only to see what it would be like to play KerPlunk after midnight, once again.

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