Part of our recent move was to downsize the contents of our storage space, which included weeding out books to keep, donate and bring back to our new apartment to read. Inadvertently, ‘The VICTOR Book for Boys’ was in the boxes we brought back and which I hastily unpacked one evening.
Do you remember ‘annuals’? The hardcover books were published, you guessed it, annually at Christmas. It was somewhat of a British tradition that, like so many other things, became a colonial cultural export along with lucky packets. The annuals featured comic-styled stories, text stories and various activities from mazes to making your own kite. They were very gender stereotyped; recipes and sewing activities for girls; kites and worm farms for boys.
Fast forward 48 years, and this particular volume has staged an unplanned reappearance. Originally a gift to my brother for Christmas in 1964, it was tucked into a book filled with wholesome hardcovers including recycling marvels The Wombles of Wimbledon Common; children’s treasuries of poetry; and those plastic pacifist poster characters, The Barbapapas.
This latter book was our recent repeat read favourite. The narrative depicts the Barbapapas facing off voracious property developing construction machinery by plopping chewing gum like glue on their joints because, “the Barbapapas never hurt anyone.” Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the contents of the VICTOR annual. In Calvin’s gleeful words, “Mama, every person who ever had a gun is in this book! Did you know?” (Er no. Is there some way I can accidentally recycle it?)
VICTOR is brimming with tales of World War II dog fighting pilots, hard living Pony Express employees, spies and secret service agents (this was the mid-60s), and tales of various sporting endeavours from soccer to athletics in which the British team bests the can’t-keep-quiet Americans, boastful Italians and silent Russians. Yikes. The stereotypes keep adding up!
A minor redeeming aspect are the stories about the brave people (okay, men) who developed aeronautical innovations, like ejector pods for stratospheric re-entry. Oh yes, and the features on ‘mechanical marvels’ which include gyroscopes, retractable landing gear and excavators.
At least we’re getting to have interesting conversations about the aggression depicted on the pages, but I can’t say I’ll be sad when we move onto the next item of literary interest.