To say we had a lot of Action Man stuff as kids would be a slight understatement, truth is that department stores in Leeds would often ring our house asking for stock deliveries in the mistaken belief that we were the official Palitoy distributor in the north of England after their own enquiries had resulted in “No, all our stock went to that address in Leeds again”, that would be my mother and the Brian Mills catalogue getting our christmas presents sorted out then.
As well as a small army of actual Action Men, yes, including the rather effeminate Navy one, we had all of the outfits, far to numerous to mention but the famous ones that spring to mind include the Red Devil parachute kit, the deep sea diver one that included proper lead boots so that he could walk along the bottom of your bath whilst simultaneously giving you, the kid in the bath, lead poisoning (sudden thought – thats where my hair went then), the Apollo astronaut, the Arctic explorer, the native american indian, motorcycle cop and the cowboy – no sorry, that was the Village People.
And it wasn’t just the uniforms, we had all the accessories too, the Arctic explorer for instance came complete with a sled and three husky dogs to pull it which all looked fine until you tried to pull the sled with the huskies and the ones that you weren’t pulling along fell over. The Apollo astronaut came with his own space capsule (note to geeks, the capsule was probably from the John Glenn era Mercury space programme so strictly speaking nothing to do with Apollo at all).
The Red Devil of course had his own parachute, which actually worked but the most impressive Action Man accessory that we had was the Action Man troop carrier into which all of our numerous Action Men could be crammed as it traversed the back garden in search of bad people to kill and maim with maybe some periphery civilian casualties thrown in for good measure.
And it was in the troop carrier that our Action Men finally met their Waterloo for when we reached an age when you daren’t admit to your mates at school that you’d spent the previous weekend playing with boys dollies in your back garden, then it was time to dispose of your Action Men and in the time honoured tradition that Ned and I had already established with other outgrown toys, we set fire to them in the garden, which made a change from setting fire to them in the kitchen of course.
But it wasn’t your run of the mill garden bonfire, oh no, for much earlier in our young lives we had discovered the flammable properties of Ronsonol, the yellow tin of lighter fuel that our dad used to clean watch parts with in his job as a watch part cleaner, what fun a young boy could have with a tin of Ronsonol and one match.
So it came to pass that one summer morning while our parents were at work Ned and I sneaked into the bureau where our dad kept the Ronsonol under lock and key, that is the bureau was locked and the key was left in the lock, so not very secure then, removing the large industrial quantity of lighter fuel we retired to a patch of garden underneath two silver birch trees and thoroughly soaked the inside of the troop carrier complete with all our Action Men.
Laughing like crazed madmen with an agenda to take over the world we sat up close and lit the match.
Now, when you see things like this on TV, when you are watching something like Eastenders and someone douses the inside of the Queen Vic with a couple of gallons of petrol, they walk to the door and light a match and a small line of flame slowly spreads along the floor giving them ample time to have one last dramatic glance around the interior before exiting – then several minutes later the windows all blow out.
In reality it wouldn’t happen like that because its not the liquid that actually burns, its the evaporated petroleum vapour that ignites and if you’ve just spent ten minutes dousing The Vic then it will be full of petroleum vapour, as will your clothing – introduce a match to that and you’ll wake up sitting on a cloud plucking a harp.
So it was with the Action Man troop carrier.
To use the word “WHOOOO-OOMP” is not to do the conflagration justice, Ned and I were fortuitously flung backwards by the blast and when we turned again to look managed to catch the sight of a huge fireball exiting through the top of the Birch tree leaving a blackened path of twigs in its path where there had once been nice green leaves.
Both Ned and I turned to stare at each other in wonder, oh the power of a pint of Ronsonol, oh look at your face, its black with two circles where your eyes are, just like in all the best cartoons.
And the troop carrier ?
In pieces, burning pieces, along with all the Action Men who now lay scattered and dismembered across the garden, a huge black scorch mark marked the spot under the tree where they had once been simple play things, “lets do it again” said Ned, “theres nothing left to blow up” I reminded him.
And now we had some problems, not least of all that we’d used all of our dads Ronsonol, there was a huge black mark on the lawn and right the way up through the tree, the Action Men were still burning brightly giving off thick acrid smoke that would have the neighbours around here pretty sharpish, and now we had absolutely no Action Man stuff left at all and how long would it take for our mother to spot that ?
The several fires across the garden were easy enough to stamp out, the burned lumps of plastic were wrapped up in an old newspaper and dumped in the dustbin and we had absolutely no idea what to do with a birch tree that had exactly half of its leaves missing and was now half black and half silver birch colour, we thought of chopping it down and denying all knowledge of it but the lack of anything to chop it down with prevented that, instead we made a pact to deny all knowledge of what had happened to it and hope that our parents wouldn’t notice.
They did of course, they noticed within minutes of returning home, our dad went into their bedroom to change from his work clothes, glanced out of the window and bellowed through the house “What the bloody hell have you done now ?”, Ned and I sat playing Subbuteo on the living room floor and both stuck to the “I don’t know what you’re talking about” line but it was to no avail, we both got a crack around the back of the head that night and then another one a couple of nights later when he went to use his tin of Ronsonol and realised with a sharpness of mind that would cause Sherlock Holmes himself to declare “My goodness Frank you have marvellous powers of deduction for a clock repairer” exactly what had gone on in the garden that morning when nine Action Men perished in the terrible Ronsonol explosion.
I’m glad I didn’t have boys.