Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Mastering the Pogo Stick

When I was little, my favourite part of the seemingly endless summer holidays was our trip to Lewis to visit our maternal grandparents. Over-tired after the long car journey and the excitement of crossing the tumultuous Minch on the ferry (we would run about the boat, shouting and laughing, immune to whatever strange illness suddenly befell all the green-faced adults who lay frustratingly motionless across the seats of the observation lounge), we were always unrelentingly hyper by the time we arrived at Granny and Seanair’s in Back.  Cheerful greetings exchanged, suitcases dumped, beds bagsied, cherryade from the Co-op unwisely imbibed, Seanair would at last shift in his chair and reach into his pocket.  Sometimes, before he had the chance, one of us (usually Duncan) would pipe up, grinning, ‘When are we getting our tenner, Shen?’ before being shamed into silence by a stony glare from Mum.  Seanair would chuckle and hold out a crisp brown note each. ‘Well,’ he would say in that quiet way of his, ‘There you are, a’ ghraidh’. 

Satisfied, and pink-moustached from the cherryade, my brothers and I would reluctantly clamber up the stairs to bed past photos of Mum and our uncles from a time we couldn’t comprehend, squabbling about whether we would visit the beach or the toyshop first in the morning.

The morning would begin the way mornings at Granny and Seanair’s always began: with a big bowl of Shen’s salty porridge, just enough milk added to create brown islands in a white sea.  Then, finally, it would be time to go to the toyshop. 

The toyshop in Stornoway was packed so delightfully full of toys that I never knew where to begin.  While Murdo inevitably ran straight towards the fishing nets, and Duncan was immediately drawn to the toy cars, I would wander slowly around the entire shop, carefully considering each and every item before moving on to the next.  My brothers’ fishing nets and toy cars purchased, they would be whining impatiently while I lingered somewhere among the board games, overwhelmed by the very important decision I had to make: did I want Cluedo Travel Edition, gymnastics Barbie, or a pogo stick?  I would wander between the items that had, by some merit or other, made it on to my shortlist, staring at them indecisively, and occasionally catching sight of some other curiosity I hadn’t noticed before.  This new toy would then have to be painstakingly considered before either being rejected or added triumphantly to the shortlist.

Mum and Granny’s gentle nudging towards a decision would quickly turn to irritated nagging, before, finally, I would be told, ‘We’re going to Woolies now.  We can come back here on our way home.  You’re taking too long to decide.’  Disappointed, but determined not to act rashly and take such an important decision lightly, I would trail after my relieved family members, only to discover that Woolies held yet more tantalising delights.  Did I want a Boyzone cassette or a toilet that made a flushing sound for my dolls’ house?  Or did I still want one of the toys that had made the shortlist in the other shop?

Eventually, someone, usually Granny, would say, ‘You don’t have to spend your money today, you know!’ and, shocked by such a preposterous notion, I would be spurred into action. 
‘Okay! Okay, I want the pogo stick.’
‘Are you sure that’s what you want now?  You won’t change your mind and moan when we get home?’
‘Erm… Well maybe I want the Cluedo game.’
I would wander between the two for another ten minutes, while Mum sighed and looked at her watch, Granny smiled and shook her head, and my brothers whined.
‘Okay, I’ll get the pogo-stick,’ I would say, by this time clutching both it and the game.  As I would return the rejected toy to the shelf, I would stare at it wistfully, wondering if I’d made the right decision and wishing there could be some way of having both. 

£10 note proudly presented at the till and the pogo stick across my lap in the car, I would stare down at it, suddenly noticing flaws.  Was that a scratch?  What if I didn’t enjoy bouncing around on my new pogo stick?  What if I wasn’t any good at it?  What if it was too big to take home and I had to leave it at Granny’s?  Would the two weeks of enjoyment be worth it if that were the case?  I mourned, in that short 20 minute car journey, for all the toys I’d left behind.  It was too late to turn back and now I was stuck with this stupid pogo stick!  I knew it, I should have gone for the Cluedo.  What an idiot!  Cluedo Travel Edition would have been a much better choice; at least I already knew I liked it and I was good at it and we could play it on the ferry on the way home.

Back at Granny’s, packaging ripped off and scattered all over the floor, and Murdo asking when we could go to the rock pools so he could use his fishing net, I would play happily with my new toy.  All the toys I’d carefully considered and subsequently rejected were forgotten, never to be thought of again.  I’d made the right choice after all.

I spent most of the final two years of my undergraduate degree feeling like that indecisive eight-year-old in the toyshop in Stornoway again.  What would I do after I graduated?  The sheer number of options available to me was, like the toys, both wonderful and overwhelming.  Did I want to apply for graduate schemes, or travel, or go into teaching, or try and get work experience for journalism, or do a master’s with a view to doing a PhD?  I wandered from option to option, carefully considering each, rejecting some immediately and adding others to my short-list.  People told me I didn’t have to decide yet but the thought of having no direction after graduation spurred me into action. Finally, I settled, inevitably (inevitable because, like the pogo stick, it was the one thing I kept returning to), on a master’s.  A moment of self-doubt meant that I briefly considered teaching again, before deciding at last to accept my place on the master’s.

The summer after the flurry of excitement and pride that was graduation I was eight-year-old Sarah in the car on the way home from the toyshop again, clutching my new pogo stick and worrying if it had been the right choice after all.  What if I didn’t enjoy it?  What if I wasn’t any good?  What if I didn’t get to do a PhD afterwards?  Would the year be worth it if that were the case? 

And now, six weeks in to my master’s, and I am eight-year-old Sarah, cheerfully bouncing around my Granny’s garden on my new pogo stick, shrieking with delight (delighted shrieking is not literal, unless I’ve consumed too much wine).

(Plus, I still, at 21, feel that same excitement when Seanair digs into his pocket and produces a £10 note, even though it’s nothing compared to the support – both financially and emotionally – that he and my Granny have given me over the years, for which I will never be able to thank them enough.)


  1. Aww that was such a joy to read, I love it when memories like that come flooding back and they mean everything. Really hope the post grad is going well too. We haven't seen you in ages and that needs to be rectified once were back from London!!

  2. Brilliant piece of writing. We all mourn the toys we didn't choose, but realise that God chose the pogo stick for us! Hope you go far on yours! Blessings