the chips are down

So where did you get the money, anyhow? How come you managed to accumulate…’ I scrabble feebly through the re-purposed fair trade cocoa tin ‘…twenty of these rubbishy things?’

Fresh from a family struggle session over my hypocritical enthusiasm for filthy, carbon-spewing fireworks , I’m cross with them all this morning.

‘Well’, Dolly looks up from drawing crop circles on her cereal, ‘Dad gives us money to go and buy a paper…’


‘…and there’s like, some over. So…’

‘…so we split it!’, interjects Magnus, hoping for Good Sibling points, ‘..and then we buy these!’ finishes Dolly, riffling the tottering heap of  World Wrestling Entertainment ‘poker’ chips in the tin. Dolly was not known for her burning interest in WWE  a week ago. Or, in fact, until the moment when Magnus started to collect them.

‘But, hang on – if there are four in a packet, and they cost a pound a packet, that’s – that’s five pounds Dad’s given you! For a ninety pence newspaper!’

‘But it was for yesterday too! Anyway it’s our money, Dad said we could!’

I take another fortifying swig of tea and peer over my mug at aforesaid Dad, innocently biting into his toast which I have thickly Marmited, hoping he won’t notice it’s not exactly butter underneath, or if he does, won’t have the strength for a fight at this appalling hour. Somehow forgetting that mornings are also not when my own wits or nerves are at their strongest, I carry on.

‘D’you know what? Somewhere out there is some horrible, cynical person who’s rubbing his hands at having found a new way to swindle innocent little children like you out of their money, for – for some crappy bits of plastic that will still be around in a thousand years. Littering up the – place.’ Just in time, I gag the other word beginning with ‘pla-’ and ending with ‘-net’, which is rapidly climbing the expletive charts in our house.

It doesn’t help that  I’ve just read a report delightfully entitled ‘Toys of Misery which informs me that eighty percent of all toys are still made of non-recyclable plastic. That’s a third ‘pla-‘ word that  tends to elicit glazed eyes and whimpers round here. Pocket money is sacred, but wantonly topping it up to be squandered on fake poker chips seems perverse.

It’s becoming clear this feeling is not widely shared round our breakfast table. ‘Come on’ says Mr Fixit, ‘it’s no worse than My Little Pony or…’

…’But at least you can do things with My Little Pony! You can use your imagination, and…’

‘Mum likes My Little Pony! Mum likes My Little Pony!’ Dolly is pogoing on her chair at this extraordinary turn of events. I’m not quite sure how we got here myself. Needless to say, neither of the children has actually eaten any of their breakfast, and we still have forty minutes of varietal music practice to stagger through before school.

‘So if I don’t buy any more chips, you have to buy me a My Little Pony!’

‘I’m happy to, provided you don’t mind that it’s probably been made by somebody who has to keep a whole family on what you get for pocket money every week. And spend on these…’

‘Or marbles ?’ Mr Fixit has moved on. Can he be on my side? I’m so amazed I shut right up.‘I collected marbles when I was little, I had millions of them. Marbles take much, much longer than plastic to decompose. ‘

Of course he’s not. Too late.

‘Look at the amount of Roman glass people still keep digging up. In fact the whole environmental movement seems thoroughly confused on this issue. I thought things that last a long time were supposed to be better than things that just fall apart? So if a plastic bag – or indeed a poker chip – lasts for ten thousand years…’

A quick check of the number of functional synapses in my brain reveals that not enough tea has been drunk to unpick this piece of casuistry. I return to Magnus, always a softer target. ‘You know my friend George, the one who likes Chelsea like you do?’

He looks at me, clearly suspecting that any response at all will lead him into a new trap.

‘Well, I continue, ‘George has to live on five pounds a day For everything. For food, a pair of socks, if he wants to clean his teeth, or even call his mother in Nigeria whom he hasn’t seen for years and years and may never see again before she…’ I catch sight of Mr Fixit’s face and cut to the punch line. ‘Five pounds. That you’ve just spent on twenty plastic chips. Don’t you think…’

‘Look, Mum. You just don’t get it, do you? We like them! And it’s our money! End of story!’

Of course, I would have spent my pocket money on Sindy outfits, if I hadn’t been so greedy that it all went on sweets. I don’t remember rushing to stuff it all into the Christian Aid Week tin my mother rattled enthusiastically in the faces of all our neighbours.

It’s also more than possible that one of the reasons we have officially the unhappiest children in the developed world is Cassandras like me making them feel guilty and frightened. Most of the things that made my childhood fun would be proscribed by my rules. Not just the fireworks, but the associated bonfires spewing particulates. Balloons that choke birds. Bubble wands that use petroleum byproducts. And as for Sindy herself…

But does that mean we don’t tell them anything about what’s going on? Am I not allowed to share with them what the Home Office does to asylum seekers, or the high probability that the poker chips are made from the oil that caused the wars that drove George here in the first place?

If they’re old enough to be trusted with pocket money, aren’t they old enough to know the implications of what they spend it on?

I look up from these wearisome ruminations to discover they’ve sensibly migrated out of my firing line, and I’m overdue to hear Dolly’s hard-won rendition of Pop goes the Weasel I don’t know what the answer is. I just know that once again, I seem to have got it wrong.