FOR me, The Late Late Toy Show signals the start of the Christmas season.
I have never been one to launch straight into Christmas after Halloween, but The Toy Show gives us all permission to get excited, to laugh at the gaffes and the crazy kids, to cry at the emotional stories and eat a mountain of salty and sugary treats.
For as long as I can remember, the Toy Show has been a feature of my childhood. I was always allowed to stay up late until it was over. Back in the '80s and '90s, there was no replay the following day and no RTÉ Player to watch it back on, so if you missed it, you missed it and it was never something I let happen!
Back in those days, the Billie Barry Kids were all over the performances, you could spot them a mile off, and many of the toy demonstrators were the children of RTÉ presenters and personalities. Gerry Ryan’s kids were lucky, they got to rule the “ride on” section for a few years. At the time, I would have given my right arm for one of those fancy battery-operated cars that you could sit in and drive around. Whether it was a Mercedes or a Porche or the pink and purple Barbie version, I thought they were the bee's knees.
No such car ever arrived under the tree and, to be honest, I don’t think I ever even asked for one, I sort of knew it was a stretch too far that not very many kids actually had one, it was just something cool on the Toy Show!
More recently, I have been happy to see a good dollop of diversity creeping its way into the production of the Toy Show. As a child, I often wondered if anyone like me who had sticks or a wheelchair would be picked to perform instead of the child prodigies, we saw year after year. Now, children from all different backgrounds with wild and wonderful talents have their moment to shine and it’s no less heartwarming to watch.
At the turn of the millennium, the Toy Show took on a new significance. I began to watch it with a gang of my school friends. We would get pizza, popcorn, chocolate and sweets and watch together in one of our houses. We stuck to this tradition all through school and college. We are a group of five and try every year to come together for the occasion.
There have been some years where some members of the group have been abroad, but we always have a group chat going when we are watching or have a catch-up about the noteworthy bits afterwards.
Clara and Colin were in Australia for four years, so it was hard to combat the time difference then. Colm and Ciaran spent years in London and the USA so the last few years have been a bit hit and miss. Sadly, in our mid-thirties this year, we are all back in Cork but Covid 19 restrictions will keep us apart. However, I’m sure we’ll raise a glass together on Zoom tonight!
On a happy note, we have every excuse to keep our traditions alive for many years to come because Ricky, my son, who is just shy of one year old, is the newest member of the gang.
He won’t ever have to beg to stay up for the Toy Show, it will be a given as soon as he’s old enough to enjoy it.
Being a mother is a great opportunity to reminisce on the best bits of my own childhood. The Toy Show is definitely an integral part of the story. This year will be different to other years, but we have learned that even apart we can share a common experience.
I look forward to watching tonight and seeing how Irish people all over the world connect for a magical few hours of happiness.