'Knights and castles! with swords!' is what my nephew wanted for his fourth birthday. So there I was rootling through a hundred boxes of Playmobil in our local toyshop looking for suitably armoured horses, when I saw it. Among the assorted pirates, Roman gladiators, cowboys and (thankfully) knights sat Playmobil Office. A little plastic figure in a suit complete with desk, computer, a filing cabinet and even his own lovingly crafted set of folders. I think there was also a wastepaper bin.
I can't imagine a toy the average small boy would less like to play with: it does rather smack of a token gesture designed to placate parents. The vast majority of boys' toys are action heroes, swashbucklers and derrers-do: they live by the sword (or at least the fire hose), and they're intensely physical. They don't do much filing.
Boys' toys are far more exciting and inspiring than the fluffy pink tat aimed at little girls. No wonder parents of daughters worry about the passive role models created by all those fairies, princesses, and ballerinas.
But boys' toys reinforce a stereotype too, even if it is a more empowering one: they're all about physicality, strength, and daring, brawn rather than brain.
Bringing up a boy has changed a lot of my ideas about what's ingrained and what isn't, having watched as the passion for diggers, fire engines and bin lorries emerged early and continued steadfastly regardless of whatever toys we offered. And of course I know toys are about fantasy, not real life: the fact that most of the little boys who grow up playing knights and castles will probably end up working in offices doesn't mean they should be playing with filing cabinets now.
But nerdy as it sounds, I wouldn't mind seeing a few more toys that made the connection between doing well at school (the one thing parents of sons inevitably worry about, as boys fall behind at GCSE, Alevel and university) and doing something exciting in later life. I can't be sure that playing astronauts will make my son more likely to take Physics A-level in 15 years' time. But I doubt the prospect of becoming poor old Mr Playmobil Office would make any self-respecting little boy knuckle down to GCSEs.