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PAIN all round this half term. Tom has sold his Action Man Street Fighter to eight-year-old Dan and Ginny was livid. "That Action Man was just ready for a relationship!"

I kid you not. When my son is not around the Greatest Fighting Hero is made to take part in illicit simulated courtship rituals with 12-inch Barbie. I gather that most girls consider Ken, Barbie's smiling, purpose-made boyfriend, too gawky. In fact in recent years Ginny's two Kens have been in a stable gay relationship. She tells me they are hoping to adopt.

It took me a while to catch on why, whenever I took Ginny to visit friends, she invariably carried a large plastic shopping bag. Young Tom's complaints that he couldn't find his Action Men I attributed to the chaos of his room. A few weeks ago, however, I found Ginny sneaking back in late with several half-naked Action Men and she confessed all. More than confess, she explained who was going out with whom and who was currently getting dumped. Much have I learned.

Did you know, for instance, that no Barbie has ever gone steady with either Jungle Drt or Police Marksman Action Man? It seems their weapons are not detachable and girls don't like it when a guy won't put down his pistol. Hunks and silent types, however, are hot. In fact Espionage Action Man, with his shades and black leather jacket, is currently two-timing both Ball Gown Barbie and Pocahontas.

Sadly, Ginny says girls don't go for uniforms now. In my youth, Action Man was available as Coldstream Guard, Red Cap or Parachute Regiment. Today, however, he's an urban terrorist, turning ice-skating and even skateboarding into lethal activities. That's how 11-year-old girls like 'em.

To mollify Ginny I offered her one of my old Action Men which Grandma still has stored. There's life in the old toy box yet, I thought. But when we got him out Ginny was put off by the crewcut. Action Man of the 1960s, a clone of Hasbro's GI Joe, looks like a thug today. And when we tried to stand him up, 30 years on, it was clear that the elastic had started to go. "Oh God Dad, he's drunk!" I was hurt. Clearly the older generation has nothing to offer these young girls.

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