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Strung out and in a spin

Reva Klein on young yo-yo addicts

Forget it. Playstation? Pulleez, that's so passe. Videos? Hey, get a life. Right now, if you want to be bad, wicked, rough and all those other things that mean the opposite of what they sound like, the only activity that counts is playing with a yo-yo.

It's so Fifties, so retro, so low-tech and so infantile that it's achingly cool. And being the sultans of slick that they are, Jason and his buddies have flung themselves on this bandwagon as if their lives depend on it. How did they know yo-yos were the ultimate in adolescent chic? Some kids have style antennae that pick up things weeks or months before anybody else knows about them. Twelve-year-old Jason hasn't read a book in two years but, bless him, he knows what's happening on the streets of Tokyo and Manhattan.

And what's happening is grown-ups, teenagers and children, mostly of the male persuasion, playing around with lumps of plastic attached to a length of string. To the casual onlooker, they look like wholesome toys that require a little skill and a lot of practice. But to Jason and his gang of five, it's more than that. It's a magnificent obsession made all the more magnificent because of the consumerism it invites - nay, demands - and the adrenalin it inspires.

These London-born boys and many more like them of all ages and sizes spend their Saturdays down at Hamley's ogling the 40 varieties ranging in price from Pounds 4 to a mere Pounds 110. Some have lights in them, others are fluorescent, some are titchy, some are massive. They stand, they watch, they take mental notes as they study the yo-yo champions demonstrating the latest tricks on the shop floor.

That's how they've come to be yo-yo champs at school. Every day, rain or shine, they play out the same ritual in the playground. As the girls stand well clear to watch, and the sad, yo-yo-ingly challenged boys surreptitiously sneak glances, Jason and the lads show off for all they're worth. Coming perilously close to braining each other with their innocent-looking weapons, they perform their cradles, their elevators (no, not lifts, but elevators), their bras and knickers (don't ask) and their rather pedestrian "walking the dog" tricks.

These guys, who a few weeks ago didn't know, er, one end of a yo-yo from another, practise every day after school, too. To walk in on them, you'd think someone had turned the volume off save for an occasional "hey, look at this" or a Homer Simpsonian "DOH!" What drives these boys? Simple. It's trying to be the best at something they value, done through companionable com-petition, through sharing without having to give anything up. And from where they're standing, flicking their yo-yos back and forth, it sure beats the heck out of having their bodies beaten the heck out of on the rugby field. One-month wonder? Probably, but it's one of those months they'll probably remember for the rest of their lives.

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