There comes that inevitable moment when you have to put away childish things. It's always easy enough for the children to do, of course. It's the parents who have the problems. While the kids, awash with hormones and Clearasil, listen to Walkmans and practise their sneers, it's mum andor dad who have to show the red card to the Subbuteo teams and send My Little Pony to the knacker's yard.
It wasn't until our sons reached the six foot mark that we finally accepted that the shaving, the basso profundo and the giggle of girlfriends wasn't just a phase. With upper lips duly stiffened, we dumped the toys - but, try as we might, we couldn't bring ourselves to empty the trunk. It contains their Collected Works: all their scribbles, drawings, stories, home-made comics, maps of imagined places, lists and league tables.
They weren't preserved for any sentimental reason - it's simply that we discovered that any piece of paper ever thrown away was invariably the one the child most desperately wanted to keep. So we hit upon using the trunk as an interim waste-paper basket - and somehow never got round to emptying it.
No - relax - I'm not going to treat you to a doting dad's selected gems. For one thing, they'd never forgive me; for another, I've never really looked at the stuff. It's theirs and not meant for public consumption. Those pages are a prelapsarian, pre-pubescent playground - a world where they made up their own rules, defined their own logic and which was strictly adult-free. Indeed, I suspect if we'd ever shown an interest, they would have soon deduced that drawing and writing were educational and hurried to find something better to do.
Anyway, it isn't what they wrote and drew that should be of interest to other parents, but the untold hours they spent doing it - hours of peace and relative quiet. Not of silence, of course. Da-da-da-da-da-dahh! Waa! Woosh! They lived every moment of their paper adventures. The page became a cinema screen, the pencil the projector - they provided the Dolby sound. Yiaahoooooo! Scrunk! Another alien craft, Diplodocus or Melchester Rovers mid-field player bites the dust.
Mayhem, slaughter, drama, suspense, jokes, deeds of derring-do, and all it needs is paper and pencil. These are cheap, portable, child-friendly, easy-to-use, truly interactive - and they don't need batteries.
Hamleys and Toys 'R' Us have much that will amuse children, but the real thrills are in Ryman's. Artist's pads, file cards, books with spiral binding, booklets, notebooks, notelets, plain, lined, squared pages - or reams of multi-coloured duplicating paper. When buying stationery, go for variety and abundance but don't feel you have to be as extravagant in the range of drawing instruments. Obviously there is a place in any child's armoury for a five-colour retractable or a battery of felt-tips, but neither is as good as a pencil. It doesn't leak, or get gunged up with pocket-fluff - and, miraculously, all it takes is a few twirls of a sharpener and it is as delightful to use as if it were brand new.
Incidentally, a home of modest size needs 30 or 40 sharpeners, so that one can be found when it's most needed. Put them in convenient places - down the back of a chair is always handy. The only other thing you'll have to buy is an eraser. And, of course, a trunk.