Irritations of Modern Life

13: Yo-Yos
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The Independent Culture
I TURNED over in bed the other morning and found something strange. It was small, round - and irritating.

"What is that thing?" I demanded, or think I did (it was 7am).

My daughter piped up from nearby: "I think it's my Yo-Yo. I've lost it."

"What Yo-Yo? Why is it in bed? Out!"

"I want to name it Colin," she said.


"Do you want to see me walk the dog?" she asked.

"No! We don't have a dog. Anyway, your job is to feed the cats."

"No, Mum. Walk the dog. It's a Yo-Yo trick. See..." By now she had retrieved the Yo-Yo, which was glowing and green, and was throwing it round the room in a Lethal Weapon sort of way.

Why is it that children always assume that adults are stupid? "I know that," I said. "I know that because I had a Yo-Yo once. I've walked the dog and skinned the cat and looped the loop. But what I want is for you to get dressed for school."

She shot me a look that said that she didn't believe for one second that I'd ever owned a Yo-Yo. "Come on, Colin." And she walked the dog to her room and shut the door.

How did my seven-year-old manage to purchase a Yo-Yo secretly? Where did she get the money? This worried me, but everyone I talked to just kept going on about how wonderful Yo-Yos were. They all thought I should be thrilled. After all, here is an old-fashioned toy that doesn't require a plug and is not directly linked to television, drugs, violence or sex. You don't have to feed it and it doesn't die constantly, as the electronic dinosaur/ dog/ cat did. It is relatively cheap, and requires skill and patience. Most parents love them.

And so do the child psychologists. "Something like the Yo-Yo will encourage social interaction between children, as well as having obvious physical benefits," said one, in one of the many articles that have appeared heralding the Yo-Yo's return. And, from a Yo-Yo competition promoter: "It's non- racist, non-sexist and non-ageist. Anyone can do it anywhere. The world champion is a 18-year-old woman; the European champion is a man of 75."

None of which makes me like Colin and his friends one bit more. They are a health threat. I shall never worry about drinking red wine again because I stand much more of a chance of being decapitated by a "round the world" Yo-Yo in my own house than I do of being felled by heart disease.

Then there is the baffle factor. The other day I was talking to another seven-year-old (no relation) who was also intent on walking the dog.

"Brains!" he said, Yo-Yo-ing away.

"Why, thank you very much," I said.

"No, a Brain! You know," he said.

"Mmmm," I said, stalling.

"That's the name of a Yo-Yo."

"Hmmm," I said. "Is there anything on television?"

This is why nostalgia is pointless. Nothing is as it was, and Yo-Yos are no exception. They used to be rather simple things; now they are complicated and cool. I asked my daughter about the Brain thing but I couldn't understand a word she said except for the fact that she wanted a Brain herself and she wanted one that talked. Right.

So I called Anti-Gravity, the Yo-Yo shop in York, and spoke to a man named Mike Mawson who says he has to explain this about 30 times a day. Basically, there are four kinds of Yo-Yo and the key is how long they can "sleep" (or spin) at the bottom. The first kind is the cheapest, with a "fixed wooden axle", and is a light sleeper. Almost an insomniac, in fact.

Then, 10 years ago, came a Yo-Yo revolution when someone invented one with a trans-axle that makes it sleep longer - about a minute, he said. And the Brain? This turns out to be a variation on the above which Mr Mawson described as a "trans-axle with a clutch". After its sleep, it goes back up the string with no major wrist-flicking required. "Just remember that it's sleep time that matters," he said.

I agree, so the Yo-Yo may have to live in the garage from now on with the cats and that irritating dog. Yes, I know this is a negative attitude, but it must be said I was always crap at Yo-Yos.