International Rescue arrives at Woolworths: Thunderbirds are go, going, gone. Simon Cunliffe is a rare owner

SATURDAY morning, the dawn shopping patrol: I was headed for Toys R Us in Wood Green, north London. It was dark and cold. A shop assistant had told my partner on a previous foray that the merchandise was due in that day. It was strictly rationed; one item per family. Still, be there or be square, she said: the first punters would rendezvous at the entrance at 5am. The doors opened at 9.00.

It was getting on for 7.30 as I arrived in the early morning gloom of the shopping city. Was I too late? Slowing up I allowed myself a quick, nervous glance across to the shopfront: no queue.

Easy] In an hour or so (and until Santa took delivery and deposited it in the stocking of my eldest), I would be the proud, and, it would seem, very rare owner of a Thunderbirds Matchbox Rescue Pack containing models of each of the five Ur-spacecraft. Hey, Thunderbirds are go]

Too easy. Thunderbirds were gone, or more correctly, Thunderbirds hadn't arrived. The new ETA was very late the same day. 'We apologise for any inconvenience,' said the notice in the shop window.

'Inconvenience]' raged one hapless punter. 'This is the third time I've come down here. It's just not on.' 'Brent Cross?' I suggested helpfully.

'No good,' she said, shaking her head. 'They get theirs on Saturday night ready for Sunday. Then they're all gone before you can get in the shop. They're like gold.'

I commiserated. No, it wasn't good enough. Yes, they ought not to say come early Saturday if they could not deliver the goods. No, you wouldn't think there was a recession on. Yes, in such circumstances they should take your money and reserve you a set. No, it wouldn't do any harm to read them the riot act.

I turned for home, consoling myself with the thought that it was probably time the lad learnt the harsh truth about Santa anyway.

My partner, however, put a higher price on childhood innocence and there followed more phone calls to potential stockists. No luck. London, it seemed, was out of stock or at least as near as made no difference.

But how about other areas of the country? Woolworths (where the Rescue Pack had first acquired its 'that's-what-I-want- from-Santa' status) in Cheetham Hill, Manchester, for instance. She rang and I hovered, in an adrenal fidget. One left. One left. Would they put it aside . . . if the child's grandfather, who lived around the corner, were to come and pick it up? Yes, yes they would.

And they did. Father Christmas lives to fight another day. International Rescue calling Santa. Mission accomplished] Five, four, three, two, one . . .

(Photograph omitted)