This collection has recently come down from the loft.
A few years ago, Cadbury's produced a line of chocolate eggs, each containing a collectable plastic animal. They were called Yowie - the name of the Australian Yeti who, according to folklore, is a protector of the environment. This would fit, as the collectable animals - 100 in total - were all endangered species.
I can't remember how we started collecting Yowies. Quite possibly, Jane thought there wasn't much chocolate in the eggs so bought them as an occasional treat for the boys. Or perhaps my parents in law started buying them; or maybe it was me. Whatever, we soon had a dozen or so little plastic animals; a while later we had a few more, then a few more... Kid's collectables tend to start casually, then before you know it you've craze on your hands
Except there never was a craze for Yowies.
Despite Cadbury's best efforts, endangered animals were never going to be as cool as Pokemon. They were expensive too, and few retailers stocked them - of those that did, the chocolate often had that too old taste, so after a while, the boys only wanted the figures. Making matters worse, none of their friends were interested, so there wasn't an opportunity for swaps.
But the nagging continued, in the way that only small children can muster - in the sure and certain hope that the next egg would reveal a rare possum or some other endangered creature I'd have to look up.
Faced with this mismatch between supply and demand I realised there were only two options. I could buy all the stock in our neighbourhood and hope it was enough to complete the collection. Or alternatively, I could look on the internet for other collectors.
It turned out there were many. Indeed, Yowies were only a small part of a wider genre of ephemera, including Kinder Eggs, McDonald's toys and Smartie tops. There were websites devoted to these things - as well as collector's clubs, swap lists and even learned articles on their history.
At first, it struck me as odd that people could be so passionate about plastic toys. But I quickly realised that in the world of ephemera Yowies are very much at top of the food chain. There were forums for collectors of bus tickets, money-off coupons, dry cleaning vouchers, shopping lists... I suppose, why not? It's no dafter than stamp collecting, or wine collecting for that matter. You might argue that it creates a social record. But I digress.
In the event, the Yowie collectors were almost competing to help me. In less than two weeks I had a full set - though not including the Australian editions, or the first series, or the one off Christmas special... Having spent way too much on my first twenty animals I acquired the remaining eighty figures for a packet of stamps.
In one sense, it was a pointless exercise, because within weeks the boys had moved onto another craze and the animal figures lay untouched in a box. I ought to have known; it was the excitement of opening the eggs which mattered most. On the other hand, acquiring this little collection did have a more lasting and positive legacy.
Collecting Yowies was my first experience of internet forums. And despite the shock headlines of stalkers and spammers it was abundantly clear that the vast majority of people on these websites (including anorak wearing Yowie collectors) were normal, genuine people. And this experience has coloured my attitude to the internet ever since - sure there are some nutters out there, but they are rare and most times (with a little common sense) they are not truly threatening.
Our collection of Yowies was recently rediscovered by Dylan. I was pleased, because his interest in the animal kingdom to date has not been extensive. So I brought them downstairs, made a cardboard zoo, carefully arranged the various endangered animals...
'Which do you like best?' I asked.
'All of them,' he grinned... 'Because now my trains have something to bash into!'
Never mind - they were always endangered species.