Summer holidays were third only to birthdays and Christmases for getting new Transformers toys when I was a young boy.
In 1987 and 1988, our summer holidays consisted of a very long train trip to the Highlands of Scotland to visit my grandparents and extended family. My parents had been divorced for two years by this point, and so a train trip to Scotland was pretty much the limit of what our budget could allow in terms of a summer holiday.
Toing and froing from one family member’s house to another on the bus was utterly tedious for my 9 year old self, but each trip would usually yield some form of reward for good behaviour. If it was cash, it went towards the only thing on my mind at the time, the only thing that kept me sane: Transformers toys!
Throughout the year I generally had no more than 50p per week pocket money, but the summer holidays were different. I could actually walk into a toy shop and have the means to buy one of the Transformers that I saw. Maybe even a boxed one! I felt like a millionaire!
The summer of 1987 was a time when my passion and excitement for Transformers as a whole was at its peak. I was getting the Marvel UK comic every week, and all available funds were directed towards obtaining more and more toys. Forget any offshore business interests I may have had, all my money was reserved for exclusively for Transformers!
Ever since Transformers issue 113 came out in May, I had been on a mission to find the new Rodimus Prime toy. (I had previously failed on one trip to Argos: they had sold out and I bought Wreck-Gar instead!) The summer holiday trip to Scotland, I felt, was the right time to try again.
None of the toy shops in Inverness had Rodimus Prime, not John Menzies or any of the independent shops, or even Woolworths. My granddad even took me to a small nearby newsagents in the hope that I might find him. (I did, however, get Throttlebot Wideload with a Decoy of Optimus Prime!)
There was a toy shop in the small town of Elgin called Jenners that my mum had gone to many times during her childhood and, as if to justify her assertion that it was the best toy shop in the whole of Scotland, they did indeed have Rodimus Prime in stock! I think it was the most excited I’d been at that point to find a Transformers toy I had been actively looking for. It was also the first boxed Transformer I’d bought with my own* money.
(*Well, you know what I mean. I had kind of earned it by being on my best behaviour. Which was difficult, believe me.)
That same holiday, on a trip to Jolly Giant in Glasgow, I added Headmaster Apeface to my collection. It was the first time I’d been to such a large toy shop. (My first experience of a Toys R Us wouldn’t be until 1990.) I was in my personal bountifully-stocked nirvana… shelves upon shelves of all the brand new Headmasters and Targetmasters and Terrorcons and Technobots glinting like plastic treasure under the fluorescent lights!
It took me nearly a full hour to pick Apeface, after much deliberation. I’d picked up and analysed almost every new Transformer I’d seen trying to memorise each name and tech specs biography on the back. (I also picked up the British Transformers – The Movie poster at the till.)
Wideload, Rodimus Prime, Apeface… all on the same holiday? 1987 had the potential to be the best summer holiday I’d ever had!
And then 1988 came along and asked 1987 to hold its energon.
Just as I had been primed (sorry) with the mission of tracking down Rodimus Prime during my 1987 summer holiday, my mission in 1988 was to track down Powermaster Optimus Prime.
I was so excited to see Optimus Prime return in the Marvel UK comics. Ever since first seeing the new Optimus Prime on the back of Pretender Landmine’s box (which I got during the Easter holiday in ’88) I waited so desperately see how this new, improved, and massive Optimus Prime would be re-introduced.
By the time of the school summer break of 1988, and because I was due to start my final year of primary school in September, there was a general feeling in my family that I was getting too old for Transformers. (In actual fact, that Pretender Landmine was the last Transformer my mum bought for me.)
I refused to let anything or anyone temper my still-strong love for Transformers.
The Marvel comic started dropping hints about the return of Optimus Prime and I couldn’t have been more excited! My original Optimus Prime (like a lot of my toys) was, after 3 years, wrecked. I was eager to resurrect him!
I took issue 177 of the Transformers weekly comic with me to Scotland and, armed with a chunk of holiday spending money, I defiantly declared I would locate a shiny new Powermaster Optimus Prime.
I didn’t find one, but I did get Slapdash (in Jenners, the same shop I’d found Rodimus Prime the previous year) and Darkwing (in Woolworths in Inverness) with my holiday money.
I loved the Powermaster gimmick immediately, and I loved the return to recognisable vehicle modes: Darkwing, in particular, as he transformed into a Tornado jet–which was the type of aircraft my dad’s squadron was working on at the time.
I was so fascinated by how the Powermaster mechanism worked I actually took apart Slapdash with a screwdriver to see it in action! (And wrecked some of the freshly applied stickers in the process.)
While the rest of the family tutted and shook their heads and remarked that I was wasting my money, I did have someone on my side.
My granddad, Alex, was a quiet man and, much like me, he kept himself to himself most of the time. But he was a warm and kind man with a well-timed and raucous sense of humour. And he always made sure to say something if and when it needed to be said. Like my dad, he too had been in the air force.
Because our trips to Scotland were so infrequent, I only saw my grandparents once a year.
The afternoon I got Darkwing, I was sitting at the dining table in my grandparents’ kitchen, carefully applying the stickers while imagining some future battle he would have with Powermaster Prime if and when I would find one.
My grandfather, recognising the Tornado form, took an interest and sat with me. He peered over his glasses and flicked through Darkwing’s instruction booklet and inspected the box, front and back.
I explained that there was another jet that Darkwing could combine with (hastily using the pages of “People Power” in the comic to illustrate the point). My grandfather, with a mischievous glint in his eye, reached for his wallet and, without even breaking eye contact with me, gave me a £20 note. “Get that one tomorrow,” he said. He nodded towards the other room, gesturing to the rest of the family. “And don’t you ever worry about what anyone else thinks.”
The very next day, I bought Dreadwind from the same Woolworths branch where I got Darkwing. I was over the moon with Dreadwind; for several reasons. But most of all because at last I had someone on my side.
Unknown to me at the time, that was to be the last time I would see my grandfather; he died in the spring of the following year.
It’s a close call between the two, but the summer holidays of 1987 and 1988 rank among the best of my entire childhood.
My granddad’s actions that day showed me how important it was to be myself and to have the resilience to brush off any negativity anyone else might have. Collecting Transformers was (is!) my hobby and one that I cherished much more than anyone might have realised. He taught me to enjoy it no matter what anyone else thought.
May your luster never dull, and your wires never cross.
What Transformers did you find during your summer holidays? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!