Hanging out with a grandchild, I become aware of the extraordinary market for products related to child rearing, with every age a target, from napkins to baby clothing to cribs to front packs to back packs to silhouette books readable by unfocused eyes, to prams, to car seats, to surveillance devices, to mobiles, to teethers, to first toys… And then it really takes off, to balls that glow, to teddy bears, to various rattles and toys that beep and whistle and sing nursery rhymes, to buggies, to sleep noise and whales singing, to lotions, to special play facilities for a rainy day and organisers of first birthday parties. And now trucks and trains and cars and diggers and dolls that speak and wee, and animals, all with built in sounds, ten different lego systems, indoor swings and slides and a huge range of books, subscription television channels with every rhyme and game in the annals of childhood animated, plus series with infinite episodes, some of which are very skilful. Meanwhile there is a library of parenting books constantly updated, play dates and play groups, creches for those returning to work, whose equipment will be more sophisticated and robust. Museums, libraries and art galleries donate a floor to interactive and tactile activities for little ones, with pram parks and little cafes. On the toy front now, whole systems of motorways or railway are available with each vehicle an electronic marvel of sound and song… there must be teams of researchers, designers and marketers out there.

Whatever happened to kids floating sticks in the creek? Or climbing a tree? Or building a castle with river stones? I feel Neanderthal as I ask the question. And have the thought that this market of stuff will possibly stop the mechanism of symbol formation and replace it with the human algorithm. That’s my hunch. That’s my fear.