We planned epic Scalextric tournaments as we watched TFI Friday – the Christmas present I’ll never forget | Christmas

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As a child, I always wanted a Scalextric set for Christmas or my birthday, but I never got one. That’s not to say I wasn’t inundated with toys. Had my mum not later donated my entire Star Wars collection to the church jumble sale (thanks, Mum!), or had my dog not chewed up my original 1977 double-telescoping Darth Vader (thanks, Jasper!), I’d now be a millionaire. But, for some reason, the Formula One slot car racing game eluded me.

So, in my final year at university, when my parents asked what they could get the student who seemingly had everything, I asked for a Scalextric set. I could picture the scene perfectly: I’d have it set up in my student bedroom as a way of enticing the ladies back for a quick “circuit” or two. Or, better yet, we would set it up in the living room, figure-of-eighting around the back of the sofa, where we would host epic Scalextric tournaments as we watched TFI Friday on our rented (yes, rented) TV, to decide who would do the washing-up or take out the bins. Or, when we felt really lazy, we could use the cars to deliver cups of tea between fellow housemates. “Pass the TV remote control, you say? No, but I’ll happily Scalextric it to you …”

So, Christmas came, and I finally got my dream present although, spoilsportingly, my parents requested that I didn’t set it up immediately, and asked if I couldn’t at least help peel the sprouts or set the table, as it had been nearly midday by the time I’d got out of bed to open my presents, and everyone would be here any minute. So it sat in its box until I could take it back to university to enjoy it with my – less demanding – housemates.

Obviously, being students, we didn’t put it up straight away, because that would have involved doing something productive as a collective, which was far too much effort when Dawson’s Creek was on Channel 4. But eventually we cleared the living room, opened the box, and set to what was considered work: laying the track, plugging in the controllers and placing the cars.

Rich Pelley (right) as a student with housemates Tony and Phil

And it was crap. The complete track wouldn’t nearly fit in the living room. No one wanted the bother of moving the sofa, which would have affected the position of our individual TV-watching spots. It didn’t even include a loop-the-loop, so we put most of the track together in a boring oval in the middle of the room. Even though, between us, we were doing degrees in chemistry, politics, history and economics, none of us could work out how hard you needed to squeeze the handle to avoid the cars flying off the track at almost every corner. Once a car had flown off, you really expected me to leave my comfy sofa to put it back on the track? And (one for the Scalextric aficionados), there are only so many times you can flatten those two little metallic tab things on the underside of the cars so they fit the groove of the track before you entirely lose patience with the universe.

After about five minutes of entertainment, the set lay unused in the middle of the living room floor, gradually gathering dust and getting kicked apart, rogue cars and plastic controllers ready to trip up anyone who walked into the living room after a few drinks – everyone, almost every night. No one bothered to move the track or take it apart until our final summer term came to an end and we all left university. After that, the boxed Scalextric lived in my parents’ attic for more than a decade until my dad eventually took it to the tip.

And there we have it. Never give up on your childhood dreams, unless your childhood dream is owning a Scalextric, in which case, yes, you should give up. This Christmas, I’m asking for a Super Nintendo instead …

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