This is the text for a piece that I did on RTE (Irish National) Radio’s Sunday Miscellany Programme broadcast in May 2007
(There is a podcast for this somewhere..looking..)
For the best part of five years in the glitzy 1980s our favourite game was Bunties. Whenever we got our hands on another issue of the age old magazine, Bunty, the three of us, all girls, would paste the female figure on the back page onto a Cornflakes box. Next we would carefully cut around her and her clothes with their hang on tabs. Bit by bit we built up a collection of the fashion figures. We gave them names out of the baby’s name book – what to us were interesting and unusual names – such as Stacy, Tracy, Amy and Rebecca. We kept them in a Lyons tea box.
Growing up in an isolated, rain laden valley on Kerry’s Iveragh Peninsula, six miles from the nearest town, we made our own fun as they say. Surrounded by windswept hills and rugged terrain, we were reminiscent of the Brontes, creating, like they with their toy soldiers and invented lands, a whole new world to inhabit and populate. In this way Buntyland was established.
In its heyday there were thirty two inhabitants of the town. The set-up of the game was elaborate. Armfuls of ladybird books were taken from the bookshelf in my bedroom and arranged on the floor. First their beds would be laid flat – to put one of the Bunties to sleep you simply laid the figure inside the cover, like a bookmark, its head sticking out of the top. To delineate the houses another ladybird book would be propped on its side as a partition.
At the beginning we just dressed them up and compared their outfits. With the selfishness of seniority the two eldest sisters gave the plainest characters to our much younger sibling. The Bunties began to have a life, to socialize, to form alliances and factions. One of the most popular events was the Belle of the Ball, a Beauty and Talent competition akin to the Rose of Tralee, for which we designed elaborate ball gowns, not forgetting the hang on tabs. The Bunties danced to Strauss and Duran Duran on a clunky black buttoned tape recorder.
As time went on we faced a problem. We had no men. We began to select any of the more masculine versions and give them male names. They were still scarce. We decided to make more men, cutting them out of white cardboard and drawing on the faces. The homemade ones however were never as popular with the ladies.
As we grew the game became our own interactive soap opera. A character named Mark became the mayor. Inevitably there were episodes of corruption and dubious unilateral decisions against which the inhabitants eventually revolted.
Of course there were plenty of natural disasters, flood and storms in particular. A rescue squad would have to be established and the townspeople evacuated to the upper shelves of the bookcase. There were other dramatic incidents. In one series of episodes, Christine, an air hostess, was coerced in assisting with a hijacking.
A court found her guilty and she served many months of incarceration in an Easter egg box before finally being exonerated.
Well into our teens the storylines became our own parody of those we had seen in Dallas and Dynasty with the same level of glamour. Some of the characters married, lied and double-crossed each other, had children and even had affairs. This may explain why a game that began in childhood continued until I was an embarrassing seventeen.
Our mother, who never threw anything out, has not so far come clean on the disappearance of an entire cast of characters. Despite the fact that our own children now play with broken-legged cows and armless dolls kept for posterity, the Bunties in their tea box have not emerged from the attic’s time capsule. Sadly it seems we cannot make them reappear out of the shower like Bobby Ewing in Dallas. Perhaps our mother has finally had her revenge for all the hours we ignored her entreaties for help footing the turf in favour of our fascinating game. Sources suggest that the truth is more likely to relate to a nasty ending involving an over-exuberant puppy – teeth marks and scraps of cardboard were reputedly found close to the scene. At least the Bunties went out with a dramatic twist.