The teacher had survived many crazes. Troll dolls, Tazos, Pogs, football stickers two dozen seasons over. He knew the fights they caused, the inevitable bullying, bartering and bragging that spread through the playground. How hunks of plastic affected exam results and concentration. Why they must be stopped.
In his fifth year of the job, he discovered that fear worked much better than confiscation. His stroke of genius was a huge glass jar, the kind used for humbugs in traditional sweet shops. He kept within it samples of every craze that had dared enter his school. None were actual contraband, but purchased for psychological warfare only. This method avoided tiresome letters from parents.
The teacher used his weapon on two fronts. If any child misbehaved, he made sure the jar was on the table. Their eyes always flicked across to the faux captured treasure. And when he had decided a craze had run its course, and from this day forth would be banned in his school, he brought the jar to assembly, and held it between two hands. Half a dozen of the latest trend formed a new layer at the top. The plastic figures stared out, begging the children not to let their toys end up the same way.
It was foolproof. Until the jar was full.
So the teacher decided to upgrade. He purchased a new jar, this one over a foot tall. Far too big to carry around. Instead he would install it as a permanent monument on his office window. Every child thinking of cards, figurines or stickers, would walk past, and think twice.
He put the two jars next to each other, and unscrewed both lids. A waft of damp plastic rose from soon to be emptied container. He poured fifteen years of crazes like breakfast cereal. He smiled. All that space to fill. It was time for a shopping trip.
If he had managed to get them all in the new jar, and closed the lid tight, then maybe he would have been OK.
A lime green half man, half-crocodile brushed against his knuckle, and refused to go any further. The teacher sighed. How on Earth had it got sticky? Was the plastic reducing to some basic oil?
He put down the jar, scuffed his fingers against the crocodile man’s snout, then flicked his wrist. It refused to move. The teacher imagined two naughty children sneaking into his office, and pouring a whole tube of superglue into the jar. He imagined the nurse smirking in A&E. And here he made his second mistake. He shook his hands like the only hand towel in bathroom was dirty. His wrist caught the smaller jar, and it tumbled to the floor. The sound of smashing glass was like a window breaking.
The toys knew this was their chance. Soon they smothered his feet, and demanded that they play with him.
Twenty-five minutes later two naughty children, sent to the office for throwing mud at a boy with glasses, opened the teacher’s door. Plastic toys lined the desk. Hundreds of football stickers sat in piles arranged by year. Fifteen years of manufactured fun begged to be used at last.
The boys whooped, and ignored the broken glass. Ignored the masticated shape in the office chair. It was play time.