I follow in a proud family tradition. I work at a university. My father before me also worked at a university. Though that’s where the similarities end. He had a proper university job – the one that requires you to have the letters Dr in front of your name. Me, I’m more of a university dilettante.
Anyway, as an official Dr type university person, one of the things my dad regularly had to do was go overseas to attend conferences, often to quite interesting locations. And while we’d miss him when he was away, it was still kind of cool because when he got back he’d have all sorts of gifts for us.
One time, he’d been in Europe. Can’t remember exactly where. Can’t remember exactly when – but I reckon it must have been some time in the late seventies (I really am that old). Amongst the gifts he brought back were four little figurines. Strange little fellows – blue people wearing white hats and white trousers (with little blue tails sticking out the back). One was looking nervous and holding a lantern, one carried a sack over its shoulder, one was sitting and looking thoughtful and one was lying down and wearing bathers (I lied, they weren’t all wearing white trousers).
My dad explained that these strange little characters were called Schlumpfs, and they were a big hit in Europe. We thought they were kind of cool.
Over the next couple of years, dad did a couple of further trips, and brought back more Schlumps. We began to build up quite a collection. Other family friends from the university also began to accumulate Schlumpfs. It became a bit of a contest to see who could get the most – and the best ones.
And then one day, we saw something odd in the paper. It was a picture of a little man, wearing a white hat. Though we couldn’t see the colour (papers were black and white in those days) the resemblance was undeniable. This had to be a Schlumpf. Only, according to the article, it wasn’t. It was a Smurf.
Yes, the Schlumpfs had arrived in Australia, but not as Schlumpfs. For some reason, the name had changed to Smurf. And even worse, they were tied in to a promotion for a petrol company. The only place you could buy them was from petrol stations.
Still, being the impressionable type I was back then, I continued to build a collection. Smurfs were definitely not as good as Schlumpfs. The quality of the plastic, the painting, the general expressions, were definitely inferior. But I still wanted to get more.
These days, my obsession with little blue men is no more. As with anything that assumes saturation point in popular culture, I’m way over the Smurfs. And I now realise they’re not even really Schlumpfs. When first created, the name for these things was actually Schtroumpf.
Still, as the painfully nostalgic type I am, I can’t help but fondly remember those moments when my dad returned from overseas and we waited excitedly to see what the little blue men would be doing this time.
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