Monday, 31 March 2008

How a craze starts among kids... introducing Squidgees

Perhaps I am flattering myself to think that I started this craze in SA... maybe not, but I was definitely instrumental. Whatever the case, the meteoric rise of squidgees as a wild craze amongst school kids is just fascinating. If you read this blog often, you will know that I'm really interested in playground folklore, skipping rhymes and games, and also in small, cheap, whizz-bang novelties and toys, in which I trade, in a modest way.

Anyway, late last year I was prowling the aisles of one of JHB's wholesalers of cheap gimgracks and gewgaws, and I picked up a packet of things called 'Plant Crystals'. The contents of the packet looked like a tablespoon of pink couscous. The packet instructions told me to cover them in plenty of water and wait eight hours.

Now, any toy that tells me to cover it in water and wait just irresistible, so I bought two packets. (Had I known that I was picking up a packet of The Next Major Craze, I would have bought 5000 of them.)

I was not disappointed. Do you remember that wonderful scene from Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, where poor orphaned James spills his packet of precious magical squirmy green things in the garden, and the single peach on the scrawny peach tree begins to swell? That's what I felt like when I Just Added Water.

Within ten minutes, the couscous looked and felt like frog spawn. Five hours later, I had a glass bowl full of perfect, pale pink pearls, each one the size of a chickpea. And, in eight hours, when their swellage was complete, the couscous grains had absorbed every drop of water and metamorphised into a deliciously cool, swimmy bowl of shining slippy little globules, each one perfectly spherical, and reminiscent - pardon the comparison - of the springy eyeball of a fresh fish.

When my kids got home, they were fascinated - even the 16-year-old, whose interests are normally confined to playing death metal lead guitar and smoking endless cigarettes in his bat cave. The next morning, my eight-year-old daughter went off to school with a lunch box packed with pearls. She was mobbed. She gave five or six pearls each to a selection of friends, who put them tenderly into their lunch boxes and bathed them in water. She promised to bring more 'squidgees' (as they were quickly christened) the next day.

The next morning, I was astonished to see, as I pulled up into the parking lot, a crowd of around 15 little girls, all (and I promise I am not making this up) clutching jars and lunch boxes, clapping and chanting my daughter's name.

I headed back to the wholesaler and bought 5 more packets, which filled a large bucket. The next morning, at school, the excitement had reached fever pitch. My daughter doled out the squidgees. Almost every one of the 200 little girls in the school had some. By break time, a rumour began flying around that squidgees could get pregnant, and make NEW squidgees. Mothers began to phone me asking me where to get them. Little girls fell to their knees and begged me for packets. Within a few hours, I received word, via a parent, from a teacher, that squidgees were no longer welcome at school, because they were too distracting. (And I don't blame the school for slapping a ban on them.)

I hastened back to the supplier, bought their entire stock of 150 packets, and sold them at a handsome profit at a Halloween function at another local school. I still regularly scour my suppliers in search of the elusive squidgees - and I continue to sell them by the bucketload as the craze has spread to other schools.

What are these curious things, I hear you ask? Known variously as plant pearls, crystal soil and magic soil, they are made of exactly the same stuff (polyacrylamide) that's inside a disposable nappy - that squidgy stuff that absorbs every molecule of pee and makes the nappy hang down to the knees. Except, in this form (designed for cut flowers, for germinating seeds and for helping soil retain water) they have been engineered so they swell up to perfect, slightly-smaller-than-grape-sized spheres. You can also get them in cubes. They have amazing properties: non-toxic, biodegradable and able to absorb up to 100 times their own weight in water. If dug into the soil to improve its water retentive properties, they last up to five years. In a vase, they last for three months (although they need to be rinsed now and then under plenty of running water to keep them smelling fresh; a teaspoonful of household bleach also helps).

I've used them for germinating seeds (broad beans, peas, sweet peas, rocket, and a variety of garden annuals) and they worked like a dream.

You can buy them pre-coloured, or colour them yourself by adding a few drops of food colouring to the soaking water. The colourless ones are the best, though: they are virtually invisible when covered in water - you can't really see them - but when you plunge your hand into a glass vase full, you see funny little indentations and pock marks all over the skin of your hand. They bounce. They slither. They furiously resist being squashed between finger and thumb. If you forget to keep them wet, they gradually dry out and revert to couscous.

And, oh my giddy aunt, a foot-bath of these things is the best fun you can have with your pants on. I am desperately tempted to empty a catering-pack of the things into my swimming pool (I've had to lock them away from my teens for the same reason) but I just can't think what to do with them after I'm done wallowing and frolicking. And I also don't know if you can swim in them. Last week, I caught my teens plunging their faces into a bowlful to see if they could breathe under them. They couldn't.

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Muriel said...

You, Juno, introduced us to
Glostix (spectacularly: your kids and mine broke a dozen or so all over my verandah, with hallucinogetic results). You also gave us a simple recipe involving milk, dishwashing liquid and food colouring that kept us entranced for days and gave my sister's pre-10-yrs kids kudos for weeks at school. And now this. You are a true witch. All hail Juno!

GreatDebate said...

I am a single mom and I also work for a marketing firm. We are looking for a group of girls for a "Girl Game Squad" these girls will be testers of downloadable games before they go on the market. They must be between the ages of 9 and 16. The latest project is The Princess Bride Game. I have a 2 year old son who is too young to participate, but my niece is involved and loves it. If anyone is interested in joining the group you can sign up at the following address


tonypark said...

Nice to see you back, Juno.

Did Muriel tell you she's been editing my sex scenes?

Juno said...

Thanks for the comment, greatdebate... will take a look at your site.

Juno said...

Tony, thanks for the welcome back. Muriel is editing your sex scenes?

REALLY? I am tickled by this news.

So tickled that I am about to make a new post about it.

In the meantime, I have only two things to say:

1. You will not be sorry. Mur is an outstanding editor.

2. Can we see the before-and-after text? PLEEEEZE?

meggie said...

Wow I must see if I can find them here. I could do with them for the garden if nothing else!

settledowndude said...

I may be able to solve your problem re: the swimming pool juno. Soon to be at a store near you, the same thing but with another sachet of amazingness that turns the fish eyes back to water! Called Jelli Baff. You have been warned! Oh and missed you at lunch easter

Juno said...

Jelli Baff! What a brilliant name! And what a great idea. Will have to lay my hands on a pack.

Now I know who settledowndude is. I thought you were a random stranger. Sorry I couldn't make Easter lunch - apparently I missed a feast. xx

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