Barring one visit to America, because my sister had moved over there, summer holidays were always spent in a budget caravan in some affordable spot of the UK. I remember fielding calls from Barclaycard's debt management department while my mother pretended not to be in. We also had numerous lodgers, and for a while I shared a room with my two older sisters, so one of these hairy waifs had somewhere to sleep.
Yet at Christmas my mum always went all-out. Food would be stacked from sideboard to ceiling, and the pile of presents was always huge, and - with hindsight - probably rather vulgar. Spoilt doesn't even cover it, but it perhaps became a way to compensate for the rest of the year. I dunno. Or maybe I was the best kid ever, and just really deserved it all.
Apropos it being Christmas, here's a rundown of some of the best things I ever got.
Whizzer & Chips, Shiver & Shake, Cheeky - I was always more a Fleetway boy than a DC Thompson one... although I did read Topper regularly - mainly for Danny's Tranny (not what it sounds) - until it was cancelled. Plus, I got the Beano and Dandy summer specials every year, so it wasn't like I was unfamiliar with Dennis the Menace, Korky the Cat, and - yes - Biffo the Bear.
To my mind, the DC Thompson characters were just a bunch of thugs, whereas Fleetway had the likes of Faceache, The Krazy Gang, and Sid's Snake. Also, the best free gifts. Also also, it annoyed me that Biffo the Bear looked more like a monkey.
Mainly, you can attribute my Fleetway loyalty to the fact that my mother had a friend who worked for Fleetway's distributor, and could get the annuals cheaply. The other thing I remember about this woman is that her husband once punched a female bus driver in the face, and spent some time in prison.
Toy cars were only ever bought for me by relations who didn't know me better... inevitably, the big box of Matchbox, Dinky, and Corgi replicas I had would be used to mark out the corridors of Star Wars bases and spaceships. As you read this list, you'll note that this is a recurring theme; almost everything in my formative years became a prop for my Star Wars toys.
It wasn't just toys; my parents had a pair of wooden stools which - when placed together - would be a Star Destroyer. Lego was only ever used to make, say, Cloud City. Even a metal bell of my mother's, in the shape of a Victorian lady, became C-3PO's girlfriend. Obviously, I was too young to realise the homosexual subtext beneath Anthony Daniels' performance.
Consequently, I never yearned for a Scalextric set. I liked the idea of TCR - with its slotless tracks - but the only time I ever got really excited about toy racing cars was seeing the Aurora Chase & Race set in my mum's Littlewoods catalogue.
AFX appealed to me because the cars were smaller than those from Scalextric and TCR, and featured something called Flexitrack - basically, a jointed section of track, which could be placed in such a way as to create banking sections or undulating terrain. Plus, the Chase & Race set was extra cool, because the headlights on the cars actually worked, and one of them was a police car - with flashing lights.
I probably played with it about twice. Cars.
Like most boys, I had a basic model railway layout, but it never interested me much - beyond putting things on the tracks to see if the train would smash through them. All the trains ever did were go round and round and round. I never saw the appeal.
The 3.D.S was a Chris Foss-style spaceship, which ran along a monorail-like track, which could be laid out vertically as well as horizontally.
What's more, it came with another ship, which could be held like a gun. Indeed: it was an infra-red gun, which fired at the monorail ship, and showed a score read-out on the rear, indicating how many times you'd shot it. Given the sloth-like speed of the other ship, it wasn't notably challenging.
Hornby released a bunch of accessories - including additional ships - but my favourites were the polystyrene planets, which could be hung around your track, giving it an extra impression of outer-space-y-ness. Trippy.
The Magic Roundabout, however, was the first TV show I ever loved. It was the last thing I'd watch before being put to bed... which suggests my parents put me to bed uncommonly early.
The Magic Roundabout Playground came with all the characters, plus a working roundabout, and a train which ran around its circumference when a crank was turned. I probably looked as cool playing it as those kids on the packaging did. Especially him on the left.
And then using it to attack Uncle Don, for which I was told to stop, because Uncle Don was blind and didn't know what was going on.
When I received my Six Million Dollar Man figure - the same Christmas as Emu, I remember - I asked him if he was bionic too. He assured me he was, so I pressed him between the shoulder blades to see if he had a button like my my toy. He didn't, but he played along gamely, thrusting his fake leg into the air in the same manner as the Bionic Man would raise his arm.
My favourite aspect of the Six Million Dollar Man toy were his forearms, the skin of which could be rolled up to his elbows, revealing his bell-end (bionics). He also had a bionic eye, which could be peered through via a hole in the back of his head.
Unfortunately, rather than having a telescoping effect - like in the TV show - the bionic eye on the toy made everything appear further away.
The main selling point of Star Bird was its sound effects. In addition to the standard laser noises when a button was pressed, it also had in-flight sounds which rose or fell depending on how you pointed the nose of the ship.
It was also possible to reconfigure the ship into three different forms. I once got into enormous trouble for half-burying the nose section in a large plant pot, and pouring water into it to make a swamp.
Admittedly, most of the swamp ended up on the kitchen floor, but then main thing I take from that was my furious - and otherwise unashamedly working-class - grandmother stating, upon seeing the mess, "Where does one even begin?!".
My confusion as to why she was suddenly talking all posh somewhat softened the sting of the massive bollocking I got.
When it came to discovering the Denys Fisher TARDIS I took things to another level: I didn't even wait until they were downstairs. In fact, I got up early one morning and snuck into their bedroom while they were still asleep, and removed the TARDIS from my mum's wardrobe.
Of course, she woke up and wanted to know what I was doing. I fumbled an excuse - something feeble, about not knowing the TARDIS was for me (no attempt to explain why else I might've been looking in her wardrobe at 6.30am) - and somehow she let it slide.
Admittedly, the Fourth Doctor figure doesn't much resemble Tom Baker - for some reason, I always thought it looked more like New Avengers actor Gareth Hunt. The TARDIS itself was awesome though: you could put Tom Baker inside, turn one of the buttons on top, and when you opened the doors again he'd vanished! Just like he'd do in the BBC TV show Doctor Who!
The only thing which annoyed me about it were the painted-on Stormtroopers. Did the real Death Star sport murals of Stormtroopers on its walls? No it did not. I tended to just pretend they weren't there. They were two-dimensional lies.
What I didn't realise at the time - but have since learned - is that the Palitoy cardboard Death Star was exclusive to Europe. It was one of the few sets which Palitoy - who owned the licence to distribute Star Wars toys in the UK - produced itself. America got a big, plastic, Death Star from Kenner (which never made it to these shores), but looking at pictures of the two side-by-side we definitely got the better deal.
Oddly, I even remember the day my mum went Christmas shopping to get this. I was left behind in the officer's mess at the Territorial Army centre where my dad was manning the bar that day. I played with the dartboard and the microwave.
The Imperial Attack Base - depicting a location never even seen on-screen - was one of my favourites. It worked brilliantly when paired with the bits of polystyrene I'd use to make up the rest of the ice planet Hoth.
Much to my mother's annoyance, I had a habit of heating a knife over the gas hob, and using it to sculpt the polystyrene into usable shapes. This had the effect of a) Ruining her knives, and b) Leaving blobs of molten polystyrene all over the house.
The one I received was missing several parts - my mum had picked it up second hand from somewhere, along with a bunch of other Action Man odds and sods. It was missing the death slide and the cargo net, but the tower itself - all plastic, rivited girders - was great.
Also, again, it became a vital Star Wars accessory for representing part of the unfinished Death Star from Return of the Jedi, which softened the knowledge that I'd inherited some other kid's dirty, cast-off toys.
Haunted House was one of a couple of 1970s horror-themed board games - I had a similar soft spot for one based upon a ghost train. Both were notable for featuring detailed, 3D environments, like Mouse Trap. Have you ever seen a modern version of Mouse Trap? It's cheap as anything - rather than the sturdy, impossible-to-set-up original version.
Haunted House was similarly well made, with its quartet of rooms, traps, and a central staircase and fireplace; perfect as the backdrop to any lightsabre duel.
Jaws was essentially a take on Buckaroo - a game I never actually owned - but with spring-loaded shark's mouth in place of a fiesty mule. Clearly, it was inspired from that scene in Jaws where they cut open a shark, revealing - among other things - a car licence plate.
Probably a weird choice for a child's game, but at least I could use the bits and pieces as Action Man accessories.
Alas, barring igniting the iron filings, chemistry sets offered little in the way of pyrotechnics. The experiments in the packaged instruction manual were generally sedate, and dealt more with the educational side of things.
I had two big successes with my chemistry set, purely by mixing the chemicals with liquids that I found in my dad's shed. A viscous, purple, slime solidified into a rubbery substance, and another gave me the closest I got to an explosion: I chucked almost everything I had remaining into a test tube, stuck a cork in the top, and give it a vigorous shake.
The brown stains from the resulting eruption were still on my bedroom ceiling when I moved out years later.
As I recall, few of the make-up appliances stayed on his face particularly well - they seemed to have been designed for something else altogether - and after a while my Hugo was covered with a tacky residue of spirit gum and stray hairs. As was my own face, when I tried applying his disguises to myself.
Being an uncommon child, I got it into my head that Hugo was based upon the French artist Henri de Toulouse-Latrec; after all, he wore what appeared to be an artist's smock, and shared a diminutive stature with the famously short painter.
To this end, most of the play I got from Hugo was from terrorising my nieces during their afternoon naps, with what I told them was the ghost of Toulouse-Latrec.