For boys born before 1960, Meccano was as memorable a part of childhood as school or Christmas. Invented in 1901 by Frank Hornby, and produced in Liverpool for over 70 years, it is said to have engendered generations of engineers, the very backbone of Britain’s industrial greatness.

The Meccano Guild, open to boys across the Empire, rivalled the Scout movement in promoting clean living and wholesome pursuits, Meccano in particular. In its heyday in the 1930’s, the company had agencies in 36 countries, and the monthly Meccano Magazine had a circulation of 70,000.

After the war Meccano went gradually into decline. The reasons were many - competition from less-demanding plastic constructional toys, television, and Meccano’s increasing irrelevance; the very engineering that had been its inspiration - steam engines, blocksetting cranes, girder-built bridges etc. - was itself passing into history. The Liverpool factory closed in 1980, militant trade unionism providing the final coup-de-grace.

I was introduced to the hobby at seven with a No. 6 set. In 1959, Meccano outfits ranged from No. 00 at 6/9d to the No.10 at £43/15/-. For the latter, one could have kept a boy at boarding school for two terms! I remember the magic moments of opening and unstringing it; the spell of Meccano was cast there and then.

Showing some aptitude for mechanical engineering, I soon qualified for a larger set, and my mother advertised for one in the local paper. One reply was from a Mr Hancox with a No. 9 sized outfit in a beautiful mahogany cabinet, which had belonged to his son, sadly killed in the war. Seeing it, my eyes turned to saucers, but Mr Hancox, reluctant deep-down to part with it, wanted more than we had budgeted for. "Those cogs cost a shilling each now!" he warned. However, a deal was finally done and that day I was the happiest boy in the world.

Meccano could be addictive; with me it was an obsession. Every waking moment was devoted, if not actually to playing with Meccano, to talking or thinking about it. Every school essay mentioned Meccano. Fortunately my English master was tolerant. For the term exam, he set "My Hobby" as a subject, no doubt for my benefit. Not wishing to be predictable, I wrote about - Airfix submarines. Human nature can be strange! And it was not confined to waking hours. Father told me that I had been talking in my sleep. "What did I say?", I was anxious to know. "Oh, just something about your Meccano".

Forced separation from it during family Summer holidays intensified the feeling. The boredom of beaches and missing Meccano became inseparably linked in my mind.

All my pocket money went on extra parts. I was the bane of the life of the assistants at the local toyshop, tying them for long periods while I pored over the green price list, inspected wrapped parts, calculated costs and changed my mind..... Many parts, resplendent in red or green gloss enamel, had irresistible sales appeal, like the 6" pulley wheel. "Only if you need one for a model" insisted Father, baulking at the 5/- price. I lied to him; it was a "must have" whatever the cost. The ball Crane Hook was another. "You don't want six, dear", said the elderly assistant, extracting one from a full box. Hamley's were less patient but more efficient. At their dedicated Meccano parts counter, orders were accepted on pre-filled forms only. Eventually the floor and every horizontal surface in my playroom were submerged under Meccano. I once invited a school friend, Nigel Tickler, "home to tea" and his jaw dropped as he walked in.

Alas, at thirteen, a familiar story unfolded. I was expected by then to have "grown out" of Meccano, and was prevailed upon to let my collection be sold, for £8 - a fraction of its value, even then. I had passively acquiesced in the sale, but have never really forgiven my mother.

In 1984, I went to Greece, on my first beach holiday since childhood, and underwent a sudden Damascene conversion. Sun and sand somehow triggered the old yearning, dormant for decades, and I determined to be a Meccano boy again.

To have had bought my original collection back, I would have paid £800, just to reopen the floodgate of nostalgia locked in that redolent box. But where could Meccano be found? Flea markets and antique shops proved fruitless, and I grew despondent. Then I remembered Mr Hancox! Another "Meccano wanted" advertisement in the same local paper unearthed a large collection locally. Just to see Meccano again after half a lifetime moved me almost to tears. And I became, albeit poorer, happy again.

The seller invited me to the West London Meccano Society. Most of the members were, like me, "born again" Meccano boys. As the Jesuits say, "Give me a boy until he is seven....". Thirty years on, I am still a member!

The hobby never died, and thrives today with 3000 enthusiasts worldwide, with clubs, publications, dealers and exhibitions. And what are all these grown men, many of them professional engineers, doctors, vicars, doing? Playing with a toy? Hardly. The size, complexity and sheer artistry of the models today would challenge any adult.

I was soon to make up for lost time, building a road grader to atone for one I began at 11 and never finished, then a cable-car that used two 6" Pulleys. Can my conscience rest now, Father? And the collection kept growing. I have every part on that old green list, including an unopened box of Crane Hooks - yes, I did want all six, thank you! My Meccano fills the playroom (now the dining-room) floor-to-ceiling. Come and see it now, Tickler!