by Julia DeKorte | 31 Jan 2024
Kick The Tyres, Light The Fires is divided into three parts. The first, titled, “How time flies—a glimpse of my life—so far,” details Norman’s childhood through his retirement. He speaks on what it was like growing up in England during World War II, what his family life was like, and who his friends were. He touches on his time completing his National Service in the Fleet Air Arm as well as the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, plus his time working in the U.S. as an investment banker, and of course as a toymaker. This part served as an excellent foundation for the rest of the book; a great way to give context to his ideas and beliefs that he shares in the following sections.
Part 2: A Simple Truth, really gets into Norman’s ideas about reform. He goes over what he believes to be systemic failures of the British government, from the education system to the prison system, and from healthcare to civil rights. He draws on his own experiences, pulls statistics from different reports and academic journals, and truly breaks down what he thinks the root of each issue is, before moving on, in Part 3, to what he thinks could make things better.
Part 3 is titled “A non-politician’s proposals for change.” He goes over welfare, taxes, pensions, Parliament (which he thinks is rather outdated), and his ideas for reform, including how the government sees and treats drug users, the prison system, and the nanny state. He does all of this by pointing out where the issue lies, under subtitles like “reform the police” or “managing crime,” and then follows each subsection with another one titled, “Proposals for change.”
Norman’s method of pointing out and explaining each issue and following it with actionable steps towards change is what made this book so great. Not only does he break down each issue to its root, but he also explains how to fix it, and why it will fix it. We also have a good understanding of why he thinks the way he thinks, based on the overview of his life and experiences that he provides in part 1. It’s an impeccably organized book, and an incredibly interesting one too. For anyone interested in British politics, this is an excellent book to pick up.
Of course, the book wasn’t just about British politics. Norman discusses his time working in the toy industry as well, in Chapter 6 of Part 1: Bluebird Toys. After working at and leaving Berwick Timpo and spending a couple weeks “walking around the streets” to try and figure out what he really wanted to do with his life, Norman drew up The Big Yellow Teapot, and a few weeks later, Bluebird Toys was born.
Though it had a few successful toys, the most well-known is Polly Pocket. Created originally by Chris Wiggs in 1983, it wasn’t a commercial product until Wiggs licensed the idea to Norman and Bluebird Toys. In 1989, Polly Pocket hit shelves, and became extremely popular. So popular that Bluebird Toys had to license sales rights to Polly Pocket to Mattel, and at one point became Mattel’s second largest toy range for girls (no one can beat Barbie!).
As a former child who used to play with dolls like Polly Pocket, it was interesting to hear about the plastic doll’s tiny beginnings. Aside from that, this was an incredibly interesting book to read. You really do get a full education in all things British politics, but not in a boring, textbook-like way. Rather, Norman tells a story: what has happened in British history to get it to where it is now, and what needs to change to make it a better place today.
Sir Torquil Patrick Alexander Norman is a British businessman, aircraft enthusiast, and arts philanthropist. He studied at Eton College, Harvard University, and Trinity College, Cambridge, served his Natinoal Service in the Fleet Air Arm, and worked as an investment banker in the United States for 11 years before returning to the United Kingdom and making his entre into the toy industry. He started out as the chief executive of Berwick Timpo toy company, but in 1980 founded Bluebird Toys, the company that created the Big Yellow Teapot House, the Big Red Fun Bus, and of course, the Polly Pocket line of dolls.
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