Toy stories

Know where your much-loved childhood toy is? Hannah George and Marie Weigand spoke to some people who very much do.

Rachael and her doll Sylvia, post-Sylvia’s facelift. All photos by Marie Weigand.

The Real Toy Stories is a photography project by children’s television writer Hannah George and photographer Marie Weigand. The idea was born of Marie’s own toy Triawawa, whom she would religiously bring to sleepovers when she and Hannah were growing up. It was only when Marie stayed at Hannah’s house in their early 20s that Hannah realised she still brought Triawawa and the project was born.

I like to think I’m a sentimental person. I love revisiting things from my childhood. Three Amigos is on TV? Stick it on! There’s a Buzzfeed list of 30 Things You Won’t Understand Unless You Grew Up In The 90s? Get in my face! (VHS! Gel pens! Pogs!)

But when it came to Marie bringing her tatty old soft toy to stay at my house I just found it weird. Marie soon shut me down – as she often does – and made me aware that tons of people still have a toy from their childhood they will under no circumstances throw away.

One post on Facebook later, asking if this was indeed a fact (nothing is fact unless you ask the opinion of Facebook), and it became clear most people have that one special toy still lurking in their life somewhere.

Sure, they may not still bring it with them when they go on holiday, (side note: Marie stopped taking Triawawa places with her when he was almost cut open at an airport as they figured drug smuggling was more likely than a young adult taking a manky toy on holiday), but it’ll be in a cupboard, in the attic, or sometimes still in pride of place on the bed.

“It was the enthusiasm with which people described them that really spoke to me. ‘This is Flopsy, my nan gave him to me before she died; he smells of wee but I will never wash him.'”

There’s a connection with these objects that goes beyond nostalgia; it’s, dare I say, love. One constant in our lives as kids, something that’s just for us, something that slept in our beds with us and we cuddled when we were poorly. I wish I had one.

I imagine right now you’re thinking about yours and where it is now. At your parents’? In your attic? On your bed? I feel something of a fraud doing this project when I don’t have a Triawawa of my own. I just never found ‘the one’.

I had a pink elephant with rainbow ears that was kind of cool, and I’ve still got him now, but I’d be lying if I said he’s the first thing I’d grab in a house fire. I had a cuddly cat with a voice box that would miaow every time I squeezed it, but I still didn’t connect with it. But it wasn’t him, it was me. I think I found more comfort in television and films growing up, I’d watch Wayne’s World when I was poorly, or I’d take my beloved Lion King VHS to bed with me.

From my Facebook post, friends began posting pictures of their childhood toys and I was instantly charmed by their abundance of character. They were in various states of disrepair, from years of being thrown around and loved and many of them were super creepy, although I’d never say that to my friends’ faces.

However it was the enthusiasm with which people described them that really spoke to me. “This is Flopsy, my nan gave him to me before she died; he smells of wee but I will never wash him.” “This is Gaylord, my one-armed boxing gorilla whose name I know I should regret but I can’t bring myself to change.”

Marie saw something in the posts too: these objects would make great photographs, with their portraits taken in the place they reside now – in a box, in the attic, on a bed.

And so The Real Toy Stories project was born and we went and visited friends and family and took their photos and heard their stories. What follows is a selection of our favourites.

We’d love to see more toys, so if you have a childhood toy you’d like to share with us please take a snap and tweet us @keepingtoys and we’ll RT it and try to create a bit of an online archive.
Hannah George

Rachael is a 32-year-old social worker who grew up in Bradford on Avon. She has had Sylvia (pictured above) since she was three.

On my third birthday my Aunty Pat gave me a wicker basket containing a rag doll. I took her out and simply said, “Hello Sylvia”, like we were long lost friends. I’d never heard the name Sylvia before, I just knew it was her name. It was like, ‘Oh, there you are!’

From that moment we were inseparable. Aunty Pat got Sylvia from what she called ‘The Handicap Bazaar’. Aunty Pat was never married and was a very strict Catholic. She had a photo of the Pope in her bedroom. When I was a kid I asked her if that was her boyfriend and she said, “In a way Rachael, yes.”

That’s not her original face. Mum persuaded me to leave her behind her on a Brownie pack holiday and she gave her a facelift without my knowledge. When I came back she just didn’t look like my Sylvia anymore and I cried, but I cried away from Mum because I knew she’d done it to be kind.

It would never even occur to me to throw Sylvia out, because she’s always been there. She now lives at my parents’ house, in an armchair with two old teddies. She’s a rose between two bears. One day I’d like to pass Sylvia on to my own children, which is strange really, as they’d probably be terrified.

Laura is a 28 year-old musician who grew up in Blackburn. She has had Chocolate Dolly since she was two.

We were on holiday in Portugal when Mum found Chocolate Dolly on the floor. She gave her to me because I was crying and I stopped immediately. I called her Chocolate Dolly because she smelt of chocolate. I think she was knitted specifically for someone, rather than being bought in a shop, mainly because she’s got one leg longer than the other.

I’ve never actually thought about the fact she used to belong to another kid. I used to just take things, like whenever I saw a mitten or scarf on the floor it had to be mine, but now I do actually put them on walls.

There’s something about toys from childhood that has nothing to do with status; everything else you accumulate throughout your life is because it’s practical or the latest thing. But it seems the children’s toys people love the most are usually the ones you wouldn’t have shown your mates. They were quite secret and personal.

She’s the only toy I’ve actually stayed in some kind of emotional relationship with; the rest of them fell by the wayside. I think if I lost her now it would probably serve me right, although I like to think someone would pick her up. To be honest if I saw her on the floor today – I’d have that. She wouldn’t be going on the wall, she would be going home with me.

Tommy, 25, is a teaching assistant who grew up in Southampton. He has had Snowy since he was four years old.

I must admit that Snowy isn’t the most original name for a snowman, but as a kid you just name with the first thing that comes into your head. I got him from a hospital where I was visiting my granddad. Grandma bought him for me from the hospital shop to cheer me up. I didn’t really think about what was actually happening as I was only a kid.

From then on, I took him everywhere with me. I even gave him his own birthday – 1 June. I don’t celebrate it anymore though. I think I stopped when I went to secondary school. Being a teenager I realised it was probably a bit uncool to celebrate my snowman’s birthday.

Before Snowy, there was the draught excluder. It was a bit of an obsession. I used to take it to bed with me – I just loved cuddling it. It was my grandma’s and when I went up to bed I’d take it from the front door, before putting it back the next morning, hoping no one noticed. I was just really drawn to it, and eventually Grandma let me take it home with me.

Mrs Doel is a retired headmistress from Manchester. She has had her Ceramic Cat since she was born.

He came from a woman we called The Old Gypsy Woman. She used to come round the houses holding one of those big old-fashioned washing baskets full of… we’d call it junk these days, I’d expect, but it was her livelihood. I would have thought Kitty was only a few pennies; they probably haggled a bit over it. She told my mother it would bring her good luck.

I was born in 1920 when my father came back from France after the first world war and Kitty was in residence then, so he’s been with me all my life. He’s over 100 years old.

As children we were always taught to be very careful with him. He wasn’t allowed to be played with. I was allowed some time with him only when I was poorly with tonsillitis. I would sleep on the sofa by the fire and he would come and share my bed until I was better. It wasn’t very comfortable but I’d cuddle him and he’d make me feel better.

During the second world war I was evacuated to the Lancashire countryside. Kitty was left at my parents’ house during the war. There was lots of bomb damage around our area, but he survived.

I’d be sad if he broke now; all my life he’s been there. It’d be a bit like chopping your arm off.

Alexia, 26, is an account manager who grew up in London. She has had Greenman since she was five.

My dad bought Greenman for my brother from Padre Island in Texas, but I loved him so much I stole him for myself. I don’t think my brother minded; even if he did he couldn’t take it back from a cute little girl.

About six months ago my parents moved over to Spain so were chucking out all my old stuff. Thankfully they decided to keep Greenman as they knew I loved him. He lives underneath my TV now, so I can keep an eye on him.

We moved to Northumberland when I was about 10, which is when I decided I was a bit old for him. I started getting interested in clothes and makeup and not so much into toys. I was getting to that age when I thought, “I have to be a grown-up now.”

Greenman was so important to me because he was a conquest, I’d stolen him off my brother and he was now mine. He slept in my bed every night after that, I couldn’t go to sleep without a toy in my bed.

I’ve kept him for the memories as he’s a part of my childhood. I think it’s really easy as you get older to forget what it’s like to be a kid.

Rowan is a 23-year-old actor who grew up on the Isle of Wight. She has had Doo-Doo since she was three.

I can’t express the love I have for Doo-Doo, I just can’t. Love is an understatement. I sleep with her under my pillow and I’ll call out to her if I can’t find her in the morning. I may move her to her own suite if I was to settle down. I’d convert a bedside table drawer or something.

I made the pink blanket for her when I was about 10. She started losing her stuffing, but I’ve kept it all as I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. She has a little friend I made for her too, so she doesn’t get lonely.

When I was about five I lost her just before Christmas and I was distraught. We advertised in the local paper and offered a reward but no one came forward. However it turned out Mum and Dad had found her up to a month prior – so in my stocking on Christmas morning I got to the bottom, past the chocolate coins and the tangerine, and there she was! I was reunited with her.

It was such a magical Christmas. I can’t even remember what else I got that year, I was just so happy.

I will always keep her. I couldn’t love her any more if I tried.

Neil, 64, is a retired hotelier who grew up in Yorkshire. He’s had his ceramic clock since he was three years old.

It was a gift from Grandma and Auntie Winnie, I was an only child so they’d sometimes buy me treats. It’s from Brown & Muffs in Bradford and cost seven shillings and sixpence, I remember the price as I saw it on the side of the box when it was given to me. That was quite expensive in those days.

I don’t know why I kept it, I think it’s because I’ve never had anyone to give it to.

When I was about 12 I cut out a picture of some roses and stuck them onto the clock face because I thought Jack and Jill was too childish. I thought the roses were more interior design. Mum wasn’t very pleased about it though, so she took it off when I was at school. We didn’t argue about it as I knew she was right to take them off.

Now it lives in a box under the stairs, I didn’t put it up in my new house as it clashes with the decor. If it was Georgian it might be better. But I didn’t want to part with it completely as it was part of my childhood and it’s the only thing I have left. I would be very upset if it broke, more so then if something expensive broke, because there’s sentimentality there and you can’t put a value on sentimentality, not really.

Amy is a 25 year-old special-needs teaching assistant who grew up in the London borough of Wanstead. She has had Zephir since she was three.

I got Zephir from my brother for my third birthday and named him Zephir after the monkey from Babar. Since that moment he’s always slept in my bed with me. Now he sleeps in bed with me and my fiancé. He comes on holiday everywhere too. It’s a comfort thing, I just need him with me.

I lost him for about two months when I was four. Absolutely distraught, I remember going into Abbey National in Wanstead and shouting, “Zephir! Zephir! It’s Zephir!” and Mum trying to calm me down, but I kept shouting as I could see him in the cashier’s window.

I remember being really frustrated that she wouldn’t listen to me, but eventually we were reunited. There was lots of crying, especially on Mum’s part.

Zephir just means so much to me; he makes me feel safe. If I feel sad, I’ll sit with Zephir on the sofa and watch TV. When my grandma died I gave Zephir to my mum to hold at the funeral.

I will always keep him. I’d like to think I’d hand him down, but I know I won’t. One day I’ll get my kids their own monkeys; I think it’s important everyone has a monkey. You can’t choose a kid’s favourite toy though.

Gillam is a 23 year-old student of Extreme Sports Management who grew up in Southampton. He has had Fonzy since he was six.

I grew up with five sisters so when Mum bought something girly she’d always buy a little something for me too, which is how I got Fonzy.

He’s named after Fonzie from the TV sitcom Happy Days, although I recently looked him up online and found out his real name is Ricky. I’d make him climb things, but he can’t do that anymore as I bit his fingers off.

When I was a kid I just used to chew things. I’d bite my nails, so I’d bite his too because I wanted us to be the same. His right hand is more worn than his left; he literally has no nails left on his right hand. Just stumps.

I would carry him around in my pocket, and he’d come everywhere with me. Literally everywhere, school, days out and family holidays. I had lots of toys but Fonzy was special. I’d play with my Action Men and Power Rangers too but Fonzy would always get involved. I’d make Action Man save him from certain death. I liked him because the little guy was smaller and somehow less imposing than his playmate.

I wouldn’t throw him out. He’s my best mate.

Rushka is 24 and works for a vintage jewellery designer. She grew up in Dorset and has had Grizzly Moore since she was two.

Grizzles was always my favourite. I thought I lost him once, which is why the tag was introduced with my address on the back. I wrote it when I was about 11 and remember thinking, “No one has written as neatly as this in the history of time.”

I used to tie an elastic skipping rope around him and take him bungee jumping out of my bedroom window. I’d throw him onto people’s heads as they walked past in the street. I’d shout, “Bungee!!” and then hide. I got into so much trouble.

When I was a teenager I put a safety pin through his ear; he went through all my phases with me. He had lots of other toys around him, lots of Barbies, and would hang out with the cup cake dolls. I like to think of him as their gay best friend.

Why do I keep him? Look at him. Come on. He’s like the Mona Lisa; from different angles you can see different expressions.

I think we keep toys like this because they’re not only a symbol of our innocence, but also symbolise a time when we had more imagination. You project a proper personality on them and as an adult you can only reflect upon this lost time, you can’t reclaim the imagination you had when you were little, as much as you try.


  • googleplus
  • linkedin
  • rss
  • pinterest