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Listening to Stories

outdoor playVolunteering at the museum I frequently met new people and listened to their stories, but one gentleman in particular stands out. He brought the ‘Toys Through Time’ exhibition to life through his own experiences and memories. We walked through the whole gallery together and he told me about the toys he recognised and what he remembered of them in his own childhood or, as the exhibition went on, in that of his children’s. His name was Paul and while I never asked his age, he had been happily retired for several years.

One of the first doll’s he remembered was given to him and his sister by their grandmother. He was always warned to be very careful with it as it was a traditional porcelain figure. He said this doll stood for years on the top of their wardrobe and was not to be touched. I’m not sure how much he personally liked the doll but it reminded him of an old expression they used to say at the dinner table. When they had finished their dinner they would often say that they were “full up to dolly’s wax”- the wax used at the point where the neck joined to the body. While now we would say something like “I’m full to the brim”, it was funny to see how such expressions have changed with the trends of the time.

monopolyAnother toy he remembered fondly, like I’m sure many of us would, was the Monopoly set. Interestingly, he learnt about the city of London through this game and many years later, when he had the chance to visit, made it part of his plan to visit all the places he recalled from the board. He only failed to make it to one of the tube stations.

From his children’s childhood he looked towards the old soap box cart which was suspended from the ceiling. Every year he and his son used to build a car for the race, most years they painted the car a royal blue colour but he admitted, they never really came close to winning the race.

I really enjoyed walking around the exhibition with Paul as most of the toys brought up a little anecdote or story. It was lovely because these toys often had a generational character or meaning, like the toy passed down from their grandmother, or even the act of soap box racing which isn’t as popular any more. As much as they were individual stories, many other people had similar memories. These toys showed a commonality between different families and provided a sense of sentimentality for the visitors to the museum.

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