Something about Christmastime always makes me feel super nostalgic, so I’m casting my mind back – way back. Back to a time where in order to write my Christmas wish list I would have had to wait until the ad break of ALF, Gummi Bears or Jem, put down my carton of Strawberry Zap and turned to a new leaf in my Dinky Diary… Here’s what I likely would have been begging Santa for:
1. A Sweet Valley High Board Game
One of my friends at primary school, Melanie, had this board game and although I was much more of a Babysitter’s Club gal, every time I went to her house I wanted to play it. The premise, in hindsight, is actually pretty hideous. You each assume the identity of one of four of the Sweet Valley High characters: Enid, Jessica, Elizabeth or Lila and the goal is to go on a date with your boyfriend. But before you can do that, you must locate said boyfriend, plus find three items that are necessary in order to go on the date, plus her teacher/chaperone, which are all hidden across the board. Melanie, if you somehow still have this, can we please have a rematch?
2. A New Pair of Jellies
They were THE footwear of the summer, so the perfect gift to get at Christmas. This, despite the fact that jelly shoes were made of plastic (yikes, my apologies to the environment) and therefore entirely unbreathable and slippery as hell should you inevitably get sweaty feet or stand in a puddle. But you still felt like Elsa (before there even was an Elsa) wearing them – especially if you managed to get the glitter ones.
3. A Dinky Diary
One of my pride and joys each year was my Dink Diary Organiser. I normally had a blue one, and felt like I was a highflying 45-year-old businesswoman every time I snapped open the magnetic seals that opened into three separate sections – my notes, diary/calendar, and super serious homework file.
The first thing I would do is flip to the sticker section and peeled off the black and red TOP SECRET sticker and put it on the first page of my diary and wrote KEEP OUT, along with all my personal details so someone could get my highly confidential diary back to me quick smart should I ever leave it in the Lloyd Elsmere swimming pool changing rooms.
4. A Fisher Price Little People House
I just hunted this beauty down online and holy heck, I can still hear the ring of the little doorbell, the noise the little garage door made as you opened it up – and the picture of the little girl in pigtails standing at the back screen door, peering in. I spent hours and hours playing with my fold out house, and can still remember opening it on Christmas morning. It was the same year I got a green My Little Pony and I was beside myself.
5. Babysitter’s Club books
Last year I got a little excited when I heard Netflix was launching a new 2020 Babysitter’s Club TV series. I clearly had learned nothing from the events of 2020, because I found the first episode to be one stinking pile of disappointment.
Look, a lot of people have raved about it so I may be in the minority here. Yes, there was SO much they got right, but my brain just could not reconcile the fact that it’s 2020 in their world – complete with smartphones and apps. I want the old school 80s/90s charm of it all!
But I digress. Back in the 80s and 90s one of my go-to books were Ann Martin’s Babysitter’s Club books. Besides being brilliant reads, it’s where I learned what a divorce was, after Stacey’s parents split and she had to choose who to live with. When the first kid in my friend group at primary school announced her parents were divorcing, I immediately knew what this meant and how I could possibly support her, thanks to Stacey and the BSC. It’s also where I learned what diabetes is, and that lox is actually salmon, and apparently a classy, grown-up thing to put on a bagel.
6. A Slap Bracelet
For those of you too young to remember, these little beauties were basically a thin, long, rectangular piece of metal that was covered in fabric. When you slapped it on your wrist – presto – it (sometimes quite violently) wrapped around to form a bracelet.
They were awesome fun, until you hit your wrist wrong, or decided to slap it around your leg or neck – in which case, they were not so fun. I can clearly remember the day at school when they were finally banned and we had to take our bracelets off and keep them in our bags for eternity. I didn’t really know what the deal was back then, but a quick Google informs me things went south when a young girl in the States was injured when a corner of metal worked free from the fabric and cut her finger. Thinking about the major veins we were all slapping our bracelets on (yes, apparently I wasn’t the only one also putting it near my neck!), they were pretty much banned universally in an instant.
7. A Teddy Ruxpin
Now, I never had one of these toys, but I certainly remember all the ads for them – and the cartoon that followed. Teddy Ruxpin was an animatronic toy, that could talk, move its eyes and mouth and tell stories, which pretty much seemed like witchcraft in the 80s. Something about Teddy Ruxpin seemed slightly terrifying to me – I remember waiting until my friend was asleep to sneak him out of her room and leave him in the hallway so I could go to sleep.
8. A Spirograph
“Sparkle, sparkle, Spirograph, make designs that really last!” Look, I no longer have any idea what this jingle means, but my god, it’s burrowed deep down inside my brain. I do remember playing with one of these though – essentially you used a ring, the Spirograph putty to hold it in place, then spun the precision wheel around to make an intricate spiral design. And voila – you had a futuristic design to impress your grandparents with.
9. A Sweet Secrets Locket Bye baby
I’m preeeeetty sure I had one of these, because these pictures immediately filled me with nostalgia. These super odd toys were lockets with a distinctive gem in the centre, that transformed into dolls, babies or animals. They went totally gangbusters in the 80s and ended up being huge elaborate play-sets, but their origins were these (slightly creepy) little lockets.
10. A Polly Pocket
Is it even possible to read those words without immediately getting the Polly Pockets jingle in your head? Just me?
Polly Pockets were teeny tiny dolls who lived in teeny tiny pastel-coloured cases that opened up like a little portal into a whole teeny tiny world – which, could fit into your pocket. Polly has stuck around and gone through many changes over the years – including a cartoon – especially since Mattel brought the company off Bluebird Toys. According to eBay, if you do happen to still have your old Polly Pockets, pre Mattel, they’re actually worth a bit of coin now (if they’re in reasonably good condition!).
11. A Glo Worm
For years, I would not go to sleep unless I had my little buddy, Glo Worm, tucked up in bed with me. These super cute toys came out in 1982 and were, quite strangely, a little glowworm tucked up in pyjamas (and an old school Scrooge-like pyjama hat). His body contained a couple of batteries, so when you squeezed it, his little face lit up.
12. Tomy Waterful Ring Toss
This game first came out in the mid-1970s, but was still massive during the 80s. I remember there being one in the waiting room at the doctors, and it was never enough time to get in a full game. You pushed the little while button to push the little rings up through the water onto the pegs – it required a lot of skill to land the rings, and keep them there, because if you pushed on that button too hard, they’d blow straight off again.
13. A Christmas Stocking
I can still taste those raspberry Sparkles – those little square gems individually wrapped in plastic – which if I was lucky, an aunt might put in a stocking, perhaps along with an Animal Bar, or a candy watch or necklace, which would gone by lunchtime. Once, I even got a slinky in mine (it was rainbow coloured) and another time I got a little bottle of pink Jellybeans shower gel.
14. A Cabbage Patch Kid
It wouldn’t be an 80s list if I didn’t get the Cabbage Patch Kids on here – they were one of the biggest toy crazes of the decade, if not, of all time.
Essentially, they were soft, sculpted dolls that you ‘adopted’ with a full certificate and all, and the kicker was – every single one of them was ever so slightly different. Genius.
I’m not sure why, but I never asked Santa for one of these dolls, but my goodness, I can see the appeal.
Unfortunately I’ve since discovered some less fun news about the whole enterprise. Last night I watched The Founder for the first time, so am already feeling pretty cranky about people coming in and stealing other people’s ideas (The Founder is based on the early days of McDonalds and does not paint a pretty picture).
So, it’s alleged that an early version of these dolls were actually the brain child of a quiet woman named Martha Nelson Thomas who developed soft dolls in the 1970s – complete with adoption papers and each being quite unique. Well, enter Xavier Roberts, who apparently came across her dolls at a fair, adapted them as his own and launched them into a US$2 billion franchise. I no longer feel so cuddly about the dolls.
15. A Pound Puppy
Speaking of adoption, one of the cutest gifts you could hope to find under the tree was one of these little guys – the Pound Puppies. Eerily similar to Cabbage Patch Dolls, these little pups came to you with a Certificate of Adoption and a personalised name tag. If your parents wouldn’t let you get a puppy, these were sure as heck the next best thing. While they were massive in the 80s and 90s, they faded away like most of the treasured toys of our childhood, but in some good news for 2020, this year Pound Puppies have resumed production and are now available in the States.
BONUS: Honourable Mentions
Okay, okay, I know I’ve left out a ZILLION toys. There was my much-loved Rainbow Brite doll, my Care Bear (I am pretty sure I had the purple Share Bear with the lollipops on his stomach, and I remember reading the story book with the Grumpy bear with the cloud on his stomach every night for years), Strawberry Shortcake, a Viewmaster, Micro machines (remember the ads, with the guy who had the Guinesss World Record for being able to talk the fastest??) , Elastics, Barbie, Sylvanian Families, and approximately 5,000 other toys that defined our childhood.
If you have any pics/stories you’d like to share – send ’em over to me at [email protected]