• The Warrior Toy Museum and Collector's Shop is based in Simon's Town.
• Percy Van Zyl opened the store almost forty years ago.
• 'Uncle Percy' sells a vast collection of model cars.
• For more motoring stories, go to Wheels24.
A couple of months back, Wheels24 ran a story about the Warrior Toy Museum and Collector's Shop in Simon's Town, a special little place for so many reasons.
I've always liked to help others, anyway I can, even if they never made it quite obvious that they were in some kind of need. My husband probably thinks I am too nice for my own good sometimes. But, I can't count how many times we had picked him up from the train station in the evening from work, and we'd be helping out strangers, driving them home – as far as Stellenbosch when I had supper half-cooked on the stove. He'd sheepishly come to the car with someone in tow and say, "Baby, would you mind if we could help this Uncle (or Aunt) and give them a lift home?" This was long before the pandemic hit and halted the service of public trains. So we're both similar in that regard.
READ | A little piece of car-heaven tucked away in Simon's Town
But I digress.
As journalists, helping others comes easy as we get to tell stories and be the voices of those who can't always be heard. Whether it's to share a 'feel good' piece or tell of someone's achievements, or speak the truth about something terrible. Or to remind others of the struggles people face, unbeknown to them right next door.
I always wanted to share something about Uncle Percy Van Zyl, the man with the little toy shop and museum in Simon's Town, so I finally got to it.
Uncle Percy doesn't know me personally; he probably can't remember all the times we've been to visit his shop and bought countless cars for our model car collection. He wasn't even aware of the story I had written. But he is such a special man, with an incredibly unique little place. I knew of his struggles, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, to open those doors every day and hardly have anyone come through. So, I wanted to tell others about the Warrior Toy Museum and collector's shop, in the hopes they would take a drive to the historic little town and buy some cars and support him.
A month after that little story was published, we went again. I told him I had written about his shop. I only successfully sent a copy to him two months after it was published, when we had revisited it after that.
My Dad had never been, and it was the perfect opportunity to take the Mercedes-Benz V 300d out for a drive with my parents and 83-year-old aunt. With the petrol in my veins stemming from my father, I had to take him there and show him all Uncle Percy's Ford models because he is a long-standing fan of the Blue Oval brand, and I know Uncle Percy has some absolute classics. It's places like these that link my heritage for a love of cars to my Dad.
On this day, Uncle Percy was extra chirpy – quite unlike his usual quiet self. I had called him early on Saturday morning and asked what time he would close: "I'd like to bring my Dad around", I had told him.
"Around 16:00," he said.
Uncle Percy was in good spirits, a bit grumpy at first, and he told me why, but that's our little secret. But then we started chatting, and I ask about his health. He is getting on in his years, and he says it's beginning to show. But then, all of a sudden, his eyes twinkle, and he gets a spring in his step as he says: "Come with me, I want to show you something."
He leads me to a shelf he had cleaned up and repacked, showing me some new items he had added to his store - a unique new train his friend had seen on a British television show and two older trucks, the latter worth about R3000 each.
Of course, we can't leave there without my husband buying something, even when we say we're just going to window-shop on this visit.
As I stood and started to greet him, Uncle Percy picked up this little car behind the counter and said: "I don't know if you'll like this, but it's for you. Thank you for the beautiful story you wrote about my shop. You won't believe how many people came and told me about it, how many people you sent through these doors."
At that moment, I wanted to burst into tears. I thought I heard incorrectly and said: "Please keep it for me, Uncle Percy. I'll come back to get it when I have some more cash."
"No, no, it's a gift for you; I want you to have it," he said.
My entire existence felt like it was validated in that brief little moment. All the hard work, the struggles, and imposter syndrome that often gave me sleepless nights in my new role. The perseverance.
It's a Bull-Nose Morris Van, but not just any. It's the Lady of the Century, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. This little model was built by Lledo PLC, Britain's leading die-cast manufacturer, "as a valuable and lasting tribute to the Queen Mother and her selfless years of service to Great Britain," it says on the back of the little maroon box.
I fought hard to keep those tears back. Uncle Percy will never know what this gesture meant to me - what it will always mean to me. Especially when - unbeknown to him – I was going through my darkest days as I was facing one of the most difficult challenges on hand.
But at that moment, I was reminded why we do what we do, telling stories, telling truths to enrich others' lives.
Uncle Percy is 89 years of age; I always pray he'll be around for quite some time, running his shop. He has gifted me with such a priceless token of appreciation that will remind me always to stay humble. To keep my light burning, even in the dark. To keep telling our truths, even in a little story about toy cars. I will cherish this little Morris for all of my days.