During a recent family lunch party the subject of childhood teddy bears and favourite soft toys popped into the conversation. Nearly everyone around the table had a story of a much-loved and still cherished companion of old. So much so that two of the story-tellers (age 50 plus) had a tear in their eye when recalling their cuddly childhood friends.
The detailed recall and power of these early companions in our lives demonstrates their importance in our early development. So poignant were the stories that it occurred to me that if a random gathering of family could evoke such emotions then there must be thousands of similar recollections out there.
Although there is an American website that gathers similar data there seems to be no UK equivalent so I plan to ask my friends, fellow writers and blog followers to contact me with any stories of their own about their first inanimate friends. Do they still own them, secreted in some attic or have they become separated by some stroke of misfortune or neglect? Many soft toys are passed down the generations, many have a special provenance with stories attached. For example my children inherited from friends of their grandparents two very worn mother and baby polar bears. They are called Brumus and Ivy and are made out of white mohair; they were created in 1949 to celebrate the first polar bear born in captivity at London Zoo. These child-scarred polar bears (the mother has only one eye) still sit propped up on their beds whenever they come home to stay. So popular were the pair that this set of grandparents were for ever known as Granny and Grandpa Polo.
Here is my story
When I was about five or six years of age I had to go into hospital to have my tonsils and adenoids removed, a common practice in the 1950s. To make this ordeal more bearable my parents bought me a new large fluffy teddy bear; incidentally, as part of the deal I also insisted that after my stay in hospital I be brought home in one of the old and large Daimler ambulances. Although the operation was not serious I had to undergo a full anesthetic and I can still recall the green gowns of the surgeon and some of the green metal apparatus before the mask went over my face and then black. I was also peeved by having to be in a child’s cot and not a bed like at home. I think it was the only one in the ward, the other children had beds. The new teddy bear went into the hospital with me but after the operation when I came around it was nowhere to be seen. I thought that maybe it had fallen through the bars of the cot or a nurse had removed it while I was recovering immediately after the operation.
I must have been in the hospital for four or five days. My father came to visit me on the second evening after the operation. By this time I was able to stand up in my cot. However, back in the early 1950s hospital visiting times were strictly limited. Now my father was famous for being late for everything, so much so that when a friend had drawn a caricature of him the caption was, ‘Sorry I am late.’ And so on this occasion he was true to form and arrived too late for visiting time and was barred by the ward sister who stood in the doorway with her hand across the door jamb to prevent him entering. I was watching all this from my cot at the end of the ward, I was all charged up to ask him to rescue my lost teddy bear that I thought must be on the floor. The sister defended her ward stalwartly and was taking no-nonsense from my father who was no doubt deploying his salesman skills and natural charm to maximum effect. He didn’t win. My only consolation from the nurse was being allowed to stand at the window and see my father walk away on some covered walkways on the floor below. He never knew I was watching.
On arrival at home my mother did her best to recover the lost and expensive teddy bear by phoning the hospital but to no avail. My teddy was never recovered and I didn’t come home in a posh Daimler ambulance either but in some sort of bus which was a humiliating conclusion to the whole episode. The fact that I can remember this so vividly after 50 or more years is testament to its power. I am still not certain which was the greater disappointment the lost teddy bear or the missed ambulance ride.
Please contact me by email at email@example.com or leave your story on the Comment section of this blog. I plan to feature the best ones on this blog.