Monday, 11 February 2013

A faithful friend in a red jumper

May I direct you to this delightful (and in one or two instances heartbreaking) BBC online magazine article about teddy bears that various men and women have owned and still cherish, whether long lost, or still in their proud possession: see I really can relate to this.

I don't think I come across as particularly soft-hearted, but I assure you that I am one of the most sentimental people you can find, easily moved to tears whenever childhood matters are mentioned. And especially so if the topic under discussion is one of those faithful furry toy persons whom one has loved and confided in.

Is this evidence of a weak mind and misdirected emotion? Shouldn’t one be hard, and cast aside such things as belonging to an era long outgrown, and give all one's consideration to real people instead? I think not. I think that any love and regard you can give to a special toy is evidence of redeeming qualities of tenderness and gentleness. So I'm relieved that I still love my teddy bear. It means that I haven't been completely corrupted or embittered. And I feel a bond with everyone else who feels the same.

For these little persons made of fabric are much like us. They grow old as we grow old, and become fragile and vulnerable just like us, and need to be handled with care. And that care, that concern, is something that needs to be practiced and developed lifelong. It is all too easy to become selfish and crabby as you grow older. 

So I say that if you have room in your heart to cuddle a teddy bear at the age of sixty, if this toy friend - above all things - is the item you would grab first as you fled the burning house, then there is hope that you will also have the capacity to be just as kind to others. The love you give to your bear trains you to love and respect real people. If we could all do that, what a better world this would be. I would go so far as to suggest that, if you delve into it, you might just find that every ruthless tough guy and spiteful old dame once had the dreadful experience of having their best-loved toy snatched from them, and cruelly destroyed by a grim or mocking parent.

Do you recall the Orson Welles film, Citizen Kane? And how the dying Kane, extraordinarily rich, but old and alone and unliked, enigmatically says ‘Rosebud’? The film has acquired its own mythology, and there have been several theories about what that word was referring to. But I like the one suggested in the closing sequence, when, after his death, when unwanted things are being burned, someone throws a child’s sled onto the fire, a sled that has ‘Rosebud’ and two little flowers painted on it, a relic of the only time Kane was happy and innocent. There is something of that about all treasured childhood toys. Different people have different preferences. Sleds wouldn't be mine. But a cuddly friend would be.

For me, my own teddy bear is a proper person, and really the only substantial link left with my childhood. Like me, he is a survivor of every trauma and upset and disaster that has occurred. We share so much, he and I, and will no doubt share more. I do hope that if ever I am dragged off to hospital to die, that Teddy Tinkoes won’t be left to fret about me alone, and that someone will make sure that he lives on in a loving home after I'm gone. 

Here he is, back in 1981: 

And here's my favourite shot of him, on Christmas Day 2000:

And this is him in 2012. He's getting older. The sheepdog above him, who answers to the name of Fang, is a much more recent acquisition. (Fang guards my caravan)

And finally a shot of Ted this year, in 2013. (He will be sixty himself in July)

As you can see he's looked pretty threadbare and battered for most of his life. Mum gave him the green eyes and black leather-patch nose, darned his paws and the the soles of his feet, and attended to all the needlework needed to stop him falling apart. She also made the blue pants, with an elasticated waist (just like I need to wear nowadays) and the knitted red jumper and matching scarf.

If you thought that jumper and scarf look a bit footballish, you'd be right. In the mid-1970s, when living in Southampton, I had a set of friends who supported the local team (who then played at The Dell, and not the modern stadium at St Mary's). I had not hitherto been interested in football, but for a brief period my friends' enthusiasm swept me up. In May 1976 Southampton made it to the final of the FA Cup, and actually beat Manchester United by an odd goal at the end of the game, kicked in by a youngster called Bobby Stokes. See The entire city went wild with joy. I got caught up in it all, including the Saints' triumphal bus tour of the city. Here are two photos I took of that, as they passed through Portswood: 

Stirring stuff. We adjourned to the Civic Centre and joined a 60,000-strong crowd there, all waiting for some speech that I've forgotten about now.  

The euphoria lasted a long time. And while it was strong, I asked Mum to knit that jumper and scarf for Ted, based on the colours in this contemporary March 1977 shot:

Southampton were now in the quarter final of the European Cup, playing a vital return match against Anderlecht at The Dell, and I had a ticket to attend with my friends. I hadn't been to a real live football match since 1960 or so, when I went to Swansea (or was it Cardiff?) with a local father and son to see a game in the cold and rain. I hadn't wanted to go, and the experience had put me off bigtime. In March 1977, now much older of course, I was happy to try the atmosphere of a football match again. But it was a needle match with several players' errors and what seemed to be a very biased German referee. Anderlecht won. The home crowd was in turn cup-hungry, hopeful, angry (shouts of 'sieg heil' were hurled at the ref), dejected, and then ominously moody as it spilled into Archer's Road after it was all over. My tummy was upset from eating a burger I'd bought at the ground, I was fearful at the state of the toilets, I was disturbed by the shouting and pushing near where we had stood, and very much inclined to escape before any trouble began. 

That was the end my brief interest in football. I have never wanted to go to another match again. But Ted retained his smart new clothes, partly because Mum had made them so well, and partly because they were so bright and cheerful. And he wears them to this day. I don't think he'll ever have a different outfit now.

Ted has seen me through many events. He was the person who consoled me when my marriage failed. And I don't think I could have survived the slow crash of my relationship with M--- without him, nor indeed the many low moments of my transition. He is the person left in charge when I am away from home, and when I come in I always say 'Hello, Ted!' So it is when I wake up: 'Good morning, Ted!', and when I go to bed: 'Goodnight, Ted!', always with a fond touch of his head.  

He is continuity, a reassurance, and an utterly dependable friend in a life that has sent many moments of worry and fear and sorrow. And he is my companion and mentor in the silent hours when I simply don't know what to do for the best. 

1 comment:

  1. The memories these toys bring to mind may be a good thing, something on which to reminisce but they are only material things. No pun intended. As I sit here responding to your post there is a picture hanging on the wall of my two children when they were around six and three years old respectively. They are sitting very close to each other, the youngest leaning on his brother's body and each of them are holding what was at that time their favourite doll. The eldest is holding a 'Humpty Dumpty' and the youngest a dog. They held on to these things until they had grown out of having them but I think we still have them somewhere in the house. When I look at the picture all I really see are my two little boys and remember the days when they were at that age and I get a lump in my throat as they say and tears fill my eyes. The toys mean nothing to me and nothing to the boys save to remember when they had them. I suppose that if one was an only child or if one had a rough childhood these toys/dolls would be treated as very close companions, a sort of security blanket if you will which became almost a real living companion. On the other hand I suppose they could serve to remind someone of happier days. Many folk take hundreds of photographs throughout their lives and spend hours browsing through them in later life perhaps yearning for those times again. I let my memory take care of such things for inside my head are stored millions of things from my past, some good and some bad. People don't take photos of bad things by and large. Remember this though, all these things are just material and if we didn't have them we'd still be able to remember. Having them alongside may be of some comfort but unfortunately they cannot help us make decisions when we are unsure what to do for the best.

    Shirley Anne x


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