I'm not feeling very well just now. A cold came on three days ago, and I've reached the worst stage, where the runny nose and sneezing has gone, but I'm constantly coughing. Actually it's getting easier by the hour, but it'll be Tuesday before I am ready to do very much again. That's OK: having a cold is a grand excuse for being lazy and cosseting oneself, activities at which I excel. And on Wednesday, I can go out bear-hunting in earnest.
No, not with a gun! On Tuesday (that is, the 16th September) my great-niece Matilda is one year old. No doubt she is quite unaware of that, and oblivious to any birthday cards that may come for her, and she will be puzzled about any departure from her routine, such as a little birthday celebration - although she might quickly understand that she is the centre of attention! And don't children - well, many of them - love to be the centre of attention?
When I was aged one (an occasion I have no memory of) I was given a toy bear, whom I named Teddy Tinkoes. He is still with me, sixty-one years later. Ted is the man of the house. You have met him before in these annals. Here is my oldest decent picture of him, taken in 1981, in the kitchen of my flat in London. We had already known each other for twenty-eight years:
And here he is, dwarfed by my bed, as I left him when departing for my Welsh Tour in May this year:
I assure you, he hasn't changed at all in decades. He became threadbare and loose-limbed in the first two or three years of his life. He was a toy I played with very, very much, just as a solitary child well might. Mum knew I loved him, and sewed him up, and gave him a new nose and new eyes, and darned his paws. But by the time I went into hospital at age seven, he was a battered, much-repaired, but dearly-loved and cherished friend that henceforth was to suffer only gentle cuddling and extreme tenderness.
Fast-forward to now. He is still the one I love. Really, there is hardly room for anyone else. He gets a big hug when I go on holiday, and a big hug when I come back safely; and, if I am at home, a fond pat on the head every single night. I couldn't possibly go to bed without saying 'Goodnight, Ted!' Anyone who is inclined to scoff at this must understand that they will be persona non grata if I catch them doing it, and I will expunge and revile them forthwith. I mean it. They will have revealed themselves as not my kind of person.
I have always regarded Ted as my most understanding, most faithful, and truest companion. A little personality who never has, and never will, let me down. And believe me, I have known some awful moments when I badly needed such a staunch friend to cling to, when nobody else would do. Ted has helped me survive many low points in my life; and no doubt I will call on him again to get me through, say, some dire illness or misfortune that is bound to hit me in the years ahead.
This is all quite apart from his being the main tangible link between the present me and the child who was. Even now, I have hardly begun to investigate my lost childhood. I remember unusually little about it. I want to see what can be recovered. Ted will assist when I am ready to delve deeper.
Meanwhile he guards the house and welcomes me home. He seems to be pretty good at this. And he's not possessive. He doesn't mind sharing the sofa with Fang the collie dog (whose normal domain is the caravan) but I'm careful about placing Ted and Rosie in the same room. I suspect that Ted doesn't quite trust Rosie yet. You have to give these things time. (A bear and a cat are not a natural mix)
All the above should convince you that my teddy bear is a big thing in my life. I want to give Matilda the same chance of forming a lifelong bond with a little friend of her very own. It may not work, of course. She may not like bears, or at least the one I select for her. But let's give it a go. I am going up to London to see her, and her parents (my nephew and his wife), on Saturday the 20th. That's when the 'introduction' will be made. And then we shall see.
So what will this bear-hunt entail?
First, the shop. I shall look in all the obvious toy shops, although somehow the notion of buying a Special Friend for a Special Little Girl from a Toys R Us warehouse seems wrong, wrong, wrong. I've identified three specialist shops in Sussex that sell bears - at Arundel, Lewes and Rye. And I know of one in Ryde, on the Isle of Wight. You can see that I'm willing to traipse all over the place to get exactly what I want!
The bear itself needn't be very big. Teddy Tinkoes is about 40cm (say 16 inches) tall. The one I get for Matilda could be a little shorter. But I will consider Ted to be roughly the target size. The bear must be soft and cuddly, but not floppy. Its limbs and head must move as a human's would. (I mean a human who can't bend their elbows and knees, but can still move their entire arms and legs back and forth). At least when new and stiff, this bear must be able to stand up and adopt any gesture or stance. I won't buy a bear that is stuck in one position. Colour? Any kind of brown from gold to light chocolate, but a lighter shade will make the nose and mouth and eyes easier to see. Clothing is not an issue: a neck-ribbon will be sufficient. (I can make a nicer one if the original isn't good enough)
The really important thing will be the face. This bear must be lovable, and exude friendliness and good cheer. Quite a lot of posh bears look rather cross and sulky to me. That's no good. I don't want a bear with psychological problems. I want a merry bear with a smile and a twinkling eye, a bear that will comfort and console a little girl when she's perplexed and sad and woeful. A bear that will whistle away any fears, tribulations, and bad dreams she may have; and protect and reassure her in the dark. A bear that will laugh heartily in happy times, and be a big part of Matilda's make-believe world - jungle adventures as well as tea parties - and, later on, an encouraging screen-side companion when she is learning. A lot rides on this bear!
What a challenge. I can't wait to get better and start hunting.