We were connoisseur collectors of quality cuddly toys. Not just any old toy for little children, but the very best and most expensive ones, the ones that looked most realistic – that would be our criterion when we saw one in a shop, how realistic it was. I considered them animal sculpture in the medium of fabric.
There are vast numbers upstairs, it’s really our main collection. Beautiful dogs which used to sit downstairs in a cabinet, fantastic big cats, ie lions, tigers, panthers etc. Then all sorts of monkeys, loads of rabbits, turtles and tortoises (of different sizes so they can sit in a tower), and a whole load of obscure things like beaver, otter, mole, badger, armadillo, bilby, ferret, meerkat, anteater. Whenever we saw an unusual animal we didn’t have already it was a ‘must have’. If I came back with something new you never disapproved, you were always indulgent, although I admit sometimes the cuddly toy buying would get out of hand.
There are various wonderful birds as well, a beautiful big vulture (from a birds of prey place on the M3 or M4 – I always regretted that we didn’t buy two, as it would have been more spectacular and funny to have two cuddly vultures perched in the house as a talking point), eagles, owls, flamingo, parrot, and we had the whole set of RSPB birds that you squeeze to get the sound they make. When we went to New York we bought the US versions as well from a famous toy shop near central park. The sad thing about those is that the sound things gradually stop working, so they are all slowly going silent.
The collection was really started with some key teddy bears which we bought in the early days of our relationship, I guess when we were feeling most ‘lovey dovey’ and it was somehow all about buying each other cute little presents.
There were four beautiful brightly coloured teddies which were sort of the kings and queens of the collection, like the four children in the Narnia books!
They were red (Robin), yellow (Buttercup), mauve (Maurice) and green (Betty).
Even when they’d been packed away we would sometimes test ourselves, as to whether we still remembered those four teddy bears’ names.
I can’t think of that many other names now, John. There was Ouzo, a lovely bear from one of our Greek Island holidays. And Tinkle, a pretty white one which made a sound.
One of your favourite of all the toys was the very realistic red panda, and you called him Gizmo. There was also Burley, the big brown teddy bear, which you really liked, and who will always remind me dreadfully of you.
Our most favourite and significant toy was a little dog from Greece called Souvlaki – he’s with you now, darling, I gave him to you in your coffin.
There was one particular teddy we must have somehow missed buying because we were always looking for it in charity shops – or maybe it was one that we had and lost somehow. There were two similar ones, they were ‘Chad Valley’ make, I remember trying to trace the missing one – one was spotty and one was stripey. I know in the loft in the moment I have two Stripeys, so it is Spotty that is the one we somehow lost or didn’t have.
It was like a big (well little really, but significant to our shared history) issue for us, something that was always missing and which we wanted to find.
I’ve been in a couple of charity shops recently, and now I dread that I will see a ‘Spotty’ one day, ie too late. I hope I never do or it will just be too sad that I found him after you died, and you weren’t there to share the occasion with me.
I know that in your childhood, John, you had a toy called Pandy, and you lost him (her?) at some point and were always sad about it, in fact it because a sort of symbolic thing, like the horror of having lost Pandy was something absolutely dreadful – a child’s cherished cuddly toy, gone forever.
One of the things I’ve found in your handwriting, my darling, is a sort of poem which includes the words ‘I love you more than Pandy’. But it actually looks so old and I’ve never seen it before, so I wondered even if it was about me. It may have been written with someone else in mind, someone you knew before me.
If I was sure it was about me, I would copy it and blow it up and frame it. Because I know what ‘I love you more than Pandy’ must have meant to you.
Another cuddly toy memory is within the last year or so, I had cleared out a few things and taken them to a charity shop – with your approval – and one of them was an old, very manky looking toy dog which I suppose I had judged not good enough for our collection.
Then after I had taken it, you said something like, ‘You don’t realise how many pork pies I had to eat to get that dog’, and this whole story came out about how it had some significance to you, and you had once collected tokens to get it.
I was furious that you hadn’t said about this before, but you continued to assure me that you were happy to have parted with the thing. But it made me feel bad so I went back to the charity shop and asked whether they still had it – begged for information, in fact. But it was too late, it had gone.
Unbelievable for either of us to have got so upset over a lost cuddly toy, when what I have now lost is so, so, so much more significant and horrific.
I wish I could have given you back Pandy, my darling.