Sunday, 28 June 2009


Critters seem to be around just now, beginning with bears. Elder son and his sunshiney girlfriend recently went to her graduation ball. They really know how to celebrate at Birmingham Uni - band, dancing, and a fairground, where they played on the dodgems and my son had a go on a sort of coconut shy and won her a bear.

I have seen the bear on a photo and he really is a sweetie. He was the bear who, unlike the other bears on the stall, wasn't holding anything, just had empty arms for hugging, and the sunshine lady loves him. (How could she not?) So Hamilton's underground railway has spread southwards, and he must have nominated the sunshine lady as his regional bear keeper.

Critter the second is the garden gnome. I went down to pull out the weeds and the things that aren't weeds but are getting too big for their roots, and found him at last, submerged amongst the ferns and trailing things. The snail probably hasn't noticed, but the gnome may have something to say.

Critter the third is a small toad or frog (couldn't get close enough to see) which hopped across the back garden while we were having dinner. If it hadn't moved I wouldn't have known it was there, as it had passed all its exams in How to Look Like a Bit of Soil. I'm going to put a bowl of water outside. As younger son pointed out, there's a river at the bottom of the garden, but I'm not sure how long it would take a thirsty froad to find it.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

home from home

We all need a home from home. For roughly a decade of my life, mine was a cosy, sunny, happy house in Surrey.

My friend Claire and I met when we were ten years old and our families were on holiday at the same place. It took us about twenty minutes to become best friends for life. As we lived at opposite ends of the country, we had to set to work on the parents to make sure that we got together, either at my home or at hers, as often as possible, and Claire's house became my second home. As far as I was concerned, if ever I ended up with a critical shortage of parents, I'd just go to Claire's and they'd adopt me. (They weren't consulted. I knew it would be OK.)

Yesterday I sat in a beautiful, light, sunny church as we said our final farewells to Claire's father, Yorkshireman, lawyer, deacon, and quiet hero. I learned a lot about him that I hadn't known, especially about his work with people in need and distress. In my earlier years, it was enough to know that he and Claire's mum made a home where I always felt welcome, happy, secure, cared for - one of the family, in fact. What they gave me is immeasurable.

Yesterday, I told Claire's mum that I'd intended them to adopt me. A few minutes later, holding my hand, she introduced me to someone as 'my adopted daughter', and my heart turned over. I feel so privileged. Thank you.

At some point, I introduced myself to someone as Claire's long term partner in crime. Her second son, my godson, announced dramatically, 'so many years - so many crimes!'

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

the railway

You've probably worked it out. Hamilton is sending the message out amongst the teddy bear network. 'If you don't like where you are, if they neglect you, if you're on a shelf where you're not happy, if you're having a hard time, make your way to this house. If you can't get to the house, just find any member of the family. If you can't find family, find a close friend, they'll bring you to Margi. You'll be all right here.'

So that's it. Hamilton runs an underground railway for bears in need of a refuge. Oh, and elephants, and of course we seem to have a lot of Mistmantle animals and a patchwork giraffe (thank you, Katie.) We adopted the orphaned cuddlies when my aunt and uncle died. We couldn't just leave them, could we? We've been trained by amilton.

I didn't understand exactly how Hamilton got the word out, until my friend Judith asked me if any of my bears used bearepathy, because hers do. Of course. Why hadn't I worked that one out? Bears and spaniels have always communicated without words.

PS Bears are easier and don't need the vet

Thursday, 11 June 2009

hamilton's friends

When Hamilton had been with us for a year, I felt he needed a little friend/teddy bear of his own, so I bought a very small bear with a crocheted hat and sweater from a charity shop. We called him Little, because he is. We soon found out that Little wasn't content to sit on a chair with Hamilton. We found him on the tops of bookshelves, climbing up furniture, and exploring the television, but Hamilton was fine with that. The next year, daughter bought Cuddles, who isn't exactly a bear, more of a critter. And magnetic.

After that, they all just kept arriving. Flora turned up one Mothering Sunday. Funt - an elephant - was something to do with a promotion at Boots. Shamble Claret arrived attached to a bottle of wine, and Bobby (named after Bobby Robson) simply held out his arms to daughter from a shelf and couldn't be resisted. Snoopy had been around for a while, but re-appeared, and I can't remember where Rowlf came from.

Somebody once asked my husband if we collected them, and he replied, 'They collect each other.' That started me thinking, and when I worked out what was happening and talked to Hamilton, he said he'd thought I'd always known.

What was the secret? Keep reading.

Monday, 8 June 2009


Hamilton arrived long after our bear family had been established and looked ready to stay the same. But, in autumn, rows and rows of fluffy white teddy bears appeared in our local supermarket. They were adorable, with sweet feet. Every week, I thought how lovely they were, and every week I resolutely walked past them, because, though money wasn't as tight as it had been, a new bear was a treat too far.

That was until the week after Christmas. The remaining bears were all very special bears because they were all on special offer. How could I resist? But no two bears are truly identical, not in personality. The bear for me was half hidden behind the coffee jars, waiting for me and not letting anyone else pick him up. We bought him, carried him home in triumph, hugged him a lot, and named him Hamilton, which was something to do with a serial I'd just had published.

That night, as we wondered whose bedroom Hamilton would end up in, he sat on the floor and explained that he didn't want to be an upstairs bear. He was a downstairs bear, and wanted to be at the heart of the family. He was so sure of it that even though I had misgivings I let him stay in an armchair all night.

Hamilton was right. He belongs at the heart of the family and in the middle of what's going on. He has sweet feet, attitude, and opinions and looks after us all, and we believe he flies around the room when nobody's watching. From the first, we knew Hamilton was remarkable, but we didn't know the half of it. More to come.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

the oldest bear

I can't remember the oldest bear when he had fur. He was my companion in my cradle, and I'd hugged all his fur off before I can remember. Only a few soft golden tufts behind his ears tell me what he must have looked like once. I carried out surgery on his arm after I had to rescue him from the spaniel puppy, and over the years I have replaced all his paws as they wore down He has had two growls, and is presently silent, but I think he might like a new one now. He has witnessed every triumph and disaster, every embarrassing adolescent moment, every meltdown, every heartbreak, every mistake, and every joy with reliable love. Never once has he judged or blamed me. When I have neglected him, he has patiently waited until I regained my sense of priorities. I seem to remember he was once married to a doll, but I forget which one.

In earlier years he shared guardianship of me with Bunjy, a pink rabbit with a white tail. Bunjy seems to have lost weight and faded over the years and has now retired to a drawer, only emerging on important occasions. When the children were younger, there were a few - thankfully few - really rotten days, you know the sort of thing? When a thoroughly miserable child went to bed, it was a case of 'tonight, I think you need Mummy's rabbit', and Bunjy would see them through the night.

Other bers have names. The oldest bear is just Teddy. Always was.

When did I last take him to bed? I don't quite remember. About Thursday, I think.