I collect teddy bears. I have always had a soft spot for cuddly toys and this developed into a collection when my husband bought me a small bear, who I named Edward Gainsborough, a year or so after we got married. This delightful little companion joined my childhood bear, a few family bears that I rescued from a dusty, lonely life spent in my parent’s attic, and a number of cheaper, plush bears that I had picked up in my travels through life over the preceding years.
Before our children were born, in the days when tax rules did not make having a company car with fuel included a prohibitively expensive perk, my husband and I used to drive around Cotswold villages on free weekends visiting specialist teddy bear shops. Here I would find adorable bears who were eager to come home with me, along with accessories to make a teddy’s life more fun. I decorated one of our bedrooms and put up shelves to allow my growing collection to be displayed. A few visitors to our house thought that I was creating a nursery; at the time, children were not a part of our plans.
When my husband and I went on one of our many walks, we would enjoy taking a break at a convenient teashop. I got into the habit of bringing Edward along to share our tea and cake. He would also accompany us on picnics, travelling in the wicker hamper we kept in the boot of the car. I would photograph him and smile to myself at the looks passing strangers would give us for our unconventional behaviour.
When the children were born my focus changed and we had less time to devote to such amusing pastimes. I was still very fond of my teddy bears though. Each child was given a Steiff bear for their first birthday to ensure that they had a furry friend to guard them and chase away the monsters that lurk in the dark corners of bedrooms. Edward always sleeps by my bed at night, wherever I am staying.
It took quite a few years to get to the point where going out did not demand that I carry a large bag full of nappies, snacks, juice and amusing distractions for the children. Once we got through this stage though, Edward once again started to accompany us on days away. I loved the fact that we were all quite happy to be seen out and about carrying a small bear, posing with him at famous landmarks and photographing him on his adventures. We certainly got some strange looks from those around us, but seemed to raise smiles from strangers with our antics, which can’t be a bad thing.
I probably have a couple of dozen teddy bears in my collection. The room that was decorated for them did eventually become our nursery so they were moved to alternative locations around our home. I am tempted to buy bears wherever I go but try hard to contain such desires. Occasionally, of course, I will give in and treat myself.
This summer I picked up a lovely little fellow from a shop in Hampshire called Bear It In Mind. The ladies running this business repair and restore toys as well as selling their signature ‘Bartie’ alongside other British made teddies. They made Edward and I very welcome and treated my passion as perfectly normal.
Edward meets the original Bartie Bristle at Bear it in Mind.
I have grown used to having my predilection for travelling with my little bear, and photographing him wherever I go, treated kindly. I do not consider it particularly childish but accept that it is eccentric. How boring life would be though if we could not act the way we wish; if every action had to be judged on it’s compliance with cool conventionality. Showing a little love to a small, stuffed toy; conferring him with feelings and a personality; none of this causes harm to anyone else and gives me amusement and pleasure.
Teddy bears are non judgemental, comforting companions. It is my view that the world would be a better place if the same could be said for more humans.