Posing here with Maisie the cat is Bruin, a lifelong companion, who is even older than me. He was originally bought for Brother 1 on the occasion of his birth in 1957, was passed on to Brother 2 the following year, and to me upon my arrival in 1961. I have yet to pass him on to anyone, although niece no. 1 did receive a brand new identical bear from her auntie when she arrived in 2003. Like me, Bruin (named after the bear in the Reynard the Fox stories which I enjoyed as a child) shows some signs of age. Over the years, he has lost some hair; he still sports the natty no. 2 haircut my brothers gave him in an early barbering experiment. His front has been bleached a lighter shade than his back, due to his spending much of his life lying on his back under the sunny window of my childhood bedroom. And he is a bare as well as threadbare bear: the shirt and shorts my Grannie Lane made for him when he first joined the family are long gone. I may have disposed of them myself; even as a child I always had an instinctive distaste for animal toys made to look like humans. I usually removed items of clothing and other human trappings from my toy animals (including saddles, bridles and harnesses from my toy horses), preferring my animals natural and unadorned. I didn’t even like toy animals in non-natural colours, and was deeply disappointed when my parents bought me a rabbit pyjama case almost identical to my best friend Briony’s, which I coveted because it looked exactly like a real rabbit, complete with floppy ears and whiskers. Almost identical: hers was brown, mine was – powder blue. The illusion was instantly shattered!
Bruin features in an apocryphal family story. Apparently when I was little, my parents were concerned about my failure to show the traditional female interests expected of a girl. I hated dolls and would only ever play with toy animals; in games, much to Briony’s annoyance, I always wanted to be an animal, not a princess or mother or child. They were concerned enough to address this “issue” one Christmas when I was about 3 or 4, by buying me a special doll with its own pushchair. Grannie lovingly sewed a whole set of fancy clothes for the doll, which was presented to me in its fancy doll’s pushchair. Apparently I was delighted: tossing the doll aside, I promptly installed Bruin in the pushchair, and took him out for a walk to show off his lovely new throne. My parents gave up on dolls after that!
Bruin has remained with me over the years, and currently resides on top of my wardrobe with a few other childhood survivors. Here he is in Edinburgh in about 1990, making friends with Holly, a cat I had for many years:
Bruin also represents a little bit of family history that lies behind the reasons for this blog. When my Mum was a child, the family moved from Yorkshire to London, and she and her brother were told they could only bring two possessions each with them. They had to give up all of their toys, but both chose to keep the one thing that gave them more pleasure than any other: the toboggan on which they sped down snowy Sugarwell Hill every winter. You can imagine how cheated they felt when winter arrived in 1930s London bringing… no snow!
A few years later, aged about 12, Mum arrived home from school one day to find all of her toys gone. Her mother had decided she was too old for toys, and given them all away without warning. Mum, who hadn’t considered herself too old for her beloved toys, was devastated. As a result of this experience, when she had children herself, she vowed never to dispose of any toys without her children’s consent. Hence the boxes of stuff in the attic of our family home, and hence my becoming the Hoarder of Babylon – and hence this blog.