You know how you can have weeks with very little in the diary then suddenly you hit a week where everything happens? I had one of those last week…
It started with a talk at Scarborough Soroptimists on Monday. Months back the chairperson, Angela, asked whether I might be interested in joining them. I did a careers talk at my daughter’s school recently but this is the first time I’ve spoken to adults in real life since I was an indie author so it all felt very new.
I confess I wasn’t familiar with the organisation so was surprised to discover that Soroptimists International had celebrated their centenary last year. They’re about ensuring women and girls have a voice and you can read more about their great work here. The Scarborough branch meet at Ganton Village Hall which is a small village between Scarborough and Malton.
The talk seemed to go well and it was great to have questions afterwards. A huge thank you to the group for hosting me.
On Wednesday, I met author Rowan Coleman on Scarborough seafront for a cuppa and a doughnut (nom nom). It was a gorgeous sunny day (sunnier than the photos might look!) with a gentle breeze – lovely.
When I arrived, there were loads of primary school children emerging from ‘Aquarium Top’ to queue for an ice cream. I knew that the area that was formerly an aquarium had been painted so I took a quick look when the space was clear. How pretty is this?
On Friday, we were meant to be going to Castle Howard to see Duran Duran. This was advertised as a picnic-style gig where you take food and drink in and enjoy relaxing in a foldaway chair in front of the beautiful stately home. We’ve been to gigs there before and it’s fabulous. However, the promoters – Senbla – sent everyone an email at the start of the week with some ‘additional information’ which changed everything we’d expected. The gig was being held in a field away from the home so there wouldn’t the stunning backdrop with which we’re familiar, food and drink could not be taken in, chairs weren’t permitted, picnic blankets were an option but you might be asked to stand up when the gig started, and it was £10.20 to book parking (this being at a venue in the middle of nowhere to which you pretty much have to drive) or £15 cash on the night if you didn’t book 24 hours before. Wow! This was NOT what we signed up to!
I contacted Ticketmaster who claimed nothing had changed – it had! – and said it was the promotor’s issue, not theirs. I contacted Castle Howard and Senbla via both Facebook and Twitter to ask for an explanation and a refund and also emailed Senbla. All contact has been ignored. I’m not impressed at all.
This had been a gift for my 50th birthday but we had to give it a miss because I can’t stand for several hours and it would have ruined it attempting to do so. Sitting on a picnic blanket for ages wouldn’t be an option either – I’d struggle to get down and up again!
I’m extremely disappointed at the change to what we booked with no responsibility taken from any of the parties. So we’ve had to walk away from the money. We took a drive up to Whitby instead, got a chippy tea and went for a wander. It was strange seeing Whitby so deserted!
As we climbed back up to the car on the north side, there was the most beautiful light with the approaching sunset.
On Saturday night, I was invited over to see my friends at Wolds Hedgehog Rescue – the ‘real’ Hedgehog Hollow – for a catch-up. Nanny Angela needed to bring three hoglets over to be fed during the meeting and I had the honour of having a go at feeding one of them – first time I’ve ever done this. Awww!
Then on Sunday, I topped the week off with a visit into Scarborough. Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow went into The Works a few weeks back but I missed the Scarborough ones as they arrived and sold out really quickly. I was delighted to see they’d had another delivery so had a chance to sign them. As always, the staff in there were so lovely.
I actually hadn’t expected to see the book in there so I’d thrown on the same clothes from the night before (as I’d only worn them for 3 hours) and hadn’t put any make-up on or brushed my hair. So this is the natural look 🙂
I’ve just been on to the website at The Works but Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow appears to have sold through but you will probably still find copies in your local branch.
So overall a very busy week and I’ll finish it with a photo of a garden ornament I spotted in the window of The Gift Company which I absolutely neeeeeeed, and a photo of my gorgeous Eleanor Tomlinson print of Her Majesty the Queen with Paddington Bear. I’m cheating a bit as that actually arrived yesterday – not last week – but I thought I’d sneak it in here. My Steiff Paddington (a gift from my husband on our wedding day) couldn’t resist posing with it. The print went viral after the Jubilee and the signed edition sold out really quickly but Eleanor has printed an open edition (which is how I got mine) and you can get that and check out her other gorgeous artwork here.
This week is shaping up to be really busy too – hair appointment, dentist for a filling (argh!) and also a Facebook Live at lunchtime today. So if you read this post this morning and you’re free at 12noon, you might like to join us on Book and Tonic’s Facebook page. The Live will be Jo Bartlett, Helen Rolfe and me chatting about building our communities.
The hubby and I have just returned from a lovely few days away and we never even left our home county of North Yorkshire. It’s such a huge area that, if you live at the edges, you can travel over two hours and still be in the same county! The reason for a few days away was that our daughter is having a summer break staying with my parents and hubby suggested that, instead of dropping her off and driving back home, we could make a mini-break of it. We even arranged for Ella, our sprocker spaniel, to go to hubby’s parents’ for a couple of days so we’d have no restrictions on where we could go.
We were hoping to stay in Richmond which is where I had my teddy bear shop many years ago and hubby searched for a nice hotel or B&B figuring we could have a couple of drinks and a meal in the town on the evening. No chance. Even though we decided on this about six or maybe even eight weeks ago, we’d left it far too late and the only rooms available were extortionate prices like £500 for two nights. Eek! So we ended up at the Premier Inn in nearby Catterick Garrison which is on a retail park close to the army barracks. Yep. Not exactly a romantic location but at least it was a chance to get away and you can always rely on a Premier Inn.
We dropped the munchkin off at lunchtime on Wednesday and headed to the market town of Leyburn. It was heaving and it took a few circuits before we finally found somewhere to park but we had a delicious meal in the beer garden of The Bolton Arms at the top of town, watching the world go by, followed by a wander around the gift shops. It was a shame to see one of my favourite shops had closed down. I wondered if that was as a result of lockdown or from before. I do remember my mum mentioning it to me but can’t for the life of me remember how recently we had that conversation. The concept of time seems very fluid at the moment! A couple of other shops were closed. A notice on one said this was due to a funeral and we didn’t wander down to the other as we could clearly see it was in darkness. Maybe for the same reason? I do like to treat myself to a little something while away and I found this gorgeous Steiff hoglet called Joggi in another gift shop, although hubby bought me a Steiff hedgehog for Christmas who is also called Joggi. I wondered if that meant anything in German but Google translate says not. I have, however, discovered that a hedgehog in German is called an ‘igel’ and a hoglet (baby hedgehog) is a ‘babyigel’. Awww!
We moved onto Masham from there but caught it just as the final market stalls were packing away. I remembered there being several nice gift shops last time we visited and could only see one this time. There were still Covid restrictions on social distancing and a queue to get in so we wandered round intending to return … and forgot!
Checking in at the Premier Inn a little later, we were advised that there was no TV reception in the room thanks to the recent fire at the Bilsdale mast TV transmitter affecting TVs in the Yorkshire Dales, northern parts of North Yorkshire and Teesside. Hubby had intentionally left all tech behind and kicked himself for this as it meant we couldn’t relax in front of the TV but we weren’t in a location with lovely pubs to walk to and we didn’t really fancy driving anywhere after so much driving already that day. So we sat in the hotel room watching old episodes of Gogglebox on his phone. We so know how to party!
On Thursday, we went into Richmond. It wasn’t forecast to rain but it rained while we visited Richmond Castle, although not too heavily or for too long and we were prepared with waterproofs. Please therefore forgive the very dull-looking photos!
As I said earlier, I used to have a teddy bear shop in Richmond on the top corner of Finkle Street. This has been the Lucy Pittaway Gallery for several years now and I absolutely adore Lucy’s artwork. If you haven’t discovered it before, do check out her website here. I already have more of her amazing prints than we have space for but there’s always room for another notebook in the collection! I had to pose outside – just like I’d done when it was my shop – and also take a photo of one of her gorgeous hedgehog prints in the window. Lucy’s prints are the inspiration behind one of the storylines in Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Cafe.
We had a wander round some more of the shops and I loved spotting this sign on the back of a car down a side street and this wall art on the side of a building.
There’s a fabulous circular walk from The Station – the former train station which is converted into a cinema, cafe, arts/gifts centre – via Easby Abbey so we set off on that walk on the afternoon. We hadn’t gone very far when I recognised a group of people heading towards us. My cousin, her husband, younger son and their dog were coming to the end of the circular walk, having completed the loop the other way to us. How spooky is that? They don’t live in Richmond. It’s about 40 mins away for them so what an amazing coincidence and lovely to catch up with them.
We continued on our walk and I put my new FitBit to the test, racking up nearly 22k steps across the day which isn’t too shabby as a starting point. It’s not going to be happy with me today as, back home, I’m lucky if I’ll manage 500! Ssh, don’t tell it! And as it’s on my desk and not my wrist, it won’t even register any of them!
The walk was lovely, through trees, alongside the river and past Easby Abbey which is an English Heritage site with free access. We did the walk once before several years ago when we were camping in the area with hubby’s sisters but I don’t think we must have explored much of the abbey as I definitely didn’t remember it being quite so big.
Back to my 22k steps, I haven’t walked anything resembling that far since pre-lockdown and had actually only left the house on a dozen or so occasions since March 2020 so being out and about for me was a pretty big thing and it completely wiped me out being in the fresh air for a full day. It was so good to be out, though.
Even though we’d have loved a relax in front of the TV that evening, resting our feet after the walk, the mast problem prevented that. We returned to the retail park, grabbed a quick drink in one of the chain pubs there, then I had a relaxing bath before going out to the cinema 2 minutes’ walk from the hotel to see The Last Letter From Your Lover. Hubby hadn’t been too keen as it looked more like my sort of film from the trailer but he enjoyed it and I loved it. I’ve read a few of JoJo Moyes’s books but not that particular one. An added bonus was that we had the cinema – Empire Cinemas – completely to ourselves and could upgrade to recliner chairs which were amazing. I say upgrade but it was only £3.99 each in the first place so £5.99 each seemed a very reasonable price.
On Sunday morning, I met a friend for a hot chocolate in The Station while hubby went for a walk with his camera and then we headed to Fountain’s Abbey. We knew it would be busy but we must have timed it horrendously wrong by arriving around lunchtime. The queue for the cafe stretched across the courtyard in one direction and the queue for tickets to get in stretched the entire width in the other direction. So we left. I know, I know, that’s super impatient but we just couldn’t face standing for maybe an hour queuing after a long walk the day before.
Newby Hall isn’t too far away so we drove there instead and the thankfully wasn’t a queue to get in although it was pretty expensive to get in. It’s a lovely place, the gardens are gorgeous, and there’s loads for kids to do but be warned that the child entry fee is not a lot less than the adult fee (the family of 4 in front of us paid a whopping £62 to get in) and there are additional fees required for the train and boat trips once inside. And you’re going to buy food, drinks, ice creams too. Definitely somewhere you need to spend a full day to get your money’s worth.
I had the most delicious warm scones with jam clotted cream for my lunch although we had to move tables twice, eventually retreating indoors, as the wasps were out and after the jam! Ooh, I hate them so much.
I’d been hoping that The Bear House might have had some new displays – perhaps a project someone might have undertaken during lockdown – but they were the same as when we visited a couple of years ago. Disappointingly, quite a few bears had fallen over at some point, especially in the picnic scene. There’s meant to be a bear on a wooden swing but the wooden plank had slipped out and the bear had tumbled into the others so it looked a little unloved in there, poor bears.
I had to take a picture of Barbara Cartland’s bear. The plaque accompanying him states: “This very special German bear was given to Barbara Cartland, the romance novelist, in 1904 when she was three years old. When Dame Barbara gave him to Gyles Brandreth [whose enormous collection of bears is partly housed in The Bear House] she explained that she had adorned him with the fabulous jewels, and named him The Prince of Love’ because she had discovered that he believed himself to be an Indian Prince”. How fabulous is that?
The traffic was grim all the way home – one of the challenges of heading to the coast (albeit back home for us) among holiday-makers coming for the weekend or the week – and it took us about 2.5 hours to get back from Newby Hall. For context, this is a 60 mile journey! Eek! So we were pretty shattered by the time we got back.
Despite quite a few hitches to our plans, it was lovely to be away, especially when I finished writing A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow the day before I left so it came after a big milestone. My mind definitely needed the rest! It was good for me to be out and about and doing some exercise after pretty much hibernating for the past 18 months. Already looking forward to my next trip.
I cancelled my birthday last year. We were only a few weeks into lockdown when I was asked the ‘what would you like for your birthday?’ question and I had a mini-meltdown. Even though I’ve never really made a huge thing out of my birthday in previous years, I didn’t like the idea that I couldn’t even if I wanted to so I told hubby and the munchkin not to bother with gifts and we’d do a birthday later in the year. Then I found a couple of Lucy Pittaway prints which I ordered for the office so I did get a gift after all even if there was no celebration 😉
This year, we’re not in lockdown but restrictions are only just easing so it we still couldn’t plan much. I did, however, lift the ‘no presents’ thing and was spoilt with some lovely gifts.
There was a bit of a hedgehog theme with the most adorable plush Steiff hedgehog from the hubby, a sewing project for a hedgehog and hoglet and a cute pen holder with a hedgehog reading a book in it.
Loving my new lighthouse and looking forward to featuring it on some photos with my books soon.
A huge thank you to my amazing friend Sharon for the gorgeous flowers, candle, bear and chocolates and to my lovely friend Jo for the hedgehog and bear scarves.
Sharon also sent me the most amazing card. It’s a card containing cake. I never knew such a thing existed and, being the huge fan of cake that I am, it made me very happy. I can’t wait to dive in and would have had a piece today but my in-laws dropped round surprise afternoon tea so we ditched our plans for a takeaway and had that instead and I am now full of cake. It was sooooo yummy. But there’s always tomorrow. Nom nom. And I have a birthday cake too!
Thank you to everyone who has sent me lovely messages on social media. Very much appreciated.
Back to editing tomorrow but it’s been nice to have a rare day off today.
It’s six days since All You Need Is Love was released and we’re halfway through the blog tour. I’ve had some absolutely gorgeous reviews and one of the things that makes me very happy is when reviewers mention the bears and how much they learned about them/how much they enjoyed that part of the story.
So today I thought I’d talk about being an arctophile and the wonderful world of teddy bears.
An arctophile is a lover/collector of teddy bears. It is derived from the Greek terms ‘árktos’ meaning bear and ‘philos’ meaning lover/friend. I am an arctophile.
I’ve loved teddy bears for most of my life but I would say I became especially fond of them at around the age of 14. Forever Friends were extremely popular back then and I remember gazing adoringly at them in card shops and wishing they could all be mine. I gradually built up a collection of what is known as ‘plush’ bears. These are typically mass-produced teddies, massively ranging in size and price, and made from synthetic materials. They are soft and designed for lots of hugs.
The photos below show a very small section of my plush collection. Top left are a trio of bears I used to sell in my bear shop and I couldn’t resist taking a set home. They are from the plush range made by German collectible teddy bear manufacturer Hermann Teddy Original and I christened them Caramel, Toffee and Fudge (L-R).
Across the bottom is my very well loved bear Sainsbury (unimaginatively named that because he was from Sainsbury’s), bought for me by my sister in law when I spent most of December 2006 in hospital with hypertension and mild pre-eclampsia before my daughter was born. You’ll likely recognise a Forever Friends bear in the middle. He was also from my shop. There was a range of them in four different colours – this light blue, a deeper sky blue, pink, peach – and I’d have loved to keep one of each but couldn’t justify it!
Bottom right is a Gund bear. I used to stock Gund in the shop and they really do make gorgeous plush bears. This particular one was given to me by my writing collective, The Write Romantics, when my debut book (called Searching for Steven at the time but now repackaged as New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms) secured a publishing deal. He’s wearing a badge that says ‘Steven Bear’ and his hoodie states ‘A 5* read the search is over’. Isn’t he gorgeous?
And finally in the plush range we have famous bears like Rupert, Paddington and Winnie the Pooh. I do have a gorgeous traditional Pooh Bear (also from my shop) but he’s on the top of the wardrobe at the back and I’d have to remove all the bears to take a picture of him and am far too lazy (and short) to do that! This Paddington was a Christmas gift before I had the shop but Aunt Lucy came from my shop and I used to sell Paddingtons of various sizes. A larger one than him made it into my collection too but I had to draw the line at the 4ft one I used to stock!
Bears featured on my wedding day. The wedding itself had a seaside theme but a Forever Friends bride and groom (from my shop, of course) sat on the top table. We had a Cherished Teddy wedding display for the top of the cake and my cousin bought us a Boyds bride and groom as a gift.
I was in my late twenties when I discovered the world of collectible teddy bears. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, my boyfriend at the time took me to a specialist teddy bear shop in his hometown of Lincoln and it was a life-changing moment as I’d never have thought of running my own teddy bear shop if I hadn’t been introduced to them and I’d never have met my husband if I hadn’t opened the bear shop. And without the hubby, I don’t know if I’d have become an author.
Collectible teddy bears will give hugs but they’re not designed to be played with/cuddled in bed and the price tag confirms that! Even if you know nothing about teddy bears, you’ve probably heard of Steiff; the German manufacturer with the distinctive button in the ear identity tag. Vintage Steiff can sell for eyewatering amounts of money at auction but if there are any burglars reading this, I don’t own any of them so nothing to see here!
There are many other long-established manufacturers. Britain’s oldest are Dean’s and Merrythought and my very first bear was a limited edition Dean’s one called Scruff, purchased from that shop in Lincoln. Here he is posing with my books:
Isn’t he completely adorable? He’s made from mohair and is jointed. Most collectible bears are jointed – it’s where they stand out from plush ones – and most are made from mohair which varies massively in colour, texture and price.
When I first set up my shop – Bear’s Pad in Richmond, North Yorkshire – I stocked collectible bears from Dean’s, Merrythought, Hermann Teddy Original, Robin Rive (based in New Zealand) and Cambrian Bears but Steiff wouldn’t touch me. I was too small and they supplied to another bear shop in a nearby town. I was gutted because I lost sales constantly from people who knew nothing about bears but had heard of Steiff so wanted a Steiff for a newborn or for a christening and nothing else would do. In the main, they wouldn’t look at the other bears even though I personally (and perhaps controversially) have always thought that Steiff bears, although lovely, aren’t necessarily the bears with the most personality and appeal.
About a year into trading, Steiff reconsidered when the local shop closed and they allowed me to make a smaller order than they usually demanded (which was still a phenomenal outlay). It was worth it as Steiff were my biggest sellers.
Here’s a small selection of my collectible bears. The large photo is a bear called Daffy from the Isabelle Collection at Charlie Bears. Charlie Bears didn’t exist when I had Bear’s Pad but they later entered the market with a new take on bears – the look of collectible bears by making them jointed but affordability by creating them in different materials. The Isabelle Collection was an expansion into limited edition collectible bears.
Top right are two collectible bears and one artist one called Noah purchased in Belgium (I’ll explain what artist bears are in a moment). The one standing at the back is a Steiff which I called Growler because he growls when you tip him forwards and back. Steiff bears don’t usually have names, being identified instead by size and style. He was my second ever collectible bear I bought. The smaller one sitting down is a Robin Rive limited edition called Faith.
The bottom row starts with a very traditional-looking Hermann Teddy Original bear called Yesterday. The one in the middle with the hat is Robin Rive’s Nautical Neville. These two (and Faith mentioned earlier) were all from my shop. I used to love them all so much and would tell myself that if a particular favourite was still on the shelves after three months, they’d come home with me. I’d then panic when a customer seemed interested!
The Paddington at the bottom was my wedding gift from the hubby and is a Steiff one. I said earlier I don’t love Steiff as much as some of the other manufacturers but I absolutely adore this Paddington. He is divine. Look at his suitcase and marmalade sandwich!
So what are artist bears? These are collectible bears but they are made on a much smaller scale by a bear artist who typically creates an OOAK (one of a kind) or a very small number like three. It’s more likely to be an OOAK although the artist may take that pattern again but use different mohair or clothes to create a different look.
During publication week, somebody asked me how many bears I have so I did a very quick count. It’s about 140 consisting of plush, collectible and artist bears. I used to have a couple of hundred plush ones but there just isn’t the space. When I had my bear shop, I cleared about about 10 binbags of bears to charity (all were immaculate condition as they’d all been sat on shelves and not played with) and I’ve done several more clear-outs over the years which break my heart but needs must.
When I did my count, I was surprised to discover that I had nearly as many artist bears as big-name collectible ones. Initially I only bought collectible ones but I tend to only buy artist ones now. I love the uniqueness of them. I will only buy a bear that ‘speaks’ to me and, as I have a lot of traditional-looking ones in my collection now, I am more inclined to go for something a little bit quirky.
All the bears below are artist bears. The one in the dress is from Loeëtte Bears (from the Netherlands although I bought the bear from Mary Shortle in York) and the purple one is Tammy from J&P Mohair Bears which I bought in Stonegate Bears in York. Franklin (bottom middle) is also a J&P from Stonegate Bears.
The top right one is a Ju-Sea Bear called Mark Elvet. I made him! I learned how to make teddy bears when I had my shop and I sold my second and third in the shop but kept the first one for me as he was my first and therefore very special and I’d named him after my husband and the street where I learned to make bears. You may think Ju-Sea Bears sounds familiar. That’s because I used it for Julie’s bears in All You Need Is Love in the same way that I named her house Bear’s Pad after my shop. Little connections in my stories like that make me happy.
The small purple bear bottom left is from Diane Hanley who used to supply to my shop and bottom right is the most adorable bear dressed for a festival. I can’t tell you her name or make, though, as there was no tag on her. I contacted Mary Shortle in Leeds afterwards and they kindly supplied me with the information which I wrote down and put somewhere safe… You know what that means. Yep, no idea where I put it!
Although I say that Scruff was my first collectible bear, I did have one before that. I absolutely love the Lake District and we had many family holidays in the area when I was younger. My favourite shop in Bowness-on-Windermere was Lakeland Bears. I’d seen the postcards of hiking bears set in the countryside and this was the shop that stocked the actual bears.
I always dreamed of owning a Lakeland Bear and, one year, my parents surprised me by giving me one as a Christmas gift. I had no idea I was getting one so you can imagine my delight. He has his walking stick, his hiking boots and his backpack with a map of the Lakes in it! Isn’t he just fabulous? They even created a booklet of photos of him ‘exploring’ their house and garden which I still have… you’ve guessed it… somewhere safe!
Sadly the Lakeland Bears shop closed down many years ago but you can look at the gorgeous bears and the postcards on their website here. I’ve just had a lovely fifteen minutes procrastinating looking at the pictures and remembering which postcards I used to have.
We’ve looked at plush bears, collectible bears and, within that, artist bears. A devoted arctophile will probably have a lot of other bear-related items in their home too. I have stack of bear-themed stationery, books, pictures and jewellery. Here’s a few items from my collection.
The picture is our bear family and hangs in our downstairs toilet behind the loo itself which hubby doesn’t appreciate when he nips in for a pee as they’re watching him – hee hee! The salt and pepper set came from Canada on our honeymoon (so many amazing bear-themed treats over there), the teddy ornament is from a gift shop in Whitby and the large bear came from Hawes. The teddy bear cushion was a gift but I sold blankets in the same design in Bear’s Pad so I have a pair of cushions and a matching blanket.
I hope you’ve enjoyed a little explore into the world of bears and that you’ve enjoyed the pictures. Teddy bears have an amazing ability to make us smile and feel uplifted. It’s rare for me to be in a bad mood and not much gets me down and I think that, in part, it’s because I’m surrounded by teddies all day. Who can feel down when looking at their adorable little faces?
When I had my shop, there were some nasty customers. And I mean nasty. One liked to come in and lecture me about how my business would fail because all businesses before me on that site had failed. She made me cry on several occasions. Another customer asked if I had a toilet her daughter could use. I did have a toilet but it was out the back past my safe and all my spare stock and I wasn’t insured to let the public back there so I had to direct customers to the public toilets which were a one-minute walk away so no hardship. It turned out the daughter was desperate and she wet herself all over my carpet tiles. The woman then told me it was my fault, flung down the items she’d planned to purchase and left me to clear it all up. She never returned so I never even made a sale out of that traumatic episode and, to this day, still feel really sorry for the little girl … but not the mum.
One busy Saturday, a really friendly man asked me to get down a large plush polar bear from the top of the shelving units and save it for him while he went to the cashpoint. When I returned to the till and finished serving a few customers, I realised my mobile phone had been stolen. The police told me two men were working together with a tactic of one distracting the owner by being interested and friendly while the other stole the money out of the till. Fortunately I’d locked my till and had the key on me so they didn’t get away with any money although the phone was bad enough.
There was a tanning salon opposite and customers used to send their fairly young children to “go and play in the bear shop” while they had a tan. Who does that? And the mornings where I’d arrive from work to find someone had vomited in my recessed entrance doorway were the worst ever.
I could write a book about all this. Hmm… there’s a thought!
But, even on those darkest days – and there were many more than I’ve listed above – I always felt so comforted being surrounded by such an enormous hug of bears (a ‘hug’ being the collective noun applied to a group of teddies). I’d have loved to keep my bear shop. Shame I needed customers to make it work!
So grab a bear today, give it a hug, and feel uplifted.
Today is National Teddy Bear Day; a day that celebrates the history behind the teddy bear. Do you know the history? It’s quite a fascinating story.
Stuffed animals had been around for some time and this even included stuffed bears with Steiff including a bear toy in its 1894 catalogue although it was more reminiscent of a grizzly bear than the cute and cuddly teddy bears we think of today. So how did a stuffed grizzly bear – possibly a bit scary-looking – morph into what we more commonly know as the teddy bear today. It was actually the result of a bit of clever marketing in the early twentieth century…
The president of the USA at the time was President Theodore Roosevelt (in office from 1901-1909). In November 1902, Roosevelt visited Mississippi to work on a tricky political situation around boundaries between Louisiana and Mississippi. Roosevelt had a reputation as a rugged hunting/shooting/fishing type so, to help him relax between difficult negotiations, a bear-hunting trip was organised on 14th November (yeah, I know, but do bear in mind [excuse the pun] that we’re talking nearly 117 years ago and these things were viewed very differently back then). Anyway, it was all going a bit wrong and, as the day drew to a close, the President hadn’t been successful. Keen to end the day on a high, the hunters chased and stunned a small black bear and tied it to a tree so that the President could shoot it. Argh! But don’t panic. It does end well because, even though it obviously didn’t bother him to shoot one of these beautiful animals in the wild, he refused to shoot a captive animal and demanded they, “Spare the bear!” So the bear was cut loose. Hurrah!
News of fair play was all over the papers and a cartoon by Clifford K Berryman appeared in the Washington Post with the clever caption “Drawing the Line in Mississippi” which linked to his political reasons for being there as well as drawing the line against killing a captive animal.
A Brooklyn-based Russian couple, Morris and Rose Michtom, were shop-owners and fans of stuffed bears. Delighted by the story, Rose made a jointed bear from soft fabric and put it in the shop window alongside the newspaper cartoon. It sold immediately and so did many replicas. Rose called the bear ‘Teddy’s Bear’ and it’s alleged that Morris wrote to the President asking permission to use the name, receiving a hand-written note giving his permission. Aww. I love that.
The story goes that Roosevelt wasn’t a very sentimental person (possibly not surprising given the “rugged man” image) and didn’t actually like teddy bears, but the publicity did him no harm and the teddy bear as we know it now went from strength to strength.
I could go on and on about the history of the teddy bear because I personally find it interesting about how any product gets developed and has such amazing longevity, but I’ll stop there for now. If you want to read a little more about National Teddy Bear day and see Berryman’s cartoon, click here.
As followers of this blog will know, I’m an arctophile which means I’m a friend/lover (collector) of teddy bears. I love real bears just as much and I hope to go and see polar bears in the wild for my fiftieth birthday in a few years’ time.
As a young child, I had a teddy bear: the aptly named Big Bluey because he’s big and he’s blue. He was a Christening gift and he sits in my office watching me write. His fur is a bit squashed and he’s been repaired at the seams a few times but he’s not doing too badly for a 47-year-old.
I was probably in my mid to late-teens when I really started to really like teddy bears. I don’t know what specifically prompted it but suspect that it was Forever Friends bears being everywhere at the time. I absolutely adored them (and still do).
Over the years, I’ve had all sorts of bears and bear-related gifts from friends and family: stationery, ornaments, tea-towels and pretty much anything you can think of. The scariest gift was an upright vacuum cleaner cover my mum once bought from a craft fair. It was a bear in a dress (the dress covered the upright part of the cleaner and the head rested on the handle) and I’m afraid I don’t have photographic evidence of it but it was definitely scary although it gave all the family a good laugh.
My fascination with proper collectible bears didn’t come until I was in my late-twenties. I’d heard of Steiff but had never seen one. My boyfriend of the time took me into a specialist teddy bear shop in his hometown of Lincoln and it changed my life. At first I was astonished at the price tags. Used to paying £10-20 for a plush teddy bear, prices started at an eye-watering £50 and that was for a small, cheap one. I left the shop muttering that I wouldn’t pay that sort of money for a bear … but returned to it later because I couldn’t stop thinking about a Dean’s bear called Scruff who’d caught my eye. I winced as I handed over £70 but that little bear has bought me so much joy and has lasted way longer than a pair of shoes or a handbag of that price might have done.
My collection grew and then I took my interest to the extreme when I packed in a well-paid job as a Graduate Recruitment and Development Manager, moved from Reading to my roots in North Yorkshire, and opened a specialist teddy-bear shop of my own. (The boyfriend was no more at this point).
I ran Bear’s Pad in Richmond, North Yorkshire (not the one in London) for nearly 2 years and it was such a joy to be surrounded by teddy bears and bear-related products every day. I had some wonderful regular customers who shared my passion, but also had some shockers:
The woman who allowed her daughter to urinate on my carpeted floor instead of taking her to the public toilets then made out it was all my fault because I hadn’t let her use my staff toilet (which I had no insurance to let customers use and would have meant clambering over my stock and past my safe so that wasn’t going to happen)
The many occasions where I arrived on a weekend to find somebody had vomited in my doorway so I had that to swill away before opening up
The seemingly lovely man who distracted me by asking me to get a large bear down from the top of the display shelves, saying he’d return later with the cash. In the meantime, his accomplice slipped behind the till and tried to empty it. Fortunately I’d locked it but that didn’t stop him stealing my mobile which was on a hidden shelf below the till
The local woman who made it her mission to go around all the independent shops and tell them they were going to fail because all independents did sooner or later
The parents who’d send their kids to “play in the bear shop while mummy goes on the tanning beds” in the shop opposite
The various others who’d damage or shoplift
Ooh! I just had an unexpected rant there! Back to National Teddy Bear Day…
I met my husband a couple of months after opening Bear’s Pad. We met online and, as we lived a couple of hours away from each other, our first date was in the small market town of Helmsley. I took a small jointed teddy bear with me and decided that, if I liked my date, I’d give him the bear to remember me by. Yeah, soppy. I did like him and I did give him the bear although I was gutted to discover recently that he’d completely forgotten this! Rude! The bear – Hermann (named after the German manufacturers) – became our holiday bear, going away with us on all our holidays with a little backpack we got off a cheap doll. Hubby knew Hermann was our holiday bear but had completely forgotten how he came to be in his possession. Men, eh?
When we married, we had a Cherished Teddies bride and groom on the top of our cake and plush bears on the top table.
Bears have remained a strong theme and influence for me. My book, Bear With Me, is inspired by my experiences of having a teddy bear shop and learning how to make artist bears, although you don’t have to like teddy bears at all to enjoy it as the teddy bear shop (called Bear With Me) just happens to be the setting; bears aren’t the main theme.
In every book I write, I ‘plant’ a bear. It is usually there to give the protagonist comfort and is often a reminder of the past. Sarah in Searching for Steven turns to her childhood bear, Mr Pink, for comfort. Elise in Getting Over Gary hurls her bear, Marmite, across the room because he was a gift from her husband who has just betrayed her. In Callie’s Christmas Wish, a musical bear is a valuable link to the past for octogenarian, Ruby, and, in Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes, Carly gives her sister a bear purchased from Bear With Me to convey a special message. A picture I bought of a bear and the words ‘Be Brave’ inspired part of the storyline for Christmas at the Chocolate Pot Cafe. These teddies and collectible bears certainly have some power!
Some people don’t get why a grown adult would love teddy bears but I can’t see my interest ever waning. I don’t buy many plush bears anymore, tempted though I might be, as I don’t have the room. Over the years, I’ve given about 20 binbags full of teddy bears to charity. I find it so hard to say goodbye but I tell myself that they’ll go to loving homes! I have a cabinet in the office full of collectible bears and a few others spread around the room. It’s not possible to feel down when surrounded by their pudgy faces and outstretched arms, waiting for a cuddle.
My plush bears have certainly given me comfort over the years and, as I say, they’ve changed my life. If I hadn’t bought that first collectible one, I wouldn’t have opened a bear shop, I wouldn’t have met my husband, and I probably would never have finished writing my first book.
Happy National Teddy Bear Day. Why not give your teddy a cuddle and thank him or her for being there for you over the years?
Did you know that yesterday* was National Hug Day aka National Hugging Day? No, me neither! Well, that’s a lie because obviously I did know it is otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it. What I should probably have said is that I hadn’t heard of it until it was mentioned on my local radio station that morning. There seem to be national days for everything and I suspected it was one of the many invented recently to jump on the bandwagon. But I was wrong. It’s actually been around since 1986! Yes, you read that right: 1986. The year that John McCarthy was kidnapped in Beirut, work finished on the M25, we piled to the cinema to watch Tom Cruise in Top Gun, and Nick Berry’s “Every Loser Wins” was the second best-selling single of the year in the UK (The Communards with the far more respectable “Don’t Leave Me This Way was number 1). That’s a long time ago!
I did some research and apparently it was invented in the USA by a bloke called Kevin Zaborney who felt that Americans didn’t express their feelings enough and should hug family and friends (and even strangers) even more because of the sense of well-being this gives. Awww. Nice idea. Here’s the munchkin and me having a nice hug on a holiday in the Lakes.
So on my blog today, I want to talk about hugs. But not the snuggling each other variety. I want to talk about the teddy bear variety. Afterall, the strapline of my blog is “Writing, Reading, Stationery, Life, Chocolate & Bears” and I haven’t yet devoted a post to bears.
You may or may not know that a collection of teddy bears is known as a hug. Isn’t that just adorable? And I have an exceedingly large hug. I’m what’s known as an arctophile which is the official name given to someone who collects teddy bears. I don’t think it’s as warm and fuzzy a word as it should be but it could be worse.
As a child, I liked bears. But I also liked dolls, lego, and colouring books so I wouldn’t say bears stood out as “my thing”. When I was in my mid-teens, I started to like bears more. I’m not really sure why. I had quite a few plush bears and I found myself drawn to them in shops. It became known I was a bear-fan and gifts started to become more and more bear-themed. When I bought my first house, my plush collection was huge and my house was strewn with teddy bear pictures, salt and pepper shakers and placemats. I drew the line at the rather scary teddy-bear vacuum cleaner cover my mum once bought me, though. It looked more like a giant mouse in clothes and started to give me the fear so it disappeared!
It was only when I hit my thirties that I discovered that there was a world outside plush teddy bears and I started my journey to becoming a true arctophile. We probably all have at least one rubbish relationship in our past and Dave (name changed to protect him; not that he deserves it) was mine. But I’ll always be grateful to Dave for one thing; back in 2001 he introduced me to my first collectible bear. He took me to a gorgeous bear shop in his home town. I’d never heard of Steiff or Dean’s or any of the other bear companies but, as I gazed round the packed shelves, I was in awe. Gorgeous faces stared back at me with “pick me” eyes.
Then I looked at a price tag.
Oh. My. Goodness! £70 for a bear? £150 for a bear? £300 for a bear? What?????!!!!
But it’s only when you start exploring the world of collectible bears that you appreciate the history, artistry and materials that go into them and you get it. You really do.
I walked out that shop that day having fallen in love with a particular Dean’s Bear (oldest UK teddy bear manufacturer) called Scruff but there was no way I was paying £70 for a bear. We walked round the city, had some lunch, walked back towards the car park … and straight into the bear shop. Scruff became the first member of my collectible hug and I’m sure you can see why (although hubby is the photographer in the family; not me!)
I slowly added to the hug (with those prices, it’s not exactly a regular purchase). In 2002, I finally realised that the only value Dave brought to my life was that he’d introduced me to collectible bears and we parted company. Phew! I then completely changed my life. I packed in my job, moved back to the north, and opened a teddy bear shop. Obviously.
Being surrounded by bears and bear-themed products (stationery, cards, bags etc.) was a dream come true. The challenging part was not taking them all home to add to the hug! I was like a small child at Christmas every time a delivery arrived, particularly for collectible bears. You see, I had reps for the plush bears I carried (mainly Gund and Russ) but all my collectible bears were ordered from a catalogue which meant opening a Steiff, Dean’s, Robin Rive, Hermann Teddy Original or Merrythought delivery was a very special moment. I know it probably sounds really sad to anyone who isn’t a teddy bear lover but I’d line them up on the counter and gaze lovingly at them before finding a new home on my shelves and in my glass cabinets.
Quite often the shop would be empty and I’d stroll around and have a hug and a squeeze, or turn the head slightly on a collectible bear to make him even more appealing.
I hate to say it but I had my favourites. Sometimes the adoration was immediate but sometimes they grew on me the more I caught their eyes. I’d say to them, “If you’re not sold in three months, you’re coming home with me.” The only problem then was that I’d have a mild panic attack any time a customer started showing interest in them, hoping they wouldn’t leave the shop yet knowing that I needed to make the sale to stay afloat. Munchie (the fluffy one above) and Caramel (to the left) are a couple of examples although I promise that the names had nothing to do with the decision to bring them home, despite my sweet tooth!
I attended a bear-making workshop at a (sadly now closed down) teddy bear shop on Elvet Bridge in Durham. I made my first bear there. Meet Mark Elvet (named after my husband and the shop location). I made another one from the same pattern who I called Cinnamon Brown then I attended an advanced workshop where I experimented with spray-dying their noses. I called my bear Mustard Green. But I sold both of them. I wanted to keep them but I decided to experiment and see whether a customer would love my bears. They did. They sold. They joined new hugs. My only regret is that I never actually took photos of them. This was just before everyone turned digital so snapping away at everything simply didn’t happen.
When I closed the shop in 2005, a lot of the bears sold. It’s rare that collectible bears are reduced so the sale brought in a lot of interest. A few of my favourites may have slipped into the hug somehow pre-sale (no idea how that happened) and a few other unloved ones joined them when they hadn’t gone to new hugs by the time I locked the doors for the last time. They may have been unloved by the general public but they weren’t unloved by me!
Since then, the additions to the collections have slowed but there’s always room for one more. And another … and another. Because, let’s face it, bears like to hug and the more of them there are squeezed up close together in my bear cabinet, the more hugs they get from each other!
I know it’s no longer National Hugging Day but, if you missed it yesterday, celebrate it today instead. You’ll feel great 🙂
I’d love to hear from you about your hugs or your teddy bears. Please click on the comments box and share. I’ll do some more posts about bears and the shop over the year as well as writing ones.
* Slight confession: I planned to post this yesterday on National Hugging Day and I prepared the post during my lunch break at work … then somehow saved it to my work PC instead of my USB stick so I had to retrieve it today and post a day late!