Thursday, December 31, 2009

Fewer wolves, but still bears

By the time I was born, there were fewer wolves in Wales than in Dylan Thomas' day. But even so, you had to be careful with the bears.

In November, my parents had moved into the ramshackle farmhouse that was to be their home for the next fifteen years. Cold and draughty, they struggled to make it a cosy home for their first Christmas in their own home with their baby. My mother battled to keep it and me clean with little hot water heated in the copper. A neat and proper woman, she liked everything to be "tidy" as we say. She ironed everything with the flat iron, warmed on the top of the range. It was a cold and icy December and every day my father worked long hours, outdoors. His gloves and socks hung over the warming oven of the rayburn to dry off. By December 24th, they were tired to the bone. She dressed the tree and hung up some paper chains but was was exhausted and went to bed before he came home that night. He had been working until nearly midnight to have Christmas Day off.

She was disappointed that he hadn't been there to lay the baby's stocking in the inglenook and put the cheerful presents under the tree. But at least they would be together on Christmas morning and he wouldn't have to get up at five o'clock.

Waking early, she tiptoed downstairs to make him a cup of tea. The doorway at the bottom of the stone staircase opened into the sitting room and the latch was noisy so she left the door open to make her way back upstairs quietly. Boiling the kettle in the kitchen, she heard the baby stir. A snuffly cry that turned into a good morning moan. By the time she'd got back to the latch door, he'd wrapped the baby up and come downstairs. A warm lie-in was not on the small tyrant's agenda.

Anyway, he seemed happy to stay in the sitting room. Strangely happy. Enthusiastic, you might say.

He edged her towards the tree and, amongst the jolly, colourful presents, she saw two parcels wrapped in brown paper. When she asked what they were, he simply shrugged and gave a little sly smile. Opening the first parcel she found an electric iron. Bliss. This wonder of technology lasted over twenty years, flattening all our clothes into obedience.

And in the other parcel was The Bear.

His paws went thin about thirty-five years ago and so I gave him velvet re-treads. His eyes have lost a little of their sparkle but they are original. One ear was chewed by a dog and needed to be stitched back. His fur isn't what it was and so I knitted him this sweater in the sixties. When I was about five, I gave him a bit of a haircut. His nose has worn away to a little snub. In the late fifties, he stopped growling and only said "clunk". Revising for finals in the summer of 1974, I leaned against him as I yawned my way through Lipsey's "Positive Economics". Suddenly, he found his voice. "Clunk ... errrrr", he said. A Keynesian comment, I think.

He celebrated his fifty-seventh birthday on Christmas Day. He's led a great life.

"Clunk ... errrrr"


  1. What a lovely story.
    I wonder if children will be still cherishing the electrical and digital gizmos they are given at Christmas in 57 years' time ? !!
    My favourite toy was a black doll. So politically incorrect and probably not allowed these days. To me she was beautiful and my best friend.

  2. i love this! i still have my bear who is now known as flat bear (he fell in a puddle and had to go through a mangle when i was about 6). my son's bear is called bertha and was given to him as a baby. unfortunately she was a lot bigger than him for a while as he was premature so he had a smaller version called pram bear until he grew into bertha.

  3. Jean: we had a black man money box. You put the penny in his hand and wound a handle which cranked up the penny to his mouth, whereupon he swallowed it. It was vile on so many levels and used to give me nightmares. Your dolly sounds much nicer.

    Joker: poor flat bear. Bertha sounds lovely. Madette dropped out of the nest early and had a small yellow mouse that sat in the corner of the incubator. Several years later, she named him "Cedric". We have no idea why. For her first Christmas, a rather grand bear arrived. He was about the size of a full term baby and, at 10 weeks, so was Madette! He was so grand that he had a both a forename and a surname : "Albert Hall". And on days when he was being particularly grand, he is known as "Royal Albert Hall". For Junior Mad, another bear joined the team. He's called "Bognor". Another royal connection ... My bear has only ever been "Ted".


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