She stares at me with her soulful eyes.
“What do you mean you’re stopping my pocket money? You’re saying I’ve overspent on your credit card at The Ivy and the tab at Mixologist is due? Well, what do you want me to do? Do the washing up?”
She turned her back on me and sulked.
My relationship with Francisquinha is complex. When she is asleep and calm, I really love her. When she is bouncing up and down at some perceived slight I wonder why I bother. And why do I bother?
The relationships we have with our fellow human beings develop over time, time when their depths rise and fall as regularly as the tide. Some give us great satisfaction and joy, others drive us to distraction. The relationship we have with our pets, our cats, dogs, canaries, tropical fish, snakes, and rabbits, particularly if you’re English, can often be better and deeper. But what about a relationship with a stuffed animal – not the one a friendly taxidermist could do for your recently-departed Chihuahua – but a real stuffed animal, made of material, kapok and in the old days buttons for eye (now replaced by cloth as too many babies took the buttons as sweets)? I guess we will all immediately think whether we had or even still have ‘something’ in which we invested emotions, characteristics and a quasi-life.
“Oh! So now you’re going to write about me? At last! Do you want me to suggest what you should say?”
“Actually I am going to write about more famous stuffed animals than you.”
“Someone’s more famous than me? How come?”
I ignore her question. A couple of ‘bears’ come to mind. For me the first is Winnie-the Pooh; not that I had a physical example but loved AA Milne’s Christopher Robin’s bear that came down the stairs ….. ‘bump, bump, bump!’
Milne’s genius was assisted enormously by the illustrations of EH Shepard and of course by Pooh’s friends, Piglet, Tigger, Kanga, Roo and Owl. Pooh’s home-spun philosophy rings as true today as it did when the stories were written 94 years ago. More recently Benjamin Hoff made much of this little bear in his ‘Tao of Pooh’, using the characters to explain modern life:
“By the way, Pooh, how do you spell Tuesday?”
“Spell what?” asked Pooh.
“Tuesday. You know, Monday, Tuesday ….”
“My dear Pooh,” interjects the all-knowing Owl, “everybody knows it’s spelt with a Two.”
“Is it?” asks Pooh.
“Of course,” said Owl. “after all, it’s the second day of the week.”
“Oh! Is that the way it works?” asked Pooh.
“All right, Owl, I said. “Then what comes after Twosday?”
“Thirdsday,” said Owl.
“Owl, you’re confusing things. This is the day after Tuesday, and it’s not Thirdsday – I mean Thursday.”
“Then what is it?” asked Owl.
“Today!” squeaked Piglet.
Older generations will remember Beatrix Potter’s animal creations such as Peter Rabbit – “But round the end of a cucumber frame, whom should he meet but Mr McGregor, planting out young cabbages.” – and Jemima Puddle-Duck. And you remember Paddington, who came to England from Peru in 1958, was the creation of Michael Bond and eventually became the star of two films? In fact, inevitably, these delightful characters from the written word have been mercilessly exploited by consumerism and merchandising. My parents’ bedroom mantelpiece had a large collection of Beatrix Potter china figurines – which gathered dust and required constant cleaning!
“What are you scribbling? Is it about me?”
“Not everything is about you …..”
…… and off she went mumbling about something under her whiskers ……
At the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst there was ‘The Edward Bear Club’. Edward Bear was a proper teddy bear who had become the mascot for the Parachute Course. One Easter leave I spent two weeks voluntarily throwing myself out of an aeroplane to earn my ‘Military Parachutist’ badge (Very different from the punishing P Company Course run by the Parachute Regiment for those wanting to enter their ranks and earn the parachute wings (Note 1)).
Edward Bear Club tie motif
Some weeks after qualifying 70 of us parachuted onto Hankley Common near Aldershot for a ‘Teddy Bear’s Picnic’. Edward Bear had badges from the French Saint Cyr Academy and from West Point, as well as British ones; and of course he had his own parachute and was always the first out of the aeroplane!
In 1981 British Sunday evening television had us glued to a series called Brideshead Revisited staring Jeremy Irons and Antony Andrews. Based on the 1945 Evelyn Waugh novel of the same name, it featured a Lord Sebastian Flyte who always carried his stuffed teddy bear called Aloysius. Waugh had been at Oxford with John Betjeman who had a teddy bear he called Archibald Ormsby-Gore, and this might have been the inspiration for Aloysius.
Jeremy Irons, Antony Andrews and Aloysius
Actually I am jealous of one thing that Francisquinha has and that’s her removable tummy. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if after a heavy meal you could simply open up the Velcro fastening and take out your tummy? Francisquinha’s is made of microwaveable beans; 45 seconds at full power and you have a warm-tummied cuddly rabbit! When she’s come with us on some trip, to the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore for instance, she leaves the tummy behind so she can just chill with the Room Service menu and other amenities
“So what else are you writing about?”
“I bet you didn’t hear of the stuffed rabbit known, not surprisingly, as Bunny (original huh!), that was sucked out of a gun-port on a ‘Flying Legend’ World War Two bomber over Canada last year?”
“No! I didn’t see that on the Rabbit TV News programme. Tell me more …..”
The stuffed pet owner’s father had previously borrowed his daughter’s pet when with the RAF on a tour in Afghanistan so was mortified when he lost it. The power of social media ensured that when Bunny was found on the roof of a care home two weeks later, she/he/it (?) was reunited with Victoria.
“Wow! That’s so cool. Must be a very special rabbit: like me! Did I tell you someone in The Ivy asked me whether I wanted to star in a soap opera they were going to start filming, to be called The Warren? No? Oh! Well! You shouldn’t be surprised given my good looks etc. And by the way, did you ever see me doing one of those 26/2 hot yoga postures you love doing? “
Francisquinha’s ‘Half Lotus’
……and so off she hopped, full of herself, looking for her passport and hoping that she could stow away in our cabin luggage for our trip to Rio de Janeiro; She has complained so often that the cargo compartment is so cold her Caipirinha freezes! And over her shoulder she couldn’t resist another jibe: “And if Boris thinks he can hibernate all winter, he can think again!”
Richard 20th February 2020
Note * Francisquinha is the diminutive form of Francisca, a common Christian name in some parts of the world. Brazilians love adding ‘…..quinha’ to names!)
Note 1. Delighted to read yesterday that Captain Rosie Wild RHA has become the first woman to complete this gruelling selection course and has received her coveted maroon beret.