There’s no denying that Chris loved bears: Black bears, Brown bears, Grizzly Bears, Polar bears… and Teddy bears. Given that she couldn’t keep live bears in the house, she had to make do most of the time with Teddy bears, which she collected throughout her life. Her father gave her Tedwink when she was born and they kept on coming.
Her fascination only increased as she got older. At 13 she won a national competition for writing a Paddington Bear story; at 22 she researched, wrote, and made an illustrated book called The Bear Facts: The Teddy Bear as an Industrial Product for her Graphic Design degree project; and when she began work she scrimped and saved to buy rare, antique bears.
Every bear was named, though I only learned a few, and each had its own personality and significance. There grew to be so many that Folly Cottage couldn’t contain them all and occasionally some had to be re-homed (I once used the word “culled” and Chris didn’t speak to me for a week).
Now she’s gone, I’ve had to decide their fate. Tedwink has gone back to Chris’s mum, together with Paddington and Aunt Lucy. Sophie Hannah and a small coterie of special bears have taken refuge on top of the wardrobe in the bedroom, but the others left Folly Cottage for good yesterday, after gathering on the sofa for a final group photograph.
They travelled in style on the back seat of the car to the Cotswold Hospice shop in Nailsworth. The lady behind the counter, seeing the haunted look on my face as I handed them over, was gently reassuring: “Don’t worry,” she said. “We’ll take very good care of them.” I thanked her and drove home, hoping that I’d done the right thing.
The bears were so much a part of Chris that it was very hard to let them go. It was part of her magic that despite her awesome intellect, she gave free rein to the spirited, playful child within. They represent an aspect of Chris that I deeply loved, though I can hear her voice, putting me straight.
“They don’t represent anything. They’re bears!”
Goodbye sweet girl.
2nd from the left, top row, centre back row with blue jumper and front centre with pink jumper are real antique bears that Chris was given by an elderly lady “to look after nicely for her”. There was a photo of dear Chris in the Bucks Free Press when we live in High Wycombe – a photographer came to the house and took a lovely picture on her bed of all the many bears she had and right in the middle of them all was Chris’s head poking out. Wish I still had that picture. She must have been about 11 or 12 years old.