Week thirty six: if you go down in the woods today…

Over the last few months I have railed at the randomness of the learning collection at the museum: plastic tat you can buy at any English Heritage gift shop, for example, or objects too fragile to handle. I have been adding things to the ‘someone else might like it’ pile with abandon, and sure enough Fran, our brilliant Creative Practitioner, has been finding new homes for all sorts of strange things; including the House on the Hill Toy Museum and the New Vic Theatre. I have never understood the point of a handling collection that can’t be handled.

And then this week I got to the teddies. Oh dear.

Teddy bears have been around since the early 20th century, when two toy makers – Richard Steiff in Germany and and Morris Michtom in the USA – were inspired to create toy bears after a political cartoon was printed in the Washington Post. It told the story of a bear hunt, where Theodore (‘Teddy’) Roosevelt refused to shoot a bear that had been caught and tied up by a handler as it was unsportsmanlike. I won’t comment on the fact that they were out shooting bears in the first place, as that’s not the point here!

Cartoon by Clifford Berryman, published in Washington Post, 1902

Michtom saw the cartoon and was inspired to create a toy bear cub which he displayed in the window of his shop, with a sign saying ‘Teddy’s bear’. He’d sent a bear to Roosevelt and been given permission to use his name, although apparently Roosevelt himself hated being called Teddy.

Simultaneously, over in Germany Steiff designed a similar toy bear and exhibited it at the Leipzig Toy Fair. Both toys were an instant hit, and the world has been buying teddy bears – and other stuffed animals – ever since. Our most popular ‘Spotlight Talk’ (on-gallery short teaching sessions delivered by the brilliant Activity Assistants) was Teddy Bears. One bear in the museum – Little Tommy Tittlemouse – is a celebrity and gets birthday cards sent to him every year by members of the public. His previous owner started the tradition when he donated the bear in 1965 and it continued until his death in 1986. He even has a museum blog post dedicated to him. (In case you’re interested, his birthday is the 24th of November, so this week our Tommy turned 112)

The mohair has rubbed off, the wood wool is coming out of his paws, his nose is squashed but someone really loved this bear….

Early teddies looked more like real bears, with long noses, beady eyes and a hump on their backs. They were also a lot less cuddly than the bears we have today – stuffed with sawdust or wood wool, they were heavy and hard, but still lovable. Their ‘fur’ was mohair, which rubs off and so a lot of our older bears are bald and a bit battered. And really, really hard to give away. Own up – how many of you still have your beloved childhood bear? I know I do. He’s balding in places, a bit flat, is missing an eye and has some very amateur repairs but he’s mine and I love him. My mum never quite forgave her own mother for getting rid of her teddy while my parents were on their honeymoon.

My panda, given to me when I was born.

I knew there was going to be a problem when I unwrapped a particularly old bear…and started talking to him. Only an ‘ohhh, hello you!’ but still, it was a slippery slope.

The modern, mass-produced bears were easy to say goodbye to – they have no personality and most of them are brand new. I admit to hanging onto all the Paddingtons, of course, but the McDonalds Happy Meal toys, Beanie Babies and film tie-ins will be going to new homes. The very odd poodle toy (with detached ear and jewelled collar) was also pretty easy to say goodbye to.

Please look after this bear

But…the old bears have character. They have been loved, and their faces are a bit wonky and sometimes their fur is a bit patchy. I don’t know who they belonged to in most cases, but they have had a second home – even if its been in a box – at the museum. I mentioned this on Facebook the other day and a friend said that when she was buying a soft toy as a gift she deliberately looked for the one that wasn’t perfect. Sometimes a toy just calls out to you and you fall in love with it – my mum fell for a Hamley’s polar bear on a shopping trip to Bath, for example, and my dad went back to buy it for her Christmas present.

Our teddy collection ranged from the tiny, pocket-sized bears to much larger Steiff growly bears, nearly half the size of the six year olds who ‘demonstrate’ them in school sessions. Some were handmade, some were beautifully dressed in handmade clothes. There were also rabbits, cats, dogs and the box of more than 100 mice I have mentioned in a previous post.

Can you see why it’s so hard to get rid of them? I confess that a number of these are staying, if they can be handled. Teddies come on life’s adventures with us, after all, and some of them deserve to come with us to the museum’s next life too.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

What happens to rolls of double-sided sticky tape? Where do they go? I started a new one a couple of weeks ago when I was making my colleague’s birthday card and today I couldn’t find it anywhere. I managed to find a squashed roll in the shed, luckily, so my plan to frame various cross stitches wasn’t thwarted. I also found a stash of coloured aida fabric which was in the wrong box – that’s going to come in useful.

Nearly a whole sock!

Progress on the sock has slowed again as I was only on the tube two days this week, but I have started putting together squares for a blanket. I wanted a nine-patch effect, and am edging the squares and each block with charcoal grey. I like the stained glass type effect.

Zoom blanket

So that was week 36. Things 1 and 2 have both had days at home this week as there have been confirmed cases of Covid-19 in their year groups, and Thing 1 has to isolate for a fortnight as she’s been identified as being in contact with a case. I really can’t fault the school, whose communication with us has been effective, clear and timely; yes, they have a duty of care towards the school community but right now they are going above and beyond, working long into the night to make sure things carry on as close to normal as possible. Who would have guessed that a lockdown that didn’t include the schools might see cases spreading, eh?

Later this morning I’ll be heading to Redricks Lakes for my weekly dip – the water was 7 degrees C yesterday after a few frosty mornings this week. That’s a big drop from last week’s 9.5 but I’m still looking forward to it!

Let’s see what week 37 brings.

Kirsty x

What I’ve been reading

Last Stand in Wychford (Witches of Lychford) – Paul Cornell

Gobbelino London and a Scourge of Pleasantries – Kim M. Watt

Sampleri Cymraeg – Joyce F. Jones

The Dark Archive (Invisible Library) – Genevieve Cogman

The Graveyard of the Hesperides/The Third Nero (Flavia Albia) – Lindsey Davis (Audible)

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