Authors: Alan Field
Tags: #Bear, #teddy bear, #toys, #travel, #circus, #magician, #Paris, #Russia
A Travelling Bear
First published in 2016 by
1 Eliza Place
Gosport PO12 4UN
Digital edition converted and distributed by
Andrews UK Limited
Copyright Â© 2016 Alan Field
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in any retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the copyright holder for which application should be addressed in the first instance to the publishers. No liability shall be attached to the author, the copyright holder or the publishers for loss or damage of any nature suffered as a result of the reliance on the reproduction of any of the contents of this publication or any errors or omissions in the contents.
To Mandy and Biffo
Chapter 1: Making Plans
I can't remember when I first thought of becoming a travelling bear instead of one that just simply sits and sits. The trouble with a stuffed bear is really the rain: once you've been out in a shower you never feel quite the same again. For one thing your squeaker gets rusty and turns into a croaker. So the first thing I thought of was an umbrella.
Not, of course, like Amanda's umbrella: even though it was
for children it was far too big for a bear. I wanted one
for a bear. But as Toots said (Toots is one of the menagerie, as Amanda calls us), hanging upside-down from the bookshelf, “That jersey from Auntie Vi was
for you, but it covers up all your paws and goes round you three times.”
No, it was going to be difficult finding something that would do. Perhaps a sugar bowl? Or a leaf from the African rubber plant in the dining room? Amanda's Mummy had said it was threatening to take over the whole room so they wouldn't miss one leaf. And being rubber it would be just the thing.
Well, that was settled.
Another thing I fancied was the old brass telescope. It used to belong to a fierce sea captain who came to the house from time to time to see Amanda's Daddy, but now it was Amanda's. She had given up using it for seeing the time on the church clock after last Christmas when her Uncle Alec had made her a present of a watch.
A rather useful thing about the telescope was looking at things through the wrong end. Everything went small. Toots looked just like a mouse and Amanda had to put it away quickly when she heard Muffin the cat coming. And another thing, if you put the telescope to your ear, you could even hear the sea; and that made me even more anxious to set off on my travels.
“Before you go,” Diddy said, (Diddy is the baby of the menagerie and fond of making wise remarks on things he knows nothing about), “before you go you will need to have a Passport.” Fortunately I remembered that Amanda had already made one for me when we were playing Post Offices. The photograph was one she took of me sitting in her bicycle basket just before we had gone shopping. It was rather a good likeness, I thought, and my ears and nose looked particularly fine, though she had insisted that I put on an old pair of Uncle Alec's spectacles. She said it would give me a distinguished air.
“ ... allow the bear to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bear such assistance and protection as may be necessary”
it said, which was very grand.
PROFESSION: House Bear
PLACE AND DATE OF BIRTH: Not known
COUNTRY OF RESIDENCE: England
HEIGHT: 21 inches
COLOUR OF EYES: Black
COLOUR OF HAIR: Golden brown
SPECIAL PECULIARITIES: Loose stuffing in right paw
On the cover of the passport, it said âSebastian'. Of course, Sebastian wasn't my original name. I found my original name on a little label on my paw: it was âGenuine Kapok'. Rather majestic as names go, but I think I prefer the one Amanda gave me, even though it was not quite as exclusive.
The passport said - in the part marked Profession - âHouse Bear'. Well, I was going to change all that. When I came back from wherever I was going they would have to call me âTravelling Bear'. The trouble was I had not really made up my mind exactly where I was going.
“The North Pole,” said Toots, “and then you could see some Pole-a-bears.”
“The Quator,” said Diddy, trying out a word he could just see inside Amanda's geography book.
“The Equator isn't a place, silly,” said Toots. “It's a menagerie line drawn around the earth's tummy.”
“It's too hot anyway,” I said, remembering that I would probably have to take off my jersey and then everybody would see that the fur had worn off my chest. “I think I prefer a temperate zone,” I said loudly, and both bears went very quiet. Of course, they had never heard of a temperate zone: neither had I really, but I could just see it in Amanda's book next to âEquator'.
Diddy changed the subject: he always does when there is something he does not understand. Our subjects get changed every few minutes.
“Amanda's coming,” he said, pointing a paw towards the stairs.
It was bedtime. We always had to pretend to share Amanda's cocoa or warm milk, and then she would choose one of us to take to bed. Being the biggest bear, I usually sat up guarding at the bottom of her bed.
Amanda knew there was excitement in the air as soon as she came into the nursery.
“What have you bears been up to?” she asked, putting her head on one side and giving us a quizzical smile. Of course, we could not answer even though we could understand: that's the trouble with being a stuffed bear. We all looked rather guilty but I couldn't prevent my eyes from twinkling - a bad habit because it always gives me away. She soon found the travel leaflets and the geography book, which Toots was sitting on.
“So you want to go and seek your fortune, do you?” she said, looking rather sternly through all the papers. “Well, I suppose if Puss in Boots can do it, you can. But first of all we must make a list of all the things you'll need.”
She began to write a list on a piece of paper she had torn out of a notebook, frowning and biting her pencil every now and then.
This was the list:
Change of jersey
Change of trousers
Brush and comb
Reel of cotton
I looked rather puzzled about the reel of cotton.
“It's for if you get lost in a maze,” she said. “You tie one end to the beginning and you can't possibly go wrong. The magnet is for finding things you've dropped down wells and drains and things like that. The compass is in case you are lost in the desert. You always come to the North Pole if you walk far enough.”
I looked rather doubtful.
“The sticking plasters are for your stuffing. Don't ever let your stuffing leak out!” She wagged a finger. “Put a plaster on straight away. And the treacle toffees are for sticking things together. You've no idea how well one stuck Uncle Alec's plate to the table the other day. It's for things you don't want to lose.”
This was all very well, but I still hadn't decided where to go.
“How about Cheltenham Spa,” she said, “or Moreton-in-Marsh, or Weston-super-Mare? Or even,” she went on with an expression of great excitement, “or even Paris?”
Paris! Where they have those funny round kiosks all covered in posters and where they painted letter-boxes yellow instead of red. What an adventure that would be!
Amanda was serious again, nibbling her pencil. “The only problem now is where you could stay.”
I hadn't really thought of
anywhere, just moving about, but I supposed she was right. I had to have an address after all, for my post, as well as having somewhere to unpack.
“There's always GÃ©raldine,” she said. “When she came last August for her school holidays she offered to put up any member of the family. That must mean you too.”
GÃ©raldine wasn't too bad. A bit flippant perhaps, and with an annoying habit of standing you on your head, or covering you with a tea cosy, and then running off.
“Well, you don't seem very keen, but it's all I can think of. Unless we write to the French President and ask him.”
No, GÃ©raldine would have to do; and she did live in a flat with a balcony and shutters at the windows, which sounded very interesting.
“Getting you there is another problem though,” said Amanda thoughtfully. “You can't just go like a human bean would. Think of all the changing of trains and boats and buses, and all that sort of thing. You would probably end up in Arabia or somewhere like that, where they had never even seen a bear before.”
We all sat round rather glumly. Arabia would not suit me at all, especially my squeaker, with all that sand.
Amanda's Mummy came in then with the hot milk and biscuit.
“Well, your menagerie does look serious tonight, dear,” she said. “Hurry up with your drink, and don't forget to clean your teeth afterwards. Oh, and remember tomorrow we must pack up that present for GÃ©raldine.”
Amanda was halfway through drinking her milk when suddenly she let out a whoop of excitement.
“I've got it! I've got it! We'll pack you up in the box to GÃ©raldine. You can go by air mail!”
Chapter 2: Off to Paris
Well, being posted off just like a parcel was not my idea of how to set off to seek my fortune. All other animals I had read about started in a very grand fashion with horses to ride, or at least with their things tied up in a little bundle and a stick to carry. I remembered seeing pictures of them waving farewell to their masters - cats, dogs, rabbits, mice - all kinds of things.
But now I come to think of it - no bears. I suppose it is because bears are always content with what they happen to be doing at the time, like climbing trees, or eating, or just sitting thinking.
The box that Amanda had found for me had been sent round by the grocer that morning. It had a very cross word written all over it in large letters. âZAG', it said. And then in smaller letters: âDon't Flag - Take Zag'.
I found out later it was a sort of breakfast food because bits kept falling in my ears every time the box tipped up.
Amanda had done her best to make me comfortable with lots of corrugated paper and I was sitting on GÃ©raldine's present - a patchwork bedspread - and my things were packed underneath. Amanda had even cut out breathing holes for me. “It's in the Regulations,” she said, reading off an official-looking list called CARRIAGE OF ANIMALS BY AIR. But her mummy insisted on covering the holes with sticky tape.
Setting off the next day I caught a glimpse of thumbs and buttons, and dark blue uniforms like policemen through the holes.
On the aeroplane it was dark, but when we arrived in France the uniforms changed to a bright blue - a much more cheerful colour I thought. Voices were sharper and everybody seemed to be arguing.
After a few minutes I realised they
arguing. About me!
“The importing of bears is forbidden under the Regulations,” said the loudest voice, and I supposed he was the one-in-charge. “It says here,” and I could hear the crackle of pages being turned over. “It says: âIt is strictly against the rules to import the bears unless to employ in a zoo or circus'.”
There was a pause while everybody thought, and a heavy finger banged on the lid.
“This bear is addressed to the rue St Quentin in Montmartre. Here there is no zoo. And no circus.”
Everybody seemed to agree because they said nothing and I trembled to think what was coming next.
“The bear must be sent home,” the loud voice concluded.
My stuffing seemed to sink. All this way only to be sent back, without even time to write a postcard.
“But first,” said another, thin sort of voice, “it is necessary to take particulars of the bear. I must fill up the import form for coming in. And then another form for him to go out again.”
I could hear the One in Charge looking through his book of regulations, and after a minute he read out, “âAll crates containing live bears to be opened by the animal import officer'.”
It all went quiet as they went in search of the animal import officer.
Perhaps I should really have been smuggled in - rowed across the Channel at dead of night and landed in a little cove with barrels of rum and things. Like the story Amanda read to me last week. But it was too late to think about that now.
The voices were coming back and my stuffing sank lower and lower. Only to see the blue uniforms at Paris airport - and then back home. What a disgrace! I should never be allowed out again.
But suddenly my squeaker gave a leap. It was GÃ©raldine, arguing in her up-and-down voice with the others.
“I come to claim my little bear,” she said. “He is not going to a circus, nor to a zoo. He is coming home with me.” There was more rustling of paper.
“It is the Regulations, Mademoiselle. The animal officer must take charge of the bear.”
I could hear GÃ©raldine's foot stamping, but it was no good. It used to work with Amanda when she wanted things, but not here.
There was a snipping noise and the lid of ZAG cereals fell open.
A lean, sharp-looking face peered in. It had a little thin moustache, like the ones Amanda painted for pirates, and a funny-looking hat shaped like a saucepan. Its expression changed suddenly and went very dark.
“This is not a live bear at all. It is a stuffed bear!”
I felt quite deflated. As though I wasn't a bear at all.
“And,” he went on, the face growing more and more purple, “I have filled up the wrong form!”
I could just see GÃ©raldine's fair hair over the top of the box and lots of thumping of rubber stamps. Eventually the thin man with the saucepan on his head said, “Ah well, Mademoiselle, I consign the bear to you.”
GÃ©raldine grabbed me by the ears and I was out of the box in a flash.
“Ah, babee!” she cried, hugging me so tightly that I thought I would never be the same shape again. I hated being called âbaby' anyway. Especially babeeee. A bear has his pride to think of.
Still, I suppose she was glad to see me. And come to think of it, I had never been so glad to see GÃ©raldine before.
“Mademoiselle!” called the lean face with the saucepan, “you forget items two, three and four of this packet.”
He thumped down on the table the patchwork bedspread, the telescope, and my little parcel of things. He passed over a pink form, which GÃ©raldine had to sign. I noticed I was Item One.
GÃ©raldine scribbled her untidiest signature, seized me round the tummy and we both dashed off down the escalator to the airport bus.
Well, I had heard of cars driving on the right-hand side of the road in France (the wrong side as Amanda's Auntie Vi used to say), but it gave me quite a turn all the same. GÃ©raldine didn't seem to notice. She just kept jigging me up and down on her knees, singing some pert French song.
Everything seemed much bigger than I had imagined from the pictures in Toots's geography book.
“The Eiffel Tower,” Toots had said in a very knowledgeable voice, “is at least as high as Amanda's wardrobe. Even as tall as the postman!”
When I first saw it as the bus came into Paris it looked at least as tall as the moon, let alone the postman. It was shaped just like its picture, only a sort of yellow colour - not all silver as I'd imagined it to be. Perhaps it might be just possible, if you were standing at the top, to see the face of the man in the moon properly. I'd often wondered what he really looked like.
“Here we are!” said GÃ©raldine as we drew up beside a lot of other buses. “This is the Air Terminal.”
We all tumbled off the bus with me upside-down. I hoped GÃ©raldine wasn't going to take me everywhere upside down. It gives you such strange ideas of what places look like.
“Taxeeee! Taxeeee!” she shouted, in her piercing French voice.
A long black car came roaring towards us along the cobbled street and just stopped level with GÃ©raldine's foot. We jumped in and the driver clicked his meter and off we went - much faster than the bus.
We arrived at last at GÃ©raldine's house. Well, it wasn't a house at all. It had no front garden like Amanda's, only an enormous door set in the wall right next to the pavement, and over it a metal plate with the number seventeen in blue and white enamel. Geraldine pressed the bell, and âclick!' the door opened.
Just like Aladdin's cave. Being very fond of mysteries and secret passages, I began to get excited. We went up a flight of stone steps, and then round a landing; and up some more steps, and round again; and up even more steps. When at last we stopped I was quite dizzy.
We were right at the top of the building and through a skylight I could see clouds floating along. What was it Amanda used to sing? âTwinkle, twinkle little star ...' Perhaps at night I should be able to see them more clearly from here. Then I could tell Diddy what they were made of.
I was just about to think of something else when âWoof!' or âPow!' I was squeezed from both sides at the same time. If you've ever been squashed on opposite sides like a sock in a wringer you'll know what I mean. It was GÃ©raldine's mother. She grabbed GÃ©raldine and I happened to be in between. There were lots of smacking kisses and both of them talked at once, and it was ages before they noticed me.
“Aaaaaaah?” said GÃ©raldine's mother, holding me out at arm's length.
“It's Sebastian,” said GÃ©raldine by way of explanation. Her mother didn't seem in the least convinced, and tried out all my joints in turn - very painful some of them, particularly my neck as I'm not in the habit of rotating my head round and round without stopping, even though I can do it, of course.
“It's a bear,” she said at length. Well, after all that scrutiny I expected a more intelligent remark. But I suppose foreigners have never heard of bears and I would have to think of myself as a sort of missionary come to educate these people in the ways of bears.
“I expect he's hungry, Maman,” said Geraldine. “He always had his tea at four o'clock in England.”
“Ah yes. The English tea,” said Maman in an amused sort of voice. “I'll make some specially for him and we can all have a cup.”
We went into the dining room, which was very pleasant with big windows overlooking the street. There was an old brass clock on the sideboard and lots of dark furniture. On a corner table there was a collection of photographs in silver frames. GÃ©raldine grabbed the thickest book she could find from the shelf (it was a dictionary), and plonked me on top of it on the nearest chair. Then I had to suffer an enormous stiff serviette being tucked into the top of my jersey and spread all over me like a duvet. Although I only pretended to drink the tea, I can't say I liked the look of it. In the first place you could see the bottom of the cup - even with the tea in it - and in the second place there was a slice of lemon floating on the top. I could have just imagined what Auntie Vi would have to say; and Uncle Alec, who regularly used to make his spoon stand up in the cup to test the strength. Still, making tea was another thing I would have to teach them.
“You won't be able to see Papa tonight,” GÃ©raldine said, “because he's gone to prison,” and looked sideways at me to see if I was shocked. “Actually,” she went on after a pause to crunch a biscuit, “he's taking someone there. He's a sergeant in the Paris police, you see.”
Well, that was an interesting occupation at least.
“So,” she went on, “we'd better send a telegram to say you've arrived safely.” She took a red-covered notebook and wrote down Amanda's address in beautiful pale blue ink. “Now, what shall we say? I know ...
SEBASTIAN ARRIVE HEALTHY AND SAFE TODAY WEATHER FINE
Her mother put on some gold-rimmed spectacles and came to look.
She didn't approve of the bit about the weather. “Too many words. Too expensive,” she said.
“But Maman, you always have to talk about the weather to English people. It wouldn't be polite to miss it out.”
“And you need not say TODAY.”
GÃ©raldine crossed out the words.
“It will still cost too much,” complained her mother. “Ask GrandpÃ¨re about it.”
GÃ©raldine fetched her grandfather out of the next room where I could hear the television playing very loudly. He was a small man with no corners. His shoulders were rounded, his elbows rounded, his legs bowed and his tummy well padded out. He was all dressed in black and had a very large nose (a hooter, some impolite people might have called it). He had a battered-looking cigarette drooping from his mouth and so much smoke was drifting up that he kept squinting to see, and his eyes almost disappeared.
He grunted a few times, borrowed GÃ©raldine's pen and crossed out some more words. The telegram read:
SEB. ARR. GER.
I hoped Amanda would understand it, especially if the words happened to get stuck together and turned out as
Now if they'd asked me about the shortest telegram to send, I should just have put
Amanda would have known exactly who it was.
GÃ©raldine took some crackly money out of a little box on the shelf and dashed off to send the telegram.
We spent most of the rest of the evening eating an enormous dinner with bottles of wine - just like Christmas. I didn't drink any, of course: bears only drink water and cocoa. Bedtime was ten o'clock (Amanda was always in bed at nine). GÃ©raldine gave me a big hug and tucked me in at the bottom of the bed.
Well, I was very pleased on the whole. Here I was in a foreign country - probably the only stuffed bear ever to make the journey. I couldn't help thinking about the animal officer at the airport. And that funny man with the saucepan on his head and little moustache. What an adventure!
I had just started to go all dreamy when - plop! Something or somebody landed on the floor at the foot of the bed. I put on my specially fierce expression reserved for witches and burglars and looked out through the bed rails.