Time for a big hug!

Did you know that yesterday* was National Hug Day aka National Hugging Day? No, me neither! Well, that’s a lie because obviously I did know it is otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it. What I should probably have said is that I hadn’t heard of it until it was mentioned on my local radio station that morning. There seem to be national days for everything and I suspected it was one of the many invented recently to jump on the bandwagon. But I was wrong. It’s actually been around since 1986! Yes, you read that right: 1986. The year that John McCarthy was kidnapped in Beirut, work finished on the M25, we piled to the cinema to watch Tom Cruise in Top Gun, and Nick Berry’s “Every Loser Wins” was the second best-selling single of the year in the UK (The Communards with the far more respectable “Don’t Leave Me This Way was number 1). That’s a long time ago!

I did some research and apparently it was invented in the USA by a bloke called Kevin Zaborney who felt that Americans didn’t express their feelings enough and should hug family and friends (and even strangers) even more because of the sense of well-being this gives. Awww. Nice idea. Here’s the munchkin and me having a nice hug on a holiday in the Lakes.

P1030342So on my blog today, I want to talk about hugs. But not the snuggling each other variety. I want to talk about the teddy bear variety. Afterall, the strapline of my blog is “Writing, Reading, Stationery, Life, Chocolate & Bears” and I haven’t yet devoted a post to bears.

You may or may not know that a collection of teddy bears is known as a hug. Isn’t that just adorable? And I have an exceedingly large hug. I’m what’s known as an arctophile which is the official name given to someone who collects teddy bears. I don’t think it’s as warm and fuzzy a word as it should be but it could be worse.

As a child, I liked bears. But I also liked dolls, lego, and colouring books so I wouldn’t say bears stood out as “my thing”. When I was in my mid-teens, I started to like bears more. I’m not really sure why. I had quite a few plush bears and I found myself drawn to them in shops. It became known I was a bear-fan and gifts started to become more and more bear-themed. When I bought my first house, my plush collection was huge and my house was strewn with teddy bear pictures, salt and pepper shakers and placemats. I drew the line at the rather scary teddy-bear vacuum cleaner cover my mum once bought me, though. It looked more like a giant mouse in clothes and started to give me the fear so it disappeared!

P1060143It was only when I hit my thirties that I discovered that there was a world outside plush teddy bears and I started my journey to becoming a true arctophile. We probably all have at least one rubbish relationship in our past and Dave (name changed to protect him; not that he deserves it) was mine. But I’ll always be grateful to Dave for one thing; back in 2001 he introduced me to my first collectible bear. He took me to a gorgeous bear shop in his home town. I’d never heard of Steiff or Dean’s or any of the other bear companies but, as I gazed round the packed shelves, I was in awe. Gorgeous faces stared back at me with “pick me” eyes.

Then I looked at a price tag.

Oh. My. Goodness! £70 for a bear? £150 for a bear? £300 for a bear? What?????!!!!

But it’s only when you start exploring the world of collectible bears that you appreciate the history, artistry and materials that go into them and you get it. You really do.

P1060145I walked out that shop that day having fallen in love with a particular Dean’s Bear (oldest UK teddy bear manufacturer) called Scruff but there was no way I was paying £70 for a bear. We walked round the city, had some lunch, walked back towards the car park … and straight into the bear shop. Scruff became the first member of my collectible hug and I’m sure you can see why (although hubby is the photographer in the family; not me!)

I slowly added to the hug (with those prices, it’s not exactly a regular purchase). In 2002, I finally realised that the only value Dave brought to my life was that he’d introduced me to collectible bears and we parted company. Phew! I then completely changed my life. I packed in my job, moved back to the north, and opened a teddy bear shop. Obviously.

P1060142Being surrounded by bears and bear-themed products (stationery, cards, bags etc.) was a dream come true. The challenging part was not taking them all home to add to the hug! I was like a small child at Christmas every time a delivery arrived, particularly for collectible bears. You see, I had reps for the plush bears I carried (mainly Gund and Russ) but all my collectible bears were ordered from a catalogue which meant opening a Steiff, Dean’s, Robin Rive, Hermann Teddy Original or Merrythought delivery was a very special moment. I know it probably sounds really sad to anyone who isn’t a teddy bear lover but I’d line them up on the counter and gaze lovingly at them before finding a new home on my shelves and in my glass cabinets.

P1060144Quite often the shop would be empty and I’d stroll around and have a hug and a squeeze, or turn the head slightly on a collectible bear to make him even more appealing.

I hate to say it but I had my favourites. Sometimes the adoration was immediate but sometimes they grew on me the more I caught their eyes. I’d say to them, “If you’re not sold in three months, you’re coming home with me.” The only problem then was that I’d have a mild panic attack any time a customer started showing interest in them, hoping they wouldn’t leave the shop yet knowing that I needed to make the sale to stay afloat. Munchie (the fluffy one above) and Caramel (to the left) are a couple of examples although I promise that the names had nothing to do with the decision to bring them home, despite my sweet tooth!

P1060140I attended a bear-making workshop at a (sadly now closed down) teddy bear shop on Elvet Bridge in Durham. I made my first bear there. Meet Mark Elvet (named after my husband and the shop location). I made another one from the same pattern who I called Cinnamon Brown then I attended an advanced workshop where I experimented with spray-dying their noses. I called my bear Mustard Green. But I sold both of them. I wanted to keep them but I decided to experiment and see whether a customer would love my bears. They did. They sold. They joined new hugs. My only regret is that I never actually took photos of them. This was just before everyone turned digital so snapping away at everything simply didn’t happen.

When I closed the shop in 2005, a lot of the bears sold. It’s rare that collectible bears are reduced so the sale brought in a lot of interest. A few of my favourites may have slipped into the hug somehow pre-sale (no idea how that happened) and a few other unloved ones joined them when they hadn’t gone to new hugs by the time I locked the doors for the last time. They may have been unloved by the general public but they weren’t unloved by me!

Since then, the additions to the collections have slowed but there’s always room for one more. And another … and another. Because, let’s face it, bears like to hug and the more of them there are squeezed up close together in my bear cabinet, the more hugs they get from each other!

I know it’s no longer National Hugging Day but, if you missed it yesterday, celebrate it today instead. You’ll feel great 🙂

I’d love to hear from you about your hugs or your teddy bears. Please click on the comments box and share. I’ll do some more posts about bears and the shop over the year as well as writing ones.

* Slight confession: I planned to post this yesterday on National Hugging Day and I prepared the post during my lunch break at work … then somehow saved it to my work PC instead of my USB stick so I had to retrieve it today and post a day late!

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