Tracey Emin: My Life in a Column

'Little Ted and I were inseparable for the next six years until he went missing on a car journey'


Today I despise my insecurities. All hurt feelings come tumbling into my mind - crashing through my brain and splattering through my eyes like some churned up Victoria Falls. Sometimes it's hard to keep a grip on things. Someone turn the pilot-light on.

I keep thinking about when I was little and my dad used to come and go. I was maybe two or three and I remember screaming and crying. I used to hold on to his shirt and his vest, crying: "Daddy, don't go! Don't go!" Nothing could prise off my little hands. My mum would eventually have to cut the piece of vest that I was holding and that's what I would call my rag, a comfort cloth that I would continually rub on my lips. My dad had hundreds of flannel vests, all patched. When my rag would become filthy dirty, my mum would take it away from me and the whole procedure would start over again. Sometimes she would try to cut another piece of vest and swap it over. Other times she would wash my rag and sew the edge with lace. I don't think this was just because this dirty little piece of cloth looked so disgusting, but that for my mum it was a terrible symbol of my insecurity and represented my neediness toward my dad.

When I was six - we were still wealthy then - I made a deal with my mum (or should I say she made a deal with me), that if I got rid of my rag I could have any toy that I liked. And she meant anything. We trundled down to Henry's toyshop on Margate high street. Sindys, Barbies, Tressys (Tressy was a doll ahead of it's time with hair extensions). I was pretty tempted. We looked at everything - dolls' houses, bicycles, Wendy houses - but all the time I could feel my rag in my pocket. Nothing seemed worth it. But then we went over to Woolworths. Woolworths used to have an amazing sweet counter.

My mum used to really enjoy choosing the pick 'n' mix. While she concentrated on the sweets, I wandered round to the toy counter, and there he was. Little Ted. Little Ted was very little. He was about four or five inches. He had a cloth gingham body, very short fur, sort of like a brushed cotton, a very simple flat face and gingham on the inside of his ears. And I think he was wearing a little waistcoat. I clearly remember how much he cost: two shillings and sixpence.

My mum was ecstatic - she couldn't believe she had got off so lightly! I handed over the rag and immediately pulled Little Ted's ear up to my lip.

And there it was - Little Ted and I were inseparable for the next six years, until he went missing somehow on a car journey from London to Margate. I actually made my dad go back and look for him. I was inconsolable. All I kept thinking of was Little Ted abandoned in some lay-by, his fur now completely flat, his ears patched and totally shiny and his body now totally scarred and disfigured by countless stitches holding him together.

It wasn't until years later that I actually found out what happened to Little Ted. I was at my nan's funeral. She had just been cremated and it was a terrible January winter's day in Margate. (Can I just say this, for the record, as I have briefly touched on the subject: if and when anything happens to me, I do not want to be and will not be cremated in Margate Crematorium and I don't want to be in a coffin. And I promise you if anyone tries to put me in one, I will get up and walk away!) I loved my nan very much. She was instrumental in bringing me up. My mum and dad would often go away.

Funerals are never happy occasions, especially when someone is old and they have led a relatively obscure life. My nan was 94 when she died. I had the job of clearing out her room. In her bedside cabinet was her address book.

On every page, names were crossed out. I remember when she used to try and telephone a friend and she used to say to me: "Tray, I think there's something wrong with their phone." And of course, the line had been cut.

After the funeral we sat around in the Britannia pub with its sparsely laid-out furniture, no one really knowing what to say. Until a relative who I hadn't seen for a long, long, time said, to break the ice: "Tracey, do you still have that dirty little teddy bear?" At which my twin brother piped up: "No, I threw it out the car window years ago." A fucking giant well of emotion rushed up, all completely tangled up with the loss of my nan, the thoughts of my mum and dad taking it in turns to leave us and the realisation that my brother had done this on purpose. This was 20 years later. I was at my nan's funeral and I screamed at my brother: "Why? Why did you do it?" He said that Little Ted embarrassed him. But what really embarrassed him was my insecurity, the fact that I wore it like a medal.

I'm incredibly philosophical about death but not the loss of the living. Today I am lost, apart from the memory of everything which is sad.

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