It started with a fox. A small, stuffed fox with fluffy cheeks and a handsome face. We bought him at Harrods and didn’t know what we’d unleashed.
Almost 10 years on, I’m overrun with stuffed animals. Not taxidermy (well, apart from the pine marten and the fox head), but cuddly animals. Foxes, turtles, tortoises, snakes, a crocodile as long as I am tall, donkeys, sharks (hammerhead as well as dog), an octopus, a clam, an eel, Bagpuss, other assorted cats, a hedgehog, a duck-billed platypus, a rat, a camel, a giraffe, frogs (one acquired since Nick’s been in hospital, the other a much-patched beanbag from childhood) and a couple of koalas. There’s also a bear with a singularly world-weary look on his face, christened Nick bear by my mother after my husband’s tendency to worry. Even given the bears in the ranks, though, these are not teddies. Absolutely not. They are creatures.
Friends and family know about the creatures. They know that they have names and back stories, that we take a selection on holiday (Mr Fox, Megatron and Mama being the best travelled), that they never go in the hold – too precious – and that we, by rights, deserve frequent-buyer points from Steiff. All very childish, if not downright odd, for two otherwise functioning adults but, with Nick’s daughter in the house every other weekend, something that we have always had a cover for. Now, I don’t care how much of a loser having a bedroom that looks like a Toys R Us makes me seem. The creatures have been a comfort since Nick’s accident, both as something to cuddle up to at night in a bed that’s emptier than it’s ever been and as part of what’s now become a ritual when I go to see Nick.
Every day that I’ve visited Nick in hospital I’ve taken one of the creatures with me. I put it in his hand and take a picture of them both. To begin with, I did this as a way of trying to keep his 11-year-old daughter in the loop with her dad. She’s terrified of hospitals at the best of times, and this isn’t that. I zoomed in on the creature and his hand, cropping out the breathing and feeding tubes, as well as the neck brace. It’s become, though, as much for me as it is for her. She’s now OK with seeing pictures of her dad but the creatures have become my crutch.
I have a couple of rules. No repeats are allowed, and no buying new creatures. I’ve only forgotten to bring something once, which is when I let myself break rule number two. I found a fluffy black-and-white cat in the hospital shop that looked just like our cat, Badger. Now, though, I’m close to the end. Only two giant turtles and the man-sized croc are left. They’re tough to transport from home to the office to the hospital, unlike Nick’s cuddly Facehugger who came last week. I know they’re not very nice in Alien but, hey, they just want a hug like the rest of us, right?
So now I have to come up with a new way to mark the passing days, and to bring a bit of much-needed silliness to my trips to hospital. Suggestions on a postcard, please. Actually, postcards might not be such a bad idea. They’d certainly take up less space in the flat than the creature army.