Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Everyone has a teddy out there that's just for them
Disney Pixar's first 3D animated film, Toy Story perfectly depicts the special relationship between a child and their favourite toy. It is a story we can all relate to. While other toys came and went from our lives as we got older, most of us will have one that always remained. I still have mine, and she will stay with me until the end of time. Even those who no longer have their childhood friend, will, I'm sure, still have a special place for them in their heart. Andy had Woody the cowboy, I have a stuffed rabbit, but the most common and universally loved childhood toy is a teddy bear.
I have three young second cousins, the eldest of whom, my mum bought a Charlie Bear with their namesake. Unfortunately, Charlie Bears did not have a bear with the correct spelling for the second child and the namesake bear of the third had long since retired. We therefore had a quest, one that we hoped Hugglets could help us complete. Hugglets is an events company that run two teddy bear festivals a year, one in February and the other in September. Although they are mainly aimed at adult collectors, that does not mean kids miss out. In fact, on our last visit, I saw more kids there than I have in previous years. This is probably because entry for children is now free. Adults can also get in free if they register in advance. By doing so, you will receive a free catalogue with two complimentary tickets inside. If you do not register before the event, you can buy a catalogue at the door for £5.95. Since single entry is £4, it is a good idea to get a catalogue, as you will essentially get one ticket for half price. Your entry ticket also acts as a raffle ticket. Every hour there is a prize draw, and the winner receives a £50 voucher, which can be used at any Hugglets event. If you're not lucky enough in the draw, there is also the opportunity to win a £250 voucher by going on a treasure hunt – or should I say letter hunt? Letters are hidden across the building's three levels for you to find. These letters make up a phrase. Figure out the phrase, hand your entry in, and if you get the answer right, you might win big.
Hugglets is held at Kensington Town Hall and the doors open at 10.30am; anyone who queues up beforehand will get free chocolates, which are handed out down the line. All the staff running the event are very friendly, and you get the sense that they like teddy bears just as much as all the visitors.
As I entered the foyer, I saw Dot Bird, who specialises in the restoration of vintage teddies. She was dealing with a client who had brought in two fabulous giant bears. If you are interested in getting one of your bears brought back to their former glory, you can take them with you to the event for her to have a look at.
Whittle Le Woods
In the main hall, the first stall I went to was Whittle-Le-Woods, run by Mike and Irene Whittle. Irene not only crafts the most beautiful mohair bears but with a degree in fashion design, also sews them outstanding outfits. My favourite designs are usually her bears with duffle coats, but on this occasion, I was also very taken with Captain Caspar the pirate, who was wearing an elaborate velvet jacket and silk bandana. It is interesting to see how artists progress over the years. While looking at a stockist selling retired bears, my mum spotted a bear called Edward made by Whittle-Le-Woods in 1994. He was a beautiful big bear, but very different in design from Irene's current style. We asked Irene if she knew of anyone at the festival who might have those 'special bears' we were looking for, for my cousins, and she directed us to a stall which having a Steiff bear sale. Not only did we find a lovely growling bear at a bargain price, but also some teddy bear passports that we could fill in with exactly the right names. Directly opposite, we discovered newcomer, Smiffy Bears. As well as stocking a few old bears, Smiffy handmakes her own teddies using patterns she designed. Lucky for us, she'd finished a lovely traditional looking bear with a flower garland, just right for cousin number three.
Now our quest was over, I spent the next few hours wandering the halls at leisure. There were several other newcomers to the fold. The most memorable for me was GSBears because of their unique design. Spanish artist, Gerard Solà, bases his designs on nineteenth-century patterns, but the fabrics and colours are wild, flamboyant, and varied, giving each bear a very different look. The bears are made all the more personable by the fact that the furs Solà uses are from old family coats and jackets.
Live Painting Session
Solà is also an illustrator. I particularly liked his painting of a china bear with a broken arm, glueing itself back together. Later that day I had a chat with Amanda Jackson, an artist who I found painting on canvas. I could see how much she enjoyed her work, as she enthusiastically talked about the lighting in her paintings, and the challenges different backgrounds pose.
The Travelling Teddy Bear
It is wonderful when you can combine different passions this way. There is no better example than Olaf Van-Dombrowski, who managed to bring his love of bears, travelling, and photography all together with The Travelling Teddy Bear. Olaf takes his bear with him on his travels and takes photos of his adventures.
Despite all the stallholders who were making their first appearance at Hugglets, overall there were far fewer stalls than usual. I counted at least six empty spaces where stockists once had been on previous visits. While this was disappointing from a browsing point of view, I found myself no less spoilt for choice when it came to deciding which bears I wanted to take home with me.
Bower Bird Bears
One bear artist, whose designs I am always tempted by, is Gill Cattroll, who owns Bower Birds. What I like about Gill is that she is always experimenting and doing something different. Each time I visit, I am excited to see what new designs she has come with. In September, I was very taken with, Aust, a bear who got his yellow-tinged fur from dying mohair in mint leaves.
While Aust's colouring was understated,
This was lucky in more ways than one because Rizzo's disappearance meant I could afford Matilda from the stall opposite. Matilda was a pre-owned bear looking for a new home. She had been taken in by the 'adoption agency', Loved Before. Loved Before supports a children's charity called the Toy Project, by selling pre-loved toys. When you donate a cuddly toy, you are invited to fill in a card, telling your toy's story and the memories you shared with it. It will be cleaned and then sold on with their card to a new owner. Matilda, for example, enjoys ballet.
A Touch of Hope
Other charitable organisations also appeared at the festival, including A Touch of Hope, who, with the help of Dave the bear, support the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.
Stone Henge Bears
As this is a bear festival, it is not surprising that bears are the star of the show, but several other animals find their way in too. Rabbits/Hares are probably the second most prolific, and there is no shortage of fantasy creatures like dragons and unicorns. Each year, however, I seem to find a new addition to Noah's Ark, and this time it was bats by
Christopher's Bear Chairs
Talking about rest, do your bears have anywhere to put up their tired paws after a long day? If not, you might want to check out by Christopher's Bear Chairs. Christopher makes high-quality wooden chairs and benches for bears of many different shapes and sizes.
Or maybe your bears don't get tired. Maybe they are like the toys in Toy Story and go on all sorts of adventures while you're not around. In that case, your toys might need some of their own toys to play with. Several stallholders give their bears sets and scenes to be displayed in. One of my favourites was the pirate ship on display at Xipi Totec.
If you need a special cuddly companion to take on adventures or to share your secrets with, mark this date in your diary: 24th February. Winter Bearfest 2019.