Animals: Choose an animal. Write about it!
I've just been reading about Stanley. It's my mother's fault in a way. Last night I found myself looking through a few of the many photograph albums from my childhood home, beginning with the album my mother made during our 1977 summer holiday. We were fortunate as children to have a summer holiday every year. They weren't expensive holidays. We weren't jetting off to resorts in Spain or even resorts in Skegness. We didn't do Butlins! We wouldn't ever have done Butlins! I wonder what we would have thought of holiday camps if we had ever spent a week in them. Would it have turned out that we enjoyed them after all? Of course it wasn't something that was ever going to happen. Butlins and Pontins were for those people. The others. The common people and we didn't want to share in their enjoyment. At least that's the general view that filtered down to a child version of me. In an adult world and to adult thinking that wasn't the case at all but my child mind received an acceptance that a holiday camp was out because we were in some way better than holiday camp people. Of course, we weren't. It's doubtful my parents ever thought like that. Not really.
We were different though in our tastes and they were almost certainly right that we were much happier with our holidays. Each year we would visit somewhere in England or Wales and camp. We would choose the two pound campsite over the two pound fifty campsite to save money. A few times we made it abroad. Yes, we had foreign holidays too, either camping or staying with people we knew in Germany. Our foreign holidays cost no more than our British ones.
What's all that got to do with an animal?
In that 1977 summer holiday album I read about the day we went to do some shopping in Stanley. My mother said she quite liked it so I looked it up and learned a little about the town. Late last night I was finding walking routes. The ten miles between Consett and Beamish look easy enough and I almost can't wait to explore Hell Hole Woods. I don't think that Stanley is a particularly thriving place or that you're completely spoiled with a vast smorgasbord of activities to choose from. The last paragraph of the Wikipedia article tells me so when it proudly states that The Animals played a well received gig in Stanley in 2005. A quite local band who had some hits fifty years ago visited Stanley ten years ago and that's still one of the big leisure talking points. I'll visit Stanley this year, see it for myself. I wonder if I'll be as impressed as my mother was.
That article, that album, that animal. They have combined to cause my to make a decision. In my mind, as of the middle of the night, Stanley isn't just a place. Stanley is an animal. Stanley is one of my soft toy friends who had never received a name. Sitting with me on the sofa in this art room - it sounds so middle class saying that doesn't it? It's only half an art room and writing room and escape room and new sanctuary. It's really the spare bedroom - and that in itself doesn't arise from a depth of poverty and loss. We have a spare bedroom, which is more than my home had when I was growing up.
Sitting with me on the sofa in this art room are five soft toy friends. I have Gerry the giraffe and Buttons the hippo. They came pre-named, names sewed into their feet in rainbow colours. I also have three unnamed friends. I have monkey, tiger, and panda. You may say those are perfectly good names. Perhaps so. Certainly those appellations have served them well since they all came to live here. They've never voiced any complaints to me or asked to be renamed or shown any sign of jealousy that Gerry and Buttons have proper names. Soft toys are amazingly adaptable.
My decision is this. From henceforth, the panda who has been staring at me since I sat down is to be referred to as Stanley. That is his name. He does look very happy about my decision although he wasn't consulted at all and he already looked very happy.
Stanley is a good friend. He's one of those toys who has a piece of velcro on his belly. Undo the velcro and his legs fold out turning him into a comfy pillow. I never undo Stanley's velcro though. With his legs in leg position he can slide onto my arm and be a comforting arm panda and can be made to fly across the room making aeroplane sounds. That happens. He can perform aerobatics like you wouldn't believe possible for a panda. He can land softly or he can stomp across a bed making loud crashing sounds as he produces an earthquake with every step. He can provide solace through his soft fur and his little face, through the pressure on my arm even now as I type - he moved himself to sit on my arm as soon as he realised I was talking about him - through the way he feels when I squidge him onto my face. All the friends on this sofa are wonderful but Stanley is the only one who flies on my arm.
What you should know about Stanley is this: He wasn't meant to live here. No Stanley, you weren't. It wasn't meant to happen. You were meant to be a travelling panda and only live with me some of the time. And before that came about you weren't meant to live with me at all.
It came about this way. I was visiting a friend last year. I had no panda. She had no panda. Yet we were happy. Blissfully unaware of the real need we had to own a panda. I bought Stanley in May in a charity shop in Newcastle, a present for my friend. Later that month I visited her with Stanley. In a charity shop not in Newcastle she bought a present for me - a very swish slow loris. Stanley is her panda. The slow loris is my slow loris. That's what was initially agreed.
|The Slow Loris|
My friend wrecked the plan. Destroyed it. The first time that Stanley came home with me she announced that the travelling toys plan was to be disregarded and that The Slow Loris would remain with her and Stanley would remain with me. I didn't get a say in this plan. It was a done deal and arguing wouldn't have changed anything.
So here I am and here Stanley is. He's happy to be here. If The Slow Loris gets as much attention as he deserves I'm sure he's happy to be there. He's certainly got lots of good friends to play with just as Stanley has friends here.
It has all worked out for the best perhaps. Stanley is very settled in my home and knows that he's been given a good life in Manchester. The five friends on this sofa have grown especially close in the last few months. All is well in Stanley's life. All is well.