The Tao of Cuddlies

Big Al is back.

My four-year old nephew and his family have been sunning themselves on Cornish beaches, and it has been quiet as the grave.

Perhaps Al missed things a little, for he has taken up a self-appointed role as the household’s receptionist and switchboard.

You will all know that seismic uncertainty when, for some unearthly reason, there is an under-five on the other end of the phone. The firm foundations of the grown up world disappear and you are held, suspended in random space, by the small person on the other end of the phone.

Because they know that by sheer fluke, and the happy coincidence of stumbling on a handset wedged on the sofa behind the dog, they have put themselves in a situation when they really are in charge.

For Al’s content, he chooses whatever has been going on just before he found the phone. Thus, he answered my call on Saturday “I have you in my power forever,” and roared extremely fiercely three times.

There was then a short silence.

“Hello, Al,” I ventured.


Al did not have the grown up’s urgency to propel this interaction forward. Keeping Auntie Kate dangling on the phone was entertaining. I riffled through hooks which might catch this slippery fish.

“Did you have a nice time on holiday, Al? Did you paddle?”

“Hello, Kate.”

A grown up sane voice: my sister, and just as things were getting interesting.

Later I knocked on the door of Al’s house. The family had been doing a spot of Macaulay-the-dog sitting.The door flung open and most of the family was framed in the doorway.

Except Al, who flew belatedly through from the playroom en route to some Machiavellian toy-based scheme or other. Our eyes met and he screeched to a halt.

“Are you going to say hello to Auntie Kate, Al?” my sister prompted.

Al stared fixedly for about four seconds before bolting back in the direction from which he had come.

And then he reappeared, clutching a snowy white cuddly toy. He ran right up to me and locked me joyfully with his eyes. “This is Snowy!” he said.

Snowy is king of the moment, but he will never be king of Al’s heart. For that privilege belongs to Shammy.

Yes, Shammy: a small battered meercat who looks about as much like a meercat as a ginger tom looks like a ferret. A bug-eyed necessity. Shammy was packed in Al’s bag for nursery every day of his little-school life. Sleeping is tough without Shammy, tantrums ensue when we go to landmark places without Shammy. Shammy is the path, the route, the doctrine through which Al’s small life is lived.

Shammy’s tao-like status has given his mother the collywobbles. What if Shammy were lost? How could they ever replace him?

She sought out an identical toy and bought it immediately.

But it was not identical: it was new, and Shammy is lovingly matted, infused with the smell of toddlerhood and bedtime and life with Mummy.

And should Shammy disappear- God forbid, touch wood, turn three times round and throw a charm to ward off such a horrific event – Al must never notice another Shammy has arrived in his place.

So a Shammy Mark II battering programme was instigated, under the careful jurisdiction of my mother. She has been passing the days kneading the cuddly; exposing it to a little life.

But though Mum spends whole episodes of Antiques Roadshow squeezing Shammy II, the small toy remains stubbornly pristine. There is a secret ingredient missing.

Perhaps it is just time.

Or perhaps it is the unfailing obsessive love of a very small receptionist.



54 thoughts on “The Tao of Cuddlies

  1. Oh that is just gorgeous and this ‘infused with the smell of toddlerhood and bedtime and life with Mummy.’ Let’s pray that Shammy never goes missing – I don’t think Al would be easily fooled some how. These are the trials of motherhood 😉

  2. All this is now beyond my ken. Somewhere in the distant past I remember our son’s concern over the continual presence of Big Ted and Little Ted and, as you say, I think their attractiveness lay in their awfulness.

    1. It is good to no longer face crises such as this. I would love to say I watch sagely from the sidelines, but I, a thinking fortysomething, have regular crises with BUmpy the elephant and Lulu the owl.

  3. I still have a giant Mighty Mouse, our son’s alter-ego, tucked away in a protective covering. It’s practically an antique! 🙂 But every time I see it I am instantly back to Jonathan’s “under-fives!” Big Al is moving on to school and soon will leave some of these treasures in a corner and I think we’re all going to feel a little loss! He delights me! D

    1. You are so right, Debra, though I think there is precious time left for Shammy. Maddie and Felix still have their beloved cuddlies 🙂 I expect your granddaughters are in the midst of cuddly country….

  4. Thanks for sharing this lovely story Kate. We have the same issue with Teddy – the Little Chap’s battered and much loved blue bear who accompanies him everywhere. We have to prise it out of his little hands before nursery so adamant are we that he shouldn’t get lost. The bear is no longer produced or available elsewhere, so a duplicate is out of the question. We have managed to put him through the wash a few times, to the Little Chap’s disgust – he is a very pale blue colour which goes grey with dirt very quickly! – but I think it’s the comfort of his particular softness – the Little Chap strokes his fur as he falls asleep. No other bear will ever come close. Its so special.

    1. It is, Emma. You sum it up so well. And as we look at this, their favourite thing, we lose our adult sense of proportion and see Teddy or Elephant or Shammy as utterly indispensable. Which, of course, they are.

  5. She was smart to buy a back up Shammy. Hopefully she’ll never have to use it. My nephew lost his beloved Koalie when he was little and was devastated for weeks.

    1. Hi! I don’t think they ever quite forget them….I will come clean and say that in the cupboard are a couple of ancient toys from the early seventies from my childhood and that of my husband 😀 Thanks so much for reading and leaving a comment today.

    1. That, of course, has its own appeal though it is easily misconstrued :-D. Like a fascist dictator, Al becomes very animated and eloquent when faced with an audience. Attention, however crudely wrenched from an adult, gives his words wings.

  6. Such a cute story about Big Al, it is such fun imagining him shuffling to greet you and then dashing about for his newest toy. I suppose most kids have that special toy or cuddly that they just can’t do without; for the life of me, I don’t recall having one as a kid. I had a brother that was 16 months younger and I think I used him as the drag around toy. 🙂

  7. My mother had a duplicate pillow case (my brother’s Shammy) that she used to leave lying ablout just so it got the smell and dribble, and the original could be sneaked off to the wash. Not so easy for your sister!
    I greatly admire your mum’s devotion to duty 🙂

    1. She’s an all round good egg, Fiona. Shammy weathering is just one of her considerable talents. Between you, me and the boundaries of this comment she was back in Charing Cross for a third brain op today, but she’s up and talking chirpily this evening, according to my father.

      1. I so hope she makes a good recovery. Maybe she should have Shammy II to hold tonight?

  8. What a sweet story of your mum and her efforts to season Shammy II. Sigh.

    Our Jennifer had a doll named Dolly. Not too creative a name, but, well loved, Dolly went everywhere and there was one night in a far off place were Dolly wasn’t. None of us slept. The worst experience with Dolly was an airplane trip. Jennifer and Dolly’s first. It was the very early days of conveyor belts and xray-ing things about to board a plane and Dolly, poor Dolly, was put to the test, much to the chagrin of Jennifer. That was more than 30 years ago and I can still here my child’s keening of “I want my Dolly.”

  9. The lengths you’re all prepared to go to batter Shammy Mark II made me chuckle. It is very unearthly when you speak to an under 5 on the phone, you can ask all sorts of questions including the vital ‘can I speak to Mummy’ and all you get back is ‘yes’. Always yes. But you never get anywhere. I suppose that today’s under 5s are exposed to so much technology and mobile phones that they think answering the phone is a perfectly normal thing (also because they’re no longer fixed to the wall above head height) but they do need to work on their conversation skills. So do I. I always answer the phone with a suspicious ‘ye-es?’. I am a secret under 5 after all. 😉

    1. 😀 A lovely thought, IE. I always chuckle when telly reporters interview very little ones. There is a reason that they say, never work with small children and animals. radio and telly render the under five deeply unhelpful, and usually find a reporter perplexedly putting words into their mouths.

  10. His mother must have been a former Girl Scout. Their motto: Be prepared. Great thinking on her part.

    My youngest daughter, now 38, still has Alfred – a teddy bear. In her youth, it also served as confidant, best friend, and cuddly, sleeping buddy.

  11. Shammy is totally gorgeous – I could never give him up, would be unconsolable were anything to happen to him… Just sayin’. 😀

  12. When Sweet Pea, my niece, was a wee one she had two plush toy pals, Petey Penguin and Ricky Rabbit. They went everywhere she went clutched tightly in her little arms. One day Petey made his escape and a short while later, Ricky followed Petey. Everyone searched high and low. Both were never found again. Sweet Pea was inconsolable. My sister was certain that her daughter would be damaged for life. Fast forward to June 2012. Sweet Pea has graduated high school. My sister and I are leafing through a photo album of Sweet Pea through the years. We see pictures of her squeezing Petey and Ricky. Both of us cry out at her long gone beloved friends. My sister wails, “Oh, why wasn’t I more watchful? How could I let that happen?” I implore Sweet Pea, “Remember how much you loved them?” Sweet Pea, “No. I don’t. At all. I only remember you and my mom telling me how much I loved them. What is it with you guys? You’re like crazy over some stupid stuffed animals.” Insert musical note, the downbeat.

    Still, I think your mom has the right idea having a backup Shammy — just in case. Big Al sounds like quite a charmer.

    1. Blonde bombshell, gift of the gab, always with the one-liners, Lameadventures. He has spawned a huge string of posts dating back to his third birthday and beyond.

      There’s food for thought. The whole cuddly thing is just some PR exercise, an under-five conspiracy about which the grown ups have no clue.

      But if there were, he’d never tell me.

  13. A meer cat? really? Well, my kids have led sheltered lives with the likes of bears and a one-eyed frog. I could do with an infusion of the smell of toddlerhood just now. Mine are growing too fast.

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