‘I don’t want my children touching him – I’d worry it would taint his smell’: Ash Davies, gaming analyst, 27, and Bread Teddy, Liverpool
When my twin sister and I were born, Mum was given two identical bears by my aunt, with bobbly fur the colour of shortbread, and chocolate-brown bows around their necks. My sister didn’t “hug on to” hers, but I couldn’t sleep a night without mine. I called him Bread Teddy, convinced by The Teddy Bears’ Picnic that sandwiches were bears’ favourite food.
I would feed him bolognese at the dinner table, staining his face, and sleep with him on my right, tucked under my arm and holding his hand. Mum would make him sniff around my bed to find me at bedtime, and it made me so happy.
In adulthood, he’s still the first thing I look for if I wake at night. On cold evenings, I tuck him in extra tight. He’s travelled to Japan and across Europe in hand luggage with me, then been kept in the hotel safe. I could handle losing money or my passport, but never him. The only time I left him was my first trip abroad, to Madrid, with my boyfriend, Rob. I was so afraid that customs would suspect he had drugs stuffed inside and tear him open that he stayed in Liverpool, but I cried my eyes out, apologised to him as I left and regretted it the whole trip. I’ve been with Rob nine years now and he’s never batted an eyelid.
The main thing about Bread Teddy is his smell – that’s what I can’t be without. The only way to describe it is “safety” and “home”. I love him so much I could cry and I’m quite sure I’ll be cremated with him. I don’t want my children touching him – I’d worry it would taint his smell.
Bread Teddy doesn’t look as sharp as he did. His head has come off a few times (I used to hold him around his neck, which I feel awful about). He’s missing an arm, eye and nose, his bow is lost and his fur is dirty beige and worn to mesh in some areas. He remains my prized possession, though, and I always make sure to set him down comfortably when I leave the room. I know, really, that he’s not alive, but it’s that Toy Story thing – what if he comes to life?
‘He’s a wonderful companion. I imagine him to have a deep, avuncular voice’: Patrick Hayes, playwright and actor, 64, and White Bear, Birmingham
I see White Bear as rather like Sebastian Flyte’s teddy bear, Aloysius, in Brideshead Revisited. No one thought it odd that this character, with great responsibility, carried his bear, and it provided me with comfort that it’s an endearing quality in a man.
I spotted White Bear in a shop in Barcelona, in 1986, when I was in my 20s. He looked wise and comforting, and I knew he had to come home with me. I took him across the airport tarmac as I boarded the plane, his ears popping out of a plastic carrier bag, and he has lived with me ever since. He sleeps on the end of the bed that my wife, Zarina, and I share. Sometimes, on a cold night, we let him in.
He’s a wonderful companion and source of comfort. I imagine him to have a deep, avuncular voice. At night, we enter fantastical, imaginary worlds and go on adventures, sailing a narrowboat or a ship. (His grandfather helped soldiers to escape the beaches at Dunkirk.) Sometimes we picture ourselves on my favourite beach, Saint-André in northern Brittany, eating ice-cream and listening to church bells as the waves mumble on to the sand.
Our favourite thing is watching football together. He wears a child’s Aston Villa shirt that serves the dual purpose of supporting his team and keeping his belly white. During the pandemic, when we couldn’t go to church, he was our altar server as we watched mass on TV.
When I worked in community arts, many of my projects came under the banner White Bear Productions, and I have referenced him in plays. Although he is lovely, cuddly and wonderful, you have to be careful not to upset him. My sister once teased him after a night out, and was violently ill. We put it down to the Curse of the White Paw (although it could have been dodgy red wine).
He’s lost some of his rigidity over the years, and his eye was stitched back on at some point. He has his annual bath in summer when he can hang on the line to dry. The thing about teddy bears is that they can be better versions of humans. They don’t let you down. I hope a family member will take him when I die, although my 15-year-old son is utterly embarrassed.
Recently, I drove a friend home from his father’s funeral. As I dropped him off, he shouted: “Say goodnight to White Bear for me.” He brings a sense of permanence, a conduit for memories.
‘He comes to the doctor and dentist, too, so I don’t feel alone’: Narisa Chakrabongse, book publisher, 66, and Marmot, London and Bangkok
I live in two countries, travelling between London and Bangkok three times a year, often away from my husband. It can feel hard, but having Marmot – my 5in cuddly toy – on the bed beside me grounds me, because he knows both versions of home. My husband bought him 35 years ago, in Monterey, where marmots are local. This particular one – lovely, silky and handsome – just spoke to me and has become such a useful thing.
I hate flying and always have him in my hand luggage, so I can touch his paw when I’m afraid. He comes to the doctor and dentist, too, so I don’t feel alone in tense situations.
In the UK, he sits in the cup well or passenger seat during car journeys for work. My husband has a little bear of his own, and when I’m in Bangkok, visiting family or working, and he is in the UK, we send each other pictures of them waiting to be reunited.
Marmot likes having his photo taken, and I’m not shy about lying on the floor to capture him in a beautiful place – although I once left him in a Thai cave after perching him on rocks, and I was in tears until my friend and I walked back to rescue him.
I’m amazed how invested others are in him. Every Christmas, a friend makes Marmot a Thai-silk outfit. I have three grandchildren and two step-grandchildren who admire him but never throw him around. He’s delicate. Sometimes I call him “The Furry”, but I don’t think he really likes that. He’s seen a lot and has an endearing look. I feel that if he’s there, beside me, I’ll be all right. He’s talismanic.
‘They became an unspoken symbol of our love story’: Archana Griffin, GP, 44, and Sheepy and Monkey, Manchester
In 2004, a year after my husband, Damien, and I started dating, he bought me Sheepy from an airport gift shop during one of his trips home to Dublin. Sheepy was a birthday present and it was the first time a boyfriend had given me a cuddly toy. I immediately thought its wide blue eyes and curly hair looked like Damien – particularly the “I’m sorry” look he makes with his eyes when he’s done something wrong. We weren’t living together, and I kept it in my bed with me.
The next year, he bought me Monkey, which was more like me: a cheeky personality and full of energy. When we moved in together, in 2007, both slept in bed with us and became an unspoken symbol of our love story – so much so that when we got married, in 2009, we put a picture of them on our thank-you cards, Sheepy in a tiara and veil and Monkey wearing a silk tie, holding a red rose. It felt fun and sentimental.
When our first son was born, in 2012, it was instinctive to us to place Sheepy in his cot, like passing on a bit of his mum and dad’s story. When our second son arrived, in 2014, we gave him Monkey. I can feel a smile spread across my face when I think of the fact they now have them and gain comfort from them. Our oldest boy is particularly attached, and cannot sleep without Sheepy. There have been many frantic searches around the house when he’s missing before bedtime. He goes on holiday with us, too.
Sheepy is matted now. Monkey’s arm is about to fall off. Neither has been washed in years. Holding them or thinking of them brings memories rushing back. They represent all the milestones of building a family for me and, if they survive that long, I love to imagine my grandkids holding them one day.
‘It’s my secret, but I’m not ashamed of it’: Anne Malhere, tennis and beach club manager, 43, and ribbon, Southampton, New York
There was a blanket, with a dark blue, silky ribbon around it, which was part of my crib when I was born, south of Brittany, in France. I was so attached to the comforting feeling of that ribbon that I tore it off. My mom divided it into two, made knots in one, so I couldn’t harm myself, and kept one in case it got lost.
I spent my childhood holding or looking for that ribbon. I’d suck my right thumb and rub the ribbon under my nose. On school days, I left it in my parents’ car so I’d have it as soon as they picked me up. Once, aged eight, I dropped it on the sidewalk, outside a bakery, and Dad drove 12 miles to find it. As a teenager, I’d convince myself: “You’re a grownup, you don’t like that,” but I still wanted it and kept it under my pillow.
When I moved to New York, 11 years ago, the ribbons came with me. The knotted one stays under my pillow or I run it across my face when I’m reading or watching TV. The other is in my pocket almost all of the time. When I qualified as a sommelier, I had it there while I flew to Philadelphia for my final exam: 12 wines to blind taste test, with the ribbon in my pocket. Since I started my new job in May, it has been in my pocket every day. It was there when I did my master’s in finance, too. It’s small enough to drop in unnoticed and has never fallen out. It’s my secret, but I’m not ashamed of it.
Sometimes I need to touch it or smell its comforting mix of fabric and dirt, to de-stress. Sometimes, I just need to know it’s there. Mum used to wash it because she thought it was disgusting, and I’d go mad because it would come back smelling of detergent, not me.
When I married Nick, four years ago, our wedding was fun and informal, and I put it around my hat, as my something blue. It will be with me until the end.
‘I was hesitant about taking it to college at first’: Alec Vanhove, customer relations specialist, 35, and blanket, South Dakota
There’s an almost meditative thing that I do with my blanket while I’m relaxing on the sofa, if I’m stressed, when I’m talking to my wife or even on video calls. I wrap it around each finger, one at a time, one hand, then the next, finding just the right spot – an edge, but not one so worn that it will disintegrate. It’s become second nature.
In all my childhood memories, blanket is there. I couldn’t sleep without it, and carried it around the house, but was always too afraid to take it outdoors in case I left it somewhere. I didn’t tell other kids about blanket because I didn’t want to get teased. At sleepovers, I’d hide it in my pillow case. As I got older and less self-conscious, good friends knew. I’ve been compared to Linus, the Peanuts cartoon character who carried his blanket around, and The Producers’ Leo Bloom, who didn’t like anyone touching his blue blanket, which makes me laugh.
I was hesitant about taking it to college at first but, a week or two in, I made the two-hour round trip home to get it. I’ve introduced it to girlfriends. When I showed my wife, Shelbie, she introduced me to her stuffed rabbit, Jeffrey, so we bonded over our comfort objects. When we moved in together, I worried it would absorb her smell, but now it smells of us, so I’m happy.
I often walk around the house with blanket chucked over my shoulder. We have an eight-year-old daughter, Norah, who has a blanket too. She sleeps with it between her face and the pillow. My own blanket is practically translucent and could disintegrate at any moment. I wash it twice a year, inside a pillow case. Once in a while, I try to mend it, but my stitches have long since lost the battle and there are threads hanging off.
It touches me that my wife and daughter treat blanket with the same care I do. They know to place it up high so our two dogs don’t get it. I can sleep without it now, but it’s never far away.
When I was younger, I was told so many times: “You’re going to want to get rid of that, you’re too old for it, don’t tell anyone.” It’s liberating to declare to the world that I still have my childhood blanket and I don’t care who knows.
‘Puffy has had plenty of flak from friends who claim she looks like Chucky’: Smriti Benjamin, content designer, 30, and Puffalump, Suffolk
I grew up in Chennai, south India, where Mum worked above a bookstore, Landmark, that sold toys and stationery. I’m an only child and lived with my grandparents during the week and with my parents, across the city, at weekends. Each Friday, after school, Dad would collect me and, maybe because of parental guilt, I could choose something in Landmark.
I was three when I picked out Puffalump from a long line of identical Fisher-Price dolls on the bottom shelf. She had the cutest smile, and when I shook her butt it rattled, which was fun. She had a single yellow curl poking from her pink bonnet, but I presumed it was a manufacturing fault so I cut it off – I didn’t know people could have blond hair. It wasn’t until I was older and saw Barbies that I realised it was a thing.
Puffy (for short) was my first dolly, and her smile was a calming force. I had severe asthma, which meant multiple hospital stays, and I attribute part of getting through it to keeping Puffy close.
She became a conduit for my cheeky side while I dealt with the seriousness of being ill. I’d put on a baby voice and make people laugh, or ask questions, through her, that I was afraid to ask myself. I still do it now with my husband, Ben, when I can’t be bothered to get up for a drink. Puffy will ask: “Can you get Mummy a coffee please?” My inner child has been projected on to her and I’m emotionally attached. I’ve explored this through therapy.
Puffy and I have had interesting separations. In my angsty, dressed-in-black, teenage years, my grandma put her in the attic, presuming I didn’t want her. I never rejected her, but I didn’t miss her. When my grandma returned her to me, as I prepared to move to the UK at 21, for my master’s, I cried violently and remember saying: “I thought she’d died.”
At first she stayed in India, and my mum would bring her on Skype calls. But two years later, after meeting Ben and moving in with him, I asked my mum to bring her here. It became our joke that Ben, who has blond hair and blue eyes, was her natural father. I shouted: “You guys look the same.”
Puffy has had plenty of flak from friends who claim she looks like Chucky. I laugh but also feel offended. She’s been on holiday with me; Mum, Dad and I once set her up on a sunlounger by the pool. She also has the remnants of pink highlighter pen on her cheeks from early makeup experiments.
Her neck needs holding up now and she used to be chubbier, but she still has her original talcum-powdery smell. I’m nervous to cuddle her too much, so she resides in a spot in my wardrobe. When I’m poorly, I pull her close. As adults, it’s easy to forget the little versions of yourself. She reminds me to honour that and go easy on myself.
‘We all need a companion, someone or something to receive our love’: Melinda Rand, retired therapist, 72, and Honey Pot, Albuquerque, New Mexico
When my husband of 35 years moved out seven years ago, it was difficult sleeping alone, so I found myself searching online for a huggable stuffed animal to comfort me. I saw Honey Pot, a simple, uncoiffed brown bear, and buying her was impulsive. She arrived in a brown parcel, and the first night I took her into bed with me I felt we were home together.
She soon became a daytime bear. I talk to her and cuddle her. We watch the news together and I tell her what sons of bitches they all are, or she sits on the back of the couch and we watch the world go by outside. This has not been an easy few years for me. Since December, I have been in a wheelchair after damaging my sciatic nerve. My hair went white and suddenly I had to accept that I was ageing.
I used to be queen of the disco, a twentysomething who travelled India alone. Here I am now, isolated in a small, two-bedroom house, still with an adventurous spirit, but I’ve got to get used to it. Honey Pot makes me feel less alone. She brings companionship and comfort in the daytime and the wee hours of the night. I would describe her as perfect.
I have a girlfriend who took inspiration and did the same thing when she separated from her husband. We all need a companion, someone or something to receive our love, and who we can turn to and know we are beloved and worthy. I don’t think there’s a human in the world who doesn’t need that. She provides a place where I’m held, where I’m safe and loved.