There is a new member of my family. He is a white teddy bear with brown eyes called Michael, dressed in a surfer top and shorts topped with an elegant grey waistcoat. If you press his hand he sings “Who Let The Dogs Out?”. He has a passport, a birth certificate, an online presence and a cardboard house with a door and window.
What this all means is that today I went to a Build a Bear shop, or ‘workshop’ as they describe it. And although I don’t normally write reviews of shops I have visited (“Boots offered a gratifying variety of tampon sizes”) I am impelled to do so this time because of my newly discovered and grudging, yet genuine, admiration for the Build A Bear brand. It’s so very – all-encompassing.
Our Build A Bear journey started virtually: my daughter Rosalind* signed up to www.bearville.com, and as a result asked to go to the real-world shop. Normally I’d have put her off. The only thing I knew for certain about Build A Bear is that it costs money, and the only thing I knew for certain about our finances is that they’re in need of some gentle handling. But for a variety of reasons – one of which was the fact that the school summer holidays have just started and we needed activities – I felt like saying yes, so I did. (Earning myself, incidentally, the title of Best Mummy In The World, And On Jupiter, And In The Whole Galaxy Everywhere. Autographs on demand.)
So what happens is, you go to the shop, and first you choose a ‘skin’. This is the empty, furry shell of your future best friend. They lie heaped in big soft piles, like rabbit skins. (Not that I particularly know what rabbit skins looks like except when they’re on rabbits, but you can picture the image I’m going for.) I quite fancied the one decorated in rainbow hearts, but Rosalind tastefully opted for plain white. She also evaded my attempt to direct her towards the mini, cheaper versions. They were £8; the most expensive skins I saw were £18; the white teddy was £11.
Is anyone else thinking "Eeek! Multicoloured chicken pox!"?
I initially thought this covered everything, but was quickly disillusioned. Rosalind scampered off to choose clothes and came back with the aforementioned surfer outfit and City waistcoat for £8 and £3 respectively. She was being frugal. There were shoes, hats, swimwear, lightsabres, pyjamas – I began to realise what I’d got into. But it only fully hit me during the next two stages.
After you choose the clothes, a friendly assistant takes you off to choose what the bear will say – £2 for pre-recorded, £5 to record your own voice. I made the tactical error of staying at a distance for this, which is why Michael the bear ended up with my least favourite song, if I can call it that, of all time. Then it was time to give him his heart and his stuffing.
You could buy, for £4.50, a beating heart. A beating heart for a teddy bear. I held one in my hand and was evenly divided between awe and horror. Thankfully, Rosalind found it “too freaky” and opted for a fabric non-beating version. It was inserted, and she helped operate the big stuffing machine. A few post-operation stitches and we had a bear.
As we queued up to pay I could have bought a toy mobile phone or a toy music player for Michael, or sunglasses, or bedding, or roller skates. I did buy a passport. Every time Rosalind visits a Build A Bear shop anywhere in the world, she can get it stamped.
Then, after paying, we registered Michael’s birth on one of the computers they provide in the shop, with special kid-friendly keyboards. We have a birth certificate scroll tied with green ribbon. If Michael gets lost at any time he can be returned to my daughter, provided he gets handed in.
Michael and his belongings were packed in a cardboard box decorated as a house with a door that really opens; he was given a hanger for his clothes. I paid £25, and my daughter has barely let Michael out of her sight since, except to go back onto bearville.com and continue playing games on it.
I don’t know. It’s all very silly and arguably decadently capitalist, and surely somewhat overpriced; but I was left with a sense of respect for the sheer lengths the company has gone to to make it a full-blown experience, not just a purchase. It can’t be long before they team up with the Tiny Tears people and give their bears full digestive facilities (instead of nappies, you just take them into the woods and wait).
I guess the test is whether I’m still Best Mummy In The Universe tomorrow. For £25, I think I deserve at least a couple of days of adulation.
*As explained elsewhere, this is her name for the purposes of this website.