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Vicky peeled the sellotape.  Millimetre by careful millimetre.  It was a game she’d always played and usually it irritated Mummy and Daddy as they waited for her to get her first glimpse of her birthday present.  They weren’t excited this time though.  Daddy looked tired and Mummy’s eyes were wet.  She blinked a couple of times and smiled at her daughter.  The smile wasn’t there before and Vicky knew that the moment she looked away it would be gone again.  They didn’t smile much anymore, or laugh.  Vicky couldn’t remember when she had last heard either of them laugh.  The last piece of tape came free but Vicky still held the paper closed around the soft lumpy object in her hand.  She pulled a corner back just a tiny bit and looked again at her Mummy and Daddy wanting to keep the tease going a bit longer.  Their mouths immediately turned up into smile shapes.  Their eyes never smiled anymore.

The package wasn’t very big.  It wasn’t heavy either.  Two years ago when she turned five they’d given her the most beautiful big carved rocking horse in the whole wide world.  It had a real leather bridle and Vicky loved to ride her.  She was called Cassia and she was the bestest and fastest ever.  They rode over the hills and in the forests and past waterfalls every day. Once they had even ridden all the way to the end of the rainbow and Vicky had looked for the pot of gold while Cassia looked on through huge painted eyes.  That was two years ago when they still lived in the big house and when daddy still had his job. Now they were both gone – the house and the horse.  This house was nice too though and Vicky knew they were very lucky that the government was letting them live in it.  It was much smaller and a little bit dark but that didn’t matter.  It didn’t matter that she didn’t have many toys anymore either and like Mummy said it was silly to buy new clothes when the ones in the charity shops were always so pretty.

She pulled the paper all the way open.

“Oh you’re lovely,” she spoke to the teddy bear, “what’s your name?”

He had stitches on one leg where he had been repaired and a bare patch right on his chest where the fur had worn away.

“Maybe you can be Patchy…no, that’s not it.”  She looked up at her parents again.  “Thank you Mummy.  Thank you Daddy.”

A tear slid down Mummy’s cheek.

Daddy said “I’m sorry he’s not very much darling.  Next year things’ll be better. Next year you’ll have something much better.”

“I love him Daddy.  He’s beautiful.  He’s called…”she looked again at the old bear in her arms.  He only had one of his glass eyes.  The other must have been lost once and was replaced with a felt one.  They faced towards each other. “He’s called….Squinty? No. That’s not it either.  Thank you I love him.”

Daddy stood up slowly. “Ok sweetheart, time for church.”

In the back seat of the car she tried on names the whole way.


None of them fitted.  They were sitting in the pew.  The vicar was talking but she hardly heard him.


“And now if we could all turn in our hymn sheets to the first hymn and sing ‘Gladly the cross I’d bear’”

Vicky looked up.  Gladly?  She looked back to the faded bear.  He squinted back.

“So that’s your name.”

Dame Barbara