I come from brilliantly creative parents who, in 1938, had the misfortune to be born into the austerity of war-torn Britain, but as a result, they are dab hands at ‘Make-do and Mend’.
As a child, I was rather proud of the groovy patches in the seat of my beloved corduroy dungarees, and some of the best presents I got were those that had been home-made. My father never throws anything away that might in due course become innovatively re-incarnated as something new, and my mother left my wasteful husband bewildered after lunch one day, by producing from her cupboard a teeny little Tupperware in which to store a small cube of uneaten cheese, which in our house, he would have swallowed whole, but in hers would go on to provide the foundation of a delicious cheese sauce in tomorrow’s dinner.
These waste-not want-not values have, in turn, been bequeathed to me, and I take great delight in repairing and re-purposing old things. I am a whiz with a tube of superglue, can darn a sock or holey tight in a jiffy, (to the embarrassment of my children, whose friends notice these things) and I too squirrel away ‘things that might come in handy’, although, in an on-going effort to kerb that particular foible I have just disposed of half a million empty jam jars and given three large carrier bags of carrier bags to Oxfam.
So I felt deeply honoured when my daughter Rose asked me if I might consider performing surgery on Leo, her steadfast lifelong companion and a creature imbued with a fabled quality made famous by The Velveteen Rabbit, of having been loved for a long, long time and therefore being real. Leo’s trouble was that, despite being a proud and noble beast, he had selflessly provided over a decade of snuggles and emotional support, in the process himself growing haggard and thin, lacking even the inner strength to hold his head high and look you in the eye. Also his tail, originally tipped with a delightfully fluffy tuft, had, from years of twiddling and repeated insertion into a right nostril during times of peak sleepiness, become a worn out stump with a tickly loose thread.
Little did I know that this procedure was to be one of the most nerve wracking ten minutes of my life, and I only have myself and an over-developed sense of childish imagination to blame. We decided to take Leo to my cabin where an operating theatre was prepared. An overhead spotlight was installed, a cushion laid out for his hospital trolley with a soothing lavender bag as a pillow, and all the surgical equipment we would need laid out beside it; a pair of small sharp suture/embroiderers scissors, a pincushion, forceps (-tweezers from my makeup bag), a needle, and some thread which had been carefully selected to blend with Leo’s thinning fur.
Rose covered her eyes as I made the first incision into the seam down his back, (which I didn’t really think was very professional for a theatre nurse) and with a trembling hand I opened his chest cavity just wide enough to reveal a small quantity of very matted and lumpy stuffing. It felt like one of those anxiety nightmares where you find yourself completely out of your depth, but I soldiered on. Using the forceps we were able to remove most of the withered material and place it onto a saucer from where it could be safely disposed of (although Rose did have a sudden panic at the thought of throwing a significant part of her dear friend in the bin.)
Perspiration prickled on my brow as I carefully inspected the bead sack, situated at the base of his spine, and confirmed with relief, that it was not ruptured. We then began the gentle process of inserting the fresh new stuffing, which had been kindly donated by one of the cushions in the sunroom.
After letting Rose check that he did’t look too muscle-bound, and making sure that his new filling allowed him a certain freedom to still be his old floppy self, I began the painstaking process of suturing the wound in Leo’s back. Then, with Rose’s permission, reluctantly granted, I took the little scissors and removed the tickly thread from Leo’s tail.
Throughout the whole process I felt a tangible sense of overwhelming responsibility, and actually found myself reassuring him (and myself) that everything would be okay. I am happy to report that Leo is now recovering nicely in his special bed on top of the hamster house in Rose’s bedroom, (we left him listening to Mr Happy, read by his friend Horsey Neigh-Neigh), and I have in my hand a glass of something strong to soothe away the stresses of the day.
That bloody Margery Williams woman has a lot to answer for! But I am secretly glad that, for just a little while longer, I can enjoy times like this with my little girl, doing childish things. And I am grateful to my parents for making me the kind of person who can successfully carry out delicate surgery on a living creature.
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