Having to grin and bear it

Even  on the darkest of days there is usually a glimmer of light, a spark of humour, a surprisingly upbeat moment.

All across New Zealand on a cold, damp autumn weekend, with the leaves falling and the sky lowering, Kiwi families in lockdown have had something warm and fuzzy to look out for. Or should that be warm and furry?

Coming to a window near you, if they are not already there, are the teddy bears of the Covid-19 pandemic. Look around next time you and your bubble escape the confines of home for a safe stroll around the block you will probably not have to go far without seeing a teddy propped up on an inside window ledge, smiling or waving as you pass by.

And it is not just teddies. Reports are coming in from around the country of a range of stuffed soft toys sitting in windows, including lions and tigers, dinosaurs, dragons, unicorns and various Sesame Street characters.

What a marvellous idea this is for children and parents at such a fraught time.

Our society is experiencing the beginnings of an unprecedented period of compulsory isolation. Fortunately, the Government has not gone as far with lockdown measures as some, admittedly worse-hit, countries have, and we need to welcome that.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the somewhat teddy bear-like Finance Minister Grant Robertson wisely recognise the benefits of exercise and fresh air on our mental health and physical wellbeing during this crisis. They also appreciate the importance of keeping the population moving to ensure that, once we are through this awful period, there is not a surge in obesity-related illnesses and mortality due to weeks, or months, of inertia and apathy.

Unfortunately, while we are being encouraged to sit on our couches to save lives, for many that means snacking and drinking more regularly than they might usually. Beer, wine, chocolate, potato chips are fine occasionally, but the trap of comfort eating is one many of us could easily fall into during lockdown.

So exercise is crucial. However, for obvious reasons, we have to remember this has to be carried out locally, within our neighbourhoods.

That is a hard area to define; for example, if you are cycling, you can cover a lot more ground in 30 minutes than by walking. What it does not mean is getting in a car and driving to the other side of town for a walk, or engaging in sports activities that, if they go wrong, might require the response of emergency services workers.

A wander or brisk walk with your bubble around several blocks is probably the best option, particularly if you are on the lookout for teddy bears. Kiwi families have been quick to engage with the We’re Not Scared New Zealand Bear Hunt, which draws inspiration from Michael Rosen’s book, Were Going on a Bear Hunt.

Ever since United States President Theodore “Teddy’’ Roosevelt turned his back on killing a bear during a hunt in 1902, claiming it was “unsportsmanlike”, teddies have loomed large in the toybox and in literature.

There is Winnie the Pooh, Paddington, Rupert, Sooty, Fozzie, Yogi, to name but a few. In Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited we met Lord Sebastian Flyte’s “sulky” bear Aloysius, who was inspired by Archibald Ormsby-Gore, the bear of Waugh’s friend at Oxford University, poet John Betjeman.

In the same way the flowers placed in the top of road cones in Christchurch after the earthquakes brought some brightness into the disrupted lives of many, the teddies in windows give us something to look for and never fail to generate smiles when found.

The tactile cuddliness of a teddy is something we can all appreciate. And for parents stuck at home with young children, balancing stress and anxiety with the need to entertain and put on a brave face for their little ones, going looking for teddies is a great distraction.

Once this is all over, the teddies deserve a well-earned rest. Because they’ll be tired little teddy bears.

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