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Teddy’s Tales: Why Tea Towels?

While working as a fashion editor, I interviewed John Loring, the distinguished design afficionado, then design director of Tiffany. A remark he made about tea towels stayed with me (that, and the fact that he knew Peggy Guggenheim – he was exactly the kind of man you want to be sat next to at a dinner party, full of intriguing stories and recollections from an extraordinarily well-lived life).

His views on tea towels went something like this: don’t stint on everyday items but buy the best you can afford, and then a wise investment becomes a daily pleasure. He went on to describe in detail the linen cloths that he preferred.

This memory came to mind when I was wanting to collaborate on a Tales of Teddy project with Ali Pye. She is a supremely talented illustrator whose work appears in a wealth of books, published worldwide, and whose images feel childhood-familiar and always makes me smile (see her excellent instagram feed @alipyeillo). We met, she drew Teddy several times (and thought him ‘extremely fine’), and we came up with A Better Tea Towel.

With the quote that is often attributed to William Morris – “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” – ringing in my ears, I sourced the best Linen Union blend of linen and cotton, stuff that will get better and softer with age.

Ali’s signature style, combining hand-drawn, printed and digital elements with a wry touch of humour comes through in her illustration of mischievous Ted taking centre stage on Christmas Day, rustling about in the wrapping paper and looking slightly retro while he’s about it, framed in a sweet dotty border.

So, there we are,  A Better Tea Towel from Tales of Teddy: a frame-worthy image of one tufty character printed on the best kind of hardy cloth that is just about guaranteed to keep you cheery while you wash up.



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Teddy Loves: his NZ home-from-home

If change is good, then right now our cup is brimming over. Having moved halfway around the world three months ago – from London to Auckland – last week we upped sticks and moved again. Luckily our new house is in the same lush, green neighbourhood so we didn’t have far to go this time, and now our home is filled with all the things that we shipped from the UK – including, essentially, our trusty sofa. A well-travelled friend, who has moved her family around the world several times, said the most important thing to take on a long-stay elsewhere is the sofa and some familiar artwork. Her thought being that if the hub of the home, where the family gets together and feels relaxed, is intact and if the eyes rest on a few recognisable, loved objects, then your home-from-home is set.

Our goods arrived last week and, while we were unpacking, Teddy was at liberty to explore his new garden. He investigated the borders, barked at the neighbours, ate some unmentionables from underneath the decking and enjoyed lounging about in the long, tough grass. How different from his tiny patch of outdoor space back in London. Ted is now spending an awful lot of time outside, either snoozing (always with one eye open), or sniffing the air and getting a feel for his new domain.

I wonder what he’s taking in – aside from the tempting barbecue smells that this weekend emanated from the farmer’s market at the end of our street?

Three months in and I’m still sniffing the remarkably sweet-smelling air, noting the differences between Auckland and London. There’s the blazing sun that, even during this apparently unusually rainy spring, quickly turns a day from being cool and damp to steamy and tropical. You never know which you’re going to get. The ever-present threat of rain sheds some light on the practical Kiwi style habit: wearing flip-flops (or jandals) with everything.

I can’t stop ogling the super-sized plants. Huge palm trees, meaty flowers and exotic vegetation look triffid-style lush.

Then there’s the utter absence of litter, which seems all the more remarkable given that there are so few litter bins (something I might not have noticed if I wasn’t constantly in search of a place to deposit a poo bag – and no, they don’t tie used poo bags to trees over here).

And that’s just the dog walks… I’m intrigued that the same country which turns out the most incredibly polite children (who hold constant eye contact and converse easily with grown-ups), is super-relaxed when it comes to swearing. I was listening to an ad on national radio and up popped w****r, more than once. My teenage son explained that it just doesn’t have the same weight over here; “That’s just the way they roll.” Okay.

So, in amid all the newness, and while we are all still sniffing the air, there’s always the sofa to come back to in a place that, for the moment, does indeed feel like home. Ted for one, is thrilled.

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Teddy’s Tales: Boring Dog Walks

Routine creeps up when you need to do the same thing day in, day out. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. I loved our daily dog walks along the same tracks on Hampstead Heath, seeing the views change as the trees went about their seasonal business. However, when your dog knows the drill and gets a sudden case of deafness or an urge to wander off when you reach a certain spot that spells home, things can get tricky.

I’d been walking Teddy in a particular Auckland park for a few weeks. At what I had been told was the designated off-lead spot, we’d had a few games of fetch and I’d given him the freedom to snuffle about. Then I found out that the, ‘hill with trees on it where dogs can free-roam’, was not the pretty spot that we’d been visiting but right by a main road, which put it on the wrong side of risky for us.

Of course, after I found out that the former grassy knoll was out of bounds, Teddy felt even more sure that it was his personal playground. Each time I attempted to walk by, he dug his heels in. He also worked out that the chicken treats I produced from my pocket when we got there, the only stuff to make him budge, were another good reason to wait it out.

Well, change is good. As we can’t go off lead in that park anymore, and as Teddy has decided to plant himself on the pavement when he gets in the vicinity, I’ve been forced to find other free-roam areas and, in doing so, I’ve lit upon what Aucklanders call ‘reserves’. These small patches of greenery are dotted throughout built-up areas, linking up neighbourhoods. Hidden away like secret gardens, it turns out that most of them are dog-friendly oases. Filled with trees, populated by birds, with some open space and some bush – they are dog heaven.

Now that our furniture has made the journey from London and is currently sitting in Auckland customs, we’re moving to a new home. The good news is that I’ve discovered we have not one, but two of these reserves in our new road. Will Ted be content with those? Hmmm… I think he has plans to keep me on my toes.

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Teddy Loves: Dog Portraits

dog portraits

Could there be a better gift for a dog-lover than a portrait of their dog? I think not. But then again…

Buying a picture for someone else can be a tricky business – art is a personal thing. Add to that the fact that a dog portrait must capture all the beloved nuances (head tilt, lofty whiskers, skew-whiff tail etc) of that furry friend and things can get problematic.

I’ve discovered a way around it: her name is Caroline Towning. The artist is currently causing a bit of a stir with her dog portraits, beautifully painted in oils and captured between sweet vintage glass frames. Part of her popularity must be that she manages to brilliantly convey the personality of a dog yet her modus operandi is painless. No sittings were required when she painted Ted. I sent off a couple of decent photographs and a week later, a beautifully be-ribboned box appeared with an incredible portrait of Teddy inside. And it really was Teddy – not just any old whiskery Schnauzer. I look at the picture and I’d know that dog anywhere, the fix in his beady eye is spot-on (he’s just seen something he likes the look of – could be a squirrel, could be a round of Brie).

Really, that’s Caroline’s art. When you have a dog, you know your dog and for someone else to recognise your four-legged friend’s character and make-up is the ultimate charm. I have several portraits of Teddy – from loose sketches to cartoons and pastels – the thing that binds them all is that each artist has ‘got’ Ted. So, if you’re needing inspiration for a dog lover this Christmas, get in touch with Caroline. Her pieces take around a week to complete and they can be personalized with names / tags / a particular collar. Each one costs £250, including free P&P in the UK.

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Teddy’s Tales: Teaching a Dog Manners

Compare Aucklanders with Londoners and of course there are differences. I’ve jotted down the contrasts and so far and they run the gamut from friendliness to fashion, driving skills to coffee obsessions.

As far as walking a dog is concerned the differences start with the first outing of the day: instead of people calling out, “Good morning!”, as they march their dogs up and down the volcanic hills it’s, “G’day!” – this is the antipodes after all. Then there’s the unabashed eye contact (not something you’ll find on public transport in London), but it’s the laid-back Kiwi friendliness that marks the most striking difference and it’s interesting because it seems to have filtered down from the dog owners to the dogs themselves.

I’ve had a fellow dog walker cross a field to have their dog meet Teddy, and plenty of people have crossed a street to do the same. Let’s be clear, at first I thought it was because the owners wanted to pass the time of day – but actually they just want their dogs to have a bit of interaction.

At first this unnerved me because Teddy is not always at his most sociable when on a lead. He doesn’t love other dogs bearing down on him, even if they seem to be jolly enough at the time. But the dogs that we have met so far have been altogether different. Unlike their London counterparts, they don’t yearn and strain to meet another dog, but merely show a bit of interest, exchange sniffs and trot on. In other words, they actually seem to have manners.

I need to find out more about this. Are these dogs all so well-socialised, so well-trained that they know not to jump on another dog? The off-leash opportunities in Auckland are fairly tightly controlled, so are these dogs so polite because they are not in the habit of the kind of high-octane horse-play that sometimes goes awry? (I do keep getting asked, “Does your dog free-roam?”). Or is it simply because they are relaxed and convivial like their owners? I’m leaning towards the latter.

The first time an older man led his alert little cockerpoo up to Ted, I smiled but warned him Teddy might not be terribly friendly. He looked at me like I was a bit odd and said, “Well let’s just see how they go.” And of course they were both perfectly fine. The dog and the man strolled off easily, having taught us both a lesson in Kiwi savoir faire.

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Teddy’s Tales: Shipping a Dog to New Zealand

Contemplate a move to the other side of the world and suddenly your priorities become crystal clear. Before committing to our Auckland adventure I became obsessive about two things: finding the right school for our children (we love their school in London so the bar was set high), and taking Teddy halfway around the world without causing some possibly hideous (i.e. dead dog) fallout.

I started doing an awful lot of online research to help alleviate the sleepless nights. After weeding out various massive schools (too impersonal), boarding schools (we want to be there as a family) and religious schools (we’re not), I lit upon a non-selective, co-ed, progressive school in Auckland. It seemed most similar to our one back home. We had a Skype interview with the headmaster. I wondered whether there was any sort of entrance requirement. The Principal shook his head firmly. He said admission rested on the children’s answers to just one question. I heard the drumroll in my head….He looked at each child and paused. “Do you want to learn?” he piped up, a huge smile on his face. Brilliant. (Most especially since each of our children answered in the affirmative. Phew.)

Then there was Teddy to think about. Of course, during my research I managed to scare myself stupid reading all the horror stories: dogs freezing to death while flying in the equivalent of unheated ‘cargo’; dogs suffering heat exhaustion while left on the tarmac during a plane change or not having access to water in-flight and expiring on arrival. Hideous, hideous, hideous. I trawled the web for good outcomes and warily read testimonials. Finally I came across two options that I liked the sound of. I went for PetAir UK because the woman I spoke with on the telephone was efficient in the questions she asked me, and straightforward and understanding in the answers she gave to my bordering-on-the-neurotic grilling.

Please know this: if you want to ship a dog that hasn’t travelled before to New Zealand, then the process requires a good 6 month lead time. Thank heavens Teddy had previously had his rabies jabs for France and we’ve kept him up to date, so when I first enquired in March about taking him to Auckland in August, it all seemed do-able, though we still had to get on with it.

There followed a good few hours of form filling, contract signing and paperwork scanning (“Pour yourself a glass of wine and spend an evening on it,” suggested one PetAir UK rep.) Then we received a detailed schedule of exactly when each vet appointment should be made (three in all, at specific intervals once we knew that the rabies jab was still effective), what jabs were necessary and to which lab the blood samples should be sent. We had super-efficient Zasman Vet do all the necessaries because they are great: gentle, kind and they always come up trumps on the treat front.

We opted for PetAir UK to build him his wooden shipping crate, giving him the maximum amount of space allowed. We also opted to fly him to New Zealand via Los Angeles as, going on the same route as us via Hong Kong, although cheaper would require a longer stopover time. The thing with shipping a pet to New Zealand is that they are sealed in the crate for the entire journey – 26 hours. No getting out for rest stops unless you go for a different route and a longer stopover, in which case when the dogs do come out of their crate, they don’t all want to get back in again. Hardly surprising and an added stress. We thought it would be better getting it over and done with as soon as possible even though, like all dog owners, we’d spent time teaching Teddy not to mess in his living area, and now he had to do just that. I thought this might completely freak him out. Then again, there were any amount of things about it all that I thought might upset him – the noise, the smells, any other unhappy animals there with him – the list was endless.

PetAir UK did a good job at putting fears to rest. They told me how they spray the crates with pheromones to calm the animals and they take off any items (collar, big toys etc) that might cause a problem in transit. Dogs travel in a temperature-regulated compartment on the airplane, devoted to pet transport (absolutely not in the hold with the luggage). The idea is to keep things as calm as possible so they turn off the lights after take off. The dogs are allowed access to water and they have some Vetbed in the crate to help wick away any moisture but they are also not fed six hours before flying to eliminate any accidents. The icing on the cake was probably the young man who came to collect Ted the afternoon before he flew. He was calm and kind and Teddy went to him immediately. That had to be a good sign.

And that was that. I watched Teddy’s van pull out into the London traffic and didn’t see him again until two days later at Qualified Pet Services quarantine station in New Zealand. Even though my children called it ‘dog prison’ because unsurprisingly (it’s quarantine!), Ted was housed in a concrete run with a bed and a water bowl and a slot in the door to look through, these people care and they really know their animals. They were keen to find out all about Ted before he came to them and quick to let us know that Ted had, ‘come out of his crate easily’ when he arrived, which was apparently a good sign. We visited Ted the day after we touched down. We had to pull on special white clinical robes. He was a bit punch drunk and tired, as were we. He was miserable when we left. We were, too. Then, when we went back a couple of days later, it was a completely different story: he was cheery and bouncy and, although he wanted to leave with us, he settled quickly after we went. Of course, when we came to collect him he was ecstatic and promptly peed on the floor (“That’ll teach you,” I could hear him say).

I suppose if you are going to ship a dog – or your children – half way around the world, you are probably going to do your research. We seem to have lucked out with the school and for Teddy, I feel like the research paid dividends, too. He’s healthy, he’s happy and he’s here, walking the school run, getting fussed over at the gates and generally taking Auckland in his stride.

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Teddy’s Tales: Teddy on Tour – Before we Begin…

teddy on tour

We are two weeks into our New Zealand adventure and Auckland has been extraordinarily kind to us. The people we’ve met have been open and friendly and the weather has been impressive – torrential rain one moment, bright warm sun the next. The locals may have had enough of the downpours but for us, arriving during their equivalent of our dreich February, it’s not at all bad. I’d take Auckland’s intense bright ‘winter’ light (albeit coming between bouts of rain) over our dragged-out grey winters any day.

We’ve been getting used to the time difference, the wonder of WhatsApp, and calling friends and family at breakfast time or bedtime, and catching them when they are half a day behind and doing the reverse. We’ve been getting used to the sounds of the birds (particularly the one that sounds like a lorry backing-up) and the smell of fresh air and eucalyptus trees.

This past week has been full of ‘begin again’ chores like opening new bank accounts, sorting out new phone lines, switching driving licences and working out how to efficiently heat our rental house (the Auckland rain showers make for a pervading sense of damp). It’s all coming together.

We’ve had some exciting things to do, like check out our new area (Parnell). We’ve identified our favourite restaurants and coffee shops so far, and explored the strip that is the heart of this village. We’ve made our way around the local supermarkets (there’s nothing like peering into other people’s shopping trolleys to give you a handle on things) and this weekend we’ll do as the locals do and head to the market to pick up next week’s fruit and veg and maybe take a ride up the coast to check out the beaches. I’d say we’ve settled into our home – just about worked out the intricacies of the coffee machine – and we’ve also bought a car so that we can go further afield. There’s been some nail-biting stuff to be done, too. I left my heart in my mouth when I dropped off the children for their first day at their new school. Four days in and I’m relieved to report that all is well. Friends have been made and both boys have noted that the interesting difference here is that everyone plays with everyone – no cliques. Long may that last.

And then, of course, there’s Ted. Hearing his four paws skitter about the floor boards and having his inquisitive nose poke about the place makes everything feel like home. He survived the 24-hour crate journey. He put up with all the foreign noises and smells of two crazy-long plane journeys. He survived 10 days of quarantine and was very kindly looked after (in what my children christened ‘dog prison’). He’s a stoic little character who has already found a cat to bark at and a sofa to call his own. I’ll write more about the whole dog-shipping process next week. In the meantime, I think Ted and I shall stretch our legs while the sunshine holds.

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Teddy’s Tales (Teddy on Tour – Part 1): Quarantine

dog in quarantine

Teddy is currently residing at a kindly quarantine station in New Zealand. He has been there since last Friday, when we all travelled the 11,386 mile journey from London. Ted went via LA (a shorter journey) and we went via Hong Kong (a cheaper journey). Yes, Teddy, we have our priorities straight – anything for our fluffy friend.

The quarantine station gave us an update as soon as he (and we) arrived: “Teddy came out of his crate easily. Such a chilled out boy,” they wrote. In the accompanying photo he looked well, if a bit wary – twenty six hours in a crate would unsettle the best of us.

We visited Teddy the day after we arrived. Once we had slipped on our white protective coats and dunked our shoes in trays of antiseptic, we were allowed into his run. Cue much excitement – from him and from us. He greeted us all in turn with lots of licks (very un-Ted – his unfettered happiness over-ruled his normal sense of restraint) and we mostly sat on his bed while he went from lap to lap and cuddled in (see above). What a sensory overload for one little dog – boarding kennels for one night, crazy long plane flight, unusual crate and now quarantine – but he’s doing great so far. He’s a stalwart chap but then, among all the mad newness that he has experienced in the last week, there’s also clearly been heaps of kindness. The young man who came from Pet Air UK (the pet shippers) to collect Ted happily gave him a cuddle. The carers at the quarantine station have talked us through our, ‘Should we visit Teddy or will it just unsettle him more?’ queries, and advised us accordingly depending on how he was doing that day. The photo updates, including one of Ted playing fetch (“It’s more like a game of squash when you play with him, he knocks it back to you”, they said. Exactly!), have been brilliantly reassuring. So far the whole experience has been as positive as we could have hoped for.

Can’t wait to pick him up next week. Meantime, we’ll be Ted-proofing our New Zealand garden. To see what it looks like, click here. It’s going to be a bit of a job…

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Teddy’s Tales: Teddy on Tour

teddy on tour

Our world has been turned upside down – in a good, and soon to be rather literal, way. Our visas have come through so now it’s official: we are off on an adventure to the other side of the world. We’re heading to New Zealand – which is a bit of hike for a woman like me, who still lives within 500 metres of her childhood home.

We are taking the children out of school and heading to Auckland – City of Sails – in search of something different, for a short while at least. Of course, Teddy’s coming, too.

It’s happened fairly quickly – hence the last minute visas. The Tales of Teddy store will continue (the wonder of a web-based business), but I’m going to sign off the blog for a month or so while we pack up our house (currently every surface in our home and every recess in my brain seems littered with lists), make our journey around the world (24-hour flights for us all) and settle into a new way of life.

We might share the same language and drive on the same side of the road, but I’m looking forward to all that’s different over there: the beaches of Auckland after the urban sprawl of London; the wild beauty of New Zealand (the tropical north, the Southern Ocean, all the heavenly bits in between) after the familiar green/grey comforts of Blighty. There’s even the accent: as a friend gleefully pointed out, Teddy will soon be answering to ‘Tiddy’!

It’s an exciting thing to do and not without its nail-biting moments. Our current pressing concerns are:

1. Taking enough food for a hungry teenager with severe food allergies on a 24-hour flight. (Is there a cool bag big enough?)
2. Teddy travelling in a crate for 24-hours and then staying in quarantine for 10 days. (We thought it was a relief that we could visit Teddy once he’s in quarantine. Now we are wondering if that will just confuse him. “I don’t think we’ll be able to stay away,” said my husband. Yup. I think he’s right.)
3. Getting everything done before we leave. Those lists I mentioned are endless. Yet still, yesterday I must have made at least 20 cups of tea in an effort to avoid getting on with it.

The shippers, the storage containers, the industrial cleaners, the renters – they’re all to come and there will undoubtedly be a crazy countdown until we leave. Then, when we get there, we’ll want to explore our neighbourhood, the country – find out about the local people, the food, the way of life, the outdoor pursuits (sailing, paddle boarding, hiking, skiing) not to mention the local dog scene…

There are still new products in the pipeline for the Tales of Teddy store, and who knows what we’ll find to add in New Zealand (there are an awful lot of Kiwi sheep, so I’m guessing something wooly might be a go-er)? While I might be easing up on the blog for a while, Teddy’s Instagram will still be going strong. Teddy on Tour: here’s hoping you’ll join him on a virtual voyage. Wish us luck!