My affection for Great Britain began when I was a teenager. Watching To Sir, With Love and There’s a Girl in My Soup on the Million Dollar Movie or The Persuaders and The Avengers on television while babysitting allowed me to fall in love with the sight, sounds, and ambience of London: then when my mom handed me a copy of Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor, I was forever hooked on British history, as well. That is how I found myself enrolling at Oxford University – an eccentric American in the homeland of the English Eccentrics.
After landing at Heathrow and taxiing into Central London, it was still too early to check in at The Dukes, the hotel where I planned to reside for a week while acclimating to the time and culture change. So, after dropping my bags at the hotel, I began to wander around Piccadilly absorbing the sights and sounds of the city. I ate breakfast at Fortnum and Mason and bought a scarf at Harvey Nichols and a teapot at Harrods. Passing Hamley’s on Regent Street I saw a window display of stuffed recreations of the original Winnie the Pooh characters, not the Disneyfied ones, but actual remakes of the ragtag stuffed toys belonging to Christopher Robin Milne, the ones that inspired his father to write the Pooh tales. I tugged at the heavy glass door and entered the shop.
My friends and family members have always likened me to Pooh characters, although they disagree as to which I most resemble; some say Piglet and some say Eeyore. Evidently I am both nervous and expecting of misfortune. I stood before the display wondering which stuffed friend I would prefer to take with me to Oxford; finally, feeling more resignation than anxiety, I chose Eeyore. I carried my purchase back to The Dukes and placed him on the bed, the same location my stuffed animals at home inhabited.
My week in London passed quickly and in no time I was ensconced in Room 3 in Stairway Six at Trinity. Repeating the gesture, I nestled Eeyore against the bed pillow. When classes began, I – no early riser by nature – raced out of my room in the morning, leaving Eeyore buried in the covers. This posed no problem as each student room was tidied every day by the scouts and each day Eeyore was recovered from his suffocating, premature burial spot; but instead of finding him centered on the bed or perched on the pillow, every afternoon when I returned to my room, Eeyore was somewhere else, engaged in some activity, sometimes with small notes written on scraps of my notebook paper and tucked between his front paws. The first day he hung from the ceiling light fixture by his back paws with the note, “Don’t worry. I won’t jump.” Another day he sat next to my Harrod’s teapot with the note, “Time for a spot of tea.” Yet another day he sat atop my laptop with a pencil between his paws and the admonition, “Must get some work done.”
This continued for the entire time I was at Trinity. Finally, as I was packing to return to New York, a man carrying a duster poked his head in the door.
“Hello. I just wanted to see who lived in this room.”
I looked up and smiled. “Oh, me. Laura.” I held out a hand.
The man shook it and, grinning shyly, introduced himself as Ian, the scout responsible for my floor, then, as he gazed around the room, he asked, “Where is Eeyore?”
“Oh, he’s packed for his plane ride to JFK,” I answered. I furrowed my brow. “Are you the person who brought him to life during the day in my absence?”
Ian blushed. “I am. I was just having a little fun. I hope I didn’t offend you.”
“Offend me? No, I loved it. I took photos of him every day when he was doing something. I was disappointed on days when you didn’t do it.” I turned to the desk and pulled out a folder from a stack of notebooks. “Look. I saved all of your notes. I am American and was feeling really frightened and lonely at first. Your notes brightened my days more than I can say. Thank you.” Ian’s blush deepened as he turned to leave and continue with his cleaning.
I still have Eeyore. I still have all of the notes Ian wrote for Eeyore. And I knew that I had found my spiritual home in the aloof, yet kindly bosom of the land of the eccentrics.