It all began about 25 years ago with a bottle of mascara given to me as a present by my daughter for my birthday or Christmas – it’s hard to recall which as the proximity of these dates means they tend to merge in my mind. Early in the New Year she borrowed the mascara and subsequently emptied the bottle, with the promise of replacing it. The weeks and months rolled by and finally in the June a school inset day presented itself and we had a girls’ shopping day, with mascara high on the list. I wasn’t too bothered about the replacement as I rarely wear it – vainly believing that my long, dark lashes need no embellishment. We came across a bottle for £3 plus but deciding it was too expensive, especially with my daughter paying out of her pocket money, we moved on to look for a cheaper product elsewhere. A small clothing store was having a closing down sale and we wandered in, not for mascara, but to see if there were any bargains on the rails, coming across a free-standing unit displaying a few soft toys – all reduced – among them a white tiger cub who immediately grabbed my attention. I picked him up and looked at the price tag, tempted to buy him, when my daughter, seeing my interest, asked if I would like him instead of the mascara. I didn’t have to think about it as he was irresistible, with a smile on his face, despite his plight of being literally left on the shelf, and for the knock-down price of £2.99, the tiger came home with us on the bus.
He soon took up residence in our bedroom and acquired the rather unimaginative name of Stripe, though it suits him. He also took on human attributes, including the ability to speak English – not loud enough to be heard but supposed telepathy and a very vivid imagination is a wonderful combination! He was perfect – almost – being quiet, undemanding, cheap to run but with just one flaw as he would pull the bedclothes off my husband! I got the blame, of course, but kept insisting it was Stripe and it was his hobby. However, my husband remained unconvinced until I went to visit my Mum for a week, leaving Stripe behind. On my return, my husband informed me that in my absence the bedclothes had continued to be pulled off him, and I was quick to point out that this proved my argument that it was nothing to do with me and it had been Stripe all along!
A few years later another tiger cub joined us, altogether bigger and more fierce in appearance than Stripe, though just as cuddly and we had no trouble deciding that this addition had to be male and named him Rajah, which we believe means Prince in one of the Indian languages. He is the more usual golden colour has a slightly twisted mouth and a set to his jaw which gives him a defiant look (not unlike Father Jack on Craggy Island!), with his interests so different from Stripe’s, Rajah’s aspirations include the desire to go down the pub and watch sport on television. In fact, his introduction to TV was quite a revelation as he always appears glued to it and somehow if he is placed looking away from the TV he seems to turn himself round so he is facing it! To be honest, he isn’t very selective when it comes to viewing as any programme showing at the time will suit him.
With his new friend Rajah, Stripe was no longer lonely or bored and the bed covers suddenly remained in place! They seem to amuse themselves somehow and though Rajah continues to look threatening, in reality he likes nothing more than a cuddle! They seem content and lead a peaceful life, never venturing out of the house.
In September 2004, following a visit to a museum with her boyfriend, our daughter came home with another present for me – a small white tiger. He is different again from Stripe and Rajah, very soft and bouncy, providing another dimension to the Tiger family. This was shortly after I had seen the film The Two Brothers which revolved around two tiger cubs, separated as youngsters, leading different lives for a while, and then reunited with each other and their mother, for the happy ending. Not exactly representative of the solitary and aloof lives most tigers lead but quite endearing. Our “museum tiger” is named Kumal, after one of the brothers in the film, though neither was white, and because he is soft and small, he is quite shy and easily frightened. He doesn’t like the dark, thunder storms or being alone, though there is little chance of that with Stripe and Rajah to look after him and for quite a while was afraid of being sent back to the museum – not that there was a chance of it. He had hated his time there as it was so often dark, cold and creepy, especially with the wind howling round the hilltop, and there was always the chance he would be bought and mistreated by his new owner. However, he began to settle in after a while when he realised that in his new home his fears were unfounded he began to engaged in his hobby of bouncing and enjoys being a small tiger cub amid two bigger and older tigers.
Following his arrival, my daughter adopted a tigress in my name from the World Wildlife Fund. This was a birthday present and in the box with the adoption details, including a photo of Malu Pothi, the tigress, was a small soft toy tiger, with browny-fawn fur and a small face. She became our first female and was named Mula Malu, partly after Malu Pothi but with the first half of her name being an anagram of Malu. She is a playmate for Kumal and though not as soft or bouncy, she has fitted in well with the trio, and like them, she speaks perfect English, of course!
For renewing my tigress adoption with the WWF a few years later, I received a small soft tiger attached to a keyring. This tiny novelty is definitely another female and because of her size was named Roarette. She doesn’t bounce but swings from the keyring which can be quite entertaining, if only for a limited time!
I thought that these five tigers would make up my complete big cat family but have to admit to succumbing to temptation with an irresistible tigeress with a baby attached to her mouth, via a short orange scarf. They were on the soft toy shelf of the newsagents at the hospital where I worked and I did give it thought as to whether I should buy them or not before returning there on the way home, giving in to temptation, and then facing my husband’s only half-serious complaint, “Where are we going to put all these tigers?” However, Rani and her cub Golden stayed and blended in with the others and she and Rajah became more than good friends and were married on 8th August 2010, with Stripe officiating and the others as bridesmaids and page boy. Of course, there wasn’t an actual ceremony but soft toys lend themselves very well to flights of imagination.
Rani and Rajah subsequently adopted Mula Malu and Roarette, while Kumal preferred to remain with Stripe so the white tigers stayed together and mix well with each other. For my birthday in 2010 my daughter presented with me another small tiger – golden in colour, a bit timid – hence his name Timmy - but a perfect friend for Kumal, and Stripe seems very proud to be their adoptive father.
There is an incompleteness to this saga– in The Two Brothers film, Kumal’s twin brother was called Sangar – and it seemed that somehow a tiger bearing his name should join the clan. This is in the process of happening, courtesy of a soft toy tiger sewing kit, another birthday present from my daughter. So far, Sangar’s head, comprising ears and eyes, have been sewn together but it is a slow job and I am taking care to get the correct pieces stitched on correctly. One glorious day Sangar will be complete and will join the other tigers in our bedroom and Kumal can meet his golden-coloured twin brother and welcome him to the family.
Although they are only soft toys, they do provide us all with much amusement and, we feel, friendship. I have especially benefited from the delight they give me and sometimes wonder if I’ve ever actually grown up!