So we’re in Lewis’s for the annual Christmas Grotto and in this particular early 1960s year in question the topic of the Grotto is “Goldilocks and The Three Bears”, I’m three or four years of age and its like a magical wonderland where all of those fairy tales and nursery rhymes have come to life.
They even have something that looks like a small log cabin with cotton wool snow on the roof, curtains at the window and an artificial fire in the grate. There’s a small table inside with three chairs arranged around it, a big chair for daddy bear a medium chair for mummy bear and a little chair for baby bear – you know the story, and there’s three bowls of porridge on the table, a big bowl for daddy bear, a medium, yes, yes, you all know the story.
Its like magic to my young eyes and I want to see more so I break free from my mothers hand, slip under the rope barrier and run across to the the three bears house for a closer look – the advantage of having a younger brother than you is that your mother is still carrying him around and she can’t chase after you.
It is indeed wonderful inside the three bears house, its exactly like the picture books I have at home and I sit down at the table to see if the porridge is real, there is laughter from the mothers gathered beyond the rope barrier and my mother shouting at me to come back, this is more fun though.
Suddenly a shadow falls across me, I slowly glance up from the table and there, blocking the door, is Baby Bear, come back from his cigarette break, come looking for his porridge in a real life re-enactment of the fable, its an actor in a bear outfit of course for even Lewis’s wouldn’t go so far as to release three real grizzly bears into their Santa’s Grotto with just a rope barrier ‘twixt them and their paying customers, but to me its a real bear, it looks like a real bear, its got a bears head on and everything and it stares at me, raises it paws in a threatening manner and growls at me.
I shit myself, I’m only four and any minute now Baby Bear is going to start saying those lines that I know so well, “Who’s been eating my porridge ? Its you, you greedy little bastard” ok so maybe I had a different version of the book to you.
The mothers outside thought it was hilarious none more so than my own mother and aunt who were clutching their ribs laughing, not funny, not very funny at all, it gave me an irrational fear of porridge that has lasted all of my life (so far), place a bowl of porridge in my hand and I shake with fear and check all the doors and windows for a bear twice as tall as me hissing “Get out of here kid…”