I’ve been re-reading a couple of Winnie-the-Pooh stories, in a complete edition I bought my sons many moons ago, which they never opened or made any attempt to read; despite me whingeing on that it’s an absolute classic. They preferred the Disney film The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977); which was probably the right decision, it being possibly the best animated version of a kids book ever made (in my opinion.)
I bought the book because, strangely, I’d never read the stories either. The present spell of re-reading got me wondering about Christopher Robin Milne (1920-1996) who was the son (and muse) of A A Milne, the author of When We Were Very Young, Winnie the Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner and Now We Are Six.
A A Milne was a prolific writer of plays, essays and articles written for the satirical magazine Punch (where he was an assistant editor) but all this previous work was totally eclipsed by the books which featured his only son, and a collection of stuffed toy animals. This worldwide success (which would be the envy of any other author) left the father and son, each in his own way, strangely embittered.
The thinking about the real Christopher Robin ended with the writing of a not very whimsical Winnie-the-Pooh story, continuing where the last ever Pooh story left off. And here it is.
In which Christopher Robin returns to the Hundred Acre Wood and Pooh rather wishes He (that is Christopher Robin) Hadn’t
After Christopher Robin went away from the Hundred Acre Wood forever, Pooh took to walking to the Enchanted Place every second Tuesday, because Christopher Robin had promised that one day he would come back. Tuesday had seemed like a good Bumping Into Old Friends sort of day because it was a Nothing sort of day. Not in the way Christopher Robin had meant it, when he talked of a Nothing Day; which was a not bothering sort of day, a kind of do what you want sort of day; but because it was a day that Pooh tended to forget, amongst all the other things that Pooh tended to forget (except for honey that is.)
Tuesday didn’t come at the beginning of the week, or in the middle or even at the end. It was a kind of Unimportant Day, which made it perfect for going and seeing if Christopher Robin might pay him (Pooh) another visit. For, if ever such a Stupendous Thing should occur, then Tuesday would become a Very Important Day indeed; why, it would become known as: The Day that Christopher Robin Came Back Day.
Pooh always sat in his favourite thoughtful spot in the Enchanted Place, which was on the grass at the foot of one of the sixty three trees. Pooh now knew that there were sixty three trees circling the Enchanted Place because he had counted them twenty six times; there being twenty six second Tuesdays in a year. Christopher Robin had once told Pooh that the Enchanted Place was enchanted because nobody had ever been able to count whether there were sixty three or sixty four trees in this part of the forest. Well, Pooh had succeeded in counting sixty three trees (no more and no less) one Tuesday, about 50 years ago. This had been on a day when he suddenly seemed to have rather a lot of brain. Perhaps this meant the place wasn’t enchanted anymore, Pooh thought rather sadly.
The Tuesday in question was a perfect summer’s day. As was his custom, whenever he sat in a thoughtful spot, Pooh’s mind began to wander, and the place it always wandered off to, was his larder at home, where he stored all his honey pots. As the sun got hotter and Pooh got hotter (because he was a very furry sort of bear) he began to feel quite drowsy and a pleasant little hum came into his very little brain. It went like this:
On Tuesday when it’s bright and sunny,
I like to sit and dream of hunny,
I sit awhile beneath this tree
(which happens to be No. sixty two, I counted)
Oh Bother! I meant to say sixty three,
It rhymes with tree you see.
I sit and hope to one day meet
Christopher Robin walking along
And together we will sing this song
Pooh felt his brain was getting addled. Tum-de-dum Pooh carried on in a very sleepy way until suddenly there was a Very Loud Crack – the crack of someone, or something, stepping onto a Very Large Twig. Pooh opened his eyes and there, standing before him in the glare of the midday sun, were two of the biggest feet attached to two of the biggest legs he had ever seen.
Heffalumps and Woozles! Cried Pooh and jumped to his feet.
“Hello Old Bear,” said a quiet and hesitant voice. “It’s me, I’ve come back.”
“Who’s me?” said Pooh, looking up and up at the very large person before him until his eyes reached the very top of the very large bespectacled person’s head.
“Christopher Robin, you silly Old Bear. I promised I’d come back remember. You said you’d never forget me, even if I grew to be a 100. Well, I grew to be 75 and then I died from a Very Horrid Illness.”
“I knew something Really Important was just around the corner,” said Pooh. I was only telling Piglet the other day that the bees have been much buzzier lately, and Eeyore wished me a ‘Good Morning Pooh’ round about last Monday, which has certainly never happened before. You don’t much look like Christopher Robin though and what does ‘Died’ mean?”
“’Died’ is when you have to say goodbye to your friends because you’re going away on the longest holiday that ever there was – and you can’t come back.”
Pooh thought about Piglet going away forever and never coming back and didn’t like ‘Died’ at all.
“You still look like you Pooh, which is all that matters,” Christopher Robin said earnestly. “I grew up Pooh, that’s why I had to go away.”
And Christopher Robin told Pooh All About It.
How he’d had to go to Boarding School.
“What’s Bore-ding skool?” interrupted Pooh immediately.
“It’s exactly that Pooh, a place where you go and are always bored. I was bullied too because I was the famous Christopher Robin and that made me not want to be Christopher Robin anymore. And I began to resent my father for writing about me in his Most Famous Stories. I didn’t think he was a Very Good Father. Some people are good with children. Others are not. It’s a gift. You either have it or you don’t. My father didn’t. My father got where he was by climbing on my infant shoulders, he filched from me my good name and left me with nothing but the empty fame of being his son. Oh I had all kinds of fears and jealousies and frustrations because I was the lesser son of the Greater Man. “
Pooh was doing his best to listen but was beginning to feel like a Bear in Great Confusion. This person didn’t sound like Christopher Robin at all and Pooh didn’t understand a word he was saying.
“Then I went to Cambridge to study mathematics, just like my father did before me, and then I went to War.”
“What’s War,” said Pooh.
“You don’t want to know dear bear, trust me. I got Shrapnel In The Brain because of The War, then I came home and Tried To Get Work but couldn’t, and blamed my father because, at that time, I blamed my father for everything. Then I married my first cousin, which made mother Very Cross and so I never saw her again, even when she was On Her Death Bed. I didn’t see father much either, even after he became very ill From A Stroke. I ended up running a book shop in Dartmouth where I wrote several volumes of autobiography; maybe you would like to read them Pooh (Pooh was certain he wouldn’t and besides he wasn’t very good at reading; a thing Christopher Robin appeared to have forgotten.)
By now Pooh was no longer listening. He was in his happy place, and Piglet was there beside him. They were seated in Pooh’s house at the table just chatting, whilst Pooh occasionally stuck his nose into a jar full of honey.
Meanwhile Christopher Robin droned on and on, rather like the wrong sort of bees in the very first Winnie-the-Pooh story, if you remember.
“……and so I finally came to accept that my father was a great writer and had written something eternal and marvellous in his books about Winnie-the-Pooh and that I’d done him a disservice…..”
At the mention of his own name Pooh awoke from his happy dream. “I’ve just remembered something Very Important Christopher Robin,” Pooh said in a great hurry. “I have a Pry-or Engay-j-munt, with Piglet, so I must be going or I’ll be very late.” And he ran away as fast as his little bear legs could carry him.
“Was it something I said?” wondered Christopher Robin and sat himself down in Pooh’s thoughtful spot where he began to remember. And as he remembered the trees got taller and taller while he got shorter and shorter until he was suddenly 6 years old again.
“I’d forgotten,” said Christopher Robin. “I’d forgotten the Happy Times but now I remember because I’m not growed up anymore.”
And he ran out of the trees.
“Wait for me Pooh,” cried Christopher Robin, “Wait for me.”