I would like to introduce you to The Birthday Bear. It is quite possible that you will be seeing a lot of him over the coming months because he's going to be my, almost, constant companion as I travel around, visit places and take photos.
As for how it all came about, I think I'd better start at the beginning. As you know, I recently had a birthday. In 2001 I was in New Zealand visiting Bob and Maggie when 29 January came round. It was great celebrating my winter birthday in the middle of a New Zealand summer. On the evening of my birthday we went out for a meal at Untouched World, a sustainable clothing manufacturer and restaurant near Christchurch Airport. Also there were Paul and Linda, long time friends of Bob and Maggie who had, I'm delighted to say, become friends of mine during that and my previous visit to Aotearoa. During the meal Linda gave me a birthday present, a small, purple teddy bear. As a group we decided that this bear should become The Birthday Bear, affording him superhero status, and that he should pass from one to the next at each of our birthdays.
I had The Birthday Bear for only a few days before I flew back to Britain, promising to return. From then, as far as I know, he was passed to Bob, to Maggie, to Paul and to Linda with each birthday that came along. I was back in New Zealand again in January 2004 and again adopted The Birthday Bear for the few days between my birthday and my leaving for home. Things were to change a bit the next year. I was back again, but this time for several months. So 2005 saw the bear travelling with me up to the North Island, back down to the West Coast and Golden Bay, the Top of the South, Kaikoura and back to Christchurch in time for Bob's birthday at the end of March.
The first present I opened on my birthday this year was the one from Bob and Maggie. It took some getting into, mainly because I didn't want to rip the paua shell printed wrapping paper. Once in, I came to a box and found inside, The Birthday Bear. He had changed from how I remembered him; he now had a New Zealand t-shirt, a New Zealand cap, a New Zealand backpack, maps and lots of souvenirs. In their card Bob and Maggie told me that The Birthday Bear had reached the stage that all Kiwis do. It was time for his OE. It has almost become a national tradition for Kiwis to, at the right point in their lives, do their Overseas Experience (OE) and now it was my purple friend's turn.
So, he's going to be travelling around with me, and he may even go off on his own or with other people as well - whatever he wants to do really. I don't know how long he's going to be staying but we'll certainly try to cram in as much as we can while he's here.