It has to be said, this was one of the more surreal moments that I’ve had since living in Dubai. My son decided that his best friend Tallulah would like a Build a Bear for her birthday present, and in my naïvety, I agreed. I thought you went and chose a bear, gave it a name and that was about it.
How wrong could I be? The purchase of a soft toy from Build a Bear is like nothing else I have ever witnessed. Admittedly, it wasn’t helped by the fact that the assistant assigned to us was taking her job very seriously and with an unnecessary level of enthusiasm. She seemed to be under the misguided impression that we were actually creating a life. She was without question, more caring and attentive about our bundle of polyester and foam, than any of the midwives that helped deliver my twins.
For those who haven’t had the painful experience for themselves, the general idea is that you choose a toy and then take it through a long and convoluted process to stuff it, clothe it, name it and so on; before paying a ridiculous figure for it to be shoved in a box and given to someone you care about for them to cherish forever. Can you tell it’s an American company?
An assistant guides you through the process, mostly to make sure that you don’t miss out any key stages (and therefore opportunities to spend more!) on your way round the store.
The first stage is a row of saggy looking toy ‘skins’ from which you choose your ‘furry friend’. Whatever you choose at this stage looks like a pitiful road kill but no one seemed to pick up on this fact apart from me. My son was delirious with expectation and clutched the limp fur rabbit to his body as if someone’s life really did depend on it.
From here we had to choose our road kill’s, sorry, rabbit’s ‘sound’. As well as a dubious snuffling sound that frankly sounded more like Peter the Paedophile than Peter Rabbit, we had a choice of heartbeats, giggles and messages read by someone who had been on the helium. Everything comes with an American accent too, just to make sure that the experience really grates. Oh, and to record the sound and pop it in the bunny…. that’ll be 30 dirhams please.
So, armed with a limp rabbit and a sound we now had to pick a heart. Fortunately these came in a ‘one size fits all’ specification. Red, satin, crackling with static… you get the idea. Oh, and that’s another 10 dirhams.
And now the truly strange bit. We had to stuff the thing. And this, I can assure you, is neither sweet, cute nor dignified. Our poor rabbit was attached by her nether regions to a giant tube and then pumped full of god only knows what. The twins looked horrified as limb by limb the creature started to take shape. Even my son looked a bit unnerved.
Next stop the clothes. And there was me thinking that rabbits don’t wear clothes. Foolish Mummy! There were rows upon rows of garments and in every possible theme you could imagine. Bridal, cheerleader, Iron Man (I mean whoever heard of an Iron Man rabbit?), school girl, sports star. They just went on and on and on.
My heart sank as we agreed that my son should choose. I braced myself for Darth Vader Bunny (yes, there really was a Darth Vader costume), but instead, was delighted to see that Bun’ was going to be wearing white capri trousers and a yellow blouse. A snip at 60 dirhams. We handed the outfit to our assistant who pointed out that we’d forgotten the knickers. The what? Yes, knickers are sold separately. Sold? Of course they are. That’s another 15 dirhams.
“Would your bunny like a handbag?”, she asked my son. I flashed her a look and I think we came to a mutual understanding that the bunny would not be needing a handbag.
And then to the last stage. Presented with a PC you are guided through the process of creating the Birth Certificate. You choose a name and the computer helpfully provides the date, weight, eye and fur colour of your ‘baby’.
As I wandered zombie-like to the counter with Bethany the Bunny, and handed over a staggering 200 dirhams, one thought alone crossed my mind. Someone, somewhere, is making a killing!