What do you do when your child loses their beloved cuddly toy?

Ellen's son and his collection of monkeys

Ellen's son and his collection of monkeys - Credit: Archant

There is a little girl in Essex who is going to have a very unhappy birthday tomorrow if we can’t help her, writes Ellen Widdup.

Florence, who is about to turn four, has lost Fred.

And her parents have launched a nationwide hunt to find this treasured member of the family.

Fred, in case you were wondering, is a toy rabbit.

He stands at about 23cm tall, is tawny brown and has the well-worn look of an animal that has been cuddled continuously for 1,460 days - which he has.

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I commiserate with Florence, who mislaid the bunny in the Meadows Shopping Centre, Chelmsford, on New Year’s Day.

But I also sympathise with her parents.

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After all, I have been in their position myself. I only wish I had had the good sense to kickstart a viral media campaign to locate my son’s monkey when he vanished three years ago.

Psychologists call them “transitional objects” – items that help infants move from attachment to their parents to increasing independence.

Charlie Brown had his blanket. Andy had Woody and Buzz. Harper Beckham has her dummy.

My son had Mr Banana or “Nana”, which was one of his first words, not long after Mama and Dada.

Nana was his friend, comforter and companion. They went everywhere together.

Nobody else would do at naptime, teatime, sad times or bedtime.

And then one day after bath we couldn’t find him.

We looked everywhere. Under beds, in cupboards, in every bag and box and nook and cranny.

We retraced our steps, phoned the local swimming pool, the children’s centre, the baby gym.

We scoured the school playground, dipped in the lost property, walked the streets hoping some kind soul would have left him hanging off a railing waiting to be found.

But Nana was nowhere in sight.

Of course there were tears and tantrums. There was whimpering, sobbing and other heart-wrenching noises that made me feel utterly helpless.

Days passed, then weeks but no monkey was found and finally I started searching online for another one.

I knew whatever replacement I found wouldn’t smell the same. It wouldn’t have the bit of ear that had been slightly chewed away during my son’s teething years.

It wouldn’t have the frayed label that he attempted to cut off with a pair of stolen scissors. It wouldn’t be Nana.

But I hoped it would help relieve the pain to have a duplicate.

This story doesn’t end well. The stuffed toy had been discontinued and there was nothing like it to be found on eBay.

Every year since I have bought him another monkey hoping to fill the void.

But, while these apes are all gratefully received and lined up with pride on his bed, he still leaves a space for Nana.

“Just in case he comes home,” he says, patting the empty spot on his cushion.

It’s ridiculous I know. But actually it’s not so hard to understand.

My own favourite childhood toy – Pooky, a mangy old cat with a bell in her tale – is still going strong.

And I know many other adults who also hang on to a prized plaything out of nostalgia, for comfort or as a memento of times when life was simple and straightforward.

Lost toys have been the inspiration for so many classic children’s stories and films.

Who can read Shirley Hughes’ Dogger to their child without welling up? What about Rosemary Billam’s Alpaca? Or Helen Cooper’s Tatty Ratty?

And we can all grasp the importance of the relationships in Toy Story.

It is little wonder therefore that there is a website – Teddy Bear Lost and Found – with 12,000 followers dedicated to reuniting people with their missing toys.

Started as a simple Facebook page in September 2012 by a kind of caped crusader for lost toys who refuses to reveal her name – it quickly snowballed.

There are now hundreds of lost and found toys on the database - around 60 of which have been claimed by their owners and made their way home.

Other individuals are still hoping to be reunited with their cuddly friends.

Among them is former lawyer Jena Peng, 37, who was devastated after he took teddy bears Cinny Baby and Bahad on a “date” night in London this Christmas and left them behind in an ice cream parlour.

Oxford-educated Mr Peng, who sold his collection of rare Steiff bears last year for more than £90,000, began collecting antique cuddly toys in 2002 and the two three-inch bears he has mislaid are each worth £250.

Also on the site is a girl looking for a doll in a blue jumper, left behind on a train ride from Clapham Junction to Crewkerne on December 23 and a boy who is pining for a yellow bear with floppy arms who was last seen at Heathrow airport terminal four.

There’s even a soft toy who was rescued from the water off Port Hardy BC Canada looking to find his way home.

And, of course, there is Florence, desperate to locate Fred. I hope she finds him.

And I hope, like me, her parents have learnt a valuable lesson. After all, they have other, younger children too.

My littlest is only eight weeks old but is already forming an attachment to a blue striped zebra.

Last week I went out and bought four more.

Just in case.

@Ellen WiddupTwo cuddly toys were left behind at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds over Christmas, can you help reunite them with their owners?

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