The kookaburra was grey with worn out blue feathers. The cat looked at me with dull eyes against its matted brown fur, still exuding the smell of a pre-loved toy, no matter how many times I'd washed it.
I don't know what your kids are like, but I have struggled with controlling the number of soft fluffy toys on their beds. My youngest has about 20, the older one nearing 30. All ordered around their beds in some sort of fluffy séance, with a tiny space left in the centre for little bodies to rest come 8pm.
Some of my friends do a systematic rota. "I only allow four at any one time," declares a friend of mine who has three very well-behaved Madeline-like girls. That tactic has never worked for me.
But things started to get worse around 3 months ago when they started to save their pocket money over the summer. Whenever we went to a charity shop/school fair they started to buy these pre-loved monsters at an unbelievable rate.
These were no vintage Steiffel teddy bear finds. They were big, misshapen, discoloured, snot-encrusted and (highly likely) dust-mite-infested. In the corner of my eye, I could glimpse a horrified mother protectively scurrying her brood away, doubtless desperate to avoid being forced into making such pestilential purchases of her own.
After the toys had the freezer treatment, a solid soaking in vinegar solution and machine-washed twice (and checked they contained a CE-mark), they were allowed on their beds.
I kissed the boys goodnight and winced as I looked at the growing multitude of glassy eyes around me. They don't even play with them, I moaned to my husband.
"Let's get rid of some of them slowly," he said. "They won't even notice."
So kids, I said - to boys aged 9 and 10 - "I'm going to wash all the toys and you can have them all in a few days."
My husband and I chose three items for a quiet exit. Our choices were hard and fast: they were the ugliest and most matted of the bunch. I stuffed them into a bag and chucked them into the bin outside. It was a calm cool Sunday evening when I neatly arranged their freshly-laundered compatriots around their beds.
Monday morning and there was a scream in the kids' room. We rushed in and my oldest was dashing frantically around his bed looking for "Kookie", "Bam" and "Hugo". Who?
"My toys. Where are they?", he pleaded. "I'm not going to school until I've found them."
My husband and I stared at each other. Time slowed down as I watched an anguished child move around his room turning items over and then jumping back into this bed looking under the duvet.
For the first time in my life, I saw the inner private life of my 10 year old son. Yes, he shared a bedroom with his brother and, yes, he slept in the top bunk bed. But that bunk bed was his personal little space and I had brutally violated it without even knowing it.
If I wanted to get legal about it, I had broken protocol 1, article 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998, which categorically states: "Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions."
My son was still a few years away from being promoted to his own bedroom (the loft needed refurbishing!) --at the moment that bunk bed was his private space. I glanced at the Darth Vader poster, the glow-in-night planetary stickers, embryonic pre-artefacts of a teenager's room to come. I felt awful. An old memory panged at me too; instead of collecting stray dogs like I did as a child, he collected stray toys.
"I'm sure they're around", I said quietly. Coward. A part of me, I have to confess, wanted to laugh. What? That disgusting Kookaburra had a name?
Again, my husband and I looked at each other and made our way out of the room. As he straightened his tie, he whispered: "Don't pander to him."
Maybe they're in the dryer, my oldest yelled as he ran downstairs. The dryer was empty and we could hear him crying bitterly.
"Ok", my husband whispered. "I'll see if they're still in the bin."
"Go quickly", I implored him.
"Don't give the game away", he answered. "I know what an awful actress you can be." (I did do amateur theatre in my 20s.)
We were in the loft now, my son and I moving boxes frantically, searching vigorously for the missing toys. 'Please, be there', I prayed. The council rarely collects the rubbish this early.
The mobile phone rang. "They're gone", my husband said frankly and then made a clean escape off to work and I was left with the mess.
I smiled at my child. "Look", I said. "Let's go shopping tomorrow and buy some new toys." My son looked at me in abject horror. "Nothing can ever replace them. Nothing!", he cried.
So what did I do? I did the only thing a decent parent could do and I bribed him with 1,200 gems for his Crush Royale game. It mellowed the blow, I think.
As we climbed up the stairs and entered his room, his eyes still wet, he said: "That is the last time you're ever washing my toys."
I gulped and the ugly beasts almost smiled at me in that grotty sort of way.Suggest a correction