Christopher Milne and Edward
However was I to know Christopher Robin was a real boy? I presumed he was merely a character, in a book, a book I loved, Winnie the Pooh. Childhood is such bliss.
It was later I learned he was a real boy, one with his mothers gift for working with his hands and his father's love of words, mathematics and passion for cricket.
Christopher had a near idyllic childhood at the family's Cotchford Farm, and surrounding countryside, the 100 Aker Wood, the 6 Pine Trees, places near and dear to any fan of Winnie. An only child, in between the wars England his earliest memories were of his beloved nanny. Near nine years old, he began to spend time with his parents, first mother, then his father, only rarely all together. With this father, he enjoyed making up stories.
"It is difficult to say which came first. Did I do something and did my father then write a story around it? Or was it the other way about, and did the story come first? Certainly my father was on the look-out for ideas; but so too was I. He wanted ideas for his stories, I wanted them for my games, and each looked towards the other for inspiration. But in the end it was all the same: the stories became a part of our lives; we lived them, thought them, spoke them. And so, possibly before, but certainly after that particular story, we used to stand on Pooh-sticks Bridge throwing sticks into the water and watching them float away out of sight until they re-emerged on the other side." (The Enchanted Places, 58)
The magical childhood spell was broken when he went away to school. Taunted and bullied by the older boys, forever teased for being Christopher Robin, something he had no hand in. A shy and sensitive child, Christopher began to resent his father's building his career on the shoulders of a little boy. The wounds were deep.
After the war father and son each found the world they had known had changed. Father's books, poems and plays were no longer fashionable and publishers were frequently out of office when he would phone or stop in. The son had a difficult time finding his niche in the world. The boys festering resentment grew along with his own career frustrations.
In 1948, against his parents strong objections, he married a cousin on his mother's side. Christopher's mother had not spoken to her brother, the brides father, in over 35 years, and made no plans to begin, and gave their only child's wedding a miss.
Unable to find suitable work, as well as escape his parent's disapproval of his wife, the young Milne's made the unusual choice of leaving London, to open The Harbour Bookshop in Dartmouth. For 21 years the couple lived solely on the profits of the store.
AA Milne died in 1956, his wife in 1971, the son and parents never reconciled. Cotchford Farm was sold to Rolling Stone guitarist Brian Jones, who died (was murdered?) in the swimming pool soon after purchase.
Christopher Milne wrote 3 volumes of memoirs, each an attempt to tell his story and to answer many of the questions he had been asked and avoided all his life. The irony of his finally writing about his father was not lost. You may skip vol. 3, The Hollow on the Hill.
Christopher died in 1996, selling the bookstore shortly before his retirement in 1983. For 61 years it has been a going concern. Changes in the neighborhood, how people read and changes within the publishing industry are now forcing Christopher Milne's bookstore to close for good at the end of September.
The end of an era.