The Bear Necessities: a story for Christmas.

A story in two chapters.

Chapter 1, Season 1: It's a month before Christmas 2021

Deep in the heart of the Black Forest lived a toy maker, Friedrich Schultz. He carved wooden toys and sold them from his hutte.

He was hard at work one day, when there was a knock at his door.

'Friedrich?' enquired a woman. 'I am Gretchen Wetzel, your fifth cousin, twice removed. I know this because I have traced back our family tree.'

'My family is moving to the UK from America,' she explained, 'My husband is British. I thought that I just must visit you on our journey over. I would like to introduce my husband Harry and my daughter Maisie'.

'Ah, how kind', said Friedrich, who was unaware that he had any American relatives. 'Do stay here with me and my wife for a couple of days. You will enjoy our Christmas Market. Have a look around my workshop; I am just putting the finishing touches to my sales stock'.

Friedrich turned to little Maisie, 'Would you like one of my carved black bears?'

Six-year-old Maisie looked at the bears and wrinkled up her little nose, ‘Can I have a soft bear?’

The toymaker was taken aback. ‘Well, yes. For sure, I can make you a soft bear.’

That night Friedrich took a rabbit skin and he carefully cut it and sewed it up to make a soft brown bear.

The next day Maisie came back to his workshop and he presented her with the new brown bear.

‘But this bear has no clothes’, said Maisie.

‘No problem,’ said Friedrich. He took some fabric and he sewed a little skirt and top for the bear.

‘But, she might get cold’, said Maisie.

Friedrich took some wool and needles and he knitted the bear a little scarf and a matching hat.

‘But,' said Maisie, looking at the dark clouds outside, 'What happens to her fur when it rains?' 

Friedrich took a cocktail stick and a crisp packet and after a bit of folding, fashioned an little umbrella. Then he took a supermarket bag and with great care, sewing and glue, cut out and made a rain coat. ‘H’mm, looks a bit like a Banksy,’ he thought.

‘How’s that?’ He presented the new bear to his new niece.

‘But she has no shoes,’ she replied.

Friedrich took a piece of wood and carved the bear a pair of clogs. He thought again. He took some pink glitter and glue and the clogs became all sparkly.

Maisie seemed pleased, ‘But, every girl must have a hand bag.’

He took two pieces of leather and made the bear a ruck sack.

‘But Uncle…How is she going to talk to her friends? She needs a smart phone!’

Friedrich felt defeated. He could whittle anything from wood, he could sew, he could knit and he could repurpose anything from metal or plastic. He could not, for the life of him, work out how to make a smart phone.

He went to bed and that night, in his sleep, he was visited by the Social Media fairy.

‘Don’t worry old toymaker,’ said the kind fairy and she waved her wand and all sorts of strange dust swirled around the room. 

Friedrich found that he had overslept the next morning. His head ached. When he stumbled downstairs he found his new relatives all packed up and ready to go on their travels.

'We cannot thank you enough for the trouble you have gone to in order to build a bear for Maisie,' said Gretchen. 'Overnight a really funny thing happened. Harry and I woke up to find that we had become entrepreneurs. We were wondering if you would like to start a new business with us? You can make more bear necessities and then we can sell them when we establish our new home in the UK.'

Friedrich did not need to think for long. Footfall at the Christmas Market was contracting year-on-year. 'Why does everywhere think that they do Christmas better than Bavarians?' More worryingly he now found that he was obsessively troubled by the fact that he could not provide a bear with a mobile phone. It would only be a matter of days before Maisie's bear would be demanding internet access too. 

'Thank you for your kind offer' he said. 'Yes, I think that I would like to start a business with you.'

And so it was that Gretchen, Harry and Friedrich started a hugely successful bear fashion business. 


Chapter 2, It's Season 2: Just before Christmas 2022

Paddington Bear strolled through the green channel at London’s Heathrow airport humming Slade’s classic Christmas hit ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’. He loved Christmas and he couldn’t wait to get back home to spend it with the Brown family.

‘Excuse me sir.’ A uniformed officer had stepped in front of him, blocking his way. ‘If you do not mind, I would like to examine your suitcase.’

‘Certainly,’ said Paddington. He was relaxed. ‘Customs and Excise, it’s all part of their job’, he thought.

He was led into a side room with a large table and asked to put his bags on it and open them.

‘From where have your travelled today?' enquired the officer.

‘From Peru, I was visiting my aunt Lucy.’ 

‘Ah ha,’ said the officer, ‘From South America, eh? And exactly what goods have you brought with you into the UK today?'

‘Well,' said Paddington, ‘I have some particularly nice lama wool ponchos and some alpaca jumpers; all hand-knitted by Aunt Lucy and her villagers. Several new hats. In fact I am wearing a similar one. Then there's a variety of wind instruments, some pottery whistles, hum, and some of my sandwiches have become unwrapped. The Browns love a Christmas sing-along. Of course, a lot of these are my own clothes and some are gifts for the Browns. You know the Browns, don’t you?’

The officer ignored the question.

Paddington thought that this was rather odd. His paws were covered in marmalade from the broken sandwich bag and he waited as the man rummaged through his baggage.

The door opened and another officer appeared. She was accompanied by a small girl and a rather glamourous brown bear.

‘Hello,’ said the girl. 'I am Maisie Wetzel and this is my bear Frederika. She's German but she won't mind if you call her Freddie.'

Freddie threw back her long golden hair and growled menacingly.

The new officer then asked Maisie what products she was bringing into the UK.

‘Um, well, quite a few things. Freddie has her own Insta'. We have been over to China and South Korea finding her new accessories. I think it might be better if I show you.'

Maisie carefully unpacked her bags and laid out the contents. One contained her bear’s full wardrobe of clothes and Disney costumes and the other was packed with her bear's accessories and styling kits.

The two customs officers left the room, conferring at length and then they returned.

They addressed Paddington. ‘We consider that you are importing goods without a licence or certificate. We will therefore require you to complete a customs declaration and pay the appropriate duty based on trade tariffs.'

‘What? I am bear,’ said Paddington. ‘These ‘goods’ are either my own or just Christmas presents.’

‘We do not agree,’ said the officer. ‘We consider that both you and all your luggage are commercial merchandise.’

‘How can I be merchandise? I am not for sale!' cried Paddington.

‘We do not agree,’ said the officer.  ‘You are a fictional character, and not a bear. You can talk.’

Turning to Maisie, the officer said ‘We have examined your bear’s clothes and accessories. We consider that you are also importing goods for your bear's Instagram channel. We also understand from our colleagues at HM Revenue that your parents are entrepreneurs and that they have set up bear fashion business in the UK. We therefore consider that your bear and all her accessories are promotional sales merchandise, customs duty must be declared and paid accordingly.’

Maisie was speechless. She was baffled. Where were her parents?

‘Don’t worry,’ said the officer. ‘There is no duty on any goods which have been imported from within the EU, and so there is nothing to declare for your bear and her clothes. There is the matter of her accessories such as her smart phone, snow board, hair dryer and of course her growler.’

‘Her growler?’ said Maisie.

‘Yes, your bear growls, whereas Paddington talks like a human. Different nomenclature.’

‘What?’ Said Paddington.

‘Different classification for the purpose of trade tariffs,’ said the officer. ‘You talk and so you are classified as a doll, whereas Freddie growls, which means that her growler, which I believe has been imported from South Korea, indicates that she is more like a toy of a stuffed kind. The growler therefore falls under a ‘bear necessity’ classification heading.’

‘I am very definitely not a doll!’ protested Paddington.

Freddie shrugged and let out a long low growl. Her tears were ruining her make-up.

‘Moving on to clothing,’ said the officer. 'Paddington, your clothes are all designed for humans. Nothing bear-like in your baggage. Whereas Freddie’s wardrobe appears to be custom-made; her hats have holes for her ears and her skirts have hole for her tail. Her shoes are all quite unlike any worn by a human infant. We will classify these as bear necessities too.’

‘Do you have a mobile phone Paddington?’ asked the officer.

‘No,’ said Paddington. ‘Look at my paws, predictive is an absolute nightmare.'

‘OK, on that basis, Freddie has a mobile phone and a hair dryer and these appear to be specially made in China for bear use, however they can both equally well be used by dolls too. On the basis that Freddie takes a lot of selfies, and dolls do a lot of selfies too, we will class both these items as a sub-category of doll accessories.’

‘The stroller and snow board are interesting but as they are far too small to be used by any human and so we have decided that these are also doll accessories.’

‘Now, Paddington, you are a fictional character imported from Peru. As there is no tariff on fictional characters we have decided that you could alternatively be a live ‘other mammal’. We will need to refer this matter to a technical officer and we shall come back to you on that point. In respect of your clothing, this is all normal adult or children’s clothing. We accept that the pottery and wind instruments are gifts, on this occasion.’

The officers completed their paperwork. Luckily, Freddie was also equipped with a credit card; she settled the customs duty.

Maisie, Freddie and Paddington repacked their luggage and were shown back into the Arrivals' hall of the airport.

‘Golly,’ said Paddington, ‘Was that real?’

At that moment Mr Brown and Maisie’s parents appeared. It was Christmas, and all the unpleasantness of trade tariffs and nomenclatures were all forgotten. 

Happy Christmas to one and all.


Christmas Quiz

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Editor's note

This story and all the characters in it are entirely made up with the exception of the parts on trade tariffs.

The inspiration for the story and detail on nomenclatures all come from a First Tier Tribunal (FTT) decisions of Build-a-Bear UK Holdings Workshop Limited v HMRC [2019] TC7479. 

In the Build-a-Bear case the question was how accessories such as clothing, movie character costumes, plastic items (such as sunglasses, hairdryers, tiaras, mobile phones, skateboards, golf clubs and wheelchairs) and plastic beating hearts and sound products, should be classified for customs duty purposes.

Who knew what a minefield this is? The decision is 67 pages long and each item was considered separately, but the highlights are:

  • Animal toy accessories are not accessories at all. They are items in their own right to be classified as “other” toys based on what they are made of.
  • Plastic sound products have different treatments:
    • those which make a pre-recorded human sound or on which a sound can be recorded are to be classified as “accessories or parts” under a sub-heading to a dolls heading.
    • those which make an animal sound, are to be classified under the sub-heading for animal toys of a stuffed kind.
  • There is no basis for distinguishing between items according to whether they can be directly placed on a doll or by reference to the level of active involvement required from a child, they are all accessories of a doll or toy.