BEWARE - LIVE BEAR
Today´s driver had instructions to collect a crate containing a live animal. Nothing unusual, for unknown to most town folk, nearly every down train for some years had brought containers of all shapes and sizes with specimens of animal or plant life addressed to this enigmatic individual who, although resident for nearly twenty years, was still a stranger to all but a chosen few. However, this visitor was to make quite an entrance, introducing himself in a way no one would ever forget!
The consignment, boldly labelled ´BEWARE - LIVE BEAR´ was approached with due caution by the station staff as ominous growls issued from within the crate. Then, to the consternation of all, as the crate was gingerly lifted, the bottom broke away to reveal a gap, from which appeared four furry feet equipped with remarkably dangerous looking claws.
What should they do? Suddenly, the resouceful station-master, tilting his gold braided cap, said, "I know, I have some long poles." The poles were fetched, fitted one each side to the top of the crate and, like pall-bearers, the porters cautiously raised the crate, leaving behind the faulty floor, but with the poor Bruin´s feet now firmly on the platform.
To even attempt loading on the wagon was risky and so with a man at each corner and the bear safely secured, the ultimate spectacle of the little entourage, with those strange furry feet, padding up Victoria Street, made citizens stop and stare in wild surprise. Shops emptied of customers, assistants in long white aprons and starched cuffs deserted their coffee roasters and sawdust strewn floors, whilst errand boys fell over their handle bar baskets with excitement. Not since the famous ´Paignton Pudding´ had been trundled through the town to celebrate the coming of the Great Western Railway in 1859 had the town seen such a sight! The perambulating bear was undoubtedly Billy, mascot of HMS Delhi, whose Commanding Officer had arranged to leave him in the care of the newly established Paignton Zoo before the ship sailed on a world cruise. The Paignton Observer of that day reported how Billy had been rescued from a forest fire in British Columbia, having been deserted by his mother, before being presented to the visiting warship.