My Debt of Gratitude to a Bear called Paddington

This is my 150th post and it deserves something special, I think.

What is fitting for such a momentous little moment? Well, perhaps soemthing that, without which I wouldn’t be writing this post (or mangling my grammar).

paddington

If I look back up the bannister of my life there have been very few splinters to discombobulate me during my smooth progress to the present day. And that is in large part because of a little Peruvian, marmalade guzzling, antique shop frequenting bear called Paddington. He is, after all, nearly as old as me, having first appeared in 1958. But it isn’t the similarity of our personalities (he’s loyal and a klutz who means well) nor our mutual longevity that links us.

I have many things to be grateful for. My timeless and ineffably lovely wife the Textiliste tops every poll. But I wouldn’t have gone to university without Paddington and never met her over cheese and wine at our tutor’s introductory soiree (yep, I’m old enough to have gone to soirees). I did promise I’d never embarrass her here but since this is a special post and this photo from our time at uni is fab, I break my rule just this once.

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Uncle Bulgaria seems rather perturbed

I wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer at primary school. Possibly being in the Archaeologist’s shadow played to my detriment. You might think that is false modesty but here are two school reports to put the truth onto to that statement.

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the constant references to haste and ‘could do better’ possibly point the way forward

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easily my greatest report ‘Geometry – ‘Utterly confused in exam’. Exquisite! ‘PE and Games – he tries’ Was any report more damming?

In 1968 the Education reforms of Butler in 1944 had morphed into a two tier system. The original conceit was to treat academic prowess and technical prowess in identical ways, devoting as much time and resource to each and to provide quality education for both sorts of pupil. However, while the grammar schools were succeeding in providing a quality academic secondary education previously only available to the rich or those lucky enough to win scholarships, the technical colleges were underfunded and thought of as frankly second class. If you didn’t get to a grammar school and ended up at the nearest Secondary Modern, (these were the schools where those who failed at the 11 plus were sent), you were hothoused to failure. Or that was the received wisdom. To fail to win a place at grammar school meant my educational fate, certainly in the eyes of my parents, was sealed.

I scraped in (as to how that is coming). I ended up at Purley Grammar school in Surrey for a year and a half before my family moved to Hampshire where I continued at the local grammar school (there known as High Schools) in Brockenhurst. I had a fantastic education and some great teachers. Mr Boun in History stands out but Messrs Gifford (Latin), Bain (French), Hucker (Physics), Sims (Chemistry), Doubleday (English), Pearce (Maths) and Meredith (form teacher) as well as Miss Post (also French), Miss Davies (English) all worked their magic. Between them they turned me from an also ran into a pretty decent learner with an increasing appetite for knowledge. I made it to Bristol university which I left three years later with a Law Degree of which I’m still quite proud…

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Ok, so all pretence at false modesty has now officially gone – and still I’m the token bloke!

My career in the law provided me with both intellectual stimulation and a comfortable existence, neither of which might have followed without that bear. My university friends knew of my love for and loyalty to the little chap, so much so that they clubbed together to raise the £25 – a veritable shed load of little green drinking tokens back in 1977 – to buy me a Paddington of my own for my 21st. Never was I given a better present. Moth eaten and dusty he still stands sentinel at the top of our stairs.

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No hat and his label is long gone but that’s affection for you

For those for whom Paddington Bear is still a mystery, you need to buy the book ‘a Bear called Paddington’ and live a while in 1950s Britain of imagined tolerance and innocence, toast and marmalade and old men called Gruber in whose shops a small bear and twin children can spend time absorbing wisdom and elevenses without any eyebrows being raised. Paddington was explorer, detective, loyal if befuddled friend and, given his experiences as an orphan, stowaway and illegal immigrant, a great example to Mr Farage and his supporters that lonely immigrants are not just wastrels and spongers but can and do enrich us if treated with humanity.

And why is Paddington so important to me?

To be granted a grammar school place I needed to pass my 11 plus. I failed it. Not by much. I was ‘borderline’, an expression now reserved for mental illness which perhaps is apposite given the strain my exam failure put on my parents’ mental health. There were a few spare places to be allocated so those who’d missed crossing the line were interviewed to determine who would benefit from a grammar school future. Interviewed at 11? What were they thinking?

I must have known it was important because I have some memories of it. Partly it was because the interview took place in the headmaster’s study, a place you only went when you were in serious trouble. I remember sitting down and swinging my legs and being told to stop by someone. I have no memory of making any sort of impression until I was asked what books I liked. I said Paddington and the only lady on the panel cooed. She asked me which I liked best and I told her. Back then I had a good memory for stories and could have given her the plots of all the books had she asked. In my memory now – I could be making this up – I recall a smile passing between the panellists as I rattled off one of the stories. I was in. My love of that gorgeous little South American lump of fake fur and kapok saw me to a better future than might otherwise have been the case.

And for that, Paddington Brown, orphan and Peruvian expat, I will forever be eternally grateful.

Apparently a film is about to be released, with Hugh Bonneville (he of Downton Abbey) as Mr Brown. Perfectly suited I say.  Here’s the trailer… Nice but it won’t hold a candle to the books.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at geofflepard.com and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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28 Responses to My Debt of Gratitude to a Bear called Paddington

  1. Norah says:

    Congratulations on this milestone, and may the bear be with you. Such a lovely story of your journey together.

    Like

  2. willowdot21 says:

    Another great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Charli Mills says:

    Another mile-marker post (and not just because of the number). A sweet story, a sweet bear, but I found this line profound: “that lonely immigrants are not just wastrels and spongers but can and do enrich us if treated with humanity.” And that, is why I like your writing–it looks like a humble bear but is made of greater stuffing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Annecdotist says:

    Congratulations, Geoff, not that it’s a race of course but by the end of next week you will have overtaken me.
    So glad Paddington Bear (interesting, but because I had a sense he was after our time, maybe you were a step ahead of the fashion) has helped you through. Urgh, that interview at eleven years old, what on earth were they expecting? Reminds me of the scene in the film Billy Elliot where the boy goes for an audition at the Royal Ballet and no-one knows how to bring out the best in him until – if I’m remembering it correctly – they ask how he feels when he’s dancing.

    Like

    • TanGental says:

      Yes, I empathise with young Billy (great film btw – Julie Walters, what an actress). And me a trend setter – now there’s something to mention to the Vet. She’ll not believe it. I know the pace will ease on this posting lark – or perhaps I’ll start crafting some quality and thoughtful pieces like you do rather than my fluff – that takes real time.

      Like

  5. Aah! Paddington! 🙂 Sweet little bear. I love the image of your buddies gathering money to buy you a stuffie for your 21st. And that you still have him.

    Like

  6. Pingback: My Debt of Gratitude to a Bear called Paddington | TanGental

  7. 😀 Well for laughing out loud that little bear is m.a.g.i.c. Lovely story. ❤ 😛

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I so enjoyed reading this belatedly Geoff! Anybody who loves a bear called Paddington is tops in my books. (My bibliophile daughter also sports a Paddington at the top of her stairs!) I think you are right, there is much that we can take from that faraway, innocent time and my heart is warmed (and there is just a hint of a chuckle) at the fact that an about town ex-lawyer, writer-of-often-scary scenarios still sports not only his Paddington Bear, but also his childhood teddy, owl and penguin!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Mary Smith says:

    Great story, Geoff, whcih I really enjoyed.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Did you ever get to see the film? We bought the DVD and although I loved it, it wasn’t exactly Hubby’s cup of tea. One thing that always struck me about it was that NOBODY questioned a talking bear! Wonderful stuff. Great post Geoff.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. jan says:

    What a sweet tribute your long time buddy. I had a stuffed dog I called Gus. I used to stuff all my babysitting money into a hole in his stomach and forgot all about it until I found him in the basement in really bad shape. I was in bad shape too and so that small cache of money was a great comfort.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Autism Mom says:

    We used that movie as one of the many visuals to help prepare our son for our visit to London. Now 18 months later I have found him watching it again, thoroughly enjoying the movie and his memories of where we visited. Paddington has been a help to us too. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Pingback: O is for Opportunities #atozchallenge | TanGental

  14. Love this bear so much

    Liked by 1 person

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