Heroes And The Joy Of Reading


A recent post on the benefits of reading to children to stimulate in them a lifelong love of the art triggered a memory.

I wasn’t an early reader, but under the encouragement of the Archaeologist (mostly so he could be left alone) by about six or seven I began to appreciate reading. What I didn’t realise, until I looked back, was how important that was to be to my future direction. When I do 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 my love of reading an especially reading of the adventures 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 but often doesn’t think through the consequences of his actions) 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 to study law 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 and I still looked a prat dancing)…

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 I have school reports describing me as ‘utterly confused in the exam’ (geometry) and ‘I don’t know how he did it’ (handwriting – I managed a B) and ‘he tries’ (PE). There are rather too many references to ‘could do better’ too…

By 1968 the Education reforms of RAB Butler,, Secretary of State for Education 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…

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.

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 those who turn there back on the enriching nature of migration.

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.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. 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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39 Responses to Heroes And The Joy Of Reading

  1. davidprosser says:

    I was also one of those borderline passes and removed the skin from my teeth squeaking my way in. I was a reader of everything I could get my hands on but I think I owe my entrance into Grammar to a series of small brightly coloured comics called classics that covered all the great stories of, The Man in the Iron Mask, The Musketeers, Count of Monte Cristo, and the Prince and the Pauper amongst others that kept my history end up on questioning.

    Liked by 3 people

    • TanGental says:

      We focused our comic attentions on less literary offerings. Apart from the ubiquitous Dandy and Beano we enjoyed the Eagle and Boys World..

      Liked by 1 person

      • davidprosser says:

        No Hotspur with the Wolf of Kabul with Chung and his clickey ba, Or perhaps Alf Tupper, Tough of the Track~? Da Dare and his Mekon kept me on edge many a time but for the life of me I can’t remember the inner comic unless that’s where Roy of the Rovers lived.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. When we visited London ten years ago, one of our Required Stops was a visit to Paddington Station, where my teenaged children insisted on getting a photo with the statue to be found there: “This is where it happened, Mom!” The Bear (along with that other Bear of Little Brain) is dearly beloved in our household. It’s wonderful that he has played such an important role in your life. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I collected a good few “Could do better” ‘s, along with the odd “Only Fair” , a favourite comment of Aggie Penrice an abysmal Geography teacher!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. JT Twissel says:

    I was always more of a Pooh – Paddington’s country cousin! I even have a Tigger in the library! I adore high quality stuffed animals! My Achilles heel was math. I absolutely cannot think in numbers.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Ritu says:

    Another Pooh fanatic, here, but I love your story, Geoff. I was always that one whose report card said ‘could do better’ and ‘needs to stop chatting’… can you even believe that??😜

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Elizabeth says:

    In my big attic clearout (where nothing actually was cleared out, just put in labeled plastic bins) I finally found our Paddington Bear bought in London in 1974 before I had the little girl who was conceived as soon as I made it back to the US. I love that bear, the books and even the silly recent movies.


  7. trifflepudling says:

    That bear has a lot to answer for … 😉!

    Liked by 3 people

  8. petespringerauthor says:

    If I ever have another job interview (highly doubtful) I’ll play the Paddington card. Who doesn’t like a Peruvian bear?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This just goes to show that talent will out.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Rowena says:

    Geoff, I loved Paddington and tried to introduce him to my kids, but didn’t make a lot of impact unfortunately. My daughter was heavily into Harry Potter like so many modern kids.
    Reading your post, reminds me of how Paddington got into my psyche as a child. I felt a bit like a lost Paddington Bear myself as a child. Wandering around with my suitcase. Never been that keen on marmalade, but switch it over with a jar of Vegemite, and I’m in.
    Hope you and the family are keeping well. I’ve heard the cases have gone crazy over there. Geoff and I are laying low and we’re finally heading down to Sydney to see my Mum and Dad tomorrow for the first time in four months. We used to see my Mum every week..
    Miss is working at McDonalds these days. Time flies.
    Best wishes,

    Liked by 2 people

    • TanGental says:

      Yes madness. It could be a Hellish winter or it might turn out to be manageable. There’s little pressure to clamp down hard – we seem prepared to live with between 100-150 deaths a day as a society – and we’re only discussing homeworking and mask wearing us a booster jab for those who’ve had 2 more than 6 months ago.
      It does mean we’ve been visiting friends again which is nice. I still avoid the tube though…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Rowena says:

        We are having to be very careful. You know about my health situation, but is also the only network engineer covering the university and the attached hospital at least until December. They made cutbacks last year, and the one remained colleague is unvaccinated and not allowed on campus until December. Apparently, he’s holding out for the Moderna vaccine. It’s put Geoff under a lot of pressure, as they’d be cactus even if he ended up in quarantine. Our elderly neighbours who were children in the Blitz and evacuated from London, were in quarantine a few weeks ago for 10 days.
        Good to hear you’re visiting friends. We’re trying to mix with friends who are also vaccinated and keeping out of circulation. Saw Mum, Dad and my brother today for the first time in four months. It was wonderful and Mum and I had a sing-a-long with her playing the piano and me singing along with a very rusty voice, but there was some hope, and a few good notes. They need you in their garden. They must have fabulous soil there because everything grows so well and they actually need to prune things. Apparently, dad’s already had a big hack at the garden but it’s still phenomenally overgrown and like the forgotten village.
        Best wishes,

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        I recall how amazingly quickly things grow as you go north in oz and probably on the islands too!. Yes still taking care and we both now have dates for boosters which thr evidence suggests are incredibly effective. Stay safe!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Rowena says:

        Something with this virus has to be effective. Geoff and I will be getting our boosters in December I hope. I’m wanting them before the Christmas silly season. There’s sort of the understanding that we’re all going to catch covid at some point, but I’m not going to speed it up, and I’m doing my best to keep away. It’s getting harder now that we’re opening up and friends are getting together and some are unvaccinated and I just have to decline. Numbers are still good here and so I’m hoping they’ll drop a bit further and I’ll be able to get out a bit more.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Norah says:

    Go Paddington! I think I’ve heard about his wonderful influence on your future before, but it’s a story worth repeating.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Widdershins says:

    ‘Could do better’s’ were the bane of my brief scholastic career too. It is, when you think about it, a terrible thing to say to a child, especially one who was trying her betterest.
    Paddington Bear never came into focus for me until I saw the movie a while ago, but he is such a dear.
    My favourite fellow was, and still is, Rupert the Bear. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Jennie says:

    Cheers to Paddington Bear! I loved your tribute, especially getting your first Paddington at age 21. Yes, best present ever. I still read the books to my preschool class.

    Liked by 1 person

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