Fifty years after his first appearance as a stowaway at Paddington Station, Paddington Bear had become firmly ensconced at 32 Windsor Gardens with the Brown family. As are, alas, the two Brown children, Jonathan and Judy, who, fifty years on, are still at school, creating a new definition of “slow learners.”
This would be less of a problem if the characters in the books did not continually refer to things happening “years ago,” leaving me with the impression that, yes, indeed, years have passed, years where Jonathan and Judy have been held back year after year, possibly because of their dealings with Paddington. But I digress—a lot—since Paddington Here and Now (2008) is not really about the Brown children, but rather about Paddington in the 21st century: computers, London Eye, and all.
As Paddington: Here and Now gets going, the bear is already having issues with government bureaucracy—almost all of us will understand this—since his beloved shopping basket on wheels has been impounded. With—I hope we can all understand the horror of this—his nice fresh buns that he was planning on sharing with his great friend Mr Gruber. It’s off to the police, in an episode that mostly demonstrates that fifty years on, Paddington is still not very good at explaining things, at least not at first, and still has a tendency to take the English language completely literally. It also, of course, sets off the usual set of seven adventures, culminating in the appearance of a very ominous limousine—and another, considerably wealthier, talking bear.
The talking bear is Paddington’s Uncle Pastuzo, and it’s safe to say that he’s even more eccentric than Paddington. After earning a considerable sum selling hot dogs and soda to Peruvian miners—it’s not clear if these miners are humans or bears—he’s decided to spend his fortune traveling the world and shocking various hotels and tour operators by refusing to follow even the rules of conventional bear behavior. He refuses the offer of a bedroom from the Browns, for instance, insisting on using his own air mattress in the not exactly well insulated summer house—and also insisting on hammering a nail in said summer house to hang his hat on. And he has no hesitation in giving out false names to traffic wardens, getting a certain Mr Curry into trouble.
I can’t honestly say I’m sad about this—Mr Curry is just as mean here as in previous books, not just cheating Paddington but, gulp, yelling at the bear, which is particularly awful when you realize that this is the same book that assures us that even Portobello Road shopkeepers who have had to endure Paddington’s special hard stares like Paddington. I mean, really, Mr Curry. Look at the illustrations. How can you not love this bear? HE’S SO CUTE. But again, I digress.
Pastuzo also insists that the train station was named after Paddington—claiming that this is the story he has heard, in a nice nod to the many people who were under that very impression.
And in an acknowledgement to the changing times, Uncle Pastuzo takes the entire Brown family—plus Mr Gruber—on a trip to the London Eye, which, if I may be just a touch critical, has a certain, how do I put this, commercial feel to it, as if Bond felt the need to insert an advertisement for the London Eye. I should point out that most of us do not have Uncle Pastuzo’s financial ability to rent more or less the entire London Eye, which means that we have to deal with the very very long line and all of the crowds there, but, still, if you want to be persuaded to ride it, you could do worse than read this book.
I will also admit that by this time in the series, I was kinda expecting Paddington to do something to the London Eye—end up riding on the top of the capsules, maybe (I’m pretty sure the London Eye doesn’t recommend this), or confuse one of the operators (ditto), or try to get into a nearby attraction and find himself up in the air instead. But….not so much; this is one of the few stories where the bear doesn’t end up in trouble. It’s basically a paean to London and the Eye.
Speaking of changing times, though, I mentioned at the beginning of this reread that I would be looking at just how things had changed—or hadn’t changed—in the Paddington books through the years, so let me mention the first major, glaring change: inflation.
In the first few Paddington books the bear received one pound a week in pocket money—generally spent on buns—but mostly made do with pennies. In Paddington at Work, Paddington won—mostly by accident—the great sum of one hundred pounds and twenty pence. But this is represented as an enormous amount, something to immediately take to the bank or invested in fake oil shares. In the same book, the bear thought that five pounds a week was an enormous amount; the text makes it clear that it isn’t, but it’s also not unreasonable—just very cheap for a week of pay.
On chapter one, page two of Paddington Here and Now, Paddington is told that getting a wheeled shopping basket unclamped costs 80 pounds, and a new shopping cart on wheels costs 10 pounds. Things only get more expensive from there, even before the arrival of a multimillionaire bear.
Mind you, Mr Curry has been left untouched by these continued price increases—he still offers to pay poor Paddington the miserly sum of ten pence to paint his drainpipes, but by now it’s been pretty well established that Mr Curry is extremely cheap. So that doesn’t count. It’s probably just as well that an ultra wealthy bear has arrived on the scene to pay for things.
One other distinct change: the illustrations. Here, I must admit that I am biased by a strong touch of nostalgia: I grew up on the Peggy Fortnum illustrations, and it’s difficult for me to accept anyone else’s drawings as replacements. The new illustrations are certainly cute enough—Paddington and his uncle Pastuzo look adorable—but the pictures are generally static, without the motion Fortnum managed to convey, and, well, let’s face it: in these pictures, Paddington is more obviously a teddy bear, instead of a bear who could be easily mistaken for something else. Or someone else.
Other, minor changes include the appearance of computers—although not ATMs, something I would assume would fascinate Paddington, or, for that matter, cell phones, though in fairness to Michael Bond and Paddington it’s possible that they were both trying to ignore their existence, something I, too, was still trying to do as late as 2008. I failed, but I tried. And parking seems to have become much more of an issue—the text makes several references to traffic wardens and having cars and other things towed.
But in many ways, things have not changed that much for the bear from Darkest Peru. He remains polite and trouble prone—if somehow a little less so than in previous books, but then again, many of his previous adventures would be difficult to cap. Mr Brown continues to work an undefined job in the city; Mrs Brown continues to do, well, undefined things; Mrs Bird continues to run the household with a gimlet eye between preparing marmalade sandwiches (this is important); Mr Gruber’s antique shop is still going well. And Paddington remains firmly part of the Brown family, so much so that despite the slight possibility that Paddington might take off with his uncle, no one really worries about it. They are a little bit more concerned about what the uncle will be doing next. After all, in fifty years, they’ve had quite a lot of experience with the troubles and accidents caused by bears.
Housekeeping note: the next and supposedly last Paddington book, Love from Paddington, is not due to be released from Harper Collins until November 6th, so expect one final follow-up post…sometime.
A little toy Paddington Bear watched Mari Ness type up this post. Really.