It took me a while to get around to seeing the Paddington movie when it was released a couple of years ago. Like many, I had grown up with the rather unusual animated series, narrated by Michael Horden. It featured a toy bear and a set with a series of other characters which looked like they were made of paper. It took me a while to get around to the movie, but I loved it when I finally did.
Who can not love Paddington? A young bear, from Darkest Peru, faultlessly polite who has a penchant for marmalade sandwiches (always carrying a spare one in his hat). His chief defence is to ‘give someone a hard stare’ and his vulnerability was matched only by his uncomplaining and cheerful nature when he was found by Mr and Mrs Brown on the platform at Paddington Station, with a label tied to his duffle coat which read, ‘Please look after this Bear.’
As a teenager I experienced the particular kind of pain reserved for those who are uprooted from their homes and transplanted to an alien environment. Granted, there was no physical hardship but at the time that did not help to ease the pangs of homesickness, the discomfort in having to integrate and the longing to go back home, even while surrounded by members of my immediate (and pretty much only) family.
I had no idea why my mother and father had decided that completely uprooting the family and moving them around the planet was a good idea, but clearly they felt that a better life awaited us. They were probably right. Certainly my father has outlived all of his peers who stayed to battle on in the grim and grey UK of Thatcher’s Britain, which seemed to strip so many of hope.
Looking back now, I realise how ridiculous I must have looked stomping around in the heat of Australia with a leather strip which I wore around my forehead as a headband and my army surplus jacket, sporting its marijuana leaf badge. The badge was the closest I ever got to the drug, the leather band I lost fairly quickly – literally as I remember on the beach – but the jacket I held on to.
It was this jacket that I was wearing as I boarded a plane around eighteen months later, clutching the boarding pass for the flight that my father had bought me. I was going home, but on my own. Aged 17, I was determined to try and snatch back the future that I thought had been robbed from me.
At the airport, though, more immediate problems presented themselves. Saying goodbye to my family was the hardest thing I had to do and I was sobbing with such commitment as I went through passport control that the guy stamping my pass hesitated, looked at me and said, ‘You really sure you wanna go?’
I nodded and went through the gates, finally gaining my composure as I took my seat for the long flight back. As the plane pushed back from the gate, I reached into the breast pocket of my jacket for my Walkman. As I did so I noticed a safety pin attached to the pocket cover which led to a piece of string. I pulled the string and from my pocket emerged a plain brown luggage label on which my father had written on one side then the other the following:
Darkest Australia To London England.
Please look after This Bear.
I cried all the way back to England.