Monday, July 21, 2008

Michael Bond – ‘Paddington Here and Now’

It’s a risky business, revisiting books you read as a child. A few years ago I picked up a copy of Down the Bright Stream in a second hand book shop, and was appalled by how badly it had deteriorated between childhood and adulthood. A magical, Borrowers-gone-wild tale of little folk on a journey downriver to find their friend had become tedious and uninvolving, and all because B.B. hadn’t thought to put in any characterisation. You take things on trust more when you’re younger, I suppose. It was less of a risk to read the new Paddington book, partly because comebacks are allowed to be rubbish, but also because the older books had sharply defined characters: Mr Gruber, friendly and sensible; Mr Curry, mean and devious; Paddington, curious and clumsy. Stick to those, and how far wrong can you go?

Not too far, thankfully. The ‘Here and Now’ business is a little strange, particularly during the episode in which a journalist takes Paddington for an immigrant worker and questions him about any exploitation he may be experiencing. There are some good lines, though:

‘Changing the subject, do you have any complaints about the way you have been treated since you arrived in this country?’

Paddington considered the matter for a moment. ‘Well, it wasn’t Mrs Bird’s fault,’ he said, ‘but my boiled egg was a bit runny this morning.’ (p. 108)

The interviewer latches on to this failing in Mrs Bird, and in the newspaper article she becomes a ‘Gang-master-in-chief’:

Notorious for her dumplings, and wielding an iron bar, she so terrifies those around her [that] the subject of the interview is forced to hide his marmalade sandwiches under his hat. (p. 121)

The London Eye makes an appearance, and there is a mention of a mobile phone, but otherwise not much has changed. Paddington gets into some good scrapes: his shopping basket on wheels is towed away by the police and he causes them much confusion by describing it as his ‘vehicle’; he attracts a crowd (and a manager) miming to a pianola in the front window of Mr Gruber’s shop; he attempts to buy an exotic holiday for six with a single Air Miles voucher; Mr Brown asks him to paint his house’s drainpipes in ‘Miracle non-dry, anti-burglar paint’ (p. 33), at which he is surprisingly good, until Mr Curry offers him ten pence to do his house too. The late appearance of Paddington’s Uncle Pastuzo is supposed to give the book its climax, as he whisks the Browns off for a Christmas treat, but his go-getting energy is a little out of place here: it is the opposite of Paddington’s slow charm, which (give or take a chaotic backdrop) is always the point of a Paddington book. There is more than enough of that on display to forgive the odd lapse into modernity.

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