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Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Sunday Across The Pond With Paddington Bear

NOTE:  In case you're wondering why this Sunday doesn't have a jukebox inside it, read yesterday's entry, and you'll see why.  Don't worry, the jukebox returns next week!

I would make a safe assumption to say that everyone has owned a teddy bear at one point in their lifetimes. Some may have a collection of teddy bears that run into the hundreds, while others only had one bear that they have held onto for years and years.

As far as my own experiences with teddy bears go, I did own my share of them over the years. As of now, I currently only have two. One was given to me as a gift by a neighbour friend who passed away a couple of years ago. The other one was given to me as a 'Get Well Soon' gift by my niece when I was recovering from a health scare a few months ago.

Over my childhood though, I reckon that I have had several stuffed bears in my lifetime. I already told you thew story about how I received Good Luck Bear as a Christmas present, but I imagine that at some point, I had gone through dozens of bears, and that each one of them had some significance in my life.

As it turns out, a teddy bear turned out have such an impact on one man that it ended up changing his life forever.

The story takes place in London, on December 24, 1956. A young man was walking around Paddington Station, glancing at nearby shops surrounding the area. He happened to pass by one particular store where there were several things available for sale. Inside this store was a particular shelf where something immediately caught his eye.

A lone teddy bear, sat on the shelf.

A teddy bear that the young man thought would make a fantastic Christmas present for his wife.

After the Christmas holidays ended, the young man kept thinking about that lonely bear sitting on the shelf. He thought, and thought, and somehow came up with the idea that he could write a story about the bear. Over the next ten days, he worked hard on the story, and by the end of the tenth day, he had composed a book about the bear.

It was quite a heartwarming tale, really. At Paddington railway station in London, a family happens to come across the bear, who is sitting at the station with a suitcase and a note attached to him reading 'Please look after this bear'.

The family happens to be the Brown family, comprised of Mr. and Mrs. Brown, and their two children Jonathan and Judy. And, after hearing the tale of the poor bear, about how his aunt Lucy was too old to look after him anymore, the family decided to take him in, calling him by the same name as that of the station they found him in.

And that is how Paddington Bear came to be.

The man who bought his wife the teddy bear for Christmas was Michael Bond, the creator of Paddington Bear. And the story that he wrote about Paddington became his first published work.

A Bear Called Paddington was released on October 13, 1958, and ten more books about the bear followed over the years, with the most recent Paddington Bear book released in 2008. A few years later, in 1972, a company by the name of Gabrielle Designs came up with the prototype of the Paddington Bear stuffed toy (complete with the signature trenchcoat and hat, plus Wellington boots to keep the bear standing upright). It eventually became one of the biggest selling toys of the 1970s in the United Kingdom.

The book series became so popular that in 1975, they were adapted into film shorts. Below is a clip of the very first episode of the series, which was based on the very first book in the Paddington series.

So now that you know how Paddington came to be, it's quite interesting to note the parallels between how the Brown family came to adopt Paddington Bear, and how Michael Bond ended up giving the bear that inspired the Paddington series to his wife.

In the case of Paddington Bear, he was found all alone in the middle of Paddington Station by the Brown family, who immediately decided to take him in. Which if you think about it wasn't that much different from how Michael Bond found the bear. Like Paddington, the bear he bought was the only one on the shelf, and when he bought the bear, he was giving it a home too.

I remember having fond memories of watching Paddington Bear on television when I was growing up, and I absolutely remember wanting my own Paddington Bear. Unfortunately, I never did get one. I did however have the next best thing.

When I was in elementary school, every year (usually around the first week of June), our school library would often go through their entire collection of books and purge some of the ones that were basically on their last legs. Pages torn, bindings coming unglued, covers so wrinkled that they were on the verge of falling off. New books were ordered to replace those ones that were deemed too unworthy to be checked out of the library.

However, the library's loss was the student body's gain. For every June, they would have a used book sale in the library of the school. For mere pocket change, we could buy some of these used books and magazines for our own collections. Sure, they were past their best before date, but that didn't mean that the stories on the inside weren't any good.

Anyways, I think I must have been in the fifth or sixth grade or something like that when I went to that particular book sale. There were dozens and dozens of books that were for sale, and it seemed like depending on what gender you were, certain books got snapped up quicker than others. The boys in my class bought up old issues of Sports Illustrated magazines and books about cars, trucks, and other modes of transportation. The girls snapped up as many issues of Seventeen magazine as they could, as well as fighting over the dog-eared copies of the Sweet Valley High series that occasionally popped up at those sales.

I was not one to follow along with the crowd back then.

All I was interested in was looking for a book that sounded interesting and that I could read and re-read over and over again.

It was there that I found a copy of A Bear Called Paddington. The above cover is the same exact one that was on this copy (only picture it with faded colours and a torn bottom right hand corner.

The pages inside were all there, and I must have spent hours reading all of the stories and mishaps that Paddington got himself into.

Paddington was a friendly, polite bear from Peru who happened to have a voracious appetite for marmalade, and although he often got into trouble with his many adventures, he really did mean well. Reading about how Paddington would go shopping at the Portobello Road markets and how he was respected by the shopkeepers and market vendors.  How Mr. Gruber would take Paddington on special outings in town.  Those stories just made me love the bear even more. It was a great thing to see Paddington adjust to life at the Brown household because the family took a chance and invited the bear into their lives.

Well, kind of like I invited Paddington into my life by picking up that used book at that book sale.

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