It’s not an unusual occurrence nowadays to wake up and read about the death of a celebrity, but hearing the news of Michael Bond’s passing on June 27th hit me harder than most. At 91, Michael Bond had become a kind of immortal figure to me. I find that happens with authors quite a lot: you get so used to seeing their name, and not necessarily anything about the person behind the name, that you forget they’re still human, and will not, in fact, be around forever.
It was almost an unconscious decision that day to pick my tattered copy of A Bear Called Paddington from the shelf and open it to the first page. Paddington’s first appearance came in October 1958 – ten years before either of my parents were born, so it’s no wonder I feel he’s been around forever. In fact, my own copy wasn’t even mine to begin with, it came to me from another family member, the spine already crinkled. Now the pages are barely attached, the binding disintegrated with time.
Bond’s simple use of language is masterful, he never tries too hard – he doesn’t need to
Paddington himself is immortal. His statue at Paddington Station leaves him forever newly-arrived in London, the tag still around his neck: ‘Please look after this bear’. One would think a children’s book written in ten days in 1958 would have aged beyond use now; that children would no longer seek comfort in a world so strange that fifty pence is a big deal and the Browns get their clothes personally tailored in a department store.
But children don’t care about such things. They care – as I still do, years later – that Paddington wants nothing more than to find a home, and as the Browns accept him into theirs, so do we. Bond’s simple use of language is masterful. He never tries too hard – he doesn’t need to. It’s funny in all the right places, endearing in others, and the family dynamics – Judy’s naïve enthusiasm, Mr Brown’s middle-class reluctance – are everlasting. Really, not that much has changed since 1958.
Don’t worry Michael Bond, we’ll always look after Paddington Bear
I didn’t expect to have tears in my eyes writing this, but it’s only as I come to reach a stage of my life where I’m living independently that I realise how much the characters of my childhood continue to mean to me, and how much I can’t wait to pass them down to another new generation. Don’t worry Michael Bond, we’ll always look after Paddington Bear.