Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Essence of Paddington Day

Yesterday was one of those days. The interview I was meant to have was rescheduled. The dog peed on the office chair. I had an argument with Jonathan about cottage cheese in the middle of the grocery store. That kind of day.

That's why today is a Paddington day. You'd think yesterday was, with all the mishaps, but no; I mean it's an Essence of Paddington day.

When I first read A Bear Called Paddington, I thought, "Wow. What an annoying guy." That was just before I headed off on my first great adventure to England. Being in England didn't make me like him more, in case you're wondering. Now I know the problem was that I was too old and organized and uptight to appreciate his outlook on life. He was simply too messy and haphazard for me to put up with. A few children's books are like that, I told myself: they're childlike.

But knowing he's cherished by many and being drawn in again by the artwork of Peggy Fortnum (I love Fred Banbery's too), I decided to give him another chance, and guess what I learned: Paddington isn't actually all that childlike. At least not purely. Sure he's small and accident prone and likes to eat sugary things. But we all know animals are used in children's books for more reasons than their cuteness. And we know that personified creatures don't always represent child characters (enter Ratty and Mole and the White Rabbit and the Caterpillar and Ladybug and Miss Spider and Eeyore and Owl and--) or even childlike circumstances.

No one knows Paddington's age, not even Paddington himself. (This is very convenient for character and plot building possibilities. The character can put on a magic show like a kid at his birthday in one chapter and complain about the price of opera glasses like my dad would in the next.) But he has travelled halfway around the world by himself. And he's a bargaining grocery shopper. He likes to sit around having long chats with his good buddy old Mr. Gruber. And he has "a strong sense of right and wrong." It's up for debate whether or not kids have that sense, but the point is, even though he may come off a bit more like a child because of all the clumsiness and inexperience (more due to his emigrating than his age), I'd say Paddington's leaning more toward the grown-up (if naive) end of things. And we all know that guy, don't we? He's the one we're a teensy bit jealous of. He gets away with everything, mooches off of people who always forgive him, leaves a mess wherever he goes, is incredibly lucky, and, in the words of creator Michael Bond, is "eternally optimistic." But we love him anyway. He's living life how he wants and getting away with it. He is the children's literature version of The Dude.

Okay, maybe not quite The Dude. Paddington doesn't have the worldly edge or colorful language. But he's got the laid-back personality and the same talent for getting into trouble and out of it. I can hear The Dude echoing Paddington: "Things are always happening to me [man]. I'm that sort of bear." So, in honor of bears like Paddington and The Dude, and in order to erase the stupidness of yesterday, I decided to embrace my inner slacker and avoid the responsibilities of today by making Paddington's Marmalade Buns as described in Jane Brocket's Turkish Delight & Treasure Hunts instead.

I must say, they are delicious, even if they're more cupcake than bun. It was the perfect way to make up for yesterday, and there's enough left over to make up for tomorrow if it turns out to be ridiculous too.

We all need a little Paddington in our lives. We need adventure. We need sugar. We need wonder and naivety and messiness to make up for the continuous insistence that we strive for order and success and perfection.

Screw perfection, friends. Have a marmalade bun instead.