57 years ago a Peruvian immigrant snuck into British hearts and homes. Armed with a luggage label, hat and marmalade sandwich, Michael Bond’s stowaway embarked on life with the Brown’s.
In the half century since Bond wrote ‘A Bear Called Paddington’, Britons have stopped doffing their hats to strangers. (A modernity symptom that would have mortified Bond senior: he swam hatted in case of unexpected greetings). 2014’s ‘Paddington’ film however, demonstrates that despite societies’ ‘evolution’, Paddington’s themes of acceptance remain as relevant today, as when Jewish evacuees inspired Bond. Two decades after the book’s first publication, I watched cartoon videos of the bear’s misadventures with my grandparents. Marvelling at Paddington’s braveness (and oddity), I wondered about his homeland; the mysterious ‘deepest, darkest Peru’. As I grew and learnt about Incan wonders and Peruvian waves, my urge to mirror Paddington’s journey intensified. Another twenty years, and a graduate internship would land me in Peru. Unlike Paddington though, my tags defined me as an expat.
Had my Peruvian dream not been fulfilled last year, Paddington’s 57th anniversary might
have been as insignificant as his last. Instead of belittling the bear, I say this to demonstrate his cultural immersion. Like the anniversaries of Tea, Harry Potter and Yorkshire puddings, Paddington’s birthday passes unnoticed because we (or at least I), can’t imagine society before it. Google tells me that the book series has sold over 35 million copies. For those of you who aren’t numerically challenged, this figure will corroborate Paddington’s significance. However, it took my departure, and its surrounding Paddington references*, for the statistic to gain meaning. Thanks to the British embassy, and the Peruvian’s queuing for a picture with Paddington’s replica**, I later understood Google’s second figure: Bond’s works has been translated into 40 languages. (**In an interesting plot twist, a ceremonial Paddington statue followed me to the bear’s homeland).
(*almost as numerous as the requests for llamas).
After the statues unveiling, pictures of Aylan Kurdi drowned on a Greek beach humanised our refugee crisis: The world’s worst humanitarian disaster since WW11. It had taken 4 years of bombing, and a dead child’s photograph for the 250,000+ death toll to become tangible. It’s easy to admonish ourselves for needing to see Aylan. However, debating the morality of previous apathy is irrelevant and, excusable or not, it is understandable. We are an imperfect race living in an imperfect world: desensitisation is inevitable and arguably, necessary. (As someone who only appreciated the impact of Paddington Bear after flying to Peru, I can’t condemn anyone for not finding meaning in numbers). Humans are emotional and sentient beings, it’s no surprise that our emotional reaction was stirred by imagery not figures. Instead of rebuking mankind for the coping mechanisms it adopts, I want to appreciate how, once disaster reaches us on a human level, we follow the Brown’s example. The Syrian crisis overcame fear forged fences, because Aylan’s vulnerability was innately human. In his little shorts and t-shirts, he, like Paddington in his duffle coat, superseded race, religion and origin. He could have been any mother’s son.
4 months later and Aylan’s image faded. How else can 395 MPS voting to endanger his countrymen be explained? You don’t need a parliamentary seat to understand what children learn in school, violence promotes violence. Airstrikes cause deaths; none of them have any less significance than those in Paris.
The birth lottery should not allow anyone, even those ‘speaking on our behalf’, the right to deny a human’s safety. However, given our government’s initial response to Aylan and Syrian suffering, the result was hardly surprising. Now as it was then, it is the public who provide the human response to its neighbour’s trouble. As sensationalist headlines attempt to demean social media outcry and the 9-5 continues, Paddington’s anniversary has never been so significant. With his duffel coat and marmalade sandwiches he, like Aylan, replaces government statistics and fear of the unknown with something human, a love of marmalade, a dislike of baths and wellington boots.
‘Borussia Dortmund supporters (pictured in 2014) hold a banner during a match’ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/sportsnews/article-3221016/Bayern-Munich-raise-1million-euros-Syrian-refugees-provide-German-classes-meals-football-equipment.html