The Saturday was BristolCon, which I enjoyed more this year than last probably because the discussions seemed more book-themed than media-themed. Also I wasn’t spending the sessions beaming ineffective telepathic death signals at the prune from SFX who gave The New World Order such a braindead review. And I got to meet Philip Reeve.
And in the 45 minute train journey from Warminster to Bristol I read a brand new copy of Paddington Abroad, which I found in my parents’ spare room. Apparently it was a freebie giveaway by the Daily Telegraph. I even remembered bits of it from when I was 5 or 6, though my reading speed may have improved since then. It's one of the first books I remember.
The gist of it – what we would nowadays call the story arc, I suppose – is unsurprisingly that Paddington and the Browns go abroad, on holiday to France. This was in the days when you drove your car onto a plane, which dates it a bit. I remembered bits of it, like Paddington going to see a fortune teller, who tells him to cross her palm with silver. He obligingly does so. She explains that he’s meant to stop halfway and let the coin go. She is then puzzled by his very long lifeline, which turns out to be a chunk of marmalade.
I also remembered the cheerfully Francophobic scene where the Browns tuck into a delicious dish of escargots, prepared by Paddington, before reacting like any smugly complacently ignorant middle class Brit would when learning what escargots are.
I had forgotten the pictures – the wonderful line drawings by Peggy Fortnum who manages to catch everything that is so earnest and loveable about our hero bear in just a few lines. There was one that made me laugh for a good five minutes. Paddington is invited to play the bass drum in a French marching band, but because the drum restricts his view he doesn’t realise when the band have turned round so he keeps on going. The picture stretches across the top of both pages. At top right is the band, just very small silhouetted stickmen, marching off the page in one direction. At top left is a very small silhouetted bear marching off the page in the other, still earnestly beating his drum.
I’ve very glad that the statue of Paddington at Paddington is based on the Fortnum version, rather than the TV puppet.
But the real gem which has stuck with me all these years is the second chapter, where Paddington goes to the bank to take out some money for the trip. I remember my father explaining the jokes to me.
The bank is called Floyds. I learned there is a bank called Lloyds.
First he learns that his savings have accrued about 10p of interest, which he doesn’t find very interesting. I learned about interest.
He is shocked to find that the number on the note he is given is not the same as the number on the note that he handed in. In fact, the coins are different too – different dates and not highly polished like his were. I learned about the fungibility of money, though probably not the word "fungibility".
The cashier also explains that his old notes has probably been burned by now. I learned … well, in short I got a pretty good idea of how banks work. For a 5 year old.
Paddington complains that his note had a promise to pay bear the sum of five pounds on demand. The cashier explains that the word was bearer.
Of course, this being Paddington it all ends in chaos, with him convinced that his savings have all gone up in smoke and the emergency services being called in. Quite prescient, really.
Eventually all is smoothed out and he is offered a nice new bank note to make up for it all. He prefers to keep the old one as he now has so little faith in the banks he would rather have a note that’s been tested.
With that off my chest here are the Osiligi Maasai warriors again, singing in a church somewhere (not ours). This was a more restrained performance, possibly because it is apparently a hymn they are singing.