Words in the News


Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter

The death this week of the author Michael Bond, whose creation Paddington Bear has brought delight to millions of children and non children, led to outpourings of affection for the author and happy reminiscences about the character. For those who are not familiar with the stories, the eponymous bear turns up at Paddington Station in London wearing a hat, carrying a battered suitcase and with a label around his neck saying “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” He is adopted by the Brown family, who name him after the station where they met him because his own name is too difficult to pronounce. He is often shown wearing a duffel coat and wellingtons, essential protection from the English weather, but the earliest illustrations by Peggy Fortnum show him coatless and bare pawed.

The first book appeared in 1958 and Bond stated that he was inspired not only by the toy bear he had given his wife a few years before but by memories of news footage of evacuee children at London stations during the war, waiting to be sent away to safety with labels round their necks and small suitcases in their hands. Paddington has travelled alone all the way from ‘Darkest Peru’ in a lifeboat, sent by his aunt Lucy who can no longer look after him but who presumably not only taught him his impeccable manners but endowed him with exceptional survival skills and an implacable sense of justice.

Paddington’s suitcase contains not clothes but marmalade, on which he has survived during the journey. Paddington’s love of marmalade is very characteristic of the period in which he arrived in England,  marmalade for breakfast being as much a part of traditional British life as afternoon tea, bad weather and draughty houses. However, a news story earlier this year revealed that the delightfully bitter preserve, traditionally made from Seville oranges, has declined sharply in popularity especially amongst the young who, it seems, prefer chocolate spread or peanut butter on their toast.

The word marmalade came into English in the late 15th century from the Portuguese word ‘marmelada’ meaning quince jam, a ‘marmelo’ being a quince. Quite how the term for quince jam came to be applied to a completely different preserve made from bitter oranges is a matter for food historians. I’m showing my age when I say I not only eat marmalade for breakfast, I make my own every January when Seville oranges are in season and hoard it carefully so it lasts all year. It will be a sad day when a child listening to a Paddington story says: ‘But what’s marmalade, Granny?’

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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