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Holland Park Press

Paddington Bear Liberation Front

2 April 2012 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar

When visiting London I always stay with family near Paddington. After arriving by Eurostar I travel by tube from King’s Cross–St Pancras to Paddington. For the Olympic Games the names of these stations will be changed to Nadia Comaneci and Lionel Messi.

Paddington Bear is so famous that tourists often think the station is named after him, but during the Olympic Games tube stations will be renamed after Olympic legends. I feel for Paddington Bear; will he change into his football shorts?

I hope they won’t change all the signposts from ‘Paddington’ to ‘Lionel Messi’; it’s confusing enough now that Paddington train and underground stations are located on a building site.

Right now, Lionel Messi is the best footballer around, but does he look like an Olympic hero? He doesn’t look like an athlete – footballers rarely do. Cruijff looks more like a stamp collector, Maradonna resembles someone who bakes pizzas, Beckham could be a former boy band member, Rooney a builder and Crouch a window cleaner. Lionel Messi is a football magician but not really an athlete, otherwise Paddington Bear would be one too.

Maybe they have chosen Lionel Messi because he looks a bit cross-eyed. The more I look at Paddington Bear, the more I think he has the same problem.

Names of stations, like those of streets, create their own history. I live in a Transvaal neighbourhood, common in any sizable Dutch town. As a result I go through my daily life surrounded by reminders of the Boer Wars: streets in my neighbourhood are named after the Boer generals (Christiaan Rudolf) de Wet, (Piet) Cronjé and (Koos) de la Rey.

Actually they are no longer politically correct, but people nowadays don’t recognise the names de Wet, Cronjé or de la Rey anyway.

Arnhem did redeem itself somewhat in 1987 by naming the new bridge across the Rhine after Nelson Mandela. I’m afraid this is a bit disappointing for Mandela, as the bridge was built in the wrong place, on the way to nowhere to be precise. If you try to enter Arnhem by driving across the Nelson Mandela Bridge you get stuck among masses of contradictory signs and dead ends.

Names of sporting heroes are transient. This summer in London you can travel from Andres Aldama Station to Yuriorkis Gamboa Station, clearly a line for boxing enthusiasts.

Paddington Bear and I are afraid they will install a huge portrait of Lionel Messi at Paddington.

In the meantime I have founded the Paddington Bear Liberation Front. We are designing a new tube map for the Olympic Games; a map which assigns names of literary characters to stations, because, for example, they lived nearby. If there is one city in the world where you are able to link literature to every tube station, it must be London. The names of Olympians have nothing to do with stations.

Paddington Bear and I are thinking of a Charles Dickens Station – there is lots of choice: he lived at about twenty different addresses – a Virginia Woolf Station (Russell Square), Harry Potter Station (King’s Cross), Sir John Betjeman Station (St Pancras railway station), Henry James Station (High Street Kensington), Sherlock Holmes Station (Baker Street) and John Keats Station (Hampstead). Please send your own suggestions to the publisher or tweet using #PBLF.

So if, during the Olympic Games, you spot two bears dashing down the street with brushes and paint, you’ll know you’ve stumbled across Paddington and me. You won’t be surprised to hear that Paddington Station retains its name, if only because of these lines from the first book:

‘But what are you going to do now?’ said Mr Brown. ‘You can’t just sit on Paddington station waiting for something to happen.’
‘Oh, I shall be all right… I expect.’ The bear bent down to do up its case again. As he did so Mrs Brown caught a glimpse of the writing on the label. It said, simply, PLEASE LOOK AFTER THIS BEAR. THANK YOU.

I have to warn you: never call him Lionel Messi, because you’ll be confronted by the entire Paddington Bear Liberation Front.

© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press


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