Paddington on his bench

READER’S MEMORY: Chocolate and Marmalade with Paddington

by Victoria Spindler

The story of how Victoria fell in love with England, shared sandwiches with Paddington and mourned the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.

Seventy years on the throne, it was a given that the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee would be a celebration like none other. Four glorious days of festivities, pomp and circumstance at its finest; even if I couldn’t join the millions of revellers on the Mall or around the country, that wouldn’t stop me from participating in the festivities from across the pond.

“I’m having a Jubilee party,” I told my American friends when I invited them. Their responses were more or less what I expected.

“You’re so lame. Since when have you become a royalist?”

“What are you serving? English food sucks, and they have no good wines.”

My friends are elitist, erudite, and obnoxious. Their obsession with all things French is annoying, a commonality we all share, having spent our junior years abroad in France.

I was like them once, but now I find I’m worse. For a Francophile and an Anglophile, it’s like wearing mismatched socks. My husband is to blame, dragging me across the pond a decade ago, unemployed and insisting he needed the job he was offered, insisting I might enjoy living in England.

For the longest time, I fought that notion, until one day when I found myself crawling around the remains of Sandal Castle, where Richard, Duke of York, succumbed in one of the pivotal battles of the War of the Roses. Cold and shivering, my fingers numb and raw, chowing down a Yorkie chocolate bar in the pouring rain and thinking this was the coolest thing I’d done in the longest time. That day I knew my husband was right, and I’d crossed over.

“Paddington,” I whispered as my friends turned and stared.

Telling my friends that I was accepting no “regrets,” I went shopping for my Jubilee party, unaware the Queen would be having a special party of her own.

Wanting to serve authentic British fare, I stocked up on Walkers Crisps and Mr. Kipling’s cakes, Branston pickled chutney and chunks of cheddar cheese for toasted sandwiches on thick white bread, then bought a bottle of Pimm’s to make the iconic British cocktail, Pimms No.1. The official drink of Wimbledon, it carried enough snob appeal to impress my status-conscious friends.

Informing me they only accepted my invitation because the Queen spoke fluent French, we gathered in my den beneath a St. George flag to watch the once-in-a-lifetime show. The Trooping the Color, the RAF fly-over, the concerts and the speeches were all spectacular and grand, but nothing compared to the Queen having tea with Paddington Bear at Buckingham Palace.

“Paddington,” I whispered as my friends turned and stared.

“Oh no,” they cried out, “you’re not going to tell us that story again about sharing a marmalade sandwich with Paddington in some god-awful place in the North of England!”

“It wasn’t just a marmalade sandwich but also a box of chocolates. And it wasn’t in some god-awful place. It was in Yorkshire, God’s Own Country,” I exclaimed as I watched my friends begin to blur and fade as the hands of time reached out and deposited me back in Yorkshire, to a day I remember well.

I’d been shopping with my daughter in Harrogate, an expedition that could’ve been done anywhere, except I’d wanted to go to Betty’s Tea Room and have a Fat Rascal. Unique to Yorkshire, they’re a cross between a scone and a bun, embellished with blanched almonds and glacée cherries to make them look like faces. I was hooked the day I took my first bite.

At the statue of Queen Victoria in Harrogate

After dining at Betty’s, we then hit the shops until one of us dropped. Literally. We’d been in the process of hauling our overstuffed bags and packages across a park when suddenly, I collapsed and announced I could go no further.

And that’s when I felt her stare.

Queen Victoria, my namesake, perched high on a pedestal above me.

That was the day I began noticing all the statues around me. Until then, I’d been so obsessed with Yorkshire’s castles and abbeys that I’d never once paid attention to its statues.

Consumed with my new-found passion for a subject I knew nothing about; I decided I needed an education and could think of nowhere better for this to happen than at The Yorkshire Sculpture Park. A five-hundred-acre open-air gallery on the outskirts of Wakefield, that’s where I found the modernists liked to hide. Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, artists I knew, and many I didn’t: Sophie Ryder and her giant hares, Elizabeth Fink with her Seated Men. Paolozzi, Chadwick, and Jackson were all wonderful and fabulous, but still, I found something lacking. And then it hit me. I’m a modern girl, but I like the old.

“Shall we do elevenses?” Paddington asked, lifting his hat and pulling out a marmalade sandwich for us to share.

So, into the depths of Yorkshire I went, finding stone and marble with lots of cracks. Satisfying my fantasy of finding the perfect statue, buying it, and carting it away, hauling it back to America when our time in Yorkshire was up, much like the robber barons of yesteryear.

Not the easiest of games to play; it was hard to pick “the one.”

My sentimental favourite, being a New Yorker, was standing in a fountain at Castle Howard: Atlas, bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders, much like his counterpart at Rockefeller Center.

But what about Richard III at Middleham or the Black Prince in Leeds? Or Robin Hood at Doncaster Airport?

All this choosing was quite confusing, so I needed something to help me think. So up the road to Wetherby I went, a singular destination in mind. Emerging from BonBons with a bagful of treats, I could hardly believe he was there.

Paddington Bear, wearing his bright red wellies and floppy hat. Knowing Paddington liked magic, I sat on the bench beside him, whispered ABRACADABRA into his ear, and he came alive just like that.

We talked about Aunt Lucy and Darkest Peru. We chatted about the Browns and Mrs. Bird and his suitcase with bacon, and then he showed me Mr. Gruber’s sovereign and his shiny centavos.

“Shall we do elevenses?” Paddington asked, lifting his hat and pulling out a marmalade sandwich for us to share.

Paddington on his bench

“Oh, yes!” I replied excitedly, untying the little brown ribbon on my box of chocolates and pointing to my favourite walnut praline.

“Isn’t this wonderful?” Paddington exclaimed, “Surely this is a meal fit for a Queen.”

“Do you think the Queen eats marmalade sandwiches?” I asked, thinking it didn’t sound like anything her majesty would eat.

“I’m sure of it. I’ll bet she carries an emergency sandwich in her pocketbook. Why else would she tote that thing around?”

I told Paddington he could be right, but we’d never know for certain.

A decade later, I’m in my den with my Francophile friends when the Queen and Paddington are suddenly stretched across the big screen. Having a tea party of their own at Buckingham Palace, the Queen reaches for her purse and what everybody hopes will be the big reveal. The answer to the question everybody’s been asking for the past seventy years, what’s in the Queen’s purse?

Paddington doffs his hat to the photomontage of the queen on the television.

So, with bated breath, I watched, along with millions worldwide, as the Queen opened her purse and retrieved the answer to that decades-old question we’d all been waiting to learn.

A marmalade sandwich.

Three months later, I’m once again in my den. There’s a plate of buttered toast on my lap, a cup of Yorkshire tea cradled in my hands, and tears streaming down my face as I watch the news and learn that Queen Elizabeth has died.

“Oh, Paddington,” I sigh, reaching for the Kleenex box on the kitchen table and seeing my little friend affixed to the Robertsons Golden Shredless marmalade label.

“It seems like you were having tea with the Queen just yesterday, and now she’s gone. She’s always been there for us. Whatever will England do?”

Paddington doesn’t say anything for the longest time. He suddenly comes alive when I pick up a spoon, wave it around like a wand, and say, ABRACADABRA.

Wandering into the den to watch the news, Paddington doffs his hat to the photomontage of the queen on the television, then turns to me and repeats Aunt Lucy’s sage advice.

“If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right.”

“I wish it were that simple, but I feel like England is unravelling at the seams. There are problems with the Commonwealth and Brexit; the NHS is once again on the brink of collapse. There’s an energy crisis and climate change, not to mention the uncertain future of the Fab 4.”

Paddington says nothing as he crosses the room, sits down at my piano and after plucking a few keys, belts out the lyrics to Vera Lynn’s greatest hit, “There will always be an England.”

And somehow, I know he’s right. I’d bet a jar of marmalade on it.

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NorthernLife Sep/Oct 23