Five years ago I interviewed Michael Bond, who died today aged 91, at his lovely house in Little Venice where he lived with his wife Sue. It was one of my favourite interviews, like stepping into Paddington’s world, as he talked, over tea and biscuits, about travel and holidays. This is it.
A lot of my father went into Paddington. Much more than me. He was unfailingly correct and polite. I will give you an example. Every year when I was growing up we went to the Isle of Wight for our holidays. The same place, Sandown, and the same boarding house, run by Mr and Mrs Gates. Very nice people but, well, let’s say they ran a tight ship. Out of the house by 9.30, no exceptions, not back before 5.30. We would go down to the beach and I’d build sandcastles with my metal bucket and spade and my father would paddle. Always paddle, never go in, because he needed to keep his hat on. Why? In case he met anyone he knew, so he could raise it. If he saw someone and didn’t have a hat on.. well, that was unthinkable – he would be mortified. So, no swimming.
I suppose the love of my life when it comes to travel has been France. I first saw it when traveling down to Egypt with the army, just after the war. We went through France by train to catch the troop ship. Captured German carriages with no windows, and bridges held together with rope that you had t cross very, very slowly. But the locals welcomed us wherever we stopped, even though they insisted on trying to cook roast beef- they thought that was all we’d eat.
I went back with a girlfriend soon after leaving the army. I remember she had to promise her grandmother there would be no panky panky. All I can say is, she was true to her word. But I still remember the meal in Dinard, when we turned up at a little café and the proprietress told us lunch was over. She saw the look on my faced and promised to rustle something up. It was a baguette, a plate of ham and a bottle of red wine. What more do you need? I knew then that France was the place for me. There is something about the French that live life with a capital ‘L’. I always have the feeling we British are very much lower case.
When Paddington became a TV series and we were doing The Herbs, with Parsley the Lion, I used to go down to MIPP every year in Cannes with my friend and producer Graham Clutterbuck. Lovely man, but a terrible driver. One year we went in separate cars and I was waiting in line for the ferry I heard a terrible crash from behind. I knew it was Graham. Then heard: ‘Terribly sorry, old chap.. if you’ll just ring my secretary..’.
But I enjoyed those trips – we would plan it so we could drive down by the back roads, stopping off at Michelin-star restaurants. Driving was a pleasure then – even with Graham at the wheel. You never saw another car for miles, which was always something of a relief. And we’d make detours just to find a particular dish, such as a highly rated Grand Marnier Soufflé. Although on that occasion the starter was an artichoke. We’d never had an artichoke before and ended up eating the lot, leaves and all. By the time the soufflé arrived, we were feeling rather poorly.
About twenty-five years ago my French agent asked me if I had an unfilled dream. Yes, I said, I’d quite like a little place in Paris. Ah-ha, he said, you are in luck, I know this apartment in Montmartre that will come free soon. So I ended up renting this small place and it’s been marvelous. I go there to write, to get away from the phone. I began my eighteenth Monsieur Pamplemousse novel there recently. It is interesting to move away from Paddington but it’s also an excuse to go and eat wherever Monsieur Pamplemousse, who is a gourmet, dines around the country.
Paddington has taken me all over the world, America, Australia, New Zealand. When we first turned up in Australia I was walking down the street and four chaps in a car pulled up at the kerbside. One of them wound the window down and shouted ‘Go home you Pommie bastard!’ How did they know? I wondered. Was it the umbrella? That night I saw my son had left his shoes outside to be cleaned and I put a note in them ‘Clean them yourself, you Pommie bastard’ and popped them back inside. At breakfast he said: ‘Dad, you’ll never guess what happened….’ In fact, the people of Australia and New Zealand were wonderful to us, but book tours are exhausting – two weeks or three weeks of answering the same question: ‘How did you come up with Paddington..?’
When I wrote that first story in the late 1950s, I chose Peru as his home country because it was the remotest place I could think of. Who went to Peru? Now, my postman has been. But I haven’t. I was meant to go about ten years ago with Stephen Fry for a documentary, which I was looking forward to. Travelling with Stephen is no hardship. But I had a terrible reaction to the jabs and the doctor said I couldn’t travel. But Stephen went, and he ate some oysters from the Bay of Lima and got terribly sick. Well, I know I would have had some too, so perhaps it’s just as well. So, no, never been to Peru and now I doubt I ever shall.