Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
John Keats, On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer
On first looking into Bond’s ‘A Bear Called Paddington’ I was struck by his clothing. Why, I pondered, would an obscure bear from South America, rescued by his aunt and Uncle from an earthquake, wear a duffle coat and a large floppy hat? After all, South America is hot, Peru is desert or jungle (plus a few mountains). After many years of research, and endless travel, I think I have found the answer. It came to me while standing in front of the statue to Paddington, erected on the edge of the Peruvian coast in Lima, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
The climate on the Peruvian coast is a strange one. Lima, the capital, gets around 14mm per year of rainfall, winters are cool and damp and summers short and hot. We are in the middle of a desert but it always feels like it is about to rain. The skies are grey and overcast, with constant mist and fog rolling in from the effects of the cold Humboldt current running up the coast. Peru in winter is cold and damp, it drizzles, and the light starts to fade in the late afternoon. By 6.30pm it truly is ‘darkest Peru’ – and the ideal clothing to combat the damp and the drizzle would be a duffle coat and a large hat. If you also consider that Paddington was orphaned by an earthquake, and major natural disasters, such as earthquakes, tend to trigger an outpouring of support in the form of clothing and shelter from more well-off countries, then one can begin to understand how he might have acquired a duffle coat before leaving Peru.
Of course, this is only a proposition based on assumptions of human generosity in the face of natural disaster, and the capacity of the global trading system at that time (the 1950s) to transport materials from one side of the world to another. However, it is at least supported by empirical evidence of a Peruvian winter – which we are now experiencing. Its 6pm, cold, dark, and damp – I wish I had a duffle coat right now!