By Ben Fitzgerald
You’re standing alone on a platform of Paddington Station, swathed in smoke from steam trains, (because it’s 1958) your eyes prickling from emotion - bravely blinking back the tears of fear and confusion. Oh I forgot to say, inexplicably, you are also a bear - and as if this is not bad enough, you are wearing ill-fitting Wellington boots, a duffle coat and a stupid ass wide-brimmed red hat pinned back at the front. This is a pre-hipster era don’t forget, in fact it’s also pre-hippy. The red hat alone would have you earmarked as some kind of Communist cross dresser - you are in a hopeless world of trouble my furry friend… But then… just when you are considering chucking yourself in front of the Flying Scotsman, your sensitive bear nose catches a scent.. and then you remember… you’ve got a bloody marmalade sandwich under that hat - and as you sink your teeth into that zesty gloop you realise that life is suddenly full of hope and possibilities. Imagine if instead of marmalade, the sandwich was Nutella, honey or jam. Doesn’t work does it? That’s because marmalade, like life, is a bitter-sweet brew - there’s a resonance in its complex flavour that shitty upstart Nutella can’t hope to touch. Michael Bond’s Paddington springs from the very real trauma of a generation of children’s experience of abandonment as evacuees during the Second World War. It’s like the worst kind of anxiety dream - but buried deep in that fable is the citrus tang of salvation. Some people claim that marmalade was invented in the 1700s when a storm damaged ship carrying a cargo of Seville oranges pitched up in Dundee harbour. Enterprising skinflint James Keiller said he would take the whole load for a fiver - promptly turned it into a preserve and flogged it off for a fortune. Other people claim that Mary Queen of Scots ate it when she had a headache and that her maids would wander around whispering Marie est malade (Mary is ill) which sounds a bit like marmalade if you say it rapidly over and over again… with a mouthful of toast. This story is clearly utter claptrap. First of all, how could Mary Queen of Scots ask for marmalade to cure her headache before it even had a name? Secondly, why would maids wander around repeatedly whispering the blindingly obvious to each other in French? And thirdly, if naming breakfast spreads after things people whisper to each other about their ill housemates, then rasberry jam would almost certainly be called ‘hechukdup’. The truth, like most decent things, is that the Romans invented it. When they weren’t watching gladiatorial contests, they liked nothing better than to snack on a gooey preserve made from quinces preserved in honey - known as marmelo. The first shipments of a Portuguese version, made from quinces, came to London in the late 15th Century. But it was down to the Brits to chuck out the quinces and use oranges… and we’ve been keeping it under our hats ever since.