Paddington woke up. He stretched out his arms and yawned the yawn of a bear that had grown accustomed to the comfort of sleeping in a soft bed in a warm house in Notting Hill rather than in a leafy tree in the rainforests of Peru. He emitted a contented growl as he slid his legs over the edge of the bed and made his way to the bathroom. Having washed his hairy face and attended to his impressive teeth, being a bear who was always careful to obey instructions, Paddington left the cotton buds in their packet and, as had become his custom, proceeded to clean his ears out with an electric toothbrush. Then, with a couple of puffs of Otomize, sprayed into each of his auditory canals to treat his unaccountably persistent otitis externa, he finally completed his morning ablutions.
Downstairs breakfast was almost over and Mrs Bird was already beginning to clear the table. Mr Brown however was still there, sat reading the morning paper. Paddington noticed the headline on the front page. Once again it was being reported that GPs were irresponsibly refusing to see patients in their surgeries for face to face appointments.
‘I don’t know’, Mr Brown said to Paddington, noticing him as clambered onto a chair and begin to help himself to a bowl of cereal. ‘Who’d be a doctor these days, what with all the bad press they seem to be getting? Sometimes I worry about whether Judy has done the right thing by going to medical school. Surely there must be better ways for her to make a living’.
Paddington continued to eat his breakfast. He was making something of a mess of things and it wasn’t long before Mrs Bird was fussing around him, mopping up the milk that was dripping off the table and collecting in small pools on the floor.
‘I hope you’re not planning on spending the whole day at home’, she said to Paddington. ‘I’ve already got plenty enough to do today without you making more work for me.’
Paddington thanked Mrs Bird for the breakfast and assured her that he had other plans for the day.
‘I thought I might go and see my friend Mr Gruber’, he said to her. ‘There’s something rather important I’d like to talk to him about’.
Paddington made himself a packed lunch made up solely of marmalade sandwiches which he then proceeded to balance on his head before covering them with his hat. Then he put on his old blue duffel coat and bright red Wellington boots and stepped out of the front door of number 32 Windsor Gardens. As he began to make his way down the steps to the street below he heard an angry voice coming from his neighbour’s house. Mr Curry was leaning out of the front window holding a phone to his ear.
‘Oi bear’, he shouted at Paddington ‘I need you to make yourself useful for once and post a letter for me. It needs to be in the post box at the end of the road before 10 o’clock. I can’t do it as I’m stuck here on the phone trying to get through to the GP surgery. I’ve already been kept waiting for 15 minutes and apparently there are still 37 other callers in front of me in the queue. What kind of service do you call that?’
‘I’m sure they’re all doing their very best’, replied Paddington, ‘I hear they are exceptionally busy at the moment and are struggling to cope with…’
Mr Curry was having none of it and interrupted Paddington mid sentence. ‘Don’t you start with all that rubbish about GPs being busy. The truth is that GPs are overpaid and lazy. They’re just scared of a hard days work and are taking advantage of all this nonsense about Covid-19 to make excuses as to why they can’t do their jobs properly. It’s not good enough. Some of us have urgent medical problems that need sorting. I’ve had a nasty wart on my finger for nearly a week now and I’m going to absolutely insist that somebody sees me about today.’
With that Mr Curry threw an envelope out of the window which landed at Paddington feet. Paddington picked it up and waved it cheerfully at Mr Curry. He then carefully slipped it under his hat explaining that that was where he kept everything that was important. He assured Mr Curry that he’d be sure to post it promptly.
‘Just be sure that you do’ Mr Curry growled at Paddington before slamming his window shut with such force that the glass rattled in the frame and Paddington thought for a moment that it might break.
Paddington continued on his way and before too long he was stood on the Portobello Road, outside the antique shop owned by Mr Gruber. Paddington pushed open the door, and as he did so a small bell chimed to announce his arrival.
‘Ah Mr Brown!’ Mr Gruber exclaimed emerging from the room at the back of the shop, ‘How very lovely it is for me to see you. Come in, come in. You are just in time for elevenses. I was just making some tea. Please join me and tell me what it is that I have done to deserve the honour of your company’.
Paddington sat down on an old chair. Mr Gruber poured them both a small cup of a tea from an old China tea pot and then, noticing that Paddington had a troubled expression on his face, asked his dear friend if anything was the matter.
‘Well it’s like this, Mr Gruber. Everyone seems to be blaming GPs for everything. Almost every day the newspapers have something unpleasant to say about them. Are they really the cause of all the problems in the NHS? And what about Judy? She seems such a kind young lady. Will she become mean and uncaring too after she’s been studying medicine for a few years?’
Mr Gruber walked over to where Paddington was sitting and sat down next to him. He smiled to himself as he placed the cups of tea on the small table that was positioned between them.
‘GPs aren’t the problem’, Mr Gruber began in his strong Hungarian accident. ‘And most of the people know it. But there are those who like to have somebody to blame and though it’s only really a very small number who have it in for GPs at the moment, they are making such a lot of noise just now. So you see Paddington, you shouldn’t believe everything that you read in the papers. If there’s one I know for sure it’s that not everything that’s reported there is strictly true. And something else I know for sure is this. You absolutely needn’t worry about Judy. She’ll always be as lovely as she is today.’
‘But why would reporters not want to tell the truth?’ asked Paddington.
‘Why indeed, Mr Brown Why indeed? Now drink your tea and l’ll see if I can’t find us something nice to eat’.
Paddington and Mr Gruber sat and chatted about how busy the NHS was and discussed what, if anything, could be done to make things easier for those who worked in what was, they both agreed, an organisation that needed to be supported rather than constantly criticised. After a while, Paddington stood up.
‘I think, Mr Gruber, that I had better get going. I think I’ll pop along to the doctors surgery that the Brown’s are registered at and see for myself just how busy they really are. Perhaps I could even lend a helping paw.’
And with that Paddington said ‘Goodbye’. He left Mr Gruber’s shop and made his way to the medical centre. It was about a twenty minute walk away and when he arrived it was approaching midday. Outside the front door of the building was a long queue of people. Paddington made his way to the front where a man was shouting at a receptionist and insisting that he be allowed to speak to the practice manager.
Paddington didn’t like the way the man was speaking to the lady behind the desk who was clearly close to tears. He gave a couple of firm tugs on the man’s sleeve in order to gain the man’s attention. The man duly stopped his tirade towards the poor receptionist and turned to look at the furry faced figure that was standing by his side.
‘Excuse me, sir,’ Paddington began. ‘I’m sorry to interrupt what I am sure is a very important conversation but I thought you might like to hear something that my Great Aunt Lucy used to say. She lives in a home for retired bears in Lima now but she always told me that ‘If we are kind and polite, the world will be alright’.
And with that Paddington wandered on into the main body of the medical centre, the man looking incredulously on as he did so. Slowly the man turned back to the receptionist, seemingly lost for words.
‘Was there anything else’, the receptionist asked him, her mouth now breaking out into a broad smile.
‘No, No, Nothing at all. thank you’, said the man. ‘Other than…’ He paused turning to watch as Paddington slipped out of sight. ‘Are you aware that you have bear in your health centre?’
Paddington, meanwhile, was making his way along a quiet corridor. At the end was a door. He pushed it open and found himself in what appeared to be a small store room. In front of him was a cupboard labelled with the words ‘Blood Bottles’. Paddington was a little concerned as to what might lie within so it was with some relief that, when he eventually summoned up the courage to open the door, he found that the shelves were all empty.
To his right was a trolly on which lay a strange looking machine, the like of which Paddington had never seen before. He looked at it closely and saw written over what appeared to be two handles, the words ‘Lift here’. Doing only what he was instructed, Paddington took hold of the handles noticing as he did so their shiny undersides. As he picked them up a light appeared on the machine and a voice that seemed to come from within the machine announced that a shock was advised. Paddington wasn’t quite sure what that meant but as he was pondering what he should do next the voice in the machine spoke again helpfully suggesting that he should press the button that had now started flashing insistently. Paddington clasped the two paddles to his chest with one hand and in so doing freed up the other hand to press the button as he had been directed.
Paddington wasn’t entirely certain what happened to him at that point but the next thing he knew he was he was lying on the floor looking up at the ceiling. Amazingly his hat was still on his head but the fur on his chest was badly singed, his body was covered with a soot like material and he noticed that wisps of smoke were spiralling out of both his ears.
‘Well that was a shock’, Paddington said to himself getting to his feet and brushing himself down. ‘Perhaps it would be better if I moved on and see if I might be able to offer my help more fruitfully elsewhere.’
Paddington made his way back down the corridor passing the reception area again and continuing on until he eventually came to a large room in which were a number of chairs placed in pairs, each pair a couple of metres away from any others. Only one chair was occupied. A young woman sat with her head down staring at the ground. She was fidgeting with her hands and she was having difficulty keeping her feet still. Paddington thought she looked sad and he went over to her seating himself in the chair next to hers.
‘What’s the problem’, he said to the woman who looked up at him, seemingly not registering the fact that she was being talked to by a bear.
‘Oh just everything’, she answered and with that she began to cry and proceeded to tell Paddington so many things that she was concerned about that Paddington didn’t know what to say. He thought it would be best therefore if he said nothing at all and decided instead to gently place his paw on the woman’s hand.
‘I’m sorry you’re sad’ he said, and as he did so a tear began to trickle down his cheek. As he sat there he remembered something else his Aunt Lucy had once told him, something she’d once read about how a real friend, a friend who truly cares, is someone who knows how to share the pain of another, who can stay with that person in their hour of grief and can face with them the reality of their powerlessness.
After a few minutes of silence, the woman looked up and smiled at Paddington, ‘Thank you’, she said. ‘It’s been lovely having you sat with me for a while. You’re a very kind bear.’
Just then a man stumbled into the waiting room. He staggered around until eventually he collapsed onto one of the chairs on the other side of the room to where Paddington and the young woman were sitting. He looked unwell. Very unwell. His skin was sweaty and he appeared confused. Paddington walked over to man and tried to make conversation but Paddington couldn’t make any sense of what the man was saying.
Paddington looked at the clock on the waiting room wall and noticing that the time was a little after one o’clock, had an idea. Perhaps, he thought, the problem was simply that the man was hungry. And with that Paddington lifted his hat and took the marmalade sandwiches that he’d made earlier down from off his head.
“Would you like to share my lunch?’ Paddington asked the man, ‘I never feel my best if I go without something to eat around this time of the day.’
The man didn’t appear to understand what Paddington was saying. He only seemed to be getting more and more unwell. Paddington, confident now that he’d diagnosed the problem correctly, forced open the man’s lips and pushed a little of one of the sandwiches into the man’s mouth. At first nothing happened but slowly the man’s colour returned and his speech became more coherent. Within a minute or two he’d stopped sweating and was sat upright in the chair smiling.
At that moment a doctor rushed into the room having been called by a receptionist who had noticed the sick man when he had first lurched into the building a few minutes previously.
‘What’s up?’ gasped the doctor, catching his breath after running as fast he could from his room on the other side of the building. He’d been busy all morning seeing other folk who were unwell and had just been admitting a patient who was acutely short of breath with what he suspected was a pulmonary embolus.
‘Nothing now, doc!’ smiled the man. ‘thanks to this ‘ere bear! I’d given myself too much insulin this morning and I was having another one of my hypos. But this young bear’s marmalade sandwich has put me right good and proper so it has!’
Paddington didn’t really understand what the man was saying but was glad he was clearly feeling very much better. A number of other people were now gathering in the waiting room and every single one of them was looking at Paddington. Paddington smiled back at them, taking a mouthful of what was left of the half eaten sandwich. ‘Would anyone else like I bite?, he asked. ‘I find that most things seem better after eating a small amount of marmalade’.
It was then that another receptionist walked into the room. She was looking somewhat alarmed. ‘Dr Mungo’, she said nervously. ‘There are some people here to see you. They say they are from the CQC’.
The receptionist stepped to one side revealing the two men and one women who were stood there behind her. They were all wearing smarts suits and clutching clipboards. None of them were smiling. The woman, who seemed to be the leader of the group, stepped forward.
‘We’ve come as a result of reports we’ve received that there is a bear on your premises. As you’ll be aware this is entirely unacceptable and if true will undoubtedly lead to the practice being rated as inadequate and having to shut down immediately’.
The room fell deathly silent. But then the man who had until recently been so unwell, stood up and approached the group of officials. ‘I’ll have you know this young bear just about saved my life’.
‘That’s as maybe sir. But how well a bear may or may not have managed your particular condition doesn’t change anything. The presence of a bear within the walls of a GP practice is a clear contravention of the guidelines that have been laid down to ensure the safe running of medical centres and I am afraid that I therefore have no option but…’
At this point the CQC inspector stopped talking, her eyes drawn to Paddington who had also stood up and was now looking at the woman intently. In fact, so intently was he looking at her, he might even be said to have been staring, one of those hard stares that Aunt Lucy had taught him to give to those who were acting in ways of which they should be ashamed. The inspector flushed, obviously embarrassed by her behaviour.
‘…but perhaps’ the woman continued slowly, ‘we can make an exception in this case. In fact, it will be my recommendation that this practice be rated as ‘Outstanding’, and I will see to it that you won’t face any further inspection for at least three years’.
With that the team of inspectors turned and left the building and everybody started clapping in delight. Somebody shouted ‘Three cheers for Paddington’ and before long a song started up, the gist of which seemed to be that everyone was happy to agree that Paddington was ‘a jolly good fellow’. Paddington however was feeling uneasy and his ursine features could not conceal the fact. Dr Mungo, noticing something was up, stepped over to where Paddington was sat and asked him what the matter was.
‘It’s this letter’, said Paddington, holding out the envelope that Mr Curry had thrown at him earlier. ‘I promised my neighbour that I’d post it by 10 o’clock but I completely forgot. It was only when I went to get my sandwich out from under my hat coat and it fell on the floor that I remembered. And now it’s too late and I won’t be able to post it on time’.
Dr Mungo took the letter form Paddington and laughed. ‘It’s OK, Paddington’, he said. ‘look at the address. It’s a letter for here! And if I’m not very mistaken I recognise the handwriting. It’s that of somebody who is always writing letters of complaint to the practice. I’ll file it with the others!’
Paddington was delighted by the news that Mr Curry’s letter had safely arrived at it’s intended destination. ‘Oh I am glad’, he said, ‘because it is so important one keeps one’s promises’. He paused for a moment. ‘Dr Mungo, try not to be too hard on Mr Curry. I don’t think he means to be unpleasant, it’s just that he doesn’t seem to have much that makes him happy. I think perhaps his life may have been rather hard’.
‘Don’t worry Paddington‘ said Dr Mungo smiling, ‘I’ll do my best to follow the advice of an old Peruvian bear who I believe once said that, ‘If you look for the good in people, you’ll generally find it’.
Paddington smiled. ‘Oh that’s so true, Dr Mungo. Aunt Lucy certainly is a wise old bear. But before I leave you to get on with your work, here’s something else she used to say. ‘However busy you are – always stop for lunch’.
And with that Paddington removed his hat and held out to Dr Mungo what was left of his lunch. ‘How do you fancy a marmalade sandwich?’ he said.
For those of you who may be wondering where Aunt Lucy gets all of her considerable wisdom from, the answer, at least in part, may be from Henri Nouwen. In his book ‘Out of Solitude’ Nouwen wrote these words which seem to be the basis for what Paddington was trying to remember his Aunt Lucy telling him when he was sat with the young woman in the story:
Other GP based stories:
To read ‘Mr Benn – the GP’, click here
To read ‘Jeeves and the Hormone Deficiency’, click here
To read ‘The Dr Scrooge Chronicles’, click here
Other related posts:
To read ‘The Repair Shop’, click here
To read ‘General Practice – a sweet sorrow’, click here
To read ‘Eleanor Rigby is not at all fine’, click here
To read ‘Hearing the grass grow’, click here
To read ‘The Dig – it’s well worth it’, click here
To read ‘On managing disappointment’, click here
To read ‘Reintroducing GPs Anonymous’, click here
And lastly a couple of blogs which, just so as you know, contain expressly Christian content.
To read ‘Sleep well’, click here
To read ‘Waiting patiently for the Lord’, click here