Cocoa contentment

Avoiding hot chocolate in the evenings because of its detrimental effects, but missing its comforting presence, I took the advice of a wise Scotsman and bought a tin of cocoa. It has a pleasant taste, a calming effect, and has less potential for damage than the sickly-sweet concoctions that are now marketed as hot chocolate.

Not only does the cocoa make for a pleasant mood in the presence, it evokes happy memories from the distant past.

My first encounter with Paddington Bear was before 1969, for I was still in the infant class of our two teacher village primary school. Miss Everitt used to read to us from A Bear Called Paddington, which I later discovered had been published two years before I was born.

It seemed a story from an age before the loud and garish 1960s in which I had grown up, a time when the world was safe and reassuring.

To a child sat listening in the classroom, there could be nothing more reassuring in the life of the Peruvian bear than the daily mug of cocoa that Paddington shared with Mr Gruber, an antique dealer on the Portobello Road.

Now Paddington spent a lot of his time looking in shop windows, and of all the windows in the Portobello Road, Mr Gruber’s was the best. For one thing it was nice and low so that he could look in without having to stand on tiptoe, and for another, it was full of interesting things. Old pieces of furniture, medals, pots and pans, pictures; there were so many things it was difficult to get inside the shop, and old Mr Gruber spent a lot of his time sitting in a deck-chair on the pavement.

Mr Gruber, in his turn, found Paddington very interesting and soon they had become great friends. Paddington often stopped there on his way home from a shopping expedition and they spent many hours discussing South America, where Mr Gruber had been when he was a boy.

Mr Gruber usually had a bun and a cup of cocoa in the morning for what he called his ‘elevenses’, and he had taken to sharing it with Paddington. “There’s nothing like a nice chat over a bun and a cup of cocoa,” he used to say, and Paddington, who liked all three, agreed with him – even though the cocoa did make his whiskers go a funny colour.

Licking cocoa from my lips, I wonder what it would have been like to be an antique dealer watching the world from a deck chair.

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