Yesterday I went to see the film Dunkirk. It tells the story from the perspective of all those involved in the 1940 evacuation: the army; the navy; the airforce and the civilian people who answered the call to rescue the remnants of the British army in a flotilla of small fishing vessels.
In regard to the airforce, there was a lot of ill feeling at the time among the British soldiers that the airforce had let them down. “Where were you at Dunkirk?” would be an accusatory question levelled at the airmen, for it seemed that the sky belonged solely to the German airforce that bombed both the men and rescuing ships seemingly uncontested.
However, I watched a programme only last week called Dunkirk: The New Evidence where it was revealed that the rescue of the stranded soldiers took place because of the action of the Spitfire pilots who were engaging the enemy miles inland, winning an aerial battle that was taking place far away from the sight of those desperate men.
The film is low on dialogue but high on tension, one particular exchange, between two men looking for the sea to return, being:
“The tide’s turning now.”
“How can you tell?”
“The bodies come back.”
I watched the film with recent conversations in mind that I’d had with people whose family members were present at that historical moment, personal stories recounted to me:
the woman whose grandfather said that every time he got on a boat he ended up back in the water;
the man whose uncle was badly wounded and later died of his injuries;
the man whose grandfather stood with other men for hours with the sea up to their chest, holding aloft their rifles in the air, until in despair they threw them into the water.
But more emotional for me, though, were my own family connections:
My Great Uncle George who was captured at Dunkirk. He was in the rearguard, fighting to buy time for the men on the beach.
Then there was my grandfather Fred. In the scene where the screaming Stukas are bombing the defenceless soldiers who are arraigned across the beach like sitting ducks, I thought to myself My God, my Granddad went through this?
One of the loveliest men you could ever wish to meet, you would never know what he had experienced. All that I do know is that he was one of the last off the beach at Dunkirk (he’d been salvaging equipment) and was one of the first on the beach on D-Day.
It was only in 2015, during the 75th anniversary of Dunkirk, that I came to an hitherto unknown realisation: while my grandfather was stranded on those beaches of Dunkirk, his first child-my father was being born at home in Manchester. I recalled my father saying that, with his own father being away at war, they didn’t know what he wanted his firstborn called, and so they named him Fred after his father.
But I never knew it was Dunkirk where he was.
There he was, not knowing if he would survive, if he would get back to England, if he would ever get to see his child that was being born right then across the channel.
It is time, some considerable time, that have enabled me to piece these things together.
On reaching England he returned north by train to Manchester. Whilst having a pint in the family pub in Collyhurst, a local cobbler took his boots away to repair for free as they were split, feet showing, from the long, marched retreat in France
These memories serve to remind me that the German army-of which we see little of in the film, was likewise made up of similar ordinary people, separated from family and loved ones, their allegiance and involvement instigated by the happenstance of the time and place of their birth.
Here’s a short trailer for the film, there are longer ones to be found on YouTube.
So, have I got this right: a monkey took a selfie. The man who owned the camera posted the photograph and copyrighted it. Now he’s being taken to court as it’s claimed that the monkey is the rightful owner of the photograph. My wife has become vocal. I’m off for a shave.
In 2013 I was searching the Internet after googling ‘Canky Middleton’. Canky was the name of a legendary figure connected to my hometown of Middleton, allegedly a bodysnatcher of the 19th Century. I was trying to discover if there were any kernels of truth in the story, or if it was rather just a notorious urban legend.
My search led me to a post written by Pam, the author of a blog called Mushy Cloud, who lives in a town not too far from my own. We had a conversation on there about the infamous Canky. Afterwards, I began to explore WordPress, and so was sown the seeds of writing my own blog. This was how City Jackdaw came into being. I followed her blog, she reciprocated by following mine.
Fast forward four years to last Thursday afternoon.
I was attending the funeral of a dear family friend. The length of time that the woman who had passed had been connected to my family can best be illustrated by the fact that, not only did she knit clothes for my children when they were born, she also knitted clothes for me when I was born. Her family and mine had been tied together for decades.
Anyway, at the service, the vicar who was taking the funeral service called upon a ‘Pam’ to lead the people gathered in prayer. I watched her walking to the front of the church, thinking: I’m sure that’s the Pam who hosts Mushy Cloud.
I knew from some of her posts that she was exploring her vocation within the Church Of England, and this was the town in which she lived. When the service was over and the mourners were filing out, I approached her as she sat at the back of the church. No doubt she thought that I was one of the many people saying goodbye as they walked past to the church doors.
“Are you the Pam of Mushy Cloud?”
She looked up at me. “I am. Who are you?”
“I’m Andy, of City Jackdaw.”
She started in surprise, then immediately thrust out her hand to shake mine, both of us declaring how good it was to meet after all of our WordPress-fielded conversations.
She said “It’s like two worlds are coming together.”
She wrote in her most recent post that it was a lovely moment in the coming together of her online life and her ‘real’ life. I think we could also look at it as the world of Mushy Cloud and the world of City Jackdaw that came together, two separate planets connected in friendship and confederacy through the nebulous and all encompassing universe of WordPress.
Trust you, my wife said on reading this, to turn it into something all sci-fi!
But all of our individual blogs are like individual worlds, existing in the blogosphere, each with its own inhabitants and laws, welcoming travellers from near and afar.
Thursday was a nice reminder that we do all exist in the real world, and sometimes indeed our paths do cross.
Keep an eye out for me as you go about your business. I’m the one in the green coat, probably with kids in tow.
Here is Pam’s post, where she mentions our unexpected meeting, go and set down on Mushy World:
*As I’ve commented on Pam’s post, a further twist that underlines the connections theme is that it turns out that my wife and Pam have met in the past in a professional capacity. City Jackdaw was the ghost that moved unsensed between them.
I’m sorry Mr Darwin, but six and a half weeks summer holidays were never part of the natural order. We mess around with nature and we screw things up.
It’s been a Doctor themed weekend.
On Friday, I sent my wife a text while she was at work.
I’ve got a lovely surprise for you when you get home.
She peppered me for clues, but I stood firm:
Wait until you’re home.
And so eventually, shift completed and finished for the week, Jen arrive home.
“Okay,” I said. “Close your eyes.”
She did so. I’m not sure what she was expecting, but she asked “Is this going to change the way I look at the world?”
“This is going to change the way you look at the bedroom.” (In hindsight, perhaps she was now expecting something a little risqué.) “Okay: open your eyes.”
I placed into her hands:
“A signed photograph.”
“Who’s she?” She couldn’t see past the loincloth-wearing Leela.
“It’s Leela,” I replied, then, theatrically: “with the Fourth Doctor!”
“He looks like Leo Sayer gone wrong.”
“What?! He’s the greatest ever Doctor! The great and eccentric Tom Baker! Soon he will be, whisper it, dead. He’s in his eighties now. I wanted one with Sarah Jane, but as she’s died they are hard to come by, so Leela is the next best thing.”
“And how exactly will this make me look at the bedroom differently?”
“I’m thinking of putting it on the bedroom wall.”
“You’re bleeding not!”
I think she’ll come around with time, no pun intended.
Anyway . . .
You may have heard the news that the new Doctor was to be unveiled on Sunday afternoon, immediately after the men’s tennis final. The identity of Doctor number 13 had been a closely guarded secret, so for us fans it was a big deal.
And Jen had arranged a trip into Manchester for the whole family on that very day . . .
We were sat in Starbucks, and I kept tuning into FB. I also had someone lined up to message me as soon as the world knew who the Doctor was to be. But, just in case it slipped by on someone else’s watch, I kept tuning in. I updated, and my mobilised army of Whovians were making comments which I was relaying to the family.
“The final is still going on.”
(Jen didn’t bat an eyelid.)
“Federer is two sets up so it may not be long.”
(My son: “Roger Federer is the new Doctor?”
“David Tennant is at Wimbledon! He’s in the crowd!”
(My daughter: “Tennant’s coming back?!”)
“They could be doing the reveal there, on court!”
(Jen: “I want the toilet.”)
“The match is over!”
(Jen: “Who won?”)
“Who cares! It’s imminent!”
My informers told me that there was a lot of analysing and backslapping going on, so I began surfing the web for signs of any leaks.
To pass the time, I took a photograph of Jen, wrote ‘Meet the new Doctor’ and posted it on FB. A friend saw the caption, but the photograph took ages to load. She told me that she was having palpitations, and then when Jen appeared she commented that, much that she thinks Jen is lovely, she felt slightly gutted.
I update again, this time categorically denying the rumour that I was the new Doctor on account that, with the kids finishing for the summer, I simply didn’t have the time.
Jen had had enough and decided that she was going to pop into a local store with the kids. I said, unnecessarily, “I’ll wait here. I’ll text you as soon as we know who it is.”
Off they went, and on I searched, making sure my phone wasn’t on mute.
And then I heard and was stunned, the announcement coming straight out of left field.
Immediately I found the advertisement that had revealed all on BBC.
The new Doctor was Jodie Whittaker. The first female Doctor.
I never expected it to be a woman-I knew it was coming, the Master being regenerated as Missy had served to soften us up to the idea a bit, but I thought it wouldn’t happen until Doctor #14.
Although before it actually happened I was a little unsure, I have to confess that I’m now quite excited to see what Jodie does with the role. It will be fresh and, even though each new Doctor brings to the show a clean start, her appointment has shaken things up.
And some of the long-term fans couldn’t take it. The Doctor is a thousand year old alien that changes his face, but being a woman appears unacceptable.
Surely, with the strong female leads in the Star Wars and Game Of Thrones franchises, it was just a matter of time until a woman donned the mantle. And come on-once the Doctor even had a tin dog and that was fine!
Jodie released a statement:
Jodie Whittaker says: “I’m beyond excited to begin this epic journey with Chris and with every Whovian on this planet. It’s more than an honour to play the Doctor. It means remembering everyone I used to be, while stepping forward to embrace everything the Doctor stands for: hope. I can’t wait.” She added: ‘‘I want to tell the fans not to be scared by my gender. Because this is a really exciting time, and Doctor Who represents everything that’s exciting about change. The fans have lived through so many changes, and this is only a new, different one, not a fearful one’
Some weren’t listening though. Among those venting their spleen and vowing never to watch again, there were many supportive comments. I liked this one:
‘This story reminds me of a profound moment in 1988 on the last day of my senior year at Holland Hall. Craig Benton (one of my all time favorite teachers) challenged us with a riddle:
“A father and his son are in a horrific car crash. The father dies instantly. The boy, in critical condition, is transported to the hospital needing immediate surgery. The doctor upon entering the O.R. exclaims, “I can’t operate on this boy he is my son!” – How is this possible?”
Our class of 63 students who were headed to The Who’s Who of prestigious colleges were completely stumped. Not one of us realized the doctor was the boy’s mom.’
Jen arrived back: “It’s a woman isn’t it?!”
“How do you know?”
“We heard a girl in the shop telling her Mum.”
My daughter beamed: “It’s a girl.”
My son scowled: “It’s a girl.”
And there it was-the whole, Whovian reaction. In microcosm.
Let’s give her a chance, yes?
*For another Whovian themed post where you may feel further sympathy for my long suffering wife-see here: