For two weeks it has clung to the inside of a stainless steel thermos flask. It has been filled with water and left to soak, it has had boiling hot water poured onto it from a kettle three times. Today we conceded defeat and threw out the flask. It is official-my wife’s homemade carrot and coriander soup is officially the strongest substance known to man.
September already. How soon the seasons pass.
Harvest time, fruits of the earth. Our spirits warm with the russet colours outside. I took the dog for a run over the fields this morning. Wind-frenzied trees could not dislodge raucous crows, shy jays, and their more cocksure magpie cousins. Though these are the early days, there is definitely a sense of being on the cusp of autumn.
Soon we will see the squirrels working overtime among the toadstools and wild flowers, the martins, swallows and other migrants gathering to make the long journey back to African shores.
Much to my wife’s distress, daddy long legs seem to be everywhere. One got in as I went out with the dog (again) last night, as my better half was busy preparing a meal for the next day. I said “Don’t harm it, I will catch it when I get back in”.
On my return she said, apologetically, “I’m sorry I had to kill it-it was ferocious”.
Lions. Tigers. Sharks. Daddy long legs. Ferocious.
I’ve always been an outdoor person. I’ve always been moved by nature, the landscape, and the elements. Maybe that is what gave me a poetic voice, and an early sense of spirituality. I guess I am just one small step away from being a pagan. The appeal of Celtic and Native American spirituality. Perhaps this is where they can find common ground with Christianity-the idea of the goodness of creation, shot through with spirit. The whole of nature ablaze and alive and sacred.
My favourite place is Orkney. The sky there is vast and all encompassing, the sea wild and hungry and raging on all sides. There is something different there about the light, changing as it does above the ancient ancestors, long entombed in chambered darkness. When I haven’t visited for a while, I begin to get my Orkney Itch.
Some of my earliest memories involve my reaction to the elements and the outdoors. I can recall being very young, in a park in Heywood. My grandfather pushing me in a swing, and around 100 metres away there was a huge tree, swaying from side to creaking side in a gale. I loved it.Today I still love to get outside on windy days. As a postman I once did my round in 100 mph winds. It was fantastic.
Another memory is of my Dad walking me to school as a four year old Reception pupil. Dressed in a fur-lined parka coat and a leather satchel over my shoulder, I was fascinated by the dew that clung to every blade of morning grass as we cut across the fields. The sheen of diamonds and the cut of the fresh air.
Not long into my school life I caught chicken pox, and had to stay off school. As morning phased into afternoon, I remember being knelt on the couch, watching the heavy rain beat against the window, trickles racing each other down to the sill. Soon we moved house, and a new primary school beckoned. Being new, and initially friendless, in the inner mirror of my mind I can still see myself stood on the edge of the playground at playtime, watching a gull glide effortlessly above on a current of air, drifting over our fields of triumph. These are the fields that I now walk with my dog, the school having been demolished, the site now given to wilderness.
I stood recently on that very same spot, thirty years later. Guess what? There was a gull-drifting above me. I watched it for a while. Joining up the dots.
It was as a pupil of this school that I first walked in woodland. The teacher that took us was called Miss Ambler-Ambler the Rambler. Being in deep woods, far from any concrete path or road, in that complete stillness,had an inner effect on me. I felt it in a juvenile, inarticulated way. From that day I have walked coasts and forests and mountains and river ways. I experience it still in an almost shamanic way, without the trance bit. Pretentious though that sounds.
Of all the seasons-and I love them all, my favourite is winter, in all its transformative beauty. The iron earth and starry nights.
And my favourite half of the year begins with autumn.
And autumn begins with September.
The first inward-turning month. As the nights grow longer, and rain hammers against the doors in an attempt to seek entry, it is the perfect time for reading, writing, and pampering our interior selves.
It is the time to quietly withdraw and conserve our energy by lamplight and fireside.
Oh and did I mention-it is also the time that the kids go back to school 🙂
Four years ago; the connections are forever.
Yesterday was a special day in our home-it was the third birthday of my son James. For those of you who are familiar with my post Boonless In Southport (19th June) you will know just how much he is obsessed with balloons. Mention it being someone’s birthday, anyone’s birthday, be them seven or seventy, and his immediate response is “Boons!” So, of course, first thing in the morning he was confronted with balloons everywhere-helium filled, resting against the ceiling, tied to chairs and door handles, and breath filled, covering the floor in a carpet of colour. His presents and cards weren’t even afforded a second glance.
Cue Sinatra: For I only have eyes, for boons.
He loved being the center of attention for the day, offering long-lashed, bashful eyes in response to the obligatory ‘Happy Birthday’ song.
I have a diary, as I expect most of you do. Along…
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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.
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:
From 2014, the 70th anniversary.
Today, as I am sure you will be aware, is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. I intend to watch the many programmes commemorating the event today, my thoughts no doubt turning to my two Grandfathers who took part in history’s largest ever land invasion. I know next to nothing of their own, personal D-Day stories. I know very little of their time during the war full stop. Like so many, it appears that they didn’t speak too much about it. And by the time my own curiosity had grown, it was too late.
One of them died of cancer before I was born, the other died when I was twenty years old, at a time when I had yet to fully develop my great interest in history, and in particular my own family history.
I do wish I had asked. Either them, or other older relatives who may…
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I wish my wife would stop getting the kids cups with pictures on them. I’ve just spent five minutes trying to clean off a juice stain that turned out to be the blush on a baby duck’s cheek.
Should have gone to Specsavers.