To My American Friends

    It’s not for me to tell you what to do, but . . . 


Beneath A Red Moon, The Moorland Burns

Here in the Northwest of England it’s not often we have much of a summer to talk about. But at the moment we are in the middle of a prolonged dry spell, in the middle of a heatwave, nonetheless.

The other night I sat in the back garden listening to Son House, thankful for the cooler air that evening brings. The moon was a striking red colour, possibly portentous but more likely, I thought, due to some strange meteorological condition I’d been too lazy to learn about.

The following morning I stepped through the front door and was immediately aware of a strange smell in the air. My children screwed up their faces dramatically, asking what it was, and then on the school run we noticed in the distance smoke billowing into the bright blue sky from the cradling hills.

The moors were alight. Saddleworth moors, lonely, expansive and untamed, were besieged by crackling swathes of fire. Though we were some miles away it was the scent of the tinder-box peat burning that was reaching us on the westerly breeze.

We have no forests as such around here, at least not to the extent we sometimes see on the news when America suffers those great forest fires. But we do have moorland-possibly the last real wilderness of England, to me northern, bleak and inspirational. The sight of this destruction, on the edge of greater Manchester, was both a novelty and distressing.

Long time followers of City Jackdaw may recall a post from 2013 when my family visited Dovestone Reservoir. That day the scenery was photogenic:

Yesterday it was apocalyptic:

The village of Carrbrook, in Stalybridge, had to be evacuated for the first time in living memory, as the inexorable cocktail of smoke and fumes inched closer, despite the best efforts of firemen to halt it. Peat and heather are slow-burning, difficult to anticipate with the ever-changing winds. Fire in one spot, seemingly vanquished, can burst into flame once again from sparks smouldering beneath the peat. Ash snowed down upon surrounding towns.

People are safe but the effects will be devastating on the wildlife of the area. Already there are tales of deer going into the smoke for their young and coming back out in flames, ground-nesting birds swirling through the smoke crying for chicks that don’t respond, hares lying strewn across the fields while the domesticated animals such as sheep and cattle have been shepherded away to safety, with people offering stables and sheds to locals displaced with horses and chickens. It’s that border between the rural and urban that’s been breached, both joined together in a desolate, charred landscape.

Within the last few minutes I’ve heard that the army has been called in to help stem the tide, and, while on the one hand being angry at the (unsubstantiated reports) that the fire was caused by illegal, off-road bikers, I can only be filled with admiration at the Herculean response of the emergency authorities, battling away in such difficult conditions.

Yet still, in this flaming June, as man does his best to beat back the fire’s advance, we can but pray for rain. Normally the one thing we northerners can count on.

Who’s The Doctor? Doctor Who?

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:

“What’s this?”

“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.”

“Don’t bother.”

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: