Dunkirk veteran saluted

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Jack Danby shows the bullet hole in his D-Day helmet

Christopher Nolan’s movie Dunkirk tells the story of the British Army’s miraculous escape from the advancing German army from three perspectives: Land, Sea and Air. In weaving together three different timelines, Nolan successfully depicts the chaos of what was a colossal military defeat; the viewer is plunged right into the middle of the action where the fear and tension is amplified by Hans Zimmer’s intense musical score.
This movie is timely as, more than 75 years after the rescue that entered British folklore, so few Dunkirk veterans remain. One who has passed away is Jack Danby, of Selby. He survived Dunkirk and, four years later, returned to France in the first wave of D-Day where he was nearly killed; while trying to rescue a wounded comrade, a German bullet passed through his helmet inflicting a flesh wound.
Watching Dunkirk brought home to me the bravery of men like Jack. After the war, Jack was headmaster of four different schools in the East Riding where, after experiencing the horror of Dunkirk and D-Day, his motivation was to help build a better post-war world. His distinguished service included 12 years as the first head of Etton Pasture boarding school for disabled children; his pioneering work there was recognised by the award of an MBE in 1965.

Bishop’s move

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Richard Holloway, the former head of the Anglican Church in Scotland who stopped believing in God, does not like being called an atheist because he “doesn’t do certainty”; if you must stick a label on him, he would suggest “expectant agnostic”.
He told a packed audience at York Explore Library last night (20/02/2017) he was fascinated by three questions that had taxed philosophers and theologians for centuries:

What are we?
Where do we come from?
Where are we going?

In promoting his latest book A Little History Of Religion, the former bishop argued there were four approaches those questions:

Strong Religion: Humankind’s encounter with God was all truthful, all actual, all real. This fundamentalist approach left no room for doubt.

Critical Realism: There was an encounter with God but, due to human fallibility, we must be modest about the claims we make. It adopted a fluid approach to history.

Post Religion: (non-realism): This approach was sympathetic to religion; it regarded it as a colossal work of the imagination that spoke to the human condition in the same way as great works of art, such as an opera, play or novel. You can be a religious belonger without being a religious believer; it can challenge you to be a better person.

No religion: These people don’t get religion. They ask the question: “Why waste your time with it?” Some in this camp were benign while others, such as Richard Dawkins, attacked religion with vigour and a certain amount of anger by adopting, ironically, a religious, evangelical approach.

Holloway ended his stimulating talk by referring to Yehudah Amichai’s poem:

The Ecology of Jerusalem

The air over Jerusalem is saturated with prayers and dreams
like the air over cities with heavy industry.
It’s hard to breathe.

And from time to time a new shipment of history arrives.
Houses and towers serve as packing materials
later thrown away and piled in heaps.

Sometimes candles come in place of people.
Then it’s quiet.
Sometimes people come in place of candles.
Then there’s noise.

Amid enclosed gardens, among jasmine bushes
replete with balsam, foreign consulates,
like wicked brides who were thrust aside

lie in wait for their moment.

Barbershop pain & memories

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WRESTLING FAN: Edward Brooks as a young man

My ears are still smarting 24 hours after visiting my local barber. Rather than trim them, he used thread to remove the hair by its roots. Ouch!

Taken completely by surprise, I was not prepared for the pain, which was eye-watering. Pride compelled me to keep silent as my barber went about his task with great dexterity. I spent an uncomfortable few minutes in his chair as my extraneous earlobe hair was removed. I broke into a cold sweat and could see myself in the large mirror opposite desperately trying to keep a poker face; I just about pulled it off… as my barber pulled it out.

Unexpected memories flashed through my mind as I coped with the pain; for instance, when Mr Leece, my primary school teacher, threw a piece of chalk at me for not paying attention in class. It clipped my right ear; I was hurt more by the shame than the pain. Teachers were allowed to throw improvised missiles at pupils in those days (the 1960s); there would be hell to pay if they did it now.

Another barbershop memory concerned the wrestler Mick McManus. The Achilles’ Heel of this Saturday afternoon villain was, so to speak, his ears; he didn’t like his opponents touching them. When he retired from the ring, McManus, known as “the Dulwich Destroyer”, became a connoisseur of antique porcelain. I recall thieves targeting his sought-after collection when I worked as a reporter for a news agency in Surrey.

McManus reminds me of the time when I interviewed fellow wrestler Shirley Crabtree (aka Big Daddy) for Red Rose Radio as he prepared for a bout in Preston.  I asked him if wrestling was fixed; he looked me in the eye and said “No”. Coincidently, I was getting my hair cut the next day when my interview was broadcast on the radio playing in the background. My barber was incredulous; at least he avoided clipping my ear with his scissors as he reacted to Crabtree’s robust denial.

Crabtree turned out to be a decent bloke. I told him my elderly grandfather, Edward Brooks, was a big wrestling fan so he wrote a personal note that grandpa treasured for the rest of his life. It read: “To Eddie, Keep punching, from Big Daddy”.