Watching this film immediately made me do one thing – slow down. John, Susan, Tatty and Roger inhabit a world without social media, fast cars, McDonalds burgers or even – sharp intake of breath – multiplex cinemas. Theirs is a land where drama is played out in slow moving sail boats, where the tension is built around whether or not there will be enough wind to sail to the island. Or having got there, whether Tatty can keep her match alight long enough to spark up the lamps to guide them in at night. These youngsters do not wear their baseball caps back to front, in fact they don’t wear baseball caps at all, and they do not come with witty one liners for back chatting the adults. Back chatting itself would be seen as a serious breach of conduct. Cars do not explode and no one blows up anything. But, if you allow yourself the slowing down, and I had to keep forcing myself to let go of the speed of this digitised age, then you enter a world where there is wonder to be found in a totally different world. A world where four children sail off to an island with a hamper, a telescope and tin of fruitcake, with no mention of Health and Safety. Although young Tatty is told, in no uncertain terms that she cannot use the matches. (Though she does when the need arises.)
By the time the final credits rolled I was reluctant to return to this present techno age, I didn’t want to check the time on my smart phone, because that would immediately plunge me back into this strange place we call Now. I wanted to stay on those sailboats, doing battle with those pirates and sneaking up on spies.
The very mention of Swallows and Amazons takes me back to being 11, not because I read it then, but because, when I first went to Redruth Grammar school, one of the first things we were told to do in our English lesson was to learn a book list, which included Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome and Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. We recited the list, though never got around to reading the books. I often look back wistfully to those days, ‘a simpler time’. A time when we did all kinds of things that now need crash helmets, safety certificates and the presence of qualified adults. Summers were always hot, holidays long, and full of swashbuckling and bike riding. Back in the 70s I was different, things were different, my world was different, yet I can look back and recall being aware, in my own way, of the presence of God.
A while ago I came across the saying, ‘The one constant in life is change.’ And I guess this has always been true. Things do change. Before the world of John and Susan and the others there was another way of life. And after we have gone there will be another. The one other constant in life, I would say, is God. The one who describes himself as I Am. The Present One. The One who is always there in the Now. But to say he is constant does not mean he does not adjust to the way people have changed. You are reading this via something we once called the World Wide Web. Paul did not have the chance to use it, he had to settle for papyrus. Nowadays we can pass on the things of God in a second. We can Skype, Tweet and Youtube the good news. A very different age. Yet God is still there, not outdated, never old fashioned, and with us in the Now. I may look wistfully back, on the 1930s world of Swallows and Amazons, and the days of my 70s growing up, but Now matters to God. And as difficult as it sometimes is, today is my day, our day to be with him. And I guess that, like watching Swallows and Amazons, the experience may well slow me down sometimes.
A sobering thought: John will have been called up in 1939. Even this idyllic childhood was not immune to the real. We can’t get out of it – yet – but God can and did and does come into it.
That is a sobering thought, Derek, I hadn’t considered that. Or how close this was to the coming war.