I am one of the millions brought up with Terry Wogan’s morning programme, Wake Up to Wogan, on BBC Radio 2 while eating breakfast preparing for school. I didn’t particularly enjoy school as it was a place of conforming, which I’ve never done (or wished to do) very well. Neither did Terry Wogan. I realise now what I liked about him was that he was his own man – not a rebel – but someone comfortable in his own skin and who valued the company and friendship of others. I went to school feeling a little stronger in myself after I listened to him.
Thinking of him now and his dearly missed presence, he taught us how to laugh at ourselves – to value what needed valuing – those who love us and whom we love. His taste in music reflects this too. He introduced me to the likes of Eva Cassidy, Katie Melua, Beth Nielsen Chapman and Bonnie Raitt, as well as appreciating the established greats like Frank Sinatra and Irish band The Fureys. All of these sing about the important things in life.
In the many tributes following his death he’s been described as everybody’s friend – in a world where warmth and the longevity of friendship and understanding is hard to find, he was a constant, even though he didn’t know you personally. He has also been described as kind to all – another quality which seems in short supply in the world today.
His sense of humour was unbeatable, combined with wisdom. The fact is he was a one-off, from his many conversations on chat-shows on the TV and interaction of pure silliness with the likes of actress Caroline Quentin on his Sunday morning show, Weekend Wogan, on radio 2 (when he stopped doing his daily one in the week). His banter on the Eurovision Song Contest, Proms in the Park, Children in Need and his brilliant narration of the hilarious cartoon Stoppit and Tidyup will all be remembered. He wasn’t just another presenter – he was able to be and ‘present’ himself and you got the feeling that the charm and care he radiated to viewers and listeners, was the same that he radiated to everyone whoever they were.
He is missed.
I’m not the first to look for the deeper meaning in the animated film The Polar Express. It is a wise film interspersing thoughtful conversation with high action – it would make a thrilling fast ride at a theme park. The music is also wonderful – it would also make a great musical.
Faith, and lack of it, along with the innocence and loss of childhood, are big themes, but also the general challenges of life that we experience whether child or adult. There are some key one-liners from the train conductor (Tom Hanks) – I thought one might pop up “it’s not the destination but the journey that is important” but instead, better, it’s: “it doesn’t matter where the train goes, it’s making the decision to get on it that matters.”
It is a risk for all the children to jump on the train but they do and discover aspects of themselves that they either didn’t know they had or find they needed confirmation of the qualities they did have. On the journey they are challenged, but also helped, by Doubt – the spirit of the dishevelled, teasing spirit of a man who appears on and off in various parts of the train – also played by Tom Hanks.
This pairing of these two characters (conductor and spirit man) could be seen as theological – Hope (the conductor) and Doubt (the dishevelled, teasing spirit of a man) are two sides of the same coin. We experience one with the other in most cases, but with friendship, empathy, and our own individual reflection, we can get through them. Three of the children become good mates – one boy struggles particularly with the concept of Christmas (we’re not given details but we assume he’s had a tricky home life, is lonely, and certainly doesn’t come from a wealthy background) but he is valued by his two friends.
Materially the children are on the search for presents but learn a great deal more about the gifts they already have within them and also what they need to learn and do to maintain hope and faith. The conductor makes a passing but key comment ‘sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.’
Holding onto the unseen is the challenge in life – the symbol of the bell in the film personifies this. Doubt says you must see to believe. Hope says you sometimes have to believe in order to understand, and to see.