Monday, 6 February 2012

Migration, Jim, but not as we know it

The 1955 film 'Touch and Go' starring Jack Hawkins is a real period piece.  It concerns a small family - Jim Fletcher (played by Jack), his wife and their teenage daughter - and their imminent emigration to Australia.  So many aspects of the film make it seem so dated, not least that Jim's decision to emigrate is taken suddenly and without consultation with his wife and daughter - he is the head of the household.  No messing about with visas and trying to find a job for his wife or a place at university for his daughter either.

Then the plan is to sail out to their new home - a journey that is going to take weeks rather than hours.  Jim's parents-in-law struggle to come to terms with the knowledge that they will probably never see their daughter and granddaughter again.  The teenage daughter meanwhile faces years of separation from her boyfriend with only pen and paper as a means of keeping in touch.

Emigration now of course is not such a wrench.  We have affordable flights, Facebook and Skype.  But the situation faced by Jim and his family was faced by many - and within living memory.  The shrinking of the world has happened  so quickly.  It wasn't that long before the 1950s that even a move within England could mean life long separation.  Many of my ancestors moved to Sheffield in the late 19th century, leaving behind agricultural labouring to work in the steel industry and domestic service.  When William Wilkinson left Islip in the 1870s for life as a furnaceman, I wonder if he ever saw his parents or siblings again?  It's doubtful.

Jim Fletcher and his family eventually stay in London - they have their happy ending.  Not many migrants have had that kind of choice, in many cases it has been a case of move and leave everything, or starve.

Will we continue to make the world even smaller by devising methods of communication beyond our imagination?  Or will we push our boundaries to a new frontier?  One for the Star Trek fans I think.

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