When you are about to lose a parent,” says Joe Simpson, “people tell you to take the opportunity to discuss things because you will never get the chance again. My eldest brother told me to do that. I never did. And that’s what I regret.”
One of Britain’s best-known explorers, Joe recently spent five weeks filming in remote parts of Burma (now Myanmar) following the footsteps of his late father, who served there during the second world war. He’d suggested the film a while ago, but nobody wanted it. “Then the BBC said they loved it. I think they changed their minds about what documentaries should be – not just travel, but a personal quest, with a family, and ‘trying to understand your father’. And that awful American phrase, ‘getting some kind of closure’ – which is the biggest load of bollocks I’ve ever heard.”
Despite his bluff talk, Joe’s journey threw up powerful questions that he continues to wrestle with, as do many people. Such as: why don’t fathers and sons talk to each other more? And: which of us, really, has the slightest idea what our parents have lived through – and why don’t we try to find out before it’s too late?
Joe was born in Malaya, the fifth child of Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Simpson (Da) and his wife Geraldine (Ma). Joe knew that his father was in the Gurkhas, but that was about it until 1978, when Joe was 18 and the Imperial War Museum asked veterans to provide materials for its collection. “It turned out that he was a Chindit – forerunners of the SAS. He had landed at night behind Japanese lines in the Burmese jungle and fought the Japanese. I was fascinated.”
Full story: The Guardian
Discussion on Burmese history and culture.
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