Underrated: Brian Blessed

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Brian_Blessed

The phrase national treasure is often bandied about for everyone in the public eye, but there are few given that label that could ever hold a candle to the loudest, sweariest, travelliest, actor and raconteur that is Brian Blessed. How he has not been Knighted for his adventures, acting and general brilliance for over fifty years in the business is beyond me. He’s not afraid of anything and next year will, at the age of 77 go to the International Space Station as he has now competed the hours of training to become a fully qualified Cosmonaut and is the current standby if anything should happen to the current group. He is one of the most interesting and fascinating Britons alive yet many only know him for his larger than life performances in such things as Flash Gordon and Black Adder, or for younger viewers as Peppa Pig’s Grampy Rabbit.

He is not only an actor, but he spends more time these days on being an adventurer. He is the oldest man to reach both the North Pole and the Magnetic North Pole on foot. During this expedition he was in rather close quarters to a polar bear who came into camp, ripped the side of Brian’s tent before getting thumped on the nose by the septuagenarian and an off. You couldn’t make it up. He has attempted to climb Everest three times and again was the oldest at 70 to reach heights without using oxygen – a feat that astounded scientists. When doing tests on him they said that he had the constitution of a man of 30 never mind someone in their eighth decade of life – this could be down to the long runs and weights he does every day (He can lift 400lbs which is Olympic level).  The third time he attempted Everest he turned back because one of his party was ill and he refused to go on without him. He has reached the summits of both Aconcagua, in Argentina, and Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania and has ventured into the dense jungles of Venezuela where he even survived a plane crash.

He was interviewed on “In Confidence” on Sky Arts the other year and showed his more peaceful side too. He is a great believer in meditation and from a very young age found himself being able to find a quiet inner peace which has used all of his adult life. The bombastic and over the top Brian is an act but not one he dislikes as he says it brings great joy and since we are social creatures to help bring that joy is a great thing. His two guest appearances as host of Have I got news for you are without doubt two of the funniest and surreal half hours I’ve ever seen on TV because he hammed it up wonderfully and brought a whole other side out of those involved.

Other sides of the man you might not be aware of are that he is a master plasterer as he left school at the age of 14 and his father, a coal miner, insisted he get a trade. He is also fantastically knowledgeable about football, has over 3000 animals living with him at his home in Surrey and boxed with the Dalai Lama when they met as they share an interest in the sport.

What’s next? The space station beckons next year and he is planning his fourth attempt at Everest without using additional oxygen – a feat if he manages it will see him as the oldest to do that. Listening and watching him, “old” is not a word that I would ever use to describe him. He is a great, intelligent, adventurous man who is a highly underrated human being. He is a great and powerful actor and in the same breath is a gentle humanitarian and someone we should cherish in this country.

JD

 

Glastonbury 2013

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Glastonbury Festival

I love music – sounds obvious but there is something that music can do to you that no other art form is able to. You will never find yourself wanting to dance at a painting or remember a moment in your life because of a dancer but music is the only art form for me that makes you feel every single emotion we have as humans – yet I’ve never really fancied going to a music festival. Watching this year’s amazing coverage by the BBC of Glastonbury may have softened my resolve a bit and I could maybe even see myself there.

This year has had a lot of hype surrounding it – as every year does – but this year even more so because of the arrival of arguably our greatest rock and roll band The Rolling Stones headlining last night. After performing, writing and recording for fifty years with the same core member they took to the stage to a colossal crowd and threw out hit after hit and showed why the wait was worth it. It’s easy to have a go at them for their age, their financial affairs and the eternal question of “how is Richards still alive?” but they are still a great band to watch and listen to. Twitter was full of the usual nonsense having a go and making jokes but if I could still perform like that when I was their age I’d be a happy man – even then if I could perform like that now…

Another highlight had to be Nile Rodgers and Chic performing both their own and others greatest hits of the disco era. The band was amazingly tight and showed the youngsters how to party, but with a back catalogue like that it’s hard not be great. The Bass playing was sublime and the vocalists were fantastic. Other great acts like Haim, The Strypes, Primal Scream, Ben Howard, Jake Bugg and Noah and the Whale all performed well and showed why there were big crowds at their performances.

Mind you this was all from the comfort of my sofa in front of my TV or in my comfy office chair in front of the PC and again it can’t be stressed enough how great a job the BBC have done bringing this spectacle into our homes this weekend. I’ve been catching up on stuff today at http://www.bbc.co.uk/events/ej58q9#p01bktfs Who says the licence fee isn’t worth it?

The only downside was seeing how far the bigfoot Harry from Harry and the Hendersons has let himself go

Embedded image permalink 😉

JD

 

Man of Steel

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Man of Steel

The cast list is incredible for this film – Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Amy Adams, Laurence Fishburne, Richard Schiff, Michael Shannon, the list goes on and from them you have a large clutch of Oscars and other major awards flowing over the sides from the screen talent alone. So why is the film such a disappointing bore?

***Spoilers Ahead***

I have to hold my hands and say that Superman is not one of my favourite superheroes because I find the idea of someone with that much power and abilities to be a fairly difficult character to empathise with in the first place – but as this was a genesis film I had hoped that the development of character would allow us the audience to see him as the outsider he should be and be able to relate to him more. Because the story is told through flashbacks this young alien coming to terms with his heritage was lost among the usual superhero clichés. That is the more interesting story and perhaps more focus on his upbringing rather than General Zod’s plans to turn Earth into the new Krypton it would have been a better balance.

The other issue, and it may be sexist to say so, but the over-involvement of Lois Lane as a main protagonist and central to every action scene was both unbelievable and unnecessary. I don’t just want a damsel in distress, but the fact that she is always there seemed to add more to the stuffed narrative than was needed. Henry Cavill comes across well, but the lack of character development left him as a two dimensional block of muscles with little emotion or area for a relationship to be built between him and the audience. Being muscly and good looking is not enough for a modern day superhero and with the humanity of Marvel superheroes I’ve always had difficulty caring for the DC big two of Batman and Superman. Batman’s strength has always been in the quality of the baddie and not the powers of the caped crusader; here the baddie was sub par.

Chris Nolan is on producing duty on this film and with what he achieved with the Batman Trilogy I’d hoped for more. In Batman Begins we empathized and were on the side of Bruce Wayne because of the tragedy in his life and this allowed us to just sit back and enjoy the two follow up films. I wouldn’t be bothered if I saw another of this franchise. Another bone of contention is the hour at the end which is just a collection of CGI effects – explosion, spaceship, Superman flying, building collapses, explosion: Repeat for an hour. The film needs to decide if it is a superhero movie which shows the life of its lead or a fun knockabout action film and it managed neither. During this never ending fight between Kal-el and Zod we’re supposed to see the struggle inside our hero as he tries not to kill the villain but instead show him the error of his ways – instead you get explosion, spaces… In the end the death of Zod is underwhelming and dare I say a pathetic end to an expensive and boring three hours of my life.

These are great actors who, in the circumstances, do all right with what they’ve been given but it’s such a weak hook in the first place to hang the idea on. The lack of warmth or humour in the script leaves you cold towards everyone – even the death of Jonathan Kent which should really be tugging at the heart strings (and f*cking ridiculous as well how he goes – seriously?). Having watched my fair share of superhero movies in the last decade or so this falls well short of the current standard from the Spider-man Trilogy to the new reboot of the arachnid superhero, Iron-Man’s brilliantly over the top and funny portrayal and the clever approach to the X-Men franchise that has seen several different movies but all doing a good job at entertaining the audience.

Man of Steel is one of those few occasions I’ve wanted to walk out of a cinema because I was bored – the other times were Blair Witch Project and Titanic . Disappointing? Yes, but as Superman is not a great character in the first place it was not unexpected.

JD

Armed Forces Day

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Armed Forces Day

Today is Armed Forces Day 2013 and the aim is to raise awareness of the work that the different branches of the forces do both here at home and across the world. Secondly it is our chance to say a big “thank you” for that they do on our behalf. There are numerous events up and down the country today to commemorate the hard work and dedication these men and women loyally give us as part of their roles.

There is so much underfunding and over expectation of our armed forces by all colours of governments that it’s almost an embarrassment at times when they talk about their pride in the job they do. While there have been several occasions over the last couple of decades where I have openly questioned the military decisions made by those governments in terms of attacks, wars and campaigns I have never doubted the professionalism and sacrifices of our amazing troops. And it’s been a tough decade or so with the continuing presence in Afghanistan being one of the most dangerous and deadly campaigns in living memory for many.

The main reason I like Armed Forces Day is that it’s not a sad or negative view of these men and women, it’s a positive day to celebrate them as individuals and to see the regiments and branches of the forces as people. Also it should be a day that we remember those who have left the forces and are trying to start a new life back here in the UK. Some will have retired or finished their tours and their skill sets are something we should use and embrace in our country – just last week the government talked about getting former military personnel into schools as teachers. I agree that some will be perfect for classroom but they need to be fully trained and not “fast tracked” into an alien system to the one they are used to.

The group that the spotlight should be shone upon are those who have come back because of physical or mental damage. The thing that is rarely talked about by politicians or the general public is how we help, support and rehabilitate these people in a well-funded and resourced way. There are some great centres across the UK that help in this area like Catterick, Colchester, Tidmouth and Plymouth – all supported by the fantastic Help for Heroes campaign that allow these men and women to start rebuilding their lives. The stories of physical injuries that have been overcome are truly inspiring but there are always those that need further help and often the area of mental health is overlooked by many as a core issue for these soldiers returning to the UK.

What they have seen and experienced, the impressions left on their memories have not changed from when we first picked up a weapon against another. We see in the interviews with war veterans of previous conflicts the damage that can be done to so many by not receiving the right therapy, medication or support. This is an area – as with any type of mental illness – that is not a visible problem but one that hundreds suffer from in the forces. Post traumatic stress, depression and anxiety are some of the main issues that former troops have to deal with and we must support them. If we ask them to defend and protect this country on our behalf, we must in turn ensure they are offered the same on their return.

We need to ensure that although they are underpaid and underfunded on the battlefield our responsibility for them does not stop once they leave the forces – we have an obligation to ensure that they are held in high regard and respected as valuable citizens.

Happy Armed Forces Day. To support those returning from duty go to http://www.helpforheroes.org.uk/index.html and see if you can help.

JD

Media Vultures

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(c) Daryl Cagle

(c) Daryl Cagle

With today’s tragic event in Westhill I was reminded of the pariahs of the press that want to add that element of human interest into a story so they doorstop neighbours of the woman who died in the fire, to get their thoughts on the subject at seven o’clock in the morning. While I understand that they are “only doing their job” I struggle to see what the readers will gain from a few words from someone who is probably coming to terms with the situation themselves at that point. The same happened a few years back when a pupil was run over. The papers and radio were straight on the phone to family and asking them for their thoughts. This kind of behaviour is disrespectful to those involved.

We see this too at the hospital that Nelson Mandela is a patient at in South Africa. Yesterday the family said they felt that the media were like vultures just waiting for his death so they could carry off a morsel to their editors. It is almost like they are trying to build to a crescendo over the days of his illness – practically willing him to die so they can justify the time, effort and money involved in having so many of the world’s press present. Mandela is an icon – a man who stands for the best in humanity and when his time does come we will all be informed by the hospital and the family so there’s no need to camp outside like news zombies waiting to feast on bad news.

The media have an important job to do and I respect those who do it well and don’t need to stoop to these scavenging tactics – they report the news and the that is the story. Not the thoughts of a passer by, or a former employer, or a friend of the family or anyone else. If a family want to release information then they will in their own time without a microphone or Dictaphone being shoved in their faces. I know someone who was a photographer who was asked to creep around outside people’s houses to try to get photo of the occupant who was the subject of a story – thankfully they refused to do it but someone else picked up the baton and the problem continues. Today there were reports of people hiding in bushes and climbing fences to get photos of the house where the tragedy happened – so no lessons are being learned.

When we read these stories, too often we forget that the people involved are victims and fellow human beings not puppets that must dance to our tune. They have often faced a horrific event or bereavement but our less well educated press and public expect them still to perform for us. They are not celebrities – this is real life and the people need their space and their dignity to be left when often other important things have been taken from them. A good journalist informs you of the facts, but a bad journalist tries to find an angle and that is wrong. From local news like today’s to international stories like Sandy Hook we need a sense of perspective and the press need to keep a distance to allow those qualified to investigate space and time to do their jobs.

I don’t need the gossip and the hearsay; I don’t need 24 hour news reporters standing waiting for news that might not come; I don’t want someone who hardly knew those involved to pass opinion. I want the families to be left to live their lives and not be the subject of tittle-tattle. It seems as if all the lessons that Leveson was supposed to bring the press have just been ignored and the same old practices are still at work.

JD

 

Grief

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There are times in this job where you are powerless and there’s little you can do to help. The news of a fire in the area that claimed the life of a female is one that strikes too close to the school for comfort.

The pupils and many of the staff have been hit hard by the death of a member of the community and it’s tough not to just pat a kid on the back or offer them some form of comfort at a time they need it. The father in me just wants to put an arm round the kids and reassure them, but because of the nature of the job and duty of care it’s best not to.

Watching these young people deal with the horrible news breaks your heart as tough kids that usually are full of banter and cheek are quiet and introspective. Grief is such an individual thing that it’s difficult to know how to react and for many today it’s just having the school provide some sense of normality for these teenagers in a world that must seem unjust and cruel. They need to know that there is a constant in their lives that will be there for them.

I’m not the best at dealing with grief myself and to watch this collective outpouring of feelings and tears leaves you stuck for words. When it’s someone close to me I can deal with it by thinking about them and reliving moments and memories of the impact they had on my own life. Here I can’t do that as I don’t know those involved well at all, but you are still part of that atmosphere and story. Grief can be selfish at times, but here I want to help or do something – but there’s nothing to be done.

Collective grief is something I’ve experienced both as a pupil and a teacher and it never gets easier to know how best to approach it no matter how many times it happens. All I hope is from the tragic circumstances that have occurred here that the bonds in the community and the school will support those who are effected by this event. The strong friendships and good will from everyone here might not be apparent at first to those involved, but over the coming weeks and months those things will be invaluable to family and friends as they try to rebuild their futures.

Thoughts are with the family.

JD

Oi! MPs! Stop trying to be like us!

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Osborne Burger

Here’s “Man of the people” George Gideon Osborne eating a burger, just like we do, while he finishes his spending review – but wait that very burger cost £10 from a posh takeaway…

Sometimes it’s hard to care about these things as they only seem to resonate in Westminster and the newspapers when no-one else cares. So what if posh bloke eats a posh burger? And then the hilarious Eric “I’ll eat yer baby” Pickles makes a jokey tweet back where he’s eating a salad to show he has a sense of humour. Do you remember Gordon Brown liking the Arctic Monkeys and Cameron being a Smiths fan? When are these politicians going to realise that we don’t care if they are one of us or funny or eat the same foods as we do or listen to the same music? All we want them to do is run the country.

They are surrounded by spin doctors and advisers telling them what the latest polling groups and focus committees think about their ties and suits and haircuts and voices and all the rest. Margaret Thatcher famously had vocal coaching to lower her voice’s tone to make her sound more masculine – but none of it works or matters unless they are capable of doing the job they were elected for. We are in the s#!t at the moment in terms of mood, money and outlook do these advisers really think we are all sitting wondering what Gideon is eating – it’s not even on the list of things I care about never mind being at the end of it. I want strong, conviction politicians who don’t go and get a nasal operation to make their voice better; I want a leader of the opposition who stands up for the working men and women of this country in the face of cuts and more cuts.

The amount of money they spend on colours/mood boards/focus groups is absurd when all we really want is a bit of honesty and straight talking. Stop spinning everything and tell us in plain English what we need to know and we’ll be fine. The spin and smoke and mirrors routine brought in by Blair and New Labour has changed politics in a negative way by eroding the reality of politics and the true connections to our lives. The media are obsessed with us seeing “inside the lives of the powerful” when all we really want is to see life getting better for us at the sharp end of it.

So MPs stop tweeting “funny” pictures, if nothing else you’ll just encourage the glib and smarmy Andrew Neil to do one of his “hilarious” skits about it on tonight’s This Week. Stop pretending to like bands that you think we like – I’d much rather you said you listen to Classic FM or Smooth and could do your job properly. And stop the spin and the soundbites; we’ve reached a point now where we cannot listen to the finely polished phrases without wanting to do you serious harm – speak to us as intelligent humans and perhaps we’ll return the favour. It’s not rocket science, it’s politics – do your best, be honest and work hard and you’re well on your way to being someone we’ll respect again. I don’t want you to be my friend or equal, I just want you to do your job.

JD