Samhain

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Happy Samhain to all as we celebrate the death of the light and make way for the winter. This Gaelic festival was held to herald the end of the harvest and came from Ireland to Scotland and similar festivals took place in Wales, Cornwall and France. There are many traditions that we still adhere to today as we call it Hallowe’en, but many came from Pagan ideas, god’s and rituals and you can see the links from centuries ago to the festivities being held tonight.

The party starts at sundown on the 31st of October until sundown on November 1st and it was believed that the dead re-entered out world and this led to many “traditions” some of which we still continue with.  The big one is going door to door for food – now called “Trick or Treat” it was believed that people dressed up in ghoulish costumes or disguises to protect themselves from the darker spirits who came back from the dead. The idea is that if the spirits see you at houses they will leave well alone as they believe that the house already has otherworldly visitors. That’s also the reason or the carved turnips and now pumpkins because you had to put one at your door to ward off those same spirits.

Ducking for apples combines the idea that you will have harvested your fruit and veg with the old ritual for getting rid of witches using the ducking stool. The left over fruit would be the witches and children had to “dook” for them. The other food related tradition that I really like, is that you are supposed to set a spare place at your table to remember those in your life you have lost over the years. Samhain was often seen as the Celtic New Year as it meant that it was the end of the farming year and the beginning of the next. You were supposed to take you cows and sheep down from the hills to kill for food – another link with death that we still have as part of our modern version of the celebrations. You should also have a bonfire to burn away all the evil and issues to start afresh in the new year – you can see how Guy Fawkes night and guising came about buy taking a couple of the elements of Samhain and moving them on a week.

Samhain was very much part of our tradition on and off for centuries despite the Catholic Church renaming the festival All Hallows Eve (31st Oct), All Saints Day (1st Nov) and All Souls’ Day (2nd Nov). This was par for the course with the church trying to remove all the Pagan festivals and replace them with their own versions – Easter, Christmas etc. In fact there was a real resurgence in Samhain from the mid 1700s that took in the idea of kids dressing up and causing trouble which led to the other name of “Mischief Night” which is still celebrated in the north of England as “Cheevy Night” – again another version of Trick or Treat. The Catholic version also spread around the world with South America and Africa taking the festival on and making their own – most famously with the Mexican celebration of “Dei de Muertos” or Day of the Dead not being a million miles from our own original Celtic celebrations.

Since the Scots and the Irish have set up home all across the word the tradition carried too and it’s the Americans who really latched on to it. Despite all the grumps and moans about Hallowe’en being an American thing it is still very much based on the old Celtic Traditions of over two thousand years ago. From dressing up to the evil spirits we are still enjoying the same scares and stories these years later – and if we really do want to celebrate our heritage rather than just going for the commercialised bits and baubles we should start setting that place at the table and enjoy nature more at this time of year. Remember out traditions.

Happy Samhain everyone

JD

Doctor’s Greatest Hits – Girl in the Fireplace

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Clockwork

This episode stands out for lots of reasons; most of all it’s clever and I like shows that don’t patronise us as an audience, but also because it made a family science fiction show romantic in every sense of the word. Doctor Who is great at blending other genres into the sci-fi world of the Timelord but here it was sweet, funny, warm and heart breaking all in a forty-something minute episode which is no mean feat.

This was Steven Moffat’s second shot at writing for the show after the “Empty Child” in the first series and it brought together his great wit with his ingenuity to produce a very grown up episode indeed. The basis for the episode is that The Doctor, Rose and Mickey arrive in the 51st Century on board a spaceship that is punching holes through time to 18th Century France and through the timeline of the amazing Reinette, later to be known as Madame du Pompadour – Mistress of Louis XV. The Doctor tries to work out why the Clockwork Men and Women from the Spaceship want her specifically.

This episode really brings out the romance of the Doctor as he falls for Reinette and she for him. It marks the real start of Roses romantic love for the Doctor – up to now she has shown she is fond of him, jealous even of other’s interest in him, but here we see she is really falling for him and doesn’t know how to cope with the situation. How can she compete with Reinette? The juxtaposition of the two worlds both being effectively on board a spaceship is cleverly played and the naivety of the Androids is almost sad. We realise that they have used the ship’s crew to fix the ship by taking their organs and body parts to mend and replace broken parts – Mickey and Rose find an eye in a security camera and a heart replacing a motor; clever but gruesome at the same time.

This leads to the other type of romance – the melancholy truth of the Clockwork Men’s obsession is revealed in the last shot when it’s revealed the 51st Century space ship is called “Madame du Pompadour” finally explaining why they needed her brain to fix the main computer. The robots weren’t evil, just mistaken which makes the whole episode clever and complete. The humour in the episode is great and allows us to see Tennant at his childlike best as he announces that you should always take a banana to a party and that he might have invented the daiquiri a couple of centuries early.

Humour, romance and sci-fi shouldn’t really work – especially in such a short time frame as the episode has but it shows what a multi-layers series Doctor Who can be – one week it’s an action comedy in New Earth, then it’s a monster driven one as the Cybermen take over earth; it’s a nostalgic trip back in time as we are reacquainted with Sarah Jane Smith in “School Reunion” as well as the great horror inspired “Tooth and Claw” with Queen Victoria and a Werewolf. For my money this is when the pieces all fall together for the show as a whole and the ability to change between genres and styles and tones really pays off.

Tennant as the Doctor and Russell T Davis at the helm as Executive producer and lead writer settle really well within the first few episodes of the second season. One that will end in tears.

Next Time: Doomsday

JD

Human kind has finally scraped beneath the barrel

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Funeral Selfie

We are all aware of the selfies and the vacuous creatures who post them every two minutes – but now those self obsessed youngsters have crossed the line of awareness into the darkness of their own ego. Selfies at Funerals, Holocaust memorials, at former Polish concentration camps, war memorials and other inappropriate locations.

What have we become? When did we decide that the leaps and bounds of technology were to be shared with the idiotic and pointless creatures that think this is appropriate:

Holocaust selfie

All these have appeared on a Tumblr site entitled “Selfies at Serious Places” and launched this year in August. Two days after posting this picture the idiot in the picture received hundreds of complaints so he contacted the site to have it removed:

“I’m one of the people on your tumblr blog, and I have to say you made me realize how much of an idiot I made myself look. I’ve had people messaging me and calling me stuff, all of which I obviously deserve. I know you probably think I’m just an idiot who is willing to put pictures like that on the internet, and you’re not too wrong. You’ve really made me think about it, and I’d like to thank you for that. Now I’m going to beg that you remove the picture, and I doubt you would, because you will gain absolutely no benefit from doing so, but from one severely regretful person to another person, please, do so. Sorry for being such a dick.”

I applaud the fact he apologised for this despicable photo – but here’s the thing: the photo was taken in 2012 so this person had a year possibly longer before they decided that this was an appropriate thing to send to someone to publish. But this is not necessarily about blame because in my eyes they are as equally idiotic as each other and deserve little sympathy. The person who runs the pages claims that every generation does things that embarrass them and with the right technology they too would have ended up producing these vile images. True – but that doesn’t make it right either.

There is a saying that “youth is wasted on the young”, but it’s more than this I think brains, time and effort re too often wasted on the ignorant. We all make mistakes in life – I certainly have and continue to on a regular basis – but there is a line and these guys have crossed it with their funereal self portraits and at locations that deserve respect. While they might not be affected by them many others are and it’s disrespectful. It’s silly to take the photo in the first place, but to then decide that it needs a wider audience is a complete lack of understanding of decency. Then there is the person who publishes them and thinks it’s an appropriate site to set up in the first place.

Tumblr should be removing such images as they don’t do anyone any favours in terms of PR, but also it makes us look bad as humans. There is already so much ignorance in the world – just yesterday a student actually said that they believed the majority of Muslims were terrorists, a statement that defies belief and makes me question so much in our society. Everyone now has a platform – just as I do here – to say what they think and project their views and I’ll always support that, but someone really needs to start taking these people aside and give them a slap. They know they are in the wrong yet they still go ahead with it and we need to save them from themselves if nothing else.

 

Humans are flawed, narcissistic, naïve creatures at times and we se he worst of our species everyday on the news. No, they haven’t physically harmed anyone and yes there are much worse things that they could be doing – but if I ever found out my kids had done something like this you can be damn sure they’d never again get near the technology that allowed them to do this in the first place. Perhaps the answer is to send these types of images to the guilty party’s parents and let them deal with it and see how long these sites and trends last.

JD

 

The Escape Artist

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The Escape Artist

*Warning may contain some spoilers*

You know hat a TV show is good if you are thinking about it through the following day and just now there are a few shows that are really hitting the mark: Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” finished its second series on Monday and I really hope it returns for a third because it found it’s feet this season with flowing dialogue, great characterisation and some excellent performances. Then tonight we have the British remake of the Norwegian Drama “The Bridge” called “The Tunnel” based around a murder right on the halfway mark of the Channel Tunnel which is a great psychological thriller and is building the tension nicely. But since last night there has been one image in my head – of Liam Foyle standing at the window looking in at Will Burton. Chilling.

It would be easy and lazy to say the show was clichéd (step forward Telegraph reviewer Neil Midgely) but while many of the premises were standard fare there were some great human moments, shocks and Hitchcock-esque camera angles in play here. To be fair to the writer David Wolstencroft, while there were clichés around he used them to get us to the end of the episode and open the story up because from here the real action starts. With David Tennant (as Will) on reliable form and Toby Kemmell (Liam Foyle) on chilling form the two were well matched sitting opposite each other as Will coached Liam for his Murder trial. Burton gets Foyle off on a technicality and the action really kicks in from that point.

What could have been a fairly run-of-the-mill courtroom drama then threw open the story to a very personal one and changed the style of the show from the moment Burton refused to shake Foyle’s hand. The subplot of Will being the number one up and coming solicitor and Maggie Gardner (Played by the magnificent Sophie Okonedo) as the second place in the power play comes to the fore when she then takes on Foyle’s next murder charge which holds a moral mirror up to Will Burton and makes him consider his earlier line “Everyone deserves a defence” as it’s thrown back at him by her.

The writing is good but the performances makes it a great show. David Tennent is never unbearable – even as the solicitor who hasn’t lost a case he shows the moral dilemmas defence lawyers face as they try to do their jobs defending the obviously guilty but ensuring they are fairly treated within the legal system. It’s tragedy in his life that brings Tennant’s skill as an actor to the fore and he pulls you in with those big eyes and your empathy is unquestionably with him. Toby Kemmell is chilling in his performance as the cold outsider Liam Foyle. His calmness and stillness are punctuated with flares of anger and ironic statements making him difficult to take your eyes off when he is on screen. Sophie Okonedo plays ambitious Maggie perfectly showing the balance of moral integrity with ruthless determination to be the best and outshine Will. The whole cast perform their roles well and bring what could be an over clichéd script to life in a realistic and engaging way.

Can’t wait for the next two instalments – if you missed it go and watch it on the iPlayer now. Word of warning though, close the curtains or blinds if you are having a bath after…

JD

Maths that doesn’t add up

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Baby P

Three special maths questions for the today.

Q1. You earn £133,000 a year as head of Children’s Services. During your time in charge a child dies having been put on the “at risk” register, found to have had over fifty injuries and had over sixty visits from the Social Services team you are in charge of and other professionals. An independent report says that the Children’s Services role in the death showed “disastrous failings” in the way it was run and that the management was at fault. You are sacked and then at a tribunal a senior judge suggests three months salary and pension contributions are a fair compensation for you losing your job in such a public way and contrary to your contract. So the question is how the f*ck do you end up receiving a reported £600,000 of taxpayers money instead?

Q2. Now you are no longer in charge of that department and have tax payers money in your pocket because of a technicality. Your involvement in the death of that 17 month old boy is something that rests at your door despite the pay out as you were the person in charge and you have no scruples about the issue – in fact you go as far to ask why the Police and Health Services had not been punished too. In your parting statement after the settlement you say “Children have been my life’s work and I hope to continue in some capacity soon now that my PhD is almost complete”. The question is what percentage of your neck is made of brass?

Q3. The Court of Appeal state that you had been “unfairly scapegoated” in the furore surrounding the death of a one and a half year old child.

a) Who was at fault, beyond the animals that actually killed the child, that didn’t take action when given several opportunities to do so?

b) Who didn’t have the checks in place to prevent such an abhorrent act of cruelty when it was their job as Head of Service to do so?

c) Who looked bad when this all happened in 2007 and has continued to make themselves look worse with each court appearance and public statement made about it – and in many ways appears to have forgotten the reason this whole process started and the life that was taken?

Hand your answers in when you’re finished please.

JD

 

 

Silence will Fall

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Silence

There are a few points in my day that are starting to feel like little moments of magic. Those moments of complete silence from all the noise and distractions that surround us in our daily lives. They are becoming increasingly hard to find with everyone listening to music, speaking on their phones or receiving messages every two seconds, children screaming, music being pumped into every possible space we walk and the general hubbub that plays behind everything we do.

But I’ve found some places where the quiet settles in and it’s just you. My current favourite is when everyone else has gone to bed and I sit in the living room on my own just before heading upstairs to read in bed. That moment when the TV is off and no-one says anything to you – you can even hear the background electrical buzz from other rooms where things are on and fans are whirring. It’s a great chance to just take a deep breath and let the day go. Staring into middle distance with not a thought in my head – couldn’t be happier.

Then there is the shower moment in the morning where you stand for maybe five minutes under the warm water having just woken up and the spray is hitting the back of your neck like a gentle morning massage as you slowly let your brain wake up. Then there the other moment in the bathroom where you just have a wee sit down – one of the few places in any location that you can lock the outside world away – whether you’re needing to go or not, doesn’t matter as you just enjoy the stillness and silence.

A new one for me at the moment is in the car. Switch off the radio and CD player to just hear the gentle burring of the engine. I’ve always put on the radio or listened to music but today Roxy Music came on whilst driving home – one of their many average songs that bore me to tears – and I just drove home without any noise interrupting my thoughts. It’s also a good way to make the car quiet when there are others in there too as people don’t know what to do with themselves.

It’s a very British thing to want to fill the silences in life – I don’t, as I enjoy the nothingness and serenity that comes in the lull of conversations. The Scandinavian countries class silence as part of that conversation but here we constantly indulge in small talk to fill the gaps. I think that’s why men love trivia as it give us something to plug the gaps in the conversation with – hence the huge success of QI. The weather is always another favourite, although you will hear a lot of “It’s getting dark already!” at the moment since the clocks went back.

Life is lived at full speed these days – and if that makes me sound like an old man I don’t care – and more and more I crave those empty moments of life where no noise or interruptions are around. No obstacles to you looking out a window, just to look out of it for the view. “What you looking at?” or “What you thinking?” are two of the worst questions to puncture those blissful tableaus as the answer is truthfully “Nothing.”

JD

What if?

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what if

It’s that melancholy Monday question isn’t it? You wonder what you life would have been like with just a few simple choices made differently. It’s often said that “Hindsight is a wonderful thing”, or the question “If you had your time again, what would you change?” is thrown out there to be answered. You consider the butterfly effect small decisions would have had on your life and where would I be now if I had “Turned Left” like Donna Noble?

I think that the only real regret I have is my educational decisions. There was so little guidance at school about subject choice and the consequences of those decisions at the age of 14. Looking back going for Aesthetic subjects rather than ones that would have helped me follow a different career path that opened the world up to me – instead I ended up with few options and now I regret those choices. I would have done business studies or IT or something useful. I enjoyed Music and Drama because I am at heart a creative person, but no one sits you down to explain that the opportunities in those areas are few and far between and that the subjects you fill your timetable with will have an impact on your future.

But even more than school there’s the regrets about going to university. I hated it if I’m honest because I didn’t find what I was looking for there. There was no apocryphal moment where I saw paths leading from my time there to a day in the years to come where I’d find a career that used me to my full potential. If anything I found that going to uni compounded my earlier errors and that was where it went wrong. An English degree was supposed to open doors and give me options – well that was the line I was fed by the careers advisor at school; a lie by any other name. I felt trapped there and hated a lot of it – I almost walked away from it in my second year because I reached the point where I switched off, lost interest, didn’t care about the course. Perhaps if I had changed courses of gone and worked and returned later o the studying I would have been better off. Even now as I sit and think about the path my life has taken I do wonder where I’d be if I had walked away.

I took the only real option open to me by going into teaching because my options were limited. I think I’ve made the best of a bad situation and without sounding too egocentric I think I teach quite well. And there is a grass is always greener element to this too – maybe with the current dip, it magnifies the negative and regardless where I ended up in terms of work I would never have been completely happy. At least with teaching there is a creative side, working with a wide variety of people and no two days or classes are the same. The other issue is that I have no idea what I would do instead. It’s easy to say you are unhappy with something, but if you can’t identify an alternative it’s just moaning for moaning’s sake and not helping the situation you find yourself in.

It doesn’t stop you from asking the question though and maybe that’s not a bad thing. I know at the bottom of my mind there is an answer to the unknown alternative job and perhaps one day I’ll work that out and be able to move with confidence and purpose towards it, but to negate everything else I’ve achieved seems churlish – but then that’s just me: Mr Positivity!

I do hope that one day I’ll work it out and be able to scratch that itch because I’d hate to be old and still scratching away wondering what could have been and still having regrets about decisions of days gone by. Even if it’s to prove myself wrong, I think that would help me too. At thirty-five I’m still young enough to change direction and go on new adventures – now I’ve just got to work out what it is before I’m too old to anything about it.

JD