Inspiring Children to Read and Write

via The Hook

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Film Review: Darkest Hour

Rating: 5 stars out of a possible 5.

I rarely award a maximum rating to either a film or a book, but Darkest Hour is truly exceptional. It would be impossible to award less than five stars, because this is as near to perfection as any movie could ever be. From the script-writing to the portrayals of the characters and stories; from the makeup and costumes to the sets and cinematography, this film is flawless.

It is no surprise to me that Darkest Hour has been nominated for no less than nine BAFTA awards and six Academy (Oscar) awards this year. For me, the most deserving nominations in both of these organisations are those for Best Actor and for Best Makeup and Hair.

Gary Oldman is a wonderful actor. His portrayal of Winston Churchill is amazing. I was nine years old when Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral cortege made its way to St Paul’s Cathedral in London. I was at prep school in Derbyshire at the time and we were herded into the classroom of the sixth formers to listen to the commentary and service on the radio. Television was not so prolific in those times, so we could not watch it. There was great respect for the great man. We learned a lot from our teachers and from the books that we had to read at the time. I remember being excited by accounts of his involvement as a war correspondent in the Second Boer War.

Winston Churchill was by no means flawless. He smoked and drank heavily. He inhaled cigars, which he almost chain-smoked, yet he lived to the age of ninety. He also had to contend with many objectors within his own party. All of this is very well represented in the film. The producers have been very brave to show it how it was.

As for the makeup and costumes, I cannot say much more than that they are very convincing. I have read that Gary Oldman was in makeup for five hours each day. That is on top of a whole day of shooting. It was four hours being made up and getting the hair right and another hour to remove it all at the end of each day. Great credit must go to Kazuhiro Tsuji, Lucy Sibbick and David Malinowski for their spectacular work.

The way that the story is told is gripping. There are many revelations of how Second World War history unfolded. My view is that there is much fiction, particularly in the conversations and interactions, woven around a core of truth. This is exactly what I love about historical fiction.

Darkest Hour TubeI am not going to tell you the story. You must make the effort to see the film if you have not done so already. However, I just want to tell you that my favourite scene in the film is when Winston is travelling on the underground train with everyday folks. He is instantly recognisable and the people open up to him. He builds a good rapport with them and what he learns from them in those few minutes, confirms his beliefs. That incident influences his subsequent actions.

Finally, I would say that the film must be enough to stir the patriotic feelings of every true Brit, no matter how deeply they are buried.

I watched this film on St Valentine’s Day 2018 and I am very proud to be British. I love my country.

Whoever you are. Wherever you live. Whatever your nationality or beliefs, I commend this masterpiece of cinema to you. Book your place and go and see it. Tell me what you think, whether you agree or disagree with my opinions.

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The Invincible Black Arrows

A short story from my early days. Some of it is made up to add a little colour. Some of it is simply mis-remembered. Most of it is true.

Our school banned football!

Can you imagine?

We couldn’t believe it. We had always played football. We were fitba’ crazy! In the past two weeks, the Lisbon Lions of Celtic had won the European Cup and Rangers had been runners up in the European Cup Winners’ Cup.

Under the watchful eye of Mister King, we played football during physical education lessons. Every break time, we played it in the playground. We played with a tennis ball rather than a football. I suppose that controlling the small ball improved our skills. It was certainly a fast game. We always kicked a ball around the streets on our way home.

Within minutes of getting home, we were all changed and down by the sea wall, playing “past the post.” We played until the sun was going down.

On Wednesday, at assembly, the headmaster had announced that there would be no more football at school. The local authority had banned it. With immediate effect, the main sports would be rugby and hockey. All fixtures against other schools in Berwickshire had been cancelled. They were all banning football too.

We laughed. This had to be a joke, right?

It wasn’t.

At first break, the teacher confiscated our tennis ball. We sat on the wall, under a cloud of gloom. Hardly any words were exchanged.

When we got to the gym for our P.E. lesson, there were no round balls. “Rugby today, boys,” said Mister King, producing six egg-shaped balls and tossing them to us before leading us out onto the field.

We were distraught. Our hearts had been ripped from our chests.

But we were not so easily beaten. We would NOT be defeated.

Some bright spark suggested that Eyemouth and all the nearby villages could form teams which could play matches on Saturday mornings. We could organise it all between ourselves. We’d sow them!

Being only ten and eleven years old, we’d have to rely on our parents to transport us around or, at least, give us extra pocket money for bus fares.

Luckily, when we took our idea home, most of our Mums and Dads were enthusiastic. Many were unhappy about the way that the education authority had taken away one of the major passions in our lives. They wrote letters.

“They boys will jus’ be gangin’ aboot, vandalising bus stops and smashin’ folks’ windies,” was a typical comment.

My Eyemouth friends and I got together outside Giacopazzi’s. The pokes of chips were the best you’ve ever tasted. And we’d wash the feast down with a pint of milk from the vending machine. Maybe the school would be banning fish and chips next! It was a terrible prospect.

We needed a name for our team. There were lots of crazy suggestions. We’d been studying Scottish literature, so it wasn’t long before we’d narrowed our choices down to a short list of two: “The Ivanhoes” and “The Black Arrows.” Davey had suggested, “The Tam o’ Shanters,” but we all thought that was just a wee bit too scary.

Eventually, we had a vote and we settled upon “The Black Arrows.”

With another flash of brilliance, we came up with the idea of playing in white T-shirts on which we’d draw large, single diagonal black arrows across the chest using thick, felt-tipped pens.

The next morning, at school, the rest of the newly-formed Black Arrows team were delighted and excited when I told them that my Mum was going to buy white t-shirts for all of us AND she would help us to draw the black arrows on them.

muddy-footballSo, the next Saturday morning, the Eyemouth boys travelled to St Abbs and lined up, on a muddy field, in our smart new shirts. The Black Arrows won that game by eleven goals to nil.

On subsequent Saturdays, we travelled to Coldingham and Burnmouth and other surrounding villages. We won every game we played. We never lost a game. We never even drew a game. We were invincible!

Our Saturday morning league lasted less than a year before the education authority reinstated football in Berwickshire schools. Throughout that period, we, the Black Arrows, maintained our winning record. Not even the famous FC Barcelona managed that!

To this day, I believe that the Black Arrows are the only team in the world with a one hundred percent record. Beat that, if you can!


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Selfie Addicts – The Cure

Whilst acting as the community taxi service for my wife as she attended a consultant’s appointment at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital, Winchester this morning, I noticed a door which intrigued me. My immediate thought was that this must be the office of the expert who provides help for all those selfie addicts that are roaming our streets in the twenty-first century.



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Film Review: Early Man

Pun-packed Action

Rating: 4 stars out of a possible 5.

This short film is hilarious from beginning to end. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to pick so many classic puns into 89 minutes. I really loved every single one of them, even though you might say that some were corny.

The best come during the commentary on the football match between Real Bronzio and the stone age team who are playing to save their land. The commentators are modelled on John Motson an and Alan Hansen.

We hear, “…. early Man United. Did you see what I did there?”

Later, when Lord Nooth, voiced by Tom Hiddleston, is caught by a giant duck, “Caught by the old bill,” closely followed by, “That’s sorted out the pecking order.”

Many other stars provide the voices: Maisie Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Timothy Spall, Miriam Margolyes, Rob Brydon, Johnny Vegas, to name but a few.

early manThe storyline is very simple and has a predictable ending. The animation is typically brilliant, exactly as we would expect from a Nick Park led team. I loved the way that the game of football was all related to an ancient accidental game played with a hot meteorite and captured in cave drawings.

The conflict comes between the “new” bronze age and the lingering stone age.

The stone age people originally occupy the, now lush, crater that was created by the said meteorite. The bronze age people invade, hoping to exploit the rich seams of bronze that run through the land. A ridiculous notion, as we all know that bronze is an alloy and is not extracted from any ore. Silly and amusing.

The stone age people are banished to “the badlands,” which exist beyond the boundaries of the lush valley. Young caveman, Dug (Eddie Redmayne), with the support of his pig, Hognob (Nick Park) and bronze age traitor, Goona (Maisie Williams), train up the stone age crew to snatch the most unlikely victory from under the feet of Lord Nooth’s Real Bronzio team. This is not really a spoiler, because it is more predictable than Laurel and Hardy getting into another fine mess.

If you want ninety minutes of light entertainment and plenty of laughs, I thoroughly recommend Early Man.

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Book Review: Secrets of Mental Math by Arthur Benjamin

Secrets of Mental Math: The Mathemagician's Guide to Lightning Calculation and Amazing Math TricksSecrets of Mental Math: The Mathemagician’s Guide to Lightning Calculation and Amazing Math Tricks by Arthur Benjamin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really liked this book, and its accompanying video CD. The author is full of enthusiasm and the mathematical tricks are really worth learning, and so simple.

I enjoyed teaching some of the tricks to my grandson, who, in turn, enjoyed showing them off to his friends and teachers at school.

I’d recommend this book to everyone. A lot of fun!

View all my reviews

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Facebook – Emotional Blackmail Chains

FB LogoI stirred up quite a lively discussion on Facebook this week when I stated my views about being asked to copy and paste posts that I see as being nothing short of emotional blackmail.

It usually goes something like this.

Certainly, in the most difficult moments of life you realize who are true friends or the people who really appreciate you . . .

. . . I decided to post this message in support of a very special person to me who fought till the end with firmness and energy. Who taught us how to live each day as if it were the most beautiful day! Who has filled the world with a beautiful smile and a sweet spirit . . .

. . . They all say, “if you need anything, don’t hesitate to call me, I’ll be there to help you”. So, I’m going to make a bet that most who saw this post (maybe even read all the way to the end) won’t, but I believe a select few of my friends will post this, to show their support for their family/friend who may be struggling.

You just have to copy (not share) and paste. I’d like to know who I can count on to take a minute out of their day and actually read my status. Then write “done” in the comments. Thank you.

The idea is that you feel rotten if you don’t support your friend by re-posting all of this, as they did when one of their friends posted it for them to see. You feel obliged to support your friend and their cause. If you fail, they might think less of you.

If you accede to their request by cutting and pasting the post into your own timeline, you are sustaining the chain. You are putting the same pressure on all of your own Facebook friends. That’s not a very friendly thing to do, is it?

Having grown weary of such posts and having ignored many of them, I decided to post the following on my own timeline.

Just so you, my friends, know, much as I do care about all the difficult moments in your lives and how you have been affected by serious illness and even bereavement among those who are very close to you, I do not go in for chain shares on Facebook. I would rather support you as best I can with my personal touch. I don’t believe that sharing your posts on FB really helps you too much. Public airing of our deepest, most personal problems is not the best way to go.

I hope that you understand.

So, I won’t be chaining on personal stuff.

Many people agreed with me. One very good friend kind of agreed with me, but pointed out that he believed that it was a good way for people to promote awareness of something that touches their hearts: a terrible disease or affliction. I can understand that point of view. However, for me, copying and pasting text that has been chained through thousands of Facebook pages is far too impersonal. If something means so much to me, affects me so deeply, I would rather pay my own tribute, public or private, in my own words. If I can help in any way, I will. It is because I really DO care, that I won’t copy and paste to sustain the chain and to put pressure onto my own friends.

This was my further response.

I do care and I do raise awareness. I write my own personal tributes to close friends who have been taken too early by terrible diseases or conditions.

To me, copying and pasting a chain share is not personal and it means less.

What I object to is being told that not copying and pasting shows that I am not a real friend or that I don’t care. That is emotional blackmail.

So it’s personal tributes in my own words for me. That shows how much I really care.

Now it’s your turn. Do you agree with my point of view? Or do you have another slant on this.

I hope that some of you respond and continue the debate.

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