3 billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

I’m on quite a good run of films recently.  I wasn’t planning to write another mini-review so quickly after the last one for All The Money In The World but my trip to The Pictures yesterday almost made me feel it was my patrotic duty to do so.   Please be aware, if you’re so minded to avoid spoilers for this film as I was, then you might not want to read too much.

I’d only seen one advertisement for 3 Billboards and that was many months ago.  However I knew I was going to enjoy it.  It seemed to be just my thing, a very ernest and perhaps unexciting film with a low profile story to tell but a properly acted one that relies on a story rather than all the action and explosions that so often are used to mask the shortcomings in modern films.  It was all that and more and I honestly wasn’t expecting or prepared for a film of this statue and quality.

It tells what I thought might well be a true story but one that apparently isn’t, at least not precisely so.  An older middle-aged lady whose daughter was raped and murdered 7 months ago in a small township in a southern state of the USA.  Sadly all this time later, there have been no arrests made and the lady believes that too little effort is being placed into catching the perpetrator and too much effort has been expelled in a case of police brutality of a black individual in police custody.

Seemingly at a dead and desperate end, the lady decides the only way forward is to pay for 3 advertisings hoardings to name and shame the police chief of the town into doing something so that she can seek a measure of justice for her dead daughter.

3 Billboards

Chief Willoughby and Mildred talk things through. Yes, she knows he is dying of cancer but believes he woudn’t be so motivated by the posters if she put them up after he dies.

The film has some wonderful actors in it. Frances McDormand is the main player as the grieving mother Mildred, if you are anything like me will still well remember her from her Oscar winning role in Fargo all the way back in the last millenium.  Woody Harrelson stars as the police chief, Sam Rockwell as the rather obnoxious police officer and Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage as the love-struck car-salesman who fancies the pants off the increasingly irate Mildred.

There are so many things that I enjoyed about 3 Billboards and it is hard to work out which element is the most impressive.  The story just works so well and the best of it for me is that it doesn’t follow any mainstream story-telling motions.   Whether the story flows naturally or meanders might well depend on your point of view but it definitely has a few surprises and yet by the very end of the film, Mildred is absolutely no closer to obtaining justice.

For this to be a great film despite the apparent total lack of progress in the narrative is all down to the writer and director, actors and characters.  All of the characters are floored, some very much so, most understandably so.  We as an audience aren’t intended to root for someone or to see character development in a somewhat patronising way as can be the case with Hollywood films.  The good don’t win and the bad don’t particularly lose, it is just reflective of life as many of us know it.

There are several characters that in any other film, we would expect to develop in certain ways. The wife-beater husband, the kind-hearted small person, the black police boss in a racist environment, the dead daughter in flashback, the main character Mildred: none of them behave or play out, or are treated “appropriately”, in accordance with their headline, first-impression characterisations.

As an example, the daughter is not depicted as a sympathetic character for the audience to side with. Instead she is rather horrible and obscene to her equally less than perfect mother.  When they row for the last time and the daughter decides to walk to a party when she isn’t allowed the car and shouts “Good, I hope I get raped” with Mildred screaming “I hope you get raped too” we are instead invited empathise with them as people in the situation they find themselves in irrespective of their trials, rewards or come-uppance they may get in the story.

The racist and all round hateful and bigoted  police office Dixon doesn’t particularly get redemption; yes he has a slightly change of direction but he remains complex and conflicted but his situation unfolds somewhat, in a way that’s probably not clear to him or anyone else.

Mildred herself is what i would say is a earnest, hard working and abused wife.  The fact that she is pining for justice doesn’t take away her flaws.  Attacking the dentist, being outright aggressive to her children and even the police-chief even though she knows he is dying of cancer.  Her act of wanton terrorism by setting fire to the police station and almost killing (deservedly I must say) Dixon because of her wrong-held belief that he set fire to her signs was not the act of most people whose family member gets murdered.   Yes Dixon is dispicable (if you’ve seen the film you’ll remember the spectacular but horrific scene of violence he plays out in broad daylight) but he didn’t do that bad crime and yet he gets punished for it.

Though Mildred may be the main character of the film, for me the heart of it is really the Sheriff who is played by Woody Harrelson.  It would be all to easy to assume he is some useless red-neck police officer but nothing could be further from the truth.  Offended as he is by the signs, he shows great sympathy to Mildred.  He is a wonderful family man suffering from terminal cancer and he is ashamed that he hasn’t been able to solve the crime due to a total lack of witnesses, evidence or any DNA from the perpetrators.  His deep humanity and innate decency impacts on everyone in the town and his determination not to be a burden and for his wife and family to remember him as he was, leaves him to commit suicide midway through the film.

It was a deeply affecting moment to everyone in the audience who watched it with me, doubly so when it is revealed that he wrote letters to Mildred imploring her not to give up and giving her $5,000 to fund the bilboards for a further month.  And another to Dixon, perhaps the only person in the world who sees anything in the deeply flawed younger police officer and which inspires the man if not to do a totally impossible character redemption, at least to take a look at himself and do the best at what little life has given him.

I’m pretty certain Frances McDormand will win an Oscar for this film and for me the only serious competition for best picture will be the film I am seeing next, Darkest Hour. However, Oscars don’t always go to those that deserve them.

I’ve seen quite a bit of comment on the internet unhappy at both the treatment of the police here and also with the lack of ‘punishment’ within the film itself for Dixon who it must be said quite shocked me with one event.  I’d like to think this is a result of the British writer and director Martin McDonagh and the fact it was made by Film 4.  It is this non-judgemental moral ambiguity combined with well written characters and the actors who portrayed them that make this film what it is.  If you want an ‘out for justice’ type film where you know how all the building blocks will fall then there are plenty of others to choose from.

I hope you’ll like this film as much as I did and if you laugh out loud when everyone else is quiet and at seemingly inappropriate moments then don’t worry it is also a deeply dark comedy too.

 

Good quotes from the movie:

Sheriff Willoughby: I’d do anything to catch the guy who did it, Mrs. Hayes, but when the DNA don’t match no one who’s ever been arrested, and when the DNA don’t match any other crime nationwide, and there wasn’t a single eyewitness from the time she left your house to the time we found her, well… right now there ain’t too much more we could do.

Mildred Hayes: You could pull blood from every man and boy in this town over the age of 8.

Willoughby: There’s civil rights laws prevents that, Mrs. Hayes, and what if he was just passing through town?

Mildred Hayes: Pull blood from every man in the country.

Willoughby: And what if he was just passing through the country?

Mildred Hayes: If it was me, I’d start up a database, every male baby was born, stick ’em on it, and as soon as he done something wrong, cross reference it, make 100% certain it was a correct match, then kill him.

Willoughby: Yeah well, there’s definitely civil rights laws that prevents that.

 

Mildred Hayes: So how’s it all going in the nigger- torturing business, Dixon?

Dixon: It’s ‘Persons of color’-torturing business, these days, if you want to know. And I didn’t torture nobody

Mildred Hayes: Hey fuckhead!

Dixon: What?

Desk Sergeant: Don’t say what, Dixon. When she comes in calling you a “fuckhead.”

Dixon: You see, I hate white people too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sport brings people together – How Cricket is creating a new future for Rwanda

We all know that sport has a unique ability to bring people together from all around the world and those of us who have travelled to places a little less ordinary know that there are few better ways to make friends quickly than with a smile and a ball.

Though there are many examples, there are few things better or more heat-warming than seeing the England fans sing La Maseilles more rosoundingly than God Save The Queen has ever been sang at Wembley following the various terrorists in Paris a few years ago.  If perhaps the biggest and worst enemies ever in England and France or indeed Germany too can come together in fraternity, it makes you wonder what excuse any other country has.

Of course it is one thing forgiving former enemies from abroad but it is another thing entirely when the war and division is all within the same country.  You only have to look at the United States or Great Britain to see what lasting effects a war fought between two sides in one nation does to people.  The shadows of the Union and Confederates and the Loyalist and Nationalists hang long.

Which makes what is happening in Rwanda all the more remarkable.  It is hard to think of a genocide worse than that in Rwanda and all in the knowledge of the global media and world powers.  With up to 1 million people killed along ethnic divisions in the 1990’s many a country would have totally disintegrated.

Rationally speaking one would think there were much more important things to do in Rwanda than invest in sport, even more so in Cricket which found a home around the world in former British colonies but not particularly in Rwanda that was a German and then Belgian colony.

On a  visit to the country, Christopher Shale noted what enthusiam there was for cricket in Rwanda but with understandably impoverished resources.  Working as he did for David Cameron (former British Prime Minister) and having been deeply involved in Rwanda through Unubano, a social action project and helped build a community centre near Kigali for genocide survivors, Christopher took it upon himself to create a new cricket stadium and facility in Rwanda in the hopes it would facilitate nation building and give hope to the children of the country.

Sadly Christopher Shale died in 2011 suffering a heart attack at the Glastonbury Festival but his vision of bringing Cricket to the masses of Rwanda was picked up by his son, Alby Shale.  Towards the end of October 2017, the dream came true when the new international Cricket Stadium on the outskirs of Kigali opened and hosted a T20 Cricket tournament with numerous stars of English and South African cricket on hand to lend support.

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Sitting on the grass terrace of the Cricket Builds Hope stadium, one can enjoy the panorama stretching out across the seemingly endless hills of Kigali, Rwanda’s new international cricket stadium is as spectacular as it is a symbol of hope. The African nation’s name continues to be as emotive and divisive for many foreigners as it did almost a quarter of a century ago when a million members of the Tutsi tribe were slaughtered by the Hutu government in the 1994 genocide.

But today, Rwanda is a country that has rebuilt itself to become one of the safest in the notoriously troubled region of central Africa. And that renaissance is nowhere more tangible than inside the new £1m cricket stadium in Gahanga on the outskirts of the capital Kigali.  It might not be Lords in London or the MCC in Australia but it is a facility to be proud of and probably one more inspiration and important than any other cricket ground in the world.The venue represents a remarkable turnaround for the country which has been largely attributed to the strict regime of the president Paul Kagame, who was at the official opening at the weekend. Former England and Yorkshire cricketer Michael Vaughan and ex-South African batsman Herschelle Gibbs captained the sides for a celebrity T20 match, which also featured current England international Sam Billings, on Saturday.

Speaking at the tournament, Alby Shale said “Seeing how cricket has brought people together in Rwanda has been incredible. Having the new stadium open now is something I wish my father could have seen. I know he would have been so proud to see the impact that this ground will have on a country that was so close to his heart.”

Cricket Tournament Opening Ceremony - Rwanda Style

Cricket Tournament Opening Ceremony – Rwanda Style

The opening ceremony was, however, not simply a showpiece event for the privileged few, as young Rwandan cricketers were given the chance to play in the game in front of a 1,500-strong crowd. Among them was Landry Rurangwa, who had been selected to play for a Yorkshire Tea team in a cricket festival staged last week before culminating in the final which was won by Uganda yesterday. While the Yorkshire Tea team was knocked out in the group stages, Mr Rurangwa was picked as the squad’s star player.

He joined Vaughan’s team in the celebrity match, which was eventually won in the last over by the team overseen by Gibbs. Mr Rurangwa, 21, who grew up in Kigali and now oversees coaching sessions in schools through the Rwanda Cricket Association, said: “Having this stadium means so much to us, and it will help cricket grow throughout the country. Cricket has brought Rwanda together.”

What would be called the Main Pavillion elsewhere takes shape.  I love the central African style.

What would be called the Main Pavillion elsewhere takes shape. I love the central African style.

A symbol of hope after Rwanda’s atrocities RWANDA’S NEW cricket stadium is a stark contrast to the pitted outfield of the previous national ground at the Kicukiro Oval, which was a notorious massacre site. A plaque outside that venue commemorates the 4,500 Tutsis who were slaughtered when the United Nations took the decision to vacate a compound where the Rwandans had sought sanctuary.

It is hoped the new venue will act as a catalyst for cricket in the country, which has an ambition of playing in the World Cup within 15 years. The Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation, under its new name Cricket Builds Hope, will oversee the operation. The charity will use cricket as a tool for social change in Rwanda and potentially other developing countries. The new stadium itself includes space for free HIV testing services for the local community.

It’s not just in the capital that Cricket is changing lives, at the Mahama Refugee Camp in southeastern Rwanda, one of cricket’s universal truths is being played out by a group of very enthusiastic Burundian children: it is a batsman’s game.   One of the aims of the Rwandan Cricket movement is to inspire and improve the lot of women in the African nation.

Somehow Mary Maina, the captain of the Rwandan women’s team, is bringing order to a one-hour cricket class given to a group of around 200 children who have never clapped eyes on the game before.

She has pegged out four small cones and placed a plastic ball on top of each one. One group are queuing up to give them a whack. About 50 metres away the others are lining up in a row behind a set of different cones, which she tells them is “the boundary”, and they are “fielders”. When she shouts “one, two, three, go” the batsman swings and all hell breaks loose as about 120 kids scrabble around in the dust trying to grab the balls, while the batsman runs around two sets of stumps like a baseball player going around base.

This is how you deliver cricket in a United Nations refugee camp home to 55,000 people of whom 51 per cent are children. The camp sits on the banks of the Akagera River on the border with Tanzania and in two years its population has grown from 8,000 as families flee the political instability of Burundi to find refuge in Rwanda.

It is here Mary is spreading the word of cricket for, as a Rwandan player, she knows the significance of introducing it to refugees. It was Rwandan refugees returning home after the genocide 23 years ago who brought cricket with them after seeing it in similar camps in British-influenced Uganda and Kenya.

“It is about humanity and the right thing to do. If I was in their shoes what would I want?,” Mary says. “I would want exactly what we are doing, showing them there is hope because we know what happened to us. There was hope then, and now look at us.”

 

Cricket Brings Hope Stadium at Kigala, Rwanda.

Cricket Brings Hope Stadium at Kigala, Rwanda.

 

While we were talking, at the new cricket stadium in Kigali they were clearing up the mud caused by a sudden storm on Wednesday and tending the pitch, the first grass wicket in Rwanda, in preparation for Saturday’s opening ceremony, a momentous day for Rwandan cricket.

The manicured outfield, tiled pavilion and pristine net facilities in Kigali feel further away from Mahama than the three hours on tarmacked road, and another hour on a rutted dirt track, that separates the camp and the country’s thriving capital city.

But this project at Mahama is the next step for the Rwandan Cricket Stadium Foundation that raised the £1 million to build the ground. The refugee camp trip is a glimpse of the future when the charity hopes to stretch beyond Kigali, using cricket as a vehicle for social change.

In Mahama they know the value of sport, even one as alien to Burundians as cricket. Mostly the children play football, making balls out of rags bound together with string around an inflated condom. One day they would love to have a cricket field, more likely an artificial pitch (water is needed for better uses in a refugee camp than grass), so the work Mary did on Thursday could become a regular fixture of camp life.

“The purpose of sports is security, and when they play they forget trauma, self-pity and all other kinds of problems that refugees have,” says Joseph Kamuzinzi, the camp’s protection assistant in charge of youth and sports.

Mary’s infectious enthusiasm connects with the children and turns what could be chaos into a fun, controlled session. There is no real attempt to coach cricket. Just hit the ball and smile. “It is step by step,” she says. “The fun bit first – it helps you mobilise the kids so they want to come next time. Then you add skills one by one, and then hopefully a cricketer is born. With these children it is about how to get through to them. They need to feel you are a friend. That is the logic I used today. Let’s get kaddish together, enjoy this together and get crazy together. After that it was easy to coordinate. But as you saw, everyone always wants to bat and hit the ball as far as they can.”

A 13-year-old boy called Charles, who has lived in the camp for two years, agrees. He had never seen cricket before. “It is easy, you just hit the ball.”

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It has not been easy to reach this stage. It took five years to raise £1 million to build the cricket ground in Kigali and lay the foundations for projects such as the one in Mahama. But now that the ground is in full use, Cricket Builds Hope can move forward.

Ally Shale, the 27-year-old British project coordinator, has delivered the ground first envisaged by his late father, Christopher. Shale is about to move on, and hands over tomorrow to a new coordinator in Geordie Morrison, whose job it will be to ensure there is funding to maintain the ground, at around £50,000 per year, and build the social programmes liaising with Cricket Without Boundaries, a charity that has experience of similar work in Rwanda and elsewhere in Africa. The Lord’s Taverners have donated 1,000 items of kit to help with the task.

Mary, as an ambassador, will be at the centre of the campaigns, along with another female player, Cathia Uwamahoro. They will deliver educational and vocational programmes through cricket. “Our initial focus will be on disadvantaged women and girls aged 16-25,” says Morrison. “We are going to be running leadership programmes from the stadium with a partner called Resonate, who use storytelling methods to help women build confidence and skills. Our first focus is on 450 women in Gahanga and all being well those programmes should be up and running in 2018 with sufficient fundraising.”

In Mary and Cathia the charity already has two women who have built their own stories to change their lives. Cathia was introduced to cricket by Eric Dusingizimana, the captain of the Rwanda team, after she saw him holding a coaching demonstration. Mary stumbled across it, too. “Best accident that ever happened in my life,” she says.

Cathia is now a Guinness World Record holder for batting in the nets longer than any other female player, which led to her being offered a job with one of Rwanda’s leading financial companies, and Mary has become an accomplished media performer while finishing her university studies in biotechnology.

“We have had girls on the back pages of sports papers, which you do not see with other sports in Rwanda,” says Shale. “We have challenges in our society,” says Mary as we speak on the bus home from the refugee camp. “It is men-dominated, and sport is totally men-dominated, too.

“Seeing that a girl in our society can stand up in a community of men and feel my ideas matter is a big thing. Cricket has given us that environment.”

Free HIV testing and educational workshops will be held at the ground and Cathia explains how she uses cricket in that setting. “I say consider the stumps as your life, the bat is your condom and the ball is Aids. You use the bat to defend the stumps from the ball so you have to protect yourself.”

The Rwandan men’s team plays in Africa Division Three; the women have been playing seriously only for five years but now they have proper facilities the hope is the game will boom. “We had nothing, but now everyone is like, ‘I need to train because I have to play at that ground,’” says Mary. “We watched a lot of the women’s World Cup. Our ground is the same as the ones they played on. When you have a good ground what is left? It is the players. We need to be in the nets more to play the standard of cricket we watch on TV.”

England cricket star Sam Billings just one of many from the international cricket community who took part in the opening tournament.

England cricket star Sam Billings just one of many from the international cricket community who took part in the opening tournament.

Shale will be a trustee of Cricket Builds Hope and believes the ground is just the beginning.

“One hundred per cent this can grow outside Rwanda. We need proof of our programmes being successful over a year to 18 months first,” he said. “There are ideas of trying to help terrorists who have been incarcerated but are now trying to be reintroduced in society, and using cricket as a vehicle to do that. I think there is no limit to the power of this game if it is used in a very sensible and strategic way.”

Final word to Mary. “One girl in my team was denied the right to a family due to the genocide in our country. She lost her parents and grew up in a home. It was only when she joined our team that she felt she had a family experience. She has grown from being that reserved person who always felt as if she did not matter in society to someone who leads her friends at school. Seeing that transition makes you understand how cricket helps people’s lives around here.”

I invite everyone reading this to watch this moving video on how Cricket is inspiring hope in Rwanda with this short but wonderful video from the ICC, the International Cricket Council.  It is what inspired me to write this blog today with additional text from the Daily Telegraph and Yorkshire Post newspapers.

If I ever get to Rwanda, I can’t think of anything better than to spend a day watching the cricket.

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All The Money In The World – Review

This is the second film of 2018 that I’ve seen at the Pictures and bizarrely, both have featured Michelle Williams, the other being The Greatest Showman.

All The Money In The World is a dramatisation of a real life kidnap case involving the family of oil baron John Paul Getty II who at that time was the richest man in the world.  Some say the richest of all time until the 1970’s but are they aware of Musa of Mali who devalued gold?

Not being alive when the abduction took place and not being particularly interested in the lives of the mega-rich, I went into this film with only a familiarity of the Getty name and some vague memory that one of them had been kidnapped and that was it.

I always enjoy serious drama films and was all ready looking forward to it from seeing the advertising in the summer featuring the disgraced Kevin Spacey whose scenes were reshot at immense expense and in just a few days with Christopher Plummer taking over the role.  Having seen the trailers with both actors, I don’t doubt that Plummer is infitely more suited to the role.

What the film comes down to is in the cold light of day, how much is any one of us actually worth?  Our loved ones might think of us as being priceless but aside from the natural belief that many have that all life is sacred, in reality. that isn’t the case.  Would a neighbour 25 houses from me notice one way or the other if I wasn’t here?  Unless he read my blog then he probably wouldn’t.   Would I want to pay £10,000 or dollars to help a stranger on the other side of the planet?  Not necessarily.

When the grandson of billionaire Getty is held for ransom in Italy, it isn’t merely the fact that Getty knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.  He takes on the very pragmatic if cold belief that if he paid out the $17 million ransom money for this boy then he would likely be finding his other 14 grandchildren would also become targets for criminals and he would end up losing a large if affordable fortune.

I really liked this film in every way.  Christopher Plummer is astounding in it and though not to the limits his character takes it, I find him endearing.  He has been let down by his son who is a loser, he worked hard for what he got and the way he washes and dries his own clothing in the hotel room rather than spend a few pennies on room service is exactly what I would do.  I also liked how saw everything in the world as a commodity with a price and that the only things he could rely on were his artworks and possessions.   It was also very sad because one way or the other, that was all he had left.

Michelle Williams puts in a great performance as the kidnapped boys mother and the character is admirable for her integrity and determination.  It’s interesting also that some of the subtext of the film isn’t about her regaining her son, but her ongoing battle with her former father in law.  I also loved the locations and rich depth of the Getty universe.  I’m not sure how authentic it is but I liked the portayal by Giuseppe Bonifati of the most roundly developed kidnapper, Giovanni Iacovoni.  You got a strong sense that he got in way over his head and that his common human decency came out.

I did predict every plot twist and turn right up to the end which was surpising and a little disappointing but I put that down to my writers mind rather than any shortcoming with the film and there were moments that were truly horrifying and I don’t mean when at a press conference and Getty is asked how much would he pay, the answer with a smile was nothing.

Later in the film we learn that he loved the boy very much but also that for tax reasons, he wasn’t allowed to spend any of his money making everyone wonder what exactly the point of it was?  There were some moments of wisdom though such as Getty’s revelation that any idiot can get rich but the trick was to be rich.  Also that everything on Earth has a price, the problem is ascertaining what that price is.

The 1970’s world also comes through authentically in everything from the cars, furniture and clothing which adds quite a bit to the film.

It is almost seemless but one thing I notice no newspaper review has spotted is that all of the original scenes that remain in the film that took place in and around Hatfield House (somewhere I know well from my tours) which was used in this film for Getty’s English estate are in bright summer sunshine.  All of the re-shot films are in a very dreary and overcast winter skies.

This brings me to two very boring Hollywood London stereotypes.  The film has many scenes with damp roads and cars and yet never seemingly it is never raining, yet in reality the London annual rainfall is almost identical to Rome and much less than Paris, New York and many American cities with no reputation for rain!
Whilst I’m at it about filming in London.  Why does every film set in London have to have the bongs of Big Ben sounding as an establishment that we are in London.  London is 611 miles or 1,572km squared.  Most Londoners go months or years without ever hearing Big Ben.  Does everyone in New York hear the bells of St Patricks Cathedral for example?  I watched every episode of Friends several times and yet never heard the bells there!
Christopher Plummer as John Paul Getty II

Christopher Plummer as John Paul Getty II

Below are some interesting quotes from All The Money In The World.

To be a Getty is an extraordinary thing. I know that because my grandfather told me. You see, my grandfather wasn’t the richest man in the world, he was the richest man in the history of the world.”- Paul Getty (Charlie Plummer)

“If you can count your money, you’re not a billionaire.”- J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer)

“Paul is safe, but it will cost 17 million to release him.”- the Kidnappers to Gail Harris (Michelle Williams)

“We’re not poor. We’re broke. There’s a difference.”- Gail

“Priceless? I deplore that word. Dirty and old? I have no problem. . .”- J. Paul Getty

“Everything has a price. The great struggle in life is finding out that price.”- Getty

“You’re a Getty, Paul. A Getty is something special.”- Getty

“What’s your game?”- Getty
“I don’t want your money.”- Gail

“What would you pay for a grandson if not 17 million?”- Reporter
“Nothing.”- Getty

“If I took it off the wall do you think anybody would notice?” –Gail about a Vermeer

“I love all my grandchildren, but Paul is special.”- Getty

You need to pay the ransom, Mr. Getty. – Chase
I do not have the money to spare. – Getty
No one has ever been richer than you are at this moment. What would it take for you to feel secure? – Chase
More. – Getty

The mountain might not have come to Muhammed, but it sure as hell came to me – Getty

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Why is sorry the hardest word? – The modern stars with their non-apologies

Some years ago I wrote an Unapologic Guide To Saying Sorry but I feel there are some celebrities who might need a refresh.

If you’re anything like me, the chances are that before last week you’d never heard of Logan Paul, perhaps you still haven’t and if so, I’m really sorry to bring him up.  I’m not one who is really into celebrity culture, let alone Youtube culture.  I always grimmace when now even on the BBC they invite the general public to give their opinion…. I don’t want the opinion of people who are even more clueless than I, I want experts.  Experts on the events in the news, experts on screen whether it be real singers, not talent show wannabees, or real comedians, not teenagers who happened to be lucky enough to grow up in the era of Youtube and think they matter in any way at all.

Apparently Logan Paul is a big star in some quarters, not mine of course.  I actually wondered why Alan Rickman stopped making movies for 10 years until I later found out he had made plenty but were all Harry Potter which I never watched.  So if one of the finest actors of his era went off the radar for me then some largely talentless guy who seems to have his first name and surname the wrong way round was never going to make it for me.

He came to my attention as the latest video the 22 year old released to his 15 million subscribers has been widely criticised for posting a horrifically insensitive video that documented his visit to the Aokigahara forest in Japan, the site of frequent youth suicides. It was titled “We found a dead body in the Japanese Suicide Forest…”

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Just as the internet raised Paul to the apparent status of celebrity or at least the very definition of a Z-lister, so too can it take away everything in an instant. The backlash against the video has been widespread and almost unanimous for the bad taste and offense that it caused.  Like anyone trying to save a flaundering career, Paul duly reacted to the outcry and issued a public apology for his actions. The only problem was that the apology caused further offense.

He apparently wrote his mea culpa on the iPhone’s Notes app, screen-shotted it, and then shared it on Twitter. Captioned, “dear internet”, and including such lines as “with great power comes great responsibility”, the response came across as cocky, self-aggrandising and pompous .  Almost as if he thought he was ‘somebody’ rather than an idiot who rose to prominence for short videos of braindead pranks. Even worse,  the words even included a personalised promo hashtag.

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To me it seems 1% apology and 99% a damage limitation exercise trying to protect a celebrity brand art all costs.

The reactions to Paul’s apology came in as swiftly as his video was taken down. Breaking Bad actor Aaron Paul took to Twitter writing, How dare you! You disgust me. I can’t believe that so many young people look up to you. So sad. Hopefully this latest video woke them up. You are pure trash. Plain and simple. Suicide is not a joke. Go rot in hell.

Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner expressed her dismay at Paul’s attempt at remorse. You’re an idiot. You’re not raising awareness. You’re mocking. I can’t believe how self-praising your “apology” is. You don’t deserve the success (views) you have. I pray to God you never have to experience anything like that man did.

And what sort of apology finishes with a marketing tagline.  It would be like Coca Cola branding “Coke is it” on an apology for a bilboard with an Isis fighter taking a drink after beheading someone.

Of course it isn’t just a celebrity issue, there was a time when politicians would resign on principle, doubly so if they had lied.  These days most carry on regardless and so if even people in society who we are meant to respect don’t really apologise then some idiot in a Japanese forest wearing a stupid hat isn’t going to.

Logan Paul Suicide Backlash

Logan Paul – An idiot in a stupid hat in Japan’s Aokigahara or suicide forest

The last year has seen a growing number of celebrity public apologies that don’t really say sorry at all.

In his book, Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology, linguist Edwin Battistella says that an effective public apology is built on four main features: saying out loud what you did wrong and thus showing a level of moral understanding and awareness; being specific and taking ownership with your language; indicating that the apology is leading somewhere; and not making excuses for your actions. The modern public apology certainly utilises some of these charachteristics; in others, it falls pathetically short.

To make matters worse, it seems obvious to everyone but celebrities that apologising in anyway on social media seems to make the situation worse.  It is as though if something needs apologising for then social media is not a serious enough platform for it.    And why should it be?  If you did something bad to a family or friend, to apologise properly you do it to their face and if you have offended millions of people then perhaps to a television camera.   To do anything else makes it come over rather insincere, as if one is just going through the motions.

Tweeting out loud, should not be confused for saying something out loud. And not making an apology in person, or in front of a camera has brought out mild profanity in some of the apologies with Paul writing “I do this sh*t every day”. Both examples seem to run against Battistella’s point about using specific language.  If you were to apologise to someone’s face or on the television news then it’s likely you wouldn’t swear or appear to be taking matters too flippantly.

It was really Taylor Swift who started this approach back in 2016 but perhaps the best example is that of actor Kevin Spacy.   Using the Notes app conveys more gravitas than a mere tweet as well as allowing the celebrity to explain themselves in more than 140 characters.

We are in a world where we are seemingly encouraged to share everything as soon as we think of it – a way of thinking that got Logan Paul into trouble in the first place.  Sometimes even apologies are best done after a little thought and not on the spur of the moment.

Social media and the internet has meant that allegations and controversy is passed around at previously unheard of speeds, making the celebrity feel they need to comment as soon as possible. Maybe they shouldn’t. A study by Oberlin College found that later apologies were more effective than earlier ones, and that this effect was mediated by feeling heard and understood.

Kevin Spacey’s apology may have been more effective if he had taken this point into account. In his tweeted statement, Spacey admits to wanting to start examining his own behaviour. Many commentators thought that an apology should have came after this examination, not at the beginning before the allegations even fully come to light or are digested by the public.

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Note in this apology how Kevin Spacey is to trying to cast doubt on the claim he is supposedly apoligising for.   Spacey claimed he couldn’t remember the incident brought against him by actor Anthony Rapp as he was inebriated, but “if I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years.

It is something that pretty much all of us learn at a young age that adding the word ‘if’ or any other conditional modifier to an apology makes it a non-apology.

Spacey is taking no ownership in his apology, and while the use of ‘if’ is no new phenomenon, it is indicative of how far these manipulative and weighed down by PR that such apoligies have become.

In his apology Kevin Spacey added that from henceforth he wanted to live his life as a gay man. It was seen by many as extraneous to the topic; a subconscious attempt at misdirection. The problem for Kevin Spacey is that we weren’t misdirected in any way.  If he had made such a pronouncement 40 years ago then some people might have thought worse of him for being gay.  These days though, most people couldn’t care less.  What we very well may be  interested in were the allegations made against the actor.

In the wake of the numerous allegations against him, Harvey Weinstein made a similar, albeit significantly less outrageous revelation, that he had been setting up a $5 million foundation to give scholarships to female directors at the University of Southern California. He might have thought it would alleviate some of the flack coming his way but it did nothing except to reduce effect of what his scholarships may have been trying to achieve leading it to likely collapse much like his career as a Hollywood mogul.

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Many such apologies also seem to include a sense of journey as if they all seem to realise how horribly wrong their actions have been that more often than not includes a visit to a very expensive private clinic or rehabilitation centre. As if only now when they have been caught with their pants down (often literally) are they going to even think of trying to do the right thing.

However, once again any reference to ‘the journey’ in an apology makes the accused the centre of focus as if they are also a victim and we should be sorry for them.  Spacey the victim of alcohol, Weinstein a victim of the times (the 1960s and 1970s), Paul a victim of the social media.

With public apologies now being so poorly received the question comes down to how the celebrity can ever get out of said situations? The simple answer is they don’t and shouldn’t.  Some things are too bad for any apology to make better even if such an apology is well deserved and earnestly given.
Things can’t go back to before just because you’ve apologised.  Part of making a real apology is of learning the lesson of what you have done wrong.  Kevin Spacy, Harvey Weinstein and err Paul Logan (that’s better) can’t just do a token apology and expect to go back to normal even if some of them go to jail for what they’ve done.  There is a cost to making serious mistakes and that is why some people should think more carefully about their daily actions.
I think it is almost better not to apologise if you can’t do it properly.  It is quite possible to do something most people don’t like but you are quite happy with or at least not apologetic for and in that case just either don’t say anything at all or tell everyone that it’s sad they don’t like it but I’m perfectly ok with it.  There isn’t much worse when someone or some institution apologises for something when we very much know they don’t really care less for or are only apologising because they got caught and not for any actual sorrow felt.  That though isn’t very good for a celebrity career.
For a much more light hearted look at apoligies then why not read my earlier post I’m Sorry, I’m British.
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The castle at the bottom of a Turkish Lake

 

It has been thought by many that the breaching of the Bosphurus thousands of years near present day Istanbul may have given rise to the accounts of the legendary Great Flood not just with Noah in the Holy Bible but in various other ancient texts.
When the area was flooded, no doubt thousands of people would have died in this once fertile area, much as was the case with Britain’s own lost Atlantis, Doggerland.
The Black Sea is a remnant of what is known as the Paratethys sea.  However over
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The ancient Paratethys Sea

millions of years the sea level in general rose whilst techtonic forces pushed up some of the land areas which has given us the Middle East geography that we know with various large isolated seas or lakes becoming marooned hundereds or even thousands of miles from the open seas.
The relics of the Paratethys sea

Relics of the Paratethys Sea – The Black, Caspian, Aral, Dead and Galilee Seas as well as numerous large lakes including Van in Turkey and Urmia and Namak in Iran.

An interesting property of the Black Sea is no doubt partially due to it’s almost complete isolation from the open seas is that it is around 90% oxygen sea meaning that for all intents and purposes it is dead even at a micro-orgasm level.  Whilst deadly to life, it does mean that it helps preserve man made objects and archeology as aside from the sea waters themselves, there is nothing to eat away or cover objects.
long-forgotten fortress dating back 3,000 years has been discovered in Turkey’s Lake Van – a find that has been described by researchers as nothing short of a “miracle”.

The ancient structure was located by divers during an excavation conducted by the Van Yüzüncü Yıl University this week, and is thought to have belonged to the Urartu civilisation during the Iron Age.

Footage has emerged of divers exploring the remarkably preserved ruins, which consist of walls that still reach up to 13 feet high and stonework that spans a kilometre.

“It is a miracle to find this castle underwater,” Chief diver Tahsin Ceylan told the Hürriyet Daily News, adding that archaeologists would be descending to the site in order to further assess its history.

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According to National Geographic, the water level of Lake Van – a soda lake which stretches across 1449 square miles, the biggest in Turkey – was hundreds of metres lower during the Urartian occupation, which would explain its drowned state today.

Experts had already been investigating Lake Van for nearly a decade in search of its hidden treasures before stumbling across the fortress.

Last year they discovered a 2km stretch of stalagmites rising from the depths which they dubbed the “underwater fairy chimneys”.

It is believeed that the ruins belong to the former capital of the Kingdom of Urartu which at the time spanned the nations of present day Turkey, Armenia and Iran.

The earliest mentions of Urartu date back to Assyrians in the early 13th Century BC, and by the 9th Century BC the nation was thriving, occupying a 200,000 square mile portion of the Middle East.

Lake Van

Lake Van

After a gradual decline in power that stemmed from a number of lost battles, Urartu was conquered by the Medes in the 6th Century BC, later to be succeeded by the Armenians.

Urartian remnants were first rediscovered by French scholars in the late 1820s, and excavations have been ongoing on and off since then.

Scatters of Urartian ruins can be visited in the surrounding areas of Lake Van in Turkey, as well as Armenia and Iran to this day.

If you want to read about another discovery in present day discovery then why not check out my post on the Vulture Stone.

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First Footing at New Year

First Footing is still very much alive in modern Britain. A survey shows that nearly a third of people in Britain say that First Footing continues to play a part in their New Year celebrations.

The greatest number of followers of the First Footing tradition (when the first person over your threshold after the clock has chimed midnight on December 31 brings you good luck for the coming year), are in the North East of England (58%) followed by Scotland (52%).  Though not as widespread as before, still around 30% of British people continue the tradition in some way.

The classic form of First Footing means everyone waits for the knock on the door and when it is opened, over the threshold comes the `First Foot’ – by tradition a tall, dark man with gifts in his hand to bring the house and everyone in it good luck for the next 12 months.  In parts of the country the hair-colour of the visitor is not such an issue but if you lived in an area that was frequently rated by Scandinavians or Irish then red hair for example wasn’t always seen as the type of visitor who would bring you good luck!

First Footing

First Footing goodies!

First Footing is based on the old European superstition that what you are doing at the beginning of the year determines your luck.  What is unlucky is for the First Foot caller to come empty handed so symbols of warmth, food and wealth were carried. Wealth could be represented by a silver coin or salt, vital for preserving food in the days before refrigeration.

In England the food was normally bread but regional variations ranged from red herrings in the East Neuk of Fife fishing villages, mince piecs in Sheffield to Black Bun in Scotland – a rich fruit cake encased in pastry. Sometimes the food was replaced with drink – a glass of wine in Staffordshire and whisky in Scotland.

But of all the symbols the one most regularly included was coal, not only because is was the basis of family life giving them warmth and fuel for cooking but also because it has always been seen as being lucky – soldiers carrying it into battle with them and children taking pieces into exams.

Equally varied is the type of person doing the First Footing. Long ago it could have been a chance caller but now people make sure of their luck. Often a member of the family or someone at a New Year’s party will go outside before midnight to come back to perform the ceremony, or a neighbour or friend is enlisted. In most places the First Foot will be a man but in some parts women are preferred.

The First Foot (or Lucky Bird as they were called in Yorkshire), was rewarded with food and drink and so good was the welcome that in Edinburgh fights would break out among youths competing for First Foot rights in prosperous neighbourhoods.

There’s also a host of variable First Foot rules. In areas of England and Scotland the First Foot must not speak until he or she has placed a piece of coal or evergreen branch on the fire. But in other places things were far noisier. In the Staffordshire Black Country the First Foot would run through the house shouting `Please to let the New Year in’. In County Durham they would exclaim `Happy New Year t’ye! God send ye plenty! Where ye have one pound note, I wish ye may have twenty.’

What kinder sentiments can there be than those of the First Foot who puts a coal on a neighbour’s fire and says `May your hearth never grow cold’?

In Greece there is a similar tradition known as  Pothariko where it is believed that the first person to enter the house on New Year’s Eve brings either good luck or bad luck. Many households to this day keep this tradition and specially select who enters first into the house. After the first-foot or Podariko (from the root pod-, or foot), the lady of the house serves the guests with Christmas treats or gives them an amount of money to ensure that good luck will come in the New Year.

A similar tradition exists in the country of Georgia, where the person is called “mekvle” and the name too derivates “kvali” which can be translated as  footstep or footprint.

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Farewell 2017, hello 2018!

Well this is my final blog post for the year.  It’s been a busy old year with over 116,000 readers at the time of writing so thank-you everyone for giving me reasons to carry on blogging and sharing my questionable wisdom, hidden areas of history and occasional tourist related posts.

2017 saw the release of my latest book, Straight From The Horses Mouth in the early summer and yet I’m fortunate that it is only one of the highlights of my year.

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On top of being featured in a feature in the prestigious Harrods Aviation magazine, undoutably the most exciting moment and the only one I have any pride in whatsoever (as I don’t ever feel proud of any so-called achievement) is that mad weekend I was contacted by the CommonWealth War Graves Commission and went over to the Western Front to do some filming with about 6 hours notice.

Co-incidentally WW1 almost bookended the year when I was invited to give a reading in November at our village war memorial.  I’ve never thought of myself as an important figure of the community before and I hate public speaking and yet afterwards had a line of people wanting to speak to me and others contacting by email afterwards.

It’s also been another fantastic year for Ye Olde England Tours  it is no longer just myself but now a growing team of us and we have given several hundred tours in 2017 and now heading towards 200 5 star reviews on various websites.  I’ve only had 5 or 6 days off all year including weekends and this special Christmas week alone we have 16 tours and I’m doing 6 of them myself including tours on Christmas Eve, Boxing Day and New Years Day.Screen Shot 2017-12-27 at 17.10.47

I’ve given tours to some incredibly nice and interesting people this year, heart surgeons, special operations people, TV producers and writers, global musicians, education and corporate groups and so much more.  It’s been particularly gratifying given the 2 or 3 sad events in London this year, all of which I was actually close by just before or after.   Happily business is booming and if 2018 is in anyway better than 2017 then things will keep on a strong upward trend.

Not being one who celebrates New Year as I find each one to be broadly as bad as the previous; I still have a few goals for 2018.  I hope to have one or possibly two or three new books out next year.  In the summer I’ve booked a trip to walk Hadrians Wall, the Roman wall that used to separate what was vaguely England and Scotland.   Then in September I’m hoping to visit Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.  If you’ve never been there then that is why I want to go as I love visiting rarely visited places.  Apparently only 7,000 British visit Georgia every year, less still for Armenia and I believe only 3,000 to Azerbaijan which out of 66 million people is hardly any at all.   It will also let me tick off a few places from my 100 Places I Want To See Before I Die Khor Virap Monastery which makes for a good read if you’re planning your holidays.

Similarly out of all the tours I enjoy, my favourites are taking people to places that no-one else goes too.  You might remember my post on Christmas Eve about my first ever Secret Sacred Gardens Of London  well, I’m glad that the very happy visitor left me a 5 star review for that as well.

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What am I most looking forward to though, having Tuesday 2nd January off… having worked all Christmas and New Year, I think I deserve a day off as I might not get another for months.

I hope your year has been a good one and if you have any suggestions at all over what you’d like to see in my blog in 2018.  And if I have to say it…. Happy New Year 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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