Line of Beauty (1)

“I sat in the sun on a bench; the animal within me licking the chops of memory.”

From The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Seven Misteps To Heaven

Why is it that films about the afterlife, with some notable exceptions, rarely work? I’m really thinking about What Dreams May Come, The Lovely Bones and, to a lesser extent, It’s A Wonderful Afterlife.

Is there something so secular about us now that we can’t bear to see heaven or anything resembling it soiling our screen as we worship at the altar of the supermarket or finger-fiddle with our smartphones?

If you take the sweeping scenes in What Dreams May Come and The Lovely Bones, there’s a sense that, while evocative and vivid, they don’t connect well with the rest of the film. The characters who enter the unseen are people who’ve already been on a lengthy narrative journey and when they get to the great beyond, we don’t really buy the turn of events or believe the seismic change in mood, atmosphere and impression.

There are other films that cover similar themes with patchy success (or some may argue, now success at all) with The Tree of Life, Heaven Can Wait and Down to Earth all offering up themes on spiritually and death.

In Malick’s The Tree of Life, there is a case to be made that we have a decent, compelling narrative going on already so why ruin it with philosophical musings on something we can’t see, experience or feel? Because we’re all drawn to mystery – the ultimate one being why we’re here.

And this is the reason why I feel depictions of heaven, hell and the afterlife don’t quite work in films – because they become fixed. The mystery disappears and our imaginations are restricted. We can roam no longer in our dreams. Heaven is up there on screen, so you have to believe. But maybe, we don’t want to believe because we have our own interpretation of the world, universe and the galaxy?

But the depiction of the afterlife that, I feel, does get close to authenticity is in Powell/Pressburger’s classic A Matter of Life of Death. This is because it is restricted, it’s the afterlife in monochrome with no colour, life or extravagance to speak of. The special effects, as it were, are all on earth. Too many modern films throw special effects at heaven and hell and come up short. The PP combo have shown how it should be done. Life is colour, death isn’t.

Gong With The Wind

The rise of awards show, particular TV spectaculars, has been incredible over the last 20 or so years.

Obviously, the Oscars are still as prominent as ever but the growth of the British arts, entertainment and sporting scene has been breathtaking in its scope and audacity. Comedy awards, TV awards, soap awards, film awards, the list is endless – and that’s before we get into music and sport.

Take the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year which looked as though it used to be held in a small school hall by one man and his dog while the rest of the nation dozed off and prepared for a hard day at work the next morning. Now, it’s a glitzy, monster-sized event held at the Excel with everyone invited, including the dog, cat and the ref’s whistle. It’s like an epic performance in itself: Lineker as strutting emperor revealing the shiniest triumph of a bombastic, best-ever sporting year.

The other awards shows are the same: more people, more tears and more neediness. Soon, there won’t be a venue big enough to fill all the hangers-on, entourage and ego masseurs that ‘stars’ bring with them.

This has been one of the greatest confidence tricks of all time: that everyone is having a party and is tuned in to the latest ‘big thing’ which is probably a film, TV show or piece of music you’ve never watched or even heard of. A sort of celebrity propaganda by stealth.

That said, I do watch a lot of them so you may say I’m a hypocrite. But really, I only wait for one thing. It’s the only true engagement or connection I get throughout the whole, chocolate-cake evening: the sequence where the people who’ve died are mentioned and given a musical tribute. That’s worth all the hassle. A devastating shot of emotion blowing away the superficial parade.

Asian Footballers In League Of Their Own

Decades ago, it was predicted the top leagues in England would finally see homegrown British Asian footballers gracing the green and white strip of pleasure.

A couple of high-profile names broke through, like Michael Chopra and Zesh Rehman, but even they found it hard to establish themselves in the cut-throat, capitalistic juggernaut that is the Premier League.

Why did more not follow them? In a football-mad country, the British Asian fraternity are just as crazy about the great ball of fire as everyone else so why have we not seen a Khan from Leeds or a Ahmed from Luton play at Anfield, the Emirates or Stamford Bridge?

Many people have a laundry list of reasons including parents wanting them to study, lack of integration, racism, physical defects, loving cricket too much, outdated stereotypes, sticking to their own kind, religious priority, perceived lack of reward and food sensitivities. There are others like being Rochdale supporters or eating so many pakoras that their waistlines erupts but we we’ll not go into them.

But, on a serious note, I feel that while some of the above are genuine areas for exploration in terms of why the breakthrough hasn’t happened, there are two other aspects that are crucial to the overall psychology and way of thinking.

The first is the ‘streak of individuality’ needed as to make it as a professional footballer. At a certain age (usually very early), you need to decide if you’re going to attend that extra training session or go out with your mates and have fun. You can do both but, after a while, one will have to take priority. You could call it selfishness or just a plain, burning desire to succeed. The British Asian community are no different in this outlook but many of them lack this critical ‘streak of individuality’ because the psychological ties to their family and – collective structures – run deep. It isn’t because the family and community don’t want their son or daughter to make it big, it’s more because the son or daughter are hesitant about being deemed, for obvious reasons, ‘selfish’. The psychological stranglehold of collective thinking isn’t quite at Stasi or KGB level (okay, I exaggerate) but for a British Asian footballer to really make it, this kind of iron grip has to be loosened.

Secondly, although many British Asians do support the England football team (although just like everyone else, club tribalism takes precedence), their footballing heritage is sparse and practically non-existent. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have never made it to a World Cup so there is a lack of inspiration from the first and second generation immigrants to talk up ‘the beautiful game’. Most of the ‘Asian’ heroes come down to people like Wasim Akram, Sachin Tendulkar and, even Amir Khan. They are iconic and world-renowned. But they are not footballers. This has to change if we’re ever to see a major British Asian star in the Premier League.

Should this matter? Not really, if football gives you year-round indigestion. But for others, there are wider, social issues to be addressed and getting a few lads off the streets and onto the park has to be a good thing. I realise a lot of people are doing excellent work in this regard but, again, they won’t be ones kicking the ball or scoring the goal. That has to come from within. Teamwork may pay later on but, at the outset, it’s all down to you.

Gluten-free Gwyneth gets fame-grilled

The way the tabloid media, in particular, have seized on Gwyneth Paltrow’s intriguing diet is predictable and frustrating, not least to those who suffer from Coeliac Disease.

Her choice to cut out gluten has been seen as a fad and dangerously unhealthy for someone already of a slim persuasion. To push the diet onto her kids has been seen as irresponsible as overbearing.

It’s unfortunate the debate about gluten free is always end up in a celebrity cul-de-sac like this, a sort of high stakes female-grilling with a poisonous fame-weight component. Other celebrities have been similarly hauled over the coals.

The point about gluten free is that, I believe, it can benefit everyone in society, but that it just from my perspective, speaking as suffer of Coeliac Disease.

I was one of the unlucky ones  (reading this site, you probably think I’m cursed) because I was undiagnosed from my childhood so the symptoms of the illness stayed with me for 30-years plus. I couldn’t eat the school dinners, had weak arms, couldn’t climb walls, nearly drowned in the swimming pool and had serious problems when PE came round. At home, it was even worse, with almost a total wheat and gluten-based diet, so in general, no nutrition was going into my body at all and life became extremely complicated.

And that was before the epilepsy started.

This is where I think the media have created an imbalance in the gluten-free debate. It’s a deadly serious business if you suffer from Coeliac Disease and there should be more reflection of the shades and nuances of ‘going’ gluten free. It isn’t just a lifestyle choice.

But I’m not holding my breath for better coverage. I have worked in the industry for a few years and know exactly what ticks the boxes of modern media editors. If it’s a choice between Mrs Coldplay’s alleged food fascism and a poor girl or boy suffering malnutrition in a sleepy town with a dodgy GP, then they’ll choose good old Gwyneth every time. Nice one Pal.