Tuesday Review – Fantastic Beasts

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I’ve been a Harry Potter fan since I read the first book, long before they started talking about making films. After all, I love Fantasy, and Harry Potter is one of the greats. The funny thing is that by the time the film franchise was nearing the end I was getting fed up with it. I can’t even say why, it was just getting a bit too much. So when I heard about this film I was a bit dubious, still my kids wanted to see it so see it we did.

And I have to say that I absolutely loved it! Here are some of the reasons:

1) It recaptures the wonder.

Watching this I had some of the feeling that I had when I first read the books. This was partly because of:

2) It is set in a new world.

or rather, the new world, I.e, the USA, New York in 1926 to be precise. This gives a new opening into the magical world and adds in the whole roaring twenties culture. It works really well, especially for someone like me who lives all those old black and white gangster films.

3) It is a film of contrasts.

From moments of genuine wonder and touches of humour to the dark edges of human nature there is a good range of light and dark.

Finally:

4) It has Eddie Redmayne in it, who is quite brilliant!

My only regret was having to return  to the real world. Lincolnshire in December can be a dreary place with not much in the way of fantastic beasts.

Fantastic Beets though, that’s more like it. We’ve got sugar beet, beetroot, turnips, mangleworzles…

The Way of All Things

 

If you know the way broadly, you will see it in all things.         Miyamoto Musashi

The legendary Samurai warrior, Miyamoto Musashi, won his first duel at the age of thirteen, defeating an older and well armed opponent by beating him to death with a quarter staff. He went on to fight and win 60 duels, and develop a new school of sword fighting, known as niten’ichi (meaning ‘two heavens as one’) that used two swords. This wood block print shows him demonstrating his two bladed style.

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In his twilight years, he wrote a book on strategy, politics and philosophy called “The Book of Five Rings”, which included the quote above. It has been used in the business world, which seems to have a liking for macho ‘way of the warrior’ quotes, to mean ‘once you have learned to be a successful person, then you will be successful in everything’. I don’t really like this interpretation because it focuses on the individual themselves, and ignores what they are actually successful at.

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You see, Musashi wasn’t just a warrior, he was an artist, and his paintings such as Wild Geese Among Reeds (above) and Shrike on a Withered Branch (below) show a very different side to someone who was undoubtedly a violent man. He was also a poet, sculptor, calligrapher and philosopher. To me his words read more as though he was suggesting that once you start to recognise fulfilment in one area you will start to see it in others and that developing each different area develops a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. I think that in our society we are too quick to categorise people, and too quick to define people by just one aspect of their lives. I also worry that the value we place on what tends to be called ‘The Arts’ is getting eroded in a society where ‘The Economy’ is being raised up as a god. Only this week saw the news that one Academy chain of schools has removed Art, Music and Drama from the curriculum and made the teachers of those subjects redundant.

Perhaps we should remember that when all else has gone it is a civilisation’s art, poetry and literature that remain.

I like the idea of doing and being different things. I teach, I write, I play music and I paint, and some I do better than others but it doesn’t really matter. The point is that I enjoy the journey, no matter which of these paths I am travelling.

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The Torment of Man

Man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that great gift of freedom…

This quote appears in “The Maestro, The Magistrate & The Mathematician” by Tendai Huchu.

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I picked this up off a second hand book stall in a local shop. To be honest, I got it for two reasons: It looked in very good condition, and it had Mathematician in the title. I teach mathematics and so it kind of spoke to me, although I don’t really think of myself as a mathematician.

I’m trying really hard to extend the range of books that I read and to help I’ve been consciously trying not to think too much when buying one. It means taking a risk sometimes but in this case it really paid off.

It is a complex book that tells the intersecting stories of three very different characters. It’s set in Edinburgh but much of the story relates back to Zimbabwe where the main characters originated and the struggle for democracy and freedom there is a thread throughout the narrative.

I like it when a book is amusing and interesting but at the same time challenges you to think about some of the bigger issues in life. Currently we are having a huge debate about whether the UK should remain in or leave the European Union. The referendum is less than two weeks away and much of the political debate seems to be reduced to a slanging match, which is disappointing if not unexpected. The main reason put forward for staying in is “The Economy” and the main reason put forward for leaving is “Immigration”, yet everyone seems to accept the premise that immigration is ‘bad’ and growing the economy is ‘good’.

Our country was built on the work of immigrants. My family came here from Ireland in the 19th century, along with thousand of others. They came to work, and alongside all the working classes they built the railways and the ships, they worked in the factories and they dug the coal that powered the industrial revolution. The economy grew massively but it took a long time before the ordinary people saw any benefit. As a result the ordinary working people, struggling for housing, healthcare and education resented the immigrants who were competing for the same things, resulting in huge anti-Irish prejudice. And this persisted for a long time, even in the 1970s you would still see signs on boarding houses saying “No Blacks, No Irish”

The problem is that nothing has really changed. The UK has the fifth largest economy in the world, but the gap between rich and poor is huge. The richest 10% of households hold 45% of all wealth. The poorest 50%, by contrast, own just 8.7%.image

Immigration is not the problem, Inequality is. Our country could easily afford to provide enough housing, healthcare, education etc. for everyone, immigrant or not, it is just not politically expedient to do so. The Economy is not a goal in its own right, it should exist solely for the benefit of all the people of the country. The same should also be true of government.