La La Land Will Make You Feel Like ‘Fools Who Dream’

On a rainy Saturday afternoon just over a week ago, I took my daughters to see the highly acclaimed film La La Land. They were a little reticent, and quite frankly so was I. What kind of title is La La Land?

I’d heard a lot of hype about La La Land since it sashayed across theatre screens, and wasn’t sure it would be my cup of tea. Although I do like happy-go-lucky, it suits my temperament, and even though I love music, I’m not usually a great fan of musicals. Give me one or the other – a film or an album, a song. It’s tough to combine drama with music and pull it off in a classy, meaningful way.

La La Land does all this and more!

The dreamy, melancholy theme tune, the catchy songs, the romantic and life-affirming story line, the sheer relatability to the central characters and their situation, the acting, the dancing, not to mention its aura of heyday glitz, the bright colours, the panache of the cinematography and lavish, golden Hollywood style will ensure this film becomes a classic.

Behind the scenes featurette:

As I alluded to in the title – to writer and director Damien Chazelle, composer Justin Hurwitz, actors Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and the entire crew, thank you for reminding me that I’m a fool who dreams! It’s easy to lose sight of them when challenges pile up.

This film really got under my skin. I can’t get the songs and music out of my head (such irresistible, infectious ear worms), and the story told itself into my heart. Like it will into the heart of anyone who’s ever had a dream. It shone a spotlight onto all the raw moments and the beautiful ones that have made up my life thus far…

How did they manage to convey the heartbreak of shattered dreams, the hopefulness that dampens with every perceived failure, and yet so wonderfully capture the beauty of life, the fleeting encounters in those ordinary moments when all seems lost, yet can still change the course of our lives?

What a work of genius…

And who doesn’t need reminding about falling in love, about their dreams, and why they matter?

Mia and Sebastian

At the centre of this heart-warming and poignant tale are Mia and Sebastian. Mia Dolan is an aspiring actress, hoping to get her first part and struggling to hold down her thankless job as a barista in a coffee shop on the movie studio grounds, whilst attending every audition she can. She’s fresh faced, honest, talented and likeable, yet she just can’t seem to catch a break.

Someone in the Crowd:

Sebastian Wilder is a gifted and passionate jazz pianist, down on his luck, cynical about the world, hiding his pain under the surface of an overly ambivalent attitude towards his life.

“I’m letting life hit me until it gets tired. Then I’ll hit back. It’s a classic rope-a-dope.”

Two souls – lonely in the pursuit of their dreams under the sparkling sky of the city of stars – destined to meet. Their first inauspicious encounter happens in a bout of road rage on the rush hour freeway. From the moment of their first narky confrontation we see their separate days unfold – badly. It’s Christmas, but the joy of the season is not reaching either of them.

City of Stars:

Mia’s car is towed away that evening and she walks home after yet another shallow, hedonistic tinsel town party, only to pause outside an upmarket supper club – Lipton’s. There’s something about the sound of the piano emanating from within that draws her to step inside and listen. She instantly recognises the handsome man at the piano as the very same one who’d rudely beeped her as he passed her in her car that morning.

There’s something about his playing, she’s ready to make another friendlier introduction, but on his way out, he pushes past her without acknowledging her. What she doesn’t know is that he just got his head chewed off and was fired by the restaurant owner for straying from the set list of carols and playing his own jazz music.

At this point they’re an unlikely couple, but fate has another hand to play, this time at another party. They soon meet again: Mia as a guest, trying to shake off unwanted attentions of a bore, and Sebastian as a portable piano player in the two-bit band entertaining them. This time they have a conversation and overcome a little of the resentment each feels towards the other.  After the party they walk down the hill and discover it’s actually a lovely night.

A Lovely Night:

Gradually they strike up a friendship and romance, including the dreamy, dazzling Planetarium scene.

Sebastian draws Mia into his world of jazz. He shows her the magic made by jazz musicians jamming in the Lighthouse Cafe together, sharing their emotions through their instruments, recreating the atmosphere that defined a whole era, indeed a whole city. But jazz is dying, and Sebastian wants to invigorate it and show the world how amazing it is. He wants to open his own jazz club. The trouble is, he doesn’t have the money and he’s picked a lousy name.

“I think you should call it Seb’s because no one will come to a place called Chicken on a Stick.”

Mia gives him the name and draws out his logo, but his ego won’t listen. She tells him of her aunt, the one who inspired her love of writing and drama. He suggests she writes her own material to perform, that way she’ll get taken more seriously. She names her one-woman play ‘Farewell Boulder City’, after her home town.

They fall deeply in love, both striving for themselves and encouraging each other in their dreams, but inevitably, as it usually does, life gets in their way. Sebastian is asked to play the piano part in a new, upcoming jazz group, the Messengers, who like to perform a fusion of traditional and modern jazz. He’s not sure at first, he doesn’t quite trust the singer Keith, but the money is good and they’ve already got a record deal, but they have to go on tour.

“How are you gonna be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist? You hold onto the past, but jazz is about the future.”

Mia is naturally concerned, she will miss him, but she tries to point out that it’s taking him away from his dream of opening him own more traditional club. Mia works on her play, and gets a chance to perform it at a small, local theatre. She’s full of excitement and anticipation on her opening night, but when she steps out on the stage there’s only a handful of people in the audience, and crucially, Sebastian isn’t one of them.

He’s busy at a photo shoot for the Messengers that he thought wasn’t until a week later, only to arrive at the theatre after a demoralised Mia has finished with acting and with him.

It’s a fact of life that many of us give up after overhearing an unkind remark, we assume that’s how everyone probably thinks, and decide we can’t do it. Mia is devastated, her play has flopped and worst of all, she has no support from her boyfriend on the night she needed it the most. She leaves Los Angeles and Sebastian to return home to her parents in Boulder City.

Her dream is in tatters and her relationship over. But the next morning a dazed Sebastian gets a phone call from an unknown person looking for Mia. It turns out to be a film producer, she had seen and loved Mia’s performance and wanted her to audition for a film set in Paris.

“I guess I’ll see you in the movies.”

Sebastian promptly jumps into his vintage, open top car and high tails it to Boulder City. All he knows is that Mia had told him she lived opposite the library. He parks and beeps, much to the chagrin of the neighbourhood and a surprised Mia.

This was a magical moment for me. Mia had retreated into her shell, all vestige of self-confidence seemingly gone, even after hearing the good news, there’s no way she’s going back to Hollywood just to be humiliated again. But Sebastian won’t take no for an answer. He makes her an offer, he’ll pick her up at 8 am and if she’s there he’ll take her to the audition, if she’s not then it’s over, she wasn’t really serious about her dream.

At this point in the third act of the film we see them living more in their essence than their identities, and the turning point in both their lives is inexorable.

Luckily Mia shows up, and her audition is brilliant. It made me cry. From that point on I couldn’t stop crying. I’d had a lump in my throat almost from the start.

Fools Who Dream:

I won’t reveal the ending; I don’t want to spoil it for you, other than to say it’s perfect.

I know it’s figments of imagination, but it re-affirmed to me that it’s okay to be fools who dream. And that’s what stories are meant to do, open us up to possibilities, let you live in someone else’s shoes for a while, because they’re not that different to yours. We all live vicariously through the written word and the big screen.

There has to be a fire burning inside, it’s the best way we bring light and warmth into other people’s lives.

“People love what other people are passionate about.”

What Could Have Been:

Even if you don’t like musicals or jazz, this film will make you see the beauty of your dreams, and for that reason alone you should go and see it. In my humble opinion, La La Land deserves all the awards and accolades that have been heaped on it to date, as well as the ones to come…

Oscars anybody?

#SundayBlogShare – The Sound of Silence

Some days there’s so much noise around me I think I’m going to lose my mind. Noise from thoughts, caterwauling from the kids, traffic, horns, sirens, TV, radio and so on. Some days I long for silence; to retreat into an inner sanctum, where there’s respite from the onslaught of the world. Meditation helps, and so does playing the violin. Sometimes I long to hear the sound of your voice. But sometimes only silence will do…

THE SOUND OF SILENCE

The sound of silence, substrate of creation…

Noise of nothingness filling, expanding senses,

Priming them to detect violent vibrations,

Scales of dainty decibels, sonorous caresses.

Listen well; distinguish subtle intonations,

Auditory input on waves of turbulent air,

A tendency to love pulsing impressions,

Emanating forth, emulating, wishing to share…

silence-harp-in-concert

Silence surrounds; the base note of existence…

Without that peace, would I appreciate sound?

Lilting of inner voice, harmony not dissonance,

A palette on which to speak, sing and listen is profound.

Silence: a constant companion, blank canvas for music,

The space between notes, said Claude Debussy,

Clasping violin, I perform my favourite acoustic,

Exploring the infinite waters of a fathomless sea.

silence-panorama

Sounds can nourish – biting into crunchy apple,

Or jangle cells, like long finger nails on a blackboard,

The terrifying cacophony of war, sound of battle,

Some are sweet, like a lover’s kiss, desired, adored.

Some are jolting, startling – a sudden, strident scream,

Soft tears of God; comforting, steady rain drops,

Splashing onto Earth, in relentless, rhythmic stream,

Solace for my soul, time to ponder, until it stops.

silence-rain

Sounds carry me to exotic, far flung places,

Where turbulent waves crash over distant lands,

Creatures howl and cry, endless echoes, many faces,

Inaudible grains of sand slip through my hands.

Floating on a breeze, flowers whisper the joy of scent,

Icy, cruel winds have their own sharp language,

Thunder fulminates across quivering landscapes, spent,

Hear my heartbeat; primordial thud – free from anguish.

silence-barn-thunderstorm

Life force emanates from all that is – eternal silence,

Out of the divine shroud a rustle, a breath: quiet, loud,

Familiar sounds bond to heart, enable resilience,

Earth’s endless maelstrom, amorphous as clouds.

Energy fields to immerse in, align with…

No tone goes unheard by the universe,

Flight – the whirring of gossamer wings will give,

A soprano’s broken heart, on an audience does disperse.

silence-maria-bayo-orchestra

Silence sets the stage, from birth to old age,

In-tune with tranquil Self, absorb oscillations,

To travel down memory lane, from same page,

Exulting in emotions of pitch and modulation.

Healing human wounds, retreating back to source,

Stillness resides there, diaphanous spark of essence,

Surrender to the vibrations, relinquish force,

Return always, into the sound of silence…

By Virginia Burges

silence-stained-glass

What You Need to Know About the Most Influential Organ in Your Body

You could be forgiven for thinking that the most influential organ in your body is your brain or your heart, but I’m going to suggest otherwise. All our organs are important, however the most influential organ that directly affects our brain, our heart, our digestion, our mood, our weight, our immunity and our overall health, is in fact not actually human…

It’s the microbiome.

microbiome_sm

Our own cells though much bigger in volume and weight, are outnumbered ten to one by the cells of the microbes that live in and on us, our trillions of bacteria known as microbiota, the total sum of which constitutes the human microbiome.

#MicrobiomeMorsels

Right now, your body is hosting 100 trillion micro-organisms, a thriving megapolis of living, hardworking microbes. These colonies of microbiota that make us their ‘home’ live in environments as diverse as the geography of Earth. They may be small, but they are essential. Your inner ‘eco-system’ consists of over ten thousand identified species in strains and numbers unique to each of us, and when our inner eco-system flourishes so do we.

  • Did you know that only 10% of your cells contain your human DNA?
  • The other 90% consists of bacteria, fungi and microflora – termed by science as your microbiome; and it’s crucial to perform life sustaining functions.
  • The human microbiome could be considered an additional organ.
  • We all carry approximately 1-2 kg of microbes in our gut.
  • Astonishingly, up to 75 – 80% of your immune system is located in your gut.
  • Our microbiome is constantly evolving and is sensitive to food, air, toxins, antibiotics and cosmetics.

microbiome-10-percent-human

A healthy gut flora benefits us in a myriad of ways, by performing life enhancing functions such as synthesising essential vitamins, phytonutrients and breaking down tough plant fibres.

Scientists are now discovering that inflammation starts in the gut, something that Hippocrates, the erudite father of medicine postulated thousands of years ago  when he said, “All disease begins in the gut”.

“This perception of the microbial side of ourselves is giving us a new view of our individuality. A new sense of our connection to the microbial world. A sense of the legacy of our personal interactions with our family and environment early in life. It’s causing us to pause and consider that there might be another dimension to our human evolution.”  ~ Professor Jeffrey Gordon

Think of the gut as the centre (or hub) of a wheel, with spokes leading to the neurological system, the vascular system, digestive system, lymphatic system, skin, hormonal system and saliva, (the oesophagus).

The glorious gut

If the environment of our gut is well balanced – meaning ‘good’ bacteria outweigh harmful bacteria, it allows our immune system to operate effectively and judge friend from foe in our bodies. It is the first, second and third line of defence: skin, mucous membrane and the gut.

microbiome-hmp-ibd-image

A healthy digestive system is crucial for the breakdown of food and optimal absorption of nutrients. If disease causing pathogens get out of control and start to rule the roost, ill health will follow. The scientific community believe that a toxic microbiome is the initiator of metabolic illness such as obesity and Cardiometabolic Syndrome.

A direct correlation can be seen between the consumption of simple carbohydrates, processed, shelf-stable foods, a more toxic environment and the rise in obesity over the last 60 years. Whether we like it or not, we are part of the largest nutrition experiment in the history of mankind. It doesn’t seem to be going too well for us collectively at the moment…

Scientific American: How Gut Bacteria Help Make Us Fat and Thin

Despite our advancements in medicine, there is a global health pandemic that is costing the NHS and health care providers in America almost 3 trillion dollars a year.

Does the Gut Microbiome Play a Role in Autoimmune Disease?

Allergies, digestive disorders, obesity, autoimmune conditions such as diabetes, MS, rheumatoid arthritis, crohn’s disease and lupus are a result of our bodies being in ‘metabolic dysfunction’.

This is how cardio metabolic health issues develop:

Inflammation > Metabolic Dysfunction > Insulin Resistance > Fat Deposition > Cardio Metabolic Syndrome.

Modern plagues: Cardiometabolic Syndrome

It seems we have eradicated infectious diseases that were rife in the 19th Century, such as smallpox, measles and polio; but in their place modern plagues have risen from the wastelands of our increasingly toxic microbiomes.

microbiome

You may know children, family or friends who suffer from asthma, hay fever, diabetes, nut allergies and eczema. Allergies affect around half the population in developed countries. I can’t be the only one who thinks this is not normal…

Innocuous and harmless substances such as pollen, dust, pet hair, milk, eggs and nuts are being treated by the body as harmful pathogens, so the immune system dutifully attacks what is perceived as germs that need to be removed from the body. And when the body’s immune system goes really rogue, it attacks the body’s own cells.

Type 1 Diabetes

In 1898 hospital records from Massachusetts General Hospital which were kept over 75 years for 500,000 patients indicated that there were only 21 cases of childhood type 1 Diabetes. By the time official records were created just before the Second World War the prevalence of type 1 diabetes could be tracked. Around 1 or 2 children in every 5,000 were affected in the US, UK and Scandinavia.

By 1973 type 1 diabetes was occurring 6 to 7 times more frequently than it had in the Thirties. In the Eighties the rise leveled off to 1 in 250 children. The rise in diabetes has been matched by an equivalent rise in obesity and autoimmune diseases.

Should we accept the increase in illness as a fact of life in the 21st century, when we have more knowledge and scientific advancement at our fingertips?

microbiome-ehp-infographic

Could it be that we have overlooked the fundamental role our colonies of bacteria and basic nutrition play in our well-being? Over the past decade emerging research and cutting-edge science into the human microbiome is answering that question with a resounding YES.

The Human Genome Project (HGP):

Scientists have turned to our genes, the blueprint of life, for answers to 21st century illnesses. The Human Genome Project unearthed genes that when mutated result in disease. But to blame our DNA entirely for the modern epidemic is unwise. The gene variant that might make someone more likely to become obese is not likely to become dramatically more common in the population as a whole inside a single century.

Evolution does not progress that quickly! Gene variants only grow more common though natural selection if they are beneficial to the species, or their detrimental effects are mitigated.

Science is left with two areas that are common to modern diseases: the immune system and the gut.

microbiome-hgp

When the Human Genome was decoded and mapped fully in 2003 and we could sequence our DNA, scientists were shocked to learn that human body has just shy of 21,000 genes, less than the water flea with 31,000 and half the number of the rice plant. Humans have a similar amount of genes as that of The Worm.  Holy cow, how could something as complex as a human being only have the same number of genes as a worm?!

The language of how God created life and the supposed key to our humanity did not live up to its hoped for power to heal diseases as President Clinton declared it would at the time.

The Human Microbiome Project (HMP)

The DNA sequencing technology invented during the HGP enabled another major genome-sequencing programme: The Human Microbiome Project.

The micro-organisms living in and on the human body contain a staggering 4.4 million genes.

microbiome-the-economist-cover

Now molecular biology has the tools to investigate how and why the microbiome is so fundamental to our well-being.

We have evolved over millennia by outsourcing our digestion to vast communities of bacteria. Our own 21,000 genes together with the 4.4 million genes of our collective microbiota collaborate in a mutually beneficially arrangement to run our bodies.

The HMP has revealed far more about what it means to be human than our own genome ever has.

Microbes matter

Another discovery was that the human appendix is far from a defunct organ as originally thought by Charles Darwin in his Descent of Man, (the follow up to The Origin of Species). For the hundred years that followed it earned a reputation as something of useless organ, exacerbated by its tendency to sometimes cause life threatening eruptions. By the 1950’s removal of the appendix was one of the most commonly performed operations in the developed world.

microbiome-joke

But natural selection did not eliminate the appendix, and scientists now know that the appendix serves as a safe haven for life sustaining microbes; a microbial stockpile that comes in handy when food poisoning or gastrointestinal infection strikes, enabling the gut to be repopulated with its friendly inhabitants that were lurking in the appendix.

Public sanitation systems in the developed world are relatively recent inventions in the history of our species. To some degree they have masked the fact that we utterly depend on our microbiota for health and happiness.

Antibiotics – the nemesis of our gut-flora

Doctors are only just waking up to the damage that widespread over prescribing broad spectrum antibiotics is doing, not just solely because pathogens are developing resistance to them, but more so now in how they wage chemical warfare on our colonies of friendly bacteria, adversely altering our microbiome and body chemistry.

It’s devastating when a wild fire rips through forests and woodlands, destroying all plant life. This is what happens to the diverse, friendly bacteria when you take a 7 day course of antibiotics. Scientists have found that just one round of antibiotics can disrupt your gut flora for up to two years. Multiple rounds of antibiotics are wreaking havoc on the very microbes we depend on for our health in new generations.

Studies have shown that only 6% of American children have the microbe H. Pylori in their microbiome by the time they reach age fifteen. H. Pylori communicate directly with the brain about Ghrelin levels. Grhelin tells your brain you are hungry. If Ghrelin is unregulated you never feel full.

microbiome-images

After reading about the microbiome and the relevant scientific evidence I almost started to view myself not so much as an individual, as more a vessel for my microbiota!

But as Alanna Collen, author of 10% Human puts it:

“I see us – myself and my microbes as a team. But, as in any relationship I will only get what I give. I am their provider and protector, and in return they sustain and nourish me. I find myself thinking about my meal choices in terms of what my microbes would be grateful or, and my mental and physical health as markers of my worthiness as a host to them. They are my own personal colony, and their preservation is worth as much to me as the well-being of the cells of my own body.”

I’ll be getting inside our guts in more detail in future posts, covering the link between the gut and the brain, why we get cravings, the microbiome in infancy, the nutrients and diet we need to heal, and a detoxification, cleansing and re-balancing solution.

Tackling the root cause of illness means focusing on the microbiome and the gut. Fix the gut and you fix the problem!

But for now, just remember: whatever you eat also feeds your microbiota, both the good and bad – you never dine alone!

One of the Most Powerful Performances I’ve ever Seen… 🎼🎧🎻

“Music says that which cannot be said, but which cannot remain silent.” ~ Victor Hugo

When a composer and a musician are both emotionally and musically in tune, the result can be an unforgettable recording that speaks to your soul. Such heart-felt performances usually manifest in glorious interpretations that create some of the most legendary, memorable, mind-blowing and totally magical moments in musical history.

sibelius-vc-allegro-moderato

A section of the Allegro moderato from my violin score

Such performances give you the sense that the musician really understood what the composer wanted the listeners and audience to feel and experience. As Beethoven, (played to perfection by Gary Oldman) so eruditely stated in the film Immortal Beloved:

“It is the power of music to carry one directly into the mental state of the composer. The listener has no choice. It is like hypnotism.”

I’ll probably post these pairings as and when I become struck by their brilliance. For my first example I feel compelled to share a performance by the late French violin virtuoso, Christian Ferras.

Photograph of Ferras taken on a tour of South Africa in 1965, dedicated to the organiser Hans Adler.

Photograph of Ferras taken on a tour of South Africa, dedicated to the organiser Hans Adler.

I recently learned of his existence (I know right, how can a violinist not have heard of Christian Ferras), and I’ve been completely captivated by his talent and romantic Gallic style. For me, he’s up there with Heifetz, Menuhin, Oistrakh and Perlman. This has been a musical discovery to relish and to cherish.

I was impressed with many of his performances, but the one that stood out the most was his vintage recording of the melancholy Sibelius Violin Concerto in D minor. There are many wonderful recordings of this lyrical, challenging and thrilling work, but none have reduced me to rubble in quite the same way as Monsieur Ferras!

My emotional defences were penetrated and disarmed by the honest, visceral and virtuosic nature of this particular mid 1960’s performance, under the baton of the young Indian maestro Zubin Mehta.

I’ll save the superlatives for later, now it’s time to kick back, relax and enjoy their outstanding music making:

You may not agree with my musings after listening and viewing, (not everyone does, as per this review in Gramophone), but to me this sublime rendition is full of beauty, passion and pathos. In the Adagio di molto he has tears streaming down his face. Maybe he was suffering from a broken heart and the music ‘spoke’ to him. It oozed out of his eyes and his bow, his fingers and his soul via his Stradivarius.

There is a mournful purity to his sound that cannot be matched. Sibelius and Ferras is truly a match made in heaven.

A section of the beautiful 2nd movement from my score.

A section of the beautiful 2nd movement from my score.

Perhaps the ‘dark’ melody of the Sibelius violin concerto was what resonated with Ferras’s lugubrious temperament. The Allegro moderato (1st movement) and the allegro, ma non troppo (3rd movement) are exhilarating and electrifying.

You can see that he is deeply connected to the soul of Sibelius and to the music. Everything is there for me; flawless technique infused with fire and emotion that produces such wonderful colours, phrasing and nuances that take me to the stratosphere…

Context

I think it helps to understand why this is such a powerful, timeless performance when you know that Sibelius poured his love of the violin into this now popular and widely performed concerto in the classical violin repertoire.

“Dreamt I was twelve years old and a virtuoso.” ~ Jean Sibelius (diary entry from 1915 aged 50)

Jean Sibelius (8th December 1865 – 20th September 1957)

As a young man Sibelius had dreams of being a violin virtuoso and could play the Mendelssohn violin concerto, but his course changed after he failed his audition for the Vienna Philharmonic due to stage nerves. Perhaps that’s why he wrote his only violin concerto, as an expression of that deeply held, but ultimately thwarted dream.

What may have felt like a disaster at the time may have turned out to be a blessing in disguise. His true gift however, was expressed through his writing of music. He may not have made such an impact on the world had he stuck to performance alone, but his compositions will never fade.

Portrait of Sibelius by Albert Edelfeldt c. 1904

Portrait of Sibelius by Albert Edelfeldt c. 1904

Violinist Dean Wang gives his take on the Sibelius Violin Concerto:

An icy image of nature is a good to have in mind when listening to Finnish composer Jean Sibelius’s Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47, completed in 1903 and revised in 1905. The reason for revision is that the 1904 premiere was largely unsuccessful since the concerto proved too difficult. The 1905 version is considerably less challenging and also perhaps less cluttered.

The concerto starts with soft strings supporting a tranquil and noble solo violin melody. As the music continues, the violin grows more impassioned and suddenly drops from the highest to the lowest registers of the instrument. The violin part grows more and more virtuosic as the orchestra is given an increasingly active role. After a dark second subject in the orchestra, a passionate motif played in parallel sixths in the extreme upper register of the violin, and then a “travelling” theme in the orchestra, the orchestra stops, the exposition (the first part of a traditional sonata form movement) ends, and the solo violin begins an extensive and extremely virtuosic cadenza.

In this sonata-form movement, the cadenza takes on the role of development (the middle section of the sonata form where the composer takes existing musical ideas and transforms them in inventive and interesting ways). The recapitulation (a varied repetition of the exposition) starts even before the cadenza ends, easing us back into the first melody. The movement closes in a brilliant coda with virtuosic violin octaves and inspired counterpoint fusing previously heard themes together.

After the cold intensity of the first movement, the concerto’s second movement provides some degree of relaxation after a melancholic introduction in the winds. We now hear a warm, singing melody in the violin’s lowest register accompanied by horns and bassoons. The largely lyrical movement provides contrasts excellently with the brilliance and relentlessness of the outer two.

The third movement follows the adagio with relentless dance rhythms; some critics note that these “long-short-short-long” rhythms are similar to those found in polonaises, a popular type of dance from Poland. The connection to dance is made even clearer by Sibelius having reportedly described the movement as a “danse macabre” — a dance of death. The dance is combined with intense virtuosic elements in the violin. The violin’s parallel octaves coupled with heavy orchestration bring the dance to a close.

From Wikipedia:

The initial version was noticeably more demanding on the advanced skills of the soloist. It was unknown to the world at large until 1991, when Sibelius’s heirs permitted one live performance and one recording, on the BIS record label; both were played by Leonidas Kavakos and conducted by Osmo Vänskä. The revised version still requires a high level of technical facility on the part of the soloist. The original is somewhat longer than the revised, including themes that did not survive the revision. Certain parts, like the very beginning, most of the third movement, and parts of the second, have not changed at all. The cadenza in the first movement is exactly the same for the violin part. Some of the most striking changes, particularly in the first movement, are in orchestration, with some rhythms played twice as slow.

Christian Ferras was known to have been plagued with lifelong depression, a condition that tragically drove him to commit suicide on  14th September 1982 (aged 49) at the height of his career.

He was one of the pre-eminent violin virtuoso’s of the late 20th century, but his untimely death seems to have curtailed his stardom in a way that never happened with his contemporaries. He just wasn’t around long enough.

Christian Ferras and Yehudi Menuhin were both taught by the Romanian genius George Enescu, and performed the Bach Double Violin Concerto together:

I’m doing my bit to raise awareness of his recordings; such a talent should never be forgotten.

I’d love to hear what you think. Does this performance get inside you like it did me? If not, are there others that grab you in a similar way as the one I have waxed lyrical about between Ferras and Sibelius?

A Day to Remember at the Stunning Temple of Stonehenge

“Stanenges, where stones of wonderful size have been erected after the manner of doorways…no one can conceive how such great stones have been so raise aloft, or why they were built there.” ~ Henry Huntingdon (History of the English People c. 1130).

When we arrived at Stonehenge early on 30th December 2016 it was shrouded in a thick mist and we couldn’t see much. It felt cold too. We were surrounded by a soft, ethereal light however, as the sun was trying to burn the mist away, it suffused the air with a warm shimmer.

By the time our American and London relations arrived the mist was thinning, and the patches of visible sky were bright blue and devoid of cloud. It illuminated beautifully the captivating atmosphere of an ancient, Stone Age landscape that had been so venerated by our early ancestors.

close-up-with-mist

I’d never visited Stonehenge before. I’d been close by several times, but I’m glad we did it that day. I’ve included a selection of my photographs.

When we finally got on the bus and walked up close to the stones it took my breath away. Along the walk information plaques were placed so that you could learn about the actual site in its entirety, not just the stones.  Most of us had audio guides, which were highly informative, but I had to concentrate on what my daughters were doing so I couldn’t totally immerse myself.

emily-and-ruby-at-stones

The Neolithic temple of Stonehenge is something to behold. You may wonder why a group of old, sturdy stones elicits such touristic fervour, (1.3 million people visited the site during 2013), and I’m not sure I can quite put my finger on it, except to say it’s something of a spiritual experience.

Even though other people are milling around you, the general mood is one of quiet fascination. To be so close to something that was built with such skill and precision four and a half thousand years ago that is still standing tends to pull an all-encompassing blanket of awe over you!

close-up-panoramic

I’m sure the Pyramids at Giza (built around the same time period), would do that and more, but for us Brits, Stonehenge is a profound and enduring monument of determination, perseverance, ingenuity and devotion. The crows seemed to admire the sarsen stones as well, they were hopping about on top of them and circling above the horseshoe while we were there.

The stones have an intense air of mystery about them, as if they are proclaiming their sacred heritage and history, but at the same time keeping some of their recondite secrets to themselves…

When I saw the news today in The Guardian that the government has given the go ahead for a new road tunnel under the site my heart sank. I can’t help feeling this is a terrible mistake. I understand they are trying to reduce congestion, which is considerable, but in the process of coming up with a solution to one problem they are perhaps creating an even bigger one.

Stonehenge stretches over a huge area. Although the actual stones only cover a limited space, the burial mounds, the avenue and surrounding land is sizable. Surely such disruption will damage the aesthetics and archaeology of the site, making it less of an attraction? This smacks of putting profits before protection and preservation.

surrounding-landscape

Overview

The audio guides made it clear that although they do know a lot about how the site was created and amended over the centuries, the materials that were used and the type of dwellings that the builders lived in, they still don’t know the exact reason for its construction.

One of the clear ways in which it was used was to measure and track the movements of the sun and the changing seasons.

Brooding painting of Stonehenge by John Constable.

Brooding painting of Stonehenge by John Constable.

Winter would have brought immense hardship for the Neolithic and Bronze Age people, not just because of the cold weather and lack of light, but scarcity of food and crops. They would have been keen to know the turning point in the levels of daylight during the sun’s annual journey. They must have been very in-tune with nature, for the alignment and positioning of the stones was achieved with startling accuracy to highlight the shortest day of the year: the Winter Solstice.

Alignment

The axis of Stonehenge creates an alignment that runs north-east to south-west, up the straight section of the avenue and through the enclosure entrance. Because of the way the sun moves through the sky during the course of the year, the sunset at the winter solstice occurs on exactly the opposite side of the horizon from the midsummer sunrise.

sun-up2

When the Great Trilithon stood intact the effect would have been even more dramatic than it is today, with the setting sun dropping rapidly down the narrow gap between the two upright sarsen stones.

Burial and worship

Other thoughts were that it was a place of burial, (cremated and buried human remains have been found at the site), as well as animal bones and artefacts in the surrounding ditch, it therefore also served as a place of worship and procession. One theory is that the stones represented their ancestors and the wooden equivalents present at the time represented living people.

stonehenge-an-early-henge

The name Stonehenge is derived from the large, outer ditch and bank (a ‘henge’, meaning ‘hanging’) enclosing the stone circle within. It was used for cremation burials early in the area’s history.

Unbeknown to me there is a Woodhenge site not far from Stonehenge, to the south of Durrington Walls, also built in 2500 B.C., which was 50m in diameter and held large upright oak timbers. It was discovered in 1925 after aerial photographs revealed it to be a levelled henge.

The stones used in Stonehenge

The five large sarsen trilithons (from the Greek word for three stones), are arranged with a pair facing each other across the open end of the horse shoe, and the tallest, the Great Trilithon (only one stone now remains upright of this pair), which is 7.3 metres high and one of the tallest standing stones in Britain, faces the enclosed entrance. It has been noticed that of each pair, one seems deliberately more upright and well-shaped and the other is rougher.  Perhaps this was meant to signify male and female or art nature?

close-up-of-stones

“How grand! How wonderful! How incomprehensible! ~ Sir Richard Colt Hoare (Ancient History of Wiltshire)

On 3rd January 1797 an entire trilithon collapsed and was the first recorded fall of stones at Stonehenge.

These epic sarsen stones were taken from areas relatively close to Stonehenge, the Salisbury Plain and the Marlborough Downs. Still, transportation must have been a major undertaking. It’s thought they were maneuvered onto large wooden sledges with rollers that were pulled by a team of up to 200 people. Our ancestors knew a thing or two about teamwork and co-operation.

ruby-at-outdoor-museum

They were erected with considerable engineering skill considering the basic tools that were available to the builders, with the sarsens being put some way into the ground and the stone lintels sitting atop each pair were fixed into place using the tongue and groove method. Pretty impressive!

stonehenge-first-raised

The other type of stone that was used in the temple are the bluestones.  It’s thought that originally as many as  60 of these were placed in inner concentric circles to the sarsens, much of which is now fragmentary, indicating that many were moved or destroyed sometime after construction. The bluestones are a particular type of volcanic stone found in the Preseli Hills in Wales; an amazing achievement by itself to transport them a distance of 150 miles.

The Heel Stone

This massive, unshaped sarsen boulder was thought to be the only stone to originate from Stonehenge, and stands just outside the earthwork enclosure and within the line of the avenue.

heel-stone

It was raised to its upright position, being the first stone to be deliberately placed at Stonehenge. Although it stands alone today in a small ditch, archaeologists discovered a hole next to it in the roadside verge in 1979. The second stone may have held the heel stone in place or been placed as a pair with the Heel Stone as two upright sarsens just outside the entrance to the enclosure.

The builders

It’s thought that people travelled down from the far north of Scotland as well as from the south and from the continent to work on Stonehenge. Ancient Britons were the builders, perhaps a collective of farmers, engineers and tool makers etc. Local excavations have provided information about the types of dwellings they lived in.

bronze-age-dwelling

All I can say is they would have been a tad drafty in winter!

This documentary by Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology at Oxford University,  Barry Cunliffe and Social anthropologist Lionel Sims explain in much more detail than I can here; if you want to delve into the history and mystery of Stonehenge:

Excavations and restoration

Among the entire site items such as Roman coins (Roman Emperor Commodus) dating to about 186-7, as well as brooches and pottery were found during William Gowland’s excavations at Stonehenge in 1901. One theory is that the Romans altered and tried to adapt the site as their own shrine.

The earliest surviving painting of Stonehenge - a watercolour by a Dutch traveller, Lucas de Heere c. 1574

The earliest surviving painting of Stonehenge – a watercolour by a Dutch traveller, Lucas de Heere c. 1574

In 1883 Stonehenge was officially recognised as being of national importance and included in the monuments listed in the Ancient Monuments Protection Act. This did not offer any real protection in practical terms and Stonehenge remained neglected and crumbling a the close of the 19th century. On 31st December 1900 another stone fell.

Ongoing repairs and restoration were mostly undertaken during the 20th century and early into the current time period. Stonehenge was granted World Heritage status in 1986.

stonehenge-with-ruby

The visitor centre is fabulous. It comprises a spacious café, a shop and a museum/exhibition area, complete with artefacts, interactive media, historical stories and information about the Stonehenge site, and even a carbon-dated human skeleton complete with facial reconstruction, which provides a fascinating window into a mysterious past.

If you get the chance to go it’s definitely worth a visit, especially before they dig out the tunnel under it!

Pile of Stone-henge! So proud to hint yet keep

Thy secrets, thou lov’st to stand and hear

The plain resounding to the whirlwind’s sweep

Inmate of lonesome Nature’s endless year.

~ William Wordsworth

7 Brilliant Blogs to Help You Get the Most Out of the Year Ahead

“We all get the exact same 365 days. The only difference is what we do with them.” ~ Hillary DePiano

Happy New Year! I hope you enjoyed the festive holiday season. Time marches mercilessly on, and 2017 has arrived with the usual flurry of fireworks and fizz.

I’ve had a wonderful, whirlwind time with my family, especially since Emily and Ruby’s aunt, uncle and cousins were over from Connecticut between Christmas and New Year. It’s been a reminder of what’s truly important to me. I’ll probably share some of our travels and escapades in another post.

But to kick things off for 2017, in the time honoured tradition of taking stock of life – of scrutinising circumstances and getting in-tune with hopes, goals and dreams at the beginning of a new year – I have been scouring the web for some inspiration.

magic-and-dreams

There are 7 particular articles which have inspired me and helped me to start 2017 as I mean to go on.

I’ve done away with resolutions. They set you up to fail. Last January I wrote two detailed posts (Part 1 & Part 2), on goal-setting.

The biggest achievement for me in 2016 was that I revolutionised my health and helped others to do the same. I started a new business focusing on elite health and I’m now on the right path and following its evolution.

person-at-summit

This year I’m concentrating on themes, which will encompass all my goals and guide my decisions for 2017. My main themes are presence and productivity. By increasing presence I can be more productive than ever. It’s a tricky combination because if I focus too much on either theme at the expense of the other it could prove counter intuitive.

Presence will infuse every decision as awareness (or lack of), underpins all thoughts. Productivity has connotations with big business and bottom line, but when it’s achieved through a conscious work/life balance and not at the expense of health or other priorities, you can truly make the most of your time; however you spend it.

surfer

For instance, it takes time out of my busy schedule to play my violin, but it’s something I love doing, and after a violin practice my creativity is usually buzzing and I’m generally more productive. Productivity isn’t only working, it’s being able to enjoy and accomplish the activities and objectives that are meaningful to you…

I have big goals this year. It overwhelms me a bit, but I usually bite-off more than I can chew, so why change the habit of a lifetime? I need to feel inspired otherwise what’s it all for? I’m open and ready for new opportunities and spontaneous action!

I hope you can find some golden nuggets out of these 7 brilliant blog posts:

  1. You Will Not Be Denied — Develop Your Daily Inspirational Routine
  2. 7 Life Lessons from a Guy Who Can’t Move Anything but His Face
  3. Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives
  4. Intentions
  5. 3 Principles for 2017
  6. 9 Ways to Kick Ass and Conquer the World in 2017
  7. Buckle Up for a Reality check! 11 Things We Can’t Change This New Year

As always, at the start of a new year, I like to watch ‘The Pale Blue Dot’ by Carl Sagan:

I hope 2017 brings you much joy, health and success.

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly… Fa la la la la la la la!

‘Tis the season to be jolly, Fa la la la la la la!

Singing lifts the heart and lightens the load, especially during the mega busy festive season.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the superficial, materialist side of Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t metamorphosed into a curmudgeon just yet. I actually love Christmas. But the message can get lost and (excuse the pun), you may find you get wrapped up in worrying about who you’ve forgotten to send a card to, whether or not you bought enough presents, who is coming to stay, who isn’t, what food you’ll get, what you’ll actually do on the big day. I know I do!

Laughter helps too. When it all gets a bit too much, nothing beats a good bellow! This is hilarious. The Worst Christmas of my Life:

My daughters’ favourite is Mog:

With so much to be done, no wonder we can lose sight of the real meaning behind Christmas; celebrating the birth of Jesus, and extending goodwill to all men. What a pity this same attitude doesn’t last all year…

Children and family time are what make Christmas special for me. They bring a magic that helps you remember your own childhood; even if all you got from Santa was a manky satsuma and a few chocolate coins. It’s seeing the joy on their faces. I always remind them about what’s most important at this time of year, but understandably a 7 year old isn’t really interested in anything but presents!

christmas

In past years I’ve reached Christmas Day and been at breaking point.  You can’t enjoy it when you feel like a zombie. As lovely as it is, it makes so much more work on top of what most mothers already have on their plate. This year Ruby helped me put the tree up and decorate it, and we spent some quality time together. I have a large family: four children, five nephews and a niece, so my head can feel like it’s going to explode sometimes.

Although I’ve been rushed off my feet as usual, (I had an important call with a Hollywood producer this week), I have felt calmer this year. I think it’s because I’ve kept in mind what really matters, and tried to take the pressure off myself.

It’ll be a frugal one for us, but that doesn’t matter – we have a roof over our heads, we’ll have food in our bellies and we’ll have fun. My heart goes out to the poor souls who live in war torn cities across the Middle East, refugees who have no home, as well as the homeless on our own streets.

Crisis at Christmas

Charles Dickens so hit the nail on the head with his novella, A Christmas Carol. It’s a time of giving, of charity, not just financially, but with time and generosity of spirit.

christmas-1073705_1280

There are also many people who will be alone because of an unfortunate turn of circumstances.  So it’s not important if you forgot the crackers, just remember if you have a loving family and live in peace you have so much to be grateful for.

I’m reminded how quickly my children are growing up and I want to have some happy memories of these times, which means I need to slow down and be more present with my family.  In fact, I might just bin my  to do list!

As you know I can’t publish a post without some kind of music or interactive content, so to get you in the mood, (if you’re feeling the stress)  I have picked a Christmas medley to ease you into the yuletide vibe:

It’s not Christmas without The Nutcracker:

2016 has been a topsy turvy year… We’ve seen Brexit, Trump winning the US presidential election, the civil war in Syria and the terrorist attacks across Europe to name but a few momentous and tragic events. Let’s hope mankind can make better decisions in 2017!

It will be a chance to wipe the slate clean and make a new beginning. However, it’s important to take some time to reflect on the year that is about to pass into the annals of history. Note what you’ve been grateful for, both personally and professionally, as well as all that you have achieved so far, and what still needs to be realised and tweaked for your 2017 goals.

It’s the Winter Solstice today, the shortest day, when the sun seems to stand still in the sky. But from now on the daylight hours will gradually increase, bringing new hope and renewed energy.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for reading my blog this year, I hope my ramblings have proved either interesting, entertaining, helpful or enlightening to some degree.

mistletoe-berries

I’d like to wish you all a very merry Christmas, and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

Until the next time, when I’ve recovered from the preparations, festivities and celebrations – be well.

#SundayBlogShare – Elegy for Earth 🐝🏔🌎

“The question is, are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see an elephant except in a picture book?” ~ David Attenborough

In many respects the success of the human race has caused as many problems as it has solved for us collectively. Population explosion, the demands for food, pollution, the endless pursuit of profits at the expense of people, plants and animals, (especially the mega corporations such as Monsanto), who produce and use some of the most harmful ingredients known to man and nature.

monsanto-pollution

Governments only seem to care about the environment when there’s something in it for them, such as tourist trade. Don’t even get me started on the destruction of rainforest for palm oil and other ingredients that fuel our ‘convenience’ lifestyle.

So many endangered species in Asia and the Amazon are seeing their habitats destroyed for the sake of a few companies and individuals making more than a few bucks. This is the dark side of capitalism. Making money no matter the cost.

But the end does not justify the means, because billions of people live on this planet. Harvesting huge swathes of the ‘lungs of the earth’ for timber and other land use may give a short term economic gain, but how can we measure the huge cost to humanity in terms of loss of diversity and disasters bought about as a result of such ecological destruction?

gibbon

We can all do our bit, reducing waste, recycling, walking instead of taking a car, being aware of our buying habits, and asking ourselves, do we support environmentally conscious businesses? Do we buy cosmetics and food that is produced in an ethical and sustainable way?

Planet Earth II

I admire Sir David Attenborough in many ways, he is a brilliant broadcaster and passionate naturalist, but it’s mostly because of the man he is; the way he has dedicated his life to bringing the beauty of nature to the masses. Definitely a national treasure! He has done more in his life than probably any other person (except maybe Darwin), to help us understand and love the natural world, open our eyes to how complex and amazing planet Earth really is, showing us that humans and the natural world are interdependent. Their survival aids our survival.

Planet Earth II has been compelling viewing! Some highlights:

The last episode of Planet Earth II is airing tonight on BBC One, and it focuses on animals in urban environments. Here’s the trailer for Cities:

I hope you enjoy my poem, Elegy for Earth. It’s a bittersweet musing on what we’ve done to the animal kingdom and the planet we call home – Earth.

Elegy for Earth

Gravity pulls us to your perfect, rounded bosom,

Our feet, able to walk in soft earth, grass and sand,

Your endless bounty is a gift, pure and fulsome,

Evolved have we, to wield a greedy, grasping hand,

Eager to harvest, destroy and plunder your riches,

We continue to rape and pillage; burn nature’s bridges.

 brazil-amazon-caracol

Many of our people appreciate and value such utopia,

Those who do not, give no thought to rainforests or

Wildlife; they are deaf to earth’s cry of melancholia,

No longer can she sustain this global ravage before

We reach the point of no return – alas, this is it.

Improve stewardship, or spin on a barren crypt.

apollo-butterfly

Industrialisation supported our growing population,

Without thought of the consequences for our home,

We paused not, to notice the result of human invasion,

We lost the wisdom of our forebears, who used to roam

Mother Earth. Her resources are finite and dwindling fast,

If we heed not nature’s warnings; humanity will not last.

forest-stag-and-boars

Poisonous fumes, silent smoke lace the air; breathe death

Plastic and detritus fill oceans deep and clog sunny shores,

Living rainforest cut-down, decimated, with startling breadth,

Pyres of man-made rubbish, polluting Earth’s pristine pores,

How far we have strayed, in the name of material progress,

We reap what we sow, our ultimate destruction to manifest.

smoke

How much wiser, to preserve this green and vibrant land,

As indigenous tribes have done, no need for fossil fuels

Instead we mine, we frack, we drill, we kill; be damned,

Pause, notice our impact; let’s protect our precious jewel.

Climate change accelerates, while man still procrastinates,

To continue unabated means the end of the master-race.

pollution

Ancient, tall trees and rolling seas offer healing escape,

Mountain air revives, soul solace, fresh foods replenish,

Let’s not take more than we need – replant and replace,

Waste is unforgivable when so many, from hunger, perish.

What polluted wasteland will we create for our descendants?

In all haste, will we act, to save Earth’s divine resplendence?

water-lily

If thriving pastures and woodlands are turned to dust,

As we wage chemical warfare on all that is pure and good,

Complain we cannot, about modern plagues’ relentless thrust,

Wars, droughts and floods; apocalypse no longer misunderstood,

Through hardship of experience, source of harmful disease,

Species wiped out; no fish, no tigers, no monkeys or bees.

tiger

The ghost of Christmas past says, stop! Look! See!

How hunting made animals extinct, and smog is choking,

The spirit of the present says, you will not get off scot-free,

Serious consequences to stand and face; no point hoping…

For the ghost of Christmas future, to bring good tidings,

Redemption lies only in ceasing madness; our silver linings.

man-in-the-wilderness

Imagine hell on Earth; no pristine wilderness left to explore,

No clean seas to sail on or swim in, surf polluted waves,

Dante’s Inferno would be a nightmare reality to deplore,

We have the power to do our bit, our planet to save,

Halt the mindless massacre, before it’s too late,

If we do nothing together, then we seal our fate…

glowing-sunrise-canim-lake

By Virginia Burges

Movie Review: A United Kingdom – The Love That Defied an Empire

“No man is free who is not master of himself.”

Just as my daughters have Australian ancestry on my dad’s side of the family, they also have ancestors from South Africa on their paternal side. Their grandmother grew up in Serowe, the same town as Botswana’s founding father. So to get the girls in touch with their roots, (and for a trip down memory lane for Hazel), we recently saw the epic love story of an African Prince, Seretse Khama (chief of the Bamangwato people, grandson of Khama III, their king), and an English woman, Ruth Williams, in the stunning film A United Kingdom.

It is an unashamed, sweeping biopic of love against all odds. A United Kingdom tells the true story of the Khama’s much maligned, highly publicised marriage in London in 1948 and its dire consequences; not only for the couple personally, but also around the political fallout for the British Empire and South African government, which made it even more powerful and poignant.

This film blew me away. The acting felt so real and visceral, David Oyelowo (whose onscreen presence is mesmerising), and Rosamund Pike as his strong-willed English rose, were superb as the Khamas. The script, the cinematography, the way the story was portrayed and directed by Amma Asante so sensitively and closely to the facts contributed to an authentic, immersive and emotional experience.

I could see Hazel was in tears also at the end of the movie. She had met Seretse and Ruth Khama when she was a young girl growing up in Serowe, only a year or so older than my eldest daughter Emily, now aged 9. The Khamas were friends with her parents and had come to visit the Palmer family at their farm in Serowe. Hazel was told not to stare at them, as mixed race couples were rare in those days.

Emily and Ruby’s great-grandparents (the Palmers) had welcomed the couple with a gift when they first arrived in Seretse’s homeland as newlyweds, a hamper of fresh fruit and vegetables grown on their farm. It was an act of kindness that the Khamas obviously appreciated after such a hostile reception from his uncle Tshekedi – who was acting as regent.

Seretse Khama, Prince of Bechuanaland (Botswana), and his white, bride, Ruth Williams, faced overwhelming opposition to their union from her family, his uncle, the British Empire and the South African government.

Seretse and Ruth Khama in Serowe

Seretse and Ruth Khama in Serowe

Hazel recognised many of the views in the vast, scenic shots of Botswana around Serowe. Her parents are buried in the same cemetery as the Khamas on Memorial Hill, which overlooks Serowe.

Although Emily kept whispering in my ear that she was bored in the early part of the film she became more engrossed as it went on. I felt it was important for her to appreciate what love means regardless of race, and to understand the deep racial divisions in society at that time.

I’ve never felt so ashamed to be British as I sat and watched how the Labour government at the time, (and then the following Conservative one) waged war with extreme prejudice and staggering self-interest on a couple whose only sin was to love each other. Culturally they couldn’t have been born further apart, but spiritually they were perfectly aligned.

It’s one thing to face personal attack for your choice of partner, but to remain strong in the face of two nations’ bullying is nothing short of a miracle. Seretse was prepared to give up his destiny as King of Botswana in order to be with Ruth. What an example of love and integrity to set your people!

He makes a magnificent speech at the beginning of the film, imploring and winning over his people in a meeting of the Kgotla (a traditional place of tribal meetings).  He comes across as noble, honest, and a fine orator, only concerned with the welfare of his people and not with the petty discrimination of colour. He is well educated (with a degree in law from Balliol College in Oxford), compassionate, smart and strong, all attributes which are tested to the limit as their story unfolds.

Meanwhile, on his travels around the tribal lands Seretse discovers an American mining company has started prospecting for precious gems. He knows that a large diamond find would allow much needed investment and infrastructure for his people, providing he can leverage the discovery ahead of the British.

Seretse travels to the UK to plead his case with the British government as his grandfather had previously been granted a protectorate for Bechuanaland by Queen Victoria. However, Canning tells him rather smugly that instead of recognising him as the rightful King of Bechuanaland the British government has instead exiled him from his homeland.

The couple are distraught as Ruth has to give birth alone in Africa whilst Seretse seeks assistance from various lawyers and human rights activists to further his cause in London.

Jack Davenport is great as the overbearing Alistair Canning, the British commissioner to South Africa, who is underhand and does his best to obfuscate their situation at every turn. He uses the excuse that Seretse’s uncle has requested their intervention and he also hides the true outcome of a report into Seretse’s ability to rule Botswana.

“It should now be our intention to try to retrieve what we can of our past. We should write our own history books to prove that we did have a past, and that it was a past that was just as worth writing and learning about as any other. We must do this for the simple reason that a nation without a past is a lost nation, and a people without a past is a people without a soul.”

~ Seretse Khama, first president of Botswana, speech at the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, 15 May 1970, as quoted in the Botswana Daily News, 19 May 1970.

Meanwhile Ruth has stoically continued her life at their African home, helping the women and getting to know the people. She has also made a televised appeal to the British government pleading for Seretse to be allowed to return to his homeland, but to no avail.

During their time apart, through her actions, Ruth has endeared herself to Seretse’s tribe.

Eventually Ruth returns to England with their baby daughter and the pair fight against the injustice of an empire with a vested interest in uranium mining and the political stability of South Africa under the control of the disgusting apartheid regime.

The film aroused intense anger in me for the majority of the viewing time, along with sadness, admiration, respect and the vicarious joy of the Khamas.

1956, Croydon, Surrey, England, UK --- Seretse Khama - Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

1956, Croydon, Surrey, England, UK – Seretse Khama – Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

Eventually their plight is heard in court, where Seretse gives up his right to rule as King. The couple ask for permission to travel to Bechuanaland on a trip to put some family affairs in order, and whilst there he and his uncle make reparations and heal their rift. In another stirring speech, Seretse Khama calls for independence and the country’s first democratic elections.

Behind the scenes featurette:

From that moment on their personal destiny and that of Botswana begins to be fulfilled. History shows that Seretse Khama was a great leader as the country’s first president, overseeing rapid economic growth and prosperity as well as social reforms. Ruth continued with her humanitarian work and bore him four children, and their second child (first son), Ian Khama, is the fourth and current president of Botswana.

Statue of Sir Seretse Khama outside the Parliament building in Botswana.

Statue of Sir Seretse Khama outside the Parliament building in Botswana.

It really says something when Nelson Mandela himself was inspired by Seretse and Ruth Khama and what they achieved in Botswana as his vision for what could be done in South Africa.

To watch a beautifully made film that is based on actual events that inspires us to follow our hearts, whether it be for love, or any other goal or dream, no matter the obstacles, is worthy of a couple of hours of your time.  It’s a must see in my humble opinion…

Film critic Mark Kermode also gives his stamp of approval:

It was a love story that I knew nothing of, but it’s not very often that our personal family history coincides with a nation’s history, and I do believe the film does them justice.

“We are convinced that there is justification for all the races that have been brought together in this part of Africa, by the circumstances of history, to live together in peace and harmony, for they have no other home but Southern Africa. Here we will have to learn how to share aspirations and hopes as one people, united by a common belief in the unity of the human race. Here rests our past, our present, and, most importantly of all, our future.”

~ Sir Seretse Khama (speech at the national stadium on the 10th anniversary of independence in 1976.)

A Helpful Lesson in the World of Energy

“We have been all wrong! What we have called matter is energy, whose vibration has been lowered as to be perceptible to the senses.” ~ Albert Einstein

It’s a rather plaintive opening to this week’s post. A series of recent events and stressful situations has caused me to feel overwhelmed, anxious, antsy and all in all, emotionally battered. With nasty old thought patterns rearing their ugly heads, my energy channels almost reached overload and I was feeling lost. I couldn’t see a way out and I wasn’t able to deal effectively with what life was throwing at me.

The trouble is, when you act unconsciously you are usually unaware of it at the time the behaviour occurs, and so a downward cycle can hinder us in balancing our energy and removing blockages that, if left buried and unexpressed or unreleased, can cause physical illness as well as emotional distress.

energy-stress

I was lucky to have the help and support of a close friend and very special lady who is helping me in many areas of my life.

Kim was able to help me release this heavy, negative energy, restore my energy flow and emotional equilibrium.  The technique she used was new to me, (although similar in some respects to other energy healing therapies I have come across), known as EmoTrance, or EMO – Energy in Motion.

What is EmoTrance/EMO?

It’s all energy

Quantum Physics asserts that everything in the universe is pure energy at the sub atomic level. Our planet, nature, our bodies, and our thoughts exist in space and time, and have a certain vibration.

energy-darryl-anka-quote

The founder of EMO, Dr. Silvia Hartmann, explains how the metaphor of water is used in EmoTrance energy healing work:

After a thorough session I was feeling restored to my usual energetic self. I had some significant releases and it felt good to let go of the thoughts, feelings and energy that most definitely wasn’t helping me. As I discovered, it’s all about the flow. Blockages are bad with a capital B. Just think of drains, smells, stagnant pools and disease. My nose is crinkling already! It’s all about balance. Energy can’t be balanced if it does not flow through a system. Any system.

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Walking along a sandy beach watching and listening to the regular, rhythmic sound of waves rolling onto the shore and pulling back a layer of sand or pebbles, you can fully appreciate the eternal flow of our planet. Even the unused particles of dead plants and animals get recycled into the cosmic energy field. Nature does not waste energy.

energy-beach

This will be an ongoing process for me as I work through my challenges. I had another realisation straight after the session, as I thought about what Kim and I had explored and its relation to a movie I had recently seen with my family, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. You may be wondering what the blazes has the Warner Bros. prequel spin-off to Harry Potter got to do with imbalances in energy?

All will be revealed post haste!

The main character in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is Newt Scamander, a wizard and magizoologist who wrote a book by the same name that was referenced in Harry Potter. JK Rowling wrote her first screenplay for the film. I thought she did a great job. She has imagined a whole new magical world that exists before Harry Potter that fans can get absorbed in.

The film is set in 1920’s New York as Newt becomes embroiled in the secret magical community just as they are battling a mysterious, powerful enemy whose spate of grisly murders are threatening to expose them to No-Maj’s (the equivalent of Muggles in Harry’s universe).

We learn that Newt, who is played by the young, quintessentially British, Oscar winning actor, Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl, The Theory of Everything), was expelled from Hogwarts and is very much an expert and lover of fantastic beasts across the world. He is making a new home for them in the wilds of Arizona where they can live safely and he can study them further. He plans to write a book about them someday…

An Obscurus in real life

Without giving away too much of the plot (in case you haven’t seen the film), I had a surge of insight about the dark, swirling entity in the movie, referred to as an obscurus.

I was especially taken with the concept of an obscurus; a malignant, uncontrollable energy form that arises in young magical children, who out of persecution and fear have suppressed their abilities and wizard identities to deny who they truly are. The obscurus eventually takes on a life force of its own, consumes and eventually kills its disturbed wizard hosts and creators. Obscuruses are destructive, malevolent and seemingly impossible to destroy.

Newt manages to capture and suspend one such entity from a dying girl with the purpose of understanding it more fully. When he comes across the source of the baleful one on the rampage in New York, the film takes a darker turn.

Through the action Rowling cleverly illustrates how unresolved anger, repression and negative emotions manifest in a fictional world.

But to me, the realm of fantasy doesn’t seem that far removed from reality. What happens to us energetically when we bury strong or unresolved emotions and transparent beliefs, is not so different to the lethal effect of the obscurus. It is an unconscious act of self-harm.

The light aspects of a person’s archetypes and their equivalent positive thoughts can become obscured by an overload to the energy centers (chakras, meridians, etc.) when a person suffers prolonged stress, or emotions triggered from a traumatic event or incident in childhood.

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Left unchecked and unnoticed stagnant energy festers and can cause all sorts of physical ailments. As complex, integrated beings, our thoughts and emotions are intricately entwined with our physical bodies.

Our bodies and thoughts have been proven by physics to be nothing but energy forms, and these energy forms are either working for us or against us. I found the parallels between the field of energy healing and the Fantastic Beasts film helpful in visualising what trapped negative energy might look like, and the damage it can wreak on mind, body and soul, let alone a movie set!

Don’t feed your obscurus as I did; study it and be aware of it, and take time to top up your energy reserves if you feel depleted. I find it’s sorely needed at this time of year!