BAFTAs

The British Academy Film and Television Awards were shown on Sunday night, a glittering affair for the famous faces that write, direct, produce and star in the films and television shows we love best, complete with the red carpet, flashing cameras, smart suits and evening gowns, limousines and shiny golden awards.

The 2015 BAFTAs saw the Theory of Everything winning the battle for Outstanding British Film and saw Eddie Redmayne, who plays Stephen Hawking in the film, win the award of Leading Actor. The Theory of Everything was up against The Imitation Game and Eddie Redmayne was up against Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Alan Turing in The Imitation Game.

Eddie Redmayne gives an incredible performance as Stephen Hawking but the film shouldn’t have won against The Imitation Game. The acting is awe inspiring but the story line and script are both weak, dodging major themes of loss, love, betrayal and tragedy. The Imitation Game deals with all these themes and more, in a film with a script as brilliant as the acting. Therefore, The Imitation Game deserved to win. Simply put, it was the better film.

And interestingly, Eddie Redmayne portrays a genius who suffers from a disability that can be physically seen. Benedict Cumberbatch portrays a genius who is different and so s forced to go through immense psychological trauma. Redmayne was playing someone who has problems which can be seen whereas Cumberbatch is playing someone who has problems are hidden inside of them.

Really, it’s just an outcome of our society, the world we live in, in which the physical appearance, the outside, is put before the inside. Society dictates we must all look a certain way and places great emphasis on how our hair must look and how our faces must be shaped and what clothes we must wear. But that’s not important. It’s not the outside which counts; one day, we will all be simply skeletons. What does matter is what’s inside of us, is how we act and how we give to other people. Because if the inside is beautiful, not only will this benefit the people around us, but will be reflected on the outside too.

Both Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch are incredible actors and I don’t know how it was decided which one of them would win the award; I don’t think I would have been able to choose. But the fact that Eddie Redmayne was given the award over Cumberbatch says something about our society and, as the people who live in our society, about us. We have to remember that, at the end of the day, what’s important, most important, is the inside. Is the person we are, not the person we look like.

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Vietnam: ‘Done’

Next week, we have a History test. On Vietnam. More specifically, the Vietnam war in context of the Cold War and relationships between the capitalist US and communist Russia and what role a country on a different continent to both the Us and Russia has to play.

Two of my friends and I decided to revise for the test together; none of us particularly enjoy the topic and we thought that three heads would be better than one. So today we spent an hour and a half revising, learning years and facts and figures and events. And, as my friend so eloquently put it as we were leaving: We ‘did’ Vietnam.

During the Vietnam war, which officially began in 1965, over one million people were killed. More bombs were dropped on Vietnam, which is smaller than Germany, during the Vietnam war than were dropped on Germany and Japan combined during the Second World War. Gallons of toxic weed killer were poured on Vietnam’s jungles. Buddhists burned themselves and innocent peasants were slaughtered because of the wrong information, such as the My Lai massacre, during which 400 people were killed by US soldiers because they had been told Viet Cong troops were hiding in the village. In reality, none were. People were burned to death because of the use of Napalm, a chemical burning agent. People died and those that survived bear the scars to this day. And we ‘did’ it in an hour and a half. Laughing and joking our way through it, too.

And it was only afterwards that I began to realise how inappropriately we behaved and how insensitively we acted. Learning history is not just about learning facts; it’s about realising the horrific mistakes that humanity have made and understanding them so we don’t repeat them in the future. Because it doesn’t matter what result we get in the test, in the grand scheme of things. What does matter is that we learn from the past so we don’t fail the tests that other people have failed, if they are repeated in the future.

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Respect

I have just received an invitation to a fancy dress party in a few weeks. And I’m really excited – it’s been almost a year since I last went to a fancy dress party. As I already have a sailor hat, I decided that I would go as a sailor and I eagerly started looking for a costume.

I looked on Amazon. I looked on Ebay. I looked on several different websites. And I ran into a problem. Every single costume I found, with the exception of maybe one or, at a stretch, two, had a plunging neckline and hardly any skirt. I wasn’t expecting something that would reach my elbows and my ankles and cover everything. I just wasn’t expecting costumes that are so… Slutty. Because I can’t think of any other way to describe them. And I wasn’t just annoyed because I couldn’t find a costume.

Maybe I am being naive, but I don’t think so. The fact that these were the only costumes I could find says something loud and clear about our society and about the way that, despite everything, women are sometimes treated. England have only ever had one female Prime Minister. There is still a 10% pay difference between men and women. According to a UN report, 84% or parliamentary seats across the world are held by men. 22% of MPs and Peers in the UK are women, with a similar percentage in Cabinet and serving as judges in the courts. I know women are much more equal to men now and I know that men and women have different strengths and weaknesses, but that doesn’t mean women shouldn’t be respected or should just be treated as objects.

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Juxtaposed

Yesterday evening I went ice skating and I left my phone in my coat pocket with a friend who sat on the side. After two hours of skating, I looked at my phone and saw that there were two new messages on our family whatsapp group.

The first message was from my dad, saying that one of his colleagues’ had just lost her mother. The second was from my aunt, saying that her brother and wife had just had a baby girl.

After I read both messages, I just sat for a few moments. The juxtaposition of life and death was shocking. The fact that one person would be mourning the loss of her mother whilst another person would celebrate the joy of becoming a mother herself.

Contrast makes feelings, emotions both more stark and more real. Contrasting the joy of a child’s birth with the pain of a mother’s death makes one all the more joyous and the other all the more painful.

And the two messages, they just made me realise how unfair but precious life is. How we never know when life will start or when it will finish. How the end for one person may herald the start for another.

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The Power of Song

The verb to sing means ‘to utter words or sounds in succession with music modulations of the voice; vocalize melodically.’ But singing is so much more than that, so much more than simply uttering words or sounds.

For some reason, song seems to exacerbate a human beings emotions. Songs uplift and inspire us and even songs that draw out our pain and make us cry give us closure through the tears. Somehow, words uttered as song are so much more powerful than words simply uttered. Because spoken words don’t have the power to highlight our emotions like the lyrics of a song.

When words cannot express an emotion, we turn to song. Because words are simply words and anyone can say words. But singing is something special, is something directly from the depths of a person’s soul.

And they say that when nothing else works, when everything else has failed, G-d will always hear our singing.

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Truly Brave

The disco lights lining the huge, majestically arched roof send swirls of colour spiralling over the ice. People whizz by in a blur, the sharp sound of skates scratching ice barely audible above the laughter, chatter and blaring music, but audible still. And I, gripping onto the side barrier, wobbling in my ice skates, suddenly realise that I’m terrified.

Two friends, who are fed up of me clutching onto the side and not moving, grab my hands and pull me to the middle of the rink. I let them but I warn them not to dare let go of me. And one of them turns around and says to me: You might be scared, but at least you’re on the ice, at least you let us bring you to the middle. And I look around and see other friends who are sitting on the edges or who aren’t letting anyone help them. And, despite feeling terrified, I suddenly also felt strangely brave.

Let’s backtrack for a moment: I have just spent a day with my friends, courtesy of the youth group we belong to. And I, who am generally quiet, have danced and sung and talked and joined in. And I have learnt so much, about my friends and being a youth leader and life in general.

The theme of the day was ‘from me to we’ and, amongst other lessons about the nurturing and importance of both, I have realised that you have to have buckets of courage to take the me and give it to the we. Because if we are part of a we, the real me naturally comes through. And in order to let yourself become part of the we takes courage.

And my friend’s comment, on the ice, showed me with sudden clarity that it’s ok to be scared, to be terrified. But that doesn’t mean you’re any less brave. If you have the courage to skate to the middle and not sit in the side, to show your true self and fully give your me to the we, then you are truly brave.

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Flat Number 30

Flat number 30. The first time I went there, I remember feeling excited but anxious, full of trepidation. I had no idea what, or who, would greet me. I didn’t know what was on the other side of the door. It wasn’t me who rang the bell; it was my friend, the person I had come with. And then the heavy door buzzed open and my heart started thumping, the beating getting louder with each step as we made our way up the four flights of threadbare, red carpeted stairs. I don’t remember if we said anything, but we were probably silent, both drowning in the flood of our own fears and thoughts. And we are best friends; sometimes a shared silence is more comforting than any words we could offer each other. Besides, I don’t think she was nervous. Well, at least not as nervous as I was. And I was terrified.

At the top of the fourth flight of stairs, there was a plain white door. A plain white door with a gold letter box and a bell. “Ring it,” my friend had said to me. “You ring it,” I had replied. And so she had. And we both waited there, listening to the reverberating tones of the doorbell echo through the flat and, in that moment before the door opened, I thought I was going to be sick, was going to wretch my insides out. Thank goodness I wasn’t! Because when the door swung open, standing behind it was a woman. A woman in a knee length skirt and brightly coloured top. And she smiled and said “hi” and ushered us into flat number 30. Her flat. Her home.

We came in and we sat down and then the other three joined us at the dining room table. And she told us, once we had sat down and introduced ourselves that we should stay in the same places every week because she wanted to learn our names. And from then until this day, we have. We’ve stayed in the same places.

Many other things have changed. Her son has grown up; he was five and is now ten. The dining room table and the couches swapped places and the photos on her cupboard were changed, updated as life went on. And from our group of five, we grew to six. The exercise books which were so pristine when we started are now falling apart, bursting with the words of wisdom she has imparted to us. There are words filling the pages, lists at the back, questions every week. And if the walls of flat number 30 could talk, boy would they have a story to tell.

Flat number 30. Where we went to learn, to be inspired. Where we laughed and smiled and frowned. Where we struggled through some passages and flew through others. Where we presented her with a list of questions so that we wouldn’t have to look at the text. Where she joked with us and we joked back. Flat number 30.

Flat number 30, with its cream carpets and couches, its white walls and its ugly lights. Flat number 30, where I went every single week for almost five years. But I never saw any more of it, nothing except the dining room where we sat. Like its owner, the flat seemed elusive, mysterious, beautiful. Something I wanted to proudly announce I knew, but something I knew and still know very little of.

Of course I know more now. More about her. More about that woman in the knee length skirt and brightly coloured top that opened the door to us on that day, that cold evening in September, all those years ago. Now we smile whenever we see each other and my smile lingers on my lips long after she is gone. She is a very special person, an inspiration, a role model, although she doesn’t see herself as one. “The greatest people,” she once told us, “are those who are so connected to the world around them, that they seem normal.” “Just like you,” I thought. “Just like you.”

Flat number 30. Where I met her and where I spent some of the happiest, most inspirational and truthful hours of my life. Where I began to discover myself and the world around me. Where I learnt more than I could ever wish to know. Flat number 30. Not just a place, not just a flat. But a house, a home, which reminds me of loving people and warm memories; short, winter nights and long summer evenings. Flat number 30.

Flat number 30. Now replaced with house number 6. House number 6, where we still sit in the same places, but where she knows our names. House number 6, where she has a family. House number 6, which I have seen so much of in the past few months, where we have already laughed and frowned and joked. Where we have already flown and struggled. Where we have already learnt and been inspired.

And I walked past flat number 30 recently, and I looked up at the light of the window and I remember its previous owner, its previous life. But, I suppose, this is a new chapter. A new chapter with characters who are the same but who have moved on.

Once flat number 30. Now, house number 6.

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