Laugh and the World Cries with You

Some of you may get the impression that I watch a lot of films; wrong, I watch a lot of everything. I have just watched the series, ‘Genius’. No, it’s not about me, but that’s very kind of you to say. Remember Albert Einstein, relatives, I mean relatively, I mean relativity, well actually ‘the general theory of relativity’. Now you’re asking; it has something to do with the sun, gravity, time and a big white mesh that the sun sat in. There was lots of writing on blackboards, lectures, imaginary flashes of brilliance. It was all so wonderful. E=MC2, there you go, it’s all explained now. Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared; it’s all clear as day to me. If I understood correctly; can you doubt it? Mass and energy are the same thing and can be changed into each other. That makes perfect sense. Let me explain it all by the use of thought experiments, Einstein used these all the time. You just imagine things and I will explain really complicated physics to you; honest.

Picture the scene, a large flabby man sitting on the sofa watching TV. The doorbell rings; it’s the Pizza delivery. Suddenly the whole of his physical mass is converted into energy; the man springs from the sofa and dashes to the door. Before you can say, ‘deep pan with extra cheese’ he has paid, grabbed a beer and is back on his seat by the TV, almost at the speed of light; E=MC2. There has even been an increase in his mass; perhaps he picked up some extra energy on his trip around the house. Not convinced? Here’s another thought experiment. Imagine the scene, you’re probably getting good at this by now. It’s a beautiful sunny day, a family are enjoying a picnic. The children have finished eating and are running around. Mum and dad are lying on the picnic rug checking their social media on their phones; this is a typical family. A wasp lands on mum’s arm; she doesn’t notice. You thought she’d scream. It moves on, upset at the lack of response; just like you. Trying its luck on dads’ nose; there it finds success. The seeming inertia of his immobile mass, is instantly converted into screaming energy, as he leaps to his feet. We need to pause here for a moment. Because there is another of Einstein’s theories to look at; nuclear chain reactions. Don’t worry, all will become clear; you can put your exercise book away. Back to the family at the picnic. Not understanding why her husband leapt up in shock; mum joins the affray. Seeing their parents running around excitedly, the children don’t want to miss out on the fun. Soon all four are leaping and running around, screaming and batting their arms wildly. I don’t know what nuclear fission looks like close up; maybe like a family fighting off a wasp. But then again perhaps not, who can say? Will all the physicists among you please calm down; I am joking.

Is it time we looked at Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle? No, I don’t want you to rush off and get lost in my explanation and me not be able to find you.

You are all wondering why I called this blog, ‘Laugh and the world cries with you?’ So, am I, whatever came over me? I must have been having a bad day; or was there an idea floating around that just floated off? It does happen you know. Of course, there’s always the possibility that it started out as one thing and then changed into another at the speed of light squared. Or that laughter and tears are also the same thing just waiting to have the potential to turn into the other. I give up; why did I call it that? Anyway, I will be back with more lectures on physics and chemistry in the future; or the past, or present.

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I have noticed in films and series, an increasing number of disabled actors. Particularly wheelchair users. The trouble is, I have noticed something else, and as a full-time wheelchair user I feel I can say this, a number of them are very poor actors. It leads me to the conclusion that they are there to represent me; by me I mean disability generally. That is a big problem to me. As it is not working as it should.


I’ll give you a concrete example, the detective series Vera. It has a lady in a wheelchair, working in the office. She is the most wooden actor in the series. I cannot imagine they would have cast her in Vera unless she filled a need for a disabled actor. I can say that by comparing the calibre of the other actors they choose. I wouldn’t mind if she was a great ambassador for disabled people. But she always looks so dour and miserable. She doesn’t engage me, she’s not someone who you connect with. I am not blaming her; not everyone is a brilliant actor or good at connecting with people. She is just one of many average actors. She just happens to be disabled. That’s the problem, she is filling a role which I feel she is unsuitable for.


I am totally behind the idea of positive discrimination, where there is a lack of representation of any kind; gender, racial or disability. I understand that film makers will not want the hassle of employing disabled actors without a push. Adapting sets and facilities is costly and difficult; I know they require that push. What I am saying is that they need a better choice of actors. I can only assume this is where the problem lies.


What is needed is for a lot of disabled people to start training as actors. Ones with an aptitude for the vocation. Out of the way I’m coming through. No, I will spare you my thespian skills; or lack thereof. Acting it is like every other area in life, if the directors and producers have limited choice they will end up with a limited outcome.


I do want to be represented in films and television. That is a good thing, it’s great that the media is trying harder to represent people more equally from all areas of life. What you notice is that there are great actors from all walks of life, racial backgrounds and genders, but we have a long way to go in finding great disabled actors. There are a few; but too few.


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Fancy Names

Those who keep up with my blogs will remember that I wrote to the BBC to ask about becoming a MasterChef judge. Obviously, given my wide experience in eating they chose to take me up and we have been filming next year’s MasterChef during lockdown. I know, you won’t believe me, so you’ll just have to wait till the 2022 MasterChef: Nevin Goes Large. Then you will all know whether it’s true. You’ll see that they introduce me as, “Mike Nevin, blogger and food eating expert. He has travelled and eats daily.” I was quite proud of my preamble, “I’m looking for someone who can cook. I don’t mean out of a packet or tin.” Judging by Greg and John’s expressions, they liked it too.


Anyway, the reason I am writing this blog is that being on the panel of judges, gave me ideas. You see, if it wasn’t true where would these ideas come from? You can’t possibly imagine that I sit around at home making this stuff up?


I got to thinking about all those things in cooking that have fancy names but are really everyday items. In fact, I was speaking to the winner, who of course I cannot tell you anything about; I am sworn to secrecy. I am not allowed to tell you anything at all about the show, prior to broadcast; and I won’t. I’m not like Prue Leith.


Anyway, I was chatting to the winner and she was saying to me… wait, when I say she, I could of course mean he. Names like Alex are after all unisex. But as I have said she, I will continue with that, but remember I have not told you if Alex was male or female. Where was I? Alex, said she’s a teacher of English, and to her words are vital. I agree entirely and we had a very interesting chat about it between takes. I think the reason we got on is that Alex and I are both in our late 50’s, so we have similar childhood memories.


One of the words that Alex and I agreed was far too fancy was roux sauce. I was surprised at her comment on this as we had all been particularly impressed with her roux sauce in the quarter finals. It had been her duck with roux sauce and fondant potatoes that won it for her. But I suppose given her general skills, especially with sauces, she has a right to be critical though.


When the contestants were at CERN, feeding the scientists at the Hadron Accelerator, I got a few moments chatting with Alex between takes about other words. On the way back Jen was quite upset at being eliminated. I never really rated Jen’s chances anyway. I had been torn between her and Mark when we were deciding who to send home in the quarter finals anyway. Still, having Alex, Greg, Mark and Sarah in the semi-finals seemed the best outcome to me.


On the way back from filming the semi-finals in the restaurant in the Eifel Tower Alex and I agreed that cars should be re-named auto-voituriers. During the next days filming at Pinewood Studios on the set of the latest Bond movie, we discussed re-naming cameras. We came up with pellicoliamera.


Cooking for the US President on Air Force One at a social distance for the finals was a lot of fun to be part of. I was surprised how easily my wheelchair fitted on board. The President was very understanding when turbulence caused Mark to drop a salad in his lap. We had to eliminate him of course. Chatting to Alex later I was saying that the crème anglaise she made was an excellent custard. Greg and John had raved about it. All of which brought us around to thinking of more names for everyday items that are fancier. We did think of a few others, but I’m worried that if I tell you, I might let slip details about the show.


I’m so glad I got through this blog without giving anything away about MasterChef 2022. Greg and John seemed to think I couldn’t keep a secret; I showed them and the guest judges, Jamie Oliver and Thomas Keller.

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Fiction or Fact

Being long term ill gives me a lot of time to watch films. Mainly because there are hours on end when I lack the energy to move. Sometimes I just stare into space and think, my blogs are often the result of that thinking. I know, you wouldn’t believe any thought went into them, but there is, really. After my last blog which seems to have caused a little controversy, I must be careful. Maybe I should start all my blogs with, “this is the authors opinion and does not have to be taken seriously.” or something like that.


I get quite bored watching films and its only boredom that leads me to watch so many. They all have similar patterns and I never really enjoyed doing nothing anyway. Thinking is at least doing something. Unfortunately, exhaustion often prevents even that. So, film watching it is. I do realise many of you must be extremely jealous of me having hours to watch films. I am jealous of you having hours to actually ‘do’ real stuff.


I am not writing this as a poor me blog. I have plenty to be thankful about and I do not spend my days feeling miserable. On the contrary, I am very positive and upbeat about life. You only have to read my blogs to see that.


In my latest musings I realised something. Well actually it reminded me of my Open University teaching in creative writing. There are many different genres of films. Earth shattering, eh? Hang on in there, there is a bit more to come. I want to simplify all the genres down. There are only really two types of fiction, ones where you get a happy ending and ones where you don’t. Think about that for a moment. All those gritty dramas you have watched where they end with uncertainty or sadness. All those rom coms, action adventures, detective stories etc. where things end with some kind of resolution. Of course, these days that resolution may come after a 3- or 4-part film or miniseries; but it still comes. You notice I said ‘resolution’ not ‘happy ending’. Because that is today’s currency for films. Happy endings are so yesterday, aren’t they?


Even in a rom com you rarely get a ‘happy ever after’ ending, unless it’s tongue in cheek. But you do get ‘resolution’. The two main characters come together and agree to ‘ignore each other’s faults’ or ‘not get married’ and yet in some way stay together and love each other. Presumably until they get bored, rather than until death do they part. In part 2 of such films, we see the reality of this played out. Some films don’t even bother with the two ‘love birds’ getting together as a ‘resolution’ instead the two of them end up, loving from afar, or married but forever apart. It’s still seen as a ‘good’ resolution. Everyone feels satisfied at the end of the film; well, most people.


But why do film makers feel the need to put any hope at all into films? Surely our experience of life has taught us that life is hard and full of disappointment? Is it just so that we can escape into a fictional world where the evil guys are foiled and the good guys win? Are films just a cathartic expression of our inner need to see good triumph? Is it just a way to sell more tissues?


When we watch a film, it isn’t about whether we agree or disagree with the main characters. We don’t have to go along with their life choices. We can actually see them as criminal, disreputable, wrong, unpleasant, unlovable. But clever scripting leads us to identify with them. It’s about how we as viewers feel watching them. The writers and director create situations in which we start to see good in the characters or at least understand why they act as they do. As we identify with them, we care what happens to them; pass the tissues. They become important to us in some way. It is really crazy, but any character good, bad or ugly can become one we root for. The days of white hatted heroes are long gone. The days of hero and heroine are gone. Now we have a real mix up. I don’t know who the main characters are going to be. In fact, often the writers mix it up part way through just to confuse me.


Has anyone seen Frozen? Of course, you have. That is so brilliantly written. They mess around with viewers expectation of ‘happily ever after’ so cleverly. First the princess meets an obvious prince, but he is a villain, then we all think Sven must be the love of her life. Then just as she is running to him at the end, we see that sisterly love is the main theme. What a great twist. Well, if you haven’t watched Frozen, there is no need now. Of course, there is, for all the great songs and the humour.


On the subject of songs; one of the most powerful things used in films is music. Themes for particular characters or events can stir our emotions. If that theme is given words and those words are put into the mouths of several of the characters the effect can be very powerful indeed. I don’t just mean in musicals like Frozen.


Music gets in under our defences. It connects to a part of our emotions that seems unrelated to logic. Which means that you can feel moved over something which, if described, sounds simple. A group of people running (Chariots of Fire, Vangelis), a boxer (Rocky, Gonna Fly Now), a young man walking through an airport (The Graduate, The Sound of Silence), a woman sat on a beach (Beaches, Wind Beneath My Wings) etc. Obviously the background story leading up to the point builds emotional response. But as the music plays with or without singing our innards almost move and we fight back tears. Those of us men brought up when, ‘men don’t cry’ certainly don’t cry at movies. If you believe that…


The reason I am highlighting this is that we want life to have a resolution. Somewhere inside, we believe in justice and ‘happy endings.’ Our emotional and mental makeup seems to point us towards a desire for right, truth, justice, no I am not going to say The American Way; I am British. You see where I am coming from though? I tend to share what I am thinking and leave you to process it. I don’t see myself as a teacher. I’m just a thinker who shares his thoughts. Take it or leave it.


Is it that we like neatness? I know that when I watch a film it winds me up if they walk out of a house without closing the front door; so maybe that’s just me. Perhaps there is a mathematical part of our make up? Now I can’t be talking about me; I failed maths. The point I am trying to make is this: do we just want things to add up? Is it that resolution or a neat and tidy outcome feels right? Life isn’t like that; it’s messy and unfinished. So, films and books give us an outlet for a more perfect outcome. That’s my theory anyway and you are welcome to disagree.


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Who’s The Bald Guy In Front Of Me?


A few years ago, before I was in a wheelchair, I was queueing in a Post Office. As I stood in the queue, patiently waiting, I looked up at the CCTV monitor. There before me was a queue of bored looking people; well, the backs of their heads. I wasn’t quite in shot though, as all I could see was the man at the counter, taking an absolute age and holding us all up. A mother and her child waiting behind him, the child getting impatient. The child was not alone there. Then an old bald guy behind them. The strange thing was when I looked down, the mother and child were in front of me, but no old bald guy. He must have left the queue. I looked back up; he returned as if by magic. I looked down; he’d gone. Now call me very quick witted, I realised that ‘he’ was ‘me.’ But that didn’t make any sense. I look in the mirror every morning and I always saw a good head of hair. The CCTV monitor was lying, it showed a huge bald area on top. I nonchalantly put my hand on my head. Sure, enough I felt the reassuring touch of hair. It was only sometime later I realised that the hair I could feel was too fine and thin to actually be seen. Angles of view can alter your understanding. What felt like a good head of hair to me was virtually invisible on camera and made me look bald from above. How we look at things changes our perception of them.


More than once I have looked at something from a distance and been convinced that what I was seeing was one thing only to realise it was something else once it was closer. Once as a young man I was convinced that I was seeing the end of a beach, with a rock promontory. On reaching it, I found it was just a rock formation sticking out onto the beach part way down with another half mile of beach beyond. What seemed like an ending was only a part way point.  I find that many situations can be like this. Limited or distorted information leads us to conclude one thing when a closer, different angled or a more detailed view changes our understanding. The point is that accurate and full information can prevent us from jumping to wrong conclusions. We live in an age of misinformation, half-truths and outright lies. This is more apt now than it has ever been.


They say that history is written by the victors. Not surprising therefore that our view of the history of our own countries is biased. I was watching ‘The Last Kingdom’ and I was struck by one theme in it. That Alfred wrote down the ‘history’ or at least his interpretation of it, for his times. We form our opinion of him and his times based on things largely written at his command. There are other sources, but a lot came from him.


If the ‘history’ of the times we live in now were mainly recorded by our government and those in power (I deliberately separate those) how would they differ from the masses of opposing views recorded in the press, the media and online? How does your opinion and the governments vary? The less ‘viewpoints’ there are, the narrower the focus, the more one sided the interpretation.


With all the false information on social media how do we find truth? Surely, we have to look at many sources and weigh them? Common sense would say that the more different and widespread sources agree the more likely that is truth. If something is widely reported but ‘does not ring true’ we probably are wise to treat it with scepticism. We seem to have an inbuilt sense of truth. That may sound like nonsense, but think about it. When you hear news items some things just don’t sound right. Others seem to chime within you. It’s that I am talking about. The reason we throw out conspiracy theories isn’t because we think the pedlars of them are unhinged, or because we hold to the ‘incompetence theory of history’ but because they just don’t chime with us, they don’t feel right. But if we hear about corruption of people in power, that rings true. If we hear about hidden torture or people being imprisoned for their beliefs, that rings true. We just seem to know when we are hearing truth.


Obviously, I just knew I wasn’t bald; hang on that disproves my own theory. There are always a few glitches in any idea; but you see where I am coming from? The main point I am really making is to be wise in your processing of news and information. Remember that perspective effects our understanding. Look for different sources. If it doesn’t sound true, maybe it isn’t. Check and cross check. Look at things from wider and different angles. In an age of misinformation, we can still find the truth.


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