Monday, 17 August 2009

Harry Potter and half Blood Prince and heroes of First World War

On Sunday evening, 9th August 2009, a week ago, a BBC documentary tribute was paid to five men who were members of British armed forces and had survived the first world war, the war to end all wars and lived for over one hundred years. Shortly before the programme the last man to have seen action in the Western front, Harry Patch, died, July 25th, aged 111. He had become the third oldest man alive, the oldest man living in Europe and one of the oldest 70 oldest men recorded.

The others featured in the programme were Claude Choules who died at the age of 108, a man who served for forty years in the Navy from 1916 and went to Australia after the second World war with his wife of 80 years, the 8th longest marriage recorded. Arthur Halestrap also served in both World Wars, serving in the Special Operations Executive and lived to 106. William, Sandy Young who served in the First World War was captured by the Japanese in Borneo and survived a P.O.W camp and learnt only at thee end of the war that his wife and son had escaped to Australia. He lived for 107 years. Bill Stone was a seaman who served in both wars and lived to 109.

Henry John “Harry” Patch was born on 17th June 1898. Harry was born in Somerset, His father was a stone mason and he left school at in 1913 and started work as an apprentice plumber in Bath. In 1916 he was conscripted as a private in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. He fought in the battle of Passendale (third battle of Ypres) and was injured in the groin when a shell exploded above his head killing three of his friends and comrades. The incident occurred on 22nd September 1917 when he was nineteen years. He was recovering on the Isle of Wight when the armistice was declared.

Harry continued as a plumber after the war and eventually ran his own company until his retirement at the age of 65. He married first in 1918 and his wife died in 1976. He married again at the age of 81 but his second wife also died in 184. He established a relationship for the third time at the nursing home where he lived in his later years and she also died in 2007. His two sons by his first a marriage in 1984 and 2002. Harry declared that if any man said they were not afraid to go up and out of a trench to face the enemy they were lying and as with the other veterans they mourned their lost comrades, the honoured the sacrifice of the young lives and they hated war. He has confessed that when confronted by an individual member of the enemy he could not kill him but aimed to bring him down injured which he did. In 2004 aged 106 he met a German survivor of the same battle, then aged 107 and they exchanged gifts commenting that they were both in favour of a united Europe and peace. After writing his story he used the proceeds to fund a new inshore Lifeboat and then in September 2008 he provide funds for a plaque and stone at the point where he and his comrades crossed the river Steinbeck in memory of fallen comrades and also marks his having become the last surviving veteran of the trenches. He died seven days after Henry Allingham.

Although Allingham did not feature in the BBC documentary who died at the age of 113 years and 13 days. For one month he had become the oldest man in the world. He was the oldest ever surviving member of the war and the 14th oldest man of all time. From 2001 he was the worldwide known face of the First World War Veteran’s association. He was born in 1896 at Clapton in London and his father died of TB when he was only 14 months of age and was brought up by his mother and grandmother at Clapham in South London. He commenced work as a surgical instrument maker and then worked for a coach builder of car bodies. He remembers watching W G Grace playing cricket and seeing men returning from fighting in the Boer War. He did not join up until 1915 as his mother had become critically ill. He went onto serve as an air craft mechanic for the Naval Air Service. He served on the Western front as part of a training squadron and was involved in preparing the first aircraft with cameras for recognisance purposes. He became part of the RAF in 1918 and became the oldest surviving member of the service. He was married with two daughters one of whom survived him together with seven grandchildren, 14 great grand children and one great great grandchild. During the second world war he was involved with providing counter measures against German magnetic mines. He attended the cenotaph with three other veterans to mark the 90th anniversary of the start the Great War.

Claude Choules was the last seaman to, He was born in Worcestershire on 3rd March 1901 have served in World War 1 and the last veteran to have served in both World Wars. He is 108 years of ages and lives in Australia. He Joined the Royal Navy in 1916 and while serving on board HMS Revenge he witnessed the surrender of the German Imperial Navy and he also witnessed the scuttling of the German Fleet. In 1926 he travelled to Australia as an Instructor and transferred to the Australian Navy in 1931. He became involved with Acting Torpedo Work and Demolition and was given responsibilities to sabotage Fremantle harbours in the event of a Japanese invasion. Claude was married for a total of eighty years and until the death of his wife in 2006 had the 28th longest recorded marriage. He has three children, 11 grand children and twenty two great grand children. He became blind and death from old age but retained high spirits and a love of life.

Arthur Halstrap was born in Southampton in in 1898 and was first refused enlistment because of his age but in 1916 he became a signal man and sent to France in 1918 He worked for Marconi after the war and during the second was appointed to the Special Operations Executive where he provided radio training for those who went into enemy territory, He continued to serve as a member of the Allied Control Commission in Germany and then as a member of the Diplomatic Wireless service, He was married and lost his only child, a son in World War 2. He died at Kings Sutton in 2004 where he had lived since the 1960’s.

William Alexander Smillie Young, Sandy, was born in 1900 and lived for 107 years. He also emigrated to Australia but after the second world war. He was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland, the eldest of six children. But moved to Hayes in Middlesex when he father became the manager of a Jam making factory. On his eighteen birthday he signed up with the Royal signals and became a wireless operator providing gunners with information for targets. After the War he was one of those who contracted the deadly Spanish Flu Virus which killed over a million people world wide. He recovered was assigned to the army of occupation near Cologne.

After the war he married and worked in the then colonies, sending his family to Australia after the Japanese attacked Pearly Harbour. He was captured and became a Japanese Prisoner of War as a civilian internee. After the war he was reunited with his wife and son returning for a while to Borneo and then emigrating to Australia..

The passing of these men brings to a close the survivors of one of the worst example of the slaughter for young men in the name of a cause which few of them understood or respected.

The First World is still regarded by some as a conflict between good and evil but for those who spent the final part of their young lives in cold, wet and mud of the trenches it was a Gothic horror in which were victims. On the middle day of the my three day visit I went to see the sixth Harry Potter film- Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. A Gothic film if ever there is one.

Without reading the book(or any of the books for the matter), or immediately remembering the great themes of the series and feeling tired from the outset I failed to understand let alone enjoy the film, falling asleep at one point and missing a crucial explanation. I therefore read what is available on return home and was able to put the film is some perspective.

The World of Harry is a world divided into Muggles, that is you and me and Wizards although not having read the books I am not clear if wizards do more than interact with each other. The series of seven books is centred on a Wizard Voldemort who has become the most evil anyone can remember and has killed Harry’s parents who were good wizards. Again I do not know if we have been told why they were killed and why Voldemort disappeared after attempting to kill the baby Harry and this has given Harry a status as the instrument of ending the reign of terror of Voldemort. I have found out that one aspect of the Voldemort reign was the importance he attached to racial purity that is that wizard should be children of Wizard and not of mixed unions or unions of Muggles Wizards can be born to Muggles and this is the position of Hermoine. Emily Watson, the close friend of Harry Potter(Daniel Radcliffe, along with Ron (Rupert Grint)

In the first book Harry aged eleven is in the care of non magical relatives who treat him abominably, favouring their own child and it is only at the age of 11 does he become aware of his powers and that he is to go to national school of Wizards for seven years, called Hogwarts,. The school is residential and the head Professor Dumbledore takes a special interest in Harry who is quickly marked out as the chosen one .

I feature of the series of six films to date is the continuity of characters, except for Professor Albus Dumbledore

Where the role has been taken over by Sir Michael Gabon after the death of Richard Harris. Alan Rickman plays Severus Snape a leading member of the staff who is a dark character, hostile to Harry, but is someone I suspect of having another side and purpose.

The school is divided into houses who compete against each other and from the outset a rival to Harry is Draco Malfroy whose activities are promoted and protected by Severus. Harry finds life at Hogwarts difficult having lived in the Muggle world and is befriended by the game keeper who is also the Teacher about the Care of Magical Creatures played is played by Robbie Coltrane. Dame Maggie Smith is another teacher Minerva McGonagall the teacher of Transfiguration and Julie Walters plays the mother of Ron and treats Harry like a son. Helena Bonham Carter plays one of Lord Voldemort’s principal agents called a Death Eater and she is the sister of Draco’s mother.

Each film has a similar pattern and ingredients. The young people, or at least a majority of them take a train which commences from London, departing became from a platform with a secret entrance (a platform at Kings Cross was used and became very popular when the first book was made into a film). The train and other places are in different dimensions so cannot be seen or experienced by Muggles in normal circumstances.

There is an aerial game or aerial games where Harry first became proficient and a leader, called Quiddich and in the most recent film, it is Ron who is the star although he needs support when his confidence is shaken by a new rival challenger. Most of the action occurs in and around Hogwarts which has the appearance of an old large castle with moving staircase and pictures on the walls which in effect video screens. Originally when the first film came out but now available on every High Street to display favoured photos and short films of families and. friends Every film also has scenes at a Dickensian Street of Wizard stores which appears to be located in London.

Each book and story is self contained within the overall theme of Harry Potter having a destiny which will involve confrontation and final defeat of the killer of his parents or will it?

A major feature of the films which last an average of two and half hours is their strict adherence to the story and events of each book. The author J K Rowling has sold more books than anyone before, in their hundreds of millions and these have been translated into 67 languages and are a world wide phenomenon as are the films. One reason for the success is the attention to creative detail and the development of the relationships between the three friends and over the last three years their romantic interests and the problems associated with first love and becoming adults. The stories also encompass many of the traditional themes of fairy tales and more contemporary adventures with those of Enid Blyton coming to mind with the Five and Sevens, Tom Browns School days, Alice in Wonderland, Somewhere over the Rainbow Jack and the Beanstalk and such like. Because of the development of screen trickery and the precision of the writing, the wizardry is always credible and the films are therefore not suitable for young children. The most recent film is the darkest of the six to date.

In the first book Harry Potter and Philosophers Stone, Harry discovers an attempt to steal the stone by an agent of Lord Voldemort so as to enable his return to power. The villain is thought to be Severus but is in fact another Professor.

In The second book Harry Potter and the Chamber of secrets Lord Voldemort attempts to come back to power through a diary and Harry’s intervention is needed to save Ron’s sister. Whereas the first film is an exposition of the current Wizard world, the second goes into the history and background, .

Lord Voldemort does not feature directly in the third book Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban but the story concerns the threat to Harry as someone who is believed to have assisted in the murder of his parents has escaped from captivity but in Harry’s world nothing is ever as simple or straightforward as it appears to seem.

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry finds himself forced to take part in a tournament with young wizards from other countries. The book and films opens with Harry invited to join Ron and his family and Hermione at the Quiddich World games, the aerial game played at Hogwarts and the trio are confronted by the Death Eaters, the agents of Voldemort. Harry success in winning the international tournament despite the Voldemort plot for him to fail and the books also marks the entry of the three into adolescence and all that goes with it.

In the fifth volume Harry has to confront the reappearance of Lord Voldemort and to help him Dumbledore, summons the Order of the Phoenix. A major problem arises when the Ministry of Magic refuses to accept that Voldemort has returned and appoints a strict adherent to the rule book to effectively take over the school putting the school and the rest of the world into great peril.

In the sixth story Dumbledore enlists Harry’s help to gain the trust of a retired Professor Horace Slughorn, played by Jim Broadbent, and entice him back to the school to become Professor of Potions (with Severus switching to Magic) as a means of finding out about the early life of Voldemort who Slughorn tutored when he was at Hogwarts. Voldemort is using the Death Eaters in such a way that the Muggles are noticing that strange things are happening. He arranges for Draco to assassinate Dumbledore before the truth of the background can be found out. Severus Snape offers to help Draco but his help is rejected. Meanwhile there are complication as the trio fall in love with people who do not love them and there is much use of love potions which brings me to the Shakespeare influence and A Midsummer’s Nights Dream.

I slept through the vital moment when Slughorn reveals that through him Voldemort was able to divide and hide his soul into seven parts and that if these are destroyed he cannot return. Meanwhile the first two attempts of Draco to kill Dumbledore misfire and in the third Severus takes over and destroys the head of the school having entered into a pact with Draco’s mother. The implication behind the development is that Severus is related to Draco and his mother and to Lord Voldemort. Dumbledore appears to know what is going to happen and advises Harry to lay low as does Severus because his main role is to come. I have read a summary of the seventh and final volume, so all is a lot more clear.

I also watched another film about adventuring children, designed more for a family audience. The 1958 film, the Explorers, is also about three young friends, one of whom designs a small DIY craft capable of flying into space from parts of a washing machine, a television and fairground ride. Their craft is swept into an alien craft where they are examine and find the aliens preoccupied with TV and a perception gained of earth planet from the television. When this space craft is swept up into a much larger vessel the earth trio discovers that their encounter is with alien young people who have gone for a ride in effect one of their father’s cars. The alien children are told off and the earth trio sent home but with a present. The present is in effect a contemporary today state of the art phone which provides the youngsters with information on how to build an even more advance space craft and joined by a would be girl friend, the four contemplate new adventures together. The films starred River Phoenix who died from a drug overdose when 23. Four brothers and sisters are all actors including award winning Joaquin Phoenix. Another of the trio Ethan Hawke developed into a fine film and theatre actor who has also become a film Director. The Explorers attempts to show that although those living on other planets may look different from human beings they probably have more similarities than differences, although I am not sure if this is a good thing!

The Monday evening moral tale this week was The Street where the subject is alcoholism and the inability of the character to break the addiction although he has tried. He is then confronted by his former wife because their unknown to him mentally disabled son wants to meet his father. The programme shows just how difficult to impossible it is to break the addiction despite the incentive of a relationship with a loving affectionate son and the possibility of friendship with his former wife. The film ends on an optimistic note after the character joins Alcoholics Anonymous and is rewarded with further contact after being clear for six months.

This reminds of an episode of series about a five star Hotel Babylon which reveals the interacting lives of owners, managers and staff at the hotel as well as guests who have the money to get what they want. At one point the concierge attempts to help a drug addict determined to kick his habit to have contact with his two children, but then finds the experience too much and persuades the concierge to get a fix from his dealer. When he does this the concierge finds himself the subject of a raid from the drug squad accused of being a dealer, only to find that this is a wind up from his colleagues in other hotels, The drug addict is another colleague who had been an actor. In the same episode a woman played by Michelle Collins formerly of Eastenders, has the role of divorcee conning her way into a lonely hearts club for the wealthy and well connected and in her distress and anger at being found out reveals to the owner of the hotel who is about to get back with his divorced wife that she aborted their child when the relationship broke up. As is usual with this excellent series there are a dozen sub plots continuing with the main one uncovering the writer of erotic novels which the barman, who finds the manuscript, thinks is written by a female staff member with the hots for him. He is shocked when the author is a male colleague with a profitable contract to write the stuff. The theme of the episode is that everyone has secrets, some darker than others and that no one is a saint or without a past they would prefer to remain uncovered.

I watched part of the second half of the International friendly between England and Holland when James Milner made the goal which enabled a 2.2 draw after Holland had delighted their home crowd by taking a 2.O first half lead. I kept in touch with Durham’s game against Lancashire in which Durham twice looked as if they were able to put Lancashire on the rack, with Ian Blackwell destroying the heart of Lancashire batting after Durham had toiled to a score in the 260’s. Lancs recovered to give Durham only five run first innings lead. Durham then batted throughout the third day into the morning of the fourth to set Lancs the challenge of over 300 runs to win. At one point it looked as if Durham would win as Lancs lost their first three wickets when the score was only 4 and a fourth at 56. However Chilton and Du Plessis had a partnership of over 100 before and bad light stopped play. The two teams were awarded 9 points each for the match, four for the draw and five bonus. Lancs needed a win to have a chance of taking the championship title and now have 130 points from 12 matches, one more than the rest of the Division with Somerset 136, and Notts 139 behind Durham’s 167 and which makes Durham two home games against these two sides championship deciders. First they need to beat Warwickshire this week who are fifth with 116 points. Yorkshire had their first home win for two years beating Hampshire and ending their title hopes while Sussex had an expected win against Worcestershire. Kent look likely to get promotion but my hopes of a match at the Oval and Lords are as remote, as they have been for the last couple of years as Surrey

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