Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Antwone Fisher , and the Brit Awards

A wise individual said to me that preparation is the essential ingredient of any activity whether cooking food, repapering a wall, or writing an autobiography. I was reminded of this in two ways during the course of today as I collated together key papers about my life and contemporary documents and records and commenced to make notes. I decided to begin with my first birth certificate, This is a shorted version obtained for me when I was eighteen years of age in 1957 which does not disclose the name of parents. It provoked a memory that for some years I believed that as an illegitimate child I could not have a passport. I suspect I know the reason why I thought this because to have a passport one needed to have a birth certificate and the birth certificate would have led to information or questions about my father and the continuing difficulties this created for everyone, especially for me.

The process of collating information and writing is therefore slow and sometimes painful. There was a further delay when I decided to view a film on DVD which I knew nothing of the story except that it was about a sailor with an anger problem sent to see a psychiatrist. I nearly watched the other film included in this week's delivery.

The film has the title Antwone Fisher which is the real name of a remarkable man who was able to overcome the damaging effects of a deprived and abusing childhood, a troubled teenager and a tendency to lose his temper violently when provoked during the early days of what became an 11 year naval service. Until having the good fortune to be assigned to a psychiatrist who was prepared to work outside the box and persuaded him to go in search of his roots with the consequence that he achieved reconciliation with his past, and which in turn let him to become a writer and to establish and sustain adult relationships. He has become the role model for many who feel they have no opportunity to express themselves and make something of their lives.

I liked the film which sensitively and intelligently covers some traditionally taboo issues, such as the sexual abuse of children by females can have just as damaging effects as those by men, and similarly that women can also be as physically, verbally and emotionally abusive as men. The film has had its critics describing with some arguing that is a "conventional tear jerker," saccharine coated, and a by the numbers patient doctor pic, but such comments fail to appreciate the difficulties and dangers of dealing with the complexity of the impact of brutalised and abnormal upbringings particularly when the damage is not created by the natural parents, (in this instance he was born in prison and removed from his mother after two months into state care and his unmarried and unregistered father was murdered), but by those appointed on behalf of society to care for him. This is a film designed to entertain and move, the directorial debut by Denzel Washington, not an academic or psychological paper. While the film has a good feel happy ending, it also pulls no punches about the difficulties of overcoming one's individual heritage, and just how difficult it is talk about how one felt and continues to feel, and the hopes and fears which continue to last a lifetime, and the luck of finding the right person or persons at the right time, who possess the love and the understanding to see beyond how the child, the young person and the adult presents themselves.

Sometimes the portrayal of the bare facts, the naked truth can be counter productive. Recently the media has been giving attention to the number of suicides among teenagers, the majority of school age, in and around the area of Bridgend in Wales, over twenty, and the speculation that they are part of some cult internet inspired pact. There is an investigation although the first official statement is that there has been no connections or links established and by now, it six weeks or so, the computers of the earlier tragedies should have been checked long since. The parents of some of those who recently died have rightly criticised the media for adding to the problem. It is unfortunate that many parents and the society in general do not understand how unhappy and desperate teenagers can become in what are in fact normal, average loving homes, and the publicity that some have taken the dreadful step of ending their lives can incite others in similar predicaments to do likewise.
The aspect of Antwone Fisher which affected me most was the difficulty, even when you know the solution, of directly setting out to find the information or the people who might provide the remedy. Antwone was fortunate in finding some relatives who were pleased to see him whereas his mother had lacked the good fortune that subsequently came his way and according to the film, was ending her days in a grim environment and unable to communicate with her first born. He needed to make the visit and ask the questions, but in terms of his life his future needed to walk away and find himself fully, As I have written before, and will continue to write the drive to know who are our biological parents is within our physical, emotional, spiritual and psychological make up for those transported across continents and generations the Roots may appear distant, dying or dead, but the need to know is always there and yet the older we are before searching the more difficult the journey becomes. This is why I feel so strongly that the truth of every conception should be recorded, and why I am in fully in favour of an identity record which include disclosed information but more importantly the DNA records. The earlier children are helped to cope with the truth of their origins the less likely they are to react when the truth is discovered later and the less likely the child will grow up to commit the sins of their parents. The need to create a fairy tale childhood is understandable as is our desire to explore the universe and uncover the mysteries of matter and of life, so why do we all run away from the realities of individual behaviour and human interaction?

I went to bed and then awoke from sport at its most sublime to the futility of playing against a community when one is tired or concentration divided between competing priorities. I stayed up to watch the commencement of the New Zealand one day 50 over innings chasing a total of 341 to win, with the knowledge that the wicket and setting were as perfect as it is ever perfect to be, but retired when it was evident that the home side were not in the mood to surrender, and possessed the knowledge that they had succeeded in achieving a higher score batting second against the might of Australia in a recent series. I went to bed around 3 am content but not expecting a New Zealand collapse. I got up once during the night I think and I remember being in bed with lots of dreams, some interesting at the time and worthy of remembering, but alas the next thing was to awake with the sound of the telephone and forgetting that it could be late in the morning, I answered from sudden anxiety that a call so early could be important. It was a well spoken gentleman who did not immediately announce my name or saying who he was and having had interesting calls of this nature once or twice in the past, I prepared myself for something important. It was not, but a canny telesales person for a national newspaper who wanted to know the frequency of my readership as a precursor to make me a special offer. After making a cup of tea I switched on the telly to find another match in another country being shown and resorted to the Teletext on Terrestrial BBC to find that with the last ball New Zealand had required 2 runs to win but had only scored 1, England therefore had narrowly missed a victory which could have led to a series match winning final match, or could have lost the series. The result was therefore an honourable draw which means that if England can win the last game the series will end with an honourable draw, If only life could be like that and computers. Later I found that New Zealand should have won long before the final ball of the game and that captain Collingwood had backed a hunch and given the last over to an unused team member who achieved what looked impossible.

I have achieved 101 winning games against the computer at the lowest level of play three times but managed to lose the record of each instance and therefore set about the task again. At first I floundered, then reached 50 games and then 98 and then reverted to a sequence of poor performances. Last night my attention switched between the cricket and playing games with the consequence of several small runs before failure to work out situations led to drawn games. This morning I suffered the humiliation of not just a drawn game but a checkmate. Admitting the fact, like my excess weight would once lead to remedial determination. The will is lacking for the moment.

The evening was given over to the Brit Awards and the Amy Winehouse problem. It was all very odd as a man who has lived all his life in American and who last year came along to support Amy Winehouse who was the star of the show and carried off several awards is himself nominated this year with one public voting category, the song Valerie performed by Amy and which would be nothing without her is the nominee, and the public well asked to vote for him with the artist Amy Winehouse, presumably from fear she would not be well enough, or has there been censorship. Last year Russell Brand did the presenting which only confirmed the wisdom of doing something else and this year it isi the Osbourne family who were sound muted twice when on the red carpet. What was I saying about censorship and the language of pop culture! The red carpet beforehand was excruciatingly awful where one female presenter using the opportunity to upstage the stars at every opportunity, although some of them were drunk inarticulate yobs. It was also evident that the entire two hour primetime show had been carefully organised to avoid the kind of embarrassing moments which delight the show business media and the popular dailies. One problem of the night was that most of the presenters were more famous and talented than the performers, although one aspect, I underestimated because it became evident that the elevation of a musician, producers but non singer was a front to help Amy so she was brought on to sing two songs, Leona only her single and Sir Paul McCartney was given the big treatment and several numbers to close the show. The problem with the Brits is that it is a giant party for the British Industry as it is with 4000 diners, lots and lots of alcohol at which the fans are also given at place at the table. It is not intended for the likes of me. It is also reflects aspects of contemporary British Society which results in the worst and dangerous excesses. But there is no involvement in the manufacture and use of weapons of mass destruction or pretending to be concerned about the extent of poverty and ill health among hundreds of millions of other human beings, or in the persecution of political opponents or those who question and challenge the actions of individual governments and as far I know while vast amounts of money is made and used to buy overpriced fashionable goods and services, and may be gambled away, it is their money and not the money of other putting hundreds of jobs at risk as what the performance of the executives of the Northern Rock or the Credit Suisse marking down its value by 1 million dollars, or the young man with or without accomplices who squandered millions more than Nick Leason trying to regain a losing position and where in all instances they were gambling with the money of shareholders and depositors and the livelihoods of the other workers.

After the Brits I spotted a one hour documentary about the Osbourne Family, in particular on Sharon and recent bad publicity which I was not aware of. At one point Ben Mills reminded of how likeable he is, his abilities as a singer, composer and instrumentalist and how he had become Sharon's protégé, how she was often two faced appearing charming to someone then bad mouthing them the next and how she had dropped him after he did not win the contest. However I thought the observation of one of the other the other contributors was spot on the money, when they said, the problem was that Sharon saw that Ben did not have the X factor. Only time will tell.

I end on a note about living in the land of variable and frequently inexplicable pricing. I decided to obtain another copy of my full birth certificate for reasons which may be significant or not when it arrives. It is sometime since ordering certificates when investigating the family history prior to the 100th birthday of my mother and given the pace of change I assumed that Gov certificates was the only site providing copies on line. However I stopped in disbelief at the inflationary increase in less than two years when asked to pay £23. I then embarked a on search to find the service where I had been registered and where copies cost only £9, a discount from that if you applied to the local registrar for a copy. This took sometime during which I found that the National Family History centre which had been based at Islington was closing and being transferred to a new building at the National Archives centre at Kew. This was of double interest as earlier in the day I had noted that my admission readers ticket had expired, which in turn reminded of the day when I first examined the army papers of my maternal grandfather and then the entry in a giant register of those awarded a Royal Hospital Chelsea Out pension, and where the register had been conveyed as part of a daily lorry from the secure depository in a former salt mine some 250 miles or more away where the majority of national documents are stored. I found the site and then could not log on as the code was out of date or not properly recorded. It then took two attempts of obtaining a temporary code to log on and make the order. The price was £10 a difference of £13.

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