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Life is not a game and we are more than merely players

The act of playing chess, and the process of thinking it through is the joy and the learning.

What will be the point as or once all the answers are online?

Where we let algorithms and the Web provide the answers?

Does this mean that anyone can be a doctor so long as they have a smartphone in their pocket and a good connection?

Knowledge acquired is how learning occurs.

The learning process is necessary in order for the brain to make sense of it (or to make nonsense of it)

The key is in the memory making.

We learn, each of us, in a unique way.

Less so because of when or where we were born,

But because we were made this way.

‘Je suis comme je suis, je suis faite comme ca’.

Our DNA is unique and the brain it constructs also.

Not hard considering ….

  • There are some 98 billion neurons in there.
  • And every neuron has some 10,000 connections.

It is this mass of interconnections that makes us both ridiculous and smart,

Able to think in metaphors, provide insight, solve problems, conform, deform and inform.

And fall in and out of love.

Enthusiasms bubble up like farts in the wind.

Is life  like a game of chess?

Are we  its players and pieces whether we like it or not?

It is surely the sense of participation and control that makes life worth living?

Which suggests that absolute machine power – Google-eyed algorithms – could be no better than prison.

Life is not a game,

And we are more than merely players.

There is no need to strut and fret our hour upon the stage.

Unless …

It is a story we tell, defined by our actions and responses,

A rollercoaster of our own making.

There is no need for noise and tension, where we can be cool in war and love.


Why do we forget? How do we remember?


After some number of repetitions, Ebbinghaus would attempt to recall the items on the list. It turned out that his ability to recall the items improved as the number of repetitions went up, rapidly at first and then more slowly, until finally the list was mastered.

This was the world’s first learning curve.

The effect of over learning is to make the information more resistant to disruption or loss.

For example, the forgetting curve for over learned material is shallower, requiring more time to forget a given amount of the material.

I relate to this and having taken many exams in my life it is useful at last to have some terms to refer to it all. The only exam I have ever had to resit should have been the easiest, not the finals of a BA (Hons) as an Oxford Undergraduate (or the entrance exam which was tough enough), but a Level II Teaching Swimming Multi-choice paper that took an hour. I simply hadn’t put in the time, say six hours over as many days, repeating by writing it out and testing myself.

Whilst in an exam the student may forget, there are exams where you want them to retain the information: junior doctors, health & safety in a nuclear power plant, or one I was involved with ‘the packing and storage of uranium trioxide‘.

Savings is the most sensitive test of memory, as it will indicate some residual effect of previous learning even when recall and recognition do not.

Which is what I just did, three weeks after the event.

If I go to the website where I stored the original mind–maps and lists I know that I could quickly re–engage with the material. Like riding a bike, windsurfing or skiing? Though not recalling the lines of Mercutio from Romeo & Juliette which I performed in my late teens. I can however recite some Macbeth, but only because I have repeatedly tested myself on the lines since my mid–teens).


All the films I’ve ever seen ‘M’

For the premise, period and director.
A psychopathic murderer of children is tracked down the by criminal community. Set in 1931 Germany and directed by Fritz Lang.

Macbeth 1972 Roman Polanski
I must have seen this soon after it came out. It had a powerful impact on me. Not leasat because it was filmed in a landscape I knew – the tidal beaches of Northumberland around Lindisfarne. I found Jon Finch mesmerising. If anything turned me onto the idea of acting, this did. I wanted to act the lead and recall discussing at some length how I would stage it when interviewed at Balliol College, Oxford to read History in 1980.

Mad Max 1979
Mel Gibson is created.
Mad Max 2 1981
Mel Gibson is turned into a minor god.

Madame Curie 1943
Memorable to a preteen. It inspires you to do something great. Few of us pull it off.

The Madness of King George 1994
A beautiful script from Alan Bennet, performed with style by Nigel Hawthorne, how could the director Nicholas Hynter do anything but get it right. If proof is required that a screenplay can make a great film, this is it.

The Magnificent Ambersons 1942
One to see from Orson Welles

The Magnificent Seven 1960
Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen James Coburn, Charles Bronson …

Magnolia 1999

Mahler 1974
Impressive and inspiring at a time when Ken Russell could be trusted.

A Man Called Horse 1970

A Man for All Seasons 1966
It impressed me in my impressionable youth. At Prep school I played a girl alongside Richard Ramsbotham when a short version of this was put on. David Grey was in tears when he found what he had to wear as Sir Thomas More. I thnk he hoped for something more heroic.

Man Hunt 1941
A shot at Hitler

The Man in the Iron Mask 1998

The Man in the White Suite 1951
Caught it once or twice and TV and could watch it over several more times for its brilliance. Alec Guinness stars. Ealing at its very best.

The Man Who could work Miracles 1936
From a story by H G Wells. How often have I written that

The Man who fell to Earth 1976
David Bowie is suitable weird and Nic Roeg pulls it off.

The Man Who Wasn’t There 2001
Sounds promising. As does everything from the Coen brothers.

The Man without a Body
I love hocum concepts such as this.

A slave-breeding plantation. Were there such things? ‘Goes several points over the top from start to finish but proved to have wide appeal for the groundlings in the Tobacco Road tradition of a wallow in other people’s depravities.’ Reads the Halliwelll review. In Tobacco Road poor whites are turned off their land … from the play by Jack Kirkland and the novel by Erskine Caldwell. I’m non the wiser. What has this to do with a slave-breeding planataion. And why am I so interested?

I’m suprised to admit I haven’t seen this Wood Allen oeuvre.

Maniac 1988, 1990, 1992
Why are films about serial killers so popular? I should find out.

Manon des Sources
Claude Berrie writes and directs from the book and films by Marcel Pagnol. Introduced the world to Emmanuelle Beart with star character turns from Yves Montand and Daniel Auteuil.

Marathon Man 1976 John Schlesinger
Don’t go to the dentist.

Marguerite de la Nuit 1955
An old man signs a pact with the devil in return for his lost youth; but when he has it he causes the death of the woman he loves. I love concepts like this. When the desire for something is so great, you’d do anything for it, but the consequences far outweigh the effort.

The Mark of Zorro 1940
With Tyrone Power

Marlowe 1969
James Garner as the private eye

Mary Poppins 1964

Robert Altman’s greatest outing.

The Mask of Zorro 1998

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Mata Hari 1931
For its WWI setting.

The Matrix 1999, 2003, 2005
A compelling new take on sci-fi with Keanu Reeves playing himself to perfection.

A Matter of Life and Death or Stairway to Heaven
Memorable brilliance from Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

Another Merchant Ivory, many of which feature James Wilby who may have been doomed to do nothing else.

Mean Creek 2004
Should see it for what preports to be an excellent protrayal of teeange feral instincts

Mean Girls 2004
We only got it out because of Lindsay Lohan who was adorable in Parent Trap. This is a dreadful film about high school girls being bitchy. Forgetable. A pitifyl vehicle for Lindsay who you might imagine would have a chance to show of her talents.

Mean Streets
Harvey Keitel and Robert de Nero directed by Martin Scorses in 1971. If I haven’t seen it I need to.

Meat Joe Black 1998
Brat Pitt, Anthony Hopkins. An enjoyable premise in which Death takes a break to spend time with the man whose life he was supposed to take.

Meet the Parents 2000
Benm Stiller.

Need to see it for the premise and how it is handled. ‘A person who has lost his short-term memory searches for a man who raped and murdered his wife.’

Men in Black 1997

Men of Honor 200

Mermaids 1990
Cher, Bob Hoskins and Winona Ryder. Works for me.

Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence

The Messenger; The Story of Joan of Arc
I like woman in armour, Milla Jovovich is one of the bes. All the scenes containing Dustin Hoffman should have been removed then it would have been fine. From one of my favourite directors, Luc Besson. With John Malkovich as a beningh goody, rather than a seedy baddie for a change.

I found this so dull, in the French style of film-making (all intelligent talk and no action) that I left the cinema. Whit Stillman wrote and directed.

Michael Collins 1996
Neil Jordan wrote and directs.

Mickey’s Christmas Carol 1983

Midnight Cowboy 1969
John Schlessinger’s best directing John Voigt and Dustin Hoffman.

Midnight Express 1978

Midway 1976

Mighty Aphrodite 1995
Woody Allen.

Miller’s Crossing 1990

Million Dollar Baby 2005
Clint Eastwood directs and performs with Hilary Swank.

The Million Dollar Note 1953
A simple premise. A man facing hard times is given a cheqye for a Million Dollars that he finds hard to spend. Gregory Peck is implausible as a broken man. In the real world people would take his money, not stand back from it.

Miracle on 34th Street 1947
Has a charm that is lacking in the remake.

Miracle on 34th Street 1994

Misery 1990
As a lesson in storytelling I should read and watch everything written by Stephen King.

Mis Congeniality 2000

Mrs Brown 1997

Mrs Doubtfire 1993

The Mission 1986
Directed by Roland Joffe

Mission; Impossinle 1996, 20002, 2005

Mississippi Burning 1988

Mr Nanny 1992

Moby Dick 1956
With Gregory Peck

Mona Lisa 1986
Directed by Neil Jordan

Monsoon Wedding 2001
Memorable and lovelly to watch

Monsters, Inc 2001
The DVD is an inspiration too. Let’s all become 3D animators!

Monty Python and the Holy Grail 1975

Monty Python’s Life of Brian 1979

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life 1983

The Moon and the Sixpence
Stories that follow the life of artists appeal to me. Here we have Gauguin.

Moonlighting 1982

Moonrake 1979

Moonstruck 1987
Cher, Nicholas Cage

The Mosquito Coast 1986
Harrison Ford goes Swiss family Robinson.

Moulin Rouge 1952
Biopic of Toulouse Lautrec

Moulin Rouge 2001
Baz Luhrmann at his best directs Nocole Kidman nad Ewan McGreggor in this candy extravaganza.

Mouse Hunt 1997

Much Ado about Nothing 1993
Plodding banality with ill-chosen thesps by Kenneth Branagh

Multiplicity 1996

The Muppet Christmas Carol 1992

The Muppet Movie 1979

Macbeth defines me

Hit by Roman Polanski’s film. Hit by the realisation in my early teens that the film was shot only a few miles north of our holiday home on the North East Coast of England. Wind swept. Sodden Dank. Cold. I found I could smell Macbeth, see Macbeth, be Macbeth. I could look up at Holy Island, recite Shakespeare, shout Shakespeare into the wind while standing ankle deep in a cake of sand and mud.

Whether I had or had not been Macbeth was my ‘Sliding Doors’ moment, what one path promised .. and the other lost. Had I been Macbeth at Sedbergh how different might I have been? Had my ‘Robin Williams’ of an English Teacher convinced me to stay, to be his Macbeth – what then?

My hero was a senior boy. Anyone who wanted to act looked up to him. James Wilby.w

Something about the importance of ‘touching’ put me off. Robin Williams in ‘Dead Poets Society’ Was straight, right? Tell me of a male teacher who can have that much passion around young men/boys and be anything other than gay? Hey. Before you get at me. I’m cool about the way anyone swings. I celebrate choice, comfort, being yourself. But school teachers should not be inviting you to give them a cuddle. He put me off. I auditioned. He loved it. Then he put me off. The idea of ‘touching more’ is the kind of line I used in my mid-teens to ‘get a feel’ from a girl. Am I right to think that this teacher in an all male boarding school, in his first year, was already looking for impressionable boys who fancied a cuddle? MIght ‘Macbeth’ come with conditions?

My Macbeth would have diced him with a knife.

‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’

My designs on how to stage Macbeth helped me into Oxford. They wanted young people, with passion. I was going to give them Macbeth.

I was sucked through three Shakespeare plays, in a chapel, in the gardens, on stage … but never Macbeth. I toyed with a production, all female. Now I’d do it simple role reversal. Should we? Should I? I’ll be Lady Macbeth. She is an investment banker living on the Upper East Side. We conquer companies. I’m a dealer, a snide, nasty bitch of a man who has an even better sense than she does of the base desires of greedy men and women.

I drift, I drift.

I had to learn great long parts. I cannot remember a word of any of them. I never performed Macbeth, yet I can run of a defining speech:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time

And all our years have lighted fools the way to dusty death

Out, out breath candle

Life is but a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more’.

If I have more to say than ‘Fuck, you’ve done it now’ (said three times at exactly that moment when I thought I’d pushed my desire to ski down increasingly insane slopes too far) … then I shall say these lines.



I must first be worthy of them. What do you suggest? Who can I eat up? Where can I go? What can I achieve?

Off hand I have a growing desire to join the Republicans and ensure that Elizabeth II is the last monarch. I don’t want her to hang around for another thirty years (possible). I want her to abdicate this summer. Take her reign out, before it is wiped out for her.

Then, Britain takes its place under the skirts of the USA. We ditch the pound and Euro take the Dollar.

Our link to the US is profound. Look at my ancestors. There are more Vernons in North America than in England.

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