The Idol

I avoid sentimental books and films at all costs and I have to say I thought this film might fall into that category telling, as it does, the story of a young man from difficult circumstances who finds glory in a talent competition. Hany Abu-Assad’s film ‘The Idol’ won me over, though, and at the end, when I saw real news footage that I remember seeing on Channel 4 News in Britain, I knew this was a film for my hinterland.

The film tells the true story of Mohammed Assaf from Gaza whose biggest asset is his singing voice.  The first half of the film shows the Muhammed as a boy with his sister and friends.  Their dream is to form a band and buy the musical instruments to make this happen.  Various schemes go wrong but the determination of the children is clear to see. They find a niche when his voice is in big demand as a wedding singer. But, when his sister Nour becomes ill and needs a new kidney, we see the desperate situation of the population in Gaza.  Muhammed is close to his sister and cannot contemplate life without her.


As we move into the second part of the film, Mohammed is now a young man driving a taxi to fund his university studies.  His singing has not died away completely but there is less joy in it for him until he meets an old friend who used to have dialysis alongside his sister many years ago.  She encourages him to sing for her and something in him awakens.  An aborted attempt to sing by internet for a television show reminds us of the policies that keep many Palestinians trapped in Gaza.

The journey to ‘Arab Idol’ where the real Mohammed Assaf made his name begins with a need to get beyond his trapped location.  Friends and family help and in a series of incidents which bring him good fortune he finds himself appearing on the programme. This is the only part of the film that seemed too good to be true but, by this stage, I was ready to accept that he needed the breaks.


The film ends with documentary footage from around the world as his story interested foreign news programmes.  It is an inspiring story of a boy from Gaza who travels to Egypt to take part in a talent show on television and who wins.  Scenes of joy around the Gaza strip and Palestine are shown from news footage; there is no need to recreate this part fo the story.

‘The Idol’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?



This novel by Saleem Haddad has taken its place in my hinterland.  It is a fascinating insight into a young gay man trying to live in an unnamed Arab country without sacrificing his true identity.  The country is in the aftermath of an Arab spring like revolution and Rasa, an educated young man, is pleased to be back there after studying in America. Yet, the revolution has not taken hold and the regime is oppressive in many ways.

We follow Rasa across one day as he remembers the events of the night before, carries out his duties as a translator for a western journalist and attends the wedding of the man who happens to be the love of his life.  As he negotiates the day, we learn about his past; this includes his parents’ marriage, disrupted by his strong willed grandmother, and his time in America as a student at the time of 11th November 2001.

The day does not start well! The night before, he was seen in bed with Taymour, his lover, by his grandmother. Their secret is out and Rasa is unsure how his grandmother will react. She spied through his keyhole so he is unsure what she actually saw.  On top of this it seems that Taymour is determined to get married as his family expect him to, and Rasa has been invited to the wedding.

The book explores themes of culture and identity and the extent to which secrets can destroy families.  Rasa felt like an outsider in the USA but he remains on the outside in his own country, marooned partly by sexuality and partly by his politics.

The title for the book comes from the name of the nightclub where Rasa and his friends feel that they can be free of the constraints of their society.  ‘Guapa’ by Saleem Haddad is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?


Child On Top of a Greenhouse

Partly because of his surname, I was always convinced that this poem had been translated from German.  Instead, it is an American poet and the word britches is correct within this context.  I remember thinking an American had translated it!

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The wind billowing out the seat of my britches,
My feet crackling splinters of glass and dried putty,
The half-grown chrysanthemums staring up like accusers,
Up through the streaked glass, flashing with sunlight,
A few white clouds all rushing eastward,
A line of elms plunging and tossing like horses,
And everyone, everyone pointing up and shouting!

Theodore Roethke

Chariots of Fire

I love the films that take true events which are little known and turn them into stories which illustrate a larger theme.  ‘Chariots of Fire’ is one such film.  I saw it while a student in Oxford and, partly because of that time and place, it has fixed itself in my memory.

The tale of two runners who come from very different backgrounds to compete for Britain in the 1924 Paris Olympics is a compelling one, especially as it is the story of two outsiders who enter the heart of the British establishment.  Eric Liddell is the Scottish son of missionaries who believes running is one way he can show his love of God.  Harold Abrahams is an outsider because of his Jewish religion.

Both men are selected for the team, alongside members of the aristocracy and graduates of Oxford and Cambridge.  The team is the cream of the establishment’s sporting class and the film shows the difference between those born to rule and those who earn their place through effort and talent.

When Liddell and Abrahams run in the same race, Liddell wins causing much anguish to Abrahams.  He takes on a coach, a move that offends some as beneath the dignity of a sporting gentleman.  The true drama takes place in Paris, though, when the Olympics are staged.  When Liddell learns that his race is to be held on a Sunday, he withdraws on faith grounds. Despite strong pressure from the Olympic committee and the Prince of Wales, he refuses to race and it looks as if he will forego the opportunity to win a medal.  The day is saved, though, by Lord Lindsay who offers to stand aside so that Liddell can race on a Thursday in what would have been his heat.

It is well documented that both Liddell and Abrahams won gold medals but the manner of their winning makes a great film.  Ian Charleston played Eric Liddell and Ben Cross played Harold Abrahams in a film written by Colin Welland and directed by Hugh Hudson.

‘Chariots of Fire’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?


Who Has Seen the Wind?

Christina Rossetti is a poet whose work I love.  This poem was one I had to learn at school. I was dismissive of the exercise back then but it amazes me how many snatches of poetry keep coming back to me.

Who Has Seen the Wind?blogchristinarossetti
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I:
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.
Christina Rossetti

Basil Brush

Throughout my childhood a small fox was a regular presence on television.  Basil Brush was an endearing character aimed at impressing the children of 60s and 70s Britain.  I believe ‘he’ has made a comeback in recent years but with a slightly altered voice and a bit of a make- over.  What I am writing about here, though, is the original Basil who was voiced by Ivan Lewis from the 60s until his death in 2000.  He was a fixture on television schedules from 1968 until 1980 with his own BBC show.

blogbasilbrush45What was fantastic about Basil was that the performer who provided his voice never appeared in public, creating a stronger illusion that the puppet was real.  His upper class accent was apparently based on screen actor Terry-Thomas.  Like all characters that appeal most to children he had child like aspects, such as his inability to pay attention for long periods causing his sidekick human to become exasperated with him.  The adult, always a man and always called Mr, as in Mr Derek and Mr Roy, played the straight man who acted as if a talking fox was the most natural thing in the world.

Famous people had guest appearances, the most memorable to me was Demis Roussos, who in 1973 was at the height of his fame in Britain.  Basil Brush singing a duet with Demis Roussos is a classic of 70s television.

‘Basil Brush’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?


Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Taika Waititi is responsible for a wonderful film called ‘Boy’. He wrote, acted in, and directed it so seeing his latest venture was a must.  ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ is based on a book called ‘Wild Pork and Watercress’ and in the hands of Taika Waititi it has become a charming film that is also very funny.

Julian Dennison plays Ricky Baker, the troubled, overweight kid in the care system who is sent to live with ‘Auntie’ Bella and ‘Uncle’ Hector in a remote part of the country.  His instinct is to escape as soon as possible but his survival skills are low and each night his flight ends up back where he started.

Ricky is not the easiest kid to deal with and his trust of adults is understandably low but Bella is as tenacious as Hector is disinterested.  It seems that the young boy has, at last, found a place to call home.

When a tragedy strikes, all the couple’s hard work looks as if it has been for nothing so Ricky takes off but Hector finds him.  Together, they have an adventure that takes them far into the bush away from civilisation.  The joy of the film is in the small moments all of which stem from the personalities of the main characters.   Julian Dennison is terrific as Ricky.  He comes across as authentic as the difficult and troubled youngster but, like Bella, we see the charm of a child underneath.

The major part of the film takes the form of a chase but the humour lifts this beyond the ordinary and the ending provides the satisfaction we want for all involved.  This is another triumph for Taika Waititi.  It is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?