Manchester by the Sea


Having been unable to go to the cinema for a painfully long  time, a rare opportunity presented itself.

The title of the film does not suggest too much, but the story  that lies within is strong and powerful and very moving. The story hinges on the lead character Lee Chandler,  (delicately played by Casey Affleck) who seems to have the world on his shoulders.  From the start of the film we feel he is this smoldering character, externally calm and controlled,  but a mere touch and he explodes into an orgy of unprovoked violence, often while drinks in a nondescript bar.  It is only in a latter part of the film we discover why he is carrying so much pain.  A key moment in the film is when he receives a phone call. We later discover his brother has died from a rare heart disorder.   The subject of death, how people react to it,  the process of dealing with a death, starts to shape the story.

We then are introduced to his nephew, who seems to be taking his father’s death with an unnatural cool aloofness and seems intent of continuing his adolescent life, which involves bedding two young girls at the same time.  One thing that unnerves him is the fact that his father has to be kept in a freezer, as it is impossible to inter him in the frozen ground.  Sometimes there are tints of humour in this film, which is essentially defined by dark dramatic drama.  The complex nephew/uncle relationship seems a key element in the film.  Lee Chandler is the town’s pariah, despite this I am sure many a cinema goer would warm to his tragic circumstances.  It is also a film that might make some cinema goers redefine their relationships with their family.

Let’s be clear, we live in the horrible cruel unyielding world, full of tragedy,  and Manchester by Sea, is film that reinforces this point.

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X is for xenophobia

Serpent and Apple

Each week’s news  is marked with a new set of horrible stories about people killing complete strangers merely because of their ethnicity, religion, nationality, or skin color.  In recent times ISIS, or whatever these lunatic perpetrators of evil  have killed anyone that does not follow their religion.  Take for example their persecution of Yazidi women and massacres of at least 5,000 Yazidi civilians.

History is filled with xenophobia the  Jewish holocaust led to approximately 6 million European Jews being mass murdered in concentration camps and forced labour during the Second World War.

Can you imagine that at one time there were “human zoos” a popular attraction in the West in the 19th and 20th centuries. These ‘public exhibits’ of human beings (caged, sometimes with exotic animals) introduced the West to the ‘barbarians’ of the East. Particularly popular exhibits were those of Africans, tribal pygmies, and the Philippines. Men, women and children would be kidnapped, caged, then exhibited in front of European audiences. Visitors to these “zoos” would make fun of the exhibits and poke them with sticks, throw food at them, treating them like animals and for an extra fee were allowed to subject the captives to some degrading acts. Human zoos existed in places like Paris, London, Barcelona, and Antwerp. Sarah Baartman died after years spent in European “freak shows”. She had very pronounced buttocks, due to a build-up of fat, which made a cause for European fascination.  Wealthy customers could pay for private demonstrations in their homes, with their guests allowed to touch her.

She is seen by many as the epitome of colonial exploitation and racism, of the ridicule and commodification of black people.


Xenophobia seems ingrained not only in humans, but also in the animal kingdom.

According to a  biological anthropologist from Harvard, male chimpanzees brutally beat and kill chimps from other groups, indeed male groups vigorously patrol the boundaries of their territories searching for isolated males from neighboring groups.  Ants equally are liable to such behavior , conducting warfare with one another.

Apparently Males are much more likely to be perpetrators of racial discrimination, but equally likely to be the victims of such discrimination. Xenophobia is something that is spread universally.

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.

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This article is part of a blogging challenge,

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N is for nudity!

Serpent and Apple


One strong memory of my time at Art school was life drawing classes. There was the atmosphere, a fraught, tense stifling atmosphere, filled with deep concentration, you felt as if you were in a library or in a sacred church. The student’s eyes were fixed on the model, nobody spoke much, if at all,  there were unwritten rules of how somebody should behave in this environment. Students would be religiously measuring proportions of the life model with their pencils. The tradition of using a model in drawing classes goes back hundreds of years.

What of the life model’s perspective? It’s undeniable  we live in a society where nudity is a big deal and does have a stigma.  The first time a model poses in front of a bunch of strangers, it must be very daunting…when it reaches the critical point when the Art teacher says “ok can you take your robe off”. This all sounds totally ridiculous, we all undress every night, it is totally natural…

Imagine in this day and age in the western world  a “fat” competition! Men from the Bodi tribe pride themselves in being fat and  consequently they drink a mixture of blood and goat’s milk to fatten up quickly and win the “fat contest” in their village. The winner is not awarded a prize but is afforded a heroes status for the rest of their lives.

One group of people who liked to flaunt their naked bodies were the hippies, in the 1960s. The West Coast America chose nudity to make  a political statement. Nudity in public became a form of protest, challenging social norms and supposedly conservative, constraining ideas of‘decency’. It was also liberating.

Have you ever had a dream whereby you find yourself the only naked person in a public place filled with clothed people? Apparently it is quite common dream. Dreaming that you are completely or partially naked is very common. Nudity symbolizes a variety of things depending on your real life situation. Becoming shocked at the realization that you are naked in public, apparently reflects your vulnerability or feelings of shamefulness. You may be hiding something and are afraid that others can see right through you.

I come from the UK,  a country known for its prudishness, the origin of this down to the the Puritans, or Queen Victoria by comparison across the channel, continental Europe has a more relaxed attitude towards nudity, I remember a place outside Vienna where everyone (apart from us Brits) was stark naked and thought nothing of this. Even Catholic Spain is less offended by breasts on the beach than Britain. You couldn’t enter a sauna in Austria or Germany wearing clothes. This bodily shame can be traced back to Christianity’s formation of the doctrine of original sin. Nudity, and nude photos, is the ultimate test of self-acceptance. Do you love yourself enough that you can go all the way?

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.

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This article is part of a blogging challenge,

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The turbulent mind of Sinead O’Connor

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There is little doubting the uniqueness of  Sinead O’Connor’s voice. When you listen to “Nothing compares to you” you can’t but fail to be moved by it, it gets you every time you hear this rousing song. But what about the singer? I had the pleasure to see her in concert in Paris a few years back. I sensed that there was something quite not right about Sinead, there was a palpable edginess to the concert.

In Ireland she is an icon and the press can’t get enough of her, while at the same time she is depicted as being a wild crazy woman, mentally unstable. She is not afraid to be extremely honest about her childhood and the physical and mental abuse she had suffered at the hands of her mother (although other members of her family dispute this). In her own words…“I never took time to recover from what had gone on when I was growing up, and to establish a sense of self,” she says, quietly but surely. “The big problem if you are a child abused is that you don’t really have a strong sense of your own identity. She obviously is struggling to come to terms with her childhood, but also the pressures of fame.  In July 2003 she said pertinently “I seek no longer to be a ‘famous’ person and instead I wish to have a normal life,” adding “Could people please afford me my privacy?”

Sometimes her so called “crazy antics” have been very public. Tearing up a picture of the pope on Saturday Night Live in America in 1992, was followed by coming stage at a tribute concert for Bob Dylan, wrapped a rastafarian prayer cloth around the microphone and sang an unaccompanied version of “War”, a musical rendition of a speech Haile Selassie made to the United Nations in 1963, to which Sinead added her own lyrics focusing on child abuse.  Her performance drew mixed reactions, some booing.

It seems like Madonna, on her Australian tour is going through  a Sinead type phase.

Ripping up a picture of the pope brought about an inevitable  backlash with leading Roman Catholics attacking the singer and urging the faithful not to buy her records. Her relationship with religion seems complex.  She raised many eye browses when it was revealed  she had been ordained as Mother Bernadette Marie by Bishop Michael Cox of the rebel Tridentine Order, at Lourdes. Irish and American newspapers went for Sinead viciously dubbing her “mad”, “deranged” and ” weird”.

Effecting Sinead deeply has been custody battles for her daughter, which even made her contemplate suicide. “I have made one suicide attempt in my life, and that was on my 33rd birthday, after a session in court that day where it was suggested that for the rest of my life I would only see my daughter once a month. I made a very serious suicide attempt, and I did almost die.” She seems dogged by this notion that she is mad.

Sinead O’Connor for many years was deemed to suffer from Bi Polar, which was later proved false. She announced “I do not in fact suffer from Bi Polar disorder and never did . . . and should never have been put on the medication . . . They are extremely debilitating drugs. Tiring to the extreme. Ironically, extremely depressing. They can cause suicidal or self-harm type thinking.” O’Connor said, in an interview in the Irish Mirror, “I’m delighted to be able to say that after ten years of poisoning myself with these drugs and having to live with the extremely difficult side-effects of them I can shortly begin the very, very slow indeed, process of getting them out of my system and my life and getting my life back.”

This poses the question could the constant cries by the media  that Sinead is crazy influence Doctors. Sinead went through a ten year period with different psychiatrists, none of them alluding the effects of the medication she was under.

Sinead seems to be making a constant cry for help. She seems horribly misrepresented by the press. If she is crazy it is a wonderful crazy.

Part of a St Patrick’s Day blog hop, read other articles by writers and bloggers.


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Am I a freak?

Am I a freak-

What do we understand by the word freak?
Why are most humans so cruel?
Why are we all so desperate to be part of the “norm”?

one that is markedly unusual or abnormal: as
a : a person or animal having a physical oddity and appearing in a circus sideshow
b slang (1) : a sexual deviate (2) : a person who uses an illicit drug
c : hippie
d : an atypical postage stamp usually caused by a unique defect in paper (as a crease) or a unique event in the manufacturing process (as a speck of dirt on the plate) that does not produce a constant or systematic effect
a : an ardent enthusiast <film freaks>
b : a person who is obsessed with something <a control freak>
See freak defined for English-language learners
See freak defined for kids
Examples of FREAK
1. eccentric, artistic types whom many regarded as freaks
2. I had a terrible rash on my face, and I felt like a freak.

It seems to be part of human nature to constantly judge others physical appearance. Perhaps the human race is getting even more narcissistic, after all don’t we go around taking “selfies” and plant them on the social media. God help anyone with an over-sized nose, ears that jut out, bulging eyes, a prominent pimple, a mole that is so eye-catching it directs people’s focus, like a ship to lighthouse in a thick fog. Anyone with extreme characteristics is liable to a lifetime of abusive comments, ridicule, being stared at…fingers pointed at them on public transport. Parts in horror films beckon, but the front cover of vogue does not.

In Victorian times those deemed to be “freaks” were placed on the stage, were put “on show”. The Victorians had a bizarre curiosity, there were the bearded ladies, included amongst these was Julia Pastrana resembled more of an ape than a woman. Pastrana, a Mexican-born woman suffered from hypertrichosis, a disease that causes the person to be covered from head to toe in long, thick hair. To compound things…she had a large nose and thick lips. She later had the indignity of being mummified, along with the still born child she gave birth to, who had the same features as her. Freak shows are a terrible indictment of the Victorian times, a time when Britain was at the height of imperialism.
John Merrick, more commonly known as “The Elephant man” had the most unimaginable skin disease, allegedly suffering from elephantiasis. Like some of the characters in my book, poor John Merrick, was an object of curiosity and ridicule throughout his life. His body was characterized by his malformed head, curved spine, “lumpy” skin and overgrown right arm and hand. His life was brought further to the public’s attention, with David Lynch’s file “The Elephant man”. The real reason for Merrick’s severe condition is even to this day open to conjecture.

What we can say is you are unfortunate to be born with a condition like John Merrick’s you will have much suffering to endure and will need the kind of indomitable spirit that John Merrick possessed. From the moment we are born, we are dealt different cards of fate, some are born lucky others face a life of hardship on account of their atypical physical appearance.
As children we are conditioned to be like the pack…we want to be like the others, included within the group of those deemed “normal”. Even a child with ginger hair, might suffer at the hands of others…vicious name calling…In my school if you did not match up what was considered “the norm” for example if you were effeminate, or had an atypical name (it was an all-boys school full of pubescent boys) you would be showered with all manner of insults, “lesbo” “lesy” or the likes. We had dormitories with up to twelve boys crammed together , like an army camp for privates. We were there for thirty-six weeks of the year, the other boys were “inescapable”. For this reason I escaped to the art room, where I could be at least express myself on paper or canvas and get away from this existence I really despised. I guess it was where I began to feel an “outsider”. I was never going to join the army, I was never going to be a businessman, like many of the other boys, primed for such activities… I was going to blessed with some comfortable life, with a comfortable career beckoning.

My Short stories are littered with freaks…for example there is “Bugeyes”…who is rejected at birth, on account of his extraordinary large eyes…and needless to say he is ridiculed by all…with a myriad of jokes that involve large eyes…for example “moth eyes”. People assume he is “stupid” but this is far from being the case.

Francis H Powell is the author of Flight of Destiny a book of short stories. He is also a musician and video maker…check out this video…it’s called “Bring out the freaks” and features Rayo, a multi-musician, who plays guitar and piano on this track.