How about no? Valentine’s day and kids

Prompt: How to make Valentine’s Day fun/meaningful for kids.

Don’t.

Kids don’t care about Valentine’s day. And that’s the way it should be.

I always find it kinda creepy when kids are pushed to do “romantic” stuff, like those You’ve Been Framed clips where tots have clearly been told to kiss.

Romantic love is something that comes later. Kids’ idea of romance is based on movies and stories, and rather superficial. They don’t care that Snow White and the Prince barely know each other, or see that as a problem for them getting hitched.

Some kids have boyfriends and girlfriends but these aren’t like proper relationships, they’re just a name they give to a male or female friend. I remember a mate of mine in primary being the boyfriend of a girl in our class. He seemed confused by this development and all it involved was them holding hands briefly at break.

My little sister had a couple of these, although her allegiances were fickle. A Valentine’s card from one boy earned him the boyfriend tag, but he was dropped when another boy, who’d been ill on V-day, presented her with chocolates. You can pull that at 7, but in a real relationship? No dice.

Valentine’s Day in primary is weird. I get that for teachers its an easy way to pass the time, getting the kids to make cards or whatever, and there are probably morons parents who think it’s cute for Junior to give a card to a girl in his class.

The problem is that kids might be upset when they don’t get a card and others do, which may happen when they’re older in secondary, but you’re slightly better prepared then. As a kid that rejection would sting.

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The alternative is that everyone gives everyone else a card, but this is bollocks too. For one, it devalues the whole exercise, and it also could make some kids think more is going on than there is, like when Ralph got a card from Lisa.

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The main reason this “cards for all” idea fails is because Valentine’s Day teaches us about rejection and that’s important, if painful. It ain’t always gonna be sunshine and rainbows, and you need to know that.

Cue the violins.

I didn’t get a Valentine’s until I was 22. Twenty two!!!

Did I enjoy going through my teens without getting any? No. Did it destroy me? No, it just taught me that you’re not going to be everybody’s cup of tea. Sometimes you won’t be anyone’s, but when you finally are it feels all the better.

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How I felt during my teens

Don’t try to make Valentine’s fun or meaningful to kids because it’s not meaningful and it won’t always be fun. You hear parents whinging about kids growing up too fast, but then they push Valentine’s Day on them.

Maybe it’s the parents who need to have it made meaningful for them? So that they understand it’s about longing and romantic love. About exchanging tokens of affection or confessing your love.

That has nothing to with kids. Well, I guess it leads to making kids, but that’s it.

Let kids enjoy the time before crushes, rejection, awkward first dates and all that jazz. That time will come, there’s no need to bring it forward.

Oh, and parents who get their own kids cards? I find that weird as all hell too.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Why I might have to get a misspelt tattoo

Not long after I started my current job I was on break and one of my coworkers had a new tattoo poking out from her sleeve. Conversation turned to tattoos and people compared theirs. I showed off my own ink, and the girl showed a couple of hers.

On her upper arm was a text piece which looked a bit off. It turned out to be a drunken tattoo done on holiday and meant to be “Hakuna Matata” from The Lion King.

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Words to live by

The only problem was that it actually says “Hahuna Matata”. She explained that she knew this and, to be fair, she was pretty cool with it, so lived up to the motto she’d wanted.

I’d half forgotten about this when I caught sight of another coworker’s ink, and it was more writing. This time I couldn’t see the whole thing just the last word, and I tried to guess what language it was.

Luckily, they moved just as I was about to ask about it, and I saw the rest, which was in a language I recognised.

It was Welsh.

I hadn’t recognised it because it was misspelt, with two of the letters the wrong way around. I wondered if he knew this. Should I tell him?

I decided not to. I don’t know the guy that well and I didn’t want to embarrass the dude.

But really, this is Wales, wouldn’t someone have seen the error? If you don’t speak Welsh why go for the language, when the same idea is expressed in other languages? A Spanish or French misspelling would be bad on holidays but lots of Welsh folks could pick up on the error now.

Or couldn’t he or the artist have Googled the spelling? When I decided to get a tattoo that included a foreign language (Latin) I made sure to properly research it so that (a) it was spelt right and (b) meant what I wanted it to mean.

But as spelling errors in tats are such a trend at work maybe I shouldn’t have bothered? I’d fit in better, or should I just go get someone to mess up a new one?

Hmm, maybe not, my inner pedant means I would drive myself nuts glaring at the offending artwork.

People will want foreign phrases tattooed but you have to make sure you get it right, although it’s more embarrassing to cock up some ink in your native tongue.

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Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Travels in the Land of Serpents and Pearls by Marco Polo

I recently bought a few of the Penguin Little Black Classics, short paperback novels which are only 80p a pop. The first one I got into was this one, by Italian explorer Marco Polo, an extract from his Travels book.

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It being a product of the 13th century I braced myself for some horribly outdated and patronising views of India and Sri Lanka and their inhabitants, but Polo surprised me in this aspect. While he expresses surprise and confusion over the local customs it is always with fascination and done respectfully. In times Polo’s admiration is obvious and I found this quite refreshing and enlightened.

Polo’s style is extremely informal, at times it feels more like a letter to a friend than a proper memoir and he frequently uses expressions like “let me tell you…” Which makes it engaging and laid back.

I really enjoyed this book which was a very quick read and I may check out the full work at some point in the near future. Of course, the only problem is that it got my feet itching. Asia has changed since Polo’s travels in the area, but it still holds plenty of attraction to us Europeans.

Verdict: The informal tone and Polo’s interested, enthusiastic writing is easy to read and fascinating. He shows insight and respect into local customs, and his focus on the people rather than the landscapes is a nice touch. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Atheists, calm the hell down!

A while ago I liked a post on Instagram, I think it was this one:

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I thought it was a good point and left it at that.

The problem is that now in my “suggested for you” gallery there’s a host of atheist and “anti-theist” posts. And they are really grinding my gears.

I’d say I’m agnostic, leaning to atheist, but these guys do my head in. This is for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, a lot of the stuff they post is just not funny and rather nasty. A regular theme is snarky comments about Christians on Facebook posting stuff. They don’t like people shoving their beliefs in their face, these atheists, as they make IG accounts about their beliefs.

I get that you don’t believe in a god, that’s cool man, each to their own. But if you expect people to respect your beliefs then you gotta respect other people’s and stop being a d**k about it.

Or do they think one meme will do it?

That believers will see a snarky caption and think, “How could I have been so blind? This picture has totally blown apart a lifelong faith!”

The second reason is the smug, patronising attitude, as though atheism in itself means intelligence. The flip of this is that anyone with faith must be a moron.

That thinking is utter rubbish.

There are plenty of smart believers, hell, some of the smartest people I know have faith. There are also idiots who don’t think God is real.

Religious belief operates on a different system, its emotional and that’s distinct from intelligence. Atheists who dismiss all with faith as morons are blind to this and too busy patting themselves on the back to think about it.

The smugness also means when they do something stupid it appears all the more foolish.

For example, one regular theme is that Adam and Eve had belly buttons (or that Adam had nipples) which doesn’t make sense if they were made from the earth and a spare rib (mmm, spare ribs).

The argument they use is always a painting of Adam and Eve, sometimes with a caption, like so;

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Some of you may have seen the mistake already.

See, that’s a painting. An artistic representation of Adam and Eve, probably made in the second millennium AD. The artist has drawn what he thought they looked like. Hence belly buttons.

This picture proves one thing- the artist made a mistake or didn’t get why we have belly buttons. No believer is gonna think “Oh, wow, this painting has belly buttons, everything was a lie!”

The belly button argument would only work if it was a photograph. A drawing is very rarely proof, for example I doubt any of us think Bill Clinton and Ronald McDonald went to war.

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I don’t think believers are idiots when I see this idea, I think the poster is. They actually think this is a valid way to argue. Do they use this guy as proof of alien life?

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I get that some atheists are passionate about their lack of belief in a higher power, but its weird to bang on about how you don’t think something is real. Also, if you are going to post why not try to avoid the ignorant, rude and intrusive theists you dislike so much? Because at the moment the message might be different, but the manner is the same.

I just think that whatever you believe or don’t believe you shouldn’t attack those who differ from you. Just focus on your life and leave people to get on with theirs.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


So, here’s the story from A-Z

Writing prompt: Make a list of alphabetical advice.

Ask when you don’t know something.
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Be excellent to each other.

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Call out unacceptable things. Staying silent only helps them continue. If you know something is wrong, do something about it.

Don’t be a d**k.

Everything looks better after a cup of tea.

Find whatever makes you happy and embrace it, even if it’s not cool. (Unless what you like harms others, in which case stop doing it.

Get rid of anyone who treats you badly. Life is hard enough without having people dragging you down.

Help whenever you can. A minor act of kindness from you might mean the world to someone else.

If you’re in a hole, stop digging.

Jokes should always go up. Mock the powerful and successful, not the downtrodden.

Keep your opinions to yourself sometimes. You don’t need to voice them all, and sometimes it’s better to remain silent.

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Let it go. Very few things are worth carrying a grudge or resentment over, it’s a lot better to just move on.

Making mistakes is fine, not learning from them isn’t.

Never give up.

Observe other people. You could learn something, or pick up something others have missed.

People deserve second chances, don’t condemn because of who they used to be.

Quit putting yourself down. If you don’t believe in yourself how can you expect others to?

Respect that people are different.

Socks don’t have to match. I saw a post about throwing out a sock because it’s no longer a pair. Wasteful.

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Treat people how you want to be treated.

Under no circumstances should you compare yourself to celebs or models. They have make up, assistants and Photoshop to help them. You don’t, and you’re doing fine by yourself. Love that haircut, by the way.

Vote when you can. It shows you care and it can make a difference.

Watch The Princess Bride, seriously, it’s a great movie and you’ll feel better for it.

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Xpect to face challenges, like coming up with advice that starts with “x”.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”- Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Always try to see where someone else is coming from, don’t just dismiss them because you disagree.

Zombies could happen, have a plan and remember to go for the head.

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Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick

Last year I got really into the Amazon series The Man in the High Castle which was set in an alternate reality where the allies lost the Second World War and the US had been split between the Nazis and Japanese. It was a tense, gripping drama and finding out it was based on a Philip K Dick novel made me intrigued as I’d enjoyed some of his stuff before. I mentioned wanting to read it and MWF got me it for Christmas.

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Unfortunately it falls far short of the TV show, which I loved. The book is massively disappointing especially as early on it shows great promise and highlights PKD’s imagination as a writer. The world he crafts is intriguing, complicated and terrible, with the Nazis eyeing up their only remaining opposition.

The problem is that the story gets bogged down in loosely connected, uninvolving subplots, many of which add nothing to the story and could have been left out with no impact. There are hints of more but these get lost in a confusing and dull storylines that fizzle out. It took me the best part of a month to read because having put it down, the urge to pick it back up wasn’t that strong.

PKD’s failings as a writer are thrust to the fore, with stilted, unnatural sounding dialogue and characters who aren’t fleshed out properly and act in daft, illogical ways. The strong female lead of the show is here a hysterical, skittish woman who flaps about and who I found thoroughly unlikeable.

The ending feels like PKD himself just lost interest and was extremely unsatisfying.

Aside from The Godfather I can’t remember another time a screen adaptation has developed and improved on a novel to such an extent.

Verdict: While Dick has good ideas and a few moments which hold the interest poor dialogue and characters made this a bit of a slog and I struggled to get that involved in it. A waste of a good idea with an ending which infuriated me. 4/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


What we can learn from Kanye

I know, Kanye West is ridiculous in many ways. The daft shades he used to wear, his awful Brits performance, interrupting Taylor Swift, throwing tantrums and the fact he named his daughter North (at least have a silent K to keep the Kardashian tradition alive).

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Surely, those slat things would be a pain?

He’s also responsible for one of the daftest and least sexy song lyrics about making love. I refer to his guest spot on Katy Perry’s “ET” where he raps:

Imma disrobe you, then imma probe you

I hope his real world pillow talk is better than that, for Kim’s sake.

But let’s not forget that he can do some decent stuff, like calling out George W. Bush after Hurricane Katrina or the fact that he’s had some ace songs (The College Dropout and Late Registration are solid albums).

But the most important thing we can learn from Kanye?

Being confident in what we do.

Most musicians would announce an album through a bit of artwork or a cryptic tweet. But Kanye? He shared a track list for “Swish” and then announced he’s just finished the “best album of all time”.

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That takes balls.

A lot of us are afraid to be confident or proud of what we’ve done. We apologise for trying or dismiss the results as flawed. It’s a bad habit, this need to put ourselves down, to diminish our attempts. It hurts ourselves and the apologising creates a bad impression for others by lowering their expectations and starting off on a negative.

Self deprecation is fine in moderation, but too much and you’re just undervaluing yourself and sending out the message that it’s fine to trash you, even if it is affectionately.

I get that arrogance is ugly (witness Donald Trump) but surely there’s a halfway point? A place where we big ourselves up more. Where we celebrate our achievements and show our pride in them?

Walk out of an exam announcing you crushed it, present your baking with a flourish, call something you’ve done awesome. Give yourself the kind of praise we heap on others.

Even if you just do it in your head, if you’re worried of looking daft or cocky.

If you don’t love and show pride in what you’ve done, why should others? Own your work, unleash your inner Kanye and blow your own trumpet a little.

Don’t go full Kanye though. Keep a little bit of humour in there, and think hard about what you’re going to name your kids.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Soldiers are being investigated. This is not something to be mad about.

Apologies, this one is a bit of a rant.

It was announced today that around 60 cases investigating unlawful killings by UK forces in Iraq have been dropped. This follows the MoD looking into it and deciding not to proceed in these cases (story here).

This is of course good news for those involved, and false claims should be disregarded, however, the response to the news online shows a worrying attitude shared by many people.

This is the belief that all claims against UK soldiers should be thrown out and that “our boys” (they’re always talking about the “boys”, the British public still slightly squeamish about women doing the killing and dying) are somehow above reproach. For me this is not only incredibly stupid but also potentially dangerous.

If our soldiers are allowed to do whatever they want without consequence how can we stand in judgement on enemy combatants when they do wrong? War is hell and chaotic, but there is at least some sense of what is right and what is wrong, and those who transgress are held accountable, even if it is after the fact. Without this all manner of evil could be done.

This blind faith that “our boys and girls” are immune to the callousness and cruelty that war can breed in people is willful blindness to reality. The men and women who serve in our forces are human beings, and while many have good intentions and try to do right there will be some who do wrong. Putting on a uniform does not transform someone into a paragon of virtue. Enlisting does not a hero make.

We have a duty to prosecute and punish those who commit crimes during war. If we don’t then we are failing our values, the very thing that they are meant to be fighting to protect. Those who break the law must be tried and pay for their crimes if found guilty.

To allow soldiers to evade this undermines the idea of justice we should aim for- that justice is blind and that all are equal. Whether the victim is a British citizen, foreign civilian or even enemy combatants, they have rights and should be treated fairly, when they are not, they all deserve justice.

Similarly, a criminal is a criminal, even if they wear our country’s uniforms.

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There will of course be fraudulent or exaggerated cases, and lawyers who seek a quick buck, but hopefully these cases will be resolved and the innocent walk free, but the guilty must be brought to justice.

It’s in the best interests to investigate them all so that the false ones can be dismissed and not just hang over the accused, continuing to sow doubt. An investigation that clears someone is obviously better than just ignoring the allegations.

Pursuing them is not wrong, and wanting them punished is not unpatriotic. Hell, not being patriotic isn’t a failing or a bad thing, in fact, we need to be objective when we think of our country, and ready and willing to call it on when it is wrong or could be better.

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But for those still clinging to the idea of patriotism as a virtue, then surely the prosecution of wrongdoers in our military is patriotic. It helps protect the country’s reputation and that of our military. We should be ashamed of events like Bloody Sunday and the death of Baha Mousa, we should not be ashamed to investigate them (even if it comes far too late).

We should be proud that we do not tolerate abuse from our troops and that we execute justice against them. We should strive for transparency so that we know what “our boys and girls” are doing in our name, and to ensure that they behave appropriately.

Pursuing them is not disrespect, it is an attempt for justice. Nobody is above the law. Is it disrespectful to go after a criminal?

By all means honour our troops and praise them if you want, but don’t do it blindly. Don’t shout down any suggestion that they are not superheroes without flaws, because they’re not. Don’t act as though prosecuting them is unfair or wrong, because it benefits none of us to have a situation where our soldiers can do whatever they want without consequence.

We need to be able to question and hold our soldiers accountable, as we do our politicians and police officers. It’s what keeps them (relatively) honest and stops them being able to do terrible things in our name.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: The Revenant

Suffering has never looked as good as it does in this movie from Alejandro G. Inarritu. It’s a tale of survival and revenge in the frozen American wilderness of the early nineteenth century, and the locations in Canada are starkly beautiful.

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A party of fur trappers are attacked by Native Americans from the Akikara tribe, with many killed and the survivors fleeing down river. Their guide Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) advises that they stash their pelts, ditch the boat and evade them on land. This does not go down well with Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) one of the trappers who given past dealings with Native Americans distrusts Glass and his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), as Glass’ wife was a native.

They follow Glass’ plan but he is attacked and mauled by a bear. They carry him onwards but he slows them down. Expedition leader Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) can’t bring himself to kill Glass as Fitzgerald urges and so offers a bonus to three men who will stay behind and wait until Glass dies and ensure he is “buried properly”. Hawk is first to volunteer along with youngster Bridger (Will Poulter), and Fitzgerald, with an eye on the cash, agrees as well.

Fitzgerald attempts to kill Glass but is caught by Hawk and stabs him, hiding the body. The severely injured Glass witnesses this but is unable to stop it or tell Bridger later. Fitzgerald tricks Bridger into thinking the Akikara are near, and after Bridger’s objections tosses Glass into a shallow grave and the pair flee.

Glass crawls from the grave and begins to crawl and stumble for home, intent on avenging his son. Can he survive the wilderness? Will he get his revenge or be denied?

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, which is a tense, gripping affair with gorgeous visuals and strong performances. The plot, based (very) loosely on true events, is simple enough but the kind of story which is engaging and involving, an old fashioned story of revenge.

In the lead DiCaprio gives a performance which is both intense and minimalistic. Alone for much of the running time, he endures the harsh surroundings surviving as best he can. His past is revealed through disjointed dream sequences as he dips in and out of consciousness, piecing together what happened to his wife.

DiCaprio looks like he’s suffering throughout and later on adopts a raspy, quiet voice caused by his injuries. It’s a strong performance in many ways as you buy into it totally, and I rooted for him throughout. It’s an intimate performance, and with nobody to spark off it’s to his credit that he holds the attention.

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The suffering is intense and wince inducingly real, but Inarritu avoids glamourising or overplaying it, it’s a low level, gritty portrayal which makes it all the more involving. At times it made me and MWF flinch, but it’s not lingered on and we kept watching raptly.

Inarritu’s direction is pretty flawless, with his framing wonderful and sense of pacing on point, the film moves along well enough, neither dawdling or rushing to the finale. The only misstep for me were some of the dream sequences, especially a moment where Glass’ dead wife hovers above him, which I found almost laughable. But this is one of very few mistakes during the film.

What works best is the brutal, harsh tone which highlights the fragility of life and the façade of civilisation on the edge if the world. The opening attack on the trappers is fast paced and savage, an oddity in the post- Dances With Wolves world, with the Native Americans shown as violent. Yet it avoids simple “savage” cliché as the white man is just as violent and ruthless, and the chief’s (Duane Howard) obsessive pursuit mirrors Glass’.

Hardy’s Fitzgerald is the best illustration of this, with a “what needs to be done” attitude that places survival above all else. While clearly the villain of the piece the film avoids utterly condemning the man and Hardy plays him with his normal strength.

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Hardy does good work making the man distasteful and his actions vile while still making him human and at times sympathetic. This is a man who struggles to get by, who fears and carries the scars, physical and emotional, of his past. Out on the edge of the wild, he has begun to shed his humanity and become more beastlike in his single mindedness to survive.

The other performances are just as solid, if less showy than the leads, and this is DiCaprio’s movie. Oscar worthy? Well, it would take a lot to beat him.

Inarritu should also get a little gold fella as his direction is sublime and he makes a film which easily moves from the brutal to the beautiful, and shows an ease and confidence which allows him to let the film unfold at it’s own pace. In the vast landscapes he still manages to find small, delicate human moments and he keeps the audience glued.

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Verdict: A strong, involving movie about survival, rage and men at the fringes of civilisation. DiCaprio gives a solid, mesmerising performance and carries the film single handedly for much of the run time. Inarritu directs superbly and the film is great to look at, even while some of the violence is hard to watch. Thoroughly captivating. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


In memory of Alan Rickman. In defence of Emma Watson

This week saw the passing of Alan Rickman, a truly great actor who appeared in many great movies like Die Hard, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Love Actually, Galaxy Quest, Dogma and Sense & Sensibility, where he oozed dignity and decency as Brandon.

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To a younger generation he will always be known as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter series. Leading the tributes were his former costars, including the former child stars of those films.

Emma Watson tweeted several times, one of which included this image and quote.

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It made sense for Watson, a vocal campaigner for women’s rights to post this but she was soon under attack from various tweeters who felt she was out of line for “pushing her own agenda” and exploiting Rickman’s death.

Frankly these comments are utterly daft and disrespectful. These strangers are attacking someone who actually knew Rickman for years for how they grieve and remember him. As fans it hurt us, but for those who knew him it must have been far worse.

Also, why shouldn’t she post this?

All of us can comment on his acting abilities, and I’m sure Watson will praise his skills as a performer. What she’s doing with this quote is showing that as well as being a marvellous talent he was a decent bloke with sensible views.

The quote shows him in a good light, it shows a man who believed in a equality and unlike many online knew what feminism is about.

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Watson probably chose this message because it echoed her views and also because it’s statements like this that are part of the reason she admired and now mourns Alan Rickman.

Exploiting his death? No, just showing why she respected him.

The sad thing is that people felt the need to attack someone and  object to an “agenda” which is about equality and fairness. Read the above definition, that’s what Watson and Rickman support, equal opportunities and rights for everyone.

If you attack that you’re basically coming out in favour of a system which places some above others just because of their gender, and that’s a crap thing to defend.

So, I think Watson did nothing wrong and those objecting come from a position of ignorance or hostility.

In closing, I just want to say Rest in Peace, Alan Rickman, you were a great actor, I never tired of watching you and thanks for all the great work you left us.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


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