Word of the day: Twiddlemuff

November 30th, 2022 by Roger Darlington

A Twiddlemuff is a double thickness hand muff with bits and bobs attached inside and out. It is designed to provide a stimulation activity for restless hands for patients suffering from dementia.

I came across one today while volunteering in the Older Persons’ Unit of St Thomas’ Hospital in London.

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A review of the new superhero movie “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”

November 27th, 2022 by Roger Darlington

After seeing two really heavy films in a row, I yearned for some straightforward entertainment and “Black Panther 2” delivered. Following the great success of the original “Black Panther” movie, its lead actor Chadwick Boseman, who was king of Wakanda T’Challa, died of cancer aged just 43 and so the sequel had both to pay homage and to move on, both of which it does sensitively.

Consequently black female actors are now even more to the fore, especially Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s sister Shuri and Angela Basset as T’Challa’s mother Ramonda. The key plot feature of this second visit to Wakanda is the discovery that the state is not alone is having access to the powerful substance vibranium and so we venture to the underwater city of Talokan led by Namor played by the Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta.

It is such a joy to see so many actors of colour filling all the top roles in a big budget movie – as was the case with “The Woman King” a few months ago – and the costumes and settings are wonderful. The loss of immensely talented Boseman inevitably brings a sense of pathos which one does not usually have in a superhero movie, but the main problem with “Wakanda Forever” is its excessive length of 2 hours 40 minutes.

African-American Ryan Coogler, who co-wrote and directed both “Black Panther” films, obviously loves his material, but the proposed third episode needs tighter editing. Having said that, at the end of the showing in IMAX that I attended, there was enthusiastic applause, so the fans are happy.

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A review of the 1982 classic film “The Draughtsman’s Contract”

November 24th, 2022 by Roger Darlington

Most critics really admire the work of British writer and director Peter Greenaway and “The Draughtsman’s Contract”, his first major feature, is regarded as a classic. However, I always thought that I would find his films too odd and avoided them. Yet, when my brother recommended that I view a 40th anniversary re-mastered version, I took an opportunity to see it at the British Film Institute. I could see why some admire it but I found it an unsatisfactory experience.

Set in 1694, the whole story is shot in and around an English country house which is, in fact, Groombridge Place, located outside Tunbridge Wells and built in 1662. The eponymous draughtsman or artist is Mr Neville (Anthony Higgins) and the contract, to produce 12 drawings of the house in return for a sizeable sum and sexual favours, is placed by Mrs Herbert (Janet Suzman), the wife of the home’s owner.

The film is visually and aurally impressive: the house and gardens of course, the costumes and wigs by Sue Blane, and the Purcell-inspired music by Michael Nyman. And the composition by former artist Greenaway is splendid with each scene looking like a picture (Greenaway even did the sketches himself) and the acting and dialogue are incredibly theatrical.

The main problem, for me, is that cinema is different from art and theatre and this work lacks the fluidity that is at the heart of a great film. The British director David Lean was a master of both composition and fluidity but Greenaway’s work is both ponderous and pompous. Furthermore, again for me, the narrative does not work with too much unexplained. All the characters are manipulative and I felt that the whole thing was cold.

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Are we inching closer to a cure for dementia?

November 22nd, 2022 by Roger Darlington

This article offers some hope on the intractable and growing problem of dementia.

For almost five years, I have been a participant in a long-term health study with the acronym CHARIOT PRO which has been studying the possible connection between dementia and a protein in the brain called beta amyloid. That study is about to conclude and I am now a participant in a CHARIOT PRO sub-study which is looking at the possible role in dementia of a different protein in the brain called tau.

For years, I was tested every three months; then it moved to six months; and the new study involves annual exercises. The physical tests include blood, urine, saliva and hair samples plus MRI and PET scans. The cognitive tests involve numbers, characters, shapes and narratives. I also regularly fill in questionnaires on eating, drinking, exercise and lifestyle. Finally I have a study partner who keeps an eye on my behaviours.

In recent decades, our health services have become so much better at treating physical illnesses like cancer and heart disease. But we still have no treatment for dementia or a clear indication of who is likely to suffer from it. So the news of a possible treatment and the trials on causation are so important.

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A review of the new film “Living”

November 17th, 2022 by Roger Darlington

Bill Nighy gives the best performance of his distinguished career as Mr Williams, an old-fashioned, straight-laced, middle-ranking official at the London County Council in the 1950s. When he receives life-changing news, he has to decide whether he can start living at last and whether he can leave any kind of meaningful legacy. The film centres on a man of similar age to me and is set in parts of London where I am living – in both sense of the word – just walking distance away and therefore the work certainly resonates with me, but it will have appeal to anyone who yearns for something different from the endless superhero movies.

Although in many ways this is an quintessentially British film, it is directed by South African Oliver Hermanus, the story is based on a Japanese film (Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 “Ikiru”), and the script is written by Kazuo Ishiguro who, in his novel “The Remains Of The Day”, showed the emotionally-repressed nature of a segment of English society – the main theme of production. Some will regard “Living” as slow, simple and sentimental and, in truth, it is at one level all of these, but it is also charming, poignant and life-affirming.

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The explosion in the global population

November 15th, 2022 by Roger Darlington

A sobering thought: in my lifetime, the world population has more than trebled.

In 1948, it was about 2.5 billion. Today it is estimated to have reached 8 billion.

Some further information, a graph and a short video here.

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A review of the new film “The Good Nurse”

November 11th, 2022 by Roger Darlington

This Netflix film is not an easy watch because it is so dark, both literally (so many scenes are in shadow) and narratively (it concerns the deliberate killing of hospital patients by a nurse). The two American characters in the centre of this true life drama are played by Eddie Redmayne as the good nurse Charlie Cullen and Jessica Chastain as fellow nurse Amy, both of whom give fine performances with Chastain in particular demonstrating a palette of emotions.

At the end, we are told that Charlie Cullen was convicted of 29 murders but is thought to have been responsible for around 400. On a smaller scale, it reminds me of a British case currently at trial of the nurse Lucy Letby who is accused of murdering babies in her care.

“The Good Nurse” raises difficult questions. Are some people evil or should we reserve the word for acts rather than persons? Cullen was really kind to his fellow nurse Amy and her children. Should we blame the perpetrator of the crime or the institutions for which they worked? A succession of hospitals that employed Cullen covered up their concerns to protect their legal liability and public reputation.

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A review of the book “Border Wars” by Klaus Dodds

November 9th, 2022 by Roger Darlington

Ever since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, we have seen an increasing dominance of the notion of the nation state in geo-politics. If you look at a globe or an atlas, every patch of land on the planet is claimed by (at least) one nation with neat black lines defining who owns what.

The problem is that mother Earth was not created to facilitate the tidy parcelling up of territory on political grounds. Mountains are not easily divided, rivers and lakes can change their shape and flow, and people of the same ethnicity or religion are often on different sides of the lines. Klaus Dodds is Professor of Geopolitics at Royal Holloway, University of London and writes perceptively on all the myriad problems thrown up by borders.

Even where borders are accepted and well-defined, there are often massive difficulties in enforcing those borders with a growing industry of guards, walls and surveillance. Think of USA/Mexico with its 2,000 mile border, UK/continental Europe with channel crossings almost daily, North and South Korea with its DMZ. Then there are underground aquifers with many hundreds being trans-boundary and every country wanting supplies of water.

But, in many cases, borders are not universally accepted. Sometimes the issues go back to colonial days or the Second World War; in other cases, the break-up of the Soviet Union has created a host of disputes. Think of North and South Cyprus, Morocco/Western Sahara, Russia/Georgia, Russia/Ukraine, Israel/West Bank, China/Taiwan, China/India, India/Pakistan, all the disputes in the South China Sea. Seven nations lay claim to parts of Antarctica and more may join them.

Whether existing borders are accepted or disputed, nature is changing borders. This has always been happening with changing river flows, land slips and erosion, but climate change will have dramatic impacts with melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and drying rivers, lakes and aquifers. Some low-lying island nations – such as Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Maldives – could simply disappear.

As if all these problems were not headache enough, Dodds looks at ‘border’ issues beyond land: the high seas (where right of passage and fishing are issues), the sea bed (where security of communication cables and mining of mineral resources are issues), the outer space enclosing our globe (where access to favourable positions and security of satellites are issues), and even the moon and the planets.

It is a fascinating book. Dodds examines each of the cases mentioned in this review and explains the issues very clearly, but he has no new ideas for how these problems can be addressed more peaceably beyond development of existing UN and global treaties and greater support for more open borders.

He writes: “The myths of exclusive sovereignty and the fixed border are dangerous. We need to cultivate a radically different view of borders that is alive to the complex realities of earthly change and the likely mass migration of people in an era of intensifying climate change and conflicts”. Some chance in the current geo-political climate.

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A review of a new film version of “All Quiet On The Western Front”

November 8th, 2022 by Roger Darlington

I’ve not read the novel by Erich Maria Remarque (1929) or seen the Academy Award-winning film version (1930), but – following a recommendation from my brother – I was determined to see this new German-language adaptation on the big screen even though it is a Netflix production. I’m pleased that I did because the cinematography is wonderful and a cinema showing maximises the impact of this powerful work.

The director Edward Berger and the cast – the focus is on young Felix Kammerer as the 17 year old soldier Paul Bäumer – are German, but the film was shot in the Czech Republic and most of the technical team were Czech. The depiction of the appalling life in the trenches and the terrifying attacks over ‘no man’s land’ are brilliantly done and I was particularly moved by details like the collection of ‘dog’s tags’ from the dead and the recycling of uniforms from the deceased.

Opening in the spring of 1917, the narrative concludes with the peace ‘negotiations’ of November 1918 – which was not in the novel but provides historic context – and underlines the hopeless position of the German politicians and the hardline posture of the French military. The film is a tough watch with considerable violence and brutality but it seems that every generation has to be reminded that war really is hell.

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Thought For The Week

November 6th, 2022 by Roger Darlington

“Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some other object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.”

English philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)

If you would like to check out previous thoughts, you’ll find them all here.

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