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Friday 27 November 2020

Friday Favourites: Podcasts, Books, TV - November Edition

Is This Mutton? owner Gail Hanlon with headphones on to consume another podcast for her November reviews
Welcome to the monthly edition of Friday Favourites.  There's a feast of podcasts as the top providers launch new seasons and new variations. I promise a very eclectic line-up today with some books and TV choices too. 

Podcast Heaven

Late autumn is when the established podcast providers bring out their new series.  Unlike the TV world, podcasting is largely unaffected by Covid, so standards and quality remain high.

The new seasons I'm feasting on: 

Dr Death from Wondery:  this is an excellent documentary series with season 2 focused on the medical malpractice of one Dr Farid Fata.  This seemingly highly respected haematologist masterminded one of the biggest health care frauds in American history.  Jaw dropping.

If you missed season 1, start with the story of former neurosurgeon Christopher Duntsch, whose gross malpractice resulted in the death and maiming of 33 patients while working at hospitals in the Dallas-Fort Worth areas.

Dr Joan and Jericha: the redoubtable duo have reached season 3, and I'm a little disappointed so far. Long adverts and not so much of their hilarious "advice". Outrageous and not for the faint hearted.

Postcards from Midlife:  Trish Halpin and Lorraine Candy are back with season 3 and a sparkling start with the wonderful Trinny Woodall and her guide to everyday glamour. They've still got the same cheesy music unfortunately.

New Podcasts

You take your baby to hospital after he suffers a shock fall in the garden and suddenly your life is turned upside down with both of your children taken from you. This is a true story and it's frightening because even a second expert opinion wouldn't change the minds of a social services team determined to protect two children from their parents, even having secret court hearings which the parents knew nothing about.  Do No Harm from Wondery.

Hunting Ghislaine: (LBC) -  the fall from grace of  pampered princess and Daddy's girl Ghislaine Maxwell, who's in the news this week for complaining about being treated badly at the detention centre where she awaits trial. She is woken every 15 minutes by a flashlight in her face to check she is still breathing.Suicide was allegedly the fate which befell her best friend, convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. 

Ghislaine Maxwell. Image: Reuters

It's a documentary with episode 1 going into Ghislaine's background and her father's misdemeanours,  I did question some of the unattributed statements. We're told Ghislaine was largely ignored as a child and told her mother, age three, "I exist."  She apparently became anorectic at a very young age.  Who said? How do we know? But it's an interesting tale for our times and I'll keep tuning in. 

Tracks: Abyss:  Tracks is an award-winning conspiracy thriller from BBC Radio 4  by Matthew Broughton. It first started in 2016. I loved the first series which started with a plane crash and the death of an eminent surgeon who was the long lost father of the series's heroine, Helen Ash. 

I've become less enthusiastic with each new series because the story has got so hugely convoluted.  I wouldn't know where to start to try to describe the plot. I started the latest, and final, series with sore misgivings.  Helen has nine months to live, has split from her (very irritating) husband, and has suddenly had a vision of a shipwreck after being sent a mysterious email from her dead father. 

Before long she is reunited with the highly irritating husband and they're off exploring the origins of a YouTube video showing said shipwreck,  and talking to people who never seem to spit out their story before something happens to them. I will persevere because I want to understand if there's any ultimate outcome to the whole thing.

My Year in Mensa: Jamie Loftus (not sure who she is but US readers will know - probably an influencer or comedian) takes the Mensa IQ test and passes, which gives her access to a whole new strange world. She takes us to the Mensa convention where she's threatened and humiliated by angry Mensans, most of whom seem to be slightly unhinged (and Republican). And let's not get into the Facebook community, endorsed by Mensa, where comments are unmoderated and death threats are common. 

A podcast leads me to a book 

Medical Murders (Parcast) is a true crime podcast dedicated to doctors who broke the Hippocratic oath and did harm to their patients. I was fascinated by the two episodes dedicated to Walter Freeman, the "ice pick lobotomist." Freeman was a neurologist who, in the 1930s, became excited by the emerging technique of lobotomy. To get round the tricky problem of not being able to perform the operations himself, he invented a technique where he used a small pair of kitchen ice picks to gain access to patients' brains through their eye sockets.  The procedure took 10 minutes or less and he toured America, conducting hundreds of operations - including one on Rosemary Kennedy, aged 23. 

Rosemary was the eldest daughter of Francis and Rose Kennedy, parents of assassinated President John F Kennedy.  I am haunted by this photo of the young Rosemary on the cover of an excellent book, Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson.  

The young Rosemary Kennedy, elder sister of former US President JF Kennedy, who was lobomized and sent to an institution no visits for 20 years

Rosemary,  the most attractive of the Kennedy sisters, was described as "mentally retarded" from a young age. We see examples of her letters and child-like handwriting, but while she had learning and behavioral difficulties, it's hard to justify the lobotomy and then banishment to an institution in Arizona, where Rosemary wasn't visited by any of her family for 20 years. The Kennedys were keen to keep her out of the public gaze, and after the failed lobotomy, it became even more important to hide her away. 

Rosemary was highly functioning enough to have been presented at court in England as a debutante.  Here she is on the right with her sisters Kathleen and Eunice.

Rosemary Kennedy with her sisters Eunice and Kathleen before Rosemary was lobotomized and sent to an institution with no visits for 20 years

But as she matured, she became erratic in mood and angry at being wrapped in cotton wool while her sisters were carving out successful lives. Her parents were concerned that she might be "taken advantage of" and her father spoke to Walter Freeman about his pioneering surgery. 

Rosemary's sister Kathleen (who tragically died in a plane crash aged 28) had already researched the procedure and told her mother it wasn't for Rosemary, but Joseph Kennedy went ahead anyway. His wife always denied all knowledge of it. Sadly the operation was a disaster and Rosemary was left physically handicapped. She died in the institution which had been her home for more than 40 years, aged 85.  It's a very sad story.  Her sister Eunice became an advocate for children's health and disability issues, creating the Special Olympics, although she always denied her inspiration was Rosemary.

Other books I've been reading

House of Correction by Nicci French

I used to enjoy the psychological thrillers written by this husband and wife team but found this one sorely lacking. A very unlikeable heroine returns to her childhood village and, in a story of prejudice and conspiracy, ends up being accused of murder.  She decides to conduct her own defence in court. We are kept in the dark until the very end about what her defence will actually be, because she can't remember what she was doing around the time the unpopular victim was murdered. I was annoyed I'd wasted a few hours reading this one.

Fifty-Fifty by  Steve Cavanagh 

A crime thriller about two sisters who accuse each other of murdering their father.  We follow their defence lawyers to trial and try to second guess which sister was responsible.  It kept me engrossed although I fully expected the ending.

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers 

A delight. Set in the genteel English 1950s, it exposes a couple of things which, as teenagers, we were always led to believe never happened in the 50s, lesbianism and adultery. But in a touching and gentle way. The ending will take your breath away.

The Harpy by Megan Hunter

A book with very high aspirations. It's a story as old as time, a wife betrayed by her husband.  But this woman is obsessed with the notion of harpies - women from distant history.  There are a lot of very important quotes on Amazon about how important this book is.  They're all a bit pretentious but let me share this one from Elle magazine:  "In elegiac lines, Hunter tells a love story through the eyes of a new mother, who witnesses the death of an old life and the start of a new one...a perfect portrait of rebirth the final testament that time, and life, do go on, despite our best efforts."  I admired the book's aspirations but I found the conclusion and the woman's transformation a step too far. Feathers are involved. 

What I've been watching

I don't have any new or surprising recommendations so I've kept this section light.  We greatly enjoyed The Queen's Gambit as I'm sure you did  (Netflix).  It was a solid narrative, beautifully performed, compelling and visually stunning.  I loved how the Russians came across at the end.  Too often the media show us the negative side of Russia under Putin and we think it's all about novochok and cold wars. In the programme we saw the sheer joy of ordinary Russians in chess.

The Queen's Gambit

We watched two dramas which aren't new, but hadn't crossed our radar:  COBRA  (Sky) is a British thriller starring Robert Carlyle and Victoria Hamilton. It's about the government and the committee that's convened when there's a national crisis  (as there is now with Covid).  It was a thriller that promised more but came across as a bit cheap and hollow. It seemed to finish very abruptly with lots of loose ends.  The Newsroom (Sky) is a US drama with Jeff Daniels from aaeons ago, but still a very good watch, although I couldn't shake off the feeling that the cable TV channel seemed to be a tiny shoestring operation, when I think they were supposed to be a behemoth. Jane Fonda rocks as a publishing titan. Still watching The Undoing (Sky) and my prediction is that Grace's father (Donald Sutherland, wonderful) is behind it.  J is going for Grace  as the murdering fiend. Nicole Kidman may have a problem registering shock if she is convicted as her face is entirely immobile.

I couldn't not mention The Crown (Netflix)  although I'm not enjoying the latest series as much as its predecessors. I'm old enough to remember all the shenanigans so I'm constantly tutting and sighing about the untruths, which millennials will take as Gospel. I was never a Princess Diana fan and this series is highly sympathetic of her while portraying the royal family as cruel. Things were not as they seem - and the show's creator, Peter Morgan, is an arch Republican #justsayin

That's it for this month. We're woefully light on boxed sets to binge on, so any recommendations gratefully received!

Sharing this post with Not Dressed as LambMy Random Musings, Shelbee on the Edge and Lucy Bertoldi. 

I'm back on Monday with the Style Not Age collective and our latest challenge. 


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