Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sunday Salon: What I'm Doing 44

What I'm Reading
The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Dr Mukherjee is a cancer specialist and the writer of the 'Emperor of all Maladies' (a biography of cancer) which won the Pulitzer Prize, and by all accounts is an excellent book.  But its subject makes it one I'd have to steel myself to read.

The Gene, on the other hand, seemed like it could be emotionally easier.  It interposes Siddhartha's family stories (on the incidence of schizophrenia) with interesting details of a story that is supect is already quite widely known (the history of the discovery of the gene).  Despite this familiarity, Dr Mukherjee still manages to find new points of interest and impressively evokes the personalities involved.

What is it about the discovery of evolution and genetics that makes it such a fascinating to me, and I guess many other people? I suppose it's because it tells us more about what we are.  I never tire of reading about it.

What I'm Reading (electronically) 
Londoners: The Days and Nights of London by Craig Taylor

I must have been reading this book for months now.  But then it is quite thick and it's something I tend to read on the phone in my spare minutes.  Since it consists of a short interviews with various people, it's a great way of spending a few spare minutes. It's also a good way of conveying how it is to live in a city.  There are taxi drivers, policemen, people who have migrated in and out, bouncers - the whole range of human life.  I'm really enjoying it and learn something new every time I dip in.

What I'm listening to
The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

Trolllope's writing is quite different from the modern style - as well as the 'showing' there is also a lot of 'telling' by the narrator - even so the character build to something real and entertaining.  The theme of the book is financial corruption.  A businessman of uncertain pedigree is rich from schemes  that are financed by money that is owed rather than actually owned, which sounds strikingly familiar and puts me in mind of the London property market.  House owners are rich, but only on paper.  This audiobook is narrated by Timothy West which adds to the pleasure.

What I'm Watching
Maigret at the Crossroads based on novels by Georges Simenon with screenplay by Stewart Harcourt.

Ideal TV crime drama with suitably complicated plots, lots of atmosphere in the setting post-war France and, most importantly,  starring Rowan Atkinson as the eponymous Jules Maigret.  When I first heard that Rowan Atkinson was playing the lead I couldn't imagine it would work - he is too much Bean or Blackadder, but once he opened his mouth I was converted.  His natural voice, it turns out,  is a revelation - so deep and warm to hear it is an unexpected pleasure.  I wonder if he's ever narrated an audiobook.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Leechbook

I've been waiting for this!

I'm not sure where I first read about it, but apparently this Leechbook (i.e. Collection of Medical Recipes) or something similar, has recipes that are being reinvestigated today as a cure for MRSA.

In 1934, Warren Dawson's transcription of a MS No 136 from the Medical Society of London was published by Macmillan.  It was doubtless an act of dedication.  His fascinating introduction describes how  this manuscript was a compendium of knowledge derived from classical Greek and Roman scholars, who in turn drew on work from the Egyptians and Assyrians. This then, in 1444, represented the cumulative medical knowledge of the western world - something that had been handed down in virtually the same state for over three thousand years.

The cure in question for an eye infection and came an older version of the Leechbook from the 9th century.  It involved minced onion, wine and an extract from a cow's stomach which were mixed together, chilled and kept for nine days. The resulting liquor killed 90% of a MRSA infection and, very interestingly, the cure required the complete concoction rather than a single ingredient.

So, curious to see if I can find something similar in this book, I open a page at random and come upon recipe 365, a cure for 'Gout fester'.  For this I need to   'Take a root of radish and put it in honey, three days in summer, and in winter two days; and afterwards pound it in a mortar, and make therof powder; and dry it well in a new pot and anoint the evil with honey and cast above it the powder.'  I suppose that might be worth investigating.

Then, on page 309, I find four cures for hiccoughing on page 309, which I am sure will work just as well as anything else. The last one says, 'Take smearwort and stamp it, and mingle it with good wine.  And it will destroy the hiccoughing if thou drinkest it.'

Definitely one to try on the Hodmandods - as soon as I find some smearwort.  

But there are others too: recipes for lucky days, experiments to find out if a couple are capable of conceiving and then something involving a plant that 'men called Nightshade' which is made into a powder and applied to sores in the mouth.  I think I might keep clear of that one - I rather think that one might belong to the category 'kill or cure'.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sunday Salon: Snails and other devotees of the slow

My friend Debra Hamel gave me a beautiful book about a snail (The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey) a few years ago, and now this is joined by another one, courtesy of Alma books.  The important point about the snail, in both cases, is that it is slow.  Following its track across the floor allows plenty of time to reflect - for the invalid recuperating on a bed and also, according to the The Story of a Snail who Discovered the Importance of Being Slow the snail itself.

The snail in this children's story by Luis Sepulveda is the type of animal that asks questions.  One thing bothers him in particular: why are snails so slow?

The answer, the owl tells him, is that he is carrying a weight on his back.  But that doesn't seem quite right to the snail, and he continues to bother the snail community until he is exiled.  From here it is a classic story of a quest.  His allies are other creatures including another slow creature, a tortoise.  The tortoise, of course, is another slow creature, and he is old and wise (I can personally vouch for this: my own tortoise is very old and she never moves unless she absolutely has to).

These two amble along together for a while until they reach 'The End of Life' (a dark level surface ''as though a slice of dark sky had become stuck to the ground').  This is the forewarning of something even more sinister that has the potential to wreak disaster to the snails.  So now the snail's quest becomes a mission to not only warn  but convince his relatives.  This is not straightforward and not without casualties, but the ending is satisfying and optimistic.

I very much enjoyed reading this elegantly told and illustrated little story, and look foarward to testing it out on Hodmandod Major's Majorette next time I see her.  (Being half-French she has tried the national delicacy, but seemed to be repulsed by the experience. Quite right too: snails are not for eating. )

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Learning Supplements

I am still here.  Unfortunately, the blogging has taken a bit of a bashing due to my signing on to my courses at Future Learn.  Within an hour or two of starting all other life was abandoned.

So, a few weeks later, I have completed the History of Portus from Southampton University,
The Future of Genomics with St George's Hospital, and soon I'll have finished
A Virtual Map of Ancient Rome with Reading University, and Reading in a Digital Age from the University of Basel.

These, of course, have had to be supplemented with some auspicious reading.
The Future of Genomics goes very well with the new paperback edition of The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee
The courses on Rome and Portus have encouraged me to download the audio version of SPQR by Mary Beard (although I now feel I need to pick up the print version of this book from my bookshelf too).
While Reading in a Digital Age introduced me (via a fellow student's reference to a newspaper article) to  The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth.

I told myself this will be enough.  Time to move on and write that novel or at least make a start.  But somehow I've found myself enlisting for just one more.  And just a few others.