This month’s round-up of TV, books, podcasts and more includes The Salisbury Poisonings, The Bisexual plus new books Growing Young and Glimpses of Utopia and a podcast about Women With Clout.
A Note on TV
The Salisbury Poisonings
In 2018, a father and daughter were found slumped on a park bench in the English city of Salisbury, later discovered to be poisoned by the deadly Russian nerve agent Novichok. Sergei Skripal was a former Russian military officer and a double agent with the UK’s intelligence services, and the UK quickly accused the Russians of carrying out the act. This four-part BBC series reveals the impact of this event on the police, the Skripal’s friends and the public health officials who are charged with investigating and preventing an all-out crisis. It’s a tense drama that shows the human impact of this single event, and at a time of this current pandemic, it foreshadows the complications of managing large-scale public health crises with both economic and political implications. And it would seem the Russian drug of choice is still Novichok, with reports the Russian opposition leader, who is recovering in Germany after being poisoned recently, was also struck down by Novichok.
Introspective relationship dramas where the characters continually question their choices and beliefs and struggle through their own self-limiting life choices are a particular sub-genre. You either love them or you don’t. In this one, grey, wet London is the backdrop as Leila, a lesbian in a decade-long relationship, becomes single and tests out what it would be like to go out with men, hence the title. It’s got a touch of the Fleabag about it, without the wit but minus the self-consciousness. And a host of supporting characters playing out their own existential love dramas. And there’s truth and honesty in their quest for happiness and self-understanding.
A Note on Books
In Growing Young, Marta Zaraska argues that optimism, kindness, and strong social networks will keep us living longer than any fitness tracker or superfood. Using research papers, travel around the world and interviews with a range of medical experts, she says we have been focussing on all the wrong things: miracle diets, miracle foods, miracle supplements.
“Friendships. Purpose in life. Empathy. Kindness. Science shows that these “soft” health drivers are often more powerful than diet and exercise. We, humans, are social apes. Over the course of evolution we’ve developed several intertwined systems that regulate our social lives on one hand and our physiology on the other. The amygdala and the insula in the brain, the social hormones oxytocin and serotonin, the vagus nerve, the HPA stress axis — all these link our bodies and our minds, contributing to our centenarian potential. We feel safe when we are surrounded by friendly others. The nervous system, the gastrointestinal system, the immune system — all these function properly when the tribe is there for us and when we are there for the tribe. Involved in a group, we flourish.”
Glimpses of Utopia
If right now the future seems like a strange and uncertain place, then this book might offer some hope and, more than that, solid ideas on making the world a better place for the many. Glimpses of Utopia is a handbook and a call to arms for a post-pandemic life by curator, festival director and Sydney city councillor Jess Skully. While it can feel at times as though we’re in a downward spiral with climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and global political unrest, this book asks ‘what if’ to a series of questions about how we could work to change things for the better.
“There are movements, organisations and individuals in every corner of the world who are modelling alternatives to the extractive and exploitative mindset that got us here, and for the first time in history, they can connect with each other to support and amplify their efforts. In Glimpses of Utopia, you’ll meet some of them and hear their stories, and how their efforts and ideas are shaping a better future for us all. The innovators you’ll meet in this book are many and various: they’re teachers and designers, technologists and researchers, artists and activists, policy-makers and politicians.”
A Note on a Podcast
Women With Clout
Fans of ABC TV’s Gruen, the show that takes a sledgehammer to the world of advertising, may know Jane Caro from her appearances on the show. This podcast pairs Caro, who is also a social commentator and author, with journalist Catherine Fox to interview powerful women about their work and what drives them. Their list of women with clout includes journalist and campaigner Nina Funnell, superannuation expert Nicolette Rubensztein and judge Megan Lathan.
And Some More Notes
If you’re stumped for what to read next, this list might give you some ideas. Author Ann Patchett, whose books include The Dutch House, Commonwealth and State of Wonder, has you sorted with this book list on her website.
Finally, have you ever wondered what the secret to a fulfilled life is? This column from Guardian columnist Oliver Burkeman, his last as the site’s life advice writer, might give you the answer. He offers eight ‘rules’ to keep in mind for a happy and meaningful life.