Saturday mornings, and Saturday morning emails, are for slower stories – good to revisit in a quiet moment, or maybe to turn to if you find yourself short on conversation topics.
1. Antibiotics not working? There are maggots for that
As you may have read this week, the CSIRO is warning of a “post-antibiotic world” by 2050. But as antibiotic resistance is rising, so is research into more medieval alternatives. Leech therapy, or hirudotherapy, helps circulation – handy after reconstructive or plastic surgery. Maggot therapy has been accepted by Britain’s NHS since 2004, and – despite facing small hurdles like “taboos” and the “yuck factor” – is known to “promote healing faster than conventional dressings”.
(Just make sure you’ve got the “right” kind. I have a personal cautionary tale, too grotesque to inflict unsolicited on the gentle readers of this newsletter. Take my word for it – don’t try this at home.)
But what do the maggots feel like? “A crawling, like how your skin crawls but without the shivers.” Which … look, good luck not imagining that now.
How long will it take to read: a bit under five minutes
2. ‘Worst husband award’ for Roald Dahl
… whose marriage to the film star Patricia Neal was announced in the New York Times as “Patricia Neal and writer wed”, a dynamic he was initially pretty into until, as Carmela Ciuraru points out, he started to resent her for earning more and being more famous. Dahl played a key role in Neal’s recovery from two major strokes – but “essentially bullied her back into health … goaded and humiliated his wife into recovery”. Not a great few weeks of press for him, it has to be said.
Ciuaru’s new book, Lives of the Wives, goes deep on Dahl and Neal’s marriage, as well as four other notorious literary couplings – featuring “a lot of drinking and some psychological abuse”. But she stresses that she doesn’t think in “black and white”, about either these writers or their work. “Most of the people in this book suffered a lot of trauma in childhood,” she says. “They were damaged people doing the best they could for the most part.”
Honourable bad husband garlands for: Kenneth Tynan (with an evergreen reminder from me to read Elaine Dundy’s GLORIOUS The Dud Avocado); Kingsley Amis (whose son Martin’s portrayal of his stepmother, Elizabeth Jane Howard, beats most of his novels, IMO) and Alberto Moravia (read Elsa Morante’s Arturo’s Island!).
How long will it take to read: four and a half minutes
3. A good husband award for Henry Frankel
After six decades together, Frankel noticed his wife, Ida, speaking to framed pictures in their cosy New York apartment – then, to author photographs on book jackets. These conversations were a sign of the onset of Alzheimer’s: one that, as Frankel tells Dasha Kiper, he kicked himself for not acting on earlier.
As Ida’s memory loss worsened, Henry felt wounded by her retreat into her two-dimensional relationship and his decreasing relevance to her – and ashamed of himself for feeling hurt.
“What do I expect?” he asked Kiper. “For her to say: ‘Ooh, you are such a good husband’?”
Kiper’s piece paints a tender and vidid portrait of a marriage in its twilight. It’s full of insight into the difficulties faced by carers of people with dementia, to whom loved ones’ symptoms can sometimes feel like a betrayal. But it’s also a sensitive look at the way we experience social connection – and the pain of rejection – more generally.
Because we’re wired to care what people think: “Neurologically speaking,” Kiper finds during her investigation, “there appears to be no special place in the brain that is hermetically sealed from the influence of other people.”
How long will it take to read: about seven minutes
4. A mother searches for justice
Warning: this one is hard to read.
“The Indonesian language has words for children who have lost their mothers or fathers, but none for parents who lose their children. Some say that is because the pain is inexplicable.” So opens Ardila Syakriah’s report on the 200 children who have died after taking cough syrups contaminated with toxic chemicals.
Safitri Puspa Rani, whose eight-year-old son died in October, is among 25 parents who have joined a class action to hold companies and government accountable. “She wants Panghegar to be remembered as generous and lively, a thoughtful son and a playful brother, a top student and a reliable friend, rather than associated with such an appalling tragedy,” Syakriah writes. “But she is driven to see the case through to the end.”
In Safitri’s words: “I know there’ll be nothing we can do that can bring Panghegar back to us, but this is my last responsibility as his parent, and I’ll do it no matter how long it takes.”
How long will it take to read: less than two minutes
5. Partying v politics at Sydney WorldPride
The 17-day “party with purpose” finishes tomorrow, and as Tom Gill writes, “it has been welcomed with open arms – and many hangovers – by Australia’s gay capital”. But it has also brought one of the central tensions of Pride into sharp relief: that between inclusivity, activism and celebration.
“There’s still a fight going on”: Linda DeMarco, the co-chair of the InterPride WorldPride committee, says organisers hope this week’s WorldPride Human Rights Conference will energise the next generation of activists: “You can celebrate good things but we still have a lot to do.”
Australian-born Peter Tatchell, who helped organise the UK’s first Pride march in 1972, tells Gill he is worried the conference became a “sideshow”, siloed off from other events.
“I’m all in favour of a party, but many Prides are sidelining our liberation struggle in the process,” Tatchell says. “They’ve strayed far from the roots of Pride, becoming depoliticised, ultra-hedonistic and too corporate and commercial. A lot of them are more a PR and branding exercise for big business than a serious challenge to the abuse of our human rights.”
How long will it take to read: three minutes
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