The Missing Cryptoqueen: Podcast review


The great podcasts keep on coming. The seam is rich and golden and here’s another to indulge in.

This is a BBC publication about a Bulgarian businesswoman, Dr Ruja Ignatova, who persuaded millions to sign up to her rival to BitCoin, called OneCoin, reaping billions of pounds of illegal takings.

The trouble is, this crypto-currency has no blockchain and therefore cannot be spent anywhere.

It’s Fools’ Gold, and it’s worthless.

Then she disappeared.

Jamie Bartlett takes us through the story in double-quick time and leaves you gasping at Dr Ignatova’s bravado, ruthlessness and greed and the gullibility of the millions who fell for her classy veneer.

It’s pretty scary to be honest.

But it’s riveting and that’s why you should invest a few hours of your time listening to it.

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn: Book review.


The Salt Path by Raynor Winn | Waterstones

Despite its weaknesses this is a really rather lovely book.

It’s a poor man’s Bill Bryson meets Ranulph Fiennes, and when I say poor man, I mean poverty stricken.

Actually Raynor is a woman and the story is the odyssey she and her terminally ill husband took upon hearing within a few days that a) they were to be evicted from their family home after a long and deeply unfair court battle and b) of his unfavourable short-medium term prognosis over a neurological disease that would eventually reduce him to a vegetative state.

Not the best way to embark upon a 600+ mile walk of a coastal path (the Salt Path of the title) from Somerset, through North Devon, Cornwall, South Devon and finishing up in Poole.

It’s not an assault on the North Pole but neither were they fit, well or equipped. Furthermore, they were literally penniless.

My struggle with the tale is Winn’s obvious desire to live up to quality expectations that a Penguin-writer must face and a desire to tell a simple tale about her experiences; so that for large sections of the book, particularly in the first half, substance battles with style and the sometimes lack of the latter gets in the way of the former.

But she works it out and the modest heroism of the couple, combined with the subtle self-deprecating humour that she underpins the story with, gradually reels you in.

In the end it’s a story of the triumph of human spirit that’s engaging and beautiful.

The husband, Moth, is a saint of sorts – on more than one occasion acts of random kindness from him to others, in what he considered at the time, to be in even more challenged circumstances than their own are quite remarkable. This is a man with a heart of gold.

It’s also a great love story, because clearly Raynor loves Moth with her entire being and this radiates from the pages at times.

It’s not a classic, but it is a very rewarding read and spoilers aside it leaves you with a deep regard for a couple that truly grace the human species with their very fact of living and sharing this simple but heartfelt tale.

Recommended.

Lost in Larrimah: Podcast Review


Lost in Larrimah

This was billed as Australia’s greatest ever podcast.

Presented by The Australian newspaper it tells the story of a septuagenarian who goes missing from an outback town in deepest central Oz.

It features a ‘cast’ of 11 characters – all residents of the ‘town’, an old railway outpost that has fallen into virtually a ghost town, and the local police officer.

The central, missing, figure is Paddy Moriarty, a mysterious oddball resident with a mildly dodgy past who simply ‘disappeared’ overnight with his dog, never to be seen again.

A writer, the presenter and journalist from The Australian, Kylie Stevenson, and her friend Caroline Graham, visit the town (Kylie had previously discovered it on a writing retreat) to try to piece together the mystery through a series of interviews with the residents who make up such a dysfunctional society as to resemble a war torn republic that is verging on anarchy.

The cast is oddball in the extreme. All ageing, all with their own grudges and vendettas, and all contributing to a story that is as weird as it is almost compelling.

I confess I didn’t really get enthralled by the story because it feels slight and a bit overstated, but I gradually grew into it and made it to the end.

It’s not a favourite and I have to say that if this is Australia’s ‘best’ I’d not like to endure its worst. But it becomes engaging to a point.

Would I recommend it? Not wholeheartedly, but it passes the time and its enthusiasm somewhat overcomes its lack of overall substance.

Dolly Parton’s America: Podcast review.


Dolly Parton's America : NPR

After my last two journeys into the dark side of the human condition this is the flip side.

Dolly Parton, sorry Saint Dolly Parton, is such an American dream and institution that it’s about time a tribute as glorious as this was created, whilst she’s still alive, fighting fit and full of vim and vigour.

This extended interview series with the queen of country charts her life and songbook but places it all in the context of an America that exists around her.

We hear much about American politics, religion and culture and how Dolly and her extensive business empire and philanthropy fits into the broader cultural mix.

It’s delightfully presented by fanboy Jad Abumrad and reported and produced by Shima Oliaee at WNYC Studios and OSM (awesome, get it?) Audio.

It’s a sheer delight from start to finish but touches on the darker side of Dolly’s life: her women’s rights attitude that has been in evidence since her earliest, surprisingly bleak output through to her refusal to air a view on Trump (half my fans are Republicans why would I state an opinion on this?)

I’ll predict now that Dolly WILL come out with a view on Trump, before the election, and it WILL NOT aid his cause. Because Dolly is a Bellwether. Her view can influence American opinion – nothing she says is ill-considered or trivial – apart from maybe her own self-deprecating boob gags.

This is uplifting entertainment with a serious undertow.

I highly recommend losing 8 or more hours in Dolly Parton’s America.

You will thank me.

Hunting Warhead: Podcast review.


Hunting Warhead | Listen via Stitcher for Podcasts

I’m almost afraid to tell you how much I ‘enjoyed’ this electrifying podcast, brought to you by CBC Podcasts and Norway’s VG newspaper.

It’s a truly hideous recounting of the search by VG’s top investigative journalist for the man behind the world’s most popular dark web peadophilia sites. Child abuse sites, not child porn sites.

It makes such uncomfortable listening that at times you actually have to switch off to regain your composure, so horrifying is the revelations it uncovers.

At its heart is journalism of the very highest order with two men, the journalist and a hacker, taking on what could have been an extremely dangerous assignment with thought only for the children being abused rather than their own personal safety.

This makes them heroes in my book.

what makes it so enthralling is that we meet and hear extensive interviews from Warhead himself, his victims’ families, his parents and the journalists and police that were involved in the search.

I have to warn you that it is extremely unsettling listening but the presenter, Daemon Fairless, does an extraordinary job of neither sensationalising, nor soft soaping the project.

This is world class ‘entertainment’ of the very highest order and if you ever wondered what goes on in the minds of real life sociopaths this is the listen for you.

Truly brilliant, and important. Pulitzer Prize winning stuff I’d say.

Dr. Death: Podcast review.


My first Wondery Podcast and an absolute peach.

This six parter tells the true story podcasts

of Dr Christopher Duntsch an American Neurosurgeon who is so incompetent that it’s inconceivable he’d ever get past first year in medical school, never mind freely operate on Spinal chord ailments in Texas, again and again and again, leaving a trail of destruction and, obviously, death behind him.

The story is a whydunnit? Why did he do what he did and more importantly why wasn’t he stopped.

It leaves medical practitionership in the US in an uncomfortable place. Ethics are clearly at a premium as money speaks louder than morality, but what really grips is the descriptions of what he did in horrifying detail.

If it wasn’t true you would think it a tad far fetched. But that’s what makes so many great podcasts so great.

The most impressive images of Edinburgh you will see this year. Covid-creativity at its best by Emilie Lumineau.


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New York magazine starts an article on the epic movie  I Am Legend, this way.  

A virus hits in 2009, infecting everyone but Will Smith. By 2012, New York is rife with monsters at night yet empty during the day: a spookily beautiful dystopia.”

Although it’s a great film we all know that the best thing about it was the abandoned cityscape that time had created.

So imagine my jaw dropping when I saw Emilie Lumineau’s virus-inspired vision of Edinburgh, should the lockdown continue in the same way.

Emilie is a graduate of Napier Uni and is working in the hospitality marketing sector but it is her private work that has caught me eye and you can see more of it here.

I have to say, it is truly outstanding work.  Simply the most interesting and exciting (and frankly beautiful creative idea I have seen about the lockdown since it started.

Thank you Emilie.

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The baby boom there won’t be.


doughboy-prophylactic2.jpg

I love Radio 4’s ‘More or Less’.  It’s a programme about statistics (and data) and it’s brutally anoracky.

But I care not if you think this makes me socially unacceptable, because you learn fascinating things .

Like how misguided you are when your friends say, “Well, there’s gonna be a massive baby boom in nine months after this, eh?” and you nod; because of course there will be.

Well, I have news for you.

There won’t be.

Never is one.

When big events like this happen, and people are unexpectedly shacked up together, for long and even short periods, it simply doesn’t happen.

Not even once.

Not after epidemics, pandemics, floods, power outages, wars.

Never.

That’s what I learned on this week’s episode (available here for a bit).

Here’s why it won’t happen.

a) The biggest cause of pregnancy is teenagers fooling around without protection – but they are all at home: masturbating.

b) In vitro fertilisation has stopped.  It’s bigger than you might think.

c) Family planners have stopped planning families – would you want to conceive right now?

On the other hand…

d) Prophylactics have vanished from the shelves because they’re mostly made in China.

So mistakes will happen.

But a, b and c outweigh d.

I thank you.

 

 

American Factory: Documentary review


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I didn’t think I’d see a better documentary than For Sama this year, and having viewed Netflix’s American Factory last night, the Oscar winner in the documentary category, I stand by that view.

However, this is a fine piece of work.

It tells the story of a Chinese windscreen-manufacturer reseeding the site of a massive General Motors factory in Dayton Ohio some three years after its closure.

The main premise of the film is that this is a meeting of two cultures, both business and anthropological, and how the rise in Chinese commercial enterprise, even deep in rust-belt, Republican USA, is a success that won’t go away.

But the Chinese drive a hard bargain: much lower wages, poorer health and safety ideology, an intolerance of unions and a hard work ethic (in China overtime is compulsory, not optional).

The filmmakers – Stephen Bognar and Julia Rheichert  – are seasoned pros and have an interesting technique that makes this such an agreeable watch.  It’s not controversial, there’s little humour and there are no pyrotechnics.  It’s just a laconic stroll through the lives of the people on both sides of this cultural ravine, gradually exposing what it’s like for each of them.

They take no sides, they critique no-one, but clearly there is stuff in here that could enrage a very large percentage of its viewers, no matter their cultural persuasion.

That’s what makes it work.  That and a good soundtrack and a pleasing use of cinematography.

It’s not doc of the year, for me, but it IS an intelligent piece of documentary film-making that is as far from the Michael Moore one-sided tidal-wave of opinion and argument as one could get, and, for that, it is to be admired.