Review: The Six Nations 2012

With The Olympics and the UEFA European Championships just around the corner, there is a lot to be said for 2012’s sporting calendar. However, whilst the anticipation of the summer’s events rises, the first sporting major event of the year came to an end this weekend – the thirteenth year of rugby’s Six Nations.  Pulling in an average of 4.6 million viewers, the showcasing of talent was an event that enthralled and excited, aggravated and frustrated several different players, fans and nations alike, as, once again, for the eighth time in thirteen years since its amalgamation, it was a British team that took the spoils.

But, whilst Warren Gatland’s Wales reigned supreme, taking third Grand Slam victory in eight years, there were a lot of positives for every country to take from the seven-week event, producing players that lit-up the tournament, whenever they had a chance.

Scotland

As the firm underdogs of the tournament up until Italy’s inclusion in 2000, the Scottish team were unlucky not to win a game this year. Albeit their play is usually quite stinted, with short passes never equating to much ground made, they are always a team that will scrap their way to victory. Something they proved this year after narrow defeats to France and England – two games where the result could have gone either way.

With the British Lions on tour next year it is the Scottish fullback Stuart Hogg that would be most disappointed if he were to miss out on a call-up. Adding an amount of flair and panache that usually lacks in the Scottish team, Hogg’s formidable gift for running rugby is one that should, soon enough, end Scotland’s long-running losing-streak.

Stuart Hogg slices through the defence

Italy

Italy have developed in leaps and bounds over the past thirteen years. Most notably seen by their unfortunate defeat at the hands of England, after they went in at half time leading by twelve points to six, it seems that inexperience is not longer a problem.  Finishing off the tournament with a (scrappy) win over Scotland, it seems only a matter of time before they start scratching more W’s on to their results board.

If it weren’t for the replacement of ever-reliable kicker Kristopher Burton, the Italians would have embarrassed England in the opening weeks of the tournament, as his absence between the posts lost them the game. A face, and foot, to look out for in the future, as Italy continue look to stamp their dominance on the game.

Kristopher Burton keeps it cool

France

As always, the French produced some beautiful rugby. Fine lines of running, well placed kicks and monstrous tackling were all on the menu whenever Les Bleus took to the field. However, after a crippling draw with the Irish, the French team began to act accordingly, losing their tempers and, subsequently, the following two matches.

Once again the French showed that they do running-rugby better than most, most poignantly proved by their new centre, Wesley Fofana. Finishing the tournament with five caps and four tries, Fofana is definitely a name that will be revered in the future, as experience will only add to his plethora of skills and talents.

Wesley Fofana makes it four from four against England

Ireland

Ending as the tournaments top try scorers, Ireland were, once again, unfortunate not to finish higher up the table. Their dominance in the pack, despite a hiccup against England, was a constant threat, with their backs constantly tearing up opposition defences at breakneck speeds. Yes, their heyday of talent may be coming to an end, with many of the Grand Slam victors of 2009 nearing retirement, but the new wave of talent is developing in abundance, promising to be a danger to any team that comes up against them.

This year, Ireland’s lucky star was shining in Tommy Bowe. Despite a questionable decision taking away a tournament-record for the winger, denying him his sixth of the year, he was always a constant threat for the opposition. With blistering pace, a fantastic chip-and-chase and marvellous covering tackles, Bowe has several years left in him to reach that try-scoring goal.

Tommy Bowe bags another

England

Coming off the back of a disgraceful World Cup, England saw a complete turnaround in personnel. Several uncapped players graced the field in the opening game against Scotland, as England produced one of their more questionable victories. However, the weeks went by, and the nation’s wariness of the team seemed to disperse. England’s new blood fought hard against the French and the Irish, securing victories that would dismiss any uncertainty that lay there before the tournament.

Yes, new boy Owen Farrell was a great asset to the team, scoring an impressive 63 points in 5 games, however it was Stuart Lancaster’s inclusion to the squad that made all of the difference. The question of who should be next England manager has surely been answered after three away wins in the tournament – a record held by no other man to take the reigns of England’s team.

Stuart Lancaster has the players' support

Wales

Another scintillating tournament from the Welsh side saw the team take their Grand Slam, after a final victory in Paris. Perhaps a bit of poetic justice following on from their dismissal at the hands of Les Bleus from the World Cup last year, however a marvellous all-round performance nonetheless. Several players have marked their desire to feature in the Lions’ tour next summer and, with Welsh coach Warren Gatland set to take the helm there, too, it would be astonishing if a lot of the Welsh players did not feature.

With a powerful line-up, their backs averaging an astonishing weight of 1.92m and weighing in at 112.9kg, it was one of the smaller Welsh players that packed the most punch. 5ft 10 fullback Leigh Halfpenny is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to running, tackling and, as he proved in the dying minutes against France, kicking. Pegged as a new JPR Williams, Halfpenny was definitely one of the best things to emerge from this tournament, with his astounding talents helping the Welsh to victory in almost every aspect of their game.

Leigh Halfpenny puts the boot in to France

The tournament itself may have had some negative points; games were not as enthralling as they have been in the past, scores were not as high. But what is certain is that the progression of talent and skill is clear from all nations, proving that the annual event should not be frowned upon, but welcomed by every team looking to develop their reputation in the rugby world.

Images reproduced from belfasttelegraph.co.uk, connector.tv, smh.com, universityobserver.ie, telegraph.co.uk and rbs6nations.com

Local Man Goes to the Summit for Charity!

At the respectable age of 48, Property Consultant from Cambridgeshire, John Bowles, longed for some adventure. There was no better way to satisfy his desire than to trek to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro with six friends, while at the same time raising money for three different charities.

The group of men began their seven day journey on 28 January 2011 and to date have raised over £13,500 for The Sick Children’s Trust, TearFund, and the Arthur Rank Hospice in Cambridge. At first, all the men wanted to climb the mountain for different reasons, many being age-related, but with time saw the fundraising potential for their trip.

“We planned the trip as one we would organise and pay for ourselves, but it soon became apparent that the support we were getting was too good an opportunity for us not to do some good by raising money for a few charities special to us,” John said. “I had no hesitation in suggesting The Sick Children’s Trust given the tremendous support they had given my family. It was simply a blessing to have had their help during this period, and we can’t thank them enough for making a horrendous experience just a little easier.”

The Sick Children’s Trust is a charity that provides free, high quality accommodation to families who have children being treated at hospitals. The charity’s Guilford House supported John and his wife Ali when their daughter Kitty spent 10 days in Cardiac Intensive Care Unity at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH). On Christmas day at five weeks old she suffered a severe case of neonatal myocarditis causing her heart to fail.

Arriving at GOSH on Christmas day 1999, with large parts of the hospital on shutdown in preparation for the ‘Millennium’, John and Ali spent the first three nights sleeping on the floor while Kitty’s condition remained critical. On the fourth day they found out about The Sick Children’s Trust which was able to accommodate the family, allowing them to be reunited with their two and a half daughter Hannah.

“It was because of The Sick Children’s Trust that we were able to spend the Millennium New Year’s Eve as a whole family. It meant the world to us to be together during the holiday. Two days later we received news of Kitty’s miraculous recovery. We were able to be at her bedside and welcome the good news as a family,” John added.

In order to give back to The Sick Children’s Trust, John and his friends, all between the ages 48-52, planned a seven day climb of Mount Kilimanjaro via the “Machame Route,” one of the six recognised routes to the summit. The men started their journey on 28 January 2012 and all seven reached the summit at sunrise on 2 February 2011.

Currently the group has raised over £14,300, allocating £2,400 of it for The Sick Children’s Trust. However, money is still being raised and John hopes to receive over £2,500 for the charity.

“It was truly memorable and rewarding to have reached the summit, as well as raised money for a charity that had such a significant impact on my life. My family and I will be forever grateful to The Sick Children’s Trust for what they did to save Kitty’s life. We’re so happy to help out the dedicated people who make these ‘Homes from Home’ possible.”

If you would like to make a donation, please visit John’s individual page at www.JustGiving.com/john-c-bowles or the team page athttp://www.justgiving.com/teams/climbing-kilimanjaro-2012.

Film Review – A Dangerous Method

When going in to watch a David Cronenberg film, there should always be a certain level of trepidation with regards to the subject matter. Daring, as well as thought provoking, the seasoned director has always sought to shock, as well as entertain an audience with controversial subject matters. With his most recent venture, A Dangerous Method, nothing much has changed.

A period piece that documents the birth of psychosexual evaluation, the film’s main plot follows famous psychologist, Carl Jung, and his sadomasochistic relationship with fellow doctor Sabina Spielrein. With Michael Fassbender (Jung) as the main protagonist, Keira Knightley (Spielrein) as the unstable lover and, Cronenberg favourite, Viggo Mortensen in the role of Sigmund Freud, the film set itself out to be a thrilling journey, into dark depths of psychology that are so easily left untouched.

"Viggo Mortensen", "Keira Knightley", "Michael Fassbender", "Vincent Cassel"

However, the story itself was quite divergent from it’s set-up. Perhaps a subtle nod to the psychology know-it-alls of the audience, several supposedly big plot-points were proposed, discussed and then immediately disregarded. For example, Freud and Jung’s journey to America served a lot of hype, with Freud’s implication of the two men “bringing the plague”. However, their travels after arrival were never talked about. The “plague” was never seen. It is the interplay between the two, on the journey and throughout, that is the real power behind the film. Instead of the focus being on sadomasochism and sordid relationships, the real point behind the film is, unsurprisingly, the psychological games played by the characters.

From the offset, the games begin. Where other films might have included shameless character exposition through speech, screenwriter Christopher Hampton sees to it that only the scene’s controlling character avoids any revelation, through dialogue, of past life experiences or character history. An interesting approach that remains constant throughout, leading to subtle power plays and delicate attempts between characters to gain the upper hand through analysing their counterparts. This is seen immediately; in the opening scenes, we hear nothing of Jung’s past existence, focusing solely on Spielrein. Again, this seemed to take away from the proposed plotline that the film’s trailer puts forward, opening up a door that was unforeseen and quite pleasant.

The acting throughout the film is difficult to analyse. As Jung, Spielrein and Freud are all real people, to question their portrayed mannerisms and habits may seem pointless, as it would be questioning real life. That said, Knightley’s performance, as the deranged, psychotic Russian is quite brilliant. Her pain and suffering seems, unlike her supposed accent, brutally real and, to begin with, quite uncomfortable to watch. Wrenching her jaw and struggling to get her words out, the character’s anguish, even if untrue to real life, was quite astonishing to watch.

From Fassbender we received another good performance. Long gazes into the distance, although sometimes overused, showed an inner torment that reflected his character perfectly. Mortensen gave a believable performance as Freud and his subtle nuances seemed, again, believable. However, the most enticing character in the film was anarchic polygamist, Otto Gross. Played in a cameo-like way by Vincent Cassel, the character added a roguish freshness to the stiff-upper-lip society that is set forward by Freud, Jung and Spielrein; his free-love attitude being the catalyst on Jung’s emotions.

Where Cronenberg failed in creating a high level of shock value for the audience to take away from, he has definitely succeeded in creating an engaging piece that has many, many layers to it. Behind all of the dark, sexual scenes, amidst all of the psychological mind games, there is a very dark yet humorous story, circling around two unrequited lovers that will, most certainly, stay in the audience’s thoughts. This is definitely a film to watch with an open mind, with the expectation of gaining a lot more entertainment from the second viewing.

Image reproduced from filmdates.co.uk and iceposter.com
Video reproduced from YouTube / trailers

Film Review: 21 Jump Street

"Channing Tatum", "Jonah Hill", "comedy", "movie review", "film review"Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum have to be one of the most unlikely comedy double acts in recent years. On the one hand you have Tatum, a big screen tough guy who can get away with doing a love story every now and then, and on the other you have Hill, a comedy actor still struggling to make himself comfortable in Hollywood. In 21 Jump Street though, the two blend together with sublime comedy effect.

Hill and Tatum play Schmidt and Jenko, who are partners on the police force. They’re best friends, but when they were at high school it was a very different story. Now the two police officers are given a special assignment to go undercover as high school students to try and bring down a drug ring.

For those of a certain age, 21 Jump Street is actually based on an American TV series from the 80s, which coincidentally launched the career of Johnny Depp. This doesn’t really mean much though, as Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall write a hilarious script that stands up well by itself. In fact it does more than stand up, it runs around screaming like a crazy person. If we’re to look at this film in terms of plotting and structure, then this film is a total mess. But of course this is a comedy so the only question that matters is – is it funny? And the answer is a resounding yes. Hill and Bacall throw gag after gag at the audience at a ridiculously quick rate, so naturally some of them won’t get much of a reaction, but those that do generate a laugh will be well worth the wait.

The big surprise here though is Channing Tatum. Coming into this movie, you would be forgiven for expecting him to look like he’s in too deep, and overacting to try and make a gag work. Tatum actually takes to comedy like a natural, taking it very easy and allowing the material to speak for itself. Hill once again puts in a great comedy performance, and the two together make an unlikely comedic duo.

What’s the most appealing about 21 Jump Street though is its bravery. The high school comedy genre has been used a few times, and even attempting to make something new out of that is commendable. But here we have a film that’s experimenting with the whole idea of creating complete and utter madness, and seeing what happens. Sure, it is a little hit-and-miss at times, and it does lose its way towards the end, but that doesn’t prevent it from being one of the best comedies of the year so far.

Image reproduced from movieposter.com
Video reproduced from YouTube / ClevverMovies

Genetic Factors May Influence Intelligence Change Throughout Life

An international team of scientists has discovered that genetic factors are likely to influence how much a person’s intelligence changes, in comparison to their peers, throughout their lifetime. The study of nearly 2,000 people, which was part-funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK, is the first of its kind to look at a large sample of people tested on two occasions more than half a century apart.

Scientists from the University of Edinburgh and the University of Aberdeen collaborated with researchers in Queensland, Australia to study unique cohorts of people, known as the Lothian and Aberdeen Birth Cohorts. The participants had all taken an IQ-type test at the age of 11, as part of the Scottish Mental Surveys of 1932 and 1947. Decades later, the researchers tracked down surviving members and asked them to re-take the same and other cognitive tests at age 65, 70 or 79. This allowed them to see how people’s intelligence test scores had changed from childhood to old age. By collecting a wealth of extra information on the participants – such as their medical history and social and environmental factors – the scientists aim to uncover different things that influence mental ageing.

In the current study, the DNA of 1,940 people was analysed using a genetic chip that tested more than half a million genetic markers. The researchers set out to discover whether changes – and stability – in intelligence over a lifetime could be down to genetic factors.

Using a new, complex statistical method, the team was able to estimate how far genetic variations were likely to contribute to intelligence over a lifetime. Their results, which are published online in the journal Nature, suggest that genetic factors contribute to intelligence in childhood and old age, and to about a quarter of the changes in between. The scientists explain that further study is needed to identify the exact genetic causes of changes in intelligence.

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“Cognitive decline in old age is a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, and understanding what may cause or protect against this decline is crucial for dementia research. This study has identified a possible genetic cause for changes in cognitive ability over time, and it will now be important to discover exactly how our genes may contribute to cognitive decline. If we can understand how our genes influence cognitive decline, this may provide new clues for developing effective treatments for Alzheimer’s.

“We’re delighted that funding from Alzheimer’s Research UK has helped make this study possible, and it’s now essential that these results are followed up. With 820,000 people affected by dementia in the UK, we urgently need to find new ways to treat and prevent the condition, and that means we must invest in research.”

Image reproduced from http://www.pediatrics.med.ubc.ca

Wines from Turkey, India, Greece and Georgia at Laithwaites

Earlier this week, I went to a tasting of wines from Turkey, India, Greece and Georgia at Laithwaites‘ HQ, Vinopolis.

In a game of word association, say “Laithwaites” and I will generally think of ripe, fruity, unchallenging wines that are usually overpriced and oversold – I wrote as much in a post last year On Laithwaites, and the Laithwaites wines I’d had since have done little if anything to change my thinking.

So I decided to head along to this tasting with slightly mixed feelings – it was after work and just round the corner, so easy to get to, would score me a few Fringe Wine points for obscure countries and grape varieties and finally it was a chance either to reconfirm my feelings about Laithwaites or be pleasantly surprised. And besides, it’s not every wine retailer CEO that adds a comment to one’s blog and I was keen to meet the man to see if the reality lived up to the persona.

In person, Tony Laithwaite is more restrained than a reading of his tasting notes would suggest – he’s not all exclamation marks and exuberance, but rather told a few, stock-but-amusing anecdotes about his early days and generally has the gravitas one would expect of a company CEO with a headcount of over 1,000 keen to point out that Laithwaites is still a private company with no outside shareholders.

The tasting fell into three parts, with the first being the tasting of the new wines – to be offered from April onwards – presented by buyer Cat Lomax.

Mantra Sauvignon Blanc 2009 – £8.99, India

Of all the countries represented at this tasting, India is perhaps the most interesting precisely because it has almost no modern wine history whatsoever; viticulture was originally introduced to India by the ancient Persians, but India’s wine-making traditions all but died out in the 20th century due to a combination of the after-effects of phylloxera, independence and changes in religious and public opinion.

Mostly tropical, India is not a natural wine-making country; however, as in Greece, the effects of altitude can provide viticultural potential and the grapes for this wine are grown on a plateau just outside Mumbai.

Pale gold in the glass, on the nose this wine shows green capsicum, mixed spice (a suggestive hint of Indian cornershop, perhaps ?) and touch of green chilli bitterness.

On the palate, there is rounded, mouthfilling acidity and a minerally finish.

Overall, surprisingly well-made and balanced – if a little atypical.

Thema Assyrtiko Sauvignon Blanc 2011 – £11.49, Greece

In the news for all the wrong reasons at the moment, Greece is perhaps the most mainstream of all the countries represented at this tasting. A blend of 60% Assyrtiko and 40% Sauvignon, the grapes are grown at altitude in northern Greece cooled by sea breezes.

Pale in the glass, it has a more typically aromatic and herbaceous Sauvignon nose, with stone fruit, crisp rounded acidity and good minerality, especially on the finish.

A good and well-made wine, but not one I’d pay almost £12 for – to say that Greek wines are not generally cheap is to acknowledge that the country offers poor value-for-money and perhaps they would be better not competing at this level, but like Austria, to focus on the higher end of the market where lack of economies of scale is not an issue.

Either that or wait a year or so and Greece may well find itself outside the Euro and with a Drachma currency again that it is able to devalue by 50% to stimulate exports, at which point this wine could sell more easily for the £6 – £8 price that it is worth.

Vinart Kalecik Karasi Syrah 2010 – £10.99, Turkey

The main grape in this wine is the native Turkish Kalecik Karasi, with some Syrah in the blend; the wine shows elderberry and plum fruit, with dark spice, pencil shavings and and inky texture and good tannins.

Tasted blind, this could be a Rh̫ne Syrah Рit is the classiest and most interesting wine here and also represents good value at the price. I am not surprised to learn it has various (if unspecified) Gold Medals.

Tbilvino Saperavi 2010 – Georgia, £8.99

I have had Saperavi on a few occasions before when I have been in Ukraine and recall it as fruity and grippy, but generally lacking in mouthfeel.

From the sub-tropical former Soviet Republic of Georgia, this example of the country’s flagship grape shows cassis, vanilla, spice and liquorice on the nose. On the palate it is smooth and rounded, a ripe crowd-pleaser, finishing grippy and spicy.

Overall, despite a promising start, the palate and finish somehow don’t quite live up to expectations.

Recommended Wine

All the wines here were surprisingly well-made, interesting / unusual and certainly above average for Laithwaites. Not all were great or particularly good value, but I would certainly consider buying the Vinart Kalecik Karasi Syrah 2010.

Afterwards, @HenryGJeffreys commented via Twitter that he thought the Rhône-esque Turkish wine was the best of the evening, but that it was somehow not distinctively “Turkish” enough, which led us to a consideration of typicity in this fascinating article from new JancisRobinson.com writer, Alex Hunt MW – http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/a20120220.html

Links

Laithwaites – http://www.laithwaites.co.uk/

Vinopolis – http://www.vinopolis.co.uk/

Copyright Tom Lewis 2012

Cambs Charity Receives Grant From Million Dollar Round Table Foundation

Great Shelford-based charity, Alzheimer’s Research UK, has received a boost of $10,000 (equivalent to £6,100) from the Million Dollar Round Table Foundation (MDRT) in America. This grant is thanks to Simon Gibson, a Cambridgeshire supporter of the UK’s leading dementia research charity. He attended the cheque presentation, which took place at MDRT’s conference in London on 21 February at Kensington Town Hall.

Simon Gibson, who lives in Burwell, is a director of financial planning specialists Atkinson Bolton Consulting. For the past thirteenyears he has been a member of the MDRT, an international association which represents the top 40,000 financial advisors worldwide.

Simon talked about the MDRT Foundation’s generous grant and his inspiration for supporting Alzheimer’s Research UK:

“The MDRT Foundation invites its members to submit applications for charitable grants. As I am acutely aware that dementia research is desperately underfunded, and have been personally touched by this devastating disease,I nominated Alzheimer’s Research UK. This proactive charity is working hard to defeat Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia and relies entirely on donations to fund its pioneering research.

“Dementia poses one of the greatest threats to public health now and in the future and so many people I speak to these days know someone affected by it. New treatments and a cure are desperately needed and research is the only answer. Not only do I have clients and personal friends who have or are suffering, my father was diagnosed over two years ago. He was a professional man for 51 years, famed among other things for his memory. It is so encouraging to see the progress that research is making and, while it may not be in time for his generation, it offers hope for mine.”

Presenting the cheque, Jennifer Borislow, President of the MDRT Foundation, said:

“The MDRT Foundation was created in 1959 and provides it members with a means to give back to their communities. We provide grants to organisations around the world and we are pleased to be able to make a contribution to Alzheimer’s Research UK. This charity’s innovative research offers new hope to those people living with the daily reality of dementia.”

Dr Marie Janson, Director of Development for Alzheimer’s Research UK, attended the cheque presentation and added:

“We are very grateful to the MDRT Foundation and Simon Gibson for this generous grant and their much valued support of our work. This money will pay for hundreds of hours of world-class dementia research and fund vital equipment for our scientists, bringing us closer to finding ways to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure dementia.

“There are 820,000 people in the UK living with dementia today, including 6,000 in Cambridgeshire. Numbers are forecast to rise substantially in the next generation and we need to fund more research urgently in order to beat this dreadful condition.”

Does Media Have a Negative Influence on Education?

“Sittin’ in the classroom, thinking it’s a drag”. A poignant line from Motley Crue’s anti-school song, Smoking in the Boys Room, that rings true the feelings of many students. Hilary Wilce, a specialist in education, quotes: “the best learning often happens outside the classroom”. There could be several reasons for this. Perhaps classrooms are too dull and people need the vibrancy of the outside world to stimulate them. Perhaps fresh air is what is needed to arouse the mind. Or perhaps there is a subliminal influence that has been affecting people since the day they first watched a TV show.  It is this possibility that makes a lot of sense; the possibility that media is having a negative influence on our learning.

For several years, different media have been influencing and affecting public opinion. Nazis made propaganda films to make people believe that Jews were bad people. Governments use media to influence voting polls, as “the candidatesthat can pay for more TV and media exposure have more influence on public opinion and thus can receive more votes”. And now, according to results in The Independent, with GCSE pass rates falling to their lowest for a decade, it seems that what we are learning from media is in fact undermining our learning as a whole.

What we are being presented with are situations where “heroes are portrayed as physically attractive and the villains as ugly characters”. Generally, people idolize the heroes, the beautiful characters, and in several popular examples, see that the people we follow could lead us down negative paths. Examples from a young age such as: Bart Simpson, a character constantly getting detentions and bad grades, but having fun with the situations that he creates; Dennis the Menace, the tough kid who hates school contrasting the school-loving ‘softies’, and examples for an older generation, including characters from films, such as The Breakfast Club or Dead Poets Society, are all characters that are, in their own way, anarchic in the actions. The influence that these characters have on us are damning our passion for education, as why would we not want to act like the glamorous protagonists that we aspire to imitate?

Film and TV are not the only media that influence people’s attitudes. With the press and newspapers becoming a cornerstone of public opinion, their influence over us is becoming evermore prevalent. Stories that there are twenty-seven thousand teachers without QTS (Qualified Teacher Status) will either suggest to students that going to school is pointless, as the person teaching you is unqualified.

There are several studies to show that music will influence our choices and behaviours, most notably the work by North, Hargreaves and McKendrick that showed how in-store music could influence our product choice. Undoubtedly the same will go for music, influencing our actions. A person listening to classical music would be more calm and collected than those listening to heavy rock or thrash metal, and those listening to punk rock will possibly be more influenced to anarchy than those listening to reggae or jazz music.

Harry Bisham quotes “Music helps children to learn maths” and music enhances social skills. Therefore, if a child is weaned on the lyrics of The Clash, Sex Pistols, The Ramones or any other anti-government or anti-education lyrics, their influence will be to obey the music. More popular choices are: the Ramones’ Rock ‘n’ Roll High School with the lyrical choice of “I hate the teachers and the principal”; Alice Cooper with “no more pencils, no more looks, no more teachers’ dirty looks”; or Bruce Springstein’s “We learned more from a 3-minute record, baby, than we ever learned in school.” Following a press report, stating that “dirty song lyrics can prompt early teen sex” then it is possible that those who are forever listening to music inspiring a revolt, revolution or a riot, then the effect will be exactly that. Following this idea, the Green Day lyric: “I don’t need your authority” could influence someone to be negative against the authoritarians in their life: the teachers and the educators.

The other predominant reason that causes a negative influence towards education is uniforms. Several films, television programs and newspaper pictures depict prisoners in a bleak uniform, removing all degrees of freedom, individuality and flair. The school uniform does exactly that. Studies conducted by Zimbardo et al. in 1971 showed what happened when different groups of individuals were put in to a prison-emulated environment. Those people dressed as guards took the “guard” stereotype to an extreme, where those dressed as prisoners conformed to the prisoner stereotype. Their actions were those of repressed people, under the control of those in a freer dress code. This coincides with the rules of school. Students are forced to wear the same uniform with little freedom or imagination, the same trousers, jumpers and shirts, whereas the teachers, although under their own, similar rules, are allowed the freedom to choose which shirt colour they want to wear that day, which tie goes best with the colour of shoe they are wearing and whether they want to wear that specific necklace today. So, as the media has evolved the prisoner stereotype of people all looking the same, wearing the same clothes and doing the same routine day in, day out, uniforms are then seen as a representation of prison life. Somewhere where we never, ever want to be.

In all, what different media has done is created several situations where people, especially those of a more influential age, will want to become the role models that aren’t necessarily good to become in the real world. Be it a rock star, an idolized socialite or a fun TV or film character. The success that they have potential to achieve in with their learning is damned by the drive to obtain the “success” that is represented by figures in the media.

Image reproduced from roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com

Film Review – Bel Ami

Bel Ami, which was released earlier this month, stars Robert Pattinson as Georges Duroy, a young poverty-stricken ex-soldier who rises to power through the seduction, manipulation and betrayal of a series of mistresses who are the city’s most wealthy and influential women. Guy de Maupassant’s French novel has been brought to the silver screen in an English language version that stays true to the original storyline thanks to the screenplay talents of Rachel Bennette. The film also stars Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci and Kristin Scott Thomas in supporting roles as the women Duroy ruthlessly uses to become one of the most powerful men in Parisian middle class society.

At the start of the film we see Duroy in his cockroach-infested room in Paris and it’s obvious he is down on his luck. While out drinking the beer that his few pennies can afford he bumps into Charles Forestier (Philip Glenister), a former comrade who now works for the newspaper La Vie Française. Charles invites him to dinner the following night. Feeling out of place and not even knowing which knife to use at dinner, Duroy can’t help but feel out of his depth. At the dinner, Duroy is introduced to Forestier’s beautiful and intelligent wife Madeleine (Uma Thurman) and the well-connected Virginie Walters (Kristin Scott Thomas) whose influence over her husband means that a good word from her is all one needs to be part of Parisian polite society.

But it is Clotilde de Marelle (Christina Ricci) who captures Duroy’s attention – a woman whose husband is often away and who confesses to Duroy over dinner that her only interest is pleasure and enjoyment. With his smouldering looks, Duroy captures the heart of Clotilde and they begin an illicit affair. For all her money and status, she loves him even though he has nothing.

"Virginie Walters", "Kristin Scott Thomas", "Madeleine Forestier", "Uma Thurman", "Clotilde de Marelle", "Christina Ricci"

Period costumes never looked so good!

After a long illness, Charles Forestier’s dies leaving Madeleine a rich widow and Duroy loses no time proposing. The marriage is an excellent move for Duroy but it loses him Clotilde, which the scheming social climber can’t understand… perhaps this man really doesn’t have a soul.

It is not a happy marriage and Duroy is filled with bitter jealousy towards Madeleine and wanting to get his own back on the newspaper men who constantly ridicule him, Duroy turns his attention to his boss’s wife Virginie Walters, even trying to seduce her in a church – the scene shows the audience just how low his morals are and emphasises his indecency and wickedness. Against all her Catholic morals, Virginie falls head over heels for Duroy. But when the time comes for Duroy to rid himself of this clingy lovesick woman, the scene is probably the only time I actually felt Pattinson portray the bitter cruelty of a man who cares for no-one but himself. Telling Virginie that she disgusts him as he drags her out literally clinging to his ankles is harsh… really harsh!

After seducing three of the most influential and wealthy women in Paris, the time has come for Duroy to climb even further up the social ladder to a height no-one would ever have expected him to reach. Who said crime (of the heart) never pays?

The role of a ruthless cad is a major departure for Robert Pattinson (and somewhat of a risk) after the adoration and fame he achieved playing the vampire heart-throb Edward in the Twilight Saga. Throughout Bel Ami, those same smouldering looks Pattinson perfected in the Twilight Saga come out to play and R-Patz once again captured the hearts of his mistresses and undoubtedly most of the female audience his dark brooding eyes.

"Bel Ami", "Robert Pattinson" "Georges Duroy"

Robert Pattinson and his brooding eyes

Yet all the brooding and smouldering looks can’t prevent Pattinson’s acting from being a somewhat weak attempt to portray the harsh cruelty of the character of Georges Duroy. I felt watching Pattinson on screen that he never consistently managed to capture the deviousness of Duroy’s character. I found it difficult to see why the women of Paris were falling at his feet. But maybe I’m missing something?!

The actresses on the other hand played their roles impeccably and by the end of the film I was certainly moved by the acting of the talented Kristin Scott-Thomas as Duroy’s broken-hearted lover, Virginie. Uma Thurman was perfectly cast as the strong-willed intelligent Madeleine and Christina Ricci’s portrayal of Duroy’s first conquest, Clotilde, was touching and totally believable.

As stories go, the rise of the anti-hero who blatantly uses and abuses the women in his life to get ahead is a refreshing change from the usual Hollywood sugar-coated happy endings that we’ve come to know and occasionally confess to love. The film may not win many awards but it was a perfectly harmless way to pass the time and I admit to getting lost in the visual splendour of this Parisian costume drama… that escapism feeling was made all the more real because I was treated to a very private viewing of Bel Ami… it was just me and my popcorn in Screen 5 of the Vue cinema in Cambridge!

Image reproduced from rpattzkstewtwilightaddict.blogspot.com
Video reproduced from YouTube / trivialtrailers

UK’s Largest Dementia Research Conference Comes to Birmingham in 2012

Over 250 leading dementia scientists from across the globe will gather in Birmingham this week for Alzheimer’s Research UK Conference 2012, the country’s largest dedicated dementia research conference. The event, which takes place on 27 and 28 March, will share the latest evidence on a wide range of research topics, including talks from UK-based scientists on midlife risk reduction, and the importance of early life cognition in understanding cognitive ageing.

Alzheimer’s Research UK is the UK’s leading dementia research charity and one of the top three charity funders of dementia research in the world. It holds its annual conference in a different city each year and the 2012 Birmingham event will cover a range of topics, including:

· Prof Eef Hogervorst, of Loughborough University, who will describe how people could reduce their risk of developing dementia from midlife through simple lifestyle choices;
· Prof John Starr of University of Edinburgh on the importance of early life cognition in understanding cognitive ageing.
· Dr Ottavio Arancio, of Columbia University in New York, who will talk about new approaches to developing treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia;
· Prof Patrizia Mecocci, of the University of Perugia in Italy, who will describe the role of antioxidants in brain ageing;

Dr Eric Karran, Research Director at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“UK dementia researchers punch above their weight in the global battle to defeat Alzheimer’s disease and other causes of dementia, and this conference is a crucial way for the field to collaborate. Dementia is complex, and requires scientists from many different disciplines to defeat it, so it’s important to keep this multifaceted field talking.

“Dementia is now the greatest health challenge our society faces – with 820,000 people in the UK affected, including 9,000 people in Birmingham alone, and the condition already costs our economy £23bn a year. The need for effective treatments for dementia has never been more urgent, but if we are to achieve this, it will take a huge research effort.”

Jamie and Vicki Graham, of Dauntsey near Chippenham, know only too well the devastating effects of dementia, as Jamie was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2007 when he was just 59. The pair have since raised thousands for dementia research, and have been made Champions of Alzheimer’s Research UK in recognition of their support for the charity.

Vicki said:
“When Jamie was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s our whole world changed. Jamie has enormous courage and still has his sense of humour, but seeing him slowly deteriorate is incredibly difficult.

“We chose to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK because we believe that research is the only way to beat this devastating disease, yet dementia research is desperately underfunded. It’s great to see this important event bringing researchers together, and to know that scientists are making such good progress.”

Dr Sarah Aldred, of the University of Birmingham, co-ordinates Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Midlands Research Network, which will host this year’s conference. She said:
“We’re thrilled to be hosting this conference, which is a great way of bringing together scientists from a range of research backgrounds who all have a common mission – defeating dementia. We urgently need better ways to diagnose, treat and prevent dementia, and scientists must work together if we are to achieve those goals. This annual event is a fantastic chance for researchers to share their knowledge, and helps foster a collaborative spirit that can be a real boost to research.”

Image reproduced from http://arrangeyourtravel.com

Virtual Reality Exercise Games May Improve Cognition in Older Adults

Scientists in the US today revealed the finding of a clinical trial investigating the effects of “exergaming”, or virtual reality-enhanced exercise, on cognition in a group of older adults. The study, one of the first trials of its kind, showed greater cognitive benefit for those who played exergames than those who took part in traditional exercise.

Of those participants who were enrolled, 63 completed the three month study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. All of the volunteers, aged between 58 and 99 years, rode exercise bikes an average of three times a week. Half of the volunteers rode a traditional exercise bike, whereas half rode a bike equipped with a virtual reality display. This ‘cybercycle’ provided users with 3D tours and allowed them to compete against an avatar of their last performance.

The volunteers were given cognitive assessments at the start of the study and after one and three months. Although there was no difference in exercise frequency, duration and intensity between the two groups, the cybercyclists performed better on a number of cognitive tests. In addition, fewer of the cybercyclists went on to develop mild cognitive impairment, a state of early cognitive impairment not quite severe enough to be diagnosed as dementia.

The scientists also analysed blood samples from 30 of the volunteers for a protective protein called brain-derived neurotrophic growth factor (BDNF). They found higher levels of the BDNF protein in the blood of the cybercyclists than those taking traditional exercise, suggesting that virtual reality-enhanced exercise may stimulate a greater physiological effect in the brain.

Dr Marie Janson of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“We already know that exercise is an important way to keep body and mind healthy. The results from this small study suggest that combining physical and mental exercise through exergaming could have even more beneficial effects on cognition in older adults than normal exercise alone. Larger and more detailed studies will be needed to get to the bottom of exactly what aspect of exergaming could be giving the benefit, but the early results are very interesting.

“Although it may be unrealistic to expect people to invest in exergaming technology, the findings show that both mental and physical exercise are important in keeping our minds active in old age. With 820,000 people in the UK already living with dementia, and an increasingly ageing population, it is important that we invest in research into preventative strategies that could help to maintain our cognition for that little bit longer.”

Image reproduced from http://www.pediatrics.med.ubc.ca

A Sunday Morning in Saffron Walden

Last weekend, I took #2 child on a Boys’ Trip out down to the genteel market town of Saffron Walden, which lies just 15 miles or a half-hour’s drive south of Cambridge.

One of the unfortunate things about Cambridge is that, although very beautiful indeed, it is a rather tiny city, surrounded by rather dull countryside – something I particularly notice having spent my teenage years between the hills of the Peak District and the vibrant, buzzy and cultural hotspot that is central Manchester – so it is easy to become complacent at times about the city’s charms.

Most of the surrounding villages and towns near Cambridge are pleasant enough, perhaps even rather nice, but somehow not quite worth the trip out, but there are a small number of exceptions to this (places such as Ely and Bury as well as Saffron Walden) if you are looking for an easy visit somewhere different.

Saffron Walden is actually even smaller than Cambridge so that, whilst a weekend will suffice to see all of Cambridge’s best sights, a morning spent wandering around Saffron Walden’s market square and surrounding lanes is more than enough.

Like Cambridge, the town has plenty of neat and well-appointed historic buildings to admire, with timbered Tudor houses, old coaching inns and elegant Georgian townhouses. It is also relatively hilly – compared to Cambridge, at least.

More notable sights include the parish church dating from 1250 (but mostly built in the late 1400s / early 1500s) and the castle ruins dating from the 1100s.

However, for me, it is the elegance of the market square and surrounding streets that provide Saffron Walden’s charm and a quiet Sunday morning is a good time to appreciate the local architecture (there are 27 Grade II* listed buildings to admire) as the town proved to be almost deserted.

Sadly for us, the town’s coffee shops all seemed to be closed as well and we ended up queueing in a clean and pleasant but uninspiring Costa Coffee chain-outlet for rocky road muffin and juice (Young Man) and a latte and a Bakewell slice (me).

It also made a pleasant change from Cambridge that most of the clientele that day seemed to be locals rather than tourists or visitors which made for a more friendly atmosphere.

For wine enthusiasts, Saffron Walden is also home to Adnams and Joseph Barnes (see my review here).

Links

Saffron Walden Tourist Information – http://www.visitsaffronwalden.gov.uk/

Downloadable Tourist Trail Map – http://www.visitsaffronwalden.gov.uk/pdf/Saffron-Walden-Town-Trail.pdf

Copyright Tom Lewis 2012

Film Review – The Vow

This week, film critic Louis Maurati reviews “The Vow”.

The Vow follows the story of Paige (Rachel McAdams), a young woman who is drawn into a coma after a freak car accident with her husband Leo (Channing Tatum). Upon awakening, she is left with amnesia of the last years of her life, including any recollections of her life with Leo.

Having remembered most of her life before Leo, Paige regroups and clings to those who she thinks that were most dear to her – her family and old friends. All the while, she attempts to find some clarity in her relationship with Leo, but frustration on both ends lead to a demise in their relationship.

Leo’s love for Paige is pure and undying and he eventually lets her go to find her way back to him. Tatum’s performance is quiet and powerful. McAdams conveys her usual subtle loveliness that audiences adore her for.  The onscreen chemistry between McAdams and Tatum is quite strong, reminiscent of McAdams chemistry with Ryan Gosling in the critically acclaimed film The Notebook. On the downside, this film does have several flaws.

It’s attempt at humour comes up dry in several places and some of the secondary characters in the film are painfully underdeveloped. Overall, the film gets the job done and will draw in viewers with it’s attractive cast and story, but it won’t be receiving any accolades by critics abroad. If you are looking for a fun night in the cinema and are the emotional type that likes to shed a tear or two, The Vow is worth the outing.

Watch the full trailer here:

ME & CFS in the 21st Century – Part 2

In ME & CFS in the 21st Century – Part 1 published previously, we saw the first excerpts of an interview with Alex Howard, founder and CEO of the Optimum Health Clinic. The Optimum Health Clinic is an award winning integrative health clinic specialising in M.E./C.F.S./Fibromyalgia, set up in 2004 by Alex Howard. The clinic is internationally recognised for its innovative approach of systematically researching and testing all available approaches, and integrating them together in the most effective way. With over half the clinic team having themselves had personal experience of M.E./C.F.S./Fibromyalgia, the clinic is also well known for its caring and empathic approach. We now look at the second part of Alex’s interview with Conscious TV as he continues to discuss the issues surrounding M.E. & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (C.F.S.). Alex Howard continues the interview by talking about how the body can react to certain environmental and other factors when suffering with M.E. and C.F.S.

Alex then goes on to discuss how delayed fatigue is felt when the body does not recycle biochemical products like ATP efficiently and how people struggle within a stress state when their bodies need to heal and repair. Alex talks about his personal experience of overcoming chronic fatigue and how he built his own picture of recovery due to his desperation to get better. Reassuringly, there is a lot more practical information and new discoveries are available from places like the Optimum Health Clinic and other clinics in the world. Alex emphasises that sufferers are treated by protocols focused on the individual.

The interview then covers how sufferers can move forward with treatment by being responsible for their health and seeking out practitioners who are experienced in M.E. and C.F.S. In addition, Alex talks about how the internet can give access to inspirational stories of people who have overcome M.E. and C.F.S. Alex finally talks about the main pre-cursors of getting M.E. and Chronic Fatigue – his model is based on burnout. The body suffers from one too many stressors and chronic fatigue is experienced. The answer is to change perspective, live a sustainable life and see fatigue as a positive experience that sufferers can learn and develop from.

Check out FreedomFromME.co.uk for more information about ME, CFS and Fibromyalgia.

Content reproduced with the kind permission of the Optimum Health Clinic.

Image reproduced from natural-holistic-health.com
Videos reproduced from YouTube / FreedomFromME

ME & CFS in the 21st Century – Part 1

The Optimum Health Clinic has dealt with over 2000 people suffering from the symptoms of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (C.F.S.) and Fibromyalgia. There is still a lot of mystery and misunderstanding about these conditions. The Optimum Health Clinic is an award winning integrative health clinic specialising in M.E./C.F.S./Fibromyalgia, set up in 2004 by Alex Howard. The clinic is internationally recognised for its innovative approach of systematically researching and testing all available approaches, and integrating them together in the most effective way. With over half the clinic team having themselves had personal experience of M.E./C.F.S./Fibromyalgia, the clinic is also well known for its caring and empathic approach.

Alex Howard, founder and CEO of the Optimum Health Clinic, suffered from ME as a teenager for 7 years but recovered from it and wrote a book called “WHY ME? My Journey from M.E. to Health and Happiness”. Alex was recently interviewed on Conscious TV about ME, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia. He discusses his personal experience of overcoming ME, what people should consider after getting a diagnosis, the challenge faced because a range of different symptoms affect different people, and how ME should be dealt with based on the individual rather than using a traditional one-size-fits-all medical approach. This includes considerations about psychology sub-types of the patient.

Alex goes on to talk about physical and nutritional sub-types one should be aware of. He also discusses the impact of stressors on the human body that can lead to people starting to get ill.

Alex then discusses how sufferers can create an environment which supports recovery despite the skepticism and lack of understanding of the condition. This includes working towards getting the body in a healing state rather than a stress state by acceptance, creating a supportive environment and dealing with the underlying physical symptoms of the condition. Alex also talks about how listening to the body, taking proper rest and good nutrition can help sufferers.

To hear the rest of Alex’s fascinating interview about ME and its treatment, look out for ME & CFS in the 21st Century – Part 2 which will be published on City Connect later this week. Check out freedomfromme.co.uk for more information about ME, CFS and Fibromyalgia.

Content reproduced with the kind permission of the Optimum Health Clinic.

Image reproduced from medindia.net
Videos reproduced from YouTube / FreedomFromME

Coleraine Researchers Find New Drugs Boost Brain Cell Growth

Scientists in Northern Ireland have found drugs that mimic some of the actions of insulin may encourage the growth of new brain cells. It’s hoped the study, funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK, could pave the way for the design of new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers at the University of Ulster’s Coleraine Campus studied the effects of two compounds in mice. These compounds were designed to imitate the effects of a hormone called glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP), which helps cells to release insulin.

It’s known that people with diabetes, who are unable to produce enough insulin or are unable to use insulin properly, have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Previous research has suggested that GIP may also help protect the brain, and the team in Coleraine set out to discover what effect compounds that mimic GIP could have on the brain.

Led by Dr Emilie Faivre – who was supported by a PhD Scholarship award from Alzheimer’s Research UK – the scientists used healthy mice to test two compounds called (Pro3)GIP and D-Ala2GIP. One group of mice was given a single injection of one of the two compounds, or a saline solution, while a second group received daily injections for 30 days. They discovered that for both compounds, daily injections improved communication between brain cells and triggered the growth of new cells in part of the hippocampus – the part of the brain responsible for memory. The mice also showed a small improvement in some learning and memory tasks.

The results are published in the European Journal of Pharmacology. The scientists now want to further investigate the compounds to find out whether they may be useful as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia.

Dr Faivre said:
“We were excited to see that the compounds we studied appear to have beneficial effects for the brain, but we now need to find out what effect they might have in Alzheimer’s disease. We know that diabetes is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s, and if we can understand exactly how these compounds work in the brain, we could also uncover new clues about the links between these two diseases. We still desperately need an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s, and I hope our results could take us a step closer to that goal.”

Prof Christian Hölscher, who co-authored the study, said:
“Finding ways to protect brain cells and keep them communicating could be an important step forward for fighting Alzheimer’s. More research is needed before these compounds could be tested in people, and the next step will be to investigate what causes them to affect the brain in this way. Dementia can only be defeated through research, and we hope these findings could eventually open the door to new treatments.”

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“These findings could be an important first step towards the development of new treatments for Alzheimer’s, and we now need to see whether drugs like this are able to help people with the disease. There are 16,000 people with dementia in Northern Ireland alone, yet research into the condition is desperately underfunded. It’s vital that we invest in research so that we can build on results like these, giving us a better chance of taking new treatments from the lab to the clinic.”

Image reproduced from http://www.pediatrics.med.ubc.ca

Wine Of The Month – March

For me, early March, when the days become perceptibly longer and the weather perceptibly milder, is a time of hope and optimism, a prelude to the opportunities of a new year after the cold seclusion of winter.

Longer days and warmer temperatures mean a scarf and gloves are not always required when stepping outside, which in itself becomes more appealing and leads to a greater chance of bumping into a friend or acquaintance somewhere.

It is a time to start making plans for the rest of the year – summer holidays, Easter breaks and, for those of us with small children, half-term get-aways.

Despite all the plans and optimism, though, it can still be a chilly old time and so this month’s wines are all warming, spicy reds.

Domaine de Fondreche, Cotes du Ventoux Rouge, ‘Mas de Fondreche’ 2009 – £8.99 Joseph Barnes Wines

This 2009 Ventoux from Joseph Barnes is from village of Mazan in the Ventoux region of the eastern C̫tes du Rh̫ne and made from an unoaked blend of Grenache and Syrah. Whilst very palatable on first opening, really benefits from a decent amount of aeration РI tried it over three days and it was still improving even as we were finishing it off.

On the nose, there are aromas of plum, black cherry  and elderberry, with hints of spice, liquorice and undergrowth developing over time.

On the palate, there is more dark fruit, cool mintiness and, increasingly with air, a wonderfully soft and texture and a rounded acidity.

With a grippiness on the palate, it feels very well-made and pure, if not especially complex, with a persistent finish.

Match with dark plain-roast meat, such as lamb or beef.

Orcia DOC Malintoppo 2006 Simonelli-Santi – £13.99 Cambridge Wine Merchants

This Sangiovese from the Orcia DOC in Tuscany is an altogether classier proposition, if priced accordingly.

At six years of age, it is brick red in the glass with cherry fruit and complex spice, cigar box, liquorice and undergrowth on the nose.

The palate shows a lively if slightly stewed cherry fruit acidity (that’s 14.5% alcohol for you), a soft but firm texture and an incredible depth of complex flavour.

It has the mellow harmoniousness of its age and a long finish with peppery grip.

This really is a class act and although the price is well into “special occasion” territory, it is worth every penny given the quality and age.

Whilst drinking well now, it still improves with air after decanting and I’d be seriously tempted to buy a case of this to see how it continues to evolve.

Match with slow-roast beef or darker game such as duck, pheasant or venison.

Opawa Pinot Noir 2010, New Zealand – £10.49, Noel Young Wines

Although best known for Sauvignon Blanc, with its cool climate New Zealand is becoming Pinot’s second spiritual home after Burgundy.

NZ wines are typically technically well-made with good, pure fruit and this wine is no exception.

Pale ruby in the glass, on first opening, this wine shows ripe, red cherry fruit, with more-typical Pinot aromas of woody mushrooms developing with air.

On the palate, the fruit is ripe and pure with a soft, sensual texture, a good depth of savoury flavour and a balanced, lingering finish.

Whilst it may lack some typically Burgundian vegetal, farmardy aromas and food-friendly sour-cherry acidity, this is a lovely wine and provides a good mid-level introduction to what this grape can do in NZ.

Although Pinot is one of the few wines I never decant, as its ephemeral aromas rarely benefit from significant aeration, this wine is still showing well, if not even a little better the following day and I recommended it via Twitter to fellow blogger and Pinot / self-doubter Charles Saunders as an example of what Pinot Noir can be.

Match with game such as duck and pheasant or a Burgundian stew.

Pascual Toso Malbec 2009, Mendoza Argentina – £8.99, Bacchanalia

If Pinot is a dreamy, sensual hedonist, Malbec is a Blue-Collar hero – a macho, peppery, steak-eating, cattle-wrangling gaucho in open check shirt and leather chaps.

Dark in the glass, this Pascual Toso Malbec shows lots of ripe up-front bramble and blackberry fruit with liquorice and vanilla spice on the nose.

The palate is full and ripe with more sweet cassis fruit and spicy, leathery earthiness. There’s plenty of aromas on the finish too and, if it’s a little rustic, it is at least polite enough to wipe its feet on the doormat before enquiring if it left its boots under your bed, ma’am.

A spicy, warm-hearted Big Red with bags of crowd-pleasing, easy-drinking appeal, match it with a juicy steak.

Recommended Wine

This is a really good set of wines and all are worthy of investigation – however, this month’s winner is the Malintoppo from Cambridge Wine Merchants for its depth of flavour, mellowness and value for money as a really well-made, aged Tuscan wine drinking nicely right now for just over £10 with case discounts.

Links

Mas de Fondreche reviewed by Tom Cavanan – http://www.wine-pages.com/temp/osud.htm

Malintoppo reviewed by Vinoremus – http://vinoremus.blogspot.com/2011/07/general-tasting.html

Main image credit – http://www.galenfrysinger.com/cambridge.htm

Copyright Tom Lewis 2012

Film Review: This Means War

This Means War is the perfect Hollywood movie. It has lots of action set piece to appeal to a male audience, and a rom-com storyline to appeal to women. Throw in some attractive movie stars and its win-win. The only problem is the end result is absolute tosh.

The story (if we can call it that) revolves around two CIA agents, FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy). They’re both best friends, and because the filmmakers deemed the audience too stupid to figure that out for themselves, it is pointed out to us several times. Tuck is a very quiet introverted man who has recently divorced, while FDR is more of a womaniser. Tensions build between the two though when they both start dating the same woman, Lauren (Reece Witherspoon). So, it proper caveman style, the two agents decide to do battle for Lauren’s affections.

The first thing you need to know about this movie is that it’s directed by McG, which should be considered your first warning to run for the hills. From the horrifically cheesy Charlie’s Angels to the overly loud and boring Terminator Salvation, the director has been unable to shake off his ability to direct every movie as though it’s a music video. The only things that matter to McG are soundtrack, costumes, and action. That’s why it’s quite surprising that the CGI shots in This Means War are rather poorly done. If it wasn’t for the cast and expensive suits, it would look rather cheap.

This does mark a low point in the careers of all three of the main cast members, but their efforts are commendable. Pine and Hardy have good chemistry, and along with Reece Witherspoon do try their best with a rather cynical and altogether misjudged script. The dialogue is rather sharp, and the ping-pong of dialogue between characters is probably the film’s only redeeming feature. It aims for comedy so many times, and it misses the mark so completely it’s almost painful to watch.

Throw into the mix the scenes involving hidden spy cameras on dates, which are so horrifyingly voyeuristic it makes you want to tear your own eyes out, and this film is a total disaster. What’s worse though, is that this is the kind of movie Hollywood thinks we want to see, and considering the cast and combination of action and romance (again, if we can call it that) it will attract a big audience. It will do well, but it would be a great moral victory if it didn’t. For all our sakes, please avoid.

Image reproduced from onlinemovieshut.com
Video reproduced from YouTube / MakingOf

Former Patient Motorbiking Across Siberia for Charity!

Thank you to all of those of you have sent feedback on our academic paper released in our recent newsletter. Some of you have said that it was a little overwhelming going through that much information on your computer. So, we are currently hatching a plan to create an “Easy Reading Guide,” and looking at the possibility of actually posting a printed copy of the paper to those on our database. Hopefully this will make it much easier to follow this very exciting paper! If you would like to have a look at the full version in the meantime you can do so at OHC Research Paper. We are extremely excited this week to be letting you know about an incredible charity event that is taking place next month. Simon Limpus, who is a former patient of the clinic and in fact the clinic’s first ever employee, is going to be motorbiking 1500km across Siberia in temperatures ranging from –40 to –60! You can watch a video with Simon and Alex about his journey with ME/CFS and the fundraising event in support of The Optimum Health Clinic Foundation below. All sponsorship received will go directly to the Foundation (with over £1200 already donated), so please do support Simon in this incredible adventure! You can read more about the event and sponsor Simon at www.Icerun2012.com

We hope you have a great week, and we are hoping to be able to announce the brand new Conscious Transformation to you next week!

Content reproduced with the kind permission of the Optimum Health Clinic.

Image reproduced from http://www.tim.hi-ho.ne.jp

Nicotine Patches May Slow Progression to Alzheimer’s

Scientists in the US today announced clinical trial results showing that nicotine patches may improve cognitive performance in elderly people with early memory problems. The findings could take scientists a step closer to the development of new treatments to tackle dementia.

The study, published in the journal Neurology, was completed by 67 volunteers. All of the volunteers were non-smokers and had mild cognitive impairment (MCI), thinking and memory problems not yet severe enough to be diagnosed as dementia. Half of the volunteers wore a transdermal nicotine patch for the six month trial, while half wore a placebo patch which did not contain nicotine.

Nicotine, a chemical found in tobacco, is known to stimulate nerve cells in the brain – one reason why cigarettes are so addictive. Some of the nerve cells which are stimulated by nicotine in the brain play a role in preserving cognitive function and these cells can have trouble firing in people with Alzheimer’s. This had led some scientists to believe that nicotine may hold a clue to how to get these cells firing again.

Over the course of the trial, the volunteers took several different types of memory and performance test and the researchers followed their performance. The results showed that, although there was no significant difference in overall improvement between those with nicotine patches and placebo, volunteers with the nicotine patch performed better on specific tests of long term memory and attention.

Although a nicotine-based therapy is unlikely to prevent or cure the disease, the scientists hope it could in future present a way of slowing the progression from MCI to Alzheimer’s and treating some of the symptoms of the disease.

Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“This small study looks promising as people with MCI treated with nicotine patches showed improvements in several cognitive tests. Larger and longer term studies will be needed to get a bigger picture of the potential of nicotine-based treatments in Alzheimer’s. As we know, nicotine is highly addictive and smoking can increase our risk of Alzheimer’s as well as other serious diseases, and so we must interpret the results sensibly.

“We hope that the findings can push scientists towards developing safe and effective therapies to tackle dementia, and with 820,000 people in the UK living with dementia, this need has never been greater.”

Image reproduced from http://www.pediatrics.med.ubc.ca

Ch̢teau Baccarat РOenology Range Glasses (and a Bordeaux)

Wine-tasting is much more a subjective Art than a definitive Science, but I have a natural inclination to be methodical about these things so when Chateau Baccarat offered me the short-term loan of a pair of their new “Oenology Range” glasses, I saw an opportunity to test out a theory on how much influence the wine glass itself can have on the tasting experience.

My tasting glass collection is fairly limited – a couple of Riedel Shirazes, a set of Bormioli Roccos and some basic flutes for fizz. And much as I like the Riedel glasses, I have always been a little sceptical of their claim that you need completely separate glasses for every grape variety or style of port – in any case, I kept breaking the Sauvignon Blanc glasses when washing them up.

For a proper scientific experiment, I decided that I would need four different glasses and a wine that 1) I already knew 2) was of sufficiently high quality for any subtle distinctions to be apparent and 3) shows a decent amount of aromas on the nose.

For the glasses, I used my usual Riedel Shiraz, Bormioli Rocco and added an ISO tasting glass. The wine was a bottle of the excellent Rousseau de Sipian 2005 from Cambridge Wine Merchants (reviewed earlier here).

I first tried the wine in mid-2010 and was so impressed with it that I bought a couple of cases to lay down – at the time it needed quite a bit of aeration to open up and for the chewy tannins to soften.

Bearing this in mind, I opened up the bottle in the morning to let the sulphites start evaporating but did not decant until around 10 minutes before the tasting.

Swirling the wine in the decanter, there are concentrated aromas of blackcurrant, hints of liquorice and an earthy tarriness.

I filled each glass up to about the widest part, then started by simply sniffing, noting down observations. I followed this with a swirl and a sniff of each and again made notes. I sniffed the wines in the following order: ISO, Riedel, Baccarat, Bormioli Rocco then tried different orders.

Finally, I roped in Mrs CWB to have a go and give me her impressions.

Amidst all this, I also took a few sips as well.

And after an hour of sniffing, swirling, sipping, scribbling notes, considering and trying to discern subtle differences, I finally came to the conclusion that there is no significant, consistently noticeable difference between any of these glasses in terms of the intensity of the aromas on the nose or the perception of the wine on the palate.

They are all an appropriate shape for wine assessment – bulbously tulip-shaped to a greater or lesser extent with a wider base and narrower aperture to concentrate and funnel the aromas – and the differences between them (the ISO is the smallest, the BR the widest) are less influential than their similarities.

The Baccarat glass has a number of theoretical, drawing-board advantages over the other glasses that should make it the most effective tasting glass – it is flat-bottomed and wide, almost like a decanter, with a very narrow aperture – but in practice, in this experiment at least, that did not seem to translate into superior performance.

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At this point, dinner was ready and we decided to move on to an assessment of the glasses as household objects for drinking from.

The ISO glass – ideal for use at trade tastings where small quantities are involved and notes need to be taken – was the least convenient for drinking wine with dinner. It is easy to swirl and light for quick sniffing, but the aperture is too small to get a nose-full of aromas when drinking.

The Bormioli Rocco – my usual glass of choice for assessing and drinking at home – in this company, felt like the least elegant; squat, fat and with thicker glass. Its width makes it quite heavy and cumbersome to swirl, certainly with any elegance.

The Riedel is shaped like a larger, more refined version of the ISO – less bulbous, it is tall, simple and elegant and its proportions all feel right. It is the easiest to swirl as it is the least wide as well as the tallest.

The Baccarat is the most visually arresting of all the glasses and looks beautiful; it has the thinnest glass at the aperture, giving it a more sophisticated feel. It is not as easy a swirler as the Riedel given its flat-bottomed width and weight.

Around this point, it occurred to me that the Baccarat glasses are not really in competition with my other tasting glasses – yes they are designed for tasting and appreciating wine, but they are really very elegant dinner glasses and should be compared against other elegant dinner glasses.

It put this theory to the test a few days later when I reviewed a Louis Jadot Marsannay 2008 (see here for the full review). An oaked white Burgundy, it is not the most aromatic of wines and even though I decanted for about half an hour before the meal, it needs significant further aeration before the oakiness starts to feel harmonious and the fruit aromas become more prominent.

Compared side-by-side with a with a Royal Doulton crystal glass – the kind of elegant glass you might use at a dinner party (see image above) but which is not designed for wine-tasting – the difference is quite remarkable; on the nose the aromas from the Royal Doulton are significantly and consistently less intense than from the Baccarat.

Again, neither glass is an easy swirler – the Royal Doulton is not at all bulbous – but it occurs to me that these glasses are designed for drinking in the kind of company where it is not polite to swirl and sniff.

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As to post-dinner practicality, whilst I suspect that most people who buy a set of Baccarat glasses will probably have “people” to do their washing up, it is surprisingly easy to wash up, having a wide enough aperture and being not too deep.

The Bormioli Rocco is big, fat and wide and therefore easy to wash up, the ISO is shallow and therefore easy, whilst the Riedel is the hardest – being narrow and deep – and also made from thinner glass is therefore the most likely to get broken by clumsy hands.

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Finally, the wine itself: on the nose the Rousseau de Sipian shows (from all glasses) blackcurranty fruit, earthy tarriness and a touch of mintiness.

As I have noted in a post on the wrong type of air, even with over six years’ bottle age, it still develops according to another set of rules after opening, with much greater aromas noticeable after being opened for an hour or so.

On the palate, it shows elderberry fruit, black cherries and some mintiness with prominent, linear acidity which cuts through a roast beef dinner perfectly; it feels mouthfilling with the chewy tannins I remember from the last time considerably softened.

It now feels much more integrated and is starting to show the first signs of some aged characteristics – the intensity is fading and is replaced by a harmonious mellowness – rather like the early wrinkles and salt-and-pepper hair of a dashingly handsome Hollywood star entering middle age.

The Chateau Baccarat glasses are £64 for a single glass, £125 for a pair or £360 for six; the range also includes a tumbler and decanter, all pictured above. They were provided to me on short-term loan.

Links

Baccarat – http://www.baccarat.com/

Cambridge Wine Merchants – http://www.cambridgewine.com/

Copyright Tom Lewis 2012

Stacey Solomon Gets It Right for Cambs Charity in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire

Stacey Solomon, who shot to fame in The X Factor in 2009, has won £12,500 for Great Shelford-based Alzheimer’s Research UK, on ITV’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Stacey sat in the hot seat for the Celebrity New Year Special, broadcast on Tuesday 3 January, and teamed up with comedian Lee Mack.

Stacey and Lee faced show host, Chris Tarrant as they attempted to reach the million. Between them they won £50,000 with 50% going to a lucky phone-in caller at home and the remaining 50% split between each celebrity’s chosen charity.

Recently-engaged Stacey, 22, has become a national sweetheart since rising to fame. As an ambassador for Iceland Foods, she decided to raise money for the frozen food giant’s Charity of the Year for 2011, Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Stacey said:
“I’ve watched the show on telly loads and shout out the answers. But it’s scary when you’re actually in the hot seat. Winning thousands of pounds for an amazing charity like Alzheimer’s Research UK is just fantastic.”

Rebecca Wood, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, added:
“This makes a brilliant start to the New Year and we can’t thank Stacey enough for this marvellous windfall. This huge contribution will pay for hundreds of hours of pioneering research and vital equipment for our scientists, bringing us closer to finding ways to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure dementia.

“It’s wonderful to have Stacey’s continued support as an ambassador for Iceland Foods. In December we were thrilled to learn she was releasing a Christmas single to boost our funds – a cover of Driving Home for Christmas – now this, it’s incredible!

“Over 6,000 people in Cambridgeshire are living with dementia today and 820,000 across the UK, with numbers forecast to increase significantly in the next generation. Research is the only answer but funding lags far behind that of other serious diseases. We rely entirely on our wonderful supporters to fund our vital dementia research, including people like Stacey, staff at Iceland Foods and our many fundraising volunteers in Cambridgeshire.”

To help Alzheimer’s Research UK defeat Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, donate online at www.alzheimersresearchuk.org or call 01223 843899.

Image reproduced from http://www.pediatrics.med.ubc.ca

Wine Buying in Cambridgeshire

City Connect’s wine critic – Tom Lewis, the Cambridge Wine Blogger – shares his thoughts and recommendations on wine buying in Cambridge and the surrounding area.

For the enthusiastic wine aficionado, the most enjoyable way to buy wine can be to get in the car and go to one or more of France’s wine regions and buy direct from the producer. However, the reality for many people seems to be the local supermarket and, faced with rows of wines to choose from, the easiest option is often to pick what’s on special offer.

Is there a middle way? Some way of picking out more interesting and enjoyable wines without having to travel too far? Search the internet and you will find specialists such as Laithwaite’s (who also supply the wines for the Sunday Times Wine Club), who provide lots of glossy photos of beautiful hillside vineyards which can feel almost as good as being there yourself.

However, for those who prefer the personal touch and want to support local businesses, Cambridge and the surrounding areas have many independent wine merchants, educators and even its own Master of Wine and vineyard owners.

Stand opposite Kings College or take a look down the river on Bridge Street and you will be next to a branch of Cambridge Wine Merchants – founded 17 years ago by Cambridge graduate Hal Wilson with business partner Brett Turner, together they now run 4 shops in Cambridge itself, with several franchises beyond the city, and have recently won Independent Drinks Retailer of the year. If that is not enough, they also supply a number of the University’s May Balls, offer professionally-recognised wine courses and have opened a tapas bar in their Cherry Hinton Road branch.

With branches on either side of the river, Bacchanalia was set up in 1997 by Paul Bowles with the philosophy of sourcing the very best drinks the staff could find and selling them at a fair price. Regularly voted amongst the top ten shops in Cambridge, it’s clear that this approach has proved very popular indeed.

South of the city in Trumpington, Noel Young Wines has been in business since 1991 and won many awards over the years and also has a vineyard in Australia.

Outside of Cambridge, Hector Scicluna of HS Fine Wines in Impington, specialises in importing fine Italian wines from small estates, whilst Steve Vincent from Histon runs the Cambridge Food and Wine Society. Slightly further afield, The Old Bridge in Huntingdon is run by Master of Wine John Hoskins, whilst Neil Courtier of GrapeSense in Bury runs a wine education business. Finally, let us not forget that Cambridge has its own vineyard at Chilford Hall in Linton.

All of these offer wine-tastings of one sort or another which is a good way to get introduced to wines of different types and see what you like; the Cambridge Food and Wine Society, a not-for-profit organisation, uses a mixture of outside experts (both specialist educators and vineyard owners) and committee members (who are all experts in different areas from Spain and Austria to the International Wine Challenge) to present its monthly events.

Tickets for a wine tasting usually cost around the same price as two good bottles of wine and for that you should get to sample around 8 wines, pose questions and discuss opinions, possibly with some accompanying food.