Monthly Archives: June 2017

A BRUTAL ANTIBIOTIC IS THE ANSWER

It’s good news to hear a study has found that new super-strength antibiotics could be developed to kill drug-resistant bacteria in minutes. Modifying existing antibiotics could make them much more powerful and able to rip apart germ cells to stop infections in their tracks, said scientists.

Until now most antibiotics can take up to a day to be effective. But modified super-strength antibiotics could do this in an instant and boost the battle against superbugs such as MRSA. Few new antibiotics have been developed in the last two decades while drug-resistant bugs have become a major problem. By 2050 it is predicted more people will die from untreatable infections than cancer, but scientists from University College, London believe these strains could be killed if drugs are able to push hard enough into bacteria.

Dr Joseph Ndieyira said: ‘Antibiotics need to bind to bacterial cells to kill them. Antibiotics have keys that fit locks on cell surfaces, allowing them to latch on. When a bacterium becomes resistant, it effectively changes the locks so the key won’t fit. Incredibly, we found that certain antibiotics can still force the lock allowing them to bind to and kill resistant bacteria.’ The study examined Vancomycin, a powerful antibiotic used as a last resort for MRSA, and a modified form of it called Oritavancin.

The academics used state-of-the art equipment to measure the mechanical forces the medicines exerted on drug-resistant bacterial cells. They found that the two antibiotics worked in different ways. Vancomycin disrupts vital processes so the bacteria stop functioning and die. But Oritavancin was much more brutal and powerful. The UCL team’s study published in Scientific Reports said: ‘We found that Oritavancin pressed into resistant bacteria with a force eleven thousand times stronger thanVancomycin.’

Dr Ndieyira said the Oritavancin molecules were good at forming clusters which dig into a cell, then push apart to tear the surface and kill it. Oritavancin can kill bacteria in just fifteen minutes but Vancomycin takes six to twenty-four hours. ‘Our findings will help us not only to design new antibiotics but also modify existing ones to overcome resistance,’ said Dr Ndieyira.

I believe that research is always needed to discover more effective medicines than are used today for bugs develop resistance in one form or another with the passage of time. Antibiotics seem to be a case in point as they become less effective against infections when their constant general use creates unexpected problems. Hence the latest study paves the way yet again for a most welcome, innovative answer.

Boisterous Life at Geraldine Road (Continued)

A diversion was brought about in Geraldine Road by the arrival of another guest at the house my uncle had purchased for £1,000. He was called Fouad and was a distant relation from the Holy Land. I had known him as a kid when we both lived in the same neighbourhood of Haifa.

Fouad had come to London for medical treatment for a condition that was causing his eyesight to fail. There was a real fear that he might eventually go blind. He was an amiable character of medium build who never stopped laughing, with an unusual gusto for life despite his predicament. It was a contagious laugh, loud and resonant, that endeared him to everyone he met. He took over my room while I had to share with Stinous, my friend in crime.

For a reason that I myself never understood, liking Fouad as I did I nevertheless felt compelled to tease him whenever the whim drove me to it. There was no specific cause that triggered it off; simply a wild compulsion to get a rise out of him. The teasing escalated to torment and in the middle of the night I would get up and creep in on Fouad who slept deeply and tie him to the bedpost. To do this I used anything available including shoelaces. Fouad would then wake with a jolt from his heavy sleep and start screaming.

This, in turn, roused my uncle who slept in the room below and he would come rushing upstairs to untie him. My uncle would be frothing at the mouth with fury. He could hardly contain his anger, his complexion turned white and he shook uncontrollably. These extremes of rage were not at all in keeping with the image he displayed to the outside world. It was as if all the time, there was a violent streak in him just dying for the chance to manifest itself at least within the confines of the house.

My uncle would admonish me, shouting in my face that this was cruel and thuggish behaviour and pushing me roughly to one side. My protests that I was merely having a bit of fun, as I termed it, to keep Fouad on his toes, went to make matters far worse. My uncle was unable to appreciate the funny side of the situation.

With his limited vision, he could only see things as black or white and could never settle on any of the intermediate shades; it had to be one or the other; there was no room for compromise.

Fouad meanwhile took it all in his easy-going stride. It was as if he was immune to such silly games. When his medical treatment was over he left with his sense of humour still intact.

Soon after our initial encounter in London he emigrated to Australia, where he had ultimately a family of his own. He rang me a few years ago from Australia and was joyous to hear my voice and to recall the good times he spent at Geraldine Road where, he said, the mirth we had together was overwhelming and, as he put it, unforgettable. I was moved to tears.

 

 

 

Risk Factors for Dementia

Scientists have recently identified the three major factors for dementia and disability. Keeping blood pressure down, exercising regularly and maintaining good lung function through not smoking were found to have the most impact on staying physically and mentally healthy in later life.

Previously other factors such as low fruit and vegetable consumption, high alcohol intake, poor sleep, depression, obesity, body mass index, high cholesterol and high glucose levels had been linked to poor cognitive and mobility function in later life. But scientists found that they actually had little impact on overall health.

Dementia is the leading cause of death in Britain with around 850,000 people affected. To find out what were the most dangerous health risks researchers from UCL, the Economic and Social Research Council and the British Heart Foundation looked at data from the Whitehall II study of more than 10,000 people in Britain who have been followed since 1985.

At age 50, all were checked for twelve risk factors of dementia and disability and followed for 18 years when they were again tested for physical and cognitive functions. Of the twelve risk factors, physical activity, high blood pressure and lung function were the three most important predictors of poor functioning around age 70.

Researchers say policies to encourage a healthy lifestyle in older age should aim to tackle those three risk factors above all others.

It all makes sense. I believe keeping the mind alert is also an important issue and moderation in everything else will certainly keep us as immune to dementia as humanly possible.

FOLLY’S AFTERMATH

The lady is for turning, but alas to no avail. What’s next for Theresa May? Having made a hash of the general election she herself engineered, and single-handledly lost, she should have done the decent thing and resigned. Instead, she humiliated herself and opted to remain undaunted by her utter failure and had the temerity to rush to Buckingham Palace to seek The Queen’s approval to form a new government.

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This she has done, despite the fact that she no longer enjoyed a parliamentary majority and caused anger and division within her own party the likes of which we have rarely seen in previous Conservative administrations. A sketch by Michael Deakin in The Times last Saturday described her transition from Iron Lady to Rag Doll in such a short space of time which strikes me as spot on! At the mercy of the 10 DUP MPs with whom she now intends to form a minority government simply to buy time, she’ll remain a figurehead before her final demise comes to haunt her.

What a climb down from a lady who was egged on by the majority of the right-wing press to believe herself the new Margaret Thatcher, elevated to godly stature to lead the nation in negotiating a lucrative Brexit agreement with the EU and create the dawn of a new powerful Britain. Her attempt to make the remainers eat their words and establish herself as the shining light in the annals of political history has ended in abject failure.

The outcry she caused by her arrogance is hard to stomach. She has been weakened as a result and fatally wounded and her capabilities exposed as pure fantasy. By contrast, Emmanuel Macron, the newly elected President of France, is poised for a landslide in the parliamentary elections now taking place and his popularity has surged beyond the wildest dreams of the French establishment.

Theresa May’s failure was self-inflicted. The Tory manifesto was the worst of any previous Tory government, her electoral campaign was devoid of all pizzazz, boringly conducted, and in the end, alienated a lot of her previous admirers. Her rhetoric was annoyingly repetitive with regard to her own negotiating abilities which had never been put to the test. It was so self-indulgent and manifestly put people off. She has nobody to blame except herself. She should now accept the consequences of her folly and retire with dignity.

The recurring tragedy of politicians is that they never learn the lessons of history and their actions invariably trigger their downfall.

A Nightclub Bouncer on the Receiving End

After the Elizabeth Garret Anderson hospital, a job was offered to me as a bouncer by a nightclub proprietor, a former Oxford graduate who had been through a stretch in prison for a drug offense involving cannabis. He and I had formed  a kind of friendship and as a consequence was asked to act  as his personal bodyguard as well as a bouncer in his nightclub. My duties would not begin until after 2am; the first part of the night was taken up with the club’s function as a jazz club.

The club premises were situated on the second floor of a dilapidated building down an alley off Charing Cross Road, directly opposite the famous Foyles bookshop. It was the sort of joint you would be more likely to come across in the Bowery district of New York, though it was perhaps less seedy and certainly not in such a dangerous neighbourhood.

The jazz played was mostly in the New Orleans revival style; the so-called ‘Trad fad’ was taking off in Britain among many young, up-and-coming popular musicians. Skiffle- the poor man’s music using washboards was already an influence and would soon turn into a profitable craze for the music business.

I was a jazz novice in so far as it was kind of music completely new to me. I responded to it instantly and found myself caught up by its insistent, powerful swinging rhythms and the improvised melodic lines of trumpet, saxophone, clarinet or piano soaring above the bass. I was thrilled to the more elegiac numbers based on the twelve bar blues, the fall of the melody seemed to contain all the sorrow of an enslaved race over 200 years of suffering. There was sadness on the one hand, but on the other an unquenchable resilience and capacity for human joy. It was music I could relate to. The club’s patrons were mostly committed jazz enthusiasts who I appreciated and revelled in the intensely charged atmosphere.

During its brief life, the club became well known for the quality and brilliance of its players – some already famous and on the way to international stardom.

With gigs from such established figures as Chris Barber and Ken Colyer, it attracted a class of musicians keen to find a testing ground in which to improve their skills and try out their music in front of a live audience.

Many of the Soho landmarks were well known to them. Some they visited for pleasure; others out of sheer necessity. In particular there was Chiquito’s, a coffee house in Hanway Street, off Tottenham Court Road.

With its bohemian, easy going policy,  its unpretentious and friendly atmosphere, it virtually fulfilled the role of a dating agency without intending to be one.

I became particularly well known there as I used to hold court at one of its tables in the afternoon and early evenings before going to work, usually in the company of women. It became a second home. Another favourite was the pub adjoining the dominion theatre on the corner of Tottenham Court Road and New Oxford Street, where one could sample a variety of Barley wines, very strong brews in small bottles.

My duties as a bouncer had its bad moments as well as its perks. That in the job I was sustained various minor injuries was only to be expected. There was one incident, however, which could have had serious consequences.

A burley Scotsman, who had been drinking heavily, became obstreperous and threatened to cause major disruption in the club. As I went to eject him, I found myself on the receiving end of a well-crafted blow, delivered with deadly precision, that sent me tumbling down two flights of stairs. I was quite badly hurt and shocked and had to be taken to the Charing Cross hospital, then still at its old address in the Charing Cross district to be given casualty treatment. My back was injured and I had bruises on both legs. From this I drew a useful lesson; never underestimate an opponent, not even one who appears totally uncoordinated and off guard with inebriation. I had dropped my guard when I tried to throw out the Scotsman and I paid a heavy price for one moment of inattention.

At a later stage in my life, after I was married, I needed to attend the Charing Cross hospital as a patient for a minor swelling of the thumb. To my utter surprise, the hospital register recorded the number of times I had attended for treatment in my former rackety existence as a Jazz club bouncer. Although I was embarrassed when the nurse mentioned how well known my name was for my regular visits during that period, I also felt a kind of nostalgia for those days that I could hardly conceal. I remembered how most nights, after the band had packed up and gone and the club had been closed, the proprietor would lead the way to Archer Street on the Southern edge of Soho, the reason for going there was to pick up what was usually a small packet of cannabis to see us through the small hours. An old barber shop in the same street was where, during the day, we would go to shop for our French letters (as condoms were called in those days).

From Archer Street, I and the proprietor would go into the Soho jungle to track down some weird party or other, news of which had been picked up on the grapevine.

Soho, at the time, had a sort of lured sleaziness that has completely gone from it today. It formed the underbelly of a sin conscious Britain, where all that was forbidden could be obtained at a price. The area was popular with poets and artists, who were drawn to the raffish pubs and drinking clubs, and with East End gangsters like the Cray Brothers, who made it their stamping ground when they were ‘up west,’ as well as with all sorts of other characters from the fringes of society.

The parties to which I accompanied the nightclub proprietor usually went on until dawn. At these libertarian gatherings I met many numbers of the Bohemian demi-monde, musicians and budding actors and not to mention lots of females in search of a little craziness and out for a good time. It was a milieu of louche behaviour which was commonplace. To me, the scenes of abandon that resulted had an irresistible appeal and the attraction got me into some odd situations. Some of which are hard to relate!

Suffice to say that, as usual, I soon moved to seek more fertile ground and abandon old ones for prosperity’s sake.

 

 

 

The Author’s Inspiration…

Gerald Jacobs wrote the following article which appeared in The Metro on the 8th  of May.

Since I believe it paints a true image of what Baghdad was in the first half of the 20th century, I feel strongly that the readers of my blog will be delighted to read the article in full and will no doubt appreciate the essence of his first novel Nine Love Letters which Quartet published recently to great critical acclaim.

“Although Baghdad and Budapest stand on great rivers whose histories run deeper than their waters, they are very different cities. One is a magnet for tourists, the other long unable to welcome foreign visitors.

In Budapest today,  you will be encouraged to visit its imposing parliament building on the Danube and, among much else, join a tour of the Hungarian Opera House, where a soprano will sing you a familiar aria from the European repertoire.

By contrast, however much you may wish to see the biblical river Tigris or the splendid Iraqi monuments and mosques, you are unlikely to be able to visit Baghdad. And while Budapest has grand but neglected architecture scarred by graffiti, in Baghdad the damage to buildings is much more destructive.

In the first half of the 20th century, it was so different. Baghdad, at the heart of ancient Mesopotamia and a jewel of the Ottoman Empire until 1920, prospered. Its residents were active both inside – sweating and steaming at the hammam – and outside, walking and talking under palm trees or playing backgammon (tawla) at open-air tables shaded from the intense heat.

The pavements thronged with shoppers and merchants whose wares were carried in baskets balanced on their heads. Stalls sold spices, watermelon and orange-blossom water, as well as Turkish delight, halva and a wealth of other things. Barbers’ stalls offered not only haircuts and shaves but also tooth extractions, massages and boil lancings.

For those growing up in Baghdad in those days, identities were shaped by the sounds and smells of Shorjah market, the tannour bread ovens, the coffee, baklava, dates and apricots.

In 1941, the year in which my novel, Nine Love Letters, begins – first in Baghdad, then in Budapest – there remained one overriding similarity between the Iraqi and Hungarian capitals. Each had a substantial Jewish population, established over centuries, and in both cases this was about to be ruptured.

But this was not before, in April of that year, one last, grand, Jewish wedding would take place in my novel in Baghdad –between two cousins. Yusuf and Farah. It was almost certainly the last moment of traditional celebration in the city’s Jewish quarter . Hundreds came, including Arab neighbours drawn to the music and dancing and feasting from sunset to sunrise.

Within a month, the mood would change and 2,000 years of fruitful Jewish life in Mesopotamia came to  a savage end. In Budapest, too, dark shadows would fall and, for characters from both places, the terrain would switch to London and a changing landscape across generations.”

If you haven’t already purchased a copy of Nine Love Letters, may I suggest you do so now and read this moving novel and tell your friends to do the same.

Believe me, it is worth a flutter!

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AN E-WALL OF CULTURE IS BEING BUILT

China is firing on all cylinders. Now it is the time for knowledge, as it hires thousands of scholars to write a digital guide to everything for publication and free on-line access next year. ‘Not a book but a great wall of culture,’ Yang Muzhi, its editor-in-chief, said adding that ‘the Chinese Encyclopaedia should overtake Wikipedia and Britannica.’

Yet the compilation may struggle to win over some readers because the public will be excluded from participating and Communist Party censorship will limit mention of sensitive topics such as the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989. Unlike Wikipedia, which invites the public to write, edit and update entries, the Chinese government has hired more than 20,000 scholars to write about 300,000 entries.

The work will form the first on-line version of the Chinese Encyclopaedia, first published in print in 1993. China’s scholars have been producing encyclopaedias for almost two millennia, often by imperial command. ‘The project will increase cultural soft power and strengthen the core values of socialism,’ said Bai Chunli, the president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, according to a report in the South China Morning Post. ‘China needs such an encyclopaedia to guide and lead the public and society,’ Mr. Yang said.

Whatever one thinks, the Chinese don’t wait to be left behind by Western powers. Their march of late has been rather sensational as their pace to catch up is gaining momentum. Hopefully, however, freedom of expression will soon follow suit.

A Book To Cherish…

Alba Arikha’s memoir Major/Minor, now in paperback, is receiving rave reviews as her talent for writing, on top of her other natural gifts as singer/songwriter, makes her book stand out, in a class of its own.

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Her father, Avigdor Arikha, a painter who hob-knobbed with the international art elite but refused to associate with the bourgeoisie of his time, was interned in a Rumanian concentration camp in 1941 and still rebuffed the notion to associate with former camp inmates if they weren’t on his intellectual level.

As a result, his relationship with his daughter was an extremely difficult one which caused her to rebel and to assert her identity by challenging him. However, she writes fondly of visits and gifts from her godfather, Samuel Beckett. The Sunday Herald described her memoir as ‘a vivid account of a stormy adolescence and a revealing insight into being the child of a holocaust survivor.’

For those who have not had a copy of her book when it was first published in hardback in 2005, now is their chance to secure one as they can ill afford to discard a gem of a book which I am sure will remain a classic, despite the vicissitudes of time.

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A PLEA FOR COMMON SENSE

This week, on Thursday, Britain will choose a new prime minister and hopefully a sensible government will emerge that will steer the nation during a period  fraught with internal security problems which have resulted in the deaths recently of innocent people, including children, in a wave of violence that we haven’t experienced in its ferocity for many years.

Apart from all this, we now face a future where Brexit will determine whether Great Britain will prosper, as the Tories tell us, or find ourselves worse off, as Europe gangs up against us. We could feel isolated in a world where expediency rather than historical alliances, such as the special relationship we claim to have with the United States, among other things, will come to bolster our efforts to remain a powerful nation whose economy and past glories are still a force to be reckoned with.

Theresa May seems to have lost her way lately and might prove a liability on various counts. Firstly, she has perhaps unwittingly taken a bombastic attitude where her own exaggeration of her abilities is making the electorate weary; even rather despondent for the sudden change in her personality that reveals an iciness and lack of the necessary charm and charisma a political leader needs these days to ride comfortably in a complex election, that she herself called for.

To top it all, her manifesto, which I referred to in a previous blog, is the worst a Tory government has ever presented, and does very little to help the middle classes, as well as the working majority, to lighten their tax burden, in contrast to the very rich who now enjoy a bonanza of wealth unheard of in previous years.

Having said that, the alternative is not much rosier. Jeremy Corbyn, contrary to expectations, has proved to be a good debater with a youthful following that could propel him to 10, Downing Street. But his manifesto is not feasible in economic terms and will no doubt alienate the powerful business community and cause financial turbulence from which Labour is not well placed to contain. The pound will fall to a level which may prove hard to control and  Brexit negotiations will flounder for lack of the desired impetus. As a result, London might subsequently lose its standing as one of the great cities of the world and cause a recession that is hard to predict at this stage.

However, what will be truly disastrous is if the Tories were to win with a large majority, and Mrs May will use her victory to seek a hard Brexit and divide the nation in the process. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will then add to our misery by demanding independence and eventually achieve it.

In conclusion, I’m bracing myself for bad news whilst hoping that common sense will prevail and a sensible Tory government bereft of pomposity will negotiate a Brexit where we remain Europeans and comrades in arms but responsible for our own destiny.

A CONTROVERSIAL DISCOVERY

As a student I once worked in a boring job, which eventually lead me to believe I would end up in a lunatic asylum and the reason for my fears was that I began to speak to myself; the habit has long been viewed as a sign of madness.
But scientists now say that talking to yourself may actually be a sign of high intelligence. Those who speak to themselves out loud while focusing on a task do better than those who stay quiet, a study by Bangor University found. And when people read instructions out loud, their brains absorb more information than if they only use their inner dialogue. It may explain why tennis stars including Maria Sharapova, 30, and Serena Williams, 35, talk to themselves during high stress matches.

Psychologists at Bangor gave 28 people a set of written instructions and asked them to read them either silently or out loud before measuring their concentration performance. Both improved when their instructions had been read aloud.

Dr Paloma Mari-Beffa, Bangor University’s Senior Lecturer in Neuro Psychology and Cognitive Psychology, said: ‘Our ability to generate explicit self-instructions is actually one of the best tools we have for cognitive control, and it simply works better when said aloud. The inner dialogue we keep with ourselves has long been known to be healthy, keeping our minds fit. It helps us organise our thoughts, plan actions, consolidate memory and modulate emotions.’

Dr Mari-Beffa thinks people should stop stigmatizing those who talk to themselves out loud. She said: ‘The stereotype of the mad scientists talking to themselves, lost in their own inner world, might reflect the reality of genius using all the means at their disposal to increase their brain power.’

To me, although it is hard to dispute science or the scientists, the old saying that he that talks to himself speaks to a fool is perhaps to the wise man, defunct.