Film Review: Souvenir (Tom Burke and Honor Swinton Byrne) (2019)

If you’re bored with franchise CGI films, find ‘Look at me Mum, I’m brave’ documentaries tedious, dislike political satire, hate ethnic films, or reading a novel whilst watching a film – reading at the cinema?- then Souvenir is for you.

Just as restaurants discovered slow food Souvenir is slow food for the cinema goer who wants a film with real life human beings telling a story. Director Joanna Hogg’s script has been treated extremely well by a stellar cast and technical crew. Pauses extend to silence, which cascade into the whirlpool of the manipulative corrosive relationship heading inexorably to emotional tragedy.

The saturnine Tom Burke skates across his challenging role with aplomb whilst Honor Swinton Byrne’s naive privileged young women reeks of entitlement. If this is the beginning of Kensington New Wave it’s a joy to be there at the start.

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Doctors: What do they know?

Just after Christmas 2019, I wasn’t at all well. No energy, headache, fever with terrible back pains in my lower back. Jan, my wife, dialled 999 and in what felt like a few minutes, two young paramedics were in my flat giving me a thorough going over. I was strapped into one of their funny chairs and taken to the back of their ambulance. They roared along with ‘blues and two’s’ screaming as we headed towards that awful place, Queens Hospital, Romford.

I had had previous experience at the hospital in 2015 after suffering a mild stroke. I was almost ready for the interminable wait in A &E, the endless questions by doctors and of course, the inevitable insertion of needles ever ready to drain my blood.

Mixed into the question and answer debacle was an opportunity for me to mention Weil’s disease. Both my wife (who had stayed by my side) and the doctor scoffed at my concern. The doctor, sagely told me that, “very few people come into contact with rats.” In fairness, I can understand that view. Very few ordinary people, come into direct contact with rats, even though statistically, none of us are further than 50 feet from a rat at any given moment.

I could have explained that a few days before, I’d attended our bin-sheds in the basement areas for our flats, where rats are commonplace. Also the day before I’d handled a set of drain rods which had been used to clear blocked rubbish chutes. On two occasions I’d undertaken those tasks only recently. But my moment had quickly passed and I wasn’t feeling up to explaining, why I was getting involved with the work of the caretakers.

It was clear that nothing I had to say was regarded as relevant or even mildly interesting so I decided to say no more and let the multi-talented doctor come to his own conclusions. Even if his wisdom on estate rats, was the same as that of my wife. As a consequence he didn’t know that it’s very easy to touch where rats have been.

I’ll ignore the six hours spent waiting on the trolley and the failure to secure a proper bed in a ward. The upshot was – that first afternoon and evening I was hooked up to an intravenous drip, going in my arm with oxygen fed up my nose. Nobody explained why. I suppose it was necessary to wake me every four hours to check my temperature and blood pressure.

After two nights and into my third day, I warned Jan that I intended to discharge myself. I was still weak but could just about function normally. In the event when the doctor made his morning rounds and asked, “How are you?” I told him very bluntly, “Ready to go home”. I was expecting an argument, but to my surprise he agreed.

I was interested to see from my discharge paper that I was suffering from Lower Respiratory Tract Infection. I suppose that’s doctor jargon for, ‘we haven’t a clue what was the matter with him’, but clearly it could not have been…



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Operation Barbarossa Rebranded

Germany, the Fatherland, attacked Russia, the Motherland. An act of domestic abuse?


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Wittgenstein as a school teacher

Jonathan Rée writes insightfully about Wittgenstein’s life and work, but he does skate over one crucial detail (LRB, 21 November). After six years working in village schools in the Austrian Alps, Rée remarks, Wittgenstein ‘gave up teaching and returned to Vienna’. He doesn’t say why. During that stint, Wittgenstein had a habit of boxing the ears of his less intelligent pupils. On one occasion he struck a particularly unresponsive boy, Josef Haidbauer, several times. The child lost consciousness and later died; it transpired that he suffered from haemophilia. Wittgenstein fled the village the same night.

Rory Allen

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Why the Labour Party is middle-class: George Orwell 1936

I am struck again by the fact that as soon as a working man gets an official post in the Trade Union or goes into Labour politics, he becomes middle-class whether he will or no…. by fighting against the bourgeoisie he becomes a bourgeois. The fact is that you cannot help living in the manner appropriate and developing the ideology appropriate to your income.

The Road to Wigan Pier Diary 6-10 February (1936)

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Medieval Routes to Heaven

Medieval Christians accepted, as fact, Mankind’s inherent sinfulness. They also accepted, as fact, that Heaven existed. The aim of life was to enter Heaven and share eternal life with Jesus. Squaring this circle had a dramatic impact on their lifestyles. The wealthy believed pleasure and luxury distracted them from righteousness and so undertook pious activities. Young aristocrats favoured positive deeds such as crusades whilst others entered monasteries. Both activities proved their devotion to God. Others were individualistic. Mortification of the flesh and penances are less dramatic but demonstrate sincerity over the long term. There were, however, no guarantees.


Many aristocrats believed slaughtering infidels and heretics was a route to Heaven. A crusade in the early eleventh century triumphed in the Reconquista of Muslim Spain. There were a further three crusades to the Holy Land between 1095 and 1189. The Muslims were defeated and their lands were distributed to the Crusaders. New kingdoms were created. This meant Crusaders went to Heaven and got rich. European heretics, like the French Cathars, were defeated in the thirteenth century. Their valuable lands were distributed to the Crusaders. The Cathars were unable to counter-attack, unlike the Muslims, making these territorial gains permanent.

Needless to relate ordinary soldiers didn’t make huge profits though they did have the kudos of being a Crusader, which protected their eternal soul.

Crusaders literally led by God

Monasteries and convents

Because Medieval Christians accepted that Mankind was sinful, they had to overcome this barrier to enter Heaven. One tactic was the monastic life of poverty, prayer and contemplation. Mankind’s inherent sinfulness didn’t cease at the doors of the monasteries, so monks were controlled by choreographing their lives. Prayers were timetabled throughout the day. They began at 4 a.m. with Vigil and ended, after a further six sessions, at 7:30 p.m. with Compline. Monks and nuns weren’t permitted individual possessions. Monasteries. on the other hand, received many gifts from the faithful. These gifts were ‘eternal’ and over the centuries compounded into very significant wealth. That wealth resulted in many monasteries losing their spiritual way. Monastic wealth became a target for Henry VIII who dissolved and looted them in the 1530s.

Medieval monks at prayer

Hair Shirts

The pursuit of wealth was accepted as morally corrosive. Resisting wealth’s temptation and avoiding ‘worshipping’ it was challenging. One tactic employed was wearing a hair shirt, causing constant irritation. Beneath expensive clothes the pious wore hair shirts. This kept them on the ‘straight-and-narrow’.

Thomas a Becket was Henry II’s friend who installed him as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162. The king wanted to control the Church in England and intended using Thomas to do it. Once Thomas became Archbishop he became devout. Henry II was angered by this ‘deception’ and, apparently, ordered Thomas’s assassination. Following his brutal murder in 1170 they discovered Thomas wore a hair shirt. He’d deliberately added to his mortification by adding lice into the cloth to exacerbate the irritation.

An example of a hair shirt


Medieval Christians believed in the inevitability of sin but still accepted priestly punishments after sinning. Henry II was reviled for Thomas a Becket’s assassination and his protestations of innocence were mocked. The Church had endorsed him as king and warned they could rescind that endorsement. Thomas’s assassination was so heinous the Church demanded a penance of utter humiliation:-

The king performed a public act of penance on 12 July 1174 at Canterbury, when he publicly confessed his sins, and then allowed each bishop present, including Foliot, to give him five blows from a rod, then each of the 80 monks of Canterbury Cathedral gave the king three blows. The king then offered gifts to Becket’s shrine and spent a vigil at Becket’s tomb.

Henry’s penance is a demonstration of the supremacy of the Church over the secular. This shaped Church-Secular relations until the 1530s when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries.

Henry II being flogged as a penance by bishops and monks 1174

Medieval Christians accepted as fact two beliefs which were contradictory. They had to be righteous to enter Heaven but were born sinful. Their solution to this conundrum is fascinating. Collective action – Crusades and the monastic life – and individual action. Whether either succeeded we don’t know but no-one can doubt that English history has changed because of their efforts.


For the Beatitudes see

For crusades see

For the regulated daily prayers in a monastery see

For Thomas a Becket see

For the penance of Henry II, a source from 1200,

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A CIA spy enters the Soviet Union

The CIA spy was fluent in Russian, had perfect Cyrillic handwriting and could drink buckets of vodka. He was dropped on the outskirts of Moscow and spoke to a man in the street, “Hello comrade, can you direct me to the centre of town?”

The man looked at him, and walked away. Within minutes, the KGB came and arrested him.

While being interrogated, the KGB interrogators said, “Quit the act, we know you’re a spy.” He couldn’t believe they’d penetrated his disguise and kept up the act.

He finally cracked, “Alright, alright, I’m a spy. I’ll tell you whatever you want, but please just tell me how you knew I was a spy so quickly.”

“You’re black.”

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