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20160507_Mira-9.jpg

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Picture 2 is definitely "and why are you pointing that thing at me?"
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A little while back I made and painted the Minion Dalek I'd picked up at a model show. He looked like he could do with something to stand on so I thought I'd try out another model-weathering technique.

Rust, via hairspray! )

RustyBase - 9.jpg
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I've been having another sort out of old boxes. No, I don't need to keep old copies of Counsel or SCL magazine. Old copies of BAA Journal I'll keep for now (a while back they took a several-year run for their back issue stocks). Old BSFA stuff can go, but I keep convention publications.

So, what do you do if you still get printed paper magazines?

[Poll #2043778]

I've persuaded the IET to convert my membership-associated subscription to Engineering and Technology News to online access only. I'd happily do the same for the BAA Journal and Counsel. The SCL is academic now as I've let my membership lapse (I hadn't read the last three issues and do very little IT law these days.)
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Pictures from Kenilworth Castle today, where there was a classic car meet and heavy horse farm work demonstration.

Kenilworth Castle May 2016
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Bridge of Spies isn't a legal drama in the usual sense; there are a few courtroom scenes in the first part of the film, but the trial of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (played in a quiet but captivating performance by Mark Rylance) is hardly shown. Rather, this is very much a film about Abel's lawyer, James Donovan (Tom Hanks), and his experiences both of representing - reluctantly at first - a very unpopular client, and then negotiating a swap of Abel for downed U-2 pilot Gary Powers.

I thought I'd like the film as someone interested in Cold War politics, but ended up enjoying it more as a lawyer. In particular, Bridge of Spies highlights two key aspects of being a lawyer: the fundamental ethical issues of duty to your client, and the importance of carefully planning, and resolutely adhering to, a negotiating strategy when seeking a compromise. We see the former as Donovan is subject to pressure from the CIA to divulge privileged discussions with Abel and to public and professional disdain for representing an enemy of the state, and the latter as Donovan seeks to broker a deal swapping Abel for both Powers and Frederic Pryor, an American student held by East Germany.

If I have a criticism it’s that Bridge of Spies rather compresses the timeline of events without really making this clear. From the film, you might think that Abel’s trial was followed not long after by the downing of Powers’ U-2, and that the idea of a swap of Powers for Abel arose very soon after that. In fact, Abel’s trial was in the latter part of 1957, Powers was shot down in May 1960, and the exchange on the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin took place in February 1962. That said, the film is apparently fairly accurate, although one scene that seemed unlikely to me (Donovan, against all legal protocol, lobbying a judge in private and without the other side being represented) turns out in fact to have been created for the film (Donovan did make the argument about the value of keeping Abel alive rather than executing him, but in open court, as part of his submissions on sentence.) All in all, highly recommended.
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I recently bought a copy of Great LEGO Sets - A Visual History, a very nicely produced coffee-table book of the history of lego from the early days until 2014 or so. It's chock-full of pictures of a selection of what Lego fans and designers consider to be the pick of the sets over the years, including the Space Lego LL928 Galaxy Explorer - as I posted about recently, I found my one of these not long ago and rebuilt it.

If you buy the slipcase version of the book, not only do you get a very nice picture of the Galaxy Explorer kit on the case, but there's an extra treat - a mini Galaxy Explorer. Yes, Lego have done a kit of one of their kits.

It's a very nice looking little model, too.

Lego Spaceships, plural )

As an aside, I noticed one area where the new mini kit is not only different from the original, but arguably slightly better-designed than it. Anyone spot it?
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The news about Gareth Thomas' death set me thinking about whether or not there ever will be a reboot of Blake's Seven. I'm not sure who would be cast now as Blake, but for Avon you want someone with a vague resemblance to Paul Darrow and, ideally, a track record of playing a well-spoken sociopathic genius.

There's no question really.

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A bit more than a year ago I went on an introductory course on airbrush painting for model-makers. I ended up buying an airbrush and I've been using it for various of my modelling projects since. However, I wanted to try some more advanced techniques and the same company runs a two-day course on camouflage and weathering techniques. The first part was mainly about practising painting camouflage patterns (fiddly, but I learned some ideas to practice with) and the second was about how to make a kit look less like a small clean model and more like a real plane or tank or whatever, complete with dust, dirt, mud, rust, stains and so on.

We had to bring a kit to work on so I went to the local model shop and picked up a BTR-70 Soviet-era armoured personnel carrier in 1/35 scale. This wasn't too small, given that I'm very much learning in this area, and was rather simpler than many tank kits. I built it up in advance, and took the assembled but unpainted kit along with me.

painting up and dirtying down )

In many ways I'm surprised at how well this turned out, although we had a very good tutor and with only four students we got a lot of guidance and supervision. It's certainly encouraged me to try new ideas although I'm going to have to resist the temptation (rather too common if you read model-making magazines) to build every kit looking as if it's of something that's been jumped up and down on with hobnail boots and then left in a wet field for six months....
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As well as the Space Lego that I found in my Mum's loft, I also recovered three Lego Technical sets that I'd coveted in my youth and been delighted to receive for various Christmases between the ages of 9 to 12. After a fair bit of sorting it turned out I had almost all the parts for them (I had to substitute the odd pair of smaller bricks for one bigger one) and was able to build up a little collection from my youth.

IMG_0258

Lego Kit 852 - Helicopter

This was one of the original round of Technical Sets back in 1977. It's pretty simple, with the main moving parts being the main rotor and tail rotor that are geared together. The 'clever' part of the design is that it does incorporate a collective control, with back-and-forth movement of the joysticks (they don’t move sideways) alters the pitch angle of the rotors.

I actually built this kit last of the three, because its parts had become rather mixed up with those in the other kits and the main big box of miscellaneous Lego parts. It was the quickest build, although quite fiddly in places - I seem to remember my ten-year-old self having a bit of difficulty with it at first.

Lego Kit 853 - Car Chassis
Another of the first round of Technical kits, this was very much the premier model of the original kits. It builds into a very large model (certainly by the standards of the day, and it's pretty big for a Lego kit even now) and took me several hours to put together.

This kit has several nice features. The most obvious is a working straight-4 engine with moving pistons, but it also has rack-and-pinion steering, a two-speed gearbox and front seats that move back and forth (all seats tilt on hinges). Even nearly 40 years after being introduced this is an impressive kit once built and as well as looking good it nicely demonstrates some of the principles of how a car works. You can read a more detailed description of the kit with animations of its moving parts here.

Lego Kit 8860 - Car Chassis Mk 2

This kit was the flagship of the second main tranche of technical sets. It was the last major Lego kit I got as a present - I would have been 12 or 13 - but I certainly had a lot of fun building it at 47!

8860 has a flat-4 rear-mounted engine and a 3-speed gearbox. However, having built the gearbox you're then instructed to add a blanking plate that blocks out selection of the lowest gear. This is because when you push the car along the floor the wheels are driving the engine rather than vice-versa, so in bottom gear the gear ratio is too high to turn the engine easily. If you add a motor then the gears work the proper way, and the instructions then tell you to block out the highest gear as the standard Lego motor of the era didn't have enough torque to drive the car at that ratio.

Other features that improve on 853 are a rear differential, working rear shock absorbers, seats that adjust in position and tilt by gears and - a rather subtle one this - Ackerman steering on the front wheels. This means that the wheel on the inside of a turn turns more tightly than the wheel on the outside, so making for a smoother turn. This, coupled with the rear differential, means that 8860 corners far more smoothly and realistically than 853 did. There are more details about 8860's design here.

My childhood Lego career pretty much ended with these kits, although I recall using them for building other projects (in particular, a model of an equatorial telescope mount). Having put them together again now I'm full of admiration for the Lego designers who managed to incorporate so many real-world engineering principles into their designs. Lego went on to produce further car kits, culminating in the 8880 in 1994, with four-wheel drive, 4-wheel steering, and synchronised transmission. (I've looked at what one of those costs on eBay, and gulped a bit, so I think I'll stick with my current Lego for now.)
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I've posted a bit lately about my renewed interest in Lego, but it is a renewed interest; I started playing with Lego at around about 5, and between about 8 and 14 it was pretty much all I wanted for birthday or Christmas. Not surprisingly, me being me, there were two kit ranges I was particularly into: Lego Technic (or 'Technical Lego' as it was originally called in the UK) and Lego Space.

Like many Lego enthusiasts I never threw any away, although as time went on older kits ended up in large amalgamated boxes of bits whilst the more recent and more expensive ones got dismantled, put back in their boxes, and progressively migrated from shelf to cupboard to attic. They staying in my Mum's attic ever since, although in recent years she would occasionally remind me that they were still there after some 30 years and I might perhaps want to have a bit of a sort out.

So, last weekend, whilst down at my Mum's I ventured into the rather cramped attic and crawled around finding various bits of old Lego. Most of it was either in its original boxes or one big box of bits, although I did have to do a fair bit of rooting around insulation felt to find bits from one box that had fallen over. In the end though I recovered the bits box and half a dozen kit boxes, which we brought home so I could sort through them.

The Technic kits were mostly in their original boxes, and other than a quick look I've set them aside for later. First, though, I tackled the Lego Space collection.

I think I - or more probably my brother and I - must have brought a fair few kits from that range, although I only had one box, the one for the kit that was the piece de resistance of the original Space range, 928 Galaxy Explorer. The box was almost empty though, and a rummage through the box-o'-bits confirmed my fears; there were a lot of what were recognisably Lego Space bits in there (recognisable by the mainly grey-and-blue colour scheme) mixed in with lots of other miscellaneous Lego from the 1970s.

Sod it, I thought, time for some sorting. And how else to sort than to build the kit and look for the parts as I went along?

It took a while, but eventually, for the first time in 35 years, I had my own Lego spaceship. Or, to quote Benny the Spaceman from The Lego Movie, "Spaceship, Spaceship, SPACESHIP!!!"

But I had lots of Lego Space bits left over. A couple of bricks with LL918 on prompted me to find the instructions for that kit, and soon I had the Galaxy Explorer's small sibling, the 918 Space Transport. (There was an intermediate one as well in the original Space range, 924, but I don't think we ever had that one.) I also found an old instruction sheet for 891 Space Scooter, so built that too. We must have brought some extra base tiles, because I had 6 in total, rather than the two that came with the 928 kit. And I found about a dozen minifig spacemen.

Well, what was I to do but put a little diorama together?

MORE SPACESHIP! )
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My main model-making interest is in aircraft, but there are a couple of AFV (armoured fighting vehicle) kits I'd like to tackle, specifically those of the ex-Soviet SA-8 mobile missile system and ZSU-23/4 mobile anti-aircraft gun, because in the late 1990s my job involved helping support the examples of each the RAF operates at the Spadeadam electronic warfare range. (They'd been obtained via the Germans after reunification, and getting hold of spares was an interesting challenge).

So I wanted to get some AFV model practice, and in particular to try out the painting, detailing and weathering of such models before I had a go at a serious build. I was particularly interested in trying what's become a popular technique for painting AFV models, colour modulation. This involves using different shades to mimic the fall of light and shadow on an otherwise fairly uniform-coloured model with the aim of making it look more realistic, or at least less like a small model. I thus picked up a 1/72 kit of a T-90 and a 'Russian Green' modulated paint set. I recently part-assembled the T-90 kit, not all the way but far enough to have something to practice on, and today had a go at seeing if I could make this technique work.

lots of pictures of successive stages of painting )

Verdict: well, it seems to work! Given that this is my first go at even making an AFV model, let alone trying this painting technique, I think the result is not too bad. It's certainly given me confidence that I can get this and have a go at recreating this.
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I've discovered a fresh bit of amazing London architecture: the Royal College of Physicians building next to Regent's Park.

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I was there Friday afternoon and Saturday morning for a legal event (Chancery Bar Association winter conference) and was immediately impressed by the building. Its style seemed familiar and I wasn't at all surprised to find that it was by Denys Lasdun, architect of the Royal National Theatre and Keeling House (the latter being familiar to me via [livejournal.com profile] purplecthulhu).

Even more interestingly the RCP was about to open its exhibition on John Dee, so I was able to get a sneak peek.

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I'll definitely be going back soon, both to see the full Dee exhibition and to further admire Lasdun's architecture.
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What this is: a pretty good, very stylish and often quite funny Cold War spy romp.

What this is not: a film with Illya Kuryakin in it.

Oh, it has a character called Illya Kuryakin, but he's not the Kuryakin of the TV series as played in a career-making role by David McCallum. Armie Hammer plays the film version as a suaver version of Arnold Schwarzenegger's character from Red Heat, or perhaps a slightly less psychotic incarnation of Red Grant of From Russia with Love, highly competent but perpetually on the edge of beating someone to a pulp. I'm not quite sure where this character interpretation came from; perhaps, having landed Hammer in the role, Guy Ritchie realised that he was never credibly depict Kuryakin in the McCallum mould, and so went for Hulking Action Hero instead. 

Henry Cavill, by contrast, makes for a surprisingly good Napoleon Solo. [livejournal.com profile] purplecthulhu commented to me before I saw the movie that Cavill manages a feat rather like Karl Urban does in respect of DeForest Kelley in the reboot Star Trek, of capturing the essence of another actor's performance of a classic role without anything so crass as a simple impersonation. Cavill isn't Robert Vaughan, but his Napoleon Solo is recognisably Vaughan's Solo. 

There are two poles for Cold War dramas: stylish early 60s, as in early Bond or, more recently, X-Men: First Class (Kevin Bacon's Sebastian Shaw being the best 60s Bond villain we never had) or grim and squalid early 70s, as in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or the BBC's recent spot-the-Birmingham-location-fest The Game. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. plonks itself very firmly in the first camp and the production and design team clearly had a fantastic time. (I would suggest someone run an appropriate classic-cars-and-cosplay event but it already exists.) I was sure the aircraft carrier had to be CGI and I was right, but it's amazing how well-done this was; if only there was an audience to justify remaking The Battle of the River Plate or Sink the Bismarck! with modern effects.

[livejournal.com profile] attimes_bracing was surprised at how much she enjoyed The Man from U.N.C.L.E. despite never having seen the original series. In many ways that might help, as if you're not familiar with the source material you won't be thinking "but that's not Kuryakin" all the way through. 

Verdict: fun and visually wonderful, but TMfU purists might enjoy it less than everyone else.
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(Warning: cut-text discussion contains spoilers up to the end of S4 of Person of Interest)

This was a Christmas present to myself, so S and I sat down to watch it last night. I've long been aware of C:TFP but had never actually seen it; my interest was reignited by seeing a comment from Jonathan Nolan that it had been one of his inspirations for Person of Interest, which we've very much enjoyed.

As S noted, C:TFP suffers a bit if you see it now by having been so influential that it's been endlessly imitated, and the plot was probably far more original and striking (at least to non-sf-readers) when it was made. War Games and The Terminator are just two films that followed in its footsteps, with Skynet's apocalyptic future arguably being a vision of what would have happened if Colossus/Guardian had followed through on its threat to offer, as an alternative to "the peace of plenty", "the peace of the unburied dead."

Some of the plot points are indeed surprisingly modern. Colossus' exponential self-development can now be seen as an early depiction of the Singularity, and it's interesting to note that this starts before Colossus is put into communication with its Soviet counterpart Guardian. The visual depiction on a map board of Colossus' attempts to re-route its blocked link to Guardian also feels surprisingly modern given the film's age, although early experiments with ARPANET had just begun. And once Colossus/Guardian begins its constant surveillance of Dr Forbin, its point-of-view shots are clear inspiration for those of The Machine in PoI.

So, given the influence of C:TFP on PoI, are there any pointers going forward for the latter?

SPOILERS for Seasons 3 and 4 of PoI )
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My most recent bit of scale modelling:

20151227_Acad_72_F-4J-15.jpg

I've written this up on Britmodeller.com and also commented on a thread there reviewing this kit.

A bit more background: this is quite a famous Phantom, being the one in which Randall Cunningham and William Driscoll became the US Navy's only flying aces of the Vietnam War. Their 3rd, 4th and 5th MiG shootdowns occurred in the course of one flight, which wasn't even a combat air patrol; sent on a bombing mission, they engaged North Vietnamese aircraft seeking to intercept other attacking US aircraft, and shot down two before ending up in what has become a legendary dogfight with a MiG-17. (For a long time it was believed the MiG was flown by 'Colonel Tomb', a supposed NV ace, but it's now thought he was a propaganda construct, although the pilot Cunningham engaged was no doubt very skilled.)

You might expect 'Showtime 100' to have been preserved in a museum, but in fact it survived Cunningham and Driscoll's final victory by a matter of minutes, being shot down by a surface-to-air missile as they exited the combat area. Cunningham and Driscoll ejected and were rescued, although unfortunately Cunningham has since become rather more infamous for being caught as one of the most corrupt US congressmen ever.

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Saw this last night in one of the Gold Screens at the local Vue, i.e. the cinema-within-a-cinema with fewer but bigger and comfier seats, a bar, and no under-18s. Despite the corespondingly higher ticket costs, the 9.15pm showing on the second day after opening was three-quarters booked by the time I logged on to buy tickets back the day they became available in October. Last night's showing was the first time I've ever seen one of the Gold Screens at Vue Star City completely full.

Non-spoilery comments

This is better than any of the sequels, better than Return of the Jedi, and up there with A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back (the first of which had the extra benefit of novelty). It is generally well-written, with a strong plot, excellent characterisation and far, far better dialogue than any of the previous films. The return to practical effects gives a welcome physicality to the action scenes in contrast to the CGI puppetry and blatant acting-to-green-screens of the prequels. 

Oh, and BB-8 was clearly designed to out-cute WALL-E. And does. 

Unless you loathe everything Star Wars, go and see this. (And if you plan to, go and see it soon; there is a major plot development that any discussion of would be a massive spoiler, and it will quickly become common knowledge.)

Spoilery Discussion

Read more... )



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A follow-up to yesterday's post: what was the first fictional depiction of a British astronaut? The earliest one I can think of is HG Wells' The First Men in the Moon (1901) featuring Bedford and Cavor.

Cavor and Bedford were of course on a private expedition. Was there any depiction of an official British human spaceflight programme before 1953's The Quatermass Experiment?
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Tim Peake isn't the first British astronaut, is he?

No. By any practical definition that would be Helen Sharman, who flew on the Juno mission to Mir in 1991.

So why is he being described as the first 'official' British astronaut?

Because his flight is formally supported and (via the UK's contribution to the ESA human spaceflight programme - which the UK only recently started funding) paid for by HM Government. This is the first time that has happened.

So Peake is the first astronaut sponsored by the UK?

No, that would be the Skynet 4 Payload Specialist group selected in 1984, all of whom were UK government employees (three military, one civil service) for two missions paid for by the UK. They never flew, because after the Challenger disaster the Skynet 4 satellites were rebooked onto expendable launchers, but they were definitely official British astronauts.

OK, so he's the first official British astronaut to be allocated to a space mission?

No, that would be Squadron Leader Nigel Wood (assigned to shuttle mission STS-61H) as part of the Skynet 4 programme. As noted above, the mission was cancelled post-Challenger, but Wood got to within 6 months of flight.

But even if they never flew the Skynet 4 group were the first British astronauts?

If you mean 'born in the UK' then no, that honour goes to Anthony Llewellyn, born in Cardiff in 1933. He became a naturalised US citizen, was selected as part of NASA's second scientist-astronaut group in 1967, but resigned before being assigned a mission.

Sharman wasn't an 'official' astronaut then?

Yes and no. The Juno mission was privately-funded, or was meant to be, but the basis of the mission had been agreed at a fairly high level (seemingly between Thatcher and Gorbachev). What seems to have happened is that the UK Government was initially happy to support Juno in every respect except paying for it, but when it became clear that there was a lot less appetite for private sponsorship than had been assumed the Government rather distanced itself from the project and the Soviet Union ended up paying the bill. Since then Sharman's flight has been rather conflated with later 'tourist' missions (such as that by British-born Richard Garriot) but in truth it had a fair bit of official support.
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I am making this post to remind myself never, ever to buy this excuse for wine again. Imagine a blend of the most ineptly-made mulled wine you've ever had with a bottle of Ribena and you might come within shouting distance of approaching the horror of this, this... I don't know what to call it, but it ain't wine.
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I've recently re-read (or rather, listened to via audiobook having read it long ago) The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat and having been reminded how much I enjoyed Sacks' writing I sought out Hallucinations, the most recent and as it happened the last of his books on aspects of neurology.

Some of the material will be familiar to readers of Sacks' previous books, as many of the neurological case studies he has previously discussed included hallucinations as one of their symptoms. But most of the cases he discussed were new to me, and even those previously referred to in other books were shown from a fresh perspective, as illustrations of one of the many types of hallucinatory experience.

Most people will think of hallucination in terms of visual experiences, and indeed Sacks discusses those, both those induced by brain injury or drugs and those, such as Charles Bonnet syndrome caused by loss of sight. Auditory hallucinations are not 'hearing voices', which tends to be a symptom of psychiatric rather than neurological problems, but as in several of the cases Sacks relates often involve music. Finally, tactile hallucination are most commonly experienced as phantom limbs; I'd assumed these were a universally negative phenomena, but Sacks indicates that some degree of phantom limb awareness is important for successful use of a prosthesis.

Something that surprised me, given the impression of Sacks' persona from his earlier books, was his frank discussion of his quite spectacularly varied and extensive use of mind-altering substances during his neurology residency at UCLA. I rather got the impression that he ended up scaring himself quite badly in the process, and can't help wondering what a fitness-to-practise panel would make of a trainee doctor experimenting on himself in quite such a fashion today. He seems to have drawn a sudden line under such a lifestyle though and if nothing else it gave a source of personal anecdotes. (I understand that Sacks eventually revealed that one of the case studies in The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, that of Steven D, the medical student whose drug use led to radical changes in his sense of smell, was in fact about himself.)

I've had very few hallucinatory experiences and even the migraine-like headaches I get every year or two are devoid of the visual phenomena usually associated with such events (which is why I'm not even really sure they're migraines). I've had a few instances of sleep paralysis, although usually without any accompanying hallucinations apart from one horribly memorable instance of Night Hag syndrome, which is every bit as terrifying as Sacks describes. What I was slightly disappointed Sacks didn't discuss, although I can see it would be a distinct and probably non-neurological issue, is the kind of 'negative hallucinations' I suffer from in my OCD - an inability to convince oneself that something you can observe and indeed are concentrating on, such as locking a door, is actually real.

Hallucinations is very much recommended for anyone who enjoyed Sacks' other books, and indeed would be a good introduction to his style of writing for someone new to him. For myself, I think I'll get his recent autobiography - which I think was in the end his last book - and add the film version of Awakenings to our to-watch list.

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Simon Bradshaw

June 2017

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