Freshwater pearl mussels may be the most boring things some have ever seen — as Bill Oddie alleged — but they are the stuff of Conor Wilson’s study + life. In Northern Ireland freshwater pearl mussels are under threat, from agricultural run-off, overfishing and pearl hunters. The mussels are big and boring, with gills, a stomach, and a foot, but no brain or personality. No matter their dullness, they matter a great deal to river life.
Conor explains his work with mussels — which he does for Quercus at Queen’s University Belfast. He’ll be spending a good time alone in the rivers of Northern Ireland, tracking down mussels, reintroducing new mussels into the environment, zapping fish, and avoiding the temptation to search for a fortune in pearls.
A young Belfast woman talks frankly about life with ME (or chronic fatigue syndrome) in the first half of the show. She discusses how the illness arrived, how it induced swearing and rattiness from her, and what the trade-offs have been. Also: whether she wants people to push her in the wheelchair, her plans for family or nunhood, and how she’s found men look at women in a chair.
In the second half, foster mother Susan Hagan talks about all the babies that have come in and out of her home. She, along with her husband and family, has been fostering newborns for the past seven years through a Pittsburgh agency. The babies stay for a weeks or months, and Susan describes what life with them (and without them) is like — including the health concerns, naming choices, attachment issues, and relationships with birth and adoptive parents.
Episode 6 features interviews on Belfast’s Santa mail business, the Iowa caucuses, and space tourism. Catherine Mulvenna of Royal Mail Northern Ireland talks about Santa’s Grotto, where all of the UK’s letters to Santa Claus are delivered and answered. R. Allen Hayes, a visiting professor from Iowa, discusses last week’s caucuses in the state, along with his own experiences in them during past presidential elections. Finally, Derek Heatly, the first Northern Irish man in space, tells of his past voyage and his upcoming one.
Fr. Patrick Gaffney, a professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, talks about the changing cultures of death in Russia. Professor Gaffney explains how Russians have dealt with corpses, funerals, and the afterlife during the past two centuries. He tells of the journeys to heaven and hell that souls took during the Tsarist era, why the Soviet ‘red funerals’ failed, what happened to Lenin and Stalin’s corpses, and why there are so few obituaries or funeral homes in modern Russia.