The Woman Who Woke Up Chinese

The Woman Who Woke Up Chinese BBC1, Tuesday11pm

Celebrity Wedding Planners, Sunday TV3

Midwives TV3, Tuesday 8pm


It’s difficult to suppress a guilty giggle when first faced with the concept of an unfortunate person going to sleep one night and waking up with an accent entirely changed from the night before. The thought of a Galway girl or a Limerick lad inexplicably losing their distinctive lilts to the clipped chimes of a typically German accent, or that of a French sophisticate seems preposterous, but according to the documentary The Woman Who Woke up Chinese, which aired on BBC1 last Tuesday, there are 150 cases of Foreign Accent Syndrome confirmed worldwide. No one knows the exact cause, whether it’s consistently neurological or psychological, but experts agree it exists, and far from being comical it can have a truly detrimental effect on the lives of the sufferer and their families.

Plymouth woman Sarah Colwill has for a long time suffered from Hemiplegic Migraines, extremely severe migraines that have in turn caused days of suffering, left her with a limp and most unusually been the catalyst for her vocal tones resembling that of a characteristic Chinese national. In 2010 the then 38-year-old bore three very severe attacks, the third, which culminated in the vocal alterations. Three years on there has been no change, and the documentary follows her on her journey towards understanding and coming to terms with the unusual condition.

A visit to a Speech Therapist familiar with and sympathetic to the condition results in the realisation that the accent is not being feigned and may indeed indicate brain damage. The expert explains that it is as if the patients associate their words with sounding foreign rather than disordered or jumbled, thus a type of aphasia, and a stroke-like event could very well be the cause of Sarah’s condition. A neurologist confirms this, and surprisingly, with a more definite diagnosis that proves easier to explain to curious strangers Sarah begins to make significant improvement in returning to her normal speech patterns.

Far from being exploitative, the documentary treated the unusual subject with compassion and dignity, resulting in an uplifting and thought provoking insight into the lives of those dealing with any kind of brain condition.


A reality show that couldn’t be further from the life-affirming subject of the last programme was Celebrity Wedding Planners featuring Jedward, which appeared on Sunday night. Originally shown on Channel 5 in the UK, those without access to the channel now eponymous with resuscitating Big Brother can watch the 6-parter on TV3 at 10pm. There is no scarcity in themed wedding shows, from Don’t Tell the Bride to Four Weddings to Say Yes to the Dress, and this novelty formula only seems fit to showcase the dying careers of B list celebrities – upcoming episodes will include Kerry Katona and members of The Only Way is Essex in the role. 1

Luckily for me I had recorded the show so could fast forward through the breaks, and more importantly Jedward’s bouncy, petulant antics. Each introduction made included their rehearsed, robotic refrain “I’m John, I’m Edward and together we are JEDWARD!”, followed by a pirouette and a high kick or two. The couple fame-hungry enough to have a complete stranger in search of publicity organise their wedding was Beulah and James, she a burlesque dancer, he an electrician, both in want of a spectacular start to their marriage, to reflect his Scottish heritage and her love of theatrics.

As is always the case there were tears and regrets, but with “sidekicks” to steer John and Edward away from anything too out-there in the form of best man Joe and bridesmaid Tara, the event went off without too much of a hitch.

In tried and tested formula the couple was shown viewing locations they would ideally like and trying on the perfect dress, but the Movie/Circus theme went down a treat in the end, with the vows being exchanged in the theatre home to the Baftas and a reception in a Big Top.

It was basically your run of the mill novelty reality show with Jedward thrown on top, and was barely entertaining. When one is faced with looking at a strangers wedding video it can be potentially as boring as hearing about someone’s bizarre dream, but when accompanied by two bouncy teenagers it’s time to send your kindest regrets to the invitation.


If there’s anything a tv audience likes more than weddings it’s babies, proven by the hugely popular Channel 4 series One Born Every Minute, the BBC produced Great Ormond Street and the ratings spike whenever a favourite soap characters brings a new life into the world. TV3 have now gotten in on the act with Midwives, on Tuesdays at 8pm. Following the different roles of the staff of Dublin’s National Maternity Hospital and the expectant parents under their care, it is surprisingly unsensationalised, dealing with the nervous mothers and fathers to be and kindly, competent workforce.

The first episode focused on Mexican Dalia Lopez, who along with her husband was looking forward to the arrival of their first child. Without the support of her family the first-timer was nervous, but bolstered by the reliability of the midwives she happily welcomed Maria into the world after a fairly routine labour.

Sara Rock, CMM of the Neonatal Unit was charged with looking after Oran and Grace, twins born very prematurely to Limerick woman Julie. Luckily for them the babies made good progress and were big enough to transfer to Limerick in no time, again thanks in no small part to the care given to them. Likewise Niamh O’Dea, in hospital with her third child, with only three hours between first contraction and birth.

It was nice to see a fly-on-the-wall programme that showed the real life experiences of these real people, be it the newly formed families or the medical professionals going about their work. For such a life-changing event the whole process can be remarkably ordinary, which of course is no bad thing when there’s a new little life hanging in the balance.

– Aoife B. Burke

First Published in The Tuam Herald September 2013.

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