You think you’ve got problems?

Arriving late at the restaurant at the top of Peter Jones, I come armed with a superfluity of excuses:  Lamborghinis blocking the road at South Kensington, parking around Sloane Square’s a nightmare and slow escalators I’m just too fat to run up.

‘You poor poppet,’ my companion commiserates, ‘so many first world problems.’

She’s right. I’m plagued by privileged problems; things that really get my Gaultier. What do I do? One pillow is too low, but two is just too high! I’m munching Pringles and I can’t hear the TV at the same time! How does one cope with the tedium of being on the loo when you’ve forgotten your iPhone? And then, if I remember it, I have to endure agonising ‘pins and needles’ after sitting through forty eight levels of Candy Crush. First world suffering is relentless.

I have an embarrassment of these ‘white whines’. And the internet permeates with them. Twitter seems made-to-measure for the middle-class moan. What else can you do with 160 characters and a pressing need to self-publicise your celebrititis?

But then what happens when you realise you’ve just bitched about something more vapid than an episode of ‘Bargain Hunt’? How do you show that you’re not as shallow as a ‘health and safety’ approved paddling pool? Or, indeed, as empty? The answer, increasingly, is this rather insidious form of self-deprecation.

‘Crying ‘cos I ate 2900 calories.  Should have been less than 2500.’ Within the bubble of its own context, in a country with a crippling obesity problem, it has its own poignancy.  But stick on a ‘first world problem!’ hashtag (older generation please substitute ‘ironic punchline’) and the inferred comparison to third world hunger makes you look like you were exaggerating the angst for effect. No, no, you have perspective. You’re well rounded. You’ve got a sense of humour.

It’s the go-to ‘save face’ option for millions of whiners who find themselves momentarily so angry about getting more than an inch of foam on their macchiato they shared it on a social network; only to realise that they just sounded, well let’s face it, a bit of a tosser.

It’s insidious because it fakes sincerity whilst remaining inherently superior. You may have a conscience but your membership of the First World is so secure sometimes you forget yourself! You’re aware you’ve lucked out in the lottery of life – you’re born in the western world; your life’s actually amazing.

But is it?

In 1966 The Economist reported 7% of the UK population owned 84% of the country’s wealth. Now that looks positively egalitarian. With a global ratio closer to 1:99 there’s no ‘comfortably-off ‘ class anymore.  There are the super-rich getting richer, and the rest of us.  Almost all of us are becoming poorer, it’s just those with better jobs or investments or properties have been able to delay the inevitable a little longer.  The hard thing to admit is that the capitalist model ultimately necessitated this widening disparity. Capital accumulates whilst labour competes at an ever lowering price. The system works!

For the first time in a century though, the middle classes are officially becoming worse off. As a Whitehall official in the Daily Telegraph recently said, “Social mobility is no longer just an issue for children from poor families. There’s a real risk that children from families with above-average incomes will in future have lower living standards than their parents.”

If you have to earn a living you will keep getting squeezed.  Where once the comfortable middle classes might have been able to buy a starter flat for their children, now we’ll be lucky to afford the insurance on our kids’ first car. If they’re leaving university to start off in almost anything but a professional job – a vocation that requires a professor, an academic qualification – the first rung of the property ladder will be way beyond the reach of your flailing arms for years to come.

Our membership of any elite moneyed class has become, at best, tenuous.  You may think you’re sitting pretty on top of the tower when you can moan about your Playstation 3 connectivity problems or not realising your silent Prius is actually still running, but the edifice is crumbling away beneath you. Just because you earn enough to own an iPhone and drink lattes, chances are you’re still a wage slave, you’re on a short term contract with no security where the tiniest wobble will see you out and someone younger, prettier, more ambitious in, and if you’re lucky enough to secure a mortgage you’re being sold into almost permanent, over-priced, debentured, debt just to house yourself in a country up to its ears in deficit trying to claw its way out by taxing you at every turn until you bleed, and forget having a pension or anything accrued for your children. You think you’ve got first world problems? 

You have.

via You think you’ve got problems? – KensingtonChelseaToday.

You Say You Want an Evolution…

Humans really are a piece of work. We evolve to a level that we can postulate the most elegant explanation ever as to why every living thing is as it is, and still it’s not good enough for us. Deniers believe evolution reduces the value of man and God while adherents can’t seem to hide their frustration with the slowness of it all.

Protein heavy ‘Caveman diets’, for example, have become fashionable, based on the premise that we apparently haven’t evolved as fast as the technology we have developed to process food. Therefore, the argument goes, we are developing health problems and obesity because our bodies have not adapted to our culinary creations.

Evolutionary Biologist Marlene Zuk, author of Paleofantasy: What evolution really tells us about sex, diet and how we live, calls it ‘Palaeo-nostalgia’. “We don’t really know what they [prehistoric men] were eating. It’s turning out that they may have eaten more starch and carbohydrates than we had realised.”

darwins_theory_of_evolution_caricatureBut have we been too slow to evolve? Zuk doesn’t think so pointing to our ‘Lactase Persistence’, “Our genes have changed extremely rapidly so that at least some populations of humans can digest milk into adulthood.”

But that’s hardly the swift observable evolution of something like the peppered moth. Before the late 19th century these moths had black and white speckled markings to camouflage themselves against the lichen covered trees they called home. Following industrialisation, and the spread of soot, a black variant emerged which, by 1895, accounted for 95% of the population. The speckled versions were just too easy for birds to spot against the soot black trees and were being devoured before they could pass on their genes. Then, following the 1956 Clean Air Act, the trees returned to their normal colouring and the black form of the moth declined again.

Cliff swallows nesting in road bridges have provided another example of speedy evolution. A recent study shows that though 80 million birds are killed by US traffic each year, there has been a steady decline of swallows as victims of roadkill; even though roadside nesting has increased. An answer has been found comparing roadkill swallows with live ones caught in ‘mist nets’ for study. It seems the survivors have shorter wings. The ability for greater vertical take-off and quicker manoeuvrability means they have a much better chance of avoiding vehicles. ‘Everything fits with the idea that it’s vehicular selection,’ says Ronald Mumme of Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania.

So if they’re doing it? Why aren’t we?

Theories abound about why our evolutionary development has either slowed or even ground to a halt. Is it because we evolve in response to our environment and since modern man has pretty much harnessed his environment, right down to air conditioning and home wellness suites, we just have no need to improve? Or what about the fact that the weak and the needy in civilised countries have as much chance of survival and propagation as the beautiful and powerful? Or perhaps, as humans are in an almost constant state of war, are we halting diversity by trying to eliminate those less like us and protect those more so? Maybe, some argue, we have gone beyond individual evolution and we are becoming like ants, en masse, an evolving societal super organism sprawling out over every continent in the world?

In the last month findings have been published about the 2 million year old Australopithecus sediba skeletons found in South Africa in 2008, ‘a pivitol species that may bridge the gap between the ape-like australopiths and the first members of our own genus,’ reports the New Scientist. And though A.sediba is much more like modern humans than the 3 million year old ‘Lucy’ found in Ethiopia, ‘Lucy’ had rigid feet showing she walked upright, whereas our more recent ancestor had the flexible chimpanzee style tree-climbing feet.

So it seems we can even evolve backwards as our needs for survival change. Maybe that’s why we hang on to our appendixes and male nipples, we never know when we might need them.

If human evolution has slowed, maybe the increments are smaller as we hone towards perfection, or maybe we’re just changing in ways we have no way of understanding in our subjective state. I just have to look at my children to know they are better than me, but then so is my wife – so maybe that’s just successful selection as my own crappy genes get weeded out.

Yet humans have proved their worth as one of the most adaptable creatures on the planet. Unlike any other creatures, the trick to our survival is not to physically change ourselves but change the things around us that threaten us. It makes our adaptation faster than any other species. That’s why we developed tools. And to make and use tools, many speculate, was why we developed consciousness.

If that’s true, ironically it’s our tools, our creations, our processed foods and our industrialisation which are markers of our evolution and development as a species rather than a threat to it. The pot-noodle is part of our advance as a super species and the bionic man is not a freak from 70s TV, he’s our evolved future.

“What a piece of work is a man,” said Hamlet, “how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals…”

Other species – watch us and weep.


First published in


Season of missed and bellowed deadlines

Honestly. If time is relative it’s one of the nagging ones in the family that you try to ignore but they never seem to get off your case and constantly remind you that I haven’t done what I said I was going to do and just let me live my own bloody life, Mum… please. Oh.

Now it’s Autumn and the crisp air returns, the berries are fat, the apples ready, there’s a crunchiness to every step; if you’re romantic it’s the “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”. But for most of us there is something else in the Autumnal air – nothing mellow, you can almost feel its buzz and charge: it’s this sense of pressing urgency.

It’s the season of deadlines and to-do lists. Today really is the tomorrow you were worrying about yesterday. Everything suddenly seems to need to be done “before Christmas!” Like the world just might end then, and it would be devastating if the planet were to explode without the attic sorted out and the tax receipts done.

Even as he wrote his Ode to Autumn in 1819, Keats dreaded the season realising that he had run out of time to deliver his long poem Hyperion – that and not  exactly having the constitution for the cold weather to come. “I love deadlines,” said Douglas Adams, “I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by.”

Why is everybody in a rush right now? It’s like a hole is torn in the space time continuum as the first leaf hits the pavement. All of a sudden time accelerates and there is an unremitting sense of anxiety, hustle and haste in the air. Projects need completing, days are ‘drawing in’, people who haven’t returned dinner party invitations suddenly feel prompted to have you round. Everything has an imperative.

Maybe time just seems short compared to the laconic eternity of the summer holidays; winter never seems to leave as fast as it arrives. Einstein theorised that time was relative to gravity, and certainly the gravity of a situation alters our perception of it. I mean, how long a minute is entirely depends on which side of the toilet door you are. A clock is not just a small device used to wake up people who have no children, it’s a gauge of our emotional state that can whizz round, or drag interminably, depending on how we’re feeling.

Writing in the journal Animal Behaviour, researchers from Trinity College Dublin, Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities claim that: how fast time is perceived is down to a creature’s size. Dogs, for instance, process information at twice the rate of humans, which is why they’re not very interested in television. You’d think with Downton ‘s latest rehashed plots resembling their dinner they might show a woof of interest, but a dog’s visual system has a refresh rate much higher than that offered by TV, or film, screens so all they see is a flicker of lights. The smaller the creature, say the scientists, the more they perceive in a unit of time.

However, the empirical data I’ve gathered from selflessly subjecting myself to the process of aging (the things I do for my readers), goes further. Time is actually perceived with the heart. You judge the world and the speed of life against your internal beating clock. As the heart slows, the world appears to become faster. That’s the tragedy of ageing: what once seemed like a year is, later, barely a week. For older people who, like elephants, have slow hearts, the world is whizzing past, death hurtling towards them. Yet to the young, they are lumbering and slow moving and always have a train of cars trying to overtake them when they go for a drive on a Sunday.

Conversely, when your heart is beating faster, the world seems to slow down. A fly’s heart beats a hundred times a second and so it sees the fly-swat coming towards it in interminable slow motion. It has time to rub its legs, bend them, start flapping its wings, do a faultless vertical take-off and buzz off to some other morsel, to scrape and vomit on, before the swat comes near. All in less than a human heartbeat and imperceptibly fast to the eye.

So when the excited heart starts beating faster as it does during disasters, times of shock or the kind of sex which involves kitchen furniture, everything seems to grind in to slow motion. It seems to take forever to react to anything. Which means some of the best and worst things that happen in life, happen slowly.

But Autumn, however much you love it, always goes too quickly, and every year it will seem just a little bit shorter. I’d love to say, ‘Carpe diem, tempus fugit.’ But honestly I haven’t the time to learn Latin.

via Season of missed and bellowed deadlines – KensingtonChelseaToday.

The psychology of spiritualism: science and seances – The Observer

The idea of summoning the spirits took thrilling hold of the Victorian imagination – and has its adherents now. But the psychology behind spiritualism is more intriguing

As the evenings get darker and the first hint of winter hangs in the air, the western world enters the season of the dead. It begins with Halloween, continues with All Saints’ and All Souls’ days, runs through Bonfire Night – the evening where the English burn effigies of historical terrorists – and ends with Remembrance Day. And through it all, Britain’s mediums enjoy one of their busiest times of the year.

People who claim to contact the spirit world provoke extreme reactions. For some, mediums offer comfort and mystery in a dull world. For others they are fraudsters or unwitting fakes, exploiting the vulnerable and bereaved. But to a small group of psychologists, the rituals of the seance and the medium are opening up insights into the mind, shedding light on the power of suggestion and even questioning the nature of free will.

Humanity has been attempting to commune with the dead since ancient times. As far back as Leviticus, the Old Testament God actively forbade people to seek out mediums. Interest peaked in the 19th century, a time when religion and rationality were clashing like never before. In an era of unprecedented scientific discovery, some churchgoers began to seek evidence for their beliefs.

Salvation came from two American sisters, 11-year-old Kate and 14-year-old Margaret Fox. On 31 March 1848, the girls announced they were going to contact the spirit world. To the astonishment of their parents they got a reply. That night, the Fox sisters chatted to a ghost haunting their New York State home, using a code of one tap for yes, two gaps for no. Word spread and soon the girls were demonstrating their skills to 400 locals in the town hall.

Within months a new religion had emerged – spiritualism – a mixture of liberal, nonconformist values and fireside chats with dead people. Spiritualism attracted some of the great thinkers of the day – including biologist Alfred Russel Wallace and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who spent his latter years promoting spiritualism in between knocking out Sherlock Holmes stories. Even the admission of the Fox sisters in 1888 that they had faked it all failed to crush the movement. Today spiritualism thrives in more than 350 churches in Britain.

The tricks and techniques used by mediums have been exposed many times by people such as James Randi, Derren Brown and Jon Dennis, creator of the Bad Pyschics website.

Last week I spent 40 minutes with a telephone spiritualist who passed on messages from four dead people. Like all mediums, she was skilled at cold reading – the use of probable guesses and picking up of cues to steer her in the right direction. If she hit a dud – the suggestion that she was in the presence of a 40-year-old uncle of mine – she quickly widened it out. The 40-year-old became an older person who felt young at heart. And then someone who was more of an uncle figure. She was also skilled at the Barnum effect – the use of statements that tend to be true for everyone.

Among dozens of guesses and misses, there was just one hit – the correct name of a dead relative. Their relation to me was utterly wrong, as were details of their health. But the name was right and, even though it was a common name among that person’s generation, it was a briefly chilling moment.

Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist and magician, says my response to this lucky guess is typical. People tend to remember the correct details in a seance but overlook statements or events that provide no evidence of paranormal powers.

Derren BrownTV illusionist Derren Brown has often used his act to denounce paranormal practices. Photograph: David Yeo

Wiseman’s work has also shown that we are all extremely susceptible to the power of suggestion. With colleague Andy Nyman, co-creator of Derren Brown’s television illusions, Wiseman used contemporary descriptions of Victorian seances to recreate an encounter with spirits in a disused prison. Over eight seances involving 152 people, volunteers sat around a table in the dark holding hands while luminous painted bells, balls and maracas moved before their eyes. Surveyed afterwards, a fifth of the volunteers believed they had witnessed the paranormal.

“These things are often very simple,” says Wiseman, author ofParanormality. “We had a man creeping around with a stick. We thought when we read the original accounts of how seances were carried out that they wouldn’t fool anyone. We were wrong. A lot this is do with framing. Once you think you have an explanation for an event you don’t have any other ones. Once you think it’s a spirit you don’t look for another explanation.”

During the seance, Nyman, taking the role of the medium, announced that the spirit would raise the table. Soon afterwards he encouraged the spirit by saying “lift the table higher” and “the table is moving now”. Two weeks later a third of the participants recalled wrongly that the table had moved.

“Suggestion builds over time. If you ask people immediately after the event it is not so effective. You don’t want to solidify the memory immediately after the event,” says Wiseman.

The trappings of the seance increase its success. Holding hands prevents participants from disrupting the trickery. Darkness increases sensitivity to sound and movement and makes people more scared – which may, Wiseman says, increase susceptibility.

The seance can be explained by stage magic and human frailty. But what about phenomena such as table tipping and Ouija boards?

Table tipping, or turning, has gone out of fashion but is easy to replicate with four or more people, a small table, dim lights and a relaxed atmosphere. The group place hands on the table and wait. After 40 minutes or so the table should start to move. It soon appears to have a mind of its own, sliding, swaying and even pinning people to the walls.

The reason why household furniture can appear to be possessed was exposed more than 160 years ago by Michael Faraday, the discoverer of the link between magnetism and electricity. In 1852 Faraday was fascinated by the new craze of table tipping – and whether people or spirits were responsible. So he took bundles of cardboard roughly the size of a table top and glued them weakly together. Each sheet got progressively smaller from top to bottom, allowing Faraday to mark their original positions on the card above with a pencil. He then placed the cards on a table and asked volunteers to put their hands on the cards and let the spirits move the table to the left.

Ouija boardOuija boards were debunked by psychologist Joseph Jastrow in the 1890s. Photograph: Corbis

This experiment allowed Faraday to see what was moving the table. If it was spirits, the table top would slide out the cards from the bottom up. But if the participants were doing it, the top cards would be the first to move. By examining the position of the pencil marks Faraday showed that people, not spirits, moved the table. He had demonstrated the ideomotor response, the movement of muscles independent of deliberate thought. This also explains table tipping’s sophisticated big brother, the Ouija board.

In a Ouija seance participants place fingers on a glass on a table surrounded by letters and watch as it eerily moves – and occasionally spells out words. Psychologist Susan Blackmore is best known as the proponent of memes, but early in her career she was a parapsychologist. At Oxford she ran the student Psychical Research Society, carrying out experiments using Ouija boards. Time and again the glass spelled words and sentences. Her confidence began to be shaken when she modified the board.

“We turned the letters upside down because surely spirits should see the letters underneath,” says Blackmore, now a sceptic. “And of course it spelt out rubbish. It cannot work unless all the people can see what is going on.”

The ideomotor effect is also at play with the glass. “With a Oujia board, your arm is getting tired and your ability to judge the location of your finger is compromised,” says Blackmore. “When the glass moves you naturally adjust your movements and go along with the glass. To start with it moves hesitantly, but after a while as soon as it starts moving everyone’s hand follows.’

But what about the glass’s ability to spell? That was investigated by the American psychologist Joseph Jastrow in the 1890s. He used a device called the automatograph made of two glass plates separated by brass balls. Any involuntary movement of hands placed on the top plate causes it to move. The movement is recorded by a pencil attached to the device.

When Jastrow asked volunteers to imagine looking at an object in the room the automatograph revealed that their hands involuntarily moved in that direction. Just visualising the door was enough for the hands to drift towards it.

And that’s what’s happening with a Ouija board. If the participants look at a particular letter – because they expect it to follow next – they unwittingly nudge the glass towards it.

If the Ouija board has shed light on unwitting movement, then another technique, channelling of spirits, has questioned free will.

Harvard psychologist Dan Wegner, who died this year, is best known for his work on the rebound effect. Tell someone not to think about white bears and they immediately think about white bears. The more we try to actively suppress a thought, the less likely we are to succeed. But he also investigated automatic writing, where people claim to write without being aware what they are doing.

The most famous automatic writer was Pearl Curran, an American who knocked out more than 5,000 poems, novels and plays while claiming to be channelling the spirit of Patience Worth, a 17th-century Englishwoman.

Automatic writing has traditionally been explained as the action of the subconscious mind. But Wegner argued that the reason lay in the illusion of free will. Most people have a sense of their inner you – the conscious self that makes decisions about day-to-day life. According to Wegner this sense is an illusion. There’s evidence to back up this seemingly unlikely idea.

Arthur Conan DoyleSir Arthur Conan Doyle, who spent his latter years promoting spiritualism. Photograph: Getty Images/BBC

In the 1960s, neurophysiologist William Grey Walter got volunteers to operate a slide projector while their brain was monitored with electrodes. The participants were told to press a button to change slides. But the button was a fake – the projector was controlled by electrical activity in the brain. The startled volunteers found that the slide machine was predicting their decisions. A fraction of a second before they decided to press the button, the part of the brain responsible for hand movement burst into activity and – through the electrodes – moved the slide on.

Grey Walter showed that there was a fraction of a second delay between the brain making a decision and someone being aware that they were making a decision.

In the 1980s, Benjamin Libert of the University of California , San Francisco,made a similar discovery after attaching volunteers to electrical monitors and sitting them in front of a screen displaying a dot in a circle. The participants were told to flex their wrists whenever they liked, and report the position of the dots at the moment they made the decision to flex. Again, there was a surge in brain activity a fraction of a second before the volunteers were aware they were making a decision.

Wegner’s solution was that our deliberate, thinking brain – the inner me that makes decisions – is an illusion. Instead, the brain does two things when it makes a decision to raise an arm. First it passes a message to the part in charge of creating the conscious inner you. Second, it delays the signal going to the arm by a fraction of a second. This delay generates the illusion that the conscious mind has made a decision.

Wegner argued that automatic writing occurs when something goes wrong with this process. The brain sends the signal to the arm to write – but fails to alert the inner you.

There’s something a little ironic about his conclusion. The early spiritualists believed they were shedding light on the transition of the human spirit from the physical body to the afterlife. Wegner suggests that it’s not just the distinction between mind and body that is false, but the whole concept of the “conscious” decision-making mind is just another piece of trickery played by the brain.

And meanwhile, 150 years after Faraday showed that table tipping was hokum, we continue to frighten one another in the dark.

‘What is remarkable is that the stuff written in books 100 years ago still works,’ says Richard Wiseman. ‘If you think of all the technology and science and education and yet a group of people sitting in the dark can scare the living daylights out of themselves.’

via The psychology of spiritualism: science and seances | Science | The Observer.

A teaspoon of PEANUT BUTTER helps detect the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease

A teaspoon of PEANUT BUTTER helps detect the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease

Researchers at the University of Florida have found that patients lose sense of smell in their left nostril faster than their right

Peanut butter was used as a ‘pure odorant’ in tests to determine loss of sense of smell

Test subjects had all been diagnosed already, but the study revealed that one day smell may be used to detect early stages of Alzheimer’s

Read More: Diagnosis in a jif? A teaspoon of PEANUT BUTTER helps detect the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease | Mail Online.

Are you a lunatic if you can’t sleep?

It’s a time for werewolves and strange doings down in the woodshed. The effects of the full moon are rich in folklore and feature endlessly in tales of the supernatural.  You just know something’s afoot when Alfred Noyes’ Highwayman rides out when ‘the moon is a ghostly galleon, tossed upon cloudy seas.’  The mad wander and dogs howl.

Anecdotal evidence of human behavioural changes during the time of a full moon is legion. The lunar cycle has been linked to a wide range of mystifying phenomena, from escalations in violent crimes and A&E admissions to fertility and blood loss. Even historically, the link between psychological abnormality and the moon phases seemed so evident, our very word for the insane was drawn from the moon: lunatic.

And yet the idea that a celestial body, 238,900 miles (384,400 km) away, could actually affect human physiology seems so fantastic even old wives might add disclaimers.

However, now Swiss scientists appear to have found evidence that the lunar cycle really does affect our sleep patterns.  According to their research, around the time of the full moon our sleep actually is more disturbed whether we can see the moon or not. Testing 33 healthy men and women, aged between 20 and 74, in a sleep laboratory, and correlating the data with the moon’s phases, they have made an astonishing association. As their study in the latest issue of Current Biology stated, in the sort of soporific language that only a sleep clinic could produce:

“Subjective and objective measures of sleep vary according to lunar phase and thus may reflect circa-lunar rhythmicity in humans. To exclude confounders such as increased light at night or the potential bias in perception regarding a lunar influence on sleep, we retrospectively analysed sleep structure, electroencephalographic activity during non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep, and secretion of the hormones melatonin and cortisol…”

Melatonin, the brain chemical that induces sleep, the total sleep time, and the ‘delta sleep time’ (our deepest sleep), all reached their lowest levels during the full moon, and their highest as the moon waxed and waned. The average time it took to fall asleep and the time to arrive at REM sleep (the type of sleep in which dreams occur) followed the opposite pattern, longest at the full moon and shorter as it waxed and waned.

As Christian Cajochen, a professor of neuroscience who led the study at the University of Basel, told the New York Times, “The only explanation we could come up with is that maybe there is a lunar clock in the brain, as found in other species like fish and other marine animals,” he said. “But we don’t have direct evidence for that.”

If these findings prove to be correct, they may help to explain the reports of increases in violent and abnormal behaviour during full moons. Both are also associated with sleep deprivation. The full ramifications of this report are still to be felt.  If we really are influenced by the position of the moon, have all those astrologers been right all along?  Will the moon’s gravity, that pulls the tides of the world, be found to really affect our disposition from birth, or even our future?  Today you can expect a tall dark handsome stranger to tell you.

Marius Brill’s hilarious novel How to Forget is available in all good book shops.

via Are you a lunatic if you can’t sleep? – KensingtonChelseaToday.

‘My mum had dementia at 29’

Louise and her grandmother, Julie

By Helen Briggs

BBC News


When Louise was three, her mother Zoe, who was then 29, was diagnosed with dementia. She is now 42, and living in a care home unable to walk or talk.

Zoe is one of the 17,000 people in the UK living with “early-onset dementia”, which is defined as cases diagnosed before the age of 65.

For Zoe’s family, the first signs something was wrong came when Louise and her sister were on holiday with their grandmother.

While they were away, another relative noticed Zoe – clearly confused – out in the park searching for her children.

Louise’s grandmother, Julie, says she still misses the everyday moments she can no longer share with her daughter – going shopping or a day at the beach.

“It’s one of the worst diseases going,” she says. “It’s all been wiped away.”

After being in and out of hospital for some time, Zoe was eventually diagnosed with early onset dementia.

Doctors could not say why it had happened to someone so young.

“Right at the outset, when she was first diagnosed, they said unfortunately sometimes these things happen,” says Julie.

“They’re like a one-off and Zoe’s the one-off.”

Zoe managed to live with her daughters at the start of her illness, but soon became too ill to cope.

She now lives in a care home in Ashford, and is on a special early onset ward, where she is by far the youngest person.

Louise was only a baby when Zoe became ill, so has few memories of living with her mother.

But she now raises funds for the Alzheimer’s Society, and recently took part in one of the charity’s Memory Walks. She hopes research will help prevent the same thing happening to another family.

“I can’t help my mum now it’s too late – there’s nothing anybody can do to help her. But if it means I can help other people then it’s worth it.

“It’s also to raise awareness. When I meet new people and I tell them how my life is, and I explain my mum’s got dementia, no-one I’ve met has ever really known what it is and how it affects people.”

The family is also having to cope with dementia striking again.

Julie’s mother Ruby, 85, was found to have Alzheimer’s five years ago, and is now in a care home.

She was diagnosed after slipping out of the house at night and walking several miles along the local canal.

Julie – who has therefore seen both her daughter and her mother battle the disease – now focuses on supporting her granddaughters.

“The miracle we’ve been waiting for, hoping to happen hasn’t happened,” says Julie.

“When the girls were little and asking, ‘Why is mum ill and when will she get better?’ we just had to say, ‘We’re hoping for a miracle’.

“We haven’t got our miracle, so perhaps we can help in other ways.”


Early onset dementia

People diagnosed with dementia under the age of 65 are often described as ‘younger people with dementia’ by health and social care professionals

Other terms used include ‘early onset dementia’, ‘young-onset dementia’, and ‘working age dementia’

In the UK, an estimated 17,000 people under the age of 65 are living with dementia

This number is likely to be an under-estimate, and the true figure may be up to three times higher

To be diagnosed at a young age is very rare

Getting an accurate diagnosis of dementia can take a long time for younger people, often due to lack of awareness that dementia can happen in younger people

Anyone worried about any problems with memory, at any age, should consult their GP

Source: Alzheimer’s Society


via BBC News – ‘My mum had dementia at 29’.

Blame the Name

Kate Middleton-20130724-58You don’t get many opportunities to give someone something that’ll define them for the rest of their lives; short of bottling them.  When you name a child it seems as if you hold their entire future in your hands. ‘Shall we call her Marigold… and hope she does?’ ‘Do you think Isaac will have a future in management consultancy?’ And there are no rules to guide you.

Willenkate have settled, fawningly, on great-granny’s daddy’s name. Okay, it was never going to be Keith or Kevin, Jermaine, Marius or Gaylord.  But I’d hoped they’d have the courage to go for a romantic royal like Arthur or Lear.  Perhaps, a sense of humour would prevail with a future King Dom, Kong or Kee.  Or how about that regal expletive: ‘king Hell? But no.  It’s George.

He still gets to choose a different ‘regal’ name when crowned; so my hopes for King Dong I are not entirely dashed.  But ‘George’ came quickly by royal standards, ‘William’ took a week, and ‘Charles’ remained nameless for a month. This was definitely a name-in-waiting rather than a ‘let’s see what he’s like before we settle on a…’ name.

Still, you’d better think hard if you’re coming up with a name that might change history or describe an era.  Would an ‘Andrew’ see off the putative Scottish dissolution? What about ‘Jock’? Will George VII wipe out Victoria, Edward, Elizabeth, Charles and William in the long view of history? Will future historians simply lump together the 18th to 21st centuries as ‘Georgian’? After all, it’s not like we’ve broken new cultural ground since the romantic period.

Even if most of us aren’t defining an epoch when we name our children, it’s just as treacherous, a minefield of politics and politeness. It’s often the first battle a couple have, unaware that everything from then on will be a repeat of this original conflict played out with the same blow and parry, smile and snide, and ever relentless compromise. In this ‘Baby X’ Factor, you are the judges and the try-outs are sung before your foetus has even developed earlobes. It’ll hear the taut music of your voices running through the baby name books as if you really haven’t already got a name in mind and you’re perfectly open to suggestions, honest.

In turns, you throw out the names of previous lovers, significant stalkers, the unpleasant, insane and ridiculous.  You’re bursting to promote your favourite but you know you can’t mention it too early; right now you have to make it look like you’re taking their idea of ‘Crispin-Aloysius’ seriously. By the third trimester, the competition has begun in earnest as, just like Prince George, August relations loom – Who needs be honoured? Who paid tribute to? Who looks good for some school fees? – before consigning the most likely to the ‘middle name’ roster because, unlike the Mountbatten-Windsors, there’s just too much shit involved in prioritising one partner’s family over the other.

Before long it’s the semi-finals and the fighting gets dirty. You’re down to a short list of names that both of you will just about tolerate and now you’re going to pull them apart in case they lead to teasing: ‘kids are cruel,’ after all. Something else which little Prince George won’t have to worry about, already possessing the perfect answer to, ‘Oh yeah? You and whose army?’

Now is the time to vote off your partner’s ludicrous pet names.  ‘But Richard will be Dick!,’  ‘Oh poor Titania!’  Those already suffering bully-baiting last names pay special attention. Ed Balls, think twice before you call your daughter ‘Rosie’, Mr. Dover don’t call your boy ‘Ben’ and please, Mrs. McKracken, don’t even contemplate ‘Phil’.


Should you go for a traditional name that might give a child security; or an eclectic one for individuality? Worst case is the unusual name that everybody else is going for – too many Nigellas really do spoil the broth.

Then, around the birth, a couple of contenders make the grand finale. Almost invariably, they are competing suggestions from the two judges. So now it’s a battle of wills. Who really wears the trousers? The countdown for the legal ‘registration of birth’ time-limit ticks away. If you blink, you capitulate, your mooted name disappears as if it was never there. The votes are counted and verified and before the first nappy has time to be rash, your baby’s sporting a name that suddenly seems inseparable from your own.

Or, if you’re as foolish as me, a name which the grandparents find so objectionable, they use, ‘your child’ or ‘darling’ for the next fifteen years. But, like my daughters, Roxana and Jezebel – historically both queens and whores – you can be sure your child will take the name, fit into it as if no other were possible, and do things with it you never dreamed of.

Marius Brill’s hilarious novel How to forget  is available in all good book shops.

via Blame the Name – KensingtonChelseaToday.

Stories and your Brain (from ‘How To Forget’)

“Stop or I’ll Shoot”

 The next time you hear this shouted, perhaps you will pause for a moment; if only to appreciate what a beautiful, well rounded and articulate phrase it is.  It is a warning honed to perfection, it is how all warnings should be: clear, concise and terrifying enough to scare the bejezus out of a bejesuit.

This book is a warning. I wish it could be as unambiguous as, “Watch Out” or “Duck” or “I’m going to have to work late at the office again dear.”  I wish it could be as brief as “Stop,” “Danger,” or that road sign which simply says “!” and waits to accrue its meaning after the event.  But at 437 pages, it is a little more complicated – and not the sort of warning that requires the same speedy attention as ones made by a weak bladder.

Unfortunately the same blinding ambition which propelled humanity forward in the exploration and domination of the planet, sprinting ahead in the race to evolve when other species couldn’t be bothered, inclines us to ignore most warnings in favour of learning from experience. Despite having developed our primitive guttural belching in to speech, despite having created the most fantastically complex warning system the planet has ever seen, today eighty percent of communication is still non-verbal and though you know when your boss, parents or teachers are talking, it’s almost impossible to listen to what they’re saying.

“Stop or I’ll shoot!” is more than a warning though.  It’s a whole story in just 4½ words; with a clear beginning, middle and end, conflict, drama, life, death, action, resolution. Stories are warnings but somehow we’re more amenable to them, more willing to go along with them.  We don’t just listen to a narrative; we ‘suspend our disbelief’, we put our natural scepticism on hold and experience it.  We allow ourselves to learn because we’re not being told.

Since long before Aesop, stories have been used as warnings when the clear threat is simply not enough.  And we love stories because with each one, we can forget everything for a while and be born again as wide eyed children unwittingly ready to learn life’s important lessons: not to talk to strange wolves in transvestite’s clothing; how true toffs will know if you have a pea in the bed; or how you can sell beef for beans, thieve your way out of poverty, murder the victim of your robbery and still live happily ever after.

But the true power of stories, and why this warning comes as one, lies in your brain.  More precisely in a part of your frontal lobes which it took a hungry capuchin monkey to discover.  He lived in a lab where, in a doomed attempt to bring a lighter side to vivisection, all the capuchins were given coffee related names. Starbuck had teeth the colour of earwax and halitosis like mustard gas and on the day of his discovery he had been grabbing at snacks all morning.  He’d been wired up to brain activity sensors, studying the components that register hunger before, and pleasure in receiving, food.  Valuable research for the hunger-inhibiting diet pill trade.  After all, we certainly don’t want an epidemic of obese monkeys.

At lunch time, Starbuck’s lab technician stopped for her break and happened to be absently watching the monitors as she reached for her sandwich.  Which is when she noticed an amazing thing.  As Starbuck watched her, she saw the same brain patterning light up on his monitors as when he had been reaching for food himself.  She quickly realised that he was empathising and she could see exactly the parts of the brain where this happened.

From that one sandwich, we not only found that monkeys were capable of empathy, so just how far men have evolved away from monkeys, but also that the brain’s ‘mirror neurons’ extend into the premotor cortex, where we weigh intentions, and our parietal lobe where we register sensation.

Now we know why we wince when we see another person punched.  Empathy is hard wired into our brains.  We experience just by watching others’ experiences.  We tell stories to stimulate the mirror neurons.  We watch a film and become the characters, we read someone’s story and for the time we’re in it, the connections within our own brains actually reshape, they begin to mirror the connections in the character’s brain.

So this book, like every story you’ve ever read, heard or watched, will alter the shape of your brain.  Whatever you think, this book is guarenteed to change your mind.

A-Snitchin’ Time

‘Roxana’s on Facebook and she’s supposed to be doing her homework,’ her little sister says, tellingly.

‘It’s not nice,’ I echo a mantra from my childhood, ’to tell.’

‘I know.’ She raises her eyes in exasperation, ‘You’ve got to, “show not tell”. Come on.’

She starts to drag me to witness her errant sister but my mind is elsewhere, wondering why I had been so actively encouraged not to expose the wrongdoings of others when I was her age.

I seem to remember, at the time, it was the ‘law of the playground’. A legal system which, as it turned out, was scandalously unconstitutional. It was ‘Fight Club’ without the club elements of camaraderie, coke, cars and glamorous girls; so, basically: ‘Fight’. But the rules were just as specific: no grassing, snitching, or ratting people out, and all property, or any sense of dignity you may have come to school with, belongs to the kid who thumps the hardest.

I suspect the reasoning behind keeping schtuum ran: if you don’t tell on bullies they might, in time, be grateful, respect you and even become your friend. And with friends like those…

As the snitch though, you shouldered the burden of proof, you were the centre of attention. Keeping your head down – lest it should be kicked down, and in, for you – was just smart politics.

Why then are so many standing up and speaking out now? Every day somebody finds a new whistle to blow. In the past few months we’ve found out how the NSA have been reading our emails, GCHQ are mining the world’s submarine terrabytes of data, the NHS have been contractually legislating the ‘law of the playground’, the Metropolitan Police were up to dirty tricks with Stephen Lawrence’s family and the testimony of countless victims breaking thirty years of silence to bare the lives that Jim broke or reveal what Stuart Hall knocked out.

Brave? Stupid? Naive? Vengeful? Bitter? As Alexey Pushkov, head of Russia’s international affairs committee, said: “[They] didn’t give up secret information for money.” So what drives this urge to whistleblow? Could it have any connection with the fact that so many have waived their ‘right to privacy’ to tell their stories?

The highest pitched whistlers, Wikileaker Bradley Manning and NSA supergrass Edward Snowden seem almost identikits for each other. Quiet, bespectacled, slightly nerdy, they appear made-to-measure icons of the disenfranchised, the used, abused and confused, the marginalised; they are the mice that roar. I have no love for the surveillance state, for Big Brother, but still I wonder if the shriek of all these whistles could also be a scream for recognition in a world where celebrity and fame has become the focus of our lives, dreams and aspirations?

The sad thing is, despite the risks these whistleblowers have taken to reveal the truth, few of their stories have come as a surprise. I always assumed that simply typing a search term like, “Al-Qaeda how to join,” would automatically ring a bell somewhere in Whitehall where a chap would look up from his tea, take a note of my IP address, and send a heavily armed police squad, or MI6 recruitment officers, to my door.

The accusations that our emails are insecure, our internet activity monitored, spies are spying, the NHS tries to protect itself, the police are racist, Jimmy Saville was a pervert; they don’t feel like news, more a slightly satisfying confirmation of all the things we rather always suspected anyway.

‘Privacy’ in this Facebooked world has lost its meaning; we’ve already signed away our data to search for cats doing adorable things. The NSA would probably have got a better grip of their data if they had simply bought our digital footprints from Google, like all those parasites who keep ringing to insist I, ‘may have been missold PPI’.

Indeed, in the blizzard of information released by Snowden I found myself less outraged, more patriotic. There’s the American NSA, with its awesome defence budget, and all they can score is the records of a measly trillion phone calls. We Brits, on the other hand, only went down to the bottom of the sea, hacked into transatlantic fibre-optic cables, and downloaded the whole damn internet. Our GCHQ spies may struggle to figure their way out of suitcases but my goodness when they decide to spy, they spy.

By the time I’m led to Roxana’s room it’s no surprise that she’s studiously immersed in a maths problem. Her snitch-sister looks dismayed and stalks off. I return to my laptop to open up my secret remote desktop viewer. I watch the inane teasing that passes as conversation on Facebook for a few minutes. It’s all I can bear. Of course I don’t love Big Brother. I am Big Brother.

Marius Brill’s hilarious novel How To Forget (£6.99) is available in all good bookshops.

via A-Snitchin’ Time – KensingtonChelseaToday.