This blog post is going to be quite a downer. Instead of waiting until my latest seizure becomes another funny story (like those captured in this article I wrote for BBC Ouch recently) I'd like to take a moment to capture the true horror of a complex partial epileptic seizure - for me and for those around me. I've thought about this and about the process through which I rationalise and try to cope with what happens to me long and hard, and I find it pretty interesting how my coping mechanisms put a spin on my experiences.
So, let's compare and contrast these two stories.
Story one: DRUGS!
So I had a complex partial while waiting at my bus stop on the way home, and must have decided in the midst of it all to walk home because I came to walking along a road close to my house. I can't remember much but I sent a load of texts to my boyfriend and even spoke to him on the phone - when he asked where I was all I could say was "pavement".
It was one of my most classic seizures: a real blinder. During my ramble home at least two funny things happened. First I walked up to a drug dealer, gave him a flower and screamed "DRUGS!" in his face before calmly walking away. Then a guy tried to mug me (never a good idea, since the time I lamped a mugger with my bicycle D-lock and drew blood) so I kicked his bike over and apparently screamed "DRUGS!" again. Hey, it was dodgy, but I'm totally fine so it's going in the archive right next to the time I bought 34 pints of milk.
Story two: Confusion and exhaustion
My bus was half an hour late and I was tired, hungry and absolutely knackered - which triggered a complex partial seizure. I'd tried ordering a taxi but there was a waiting time of over an hour: on reflection I should have waited. Instead I came to an hour later, a short walk away from my house (having walked over three miles) with a painful arm and an incredibly grim post-ictal epilepsy hangover. The first thing I got was a call from my boyfriend on my dying phone - I'd been texting him gibberish and was unable to describe my location coherently by phone so he was freaking out.
He was on his way up from his parents' house in Crewe, still in his pyjamas - he was so worried about me that he wasn't able to drive, so his dad drove him for the hour-long journey while he kept up contact with me on my mobile. He made me take my medication, put me to bed and then had to leave. Both of us cried (obviously he did so in an incredibly manly way). I slept for sixteen hours, and was so exhausted that I had to take the next day off work - I could barely string a sentence together. It took me two days to get back to my normal state of mind.
I'm still coming to terms with the fact that I walked on my own through an incredibly rough area of Manchester and that someone even attempted to mug me when I was, essentially completely vulnerable. Anything could have happened to me.
Both of these stories are equally true. I know which one I prefer, but on reflection it's important to remember the other one too. There's nothing I can do about it, except try and get a taxi when I'm feeling ill, eat regularly and to try and make sure I always take my medication.
Epilepsy is very hard. I find it worse to deal with than the depression I've had to deal with previously, because I can see that coming and at least retain my consciousness while I ride it out. Also, people understand depression - even, to an extent, people who haven't experienced it. During a complex partial seizure I completely lose control: I could be hit by a car, mugged, or much worse. Even simple partials are terrifying: I see shapes, and experience emotions other people can only feel during the worst kind of LSD trips.
And when I tell people I have epilepsy, I don't see the instant comprehension in people's eyes that's there when describing depression: only fear and confusion. There's so little understanding of what epilepsy really means. Am I going to drop to the floor and start foaming at the mouth, or do I just doze off for a few brief seconds like small children with "petit mals" do before they grow out of it during puberty? Neither. The truth is - well, either more hilarious, or more traumatic than that.
It's pretty hard (maybe impossible: I couldn't be bothered looking all that much) to find an email address for Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook. Plus I have stuff and things to do. Therefore, this is an open letter. I imagine Mark is one of the half dozen or so readers I have on here (if you include the US government, which I do), so I have no doubt he'll read it.
Dear Mark Zuckerberg,
First of all, thanks for Facebook. It may be a superb platform for advertisers to attempt to sell me wedding rings and baby clothes (much to the dismay of my boyfriend) but it's also a superb platform for me to create fatuous events, judge ex-school friends and mouth off about how much I hate Mondays/enjoy pastrami sandwiches/am addicted to Kellogg's cereal.
However, as a disabled person, I have a major problem with your service. I have been studying my friends list and am appalled to see that Facebook has major diversity issues. Out of 291 friends, I found that:
- Only 18 are black, asian or of mixed race
- A mere 11 are disabled
- Only four are ginger
- The vast majority are middle class atheists
- Over half work in the web/broadcast industry, like me
- One friend is in actual fact a 2 year old dachshund
- According to their avatars, several have regressed back to infancy
- Many people are not friends but are in fact family
I find it reprehensible that so many of my Facebook friends are boring, white and comfortably-off - exactly like myself, in fact. It is almost as though the list of people shown as "Friends" reflects my relatively sheltered upbringing in rural Lincolnshire and subsequent career in the media. I look forward to the swift resolution of this issue.
Recently I wrote a letter to Kellogg's about their tasty cereal Krave, expressing my concern about the deliciousness of their cereal and the negative effect it is/was having on my boyfriend. Since my friends and family enjoyed my letter, I have decided to reproduce it here on my blog - and to share the response from Kellogg's.
I write in regard to your premium breakfast cereal, “Krave”. As you are no doubt already aware, this is currently the best premium breakfast cereal on the market. Because of this widely acknowledged truth, I recently purchased a box as a treat for my gentleman friend Mr. James Gaskell esq.
One would assume that this would be an uninteresting fact which is completely unworthy of a hand-written letter to yourselves, Kellogg’s (creator of Krave). However, it did not stop there. My boyfriend and I were so taken by the aptly-named breakfast cereal that we immediately ate the entire packet, and now crave the Krave to such an extent that between us we now eat several boxes a week. It is essentially akin to an addiction, but without the support network one could expect as an alcohol or drug addict.
Again, hardly worth of the effort and expense of writing to your company (although I do wish to express to you my pleasure at the deliciousness of your creation). After all, stamps are pretty expensive nowadays and I don’t even live near a post box. The thing is, a grave and severe problem has arisen as a direct result of the tastiness of your cereal.
As you are no doubt aware, our country (the UK, in case this is unclear) has recently been suffering from a most severe recession. Sadly, this has meant that I have not been able to stock up my dedicated Krave cupboard with as many boxes of your most delectable cereal as usual – in fact, my shelves are nearly completely bare.
It is even worse than it at first appears. As well as failing to provide adequate protection in the event of a zombie apocalypse (for I would wish to die with the taste of Krave upon my lips) I now also face the risk of the permanent departure of my boyfriend. He has been concerned about the low level of Krave in my house for some weeks now, and has mentioned that one of our mutual friends (let us call her Linda, for that is her name) is not only able to provide a constant flow of your beautiful cereal but has also got more junk in her trunk as a result. You can probably understand my distress at this news.
What makes this all the more tragic is that, living in Trafford as I do, I cycle to work past your factory twice a day. Every time I smell the wafting malty tones of your most delightful treats and come upon your swirly, dreamy, aspirational red logo I am reminded of my failure to earn enough money to adequately feed myself and my boyfriend.
So I write to you, dear Kellogg’s, in the desperate hope that you might find yourselves able to lower the RRP (Recommended Retail Price, I believe) of Krave. I know it is a lot to ask, but please, I beg of you: do not make me sink to purchasing the relatively vomit-inducing replicas created by your competitors. Not only would they stick in my throat, but they would be wet with my tears as a consequence of my boyfriend’s departure to that bitch Linda.
Yours in expectation,
I got a response from Kellogg's,
which I can't be bothered to write a transcript for [EDIT: Transcript below]. But in short, they openly admitted their perverse delight at my situation. On the plus side, they did stump up £5 of vouchers for Krave which was pretty decent of them.
Transcript kindly provided by a friend:
Dear Miss Purves
Thank you for your hilarious letter about our delectable Kellogg's Krave. It has been all round our team and given us all some laughs. I'm absolutely delighted that you and your boyfriend enjoy them so much -- that's what we like to hear!
We're always pleased to get such positive feedback from our customers. We find it very rewarding. However, upon reading your letter we are most concerned to learn that the lack of Krave in your dedicated Krave cupboard is threatening to jeopardise your relationship. This simply will not do!
I'd like to say thank you by sending you a £5.00 voucher so that you can enjoy some more Krave on us. Should there be an imminent zombie apocalypse, we do hope that a stock of Kellogg's Krave will provide sufficient protection against the zombie invasion, not to mention save your relationship.
Unfortunately, now to return to a serious note, we are not in a position to reduce the recommended retail price and store managers have the right to exercise their own pricing policy. we do hope you understand the lack of control we have over pricing of our products.
Thanks again for taking the time to write to us -- your letter really made us smile and made our day! We hope you will enjoy our products for many years to come.
Customer Services Representative
At work, we don't have any pets. We're not all trendy, and we're not based in Shoreditch, so no pets. However, my team doesn't just mindlessly run with the herd: we like to strive, almost constantly, for something better. Luckily, there are comments boxes in stationery hubs - as a result of much pressure from certain dedicated, forward-thinking and rather good looking elements within our department. So we set to work...
However, I'm afraid to say my department contains some extremely dastardly individuals...
Don't worry though, we managed to get the last word.
It didn't end all that well though, despite everything. Today we got an all-department email: no pet hamsters. Oh well. I have two cats at home anyway.
I've never had much to do with hardcore feminism. Frankly, I've no need to. I'm paid as much as my male equivalents; I quite happily work in the tech industry attending events alongside groups of many men without fear of intimidation and have never felt that my gender has adversely affected my life at all.
Sure, men have tried to belittle me. But I have an automatic look that gets released on any idiot trying to pull the "look at the silly little woman who has no brain" gig. I I've to call it the Whatever Assumption You're Currently Making, Stop Making It Unless You Have No Fear For Your Personal Welfare look (it's close to my You Obviously Have No Particular Emotional Attachment Towards Your Genitalia look).
Despite spending a great deal of time with Misogynist Grampa, I was primarily brought up by my grandmother and mother - for Pratchett fans, my father fondly and accurately describes the latter as a cross between Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax. You don't mess with women in my family. We won't scream at you, or get violent (unless you're physically attacking us - in which case, watch yourself); you will be subjected to either sub-zero frostiness, wry and cutting wit, or overbearing politeness which suddenly makes you feel like a complete bastard. That's the aim, anyway.
As a result of my tendency to disperse uppity males much like Fairy Liquid dissolves bacon fat, I've not noticed enough inequality in my daily life to remember any of it. Most of the tropes I've encountered about women should act/look etc have come from other women. Therefore most of the "feminism" I comes across severely annoys me due to its illogical nature.
Women's magazines? They're commercial entities; if stupid idiots didn't buy them, they wouldn't exist. Girl Geeks? If you stopped infantilising yourselves and defining yourselves by your gender ("Boy Geeks", anyone?) by using pre-existing gender stereotypes in your marketing, like cupcakes, knitting and liberal sprayings of the colour pink, perhaps your male colleagues might take you more seriously. Crèches at conferences? Jesus Christ, get your bloody partner to hang on to the baby for a bit - if you decide to have children, then you (both of you) also automatically make the decision to make sacrifices for those children, whether you want to or not. And I'll believe your annoying spiel about your kid becoming an astronaut when I see it, as your child is statistically far more likely to become a smug, self-entitled douchebag like yourself.*
However, I draw the line at pure misinformation. That's why I loathe and despise Femfresh. Their range of "feminine hygiene" products are not only loathsomely packaged, but they're also 100% unnecessary and, according to your local GP, potentially harmful. Vaginas are self-cleaning. They only require regular washing with water. Introduction of foreign substances can cause horrible things: yeast infections like Thrush if you're lucky, and worse if you're not.
The whole thing - the fact they even exist - gets on my tits. With things like makeup and women's magazines, well, that's choice. But Femfresh going around miseducating women about an area everyone, male or female, tends to feel more insecure about than almost anything else is absolutely abhorrent. There is no need for these products. They are pointless. This is the kind of crap they dole out to women in America, with their constant gynaecology appointments and disposable douche bags (actual bags for actual douching of the inside of your body, as though something evil is living inside of you that must be expelled). This is Britain: we have the NHS here. We officially medically acknowledge the self-cleaning properties of elements of our bodies. This must not change.
And that's without even taking into consideration their obnoxious marketing. As a writer - and an adult - I take as much exception to being told my vagina is a "froo-froo" by an international cosmetics company as I do to the tech industry labelling me as a "girl".
I am a woman, and as such I have a vagina. If I choose to call myself otherwise then that's up to me: but don't attempt to prey on my physical and psychological vulnerabilities (or the vulnerabilities of others) in order to infantilise me purely on the basis of what genitals I got landed with in the childbirth lottery.
So, after seeing their horrendous adverts splashed on billboards and then checking out their even more obnoxious Facebook campaign, I complained to the Advertising Standards Authority. There were a very great many entertaining articles about the uproar at the time (see here, here, here and here for my favourites), but for once I wanted to go all the way: like others who complained, I needed to feel that something might actually come of all this outrage. Femfresh had gone too far.
I wrote a lengthy and extremely detailed account of every aspect of my issue with the advertising campaign, which unfortunately I didn't keep. Today, I received the following response which I will repeat in full (although the name and contact details at the end have been redacted).
Dear Ms Purves,
Thank you for contacting the ASA. I’m sorry to learn that this ad has caused you concern.
We assess the content of ads against our Code. Amongst other things, we take action if we feel that an ad is likely to provoke serious or widespread offence, to mislead or to cause significant harm. We have reviewed this ad in light of your complaint but I’m afraid that we do not have grounds for further action under our Code.
I should start by explaining that the ASA has no influence over the creative decisions taken by advertisers (or the agencies that work on their behalf) to use a particular character, situation or theme in their ad campaigns. We can only consider intervention when there is convincing evidence to suggest that our Codes are likely to have been breached; for example, when the content of an ad is likely to cause serious or widespread offence, poses a significant risk of causing harm, or is likely to materially mislead consumers about the product or service that is being advertised.
We contacted the advertiser in this instance (without revealing your identity) with a view to gaining a better understanding of the ad. They explained that the decision to use words such as “froo-froo” in this recent ad campaign, in place of the word “vagina”, was taken as a result of an extensive survey of women to establish their take on the subject being advertised. As a result of this survey, the advertiser established a trend in the use of euphemisms to describe intimate parts of the body, and they found that this was done in a light-hearted way between the women asked. The survey resulted in 189 different ‘names’ being given by the participants, of which the advertiser decided to choose six of the top ten for their ad campaign.
We appreciate the concerns that you have raised and that you find the ad distasteful, however we consider that in general terms the wider audience are likely to interpret these ads as being a light-hearted take on a personal and often sensitive subject rather than see them as being demeaning or derogatory towards women. Although we appreciate that ads concerning sanitary products will not appeal to everyone, and acknowledge that some consumers may find the content of these ads distasteful, we consider that the ads are unlikely to cause a degree of offence that would breach the Code.
We note that some perfumed products have a pH value that is different to that of the skin and can therefore cause irritation, especially in sensitive areas, and that Femfresh is designed to be an alternative to such products. The pH scale is a measure of how acid or alkaline something is. As we understand it, the product undergoes testing at independent laboratories, the results of which are reviewed by board-certified dermatologists and gynaecologists in accordance with relevant EU Directives. Dermatology is a branch of medicine dealing with the skin and its appendages (hair, sweat glands, etc) and Gynaecology obviously refers to the surgical specialty dealing with health of the female reproductive system. We consider that the product is designed to be sensitive and work with the natural makeup of skin in sensitive areas and in light of this, do not think the ad is likely to mislead people to their detriment. At present we have no reason to believe that the product is likely to cause harm and given the extensive testing that it undergoes, we do not consider that we have reason to challenge the advertiser further in relation to this point.
In any event, we have received confirmation from the advertiser that the ad that you have referred to is no longer appearing, and there are currently no plans to include similar statements in future ads. We’ve also become aware that the advertiser has removed their Facebook page.
I realise this may disappoint you, but thank you nonetheless for taking the time to contact us with your concerns. The ASA website, www.asa.org.uk, contains more information about the work we do.
Now, the nice bloke from the ASA makes the excellent point that the product has been well-tested and that advertising agencies can make the creative choices they like: I'm happy with that. This is a detailed, well written and comprehensive reply - even though I disagree with it. But what I'm really, really happy about is that Femfresh VOLUNTARILY withdrew their campaign (or at least let it end), and won't run a similar one again.
But don't expect to see them completely vanish off the face of the earth. The thing is, Femfresh has actually been about for a while - check out this blog article showing loads of old FemFresh ads from the 70s.. My best friend, a district nurse, says that until now they've always marketed themselves at older women - who, due to issues with incontinence/mobility often actually do see the need for this kind of product. And now they've cornered that market, they obviously felt the need to try for another: insecure teens and young women. It's likely that the older women who make up the majority of Femfresh's current customers started using the disgusting gunk back in the olden days: and I think I can safely say that however beauty-obsessed and vapid young women currently are, they're obviously more savvy than those who fell for Femfresh's wiles back in the day.
See, this is much more of a victory than an anti-Femfresh ASA ruling would have been because instead of my adversary being unwillingly defeated they have independently decided, with their actual brains, that calling vaginas froo-froos is momentously stupid. They have realised that marketing products this way will not work. That's what makes this a truly sweet victory: because it wasn't a government body forcing Femfresh to stand down, but an acknowledgement by Femfresh themselves that humanity in general just won't put up with this crap. They looked at the volume of complaints, from intimidating bodies like the ASA as well as even more intimidating social media outrage (obviously something they misjudged horribly), and figured it wasn't worth it.
This is a victory for women: you might read celebrity gossip magazines and buy your female offspring Barbies, fellow vagina owners, but you do draw a line. And Femfresh were most decidedly on the wrong side of it.
*Oh, and a minor Twitter celeb/mother who should know better once told me I'm "just bitter, because nobody's ever loved me enough to want to give me a baby." Well, if that's the kind of idiot motherhood turns intelligent women into than I want none of it. However, given the violence of my own mother's reaction to this statement (and the "It's my human right to drag screaming babies to conferences/cinemas" argument) I'm fairly optimistic on this point.
This week, students across the country are getting their A-Level results. I dare say the vast majority of them will feel the contents of that envelope will decide their destiny: certainly, for those attending university it's likely to confirm which city they're about to spend a week-long drunken bender in.
Ten years ago I thought my A-Levels results had ruined my life. A year after receiving them (in 2001) I had dropped out of teacher training college and was an office junior in my dad's law firm. My non-convulsive epilepsy wasn't diagnosed until after I finished uni, so in 2002 I also felt I was on the brink of madness.
Ten years ago, I was a failure: an embarrassment to my parents. And staring defiantly out of the big mess that was my life were my A-Level results: two Cs and two Ds. One of those Cs was in General Studies, too, and everyone knows General Studies doesn't count.
Eventually, though, in September, I ran out of angst and made a phone call which changed my life. I gathered together more courage than I had ever (or will ever) had and brazened my way into Lincoln University. An inept switchboard operator and mischievous senior lecturer meant an extra space was made for me on my Journalism degree and the rest is history: I turned it around. It was seriously hard work and I still feel like I'm a few years behind, but ten years later I have a great job, a house and two kittens who, as I write, are joyfully gambolling around my feet.
So, your A-Levels do not decide your future. You do. Want to work in the media, but failed your A-Levels? Go do hospital radio; blog, make videos and podcasts, and get a job to fund your way through vocational study. Do not give up - never give up.
During the last ten years or so I could have given up at any number of hurdles. The time I risked expulsion to state my case to the dean after unknowingly playing obscene music on a radio show that went out to my whole city, the time I couldn't get a job after my undergraduate degree and had to go live at home, the months I spent sending over three hundred CVs and personalised covering letters out after my Masters.
But, having been as low as I was in 2002, I wasn't prepared to go there again. So in a way, getting bad A-Level results had a positive influence on my life.
If you're reading this and aren't one of the beautiful teens who got photographed by the local paper jumping in the air with glee, spend a moment reflecting on this: no one single event decides your destiny. This is not a movie - it's your life. It's complicated. Embrace it.
The Olympics have been great - exciting, compelling, energetic... and I'm already running out of adjectives, because in actual fact I'm far more excited by the imminent arrival of the Paralympics. Why? It's about stories. Compare and contrast.
Brought up in Yorkshire (statistically likely, anyway), enjoyed sport as a child, did lots of it at local sports club. Had problems securing funding last year after coming third in the European champion league commonwealth game titles, but is back to compete today using ground-breaking new trainers with a brand new design which... Well they look a bit different.
Um... there isn't one.
MY IMAGINARY PARALYMPIAN
Born with a rare condition called glycomylian hydrolomengy, was left to die outside an orphanage in Brixton and was brought up by wolves. Cannot read, write, speak or breathe without assistance. Nearly died after horrendous accident involving Iraqi militia in 1995, but after years of daily physical therapy and emotional counselling is here to compete today using £5.5k worth of ground-breaking artificial limbs made with lightweight alloys which will allow disabled people all over the world to gain physical independence.
See what I mean? That's a story. Okay, not a true story. But let's look at some of the real paralympians: try telling me these aren't compelling back-histories.
Matt Skelhon, Shooting
As a kid, Skelhon used to shoot tin cans off a wall. Left paralysed from the waist down after a nasty car accident in 2005, this guy already has a gold in shooting, from Beijing: he got a perfect score in the qualifying round and broke a world record in the process. He's renowned for rocking a mohawk and has also tried out archery and basketball: but in shooting, he's ranked first in the world.
His legs might not work but the guy's got massive guns (fnar): and frankly, the fact that he comes from Peterborough and yet people still know who he is is impressive enough.
Liz Johnson, Swimming
One of my best mates has cerebral palsy so I have a soft spot for anyone who can battle through it to become a world class athlete. Not sure how Liz'd feel about that though, because she seems pretty hardcore. Swimming is extremely painful for her and knackers her out - she's usually in bed by 8pm, but despite all that she has enough medals to sink the Titanic.
Her mother died of cancer the day Johnson set foot in Beijing at the last Paralympics: she still went on to win a gold medal, because she kicks arse. She's broken a world record or two as well: mainly because she swims better than a bloody dolphin.
Simon Munn, Wheelchair Basketball
This guy has more medals than the vault in Jimmy Savile's secret dungeon. This is his sixth and final Paralympics, and even on dour old Wikipedia his disability war story's dramatic. He had his left leg amputated after a rather gory accident back in 1989: "Taking a shortcut home from the pub, he slipped and caught his foot in a set of points. Unable to free himself, his leg was severed when the next train passed, after which he was able to crawl towards a nearby road where he was discovered and taken to hospital." Jesus.
Despite being a contactless sport, wheelchair bakkeball's violent as hell (women's as well as men's) so look out for matches. Oh, and the £5.5k ground-breaking wheelchairs made with lightweight alloys which will allow disabled people all over the world to gain physical indepen- hang on, deja vu... Anyway, read Munn's story in full on Sportsvibe.co.uk.
So, could you do that? I couldn't. I don't think I could do *any* of that stuff, ever, in my wildest dreams. And that's just a tiny sampler of the amazing sportspeople competing at the Paralympics: just three of Team GB. I haven't even started looking at Paralympians from other nations.
It would be awful to suggest all Olympian athletes have had an easy ride - I mean Christ, one look at Fatima Whitbread's upbringing and subsequent achievements (MailOnline link - sorry) makes this blog post look overwhelmingly fatuous - but Fatimas are few and far between in the Olympics. In the Paralympics, everyone has a story to tell; the ever-compelling story of astonishing triumph over deep adversity.
For me, BBC Sport's excellent 2012 coverage is what's made the Olympics worth watching: the ability to flick from one sport to another in the same fickle way my kittens fall in and out of love with their wide range of squeaky toys. But one only has to compare the different ways each event has been pitched to the audience to realise the monumental difference between the value of these athletes' stories.
Compare and contrast: here's a trailer for the Olympics, from BBC One. You've most likely seen it already - it's hard to avoid.
The emotional emphasis here is granted by the bombastic imagery - the fast cuts, the dramatic storytelling, the stunning animation and the climatic music. It's a fantastic trailer: but fantastic in its innovation. The BBC's emphasis here (and I speak as a viewer, not as an employee!) is on the impact of the Olympics event on our nation and the variety of sports on offer, not on the athletes as individuals. Sure, it shows lots of athletes: but not real athletes - it's more a visual TV listings, without the dates and times.
Now here's a Channel 4 Paralympics trailer I spotted fronting a YouTube video the other day.
When directly compared, the difference in creative approach hits you in the face - and that's intentional. The trailer is dramatic in its simplicity; shot more like an edgy documentary the point is to showcase the story, and the story alone. There are no graphics or dramatic flourishes here. Channel 4's Paralympics videos are not all embeddable which is why I didn't put their main trailer up, but here's a link to it - it's called Meet The Superhumans.
I cannot think of a more fitting title. In my mind these people are as close to superheroes as it gets. There might not be 26 channels for the Paralympics, or hugely innovative red button content, or breakthrough web technology: but there are stories. Mind-blowing stories, of amazing athletes. And that's why, despite my general apathy towards the Olympics, I expect to find myself glued to the box for its sister event.
Roll on, Paralympics: the nation's waiting.
For several weeks now I've been seeing - and let's be honest, ignoring - your adverts for L'Oreal Inoa on TV. It's not like you actually sell the stuff in shops, after all. Only in salons.
However, it just struck me you've been making an extraordinary claim that I've been completely overlooking. Let's take a look at your advert and see if you can spot it.
Did you see it? Yes, it took me a moment to see past the shiny floaty hair and vacuous idiots too, but you've apparently filed 18 patents. EIGHTEEN. Wow. This must be awesome hair colour. I mean, eighteen pending patents (18)? You must have patented just EVERYTHING. Like, obviously the dye itself, then maybe - ooh, important things like... um, the application process, and, um... other groundbreaking stuff.
But is 18 (eighteen) patents (pending) enough? As I said, I've been checking Twitter/making cups of tea/picking my nose through your advert for weeks now, and not once have I taken note of your frankly mind-boggling number of (pending) patents. And even now, I'm thinking - well, eighteen's a lot, but will it make me Google your website to look for another salon? My salon doesn't use Inoa, you see, and I'm assuming your advert's aimed at attracting new customers. And when I clicked on the "Salon Locator" tab I just got the L'Oreal Professionnel [sic] Facebook page, so you're not exactly making it easy for me, are you? Frankly I don't think a mere eighteen patents, most if not all of them presumably still pending, is enough to lure me in.
However, I'm not a problems person: I'm a solutions person. I'm sure you understand meaningless bullshit phrases like that, but I'll break it down for you anyway: I've come up with something to help you. Let's bump up those patents (the pending ones) to a more impressive 19. I hereby reveal: L'OREAL PROTEKTALOX!
That's right: you really are seeing what you think you're seeing and I know, it's freaking REVOLUTIONARY. Ignore for one moment that it's been drawn on the back of an envelope: the fact I evidently have bills to pay means you know I've put proper thought into this. But I'm not in it for the money - as Alex Tabarrok said in his 2009 TED talk, we need innovation to see us through economic crises - ideas which cross cultural and geographical boundaries.
All I'm asking for is 1/19th of your revenue from Inoa (since it will, after all, be one of the NINETEEN amazing (pending) patents key to the success of your product), £1,000,000 and a lifetime's supply of PROTEKTALOX for me and all of my 849 Twitter friends.
What does PROTEKTALOX do? Ha. I prefer to think of it another way: what does PROTEKTALOX NOT do? But seriously though, what it actually does is stop dye going onto your face and pillows while you're sleeping. I hate that. And it has a separate flap to stop your fringe going all crooked - solving yet another problem all of us with fringes will recognise. Keep getting dye on your face overnight? Sick of sleeping in a shower cap? Want to look sexier for your partner in bed? Use PROTEKTALOX!
Yeah, you laugh now, but when you see your sales figures after you raise your pending patents to a full NINETEEN you'll be laughing on the other side of your face. The side not covered by PROTEKTALOX.
Now it could - just could - be that name-checking your many pending but yet-to-be-processed patents could be one of those clever marketing tricks, like Olay Total Effect 7's Seven Signs of Aging (and that's not even including birthday parties - they're not on the list at all! Silly Olay) or that time your Boswelox cream (L'Oreal Wrinkle De-Crease Collagen, I think you call it) turned out to be... well, Boswelox. But come on - you've got more integrity than that, right? Right...?
Yours in optimism,
Helen Purves, inventor of PROTEKTALOX (patent pending)
Today (March 26th) is Epilepsy Awareness Day. So are you aware of epilepsy? Probably. It's unlikely you're aware of mine, though, and for years I wasn't either. I have simple and complex partial temporal lobe epilepsy: it's non-convulsive, meaning I don't do any of that falling-down shaky stuff that makes old people get itchy with spoons (don't do that, by the way. No spoons. Spoons break teeth. Here's what you should really do if someone's having a convulsive epileptic seizure). In fact, I haven't even seen the frothing-at-the-mouth thing people tend to go on about. I have the type of epilepsy they reckon Joan of Arc had - the type people have tended to interpret as religious visions. They're not, of course. But I wasn't diagnosed until I was 22, which meant that - because of not being aware of epilepsy - I had two options available to me.
Option 1: I was chosen by some higher power and should begin interpreting my out-of-body experiences (starting with strong feelings of deja vu, passing into visions and a wave of emotions, and then onto feeling like lightly toasted death for an hour or so) as visitations by God.
I was raised as a Christian (both Anglican and Catholic, but that's another story), but the idea that I, Helen Nina Elizabeth Purves, of Louth (Lincolnshire) had been hand-picked by Almighty God in order to relate His Message to the masses seemed far-fetched even to an extremely imaginative pre-teen like me. As a result I decided to become an atheist, which leads me to my only other option at the time.
Option 2: I was insane, and should never tell anyone about what I was experiencing for fear they would shut me up in a lunatic asylum. This, regrettably, was the option I went for. I suspect that if I'd been gullible/cynical enough to plump for Option 1 I'd be significantly better off by now. The market for human God-conduits is still pretty lucrative by all accounts.
As I result I hung on to my visions, deja-vus and heavy downers for years, terrified by the idea I'd be found out and end up being institutionalised. Unfortunately this was a genuine option for non-convulsive epileptics right up until the end of the last century (in some countries, epileptic people were not even permitted to marry), and many older people are still suffering from years of invasive treatment and padded cells. Like me, doctors and psychologists were not always fully aware of epilepsy. I was counselled for depression, but even then I was too terrified to tell my therapists the real reason for my heavy downers: that I was sticking my head into another dimension.
Eventually, though, I chose a moment to cross a line. At 22, after handing in in my 20,000 word dissertation and radio documentary to Nottingham Trent for assessment in the knowledge I was almost certainly guaranteed to get a good mark for my Masters in Radio Journalism, I decided I'd achieved enough in my life that I'd have good times to reflect upon when in my padded cell. I took myself off to my doctors, wrists ready-moisturised, to get myself cuffed and hauled away. I genuinely believed I would be taken straight to an institution in a straitjacket.
Of course I wasn't, because if I had been it's extremely unlikely I'd be writing this. Luckily for me Nottingham is the best place to be for people with epilepsy (the hospital there actually developed the MRI scanner): my doctor immediately referred me to Queens Medical Centre where I was and still am seen by my fantastic neuro Dr O'Donoghue. I went through the tests within the space of a month, started medication almost immediately and my epilepsy awareness went through the roof.
For example, did you know that St. Valentine is actually the patron saint of epilepsy? February used to be real downer for me before I knew that (I'm chronically and notorious single). This year I even baked and iced an enormous cake, and moaned on about epilepsy to everyone who came and ate it. Epilepsy: a brilliant excuse for cake. I even dyed the icing purple (the colour used by epilepsy charities), put Joan of Arc's flames up the sides and included oodles of buttercream and popping candy for the ultimate crazy epileptic sugar high.
To be perfectly honest, it sucks having epilepsy - it really does, and in so many ways that I could write an article a week for a year and still not cover it. However, it can also be quite funny. I have dozens of stories about things I have said or done when in the grip of complex partial seizures: during these I remain able to walk, talk and use my mobile phone, albeit extremely erratically, and have a tendency to go shopping. Once it was 34 pints of milk, another time one of every colour and brand of washing up liquid in Tesco (aside from yellow - I would never buy yellow washing up liquid, even under the grip of an epileptic seizure). Recently I have had a tendency to veer towards pickled onion Monster Munch - the image at the top is a photo I took during my last complex partial. The accompanying text message, sent to my mate Agnes Guano (he of The Downstairs Lounge), read "Kj vghhhrdftgxffgrwffgg monst ker munches dghvtggf ets etted".
I hope you're more aware of epilepsy now. Probably not: but if you see a tall girl with purple hair and glasses bulk-buying Monster Munch in Tesco whilst mumbling about tramps (example text message: "Tramp sit touch hit bite smell") please do make sure I don't walk in front of traffic. Ta muchly.