Helen Purves All you need to know about Helen Purves. And, indeed, much more.


The Paralympics: like the Olympics, but interesting

Paralympics poster art

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.

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, ShootingMatt Skelhon
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, SwimmingLiz Johnson
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 BasketballSimon Munn
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.


Bullying: horrific, but not surprising

A few years ago I was walking through Hammersmith Park on my way home from work when a group of teenagers leapt out from behind a wall and started throwing shoe-sized lumps of solid ice at me. I don't know what reaction people might expect me to have had - maybe I should have screamed, or run, or something - but in real life I kept doing what I had previously been doing. I kept strolling along, listening to my iPod, looking straight ahead. It was only after several severe blows to the head - one of which I would later discover had left me bleeding - and I could hear them approaching me from behind that I reacted. I turned to face them, and very firmly told them to f**k off. They stared at me, stunned, and I turned again and strolled off. At home I rang the police then ordered takeaway and quietly poured myself a vodka.

The next day, my friends and colleagues were surprised by my reaction. As I said, maybe I should have screamed, or run. But neither of those things occurred to me. Why not? Well, I'm afraid to say I'm still used to it - to being pushed around, belittled, bullied. It still seems normal to me: it still seems to be what I feel I deserve.

I have no idea how old I was when I started to be bullied. After around ten years of it (from primary school right up until I was 16) I've blocked out most of my childhood. That could be my epilepsy or it could be intentional - it really depends whether you speak to my neurologist or one of the many school therapists or counsellors I have spoken to throughout the course of my life. All I know is that I was bullied very badly - physically and verbally - by a great many students and occasionally even by teachers. The former was easy to spot: you know you're being bullied when you're in a corner of the playground being called a pervert and having your head kicked in. The latter only became obvious after other students reported it to their parents, who told my mother. Teachers (and indeed adults in general) are more intelligent in their bullying. More passive-aggressive. One teacher would consistently put every student's work on the wall except mine, which would somehow get torn/dirtied: another gave me such horrific referrals to my next school that I was placed in remedial classes for every subject. Within months I was in the top set for nearly everything.Playing the piano at home

I went from school to school, sunk in a cloud of misery that I could share with nobody. I was silent, troubled, obsessed with death and pain. I came to expect scorn and derision from everyone: everywhere I turned I looked for hate. So, why?

Good question. There are and were reasons everywhere, but never good ones. I was bullied for being too tall, too plain, for not having trainers, for wearing old-fashioned clothes, for having brown bread and no crisps in my lunchbox, for giving the correct answer in lessons, for not knowing what a turkey twizzler is, for going to a cottage in West Ireland in my summer holidays as opposed to some resort somewhere. Once I was bullied because I'd read all the books on the "difficult" shelf of the school library.

Obviously I was bullied because of my surname, but the bullies were more imaginative than that. They sensed when it no longer affected me and looked elsewhere, and I learned to try and predict their behaviour so I could shape myself to their changing moods: so I could deflect their coarse, blunt words with sharp quick ones of my own.

Naturally, these years of watching my step, inspecting myself for and hiding undesirable/vulnerable elements of my life, this need to constantly shift my personality - all these things have made me an extremely cynical person. They've also left me easy to hurt, because even the most seasoned warrior can't station troops at every battlefront when faced with a lifelong war.

And that’s what it becomes, because when you've been bullied for so long you stop thinking about it: eventually, the bullies can and do win. You begin to believe them: as adults, people become better at hurting each other and bullying becomes more about terrorism than open war. If you're used to looking for attacks about, say, your personality, then you don't see the harm in “well-meant” digs about your appearance until it’s too late, and the poison has already been absorbed. The one thing you do learn, however, is to never show your cards; to never let your enemy know they're winning. So even when you know you're being hurt, you learn to accept yet harden yourself to it, and to fight - if it's worth fighting at all, that is - in other ways.

So, I imagine we can all agree that bullying sucks. It really sucks, yes? Yes. Pessimistic, I know, but it feels too late for me somehow. Because there’s a reason I'm writing this tonight, and not some other night. It was very windy in Manchester this evening, and during my cycle ride home my long skirt kept getting whipped up to my thighs by the wind. After abuse from blokes on the street and honks from idiots in cars, I broke down in angry tears and walked my heavy, Dutch-style bike home. On my way I was approached by two guys, one of whom tried to take my mobile off me.

Did I scream, or run away, or give him my bag and phone? No. I took my massive metal bike lock out of my bike’s basket and whacked him round the head with it (I checked with police - it's okay in self-defence), then embarked upon a lengthy and vitriolic attack on his - their - character. I unleashed every swear word I know, and they left me. I was angry, upset, annoyed. But I wasn't surprised. I don't think I'll ever be surprised that someone wants to hurt me. I expect it, and I even try to look for it. Because in my experience every and any close friend, every partner, ever family member who treats me well - they could turn on me in an instant. If they’re someone I really trust, then it’s because I am a bad person and I deserve it. Every relationship I build could fall at any moment.

However, for millions of children out there, it's not too late. Bullying is still a huge issue, but it’s now one we recognise - and one that schools monitor more closely. I can't wait to get hold of the landmark film Bully, which happily did end up getting through the MPAA ratings system as a PG-13 despite problems in America. Check out their website - and if you're feeling plump in the pocket at the moment, consider donating to an awareness charity like BeatBullying - or to the NSPCC, who fund ChildLine. Feel free to leave links to other such organisations in a comment.  Here's the trailer.

A note to parents, here. If your child is being bullied and they've told you, congratulate yourself: you're a good parent. Is your child not being bullied? Definitely not? Then ask yourself - is your child a bully? Because not one of the parents of the children who beat me up, who tortured me, who slung constant verbal abuse at me, ever believed their children would do such a thing. Not for a moment. They would look their awful, malicious, violent brats in the face and see only angels. Nobody is an angel. No child is an angel either. Children can be vicious. I have scars: mental and physical. Be careful what you teach your child. I don't have a child - but if I did, like my parents I would hang Dorothy Nolte's poem Children Learn What They Live in the hallway. To quote the last few lines:

If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith in himself and those about him…
If a child lives with friendliness, he learns the world is a nice place in which to live.
With what is your child living?

Here are some links to bullying resources, in case any of this strikes a chord with you.  I sincerely hope not.
BBC Schools: Understanding bullying
BBC Health: Bullying and teenagers
ChildLine: Get some help
Red Balloon Learner Centres: For the recovery of bullied children

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18 patents is just not enough: an open letter to L’Oreal

Dear L'Oreal,

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!

Envelope with sketch: lady wearing showercap with extended flap at back and another flap at the fringe

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)


It’s Epilepsy Awareness Day: Be aware of my Monster Munch obsession

Monster Munch. No, really.

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 mHelen Purves cutting her crazy Epilepsy Cakey 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.

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It’s not what you’ve got (Or: Shut up about your iPad)

I'm so sick of hearing about new Apple releases.  Heck, I'm even sick of reading why other people are sick of hearing about new Apple releases. "Does it matter?" is verging on the rhetorical: even Gizmodo is starting to feel the iPad malaise.  To pardon the well-worn Purves family phrase, nobody seems to give a rat's cock any more: it's beyond a joke.  I think my favourite iPad coverage so far is Gizmodo's fun little "We Gave People an iPad 2" video, which is well worth checking out.

So why exactly are people getting so irritated about it?  Apple fanboy-ism is generally a joke because an almost religious fervour is applied to design principles and (disputed) technological advantages over Windows machines.  I'm no Windows apologist, but I'd say this usually means people are prepared to lay out far more money than is reasonable  on a machine they are unlikely to exploit as fully as it is designed to be exploited.  I feel this can best be summed up by the following amusing viral video of a frog.

Good video, right?  Yeah.  I watched it twice.  But the first time I saw that video, I was sitting on a tram: I plugged myself into my iPhone (yes, I have my own collection of Apple tech) to divert myself from an incredibly dull conversation two nearby geeks were having about what the pixel count was likely to be on the new iPad.  As I watched the frog blindly attacking imaginary ants, I wondered to myself whether the frog had considered how many pixels were on the screen of his/her owner's iPhone.  Perhaps the reason it turned so violently on its owner was not down to its disillusionment at the imaginary nature of the ants it wanted to eat, but in retribution for being forced to play its favourite game on an inferior device.  True, that's obviously at least an iPhone 4, but perhaps it was expecting a 4S?

No.  That is of course a ludicrous scenario.  Frogs are 99% unlikely to understand the difference between an iPhone 4 and an iPhone 4S - and besides, Froggish isn't listed in the languages officially supported by Siri.  What with Siri being the only discernible difference between the two devices, that's unlikely to be what's annoying the frog.  Probably the frog is just hungry.  However, were the frog in that 1% I have left open for the possibility of improbably technologically-advanced reptiles, I don't think it would be fussy about Siri either: because Siri is just software.

I can't illustrate the point I want to press any further without boring myself (and probably you, too) into endless and merciful sleep, so I'm going to delve way back into my personal internet history yet again in the hope that if I can build my argument into personal experiences that happened so long ago nobody can dispute them, I might win.  Let's see if it works.

When I was a child, my mother's father was massively into electronic typewriters, multi-use fax machines/phones and other frankly pointless gizmos.  In fact, he bought one of the first Palm Pilots.  I still have it: lord knows where it is, but I did just manage to find the collapsible keyboard which is a thing of beauty.  Here, marvel at its beauty.

Palm Pilot keyboard being opened
Assembled Palm Pilot keyboard

For me, it's like looking at an ancient arrowhead lost in the mud of a forgotten cave.  In reality, it's a bit of obsolete tech in a box full of tat in my spare room.  Each to their own.

Anyway, Grampa eventually ended up giving me this old tat, item after item, because as awesome as it was he never ended up using it.  When I got it, I'd play with it for a while - you know, input stock figures, write a to do list, write "55378008" in the calculator - then get bored and shove it in a drawer.  Palm Pilots were not designed for little children: there was nothing I could use it for.

In stark contrast, when my father got his first computer (it is impossible to date this event because (a) it feels like I've always had access to a computer and (b) my father doesn't relish being woken up in the middle of the night) my brother and I were on it like a shot.  Not because of the clicky sound it made when reading floppy disks or whatever it was that came before floppy disks, nor the exciting knowledge we were little children allowed to play on what we knew was a Grownup Thing.  What I liked was that I could play a game called Magic Maths (a very, very early text-based game I've found impossible to trace), and my maths would get better.  I don't remember that first computer: I don't remember how old I was when we got it, how much memory it could hold, what operating system it used (although I do remember it only had green text on a black screen) or anything else, but I do remember Magic Maths.  When we upgraded to a newer machine, I was allowed to hang on to the last one simply because I loved playing Magic Maths.  It wasn't about the computer, it was what I could do with it.

Fast forward to now, and I'm still the same: I don't think anyone else is different, either. A while ago I went to the launch of the new Salford University buildings at MediaCityUK, and while the work on display was impressive I have to admit I spent more time watching visitors to the open day play with the big multi-touch tables - provided, I believe, by Microsoft (you can check out how Manchester's using this technology on the Microsoft Surface website).

It's impressive technology, but when people approached it their instinct was not to marvel at the screen resolution or ask nearby helpers to list the functionality provided.  Of course not.  The first thing people did - an instinct shared by children and adults alike - was to immediately touch it: to see what moved, and how, and look at the pictures and information on the screen.  Children wanted to play games, adults wanted to see pictures and both wanted to generally marvel as stuff whooshed across the screen.  I watched for over half an hour and during that time not one man, woman or child started discussing the limitations of the operating system or the upcoming patch Microsoft was going to release to fix blah blah blah.  I can assure you that, working and socialising with the delightful geeks that I do, I have met plenty of people who would happily bore on about such things for hours.  However, the people experiencing Surface for the first time were not my colleagues: they were ordinary people.  The kind of people who simply use technology, as opposed to the tiny percentage of people who make it, or write about it, or read about it on Gizmodo.  These people were not interested in the details of how the tables worked - they were far more interested in could be done with them.

This is why I, like so many others, am increasingly sick of pointless hardware releases which include negligible improvements.  I got my first iPhone because it could do things my O2 XDA couldn't: it had better games, it could play my music, and it came with the possibility to expand with an ever-growing library of free and cheap apps.  My iPhone 4 is smaller, has a second camera, free messaging to other iPhones on a 3G connection and a very noticeable retina display.  Not a life-changing offering, but my contract was up so I switched.  But the 4S - well, it just mostly has Siri.  So basically, in terms of what your average user sees, progress is actually slowing down.

A similar thing appears to happening with iPads.  The first was revolutionary; the second had useful improvements, and the third... well, it's a bit better.  If you know what you're looking for.  Which it appears even Gizmodo staff don't (that link again).  You can still do the same things with an iPad 3 that you can with a first-gen iPad: play games, watch videos, get the internet, look rich.  Sure, it has a camera, but so does the iPad 2.  Sure, it has more pixels, but - well, you can still see stuff on it.  I'm getting bored with this now.  Reeling off iPad specs is like writing about expensive cars: great, they'll go up to 200mph, but where on earth can you legally drive at that speed?  And how long can you safely bore on about it at parties before people start making assumptions about the size of your manhood?

So, I don't care which iPad you have.  All I know is, you have one and I don't.  Good for you.

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Last night a DJ trolled my life

Everyone can remember their first time.  Me?  It was the summer of the year 2000.  I was 17, he was 18, and it was at my birthday party, in my parents' driveway.  I'll always remember Ewan: his long black hair, his trenchcoat, his squeaky voice.  The first person I met off the internet.  We exchanged greetings, stood around awkwardly, and then he pulled some random girl which meant I didn't have to speak to him.  Which suited me very well indeed, since in real life his voice was even squeakier than it had been over VoIP.

The last guy?  His accent was infinitely better. A DJ, from Detroit no less, and this time we turned it around: we did things back to front, as it were.  We met in a nightclub a few weeks ago, and since then we've become engaged.

Got a dirty mind?  Clean it.  This is all about the internet: because in my life, nearly everything is about the internet.

Back to the beginning.  My whole experience of the world changed as early as 1998, when my father got an AOL CD in the post.  It wasn't long afterwards that he got a second phone line, as I discovered Tripod, Geocities
and then, for two beautiful years, Napster.

In sixth form, I met a group of nerd-boys who showed me how to code my own websites using various free hosting and domain registration services.  I learned the web as it evolved: I coded frames, and then tables - and when the older ones inevitably left to study maths and science at Cambridge, they helpfully continued to teach me the beginnings of CSS over instant messaging service ICQ. One of them was friends with Ewan, and brought him to my parents' legendary summer party after we clicked through our shared love of heavy metal (oh, the shame).  At the party, we distinctly un-clicked, and I thought that would be that.

Of course, the world is a different place now.  Some of my oldest friends are now people I have come to know via the internet - and most of my newest friends too, through Twitter.  It's strange to think how lonely I would have felt, moving to Manchester, without the knowledge that I could occasionally go and impose myself upon Mof Gimmers and chums.

It was during one of these impositions that my beady eyes first alighted upon my new internet fiance, DJ Meph.  Those of you wishing to stalk him can do so at djmeph.net.  We spoke fairly briefly - just enough for me to work out he was worth following on Twitter.  The rest is history: in short, we are both epic trolls and have hoaxed our friends abominally.

Props to Daniel Pass for setting us up on Leap Day: I proposed while my prey was asleep, and when he awoke to find a stream of tweets about chloroform and canapes he was moved to make it Facebook Official.  I logged on that night, accepted his friend request and was immediately met with a maelstrom of congratulations on my new relationship status as it dawned upon me that I'd finally met someone as mischievous as myself.

His many friends were lured into dozens of comments, but mine (alas) are more experienced in the Ways of Helen.  I fended off streams of text messages with a standard reply, and sat back waiting for the news to spread to my mother.

During this deliciously agonising period I had time to reflect, as I have many times before, on the way we all of us rely so completely upon technology which as children we could never have dreamed of.  I remember the wonder my little brother and I experienced when rescued from a car crash by a business man with a gigantic car phone: nobody imagined that twenty years later I'd be casually using its great, great, great grandphone to announce my digital relationship to a man I was communicating with through a third cousin of the computerised typewriters the legal secretaries at my dad's office were using to type up conveyancing documents.

It's an interesting thought, and not one which can be covered in just one blog post.  It would be like trying to summarise my whole life in one ANSI-formatted TXT file opened in MS Notepad (which is, as it happens, what I am currently typing this into - old habits die hard).  But just imagine: if technology has changed so much about the way we live and communicate now, what will the world look like for our children?

Luckily for DJ Meph, internet babies have yet to be invented: but it can only be a matter of time.  The world saw its first internet marriage way back in 1996, and let's face it, stranger things really have happened: it's just that now they have, they're no longer strange...

While we all ponder this incredibly profound thought (and while DJ Meph gets his legal team together to pen the first official restraining order of what I'm sure will be a long and beautiful relationship) I'll leave you with the bloody awful song all of us have had nagging away at our brains since you read the title of this blog post.  Sorry for that, by the way.


Weight loss: not all peaches, and certainly no cream

Today is my first weight loss anniversary. In the past year I have lost six stones - that's 84 lbs, or 38 kilos, and an 11 point drop in terms of my BMI. I have gone down nearly five dress sizes.After and before photos

How my face has changed: me now, and me last February

How did I do it? Through Weight Watchers (specifically, the Weight Watchers iPhone app), and I don't need paying to evangelise about their plan. I would happily recommend them to anyone: I won't bother going into details as you can find out more about the Pro Points diet on their website, but it's been the easiest thing I've ever done.

I still have a couple of stones to lose, but I've already learned so many difficult lessons. All we're ever given is the positive spin on weight loss: TV programmes, adverts, books, and websites all give you this massive spiel about how you'll look and feel so much better. Well, you might: but there are down-sides too, and ones that you won't find many people being honest enough to talk about.

When I started experiencing the darker side of intense weight loss, I had nowhere to turn: nobody I know or even know of has ever lost so much weight as me. Celebrities, sure, and vlogging Americans who've had gastric bands fitted, but that's not the same as the experience of just finding a healthy diet and sticking to it. Even the brilliant Weight Watchers forum doesn't touch upon the darker side of things - on the whole, people just don't like to admit they have problems (although since asking for similar stories to mine on the forums there, I've been shown some very insightful blog posts from members).

Note: please don't let this put you off losing weight, if you're in the process of trying to do so or considering starting a new diet. Losing weight is awesome. I will live much, much longer now, and once everything's settled down I expect my quality of life to be amazing. Believe the hype: losing weight is the best thing you can possibly do. But I'm an incurably honest person, and I think somebody needs to at least touch on this subject. So, for people out there starting the same journey I've undertaken, here are some of the most difficult lessons I've learned along the way.

For the first few months, you'll feel really bad about yourself
I'd never dieted before, but I imagine this is the main reason people give up before they get very far. When you start a diet (although I'm not really sure I can think of Weight Watchers as a diet any more - more of a gradual lifestyle change) you have to immediately cut down on the amount of food you eat - and although it feels great to know you're making positive changes, you can often start to feel really guilty about the recent past.

I started obsessing about how much food I used to eat, and nearly ended up comfort-eating a few times - which would have been deadly, as it probably would have started a dreadfully upsetting downwards spiral. Luckily I didn't feel there was much hanging on my weight loss - I didn't pressure myself, and I'd never lost weight before so was delighted and almost overwhelmingly incredulous when it started to work. Also, Weight Watchers cuts your food intake very gradually, so at first I could eat quite a lot.

There isn't a deadline
Rather naively, I used to think that I'd lose all eight stone and THEN everything would be different. WRONG. It creeps up on you slowly: after six stones, my life is already very different. All those things you think will happen after your weight loss actually start happening much earlier, as you constantly change shape. You don't have to have a BMI of between 18-25 to notice changes to your life, or for things to get better for you. In fact, it's easier to deal with: can you imagine the shock of suddenly waking up looking perfect? It's been hard enough dealing with the stuff below over the course of a full year, never mind overnight!

None of your favourite clothes will fit you
I love clothes. Not fashion, but just clothes in general. I've always been fat, so during my life I've found ways of getting hold of the most amazing outfits to fit and flatter my shape. A special Calvin Klein dress from a sale at Bloomingdale's in New York, an amazing denim skirt from Pink Marzipan, great cocktail dresses I had tailored to fit me from Monsoon (it's amazing what tailors can do with dresses which have generous linings). I've had to throw all of these away, and it was actually quite emotional - not to mention expensive, because I've been through several wardrobes now. But it's better to get rid of clothes that are too large - if you're doing things right, you'll be certain that you'll never be able to wear them again.

Your body shape will completely change
On a related note: what flatters me now is completely different. I never used to be able to wear wrap tops because they drew attention to my podgy waist: I'm not entirely able to pull them off now, but my trusty old waterfall cardis just utterly swamp my increasingly hourglass figure. This wasn't a shape I expected to be, as I've never been even close to slim before. But now I have curves, I'm having to reassess how I think when I'm choosing clothes.

You will get cold
Very cold. And not just in cold weather - last summer my thinner, lighter friends boggled as I wore a coat and scarf even on the hottest days of the year. I miss my fat-blanket. I used to have an amazing personal thermostat: never too hot in the summer, and always warm enough in the winter. Now I'm almost constantly cold - especially my hands and feet. When you lose weight naturally, you do of course lose it from all over your body - the first new clothes you buy will probably be jumpers.

Weird skin
Without veering into TMI territory, things will be difficult with your skin for a while. Skin on my face has cleared up - way less spots, which is just awesome - but for a while, skin elsewhere was not looking so good. Moisturise as much as you can - I use Bio Oil (supposedly for pregnant women/stretch marks) which you can get on Amazon but it's expensive and actually I reckon just about any good moisturiser would do the trick.

Food won't be there to comfort you any more
Food used to be my emotional go-to. Bad day at work? Monster Munch. Fallen out with a mate? Kit Kats. Argument with mother? Massive takeaway pizza. The list goes on. However, I genuinely think about food differently now - it's there to taste nice, but comfort has to come from somewhere else. My very supportive best friend Ruth has been instrumental in this, but you can't rest your whole emotional being in one person's hands - that's not fair. What's more, weight loss is an emotional roller coaster: because this next one is a biggie.

People will treat you incredibly differently
Here's where I come off as arrogant, but I can take that because this is the single most difficult thing I've had to face, and it's not something I imagine people who haven't gone through this experience will understand. This continues to upset me greatly, but everyone - friends and family as well as complete strangers - has started acting differently towards me. The old cliché about thin people being popular is not without truth.

I get really angry about this, but I don't think people can help it. Mostly it's people I pass in the street - instead of looking past me, men will often look at me: down, and then up. I occasionally get chatted up by guys in bars now, and previously-lesser spotted female friends are far more likely to start inviting me to nights out, dance classes, yoga etc.

This is supposed to be good, right? Well, no. It's actually quite intimidating if you haven't faced it before. I find it very scary: when I used to attract anyone, it often would be slightly strange, quiet, shy men. Now I'm actually starting to get noticed by the type of guy I prefer - more assertive, manly men. It's awesome, but it's taking a while to get used to.

I was also unconsciously used to people assuming I'd be a shy, insular, rather dull individual and developed a buoyant, cynical personality to try and combat this effect - so I've noticed my personality has started to adapt ever so slightly. I feel way more relaxed and less stressed, and it's weird.

Last but not least: medication
As you may or may not know, I have non-convulsive temporal lobe epilepsy. For god's sake, before you lose weight, go and see your GP! As I lost more and more of my body weight, I started finding myself becoming sluggish, incoherent and forgetful. I didn't work it out for weeks, but then I realised that due to my weight loss I was effectively overdosing on anti-epileptic drugs. This is seriously not cool, but to be fair to myself I really did lose weight almost by accident.

As I said earlier, it's been great - but I really wish more people would speak out about the down sides, if only to help those who are having a tough time. If you have blogged, vlogged or podcasted about this or have more useful links then comment below.

Useful links:
Weight Watchers: http://www.weightwatchers.co.uk
BBC Health BMI Calculator: http://www.bbc.co.uk/health/tools/bmi_calculator/bmi.shtml
NHS Live Well: Lose weight: http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/loseweight/Pages/Loseweighthome.aspx

Filed under: stuff i did 6 Comments

The Amazing Lorraine Lynch/Peacock/Maiden/Timewell: Mother, performer, journalist

A portrait photo of Lorraine Timewell taken some time in the 1940s
This last Christmas I was clearing out a room of my parent's house for my mates to kip in at the Legendary Purves New Year's Eve Party, when I found a rather mysteriously heavy old suitcase. When my mother and I cracked it open we found a long lost stash of family albums and photos that belonged to Granny Baba, my mother's mother's mother.

The picture above was probably taken in the 1940s, but I remember her looking more regal: something more like this next picture (even though this is a publicity photo taken in her Guernsey home in 1974, before I was born).
A press photo of Lorraine Timewell sitting in a polka dot dress, taken in 1974
My lasting memory of her is of visiting a grandiose house in Guernsey as a small child and being greeted by a batty old lady ferociously wielding a poker, with my mother screaming "Quick! Children, run upstairs!". She was later brought back to a nursing home in rural Lincolnshire and died some time in the 1990s. Until I opened the suitcase, I knew very little about her: now I am absolutely fascinated.

Granny Baba was born in New Zealand, either as Lorraine Lynch or Lorraine Peacock depending who you ask: after her father died, her mother remarried and gave her baby daughter her new husband's name (or Lorraine took the name later on - she certainly never thought of it beyond her childhood). She left New Zealand with her mother to study a degree in Home Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, where she appears to have studied Russian for a whole semester simply in order to seduce a Russian student.

After this she and her mother went on a cruise where she met and and married a man named Rex Maiden - but not for long. She left her very young daughter, having decided the ordeal of childbirth was far too gruesome to undergo a second time, and went off on what appears from her very well-stamped passport to be an extensive world tour. She wrote and performed very well-received popular piano music, small plays and newspaper articles in Australia. Whilst in Australia she met her second husband, a young sailor called Tim Timewell, divorcing Rex: a controversial move, given that it was 1929 and her child, my grandmother, was just 18 months old.

Her work in Australia was successful enough that when war broke out she was selected to sell war bonds with people like Marlene Dietrich to Americans when World War 2 broke out. She spoke to groups of woman from all over the USA and received a great deal of gushing fan mail as a result, all of which she kept.

By the time WW2 ended, Lorraine was living in London accompanying Jack Warner, a well-known entertainer, on piano, and writing songs for impresario Charles Cochran. By this time her second husband was a member of General Electric, involved in selling domestic appliances. She sent for her daughter to live with her in London, and eventually retired with her husband to Guernsey. She had high standards: she would only buy her clothes from boutiques in London, flew to England when she needed medical treatment, would spend each summer in the best rooms of favourite hotels and continued to travel the world right into old age.

However, the thing I was most interested to find out was that Lorraine was a writer. And, more than that: in her clippings, alongside a great many lifestyle pieces about flower arranging and dinner party menus and music and well-written but frankly boring lifestyle pieces aimed at housewives, there were pieces written by someone called "Edward Lorraine". It doesn't take a genious to work out whose nom de plume that was.

And what did she write about? She wrote about modern technology - here's the end of a feature piece she wrote about the emerging importance of designers in the years directly after WW2. It seems amazing to us now, in our age of obsession with the design of ordinary objects, that such a thing was not thought of whatsoever even as recently as the late 1940s.
An article clipping by Lorraine - 'We have been too satisfied to make something good and leave the world to discover its value'
My favourite part of this particular article is where she describes a prototype of the modern black cab.
Prototype black cab - caption reads 'Taxi, taxi! The striking features of this new cab are described in the article on this page.'

The cab has a new type of indicator, housed on the roof, which shows at a distance whether the cab is for hire or not, and it is well illuminated for night driving. The interior seems more spacious than the old type... the driver's seat moved forward so that he sits alongside rather than behind the engine. Tip-up seats have been replaced by a cushioned seat running the full width of the body... Sliding doors give easy exit and entrance without causing inconvenience to passers-by on crowded pavements.

So there we have it - an extremely modern woman caught in a bygone age. My favourite part of this discovery is that women were writing design and technology journalism pieces right back in the 1940s - albeit with a nom de plume. I have always known that journalism runs in my family - Purveses are notorious writers - but I'm rather proud to discover that both sides of my family have had a bash at it.

And with that, I leave you with one last picture of my excellent great granny: Lorraine Lynch, or Peacock, or Maiden, or Timewell, or even Edward Lorraine - but to me, Granny Baba.
Lorraine Timewell

Filed under: awesome things 2 Comments

Britain in a Day: Practically *made* for YouTube

Whoever it was that came up with the Britain in a Day concept is surely onto a winner. In case you haven't heard about it, the idea is that you film your day - Saturday 12th November - and shove it on YouTube.

Approximately 100 million billion people are already filming their days and putting them on YouTube, but thankfully Britain in a Day is looking for something slightly more inventive than just whining into a video camera about how you like cats and messed up your fake tan and how hard it is being ginger.

I'm definitely going to be taking part and will post my video up here after I've made it. I really hope this goes viral - it's a really interesting project that's bound to appeal especially to existing vloggers. I also like the idea of capturing a day in the life of the general public - what does Britain really get up to on its Saturdays? There are bound to be some pretty interesting videos.

Here's the Britain in a Day YouTube channel, complete with a timer and help videos etc. I particularly like the video about planning, featuring Dan Snow, because as everyone knows, Big Dan is pretty epic.

*EDIT* - here you are. I was only able to create a rough-cut in the end, and missed out a whole load of boring stuff I did like making rocky road and soap and bunting and stuff. I have literally no idea why I bothered to do that stuff. Oh well.


#strangefortunes: A DIY fortune cookie experiment

Baked fortune cookies in a Tupperware box

I've always had a bit of a thing for fortune cookies, which are (in my opinion, at least) truly the Kinder Egg of biscuits. However, they're never terribly exciting. I bought and ate a wholesale bag of them once, and I didn't even get told I'd meet a tall/dark/handsome stranger (although to be fair, I haven't. Probably because I go around eating wholesale bags of fortune cookies).

Then, a month or so ago, it occurred to me: what are we doing? Why are we letting fortune cookie writers decide our futures? Why can't we decide our own futures? This is the modern age, after all: has our society entirely run out of optimism amidst all the bad news, bad money and bad politicians which daily surround us? Why can't humanity, in the form of popular social networking website Twitter (don't know if you've heard of it) decide its own fate?

Basically, I had a worryingly optimistic moment. I promise not to do it again.

So, after much research (read: no research) I found this recipe for fortune cookies over on allrecipes.com. And doubled it. Tip 1: don't do that. Fortune cookies have to be made one at a time and moulded when molten hot. So really, don't do that.

Meanwhile, I'd set up a hashtag on Twitter - #strangefortunes - and asked my followers to suggest fortunes. The response was overwhelming, which made me feel slightly better about doubling the recipe. However, I didn't want to waste the fun fortunes on the first few cookies, which I just knew I'd ruin, so I made some Lorem Ipsum ones:

Lorem Ipsum text on paper, being cut up into strips

...which turned out to be a rather good idea.

Soggy fortune cookie failure: flat soggy mess with fortune limping resting on top

Next, I mixed up some egg whites, which I will show because I'm rather proud of the snazzy whisk my friend Edward got for me.

Whisked egg whites in a bowl with an awesome squid-shaped whisk

I then added flour and blah blah blah, and (by putting them directly onto a greased baking tray and baking them ONE AT A TIME) started getting the cookies together. When they came out I have seconds to scrape them off the tray, put the fortune in, fold the cookie in half and bend it over the edge of a cup. I then put them into muffin trays ready for double baking (as they were still vaguely squidgy):

Fortune cookies in a muffin tray, waiting to be baked

And here's what they ended up looking like:

Baked fortune cookies

I don't have any pictures of them being eaten, because the moment I got to work and opened the lid, WHOOSH: instantly gone. Everyone loved them - even the poor sod who got Herm Baskerville's submission (something about blood and gristle and sweetmeats: I forget). Unfortunately my favourite ("I know I'm a fortune cookie, but I can't tell you anything without a tarot pack") didn't make it: ke sera sera, I suppose.

Broken fortune cookie

If you have any suggestions for fortunes, leave them in the comments section - or tweet me @isntit.

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