of the somme worriors

As part of my debate with the folks from http://www.grouchyoldcripple.com this morning, I needed to find the proper usage of the term ‘atrophy. Remembering the term had something to do with Muscular Dystrophy (MD), I plugged the term into google, and came across this Reuters report. It’s about a poet, Mattie Stepanek, who died earlier today of an MD-related condition, age 13.

This boy – although he was indeed a man – apparently inspired America: he appeared on Operah, and spoke to Jimmy Carter. Reports say he had wisdom beyond his years, and this I can believe. Although we didn’t always get on, I felt my classmates back at school had a kind of wisdom: they saw their fate, accepted it, and simply got on with life. They are indeed braver than any soldier of Agincourt, the Somme, Ypres, or any battle. Reading the article, I thought of Andy Fox, as my mind frequently does, and how he could see any situation as it truly was. A man who did not deserve his fate, but bore it as if it was weightless.

‘he ain’ heavy, father, he’s my Brother.’

So, now Reuters has reported on something I thought was confined to the deceptively cheerful walls of Hebden Green School, or the writings of La Guerra: the dark side of disability; of grieving parents; of kids who deserve more. This subject used to make me angry – the day Foxy died, I came home and smashed up my room/ but there’s no point. Like Andrew Wheetly, Lee Donnelly, Phillip Littlewood, Dave Giles, Andy Fox and Mattie Stepanek, one just has to accept fate, which is even more sad.

The week after Foxy died, I had a speech therapy lesson. The speech therapist, Ms Hickson, whom I had known since I was six, often decided to forgo any structured therapy and just let me talk. This time, we discussed foxy.

”They’re all going to go, aren’t they?” I said. It was true – most of my classmates had some form of MD, and would sooner or later die.

”Yes” Mrs Hickson said. Then she did something unique: she broke with the school’s optimistic air and spoke with realism. ”Which would you prefer, Matt: to die young like Andy, or to live a long life in a body like Kirsty’s?” Kirsty had a very severe condition where she couldn’t walk, talk or move properly although her mind seemed to be fully functional. She would probably be placed in an institution after leaving school, and live a long life. Clearly, there were fates worse than Andy’s.

This is the darkness that pervades what I consider ‘my world’ – the world of disability. Yet within darkness there is always light. My friends always had a boundless kind of optimism. We would all do well to learn from them.

bionic matt

This is a story inspired by a article I read this morning.

I opened my eyes. The first thing I noticed, apart from a queasy feeling in my stomach, were the irregularities in the plaster on the ceiling. They were perfectly clear, like a perfectly white sea, turned upside down and frozen in time.

“Well I’ll be. It worked!” I said, to myself.

“Clear as crystal.” My father’s voice was a mixture of wonder and euphoria. He was not speaking to me, but someone else in the room. “Told you I could do it.” I heard Luke say. “all it took was a thousand lines of Perl and a few microprocessors.”

“and who designed those processors,, eh?” this was mark.

“Oh shut up you two!” said mum. I smiled at the realisation that I was taking my traditional role as spectator in my brother’s arguments. Old habits die hard.

“Quite.” I said “it just occurred to me that I can move my legs with greater precision than ever before, and unless you want me to kick both your arses, I suggest you shut up.”

There was total silence in the room. As usual, I was unsure that anyone had understood even a word I was saying/ I began again “I said…”

“we understood you matt.” Mark said. I heard mum start to weep. I smiled, and decided to try out a few things. Under the hospital coverlet, I touched my index finger with my thumb. “So far so good” I thought ”now for the others. One, two, three, four. Good. Now for the left. One two, three four. Excellent.” I lifted my head, and saw my family at the foot of my bed. They were standing there in silent awe, tears of joy rolling down mum’s face. “now this is rather cool”, thought.

I turned my head to look at the bedside table, upon which sat a glass of water with a straw in it, which I had drank front to swallow the anaesthetic roughly five hours before. A idea occurred to me, both mischievous and poignant. I lifted my hand from beneath the cover, and slowly it glided towards the glass, reaching up and behind me. I must admit it felt odd doing this: there were none of the usual tugs of tension, my arms did not feel as if they wanted to suddenly jerk back into the Moro position; all I felt was freedom.

The processors in my cerebellum were working. They had been implanted by Professor Tipu Aziz, whose pioneering work using computers to replace misfiring neurons successfully treated conditions like Parkinson’s and motor-neurone disease. Similar work had been done by Ed Tarte, of Cambridge, in the area f spinal chord injury. It was, however, my brothers who had posited, after I had made a particularly large mess one mealtime, that similar technology could be used to bypass damaged neurons responsible fore movement.

When quite large amounts of the brain have been damaged, for example, through oxygen deprivation at birth, surrounding brain tissue is gradually trained to replace the function of that which is lost. Such training is never perfect, and thus we get the decreases body co-ordination we see with cerebral palsy sufferers, for example. However, if neural implants could be used to replace damaged tissue, .recovery would be much better because, my boffin brothers suggested, the computer programming would be much more efficient than the tissue the brain uses to compensate with.

Of course, there had been some debate over the possible abuse of this technology. It had been argued that it could lead to a ‘bionic man’ being made. Others had argued that it could lead to a form of mind control, and I had been quite amused that bioengineers at the State university of New York had given one lab rat implants which effectively turned it into a remote controlled toy. Nevertheless, my family had felt, like the majority of the scientific community, that the benefits of this technology by far outweighed the dangers.

Thus these computers, tiny as a grain of sand, were calculating the trajectory of my right arm as I reached for the glass. I suddenly felt he cool container between my fingers and thumb, and knew, in an instant, how much pressure to apply. And then, in a moment that I had waited twenty-five years for, I picked the glass up, put it’s rim gently to my lips, and drank from it.

See Sunday Times magazine, 20th June 2004, p45


I was watching the news last night. Arab terrorists beheaded a man in Saudi Arabia simply because he was an American. I know I’ve been known to criticise the yanks here, but this man didn’t deserve to die. by doing this, the terrorists have shown they do not discriminate between combatants and non-combatants, thereby losing any scrap of moral superiority they ever had.

I refuse to believe in ‘barbarians’: no person can be innately violent, so any violent act must have a motive. Yet this rule has been breached by Hitler, Stalin and countless others. If man can be violent for violence’ sake, then these terrorists are indeed barbarians, as were the Abu Grahib guards.

What a disgusting war this truly is?!

Got a Letter from Michael Palin

I got an email from palinstravels.co.uk, which – as a Palin fan – is enough to make me smile for days!

[quote=”Michael Palin”]Dear all,

I apologise, grovellingly, for not having reported back to you for so long. I thought of making excuse like a severe case of YRMLS (Yak-Butter Related Memory Loss Syndrome) or simply that I’d fallen off a mountain onto my writing hand. The reality is much less interesting as it involves very boring things like writing deadlines and delivery dates.

Our last day of filming in the Himalaya was in early April this year, and as I have had to write the book in breaks between filming trips, over half remained un-written when I got back to London. With the help of my wife, who is getting better and better at ignoring me, and our three cats who say and do very little during the daytime, I was able to sit undisturbed in my room, watching spring turn to summer in the gardens of Gospel Oak and tap out a rough and ready account of 3,000 miles of astonishing travel.

Over in Washington, Basil Pao was working equally frantically, looking through his nine million photos for 300 which would be good enough for my book and a further 300 even better ones that would be good for his book.

Anyway, it looks as if the seven day a week, no alcohol before 7 p.m. regime has worked. Both books – Himalaya and Inside Himalaya by Basil Pao – are just about ready to go to the printers in north Italy, and we’re looking at publication in late September. I would love to go to north Italy and keep the words and pictures company as they churn through the presses in the shadow of the Dolomites, but after a short pause for breath I have to start work writing and recording the commentary for our six episodes. So that’s another summer devoted to the Himalaya!

What makes it all worthwhile is that we have some fantastic material, both written and visual, to work with, and as everywhere we went through was pretty difficult to get to, as well as new and strange to me, there is a real sense of adventure in the project.

The highest point of the journey was just over 18,000 feet (5,500 metres) and the lowest was on the very last shot of the series, floating out into the sunset on the Bay of Bengal. The mountains take no hostages. Conditions above 15,000 feet were always difficult, with lower oxygen levels making moving, breathing and sleeping more difficult. As we had once again set ourselves a lot of ground to cover we had very little recovery or acclimatization time and our ace BAFTA award-winning sound recordist John Pritchard, suffered a bad dose of altitude sickness and was hospitalized in Lhasa, Tibet. He’s now made a full recovery I’m glad to say. Both myself and Basil were struck down by a nasty virus that reduced us too coughing wrecks on one part of the climb. You’ll be glad to hear that all my misery was faithfully and unblinkingly recorded on film by our ace BAFTA award-winning cameraman Nigel Meakin.

All six programmes have now been edited down and I’m very pleased that each one has a distinct and different feel to it. Pakistan starts the series, and that’s very different from India, and Nepal and Tibet are both different again. Yunnan in China, at the far eastern end of the Himalaya is an eye-opener, and very beautiful, and Nagaland and Assam in north-east India are strange and lovely. To round off the trip, we have the high and the lows in Bhutan and Bangladesh, both fascinating places, but as different as chalk from cheese. Though the scenery is breathtaking, it’s the people we meet who, as usual, make the programmes work.

So that’s where it’s at the moment. Can’t give much more detail because we’re still fine tuning everything, but I am quietly excited and looking forward to the first transmission, which we hope will be in early October, on BBC 1.

I shall be doing a book signing tour here in October and hopefully visiting Australia and New Zealand in November and Holland in December. Travel begets travel, but at least I can leave my sleeping bag behind!

Soon we’ll be able to have more material about Himalaya on the site, and we’ll be keeping you updated about where and when you can catch the series. Meanwhile watch the old ones on UK TV Documentary channel!

Thank you for being patient during my absence. Talk soon, as they say.


travel bug

It’s just under 2 weeks till i go to berlin with college, and i cant wait. There are times when i feel i just have to travel, anywhere. of course, watching michael palin DVDs only makes this feeling worse.

I love the feelling of waking up, at maybe 4 or 5 in the morning, and thinking “today, an adventure will begin. tonight i will sleep in a bed 1000 miles from here”. i adore the feelinng of actually moving: watching lanscape go by, perhaps changing gradually. i love new foods, new drink, new people. oh i just cannt wait!

Reflections Upon Fanfic

In it’s brief evaluation of Fanfic, the bbc Ouch! website quotes professor Henry Jenkins as saying

[quote=”Ouch!url:http://www.bbc.co.uk/ouch/closeup/harrypotter.shtml”%5Dfan fiction is “born out of a mixture of fascination and frustration”, as the original material captures the imagination but fails to satisfy. Writers placing “marginalized peoples” at the centre of their stories, “play out a drama about acceptance, tolerance, even an embrace of their difference.”[/quote]

In saying this, Jenkins has seemingly captured the raisin d’etre of Fanfic perfectly. It is a medium where fans can take the components of established, published works and examine them through their own writing. This essay will examine fan fiction as a mode, reflecting upon points for and against it.

Fanfic can be criticised on the basis that it is not original. It is an embellishment upon another artist’s work, and some hold that this makes it less artistically valid. Many philosophers hold that one of the main aspects of all art is originality: Bizet did not copy themes from Mozart, nor Tolkien from Tolstoy. Every art work should be utterly unique. It follows, then, that as pieces of fan fiction have as their basis other works, they are less valid.

Indeed, the ouch article points out, “[i][Fanfic exists][/i] in the grey areas of copyright”, meaning that it is not fully recognised under law. It can be seen as immoral in that writers steal ideas from others. This is certainly true, but writing, I would argue, has no formal rules on this subject: it, like all art forms, is forever evolving and changing in a way similar to genres.

Toderov proposed that genres are in a constant state of flux – elements of one genre move into another, then another. For example, in the Harry potter novels we see elements of fantasy, adventure, melodrama, and so on. Writing is similarly fluid: it comes off the page and forms a life in the readers mind. In this sense, it no longer belongs to the writer but is the reader’s property. By it’s very nature, writing invites interpretation by readers.

There are many ways this can be achieved. Usually, a person will read a book, think about its themes, perhaps incorporate them into his or her world view, then move on to another book. Yet if he or she has the power, money and inclination, a person might chose to make a film out of a book. This is similar to the generation of Fanfic, as a director will ultimately have to interpret the text to make the film. It is unlikely that the text’s original author and the director would have the same vision, so the film can be seen as merely taking the original as its basis.

This is exactly what Fanfic seeks to do. Another form of reflection upon an original texts, it gives the writer the ability to explore certain elements, characters and themes. They are indeed valid forms of writing in their own right, merely having used another piece of writing as a reference point, just as film adaptations ultimately do. They are thus paying tribute to the original text for being versatile enough to allow such exploration. To dismiss Fanfic as somehow less worthy than other art forms is therefore folly, and would, in my view, betray one as ignorant and snobbish.

Worth a look: http://www.fictionalley.org – “FanFic in All Shapes, Sizes & SHIPs!”

beer + football loss = xenophobia

I should pooint outt that last night, having watched england lose sso dramatically at football, and having drank one too many beers [stella through a straw is damn daangerous] I made some quite xenophobic comments here. The french are nice people, who make good wine, and i just want to point out that what i said last night did not reflect my world view.

but they’re still lucky!

frog cowards

trafalgar meann anything? we beat hat little arse napolion. and you wwere somewhat quick to surrender to mr hitler, ehh? you got blloody lucky toniight!

prisoner of azkaban

We just got back from the cinema, where i saw the new harry potter film. i was glad to see that the film, like the books, are becoming more adult as they progress, and the prisoner of azkaban is thus a much more sophisticated film. This may, of course, have been connected with th change in drector – if ever one needed proofe of “auteur theory”, here it is.

indeed, the differences between chris columbus and Alfonso Cuaron are remarkable: Cuaron employs a far darker, more aatmospheric style; there is mmuch more emotion in the new film; the mise-en-scene is much more textured and is almost painterly – certain shots reminded me of the paintings of John Howe. compare for example the shots of hogwarts in the rain to very similar paintings of middle earth by howe and alan lee.

Thus this is a far more adul film – the ever-present quidditch scene is done in the rain. while alan rickmaans snape is as always broodingly excellent – i’m afraid la guerras unnatural liking for him seems to have rubbed off on me – the other characters, lupin and cirrius black are also highly impressive. They seem to have real emotion and depth. the acting, needless to say, has also improved, although there is hardly a scene without potter, granger and weasly in and i’m a little unsure about the new dumbledore.

while i still think that this series could do with a disabled charachteer, an that miss stanhope runs mr potter into the ground in terms of depth etc (see samples of my work), this is a vast improvement over the last two films, which look like kiddies cartoons in comparrison. I cant wait to see what Cuaron does with goblet of fire.