A migrainous day: suitably, perhaps, as the research I’m doing at the moment jumps off from Oliver Sacks’s Awakenings – a book that deeply impressed me when I first read it, and continues to do so – and he is notoriously a sufferer. My mother had skull-splitting three-day migraines that sent her, reeling like a Mafioso gunned down, to the mattresses. Mine are somewhat different, and only appeared after I’d banged my head on a wall in frustration during a holiday in Lanzarote.
The symptoms are precise: a patch of prismatic distortion grows in the left-hand corner of my visual field, then expands in semicircular bands until it covers the whole field of both eyes (I also have binocular vision due to a strabismus, and so am insistently aware of the duality of my visual field, perhaps this explains my liking for fictions that take place in parallel worlds?), in a pattern that can best be likened to a kaleidoscope. It’s pretty, and would be quite like the effects of a hallucinogen, were it not that instead of euphoria there’s only a dull thrum of a headache. It doesn’t disable me, I don’t have to lie down, it fades fairly rapidly – usually within 20 minutes; yesterday’s all-dayer was an exception – and it appears brought on either by caffeine/physical exertion, or – and most bizarre this – hill walking over 3,000 feet.
Nevertheless, when these migraines first appeared a few years ago, I foolishly embarked on the usual battery of tests courtesy of our great socialised medicine, and ended up seeing an ophthalmology consultant at St Thomas’s in London. They did the test where they squirt a dilator into your eye and then scan the retina (my GP’s assumption was that I had a tear). While the nurse was doing this, the consultant – who appeared to be playing up to some idea of himself – scanned the drawings I’d made in my notebook of what I could see during the attacks. “Didn’t you look at these!” he expostulated. “Haven’t you examined this man’s very helpful drawings!” he berated her: “This man has migraine! This is a classic migraine! We’re wasting his time – and ours!” When he calmed, I asked him who, if not he, I should consult about the kaleidoscopes intermittently rammed in my eyes. “Oh, I don’t know,” he spluttered, “a neurologist, I suppose – if you can be bothered. After all … ” I had told him about the lack of headaches and the 3,000-foot onset point “it’s not like you have a bad case!”
All in all a most gratifying waste of public resources.
Newsnight calls asking me to go on this evening to discuss the Cumbrian shootings: ‘We’re looking for someone to speculate on what it is about these remote, rural communities, largely white – ’
“Look,” I interrupt, “I’m going to stop you right there; much as I’d like to come on the programme I know next to nothing about remote, rural, largely white communities – I’m very much your urban, multi-coloured kind of a guy … ”
But am I? After all, plenty of people have been shot dead in the immediate purlieus of my south London home over the past few years, and I know just as little about the socio-cultural nexus of their motivations (if such a thing could be said to exist) as I do about those of this killer. Still, I’m confident someone will be persuaded to shoot their mouth off on Newsnight in my stead – if there’s anyone more trigger-happy than a gun nut, it’s a member of the London commentariat.