Off to Ghent…

Well I can safely say I don’t think I could have practised the talk I will give this Saturday at 11.02 (!) at De Bijloke in Ghent for TEDx anymore than I have.

This morning saw my last practise run to around 50 secondary school students with an interest in psychology. Not surprisingly teens don’t respond in the same way as adults. At one moment when they spontaneously tittered at one comment, it was followed immediately by a collective squirming in seats as they realised they had shown a visible reaction. They sat quietly and patiently and gave me a large round of applause at the end so as far as I was concerned they were a great audience.

Saturday will see me give the big talk itself; and my husband can be reassured he will not have to listen to me practise it anymore.

TEDx Ghent


The lights are on

Fear does not exist, it doesn’t lurk inside of me. It is a manifestation of my mind, an emotional response my mind creates when certain environmental factors shift a little too far in the wrong direction.

Quite often for me, this is simply light; daylight to be exact. It happened today and I found myself having the ‘clarification’ conversation’. It went something like this:

“Is is a bit darker here where we’re walking?” (my friend and I were walking in our local park)


“Is it subtly darker on this side of the lake as opposed to the other side? I can see sunlight over there, but this side feels unusually dim.”

“Hmm, yes now you mention it. It’s sunny there but it is darker here, probably because there are huge dark clouds above us?”

“Yup. I’d seen those, but I just need to check I’m seeing the same light as you.”

“Um, well yes then.”

All fine then, disaster averted. There will be no enveloping, breath-sucking fog veil my eyes today. These conversations are regular, necessary and an irritation to me. It would appear that my sensitive internal light-meter, finely honed from years of photography, is still very much functional. Darn it.

Are you authentic?

I find I spot oxymorons all the time now.

These can be annoyingly common in fact, and I log these small irritations continually throughout my day. Take internet security as a case in point. I’ll come to that in a moment but I’d like to clarify, I am not here to whinge, only to comment, to notice these things. Since my visual world did a huge shift to the left (or was it to the right?) I don’t see things quite in the way I used to.

Take a moment to think – how many times a day are you asked to verify who you are by your own computer? I don’t have a problem with internet security per se, in fact I endorse this wholeheartedly, but as with so many other tiny insignificant details I notice how much harder this is for me to do now.

There are times when I simply cannot verify myself. My computer argues back with me, spitting up another set of illegible letters and numbers for me to decipher. REPEAT the coded sequence it shouts at me. I can almost hear it tut tutting as my fourth attempt is yet again unsuccessful.

Crestfallen, I realise those black swirling letters, each leaning nonchalantly onto each other are designed for you; not me. They are meant to be hard to see, yet to me that makes them almost impossible. I recognise letters because they look like I expect them to look, and this allows me some latitude with my disintegrated sight. If you make them into lazy stickmen lolling around the page what chance do I have?

So, this security is meant to help me, to protect me, yet in truth all it does is remind me of how unsafe I am.



Inspiration can manifests itself in strange ways. Occasionally it hits like an excited child running smack bang into me at school pick-up time. Other times it is a slow persistent idea creeping, crowbarring its way into my consciousness when I meditate, dragging me back to the surface so I have to write it down.

But I like the lemmings best. Little creatures that pop up, sniff the air; alert yet eager. Unsure and tentative, they dart erratically around my mind, an impossible curiosity driving them on. Pictures often form before words, yet a reality exists inside these concepts, and my inner lemmings as dogged as ever, zip in and out of the scenes, eager to find the connections.

It’s only January, but my lemmings have a busy year ahead.



I have been acquired.

I’m still getting used to the term, and to saying it without sniggering; but I’m getting there.

When I look back three years ago, coming home from hospital, a shuffling old lady with wild hair, walking stick and huge owl-like eyes, I didn’t really see much of a future…in fact, I didn’t see anything at all.

Yet, I made my legs move every day, even just lifting my concrete feet to step outside and feel the cool breeze on my face. It was movement and that meant progress, and that momentum has continued, small steps led to longer strides and finally I am running without a thought.

And I am writing. Not just this blog anymore, for an Editor out there thought my story should become a book; and indeed it is going to be.

I shall get over my childlike giggling soon, but in the meantime – I’m back…and boy, do I have a good story to tell.




Bright sparks  

Ask a child what is cleverer – a brain or a computer? and you get a volley of conflicting answers thrown back at you. I can vouch for this personally, as I stood in front of a room full of ten year olds earlier this year and put that exact question to them. I was fascinated that the initial consensus was that a computer was cleverer; until a few bright sparks chipped in that actually…brains were more clever as it was a human brain that invented the computer. I liked their thinking. 

A computer acts as is a great modern analogy for the brain, similarily the words processing, memory and wiring (did you spot my use of the word spark earlier too?) But, these metaphors only work in simplistic terms. It makes me wonder what scientists used for descriptors and comparisons for the brain before the invention of electricity in the early nineteenth century. Pondering this I find I want to know, but of course that’s harder to search for on the Internet. A rather ironic problem. The truth is we really only understand a fraction of what the brain is capable of, and whilst computers and technology are slowly taking over our day to day world – our brains are still the masters. And always have been. 

We know brains and computers use electrical signals to transmit  messages, and that the brain uses chemicals to send information and a computer uses electricity. Even though electrical signals travel at incredibly high speeds throughout the human nervous system, a computer can still send even faster signals. So, a little like Aesop’s Hare and Tortoise, a computer may well be faster; but it’s not necessarily as clever. 

The ten year olds figured it out. Computers have a long way to go…but I still like the connection (there I go again…) 

Let MindSong sing…

Sometimes we don’t know where we are going, until we get there… I’m convinced someone highly influential has already uttered those prophetic words; if not, then somebody really should have.

The very start of this enterprise, this mission, wasn’t anything tangible, it didn’t even really have any physical shape. It just had a story. But a story won’t ever be told without a voice; and in this case it is my voice, with its northern twang and acerbic directness that you hear.

The only motive I can identify that has led me to this inspiriting and yet terrifying place, is the desire to communicate. The irrepressible storyteller in me, with her hands planted firmly on her hips, just won’t keep quiet. The overwhelming need to connect and describe what I have experienced… well, overwhelming.

So, I have an immersive and insightful experience for you. A real place you can get on a train to next week and visit. A real experience you can walk inside and become part of. I won’t say anymore, it’s all below if you want it.

As I write I find myself smiling as you probably think I meant insightful about me, but I don’t. I’m talking about you now…

How neuroscientists drink tea…


I hate science: well that’s what I would have spouted, hands on hip, blinking my fringe out of my eyes, aged 13. I was so disenchanted with all things Bunsen burner and periodic tables that I acquired a spectacular ‘unclassified’ result in my O’levels (giving away my age there)

It’s therefore slightly surreal, uplifting and positively ironic that I have now, in later life, created an immersive exhibition….based on neuroscience. Chewing the fat and discussing the project over a cup of tea with a lively group of neuroscientists, is, well, my cup of tea.

And, even the art of tea making is given the scientific once over.

You’ve got to love that. 


Shake hands…

So, it was rude of me to leave you dangling, so let me introduce you to Talking to Lampposts properly.

What is it? Well, I keep calling it an exhibition; but it is so much more than that; it’s an experience, an affecting encounter. You can’t just breeze through this show without a commitment, a will to let yourself be absorbed completely into the story of Patient H69.

This is a voyage into neuroscience, and we’ll bump into some weird and wonderful things along the way.

Essentially we follow my story – my medical case study, following an onset of sudden blindness and paralysis that was the result of a very rare neurological condition. 

I documented every bowl of Weetabix, every tentative step I took and every minute of my day during this extraordinary medical journey. I now offer up this collection of real experiences to you via immersive and highly engaging art installations. 

If you want to know what it feels like to go blind overnight, then you’ve come to the right place.

If you want to know how I went blind, and why and what was going on inside my brain – well, I can tell you about that too.

I have some lovely neuroscientists on board who are also fascinated by my story; and they can tell you the why, what and how.

On a practical note Lizzy Moriarty at the British Museum is championing Talking to Lampposts, and we are about to embark upon a collaboration with the Newcastle Centre for LIFE as part of a permanent exhibition on the Brain that they are developing.

We’re at the final R&D stages, but it’s pretty complete. Watch this space to see it come to life…if you’ve read the blog so far, you’ll smile to yourself as you’ll instinctively know how, and why, some of the installations have come to be. 

Walk this way…

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