Archive for December, 2008


Tuesday Round-up for Friends

2008 December 9

Off topic these days for this blog…

I’m a fan of Robert Jordan. He’s the author of the fantasy series “The Wheel of Time“. It’s a series of 11 books that tell the story of Rand Al’Thor,  and his fight against evil. If you’re not familiar with the fantasy genre (and who can possibly be unfamiliar these days?) – think of The Lord of the Rings.


As a would-be author, but for the ‘slight’ handicap of not being able to visualise, I find I’m looking behind his stories to their inner workings. Besides the obvious amazement that someone could tell an 11 (actually 12?) book novel, I’ve spotted something. It may be a clue to at least the early development of Jordan’s storyline. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it has to do with Merlin and the tales of King Arthur. Here’s why…

Look at the name of the hero:

  • Rand Al’Thor — Aurthur
  • The Dragon Reborn — Pendragon
  • And also Artur Hawkwing.

Then there are the mentors/meddlers in Rand’s life:

  • Moiraine (Aes Sedai = female sorcerer) — Merlin,
  • Thom Merrilin (physical appearance like older Merlin) — Merlin,
  • The Amyrlin Seat — Merlin.

Perhaps he dies, or originally was set to die…

  • in Caemlyn — Camlann ?

To be laid to rest…

  • in Tar Valon — Avalon ?

Other characters’ names bear relation to those in the various literature around Arthur:

  • Gawyn — Gawain,
  • Galad — Galahad,
  • Egwene al’Vere — Guinevere,
  • Elayne — various Elaines in Arthurian mythology, especially Elaine of Astolat – representing unrequited love.

And then there is the Sword in the Stone.

  • In Arthurian legend, Excalibur was a sword held by magic in rock only the hilt showing. Only the rightful king of the Britons could pull the sword from the stone, thus proclaiming himself King.
  • In The Wheel of Time, Callandor is a sword “that is not a sword”, held magically in a fortress called the Stone of Tear. Only the Dragon Reborn could pass the magical barrier, claim the sword and so declare himself the Dragon Reborn.

In both examples, the sword is in a “stone”, accessible only to the hero, who by obtaining it declares his legitimacy.

There’s also some similarity to the three names (all derived from the third, the Welsh name) of Arthur’s sword:

  • Excalibur — Callandor,
  • Caliburn — Callandor,
  • Caledfwlch — Callandor.

All of this may be coincidental. But I can’t help wondering if it shows some of the early inspiration in Jordan’s development of the saga of the Wheel of Time.

Anyone who has read and enjoyed Tolkien will love Jordan’s work. Though his writing style is more modern, the intricate workings, plot twists and imagination are unrivalled by many authors in any genre.


Cannot Visualise (Part Three) (Last Edited: 2010 Sep 25)

2008 December 6

Go back to Part 2

This is the final part of a three part series about migraine. You can use the links above or at the end of this page to go back. Or you can jump to any part from the Visualisation FAQs page link; where you can read my list of reported problems.

Please note: This series is now very out of date. I am in the process of updating them with new research that I have found. To learn more, please click this link:

I am also thinking about setting up an online support forum for people with no/low visualization. If you would be interested in this, please leave a comment to the post:

In this final part of the series, I talk about my memory problems. There are two clear aspects about them. The first is that I can’t be sure how much relates to my inability to visualise. The second is that medical science doesn’t seem to recognise persistent episodic amnesia as a condition.

The only people I’ve met who say they have as bad an inability to visualise also say they have very poor episodic memory. So I suspect the two are related. This is why I have taken to calling the condition persistent visualisation deficit, or PVD.

One phrase one of the two people used sums up the condition as it can refer to any event not just parting from a loved one. Writing in a thread (which unfortunately I have lost the link to), he said that when he left someone he loved it was like they no longer existed. At first he found this very distressing. In some ways, there was a sense of loss. After all, if it was someone he cared about he couldn’t picture their face at all. After a while, he slowly came to adapt to the ‘loss’ and the emotion lessened. For him, this became another source of discomfort, because now he felt that somehow this meant he didn’t really care. Which, he said, is clearly not how he felt when he was with the loved one. You can substitute the particular event – leaving a loved one – with any change during a day.

I have described it to the few I’ve talked to about it like this. Imagine you have a collection of many photographic albums. In them you have all the pictures you have taken during your life to date. You have lots of fond memories, and some not so fond. You have important reminders, including things your friends and family have said in conversations. They are special albums, as touching a photo also repeats what was said in those conversations. Below each picture you have a few words like, “Paul and I in Spain in April 2000”.

Now, imagine someone has stolen all the talking photographs from your albums. You no longer have access to any of the vivid images from your past. Worse, you can no longer recall the conversations even from earlier in the week; never mind further back. All you have left are the short summaries. These are all that now hold the thread of your life together. So you know that you and Paul went to Spain in April 2000 (factual); but you can recall nothing without at least a lot of time and effort (episodic).

This is what it is like to live with PVD. Now imagine work and social environments. In a work environment, you can compensate by fixating on certain really vivid and unique features, say, like the clothes a customer wore when he visited. So if he visits again later, you may recall him. If your work has a visit log, then you can adapt and ‘cheat’ by working the conversation round to a way you can look up the visit. Carrying around and using a notebook is usually acceptable in work. In fact, with time and effort you can find any number of ways to adapt…

…except to social situations. Here you don’t have software to help you. And carrying around and using a notebook isn’t usually acceptable in social situations!! So now you find it very hard to adapt. You forget conversations. So you struggle to keep up with chit chat. By the time you recall, if you recall, what was said a day or more ago, the conversation has moved on. Worse, you forget important things – not just people’s names and faces, but that they said their brother was diagnosed with kidney failure.

To others, you may come across as forgetful (true) or worse, selfish and uncaring; socially awkward. In the end, this becomes isolating. And when you turn to medical science for help and answers, there is blank non-acceptance that there’s any problem.

At this time, I have no answer. Are we three the only people on the planet who cannot visualise and have persistent episodic amnesia? Are the two related as PVD? Is migraine in any way involved – one of the other two also has migraine; though this is a common condition. To date, I have no evidence that migraine plays a part, except that my migraine and PVD started sometime around the same point in my life.

  • Do you have persistent episodic amnesia? If so, do you have problems visualising too? Do you have migraine?
  • Or, if you have migraine or problems visualising, do you have what you see as normal episodic memory (memory and recall of life events, casual conversation and so on)?
  • Finally, are you a medical practitioner or researcher who has heard of something like PVD? Can you put a medical name to it?

If you can provide any answers, or if what I have written rings a bell with you and you have no answer, I’d like to hear from you.

Thank you for reading.

Go back to Part 2


Tuesday Round-up for Friends

2008 December 3

Another Wednesday’s Tuesday’s post. If you see what I mean.

Yesterday, the government commission looking at welfare reform reported its findings. It said that “almost everyone on benefits should be preparing themselves for work” (BBC). The groups specifically suggested include:

  • Lone parents with children aged one to seven.
  • People on incapacity benefit deemed capable of work.

In fact, almost everyone on benefits except:

  • Some carers.
  • Lone parents and partners with children under one.
  • People with serious illnesses.

Moving beyond, presumably, my local Benefits Delivery Centre’s insistence that a blind man with no hands look for work under current legislation.

Those who fail to cooperate would face punishments ranging from losing benefits to doing unpaid community service. And those for whom the sanctions would apply range from those on Jobseeker’s Allowance to the new Employment and Support Allowance, that replaces Incapacity Benefit.

The approach has come under criticism given the worsening economic climate. Most would agree that those on benefits should not lose touch with the labour market. However, Labour backbencher Nick Palmer said there should be a “slow graduation” from helping people with health and personal problems to returning to work. He said on Radio 4’s The World at One, “What I wouldn’t think is realistic is to expect parents to have a plan to get back to work when the child is only one – I think that’s not going to happen in practice.”

The Liberal Democrats said what people needed was effective help not “tough talking and endless reviews”.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “This approach to welfare assumes a utopian world of unrestricted childcare and widely available jobs where only the lazy opt for life on the dole.

“The reality is very different. Thousands of people are joining the dole queue every day through no fault of their own.”

Nonetheless these recommendations seem to have made their way into the Queen’s Speech legislation. The new Welfare Reform Bill includes “a big change in the right to claim benefits by insisting that jobseekers, single parents and the disabled take active steps to seek work before being paid benefits.

“Benefit offices and private companies in charge of programmes to get people back to work will insist individuals sign a contract promising to go on retraining courses and attend parenting classes if necessary to receive benefits. Claimants who fail to cooperate will face reduced benefits.” (Guardian)

This has drawn condemnation from charities, trade unions and left wing Labour backbenchers. But there is little effective opposition to the continuing trend of demonising those on disability and incapacity benefits. The Conservatives want even stronger reform.

I agree that genuine help is needed for those, such as myself, when ready to return to the labour market. But there are separate issues:

  • There are those who cheat the benefits system. Catching and preventing those is a matter of law, not welfare reform as such.
  • The genuine claimants need medical or personal help initially to return to fitness, followed up by genuine help and advice to return to the market.

The approach now suggested seems to me fundamentally flawed. It appears to be based on an assumption that claimants are most likely cheats, or that threatening genuine claimants and regularly reviewing them will somehow magic away medical conditions. Such an approach if it forces genuine, ill or disabled claimants into work helps no one. They themselves may be at medical or financial risk as a result. Colleagues will end up working with people who aren’t productive (and who they may see as slacking). And employers are being asked to take a risk with their business by employing those who may not be fit to work. This could risk those in medical need becoming stuck on lower Jobseeker’s Allowance for years and eventually ending up in debt. Or of being penalised benefits if they are subsequently dismissed through ill health.

And all of that if there were the jobs to go into now and in the foreseeable future.

Oh, and the reason I couldn’t write this yesterday? Another long migraine. Go figure.