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Right out of the court

An official announcement from Naeplace Cooncil (which may or may not bear similarities to a local authority in central Scotland)


31 August 2014

Naeplace Cooncil, which is unrelated to Middle o’ Naewhere, Whereafeckurwi and that Welsh place on the telly, the one with the really silly name where you supposedly get insurance growing on trees, is pleased to announce a once–in-a-generation opportunity to transform itself and thus secure its future for generations to come.

Naeplace Cooncil (NC) are looking to put together a team which shares a common vision and commitment to delivering a high qualityoutcome that makes everything better without really making a solitary meaningful change other than to a lot of grass and trees and stuff. It will be built on civic visioning for the cultural wayfinding heritage strategy as envisioned by Some Famous Tennis Star’s Maw.

She is putting up a scheme to develop a completely unnecessary vanity sports facility with her name on it in the Green Belt Which Must Never Be Built On area just outside of Naeplace which is already well endowed with sporting establishments.

Naeplace is a toon with no real distinguishing features whatsoever in a history which, apart from A Tragedy, is like Everywhere Else - the wee toon just down the road from it. Latterly, Naeplace has suffered from a decline in industry and domestic tourism, like Everywhere Else. It has a Green Belt that folk really like because it is … green. And has no disused industrial buildings without any merit, no crumbling failed housing schemes useful only as film sets for Gaza movies and enough golf courses to reduce the annual watertable in sprinkler systems.

The proposed sporting facility – The Some Famous Tennis Star’s Maw’s Court – is, first and foremost, a vision of a sense of place, because she comes from Naeplace and wants to Give Something Back. And make all the wee weans just like her wee lad, who Has Done Good. (There is a brother who has also Done Good, but we never speak of him much.)

It all seems a great idea to a Cooncil which has spent years awarding miserably poxy grants to community projects delivering the usual urban renewal suspects – excruciatingly pointless pop-up points for start-up hopefuls, shopping trolley initiatives, free training to employees who just wanted to be left the feck alone to do their job and the like.

This approach was, after focus group consultations over several years – resulting in ‘meeting fatigue syndrome’ – thought preferable to rates relief or any other financial support consideration for local business.

Meanwhile, in order to capitalise on the heartened local spirit this quiet desperation has clearly revealed NC are now allegedly considering an invaluable investment of the cash this approach saved to create extra parking spaces round the back of the Toon Ha’ for those Cooncil Officers who can’t walk more than 10 steps without getting out of breath or falling over.

Naeplace, of course, is famous for wee motors, because most folk who live in it or near it are mostly posh enough to have a car. It means that the entire rural road system is now, NC is proud to announce, working to capacity or over it; and some areas have been given the distinction of being ‘more dangerous than stretches of Syrian highway’.

Happily, Some Famous Tennis Star’s Maw has come up with This Plan to build, in conjunction with the consumate professionals of Fecking BigBuild Inc, a glowingly glorious sports facility which can only enhance the lethality of the Green Belt road system – even more than organising Support Oor Sojers Day to coincide with Big Anniversary Of Seminal Historical Battle Day, thus ensuring shedloads of wee motors pouring into the toon.

Fecking BigBuild Inc is delighted with every aspect of all the Proposals, as it should be, because part of the remit is for them to build ‘about a hundred’ houses on the Green Belt Which Must Never Be Built On bit that they have actually bought and can’t otherwise get planning permission for. This will be an ecologically friendless, highly expensive development to cater to the sort of people Some Famous Tennis Star’s Maw now hobnobs with.

NC have therefore carried out extensive community engagement using reams of fantastically useless questionnaires that the NC does not have the resources, intelligence or inclination to interpret. Going forward.

Consultation experts, with a complete disregard for privacy and ethics are currently determining the best format for community engagement. Going forward.

An astoundingly chaotic collaboration team will thoroughly misinterpret the term ‘collaboration’ and, NC is proud to report, is already creating extraordinary scopes of work, contract management and cost control, not to mention a design team with a specific remit of unpicking the complex, idiotic lines of communication- like talking to local people.

The budget for the project is £Astronomical.

Expressions of dissent should be delivered on hand-illuminated vellum and delivered by a native runner using a forked stick. They will be assimilated in a specially-constructed underground bunker by a dyslexic alcoholic (part of NTC’s brief for employing the disadvantaged) and replies delivered.

All comments will be carefully noted and answered in at least three years.

Thank you for your co-operation.

PS - Great to see that Bridge of Allan Community Council voted unanimously to object to the plan for a tennis centre and housing at Park of Keir. Some scathing comments about the proposals were made at the packed meeting, and not one voice was raised in favour of Judy Murray’s ‘gift to Dunblane’, I am reliably informed.

Opposition from Bridge of Allan and Dunblane CCs and 400-plus dissenting voices might make it possible to prevent Stirling Council (or SC as it is called) railroading it through on some spurious public interest grounds

So this will see an end to an unwanted and unnecessary vanity project on pristine Green Belt countryside which can only go ahead if the bloke who owns it gets to build a hundred and odd £750k houses.

This is, of course, completely unrelated to the incidences mentioned above concerning Naeplace. No similarities were intended in the making of this blog etc etc.

Grammarly, shammarly... or dowright scammarly?

Introducing the 'automated online proofreader' that slams Hemingway, Tolkien, Lincoln and Orwell - coming to a blog near you via spam


30 June 2014

Apologies for not writing – it's been a busy time, mainly writing and moving into areas which are so far out of my comfort zone they can't be seen by Hubble.

What brought me back to blog life? Spam.

I get used to spam offers and most of them actually go straight to the appropriate folder, which is why this one got my goat, as my granny used to say:

Hi Robert,

As part of our Blogger Partnership Program, Grammarly is working hard to generate enthusiasm about quality writing by drafting engaging, original posts for blogs like yours. I'd like to suggest the topic: Writing a Good Dialogue. I think it would fit in well with your existing posts.

For your background, Grammarly makes an automated online proofreader that finds and explains grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes in all types of writing. Because more than 3 million users have submitted their writing to Grammarly for proofreading, our team has incredible insight into not only how people are writing, but also what mistakes they're making. For some examples of past guest posts we've written as part of our program, check out the blogs of Phillip Simpson, Andrew Jack, and Magoosh.

Please let me know when you can squeeze this post into your blog calendar. Assuming it's a date range that works for both of us, I'll send you the article straight away and it'll be yours to approve or reject. I'm looking forward to your feedback!

Cheers,
Nick

P.S. We offer our partner bloggers a free, 30-day premium account of Grammarly. Let me know if you're interested and I'll send you your login details.

Brilliant – someone likes my blog and wants to help. Well, that euphoria lasted right until the 'I'd like to suggest the topic' part. Then I read the rest of it. Then I got seriously Google on their arses and discovered this wasn't the first time Grammarly has spam-emailed people.

Hi –––––,

You know better than most that putting your writing "out there" takes a tremendous amount of courage; readers will find and comment on even the simplest mistakes. At Grammarly we know the feeling - and we've made it our mission to improve writers' confidence. Putting our money where our mouth is, we'd be honored to sponsor your next blog post with a $100 Amazon gift card.

In case you haven't heard of us, Grammarly is an automated online proofreader that finds and explains those pesky grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes that are bound to find their way into your first draft. Think of us as a second pair of digital eyes that can spare you the cost of hiring a proofreader. If you'd like to join our 3 million users and try the premium version of our proofreader for free, let me know and I'll make it happen!
Please send me the expected publishing date and topic of your next appropriate blog post (ideally something about writing) so I can give you all the details you need in time.

Cheers,
Nick

P.S. Let me know if you ever find yourself in foggy San Francisco; I'd love to grab some coffee. ;)

I am disappointed – I didn't receive the offer of a nice Amazon bribe. On the other hand, I didn't receive the very creepy last sentence. It is doubly creepy when you consider that this is sent out to a lot of female bloggers – and Grammarly know that, because they have that folksy first-name greeting at the top.

By now my bullshit antenna is quivering. It doesn't help that 'putting our money where our mouth is' is grammatic nonsense – it is either singular or plural, not both. If you are trying to improve writers' confidence by improving their writing and grammar, it it sort of essential to get it right yourself.

The tone of both emails is homely, folksy, friendly. The tone of the company, at least according to the Grammarly complaints, is that you can't get them to stop billing you unless you hit them with a legal hammer. It turns out that their Word plugin doesn't seem to work with Macs, but they don't tell you that. There are other serious issues.

Then I saw the prices. Good Scot that I am, with a wanthrifty soul, I am gawping at $29.95 a month (pay every month) to $11.66 a month (paying once a year). That's about seventeen and seven quid in real money. Not much, I hear you say. That monthly cost is, what? Two pints of Stella and packet of cheese and onion every month? Paid in a lump sum of course, so you are bound to it for a year. Still worth it – if it works.

Well… it doesn't. Not really. I mean, if you never wrote in your life and left school at the age of two, Grammarly might just help improve your style and word usage, tenses, adverbs, the lot. On the other hand, Word itself is probably better if you can string two coherent sentences together.

Take their own website blurb, which I ran through their own sampling function.

When you run the Grammarly writing editor, the program checks your spelling automatically. While Grammarly checks your text for grammar, usage, plagiarism and punctuation, it will also check spelling and vocabulary use. When you review Grammarly's spelling suggestions, the program offers a number of possible corrections for your spelling mistake. Correcting the mistake is as simple as clicking the correct word from the list provided. Furthermore, if you are using some names or other unique words that you don't want the spelling checker to mark, you can add such words by checking a box on the error card.

Grammarly disapproves of its use of 'you,' it does not like the contraction 'don't,' and it thinks the word 'simple' is too vague. I think Grammarly is too vague . I say again – if you have a website punting perfection to writers the very least you can do is make sure your own program isn't going to find fault with it. Mind you, Grammarly's prose is not alone in being criticised. There is this:

By any standards we were still very poor and I still made such small economies as saying that I had been asked out for lunch and then spending two hours walking in the Luxembourg gardens and coming back to describe the marvelous lunch to my wife. When you are twenty-five and are a natural heavyweight, missing a meal makes you very hungry. But it also sharpens all of your perceptions, and I found that many of the people I wrote about had very strong appetites and a great taste and desire for food, and most of them were looking forward to having a drink.

Grammarly has a plagiarism algorithm and correctly identifies this as copied, but it suggests 'looked' in place of 'were looking.' It says the subject of the sentence beginning 'when you are twenty-five' is missing a verb. It thinks the first sentence is wordy and a run-on, and shouldn't use the passive voice. It thinks there should be a comma after 'by any standards.' It thinks the writer should never start a sentence with 'but' nor use 'you,''very,' or 'great.'

The excerpt is from A Moveable Feast, considered one of Hemingway's best works. If Grammarly had got to it, it would have been butchered. It also gave Lincoln's Gettysburg Address some twenty-two critical writing issues, rubbished Tolkien, and thought George Orwell's 1984 was below par.

There are word processors that offer the services Grammarly offers. For free. In any case, iif you think an automated grammar-checker does the work of a decent proofreader, then you are in the wrong business. Grammarly can never tell you that two of your characters died off fourteen pages ago, or that you have a a black guy in Chapter Three who has turned white by Chapter Nine. You need a real person for that – and anything else can be done by Word or whatever processor you are using.

I emailed 'Nick' a return message:

Are you serious? You are making a business opportunity out of what should be the personal thoughts of an individual. As if I can't be engaging, entertaining and 'grammarly' after eight (count 'em) books, I need to broaden my 'readership base' or whatever? As if the blog I have is somehow not the objective look at what steams me up or engages my interest, but a marketing exercise designed to promote my brand. And so you can jump on that wagon and promote your own.

I once had a company offer to 'do' me four fascinating Tweets daily, as if the point of twatting wasn't to spill out what was in your head at that very moment, banal or not. Seemingly, if I didn't have a thought for that day, this company could come up with four banal ones for me. The irony of it was clearly missed - as it seems to have been here, too.

I also have to say that charging about a fiver a month in good old English money (if you take out an annual sub) for an American program that spell and grammar checks no better than my completely free Word is cheeky.

You have a pair on you, I will give you that. And a neck to match. But you have given me a great idea for a blog...

I was thinking, 'End of story.' I should have known better …

Hey Rob,

I'm so sorry for having offended you! Could I provide you with a premium account of Grammarly – free of charge – for your trouble?

Cheers,
Nick

I am in the process of taking a deep breath and starting with the 'Hey, Rob.' Then I might mention the bit that Tefloned off 'Nick', the bit where I intimated that Grammarly is no better than a decent Word check. Why would I want a free one? I might then go on to point out the obvious flaws in his product, the complaints, the spam emails and so on.

Instead, I will save myself all the grammar and simply point him here, to the blog he didn't want…

Trays of wine and posies

Despite the business-as-usual performance all was not well at the London Book Fair... yet the real future of publishing might just have been seen flickering in the background


24 April 2014

You are, when all said and done, at the mercy of some careless sub on the late-shift.  So it was with Tim Waterstone and his recent speech at the Oxford Literary Festival in which he championed print and talked of the decline in digital. The Daily Telegraph duly reported it and used a picture of the Waterstone's branch at 311 Oxford Street – which went bust long since because so few people championed the print in it.

I suppose the sub, if he was ever given 'a wee-room job' by his editor, might have claimed that he was providing a metaphor for the whole digital camp.

So it is with the London Book Fair. I state from the outset that I was not there. I went once, but it is not for the likes of authors, unless they are self-pubs with no recourse but to self-promote, or else part of the chosen theme, whether it be Scandinavia, dissident Africans or – this year – Koreans.

But I have my spies in place – and, no, my agent is not one of them. If anything, he tells me less than the Telegraph, who tell me that the trays of wine and posies, canapes and six-figure deals seem like some publishing world dancing on the edge of the digital volcano.

The LBF has always been about editors meeting agents and foreign publishers keen to buy unpublished books, sell foreign rights, and relentlessly talk up their new titles. There are smart new books on stands, as per every year. The buzz is that the Americans are back in the same pre-recession numbers that excites the UK industry. Not every American accent there is actually US – but almost all of them are Amazon, which stokes the self-pubs, who have to sell by word of mouth – and attend nightly prayers of thanks for Amazon.

There is a Michael Palin signature cocktail to launch Club At The Ivy, an international Sir Terry Pratchett Day – vote/tweet YOUR favourite TP character – and the announcement of next year's LBF focus. Which is Mexico – so break out your Spanish holiday sombrero.

This is the cosy, comfortable world of Always. Crisis? There is no digital crisis here – it would not pass the dress code and has moved on to wearing a suit and being 'a digital division' of the mainstream houses. Everyone gushes about ebooks and seems confident that they have now ridden that wild stallion down to a gentle trot round the ring.

And they go on as before, looking for the next Fifty Shades and debating the contenders as literary sensation. There are, I am reliably informed, no huge books coming out of LBF, but there are still six-figure deals, including How the Nobel-Prize-Winning Discovery Can Help You Fight Cellular Aging and Improve Lifelong Health. I will look out for that in WH Smith.

There is a new breed out there. Self-publishing is an idea whose time has come and, even if they have to lurk at the fringes of the LBF still, they are doing deals, becoming author-agent-editor-publisher-publicists.

Even here, though, the model is flawed and limited to the 400-pound gorilla of Amazon's Kindle. There is more to ebooks than sticking words on to a facsimile of a printed page, but the people doing it are writers, who do not really want to be agent-editor-publisher-publicists. Most of them, it has to be said, are wannabes who would never have been at all if digital had not happened. The sad truth is that such a lot of ebook publishing is crap.

The ones who are gems invariably get snapped up by mainstream print – the dream of all ebookers is to get a physical copy on a shelf rather than the electronic facsimile of one. Until that attitude changes, the possibility of digital will thrash around in the publishing pool, trying to make out it is waving rather than painfully learning to swim. You will not get any insights into digital publishing from the self-pubs who utilise it – they are all far too busy being lured like zombie moths into seminars on 'How To Write A Prize-Winning Novel'.

There are those who contend that the digital revolution is slowing and will shrink. Others look to the music industry to provide some sort of insight into selling – but that's a mistake. The music industry shot itself in the foot years ago – then, puzzled, turned the gun to look down the barrel and shot itself in the head as well.

Look to the 'Manga novels' brigade instead. The comic-sellers who, this year, are brighter and brasher in LBF than ever before. This is The Big Bang Theory generation, who know iPhone apps – and games.

We had the Internet 30 years ago and it took five more to develop the WWW, the defining symbol of our age. We've had ebooks for 40 years – Michael Hart launched Project Gutenberg in 1971 and digitised the US Declaration Of Independence – and the best we can come up with in all that time is a book-shaped reader for displaying a PDF.

The computer games industry scripts have all the resonance and interactivity of a great book – which is why the movies use them now, instead of buying up book rights. But the multiplayer universe is taking over the games industry. The rush is now the thing, the interactivity that lets you meet someone you would never otherwise know and then pair up to kill all the other people you don't know. Until he/she shoots you in the back of the head and steals all your stuff.

There is no script needed for that. The latest, The Elder Scrolls Online, is said to be the new World of Warcraft according to 'industry insiders' and it came out of a wonderfully baroque and carefully thought-out tale called Skyrim, designed for individuals. TESO, as it is now called, is not the same beast – well, you don't need the story, do you? Just a bunch of muscled pixels prepared to join up for a brief quest.

But the innovation of game designers and the craft of skilled writers it a potent mix that could turn the ebook into something different class – and there are loads of designers looking for a new way to tell a tall tale.

Flight of fancy should be grounded

The Viking horned helmet controversy is raised again, in one of its weakest-ever forms – and there really was no need whatsoever


9 March 2014

It is always disappointing to read a line like this: 'But the one inalienable fact everyone knows about these Nordic raiders is that they wore horned helmets.' I would expect that from the seven-year-olds I once took as a class in Norse culture. I might even expect it from a sturdy handful of the MOPs (Members of the Public) who attend our re-enactment shows, those whose grasp of history is shady and simply because they dogged off that day and learned to drink Four Crown and aspirin out of a Coke bottle instead.

But this is Mark Hudson of the Telegraph. Mark reviews music and events and stuff. I would like to think Mark is in full charge of his irony with the above statement – but I have to conclude that he is, well, an ill-informed dick.

His Telegraph piece is reviewing the new British Museum exhibition on the Norse – Vikings, as all such events love to trumpet, because that word comes with a baggage of rape, pillage, horned helmets and mad axemen. Mr H is familiar with this imagery. So familiar, in fact, that he laments the lack of 'colour' in the exhibition, while admitting that he learned a lot about the thriving Norse culture. He laments the lack of flickering firelight and an ancient hall hung with shields. I suppose, deep down, he laments the lack of Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis and Ernest Borgnine.

The effect, he says, is 'like listening to an episode of The Killing in an outbuilding of Stansted Airport, with a few unspectacular artefacts dotted about in glass cases'. This ennui, accompanied by a yawn, is hardly surprising in such an effete little man, clearly too full of the pococurantism of endless London galleries, first-nights, music gigs et al.

What is surprising is his ignorance. Even before the pseudo-joke about helmet horns was mentioned, I knew by his world-weary air that this would be a badly written article. And he haw-hawed the horned helmet gag twice. Pause for applause and slap of thigh.

Fair enough to present a negative review, but what a limp-wristed, hand-to-forehead arse - there was more information and comedy in the comments than the article.

Personally, I am happy to be informed of the facts without all that History/Discovery Channel gubbins and CGI. I am less happy to discover that a newspaper with the supposed gravitas of the Telegraph cannot find a reviewer less inclined to show off rather than write something intelligent. It would have been nice if someone getting paid to write in such a prestigious paper had put in a bit of effort.

The one aspect of Norse culture Mark clearly missed when he failed to even the most basic research might have led him to the wisdom of the Vikings. Part of which says: 'It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and prove it.'

The Telegraph video below offers a much more promising preview of the exhibition.


A suitable case for treatment?

I find myself in the unusual position of nearly agreeing with Ukip: ADHD is a condition much misdiagnosed and mistreated – and almost exclusively invented for the benefit of pharmaceutical companies


2 February 2014

Ukip was recently forced to distance itself from controversial remarks made by its own party members. Well, this is news in the same sort of category as "wind blew again today" or "the sun came up." So what have the rolling-eyed Bedlamites stuck a tasselled loafer in now?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Stephen Wilders, chairman of Ukip's local branch in Dartford went on a message board to describe the condition as "mostly psychobabble to keep lefties in jobs". Kathleen Garner, secretary of Ukip's Croydon branch, suggested on the board that young children suffering from ADHD were merely "naughty", and blamed any signs of ADHD or dyslexia on parents not feeding them properly or poor teaching.

She wrote: "We had the odd 'naughty' child in class, but that was usually just the one and it was clear their parents neglected them. The same goes for dyslexia. Despite having a son diagnosed with the condition, I consider it to be solely the result of poor teaching in primary school."

As you might expect, mental health charities and politicians fell on this with torches, pitchforks and shouts of outrage. Mary Honeyball, Labour MEP for London, said that the remarks were "painfully out of step with the values of modern Britain."

And Ukip – as you might expect from a self-serving group of right-wingers united only by opportunism – immediately flung the offenders to the wolves, a spokesman announcing portentuously that: "Ukip take mental health very seriously and know that there are exceptionally long waiting lists for therapy for those suffering with debilitating conditions. We don't believe the solution is just prescribing tablets to everyone. ADHD isn't something which just affects children, but adults too; and we distance ourselves from these comments utterly."

Well, so what? Ukip's mental health is not all it is cracked up to be in the first place – I mean, some in the party have called for the BNP to be accepted, if not embraced. Others mocked the death of Mandela and defended apartheid.

I am so far removed from Ukip you could not see me from their point of view if you had a Hubble. But I share the sole characteristic pointed out by Ms Honeyball (wasn't she in a Bond movie? No matter – I digress) inasmuch as I am decidedly out of step with the values of modern Britain.

And proud of it.

One of those values is this total embracing of ADHD, which was never heard of when I was young. Neither, of course, was AIDs, but that doesn't make that condition any less real. ADHD is different. It is the prime example of a condition much misdiagnosed and mistreated – and almost exclusively invented for the benefit of pharmaceutical companies.

I do not say this lightly. In fact, I do not say it all. I merely repeat the last words of Leon Eisenberg, shortly before his death in 2009. Leon is the recognised scientific father of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. In the last interview before his death he said:

Every child who's not doing well in school is sent to see a paediatrician, and the paediatrician says: "It's ADHD; here's Ritalin." In fact, 90 percent of these 5.4 million kids don't have an abnormal dopamine metabolism. The problem is, if a drug is available to doctors, they'll make the corresponding diagnosis.

Back in my day, fifty-odd years ago and counting, I was a bored and disruptive seven-year-old. Coco The Clown was my school nickname, and I lived it to the full – if there had been a whirly bowtie and a red nose and silly shoes I would have been strutting even more of my stuff to the annoyance of teachers, who only had recourse to The Belt. I say 'only' because it was a fearsome punishment in its day – but the red skelp-mark was a badge of honour, like prison bruises and army tattoos. Who knows what I suffered from? But when I went to secondary school and started having to really learn stuff, the clown suit went in the skip.

Today, I would have been suffering from ADHD and fed Ritalin or some other corresponding pharmaceutical. In 2012 around 657,000 doses of methylphenidate, the drug family which includes Ritalin, were handed out in the UK – up 57% in five years. Am I to believe that so many kids in the UK are ADHD? Or even that older uni kids are abusing it as a "smart drug" designed to improve focus? More so than cocaine?

Eisenberg made a fortune out of ADHD thanks to pharmaceutical sales. He was lauded as a leader in child psychiatry for more than 40 years – yet even he has admitted that everything to do with ADHD was a theory. On the basis of that, an entire mental health religion has grown, which it is now heresy to question.

Yet I have one last argument. If this had existed back in my day, I would have been given the drugs. My parents – good people that they were – would have bowed to the prevailing medical priesthood and I would have been dosed with treatment. Perhaps back then there wouldn't have been the handy warnings that exist on today's packets, so mum and dad might have been unprepared for me being: Angry. Dizzy. Drowsy. Afraid. Irritable. Aching. Nauseous. Losing hair. Acting over-excitedly. They may even have been concerned about my "tarry stools."

Why would you subject a child to that? Give me The Belt…

Let me make it clear. There is an actual, physical, disability that is ADHD. And then there are children who don't do well at school, for varying reasons. Discovering when the first causes the other takes time and effort from the doctors; and fixing lazy, careless and just plain ignorant ADHD diagnoses takes even more time and effort from the parent. If either one is more willing to simply shove a drug into the wean than to do the work, then there's your ADHD diagnosis. There's where the bulk of your 657,000 doses, and rising, are coming from.

Of course, there are those who can take the moral high ground and claim that they would never give their wee Ricky or Britney anything like Ritalin. They prefer the whole-life method. The holistic, natural, herbal, fish-oil, vitamin supplements, prayer, sacrifice-a-goat approach. Angels, witchcraft, crop circles, Nazca ley lines, giant ginger alien Aztecs. Same crap, different multi-billion dollar industry to which you hand over your cash. Same child victim, probably boakin' on fish oil. Possibly still with ADHD. And those giant ginger alien Aztecs? Stop taking that stuff – horses are tranquilised by it.

In my day I watched my nearest and dearest, suffering from post-natal depression, be taken into "care" and subjected to ECT before I realised what was happening. I almost had to fight my way out of the system with her. She is, several decades on, fine, by the way; thanks for asking. But ECT is still used, for all its barbarity and under the guise of "informed consent" and only for "severe cases" of depression.

That's hardly a safeguard, in my opinion – which sufferers can give "informed consent" and which sufferers' relatives can do the same, faced with a doctor's opinion?

Like Ritalin, you recite heresy if you question its use. Yet Ritalin, like ECT, should be the measure of very last resort, after rigorous examination, by doctor and loved ones. Actually, ECT should just be banned. It is Victorian and vile.

In later years we will all come, half-ashamed, to full belief of this, in the same way you can no longer wear a Robertson's jam golliwog badge.

It will take even more years, I suspect, before ADHD treatment is considered in the same way.

Crowbone: The Musical

The one ambition I nursed and never thought to bring to fruition has – like all good ambitions – suddenly sprung up: I am a rock star...


20 January 2014

Glass Hammer: Ode To EchoI've written eight books, been a journalist and involved in a few off-piste incidents designed to further some career goals. I have been very lucky – no serious injuries and almost all ambitions achieved. Almost. But the one I nursed and never thought to bring to fruition has – like all good ambitions – suddenly sprung up: I am a rock star.

Some years ago I had an email from a fan (yes, there is more than one and they can write, too) in America. His name was Steve Babb and he had read my Oathsworn books and enjoyed them. I had no idea then that he was part of a band I had heard: Glass Hammer, whose lead singer Jon Davison is also a member of Yes.

Steve sends me the new Glass Hammer albums; I send him the new Robert Low novel. Then one day he asked, casual as you please, if I wrote poetry. Well, that's something a wee lad from darkest Burnbank in Lanarkshire has to consider carefully, in the same way you look at the colour-scheme of a Glasgow pub, just to see what you are stepping into. Writing poetry is a habit usually beaten out of you at an early age with a broken bottle; you really have to want to do it to carry on and it is best done in secret, like masturbating.

In the end, I owned up to it and sent him a few stanzas of Feathers On The Breath Of Gods, which was written as a part of Crowbone but did not appear in the novel. He liked it, told me he was thinking of a song for it; and I nodded and smiled, the way you do. Then, blow me, does he not actually come up with a treatment.

The first time I heard the unpolished mp3 track, now called Crowbone, I got a buzz from crown to heel. Even seeing my first book on the shelf paled. Now he tells me that Jon Davison of Yes has recorded the vocal track for it while David Ragsdale, violinist from Kansas, is adding a touch to it. Kansas, fer fecksake. I had albums of Kansas when I wore loon pants.

I can't wait for the final version and the album, Ode To Echo, on which it appears. Tick this off the bucket list – now I am thinking of Part 2: that actual appearance with the band. 'I can play, sir, take me.' If Michael Moorcock could do it with Hawkwind…

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