A FLASHING advert on my old newspaper’s website took me back the other day, but not in a good way. The advert boxed in the story I was trying to read, and there was a pulsating button to either side, each demanding to be pushed.
This advert, for an estate agent, was a bad advert for many reasons.
It was a bad advert because it dominated the screen so totally that it was impossible to read the story.
It was a bad advert because it was still there later when I tried to read another story.
It was a bad advert because in the end I went away without reading a word.
It was a bad advert for adverts: we know that newspaper groups are struggling for money, but to allow such an intrusive advert is a step too far.
And it was a bad advert for an entirely different reason, and this was what took me back. Flashing lights worry me sometimes, even though it’s been a long time. You see, for a few years in my twenties, I had fits. They always happened when I was asleep, mostly at night, although occasionally in the day.
At first, I had no idea what was happening. I’d wake up with a bitten tongue, blood on the pillow perhaps, and a thick head. Sometimes the thick head was for the usual reason. That was the case on the day when my girlfriend, my wife now for all these years, called an ambulance.
The night before I’d been out in a wine bar in Greenwich, drinking red wine, too much red wine. I got up, then didn’t. Sleeping off the hangover seemed to be a better idea. While I was asleep, I had a fit. An alarming sight and that’s why the ambulance was called.
I went for tests, had my brain scanned. Electrodes were attached to my head to evaluate the electrical activity, only there wasn’t any, or not of the sort they were looking for.
No trace of epilepsy at all, although the scan showed a slight thickening of the bone where I fractured my skull falling out of an upstairs window at the age of three (another tale, often told). The doctors thought this might be putting pressure on the brain.
Nothing was proved, the fits continued, I was put on a short-term driving licence that was renewable on medical advice. Around 30 years ago, the fits stopped as mysteriously as they started.
Inconvenient times when I had a fit: during the night on a boat called Reef Encounter before going scuba diving in Queensland; the night before a shorthand exam; various times before work.
This ancient history was revived by that stupid advert. Flashing lights can trigger epilepsy. That’s why you get all those “this report contains flash photography” warnings on the BBC news.
That was a bad advert for all those reasons. But it was a reminder to unlikely beauty, too.
The song Epilepsy Is Dancing by Antony and the Johnsons is a haunting three minutes, and probably the best song there is about epilepsy, possibly the only one.
In the video for the song, a woman falls into a fit on a grey industrial back street. While she is out, she is transported into a trippy vision of Midsummer Night’s Dream. For some reason she is topless and painted in glitter. For some other reason cartoon flowers float out of Antony’s mouth as he sings.
At the end, the woman is back on the street; she looks none the worse for wear, something which will not be the experience of most who have had a fit, as even the survivor of relatively infrequent ones long ago can tell you.