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Boris Johnson - a politician I have precisely no time for at all, but a lot of people seem to like because he was quite funny on that TV panel quiz show - is having a bit of a rare experience for him at the moment. He’s getting some bad press.

He made some comments associating success with IQ. This is pretty laughable, considering how dubious the IQ test is, let alone trying to tie it up with life chances. But it’s the kind of thing the Tory Right like with their philosophy: that hard work and industry can - to use Johnson’s ‘charming’ parlance - ensure the clever cornflakes rise to the top of the pack.

It’s far from the most offensive thing he’s ever said, and I won’t waste time by digging out his back catalogue of instances where the mask of bumbling charmer has slipped, because they’re easy enough to find. These instances are quite jarring with his main persona and the image the media has assisted in creating for him. I don’t even think this latest IQ snafu is that bad, considering his form, but I welcome the extra scrutiny he’s so rarely subjected to. But my problem is this: it won’t stick at all. Loads of media commenters are stating this is a PR disaster and the end of his leadership chances. I highly doubt it.

The reason why? Everyone - even card carrying pinko liberals like myself - has spent a good proportion of their life 'silently bemoaning half-wits in our heads’. And while I’d never be so crude as to take a guess at someone’s IQ, the truth is that people will hear this and think 'ah yes, those idiots’, even when they’re actually a little too dim to figure out that criticism was being leveled directly at them.

That’s the trouble with this kind of vague catch-all insult - its so directionless that anyone can nod and think the target is someone else. Everybody believes they’re above average, which is both mathematically and philosophically impossible. Everyone thinks they’re above average intelligence (yep), everyone thinks they’re an above average driver (I don’t, but then multiple failed tests are hard to argue with), and everyone thinks they’re above average in bed (I am an excellent sleeper). So nobody will think that Johnson is referring to them when they talk about the 16% of below average intelligence.

So in short, he’s not writing off 47% of the electorate like Romney did, nor is he insulting the voters he intends to woo. Even if he is, they don’t think he’s referring to them. He’s only offending the kind of liberals and lefties who have been infuriated by him for years. No change there. And in any case they’re offended on others’ behalf, because as humans they also believe they’re above average.

So in other words, despite everyone calling it a gaffe, it’s not at all. He’s ingratiating himself to the Tory right, not affecting floating voters at all and keeping the status quo with the minority of folks who dislike him intensely. Classic Boris.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, last time I took an IQ test about 8 years ago I scored 103. Not in the 2% Boris Johnson wants to celebrate the greed of then, which explains why I’m writing this from a bed with a cat walking across my face rather than a luxury yacht with an ocelot perched majestically next to me… I may have confused ideas about what being rich involves.

I’ve been sick as a dog the last few days, taking last Thursday (and my freelance Friday) off due to food poisoning or gastric flu. I’m still not better and it looks like tomorrow may be off as well, more than doubling the amount of sick days I’ve taken in my 8 year working life.

But anyway, as a result I think, I had my first experience with sleep paralysis last night. Sleep paralysis, conceptually, has always terrified me: for those that don’t know, it’s what happens when the body is paralysed for sleep (to stop you acting out your dreams, presumably), but you wake up before your body has been given the go-ahead by the brain to move again. Essentially you can tend to move your eyes, and your fingers and toes, but little else.

The trouble is half the time, people are still in the sleep stages, so they get some pretty terrifying hallucinations - demons sitting on them, children talking to them, shadowy figures approaching the bed, etc.

I’ve been worried I’d have this happen to me since the first time I read about it over a decade ago, and thankfully it looks like I’m not a natural sufferer. I think what tipped me over the edge last night, was that in an attempt to calm my attention seeking sore stomach, I went for some painkillers but only had the caffeinated ones left. I don’t drink coffee, and I don’t drink tea, so I rarely have caffeine. I blame this, and the mild fever I still have, for what happened next.

Because I’d been aware of it for so long, I knew exactly what was happening when my eyes clicked open, and I stared at the digital clock by my bed, unable to move. I could actually feel my left eye twitching, which I assume is still part of the REM sleep cycle*, so I was pretty prepared just to ride it out until I got control of my body again. Unfortunately, my brain had other ideas as I began to rationalise in my head:

“Ooh, sleep paralysis! So, this is what it feels like - look I can see all around the right hand side of the room. But where are the mysterious figures? The loud noises? The sense of dread? [A beat] Oh. That sense of dread”

And just by thinking it, there it was. A feeling of terror planted in the centre of my chest and rapidly expanding outwards.

“There’s something behind me - I have my back to the door, what’s there?”

And when the terror reached its zenith, my mouth involuntarily opened to shout, only no noise can come out when paralysed. But that jolted me awake, and I could suddenly move, and the panic instantly subsided.

It’s different from waking from a nightmare though: the immediate environment is exactly the same, so there’s no reassuring change of scenery, but for some reason the terror vanished instantly - no build down at all. I was actually able to get back to sleep surprisingly quickly after I’d gotten over playing back what it felt like: after years of fearing it, I didn’t want to forget the feelings, which is partly why I’m writing this down here.

So that was my first experience with sleep paralysis. I hope it’s my last, but compared to others, I certainly had it easy.

* This may well be bad science, but as REM is connected with dreams, and sleep paralysis is a side effect of dreaming, it makes sense to me. Agree, scientists?

  • Writer's pictureAlan Martin

(Sadly, between me originally posting this in 2013 to me moving it in 2022, Mr Humphries had to be put down after a series of fits saw him go from healthy to terminally ill in a week. It's strange seeing his stray-like form here, when he became so... Rubenesque over the subseqent six years.

Anyway, the original excitable post continues below:)

When I bought my home last July, I opted for a house rather than a flat. I did this despite geographical and financial inconvenience (not to mention having to maintain a garden - a task I have spectacularly failed in to date), but because I’d wanted a cat for years, and it always seemed a little cruel to get one in a flat, where they can’t roam, get stroked by strangers and be a terror to the nearby fauna and flora of the community.

Despite this, to date, I’ve hesitated. I’ve basically put up with longer commutes (and even longer grass in the garden) without the whole reason a house appealed in the first place. That is, until yesterday, for now I am officially a cat owner.

Meet Mr Humphries*:

As my girlfriend has a dog called The Fonz (a charmingly full-of-beans Jack Russell), another sitcom character name seemed appropriate. I’m trying to train him to meow when I say ‘Mr Humphries, are you free?’ For now though, he seems more intent on headbutting everything he sees. Quite hard too.

Y'see, Mr Humphries is a fighter. He was a stray until he was hit by a car. He had a hernia, and several other operations with roughly a 40% chance of survival. But he’s made it - he currently has stitches along the length of his stomach, and shaven patches on both his flanks, his front leg and on his jaw (which also currently sports a wire that can be removed in a few weeks).

Despite staying at the vets for several months before coming home with me yesterday, he has a stray cat mentality towards food. When we met him, he was itching to get out of his cage. When we opened the door he made a beeline for the cupboard in which its kept. Now in my home (on wet food only until his jaw recovers), he attacks every meal like it’s his last - with the same curious headbutting that he greets every piece of furniture in the house. As a result, he constantly has bits of food in his fur. You can’t put his bowl down without him headbutting the bowl before it touches the ground (causing a lot of spilt water so far).

Say hello, readers.

* The vets where he was being fostered had called him Alan. Suffice it to say I wasn’t quite narcissistic enough to keep that moniker.

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