Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

MIKE HALLOWELL: To sleep perchance to dream

Well, this isn't exactly the type of blog I'm accustomed to writing, and it doesn't exactly have a cryptozoological theme, but I'm hoping the powers that be at the CFZ will forgive me and publish it anyway.

Today, the news hit the headlines. Across the globe – Fox News, The Daily Mail, The Shields Gazette, The Sunderland Echo et al – announced with great dignity and, thankfully, a lack of sensationalism – that the greatest paranormal investigator in the universe (i.e. me) has been diagnosed with an incurable brain disorder known as narcolepsy.

Narcolepsy is a disorder that makes you fall asleep when…Zzzzzzzzz…..(only joking) – you don't expect to. It’s a pain in the arse, as you can imagine, but it gets worse. Sometimes you don't know whether you're awake or asleep, when you get overtired you talk complete gobbledegook and your short-term memory has more holes in it than a tramp's sock. And there's more. I also get bouts of sleep paralysis. What happens is this: your mind wakes up before your body, and you are completely paralysed. You can't move a muscle, not even blink an eyelid. It usually only lasts a minute or so, but it seems like an eternity. Its no fun being trapped inside a body that doesn't move – except when your spouse wants you to do the dishes, of course, in which circumstance its actually quite a boon.

But then there's the cataplexy. 70% of narcoleptics suffer from cataplexy, which is a truly weird bolt-on. The main symptom – I kid you not – is that you fall over if you laugh. Bottom, Rab C. Nesbitt and Blackadder – my favourite comedy shows – are now cataplectic minefields that can send me crashing to the carpet if I giggle at a humorous one-liner. Now I watch Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson and smile faintly, which isn't easy when what I really want to do is split my sides laughing.

Travelling on public transport has its own hazards. Last week I did a radio show on the Beeb. I left the studio and hopped on a bus to take me back to Newcastle City centre, the capital of Geordieland. I fell asleep, and woke up again outside the BBC studio I'd left earlier. I'd gone back into Newcastle, and then left it again. Bugger.

Sometimes I shake, making it difficult to keep tea in a cup or – more importantly – brown ale in a glass. Spilling brown ale is a capital offence in Geordieland, so please don't tell anyone. Not long ago, I woke up. I was sitting on the sofa, fully dressed, waiting for a taxi to arrive. Except that I hadn't booked one. Or at least I thunked I hadn't. But had I? Had I booked a cab whilst somnambulating, and not realised it, or only dreamt I'd booked it? I rang the taxi company up just to check that I hadn't booked a cab to somewhere I wasn't aware of, and the chap at the other end reassured me I hadn't. I sat back down, and then I wondered if I'd really rung them up at all. Maybe I'd just dreamed I'd cancelled the taxi I'd never booked in the first place.

That's one of the problems with this bloody illness; you don't always know whether you're awake or asleep. A well-meaning friend said, "Why don't you pinch yourself to see if you're awake?" "Because I don't know whether I'm really pinching myself or only dreaming, so I'm no better off," I replied.

One thing about narcolepsy – you find out who your friends are. The condition scares people. Some don't know how to handle it, and so they distance themselves from you. Someone idiot asked me if it was contagious. I laughed – or would have done, but decided not to in case I fell over. Mind you, the falling over has advantages. For instance, you can get drunk, end up in the gutter and then say, "Excuse me, officer, its not the twelve pints of Old Wossname I downed in the Rope & Gibbet earlier – its my sleep disorder, honest!" I've never tried it yet, but when I do then CFZ readers will be the first to know how I got on.

I'm really looking forward to the next Weird Weekend, mind you. I'm going to raid Jon's drinks cabinet and then claim I was somnambulating at the time. Just think; I could even walk naked through Woolsery and then claim that I dreamt I was Richie Freeman in the bathroom. It’s a novel excuse, but if I look sincere enough and offer the cops a fiver…who knows, I might just get away with it.

Seriously, though, it’s a bit of a bummer to think that your brain is losing its incredible powers of reasoning and regularly switching to blancmange-mode. When I get really overtired, I hallucinate. Get this; I went to sleep in front of the TV the other night, and woke up just as Jackie was coming into the room. The conversation went as follows:

"Jackie, dear, can you bring me the ketchup?"
"Ketchup? What for?"
"I need to put it on my shirt to get rid of this curry stain."
"Erm…don't worry about it Mike, I'll wash it later."

There was no curry stain, and even if there had been I wouldn't have been able to get rid of the bloody thing by pouring ketchup on it. Of course, in my narcoleptic state it all made perfect sense. Jackie, God bless her, just pretended that it did so I didn't feel like an absolute plonker.

The best bit about narcolepsy is the vivid dreaming. When I say, 'best', of course, I don't mean it in the same way that we talk about best butter or best book. It's best in a weird sort of way that only Weird Weekend acolytes would understand. When I dream my senses don't shut down completely. I can still hear, smell and presumably taste. I don't see (apart from my dream), as my eyes are shut. Never mind. What happens is this. I start to dream, and if the TV is on my ears still pick up the sound and then my brain incorporates it into my dreamscape. Sometimes, then, my dreams are 50% a creation of my subconscious and 50% stuff on the TV. This makes for some pretty interesting dreams, I can tell you. I've had conversations with my family in Mandarin Chinese (The Chinese Channel was on at the time), lambasted Hilary Clinton from a railway bridge during her presidential campaign to be the democratic nominee (thanks to Fox News – honestly, I enjoyed it no end) and punched a serial killer in a doughnut shop (Law & Order, I think). My dreams now are incredibly vivid. Some make me feel incredibly uneasy, but to date I've never known them to be truly frightening. They're like being in your own movie.

I wondered for a while what would happen if I switched to the Playboy Channel – think about it - and then let myself go to sleep, but Mrs. H. was having none of it.

"But dearest," I said, "Its all in the name of medical research. I could even post the results on the CFZ site!"

Mrs H. was ruthlessly resolute, and threatened to turn the TV onto Horror Zone as soon as I'd nodded off. I decided to abandon my experiment forthwith.

What the future holds, I don't know. I aim to keep writing as long as I can, and the good folk at the Sleep Disorders Clinic at the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesborough are bloody brilliant. I can't thank them enough. I have no plans of swapping my keyboard for a pair of slippers and a tartan blanket just yet, as there are too many people out there whom I wish to annoy whilst I'm still capable. I suppose I can say anything I like, really, and then claim I was asleep at the time.

If you ever get the choice, my advice would be to go for atypical narcolepsy. It’s a bit more interesting than the common-or-garden variety. It’s a bit like shopping at Harrods instead of Netto. One has to keep up appearances, and as the world's most brilliant paranormal investigator I don't want to be seen slumming it with the hoi-polloi, now do I? If I ever get to meet the Queen I want to be able to tell her that I have a cultured form of narcolepsy and not a bargain basement type. She'll be far more impressed, I reckon.

Mind you, I'm not that bothered about meeting the Queen. I'd rather meet Ade Edmondson, Rik Mayall or Gregor Fisher. I want to ask them why they keep making me fall down. It's their fault. If they weren't so bloody funny I'd stay on my feet. But I jest. I still watch Bottom and Rab C. Nesbitt, and if I crumple to the floor gracefully like a punctured balloon then so be it. I'll be laughing all the way.

I've decided not to give in to this condition. It's far too interesting. I'm going to fight it all the way and will be taking bets on how long I can stay awake during the next Weird Weekend. To be honest I could make a fortune. If I do, then I'll donate half of it to the CFZ for their next expedition – hopefully to the Land of Nod.

Anyway, must dash –yawn - I feel a bit sleepy….

PS: If you want to read more about me 'n' narcolepsy, you can do so by going to the following ridiculously long links:

Fox News
Daily Mail
Sunderland Echo
Shields Gazette
Shields Gazette (2)



Syd said...

"Just think; I could even walk naked through Woolsery and then claim that I dreamt I was Richie Freeman in the bathroom."
I don't think it would bother the locals. They'd just put the sighting down as another strange northern cryptid high on Newcastle Brown.

Jesting apart, I am sorry to hear of your illness Mike and good thoughts to you.

Geordie Paranormalizer said...

Thanks Syd - this lifted my spirits. It is a tough thing to deal with, but I'm determined to fight it.

My goal is to be the first Geordie narcoleptic cryptid and make loads of money out of it. If I formed a group called Narcoleptic Cryptids for World Peace and free Doughnuts would you be prepared to be chairperson?

All the best my friend,