Plasticity of the Brain


Two of the projects I’m working on at the moment are wholeheartedly embracing the notion that physiotherapy, movement and brain plasticity are deeply connected. Gaming could be ideal for exploiting this learning, especially now so many games are using big body movements for motion control. Most of my interest has been in early years, looking at how the treatment of children with cerebral palsy can create new connections.  Norman Doidge has made this even more interesting by looking at how older brains can be changed through physical exercise. He cites the case of the 50-year old surgeon after a stroke left his arm ‘useless’. The surgeon regained excellent use after agreeing to master tasks using his affected hand. He recovered well enough to practice surgery again.

Wii Fit, Eye Toy, exercise and weight loss


The predecessor of the Wii Fit was the Eye Toy Kinetic, a ‘gym’ game for improving fitness. It was an important step but it didn’t get it quite right. Too complicated  to log in was one issue, repellently fit avatar trainers was another, but more importantly, it was designed for people who were already  fairly fit. This is a misunderstanding of its audience. Many creators continue to overlook the middle-aged audience they could harvest. The Eye Toy Kinetic’s routines require a level of agility seen in wiry teenagers, not fat middle-aged women who’ve forgotten, if they ever knew, how to exercise. But the Wii Fit has got it right. In the last four weeks I’ve watched some government morbidly obese statistics switch on to exercise because the Wii Fit helps you leap over the barriers to exercise without humiliation, finger-wagging or boredom. It manages to be motivational without ever being patronising. It gives frequent and timely feedback and it repays effort. I’ve seen a middle-aged man become competitive enough to beat a skinny teenager at hula hooping, and a woman who’s never run in her life jog for 60 minutes. This is when the technology becomes exciting, when it can incite this level of personal empowerment and change.

My internet bridegroom


I got married last year to a man I met on the internet in 1999. We’d got engaged years ago but we kept putting the wedding off because we couldn’t work out how to cope with our odd collection of family and friends. It was only the deaths of some of them that made us realise if we left it any longer they might all have gone the same way.

If you meet a man on the internet – and I do strongly urge you to do so – you leap over a lot of the stumbling blocks traditionally dividing couples; race, class, politics and so forth. In our case it left us with an interesting group of putative wedding guests.

Well – more than just ‘interesting’; they were an unruly and ill-matched bunch. Just like the bride and groom. Some of them mad, bad and dangerous. Others curmudgeonly and abrasive, quick to take offence and to dish it out. They came from all classes and temperaments, some of them embracing their fellow man like long-lost social workers, others with more than a touch of the Genghis Khans, so I struggled a bit with how to introduce them to each other.

I’d been to a lot of weddings before and they fell into one of two categories. There are ones where you get told where to sit. This means you have to last a four-hour lunch with people you’d run across a motorway blindfold to get away from. And the ones involving the informal meal you can eat with ‘whoever you like’.  I don’t know about you. Maybe you’re very cool about approaching total strangers but I always end up eating with the one other person in the room I know already because I came with them. I can’t possibly approach tight-knit groups of people I don’t know with my wilting ham roll and chicken drumstick.

So if you’re thinking of getting married soon and in keeping with the internet age, I think you should consider a third way to arrange your guests for maximum social interaction – a speed-dating arrangement. Serve five mini-courses, and rearrange the guests between each course according to your whims – age, height, month of birth …

Families must be deliberately torn apart. Husbands and wives, girlfriends and boyfriends need to be separated and  set down next to people they’ve never met, and probably never will again.  You don’t need music or a disco, only odd speeches scattered through a very long lunch. A sort of teenager’s nightmare. This was how we did it and I couldn’t recommend it to you more highly. Shorn of their family armour, people blossom. Teenagers definitely need to be liberated from the disapproving eyes of friends who know them too well, As a result of this rough treatment our guests, even some of the teenagers, blossomed like a thousand flowers, or at least like a hundred really nice, interesting and friendly people. We barely recognised them.

By the end of the night we had to throw them out of the venue, and the next day once-cool teenagers sat on my sofa and asked when we could do it all over again. So  if you’re an internet bride getting married soon and your guests are causing you anxiety, stop sweating over the table plans, just herd them about like cattle between each course and force them to say hello to  strangers.  You can think of it as sort of collaborative thing – a Web 2.0 wedding. And it was so much fun I’m going to do it again next time.

A typical day


Awoken at 7.05, feed child, make lunchbox, breakfast in bath. Dress, face, pack bag, unlock bike shed, gate, answer small child questions re injustice of doing homework, sympathise, stop sympathising, see child off, get in car, drive to tube, get on tube, read Sunday papers money section, worry about pension, go into office straight into meeting, good, lasts for two hours, answer emails rapidly and with feeling that brain is draining away faster than usual. work piled on desk, call absent member of staff to hear she is still off sick with “underlying viral infection” = stress, more work, post office for E111 and posting of pokemon cards to small guest who inadvertantly left them, buy soup and take it back to desk, more mails, cup of tea with leaving colleague, back to desk, meet new member of staff, brief her on major tasks, take her to meet research manager, get hauled into another meeting, large amount of work handed to me, should be in third meeting but desk now so piled high with vital things which have to be done before the end of the day I can’t move and so am still trapped there when boss passes by and asks me to have cup of tea with other colleague facing work crisis, agree but now numb so can only manage to write it on gaudy orange post-it before realising how many other orange post-its are still awaiting my attention, more mails, time to go to govs meeting, panic, must read papers before go, but there is even more pressing email, do that but don’t complete it as brain too frozen to fully release necessary information – must send it on FOI course , must go, panic, when will papers be read, maybe before I go to govs, no time, get to govs with 3 mins to spare, meeting good but goes on and on and on, Home at 9pm, loved one cooks lovely food, but before that child is still deep in trauma of shouting teacher. Warm hugs and tears before short lecture on need to grow thicker skin. child crawls under leopard skin blanket to cry. Crying relieved by Blackadder 111. child up too late, tuck him into bed, refuse to read story, back down stairs, it is 10.30 “How was your day dear?” Read papers finally, return via email with comments. It is 01.13. It is bed time.