The strange world of imaginary illness

October 25, 2015

I am always interested in reading about the brain. In previous posts I have looked at neuroscientists V.S. Ramachandran and the late Oliver Sacks and some of the amazing things that can happen to our brains. There is Alien Hand Syndrome in which the subject feels that their hand is possessed by an uncontrollable outside force resulting in its actual movement. Then we have Blindsight, a condition in which patients who are effectively blind because of damage to the visual cortex are able to carry out tasks which would ordinarily appear to be impossible unless they can see the objects. And there is Cotard Syndrome, a disorder in which a patient asserts that he or she is dead, even describing symptoms such as smelling rotting flesh or worms crawling over the skin.

The human mind is indeed a great mystery. So recently I was interested to hear about a new book It’s All in Your Head, a look at the world of imaginary illness, the anxiety induced by hypochondria and the psychosomatic illness. They are different phenomena and the author Suzanne O’Sullivan provides a clear explanation. In hypochondria, which is also known as illness anxiety disorder, a small symptom may be magnified by the anxiety of the patient causing psychological distress. A psychosomatic illness is very different. The patient has a significant amount of physiological suffering, but medical tests or physical examination fail to turn up any physical cause. What is important is not any anxiety, but the actual symptoms.

These conditions are surprisingly common. O’Sullivan claims that as many as a “third of people seen in an average general neurology clinic have symptoms that cannot be explained. In those people, an emotional cause is often suspected.

There is no doubt that there is a great deal of stigma attached to these conditions. The title of the book alludes to this negative perception. But because something is psychological does not diminish its relevance. The situation has improved but we still live in a world that takes a dim view of those who are psychologically unwell.

Psychosomatic symptoms can be extremely varied. At the milder end you have tiredness or pains. At the extreme end you can see seizures or even blindness, although these are rarer. It is the latter which affected Yvonne. After an accident in which she had been sprayed in the face with window-cleaning fluid, she convinced herself and her family that she was blind. Unable even to get around her house, she was put on disability benefits with a full-time carer. After six months of tests doctors were unable to find anything thing wrong with her eyes. This might sound like a case of Andy Pipkin from Little Britain. But Yvonne does not appear to have been malingering. In one session with O’Sullivan, she gave her doctor a present:

“I have something for you,” she said, and handed me a card. On the front was a flower-filled field overlooked by a single tree. It was drawn in coloured pencil. The words inside said thank you, it was nice to have somebody to chat to every day.

“I made the card,” Yvonne said.

 “You made it!” I could not hide my surprise.

 “Yes, I borrowed pencils and paper from the woman in the bed next to me,” Yvonne replied.

 “But if you can’t see, how could you draw?”

 “I can feel the pencil marks on the paper,” she answered. She did not seem in the least affronted.

I looked at the picture again. All the colours were correct – the tree green, the bark brown. Not a single outline was broken, not a single leaf or flower out of place.

One doctor joked that she wouldn’t be winning any Oscars for her performance. O’Sullivan, though, does not think that Yvonne was faking it. She may have had patients who feign disability, but she argues that this is very rare. Sophisticated tests on the brain can now determine that with most sufferers of psychosomatic disorders there is no deliberate intent. Drawing a picture does not seem like the action of someone trying to play the system. Yvonne had subconsciously persuaded herself that was blind. After six months of psychiatric help and family counselling, Yvonne’s vision was “restored.”

Camilla was a highly successful lawyer with a beautiful home and two children:

… one day, while on a work trip to Cumbria, she started feeling strange. Her right hand began to tremble, then her left one. She tried to ask for help but could not speak. Soon her limbs were flailing. She slumped from her seat, her head banging on the floor despite the best efforts of a colleague to assist. She was still shaking when paramedics came to cart her off to hospital.

It later emerged that they were caused by the buried trauma of her first child’s death years earlier when his buggy had rolled into the path of a car.

Not all her cases produced successful outcomes. Shahina came to see the doctor with a paralysed and contorted hand that left her seriously disabled. She underwent every kind of investigation before it was revealed that there was a high chance that her problem was psychosomatic. But when she and her family received the diagnosis they were outraged. They refused to accept it. They left the hospital and never came back. This shows how unnerving such diagnoses can be for patients. We tend to want to cling to real physical diagnoses

It would be remiss of me not to mention that O’Sullivan’s work has been the subject of some controversy. In particular, her characterisation of he case of myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) as psychomatic raised a lot of hackles with the ME Association and its Medical Adviser, Dr Charles Shepherd:

Whilst accepting that physical symptoms can be caused by a psychological illness, far too many patients with these unexplained symptoms are now being conveniently lumped together with a dustbin diagnosis known as a somatic syndrome – leaving no incentive to carry out research aimed at finding an underlying cause, or an effective drug treatment. This is bad and lazy medicine.”

O’Sullivan states that around 70% of patients who have these inexplicable conditions are female. She speculates that as women are more likely to suffer traumatic sexual abuse, the physical illness might be a response to that. This speculation is interesting, but it is just that, speculation. Perhaps, one day, with the advance of neuroscience, we will understand what is really going on. But for the moment we just don’t know. Whatever the reality, many of the people that O’Sullivan describes are clearly suffering. We owe them compassion.

_______

I haven’t read It’s All in Your Head yet, but I have heard O’Sullivan interviewed on a ABC Radio National Australia’s All in the Mind podcast about imaginary illness.

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Clique-stalking and other new words

October 25, 2015

Here is another selection of new words I found on the Wordspy website:

antilibrary

A person’s collection of unread books.

brontobyte

2 to the power of 90 — approximately 10 to the power of 27 — bytes, or one thousand trillion terabytes.

clique-stalking

Surreptitiously investigating a person’s friends or social media connections.

dadbod

A male physique characterized by a slight flabbiness, undefined musculature, and a noticeable beer belly; a man who has such a physique.

distraction addict

A person whose attention is easily and constantly drawn away from the task at hand.

deliverbot

A driverless vehicle or unpiloted drone that delivers packages and other cargo.

Eroom’s Law

The observed exponential decline in the rate that new pharmaceutical drugs are discovered; specifically, the observation that, over the recent history of drug research by pharmaceutical companies, the number of new drugs discovered per billion dollars of research is halved every nine years.

fact-resistant

Impervious to reason, counterexamples, or data, especially when they contradict one’s opinions or values.

goat cheese curtain

An imaginary boundary that separates urban sophisticates from those with simple, traditional, or uncultured tastes.

herd misogyny

Hatred towards or harassment of women perpetrated by a group of males.

hipster paradox

The tendency for people who assert their individuality using deliberately anti-mainstream dress and grooming to end up all looking very similar, thus becoming the new mainstream.

hyperpalatable

Extremely, even addictively, tasty, particularly due to a mixture of fat, sugar, and salt.

juice jacking

Stealing data from a portable device that is plugged into a hacked public charging station.

meat in a seat

A customer or employee who is unappreciated or viewed only as a source of revenue; an unskilled person who is just along for the ride.

selfeet

A photo of one’s shoes or one’s bare feet.

sockmageddon

A long or intense struggle with washing, folding, or pairing socks.

stealthie

A photograph of one or more people, taken without their knowledge or consent.

the bacon of X

The most excellent or most satisfying example of something.

virtue signalling

Using words, actions, or symbols to indicate to other people that you are a good person or that you hold certain values.


The story behind the song: Here My Dear

October 18, 2015

Marvinhere-my-dear

I’ve been blogging for seven and half years now and not once have I posted about Marvin Gaye, my favourite singer. I think I first came across Gaye when I heard Paul Young’s brilliant cover of Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home). Although I liked Young’s version, I wanted to hear the music from the original. I wasn’t disappointed. Gaye’s oeuvre includes such classics as Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, I heard it Through the Grapevine, , What’s Going On, You’re The Man, Trouble Man, Let’s Get It On, Got to Give it Up and Sexual Healing. Recently he has been in the news with the plagiarism case against Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams for ripping off Got to Give it Up.

In this post I am not to look at a song, but an album. Here My Dear is definitely not his best and was a commercial and critical failure when it was released. There are others that are more necessary. Nevertheless, it is one that I do enjoy and its backstory is absolutely fascinating.

Gaye was in the midst of a painful divorce from his wife Anna. To complicate matters more Anna Gordy, 17 years older than Gaye, was the sister of Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown, the record company which had made him into a star. What’s more his finances were in a parlous state. He had messed up his taxes and owed Stephen Hill, his ex-manager $2 million. Anna was asking for $1 million dollars to settle.  She was seeking alimony for their adopted son, Marvin Gaye III. In September 1976, a warrant was issued for Gaye’s arrest after he had failed to pay alimony. The singer hid from the public for several days.

Marvin’s lawyer Curtis Shaw came up with a novel solution. He proposed that Gaye pay her $600,000 – $305,000 from the advance Marvin was due for his next album and the rest from the earnings from the album. Gaye and Anna liked the idea and so Marvin Gaye went to the studio to record his 15th album.

Initially Gaye had thought he would just put out a quickie. He wasn’t going to break his back when he wouldn’t see any of the cash anyway. But gradually he changed his mind. On the one hand he owed his fans his best effort. On the other hand he wanted to put his typical passion into the product – it would be a cathartic experience. It would take him three months.

The album art was created by artist Michael Byran. The cover had a bearded toga-clad in A Roman setting. His pose was that of an emperor. On the back cover a mock Rodin statue of a couple in a passionate embrace while around the Holy temple of Matrimony collapsed. It was a double album and you opened it up the fold-out illustration showed a man’s hand reaching across to the hand of a woman’s, about to give her a record. The hands are extended on a Monopoly board – divorce was like a game.

Gaye, accompanied by engineer Art Stewart entered his recording studio on March 24, 1977. Gaye had a very particular way of working, composing on the spot, mumbling over pre-recorded tracks or to his own accompaniment. After three or four takes he would have the lyrics. He also played all the keyboards. Recording on the album ended on June 9, 1978. However, he held back its release for a year, afraid of the reaction.

The opening song, Here My Dear, was dedicated to Anna.

I don’t think I’ll have many regrets, baby.

Things didn’t have to be the way they was, baby.

You don’t have the right to use the son of mine

to keep me in line.

One thing I can’t do without

is the boy whom God gave to both of us.

Gaye wants our sympathy. He was accusing Anna of preventing him from seeing his son. I Met a Little Girl describes his how meeting Anna saved him from loneliness. It is sung in a doo-wop style. The central  song on the album is When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You.

But I can’t understand, ’cause if you love me

How could you turn me into the police?

Didn’t I love you good and try to take care of you best I could?

You were so divine and your love was like mellow wine

Pains of love, miles of tears, enough to last me for my lifetime

Broken hearts last for years to break away to the blue-day sunshine

One thing I can promise, friend: I’ll never be back again.

The song Anger reflects the fragile mental state:

One more time-anger, more ager

When it’s flaming hot

Anger burns to the bitter end

Know what I’m talkin’ ’bout

When it cools I find out too late

I have lost at love, love, love, dear friend

I said, anger will make you sick,

children, oh Jesus

Anger destroys your soul

You Can Leave, But It’s Going To Cost You tells of a threat made by Anna when said he was going to leave her:

That young girl is going to cost you

If you want happiness, you got to pay

Marvin was now seeing Jan Hunter, who would be his second wife.

The final song Falling in Love Again is dedicated to Janis:

In this life….of….happiness and sadness

when you’ve lost….out on love…

and it all…ends up in madness

and you say….Love….please go away don’t torture me, night and day

then someone real…..someone who feel comes in.

Now I’m falling in love again-

Alas, Gaye would not find peace with Jan, and Janis filed for legal separation in 1979. Anna Gordy was also none too pleased, threatening a $5 million invasion-of-privacy lawsuit:

“I think he did it deliberately for the joy of seeing how hurt I could become.”

As I said earlier, I do not think that this is Gaye’s best work but it still worth listening. It does produce a strange effect. We are now used to the confessional culture and the voyeuristic tendencies of reality television, but this was not so usual in the 1970s. it is a rather self-indulgent self-pitying album. We hear an artist in turmoil. This is about more than just the divorce. Gaye is struggling with his very sanity. Singing is his only redemption.

Critics now have a more positive view of the Here My Dear. It is in Rolling Stone’s Top 500 albums. Even the victim, Anna Gordy, changed her mind: “It’s taken me a while, but I’ve come to appreciate every form of Marvin’s music.”

Sadly less than seven years after the album was finished Gaye would be shot dead by his father. On April 1st 1984 Marvin Gaye Jr. was pronounced dead he was one day shy of his 45th birthday. I’ll end with a quote from Divided Soul – The Life Of Marvin Gaye, David Ritz’s definitive biography of the star:

Marvin never recovered from being an abused and battered child. His talent wasn’t enough to see him through. Because he never loved himself, he always felt unloved. Yet love broke through the barrier and infused his songs with something greater than passing pleasure: genuine joy. He had the rare courage to pour the pain of his troubled life into his art, and, as a result, his art was expanded and enriched. His creations, like prayers, were filled with a longing for love, not self-love, but a far wiser, far larger love, a love that transcends ego and turns our hearts back to the source of art itself. Marvin’s music—the sexual as well as the spiritual—is God-given, God-inspired, God-blessed.

“As an artist,” he said, “my purpose is to awaken the human spirit.”

Triumphantly, that purpose was met.


Diss songs

October 18, 2015

Musicians often use their platform to get their own back. Here are five classic examples:

You’re So Vain – Carly Simon

Well, I hear you went up to Saratoga

And your horse naturally won

Then you flew your Lear jet up to Nova Scotia

To see the total eclipse of the sun

Well, you’re where you should be all the time

And when you’re not, you’re with

Some underworld spy or the wife of a close friend

Wife of a close friend, and

 You’re so vain

You probably think this song is about you

This famous song was said to be an attack on former lover Warren Beatty. More recently I have heard that it was not about a lover, but record producer David Geffen. I preferred the original story.

Sweet Home Alabama –  Lynyrd Skynyrd

Well, I heard Mister Young sing about her

Well, I heard ole Neil put her down.

Well, I hope Neil Young will remember

a southern man don’t need him around anyhow.

This song was a broadside against Neil Young and his songs “Southern Man” and Alabama which dealt with themes of racism and slavery in the American South:

In his 2012 autobiography Waging Heavy Peace, Young actuallly admitted:

‘Alabama’ richly deserved the shot Lynyrd Skynyrd gave me with their great record. I don’t like my words when I listen to it. They are accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, and too easy to misconstrue”. Indeed he would perform it a memorial to the three members of Lynyrd Skynyrd who died in a plane crash in 1977.

I am a fan of Lynyrd Skynyrd and I do like the song but this video with rendition of Dixie and Confederate flags is bit much.

Bad Blood – Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift says she has co-wrote “Bad Blood” about an undisclosed female musical artist who attempted to sabotage one of her concert tours by hiring people who worked for her. Billboard, Rolling Stone, Time, and The Washington Post all speculated that Katy Perry is the subject of the song, something which Swift denies. Well she would, wouldn’t she? The video certainly does seem to look like Perry.

How Do You Sleep? John Lennon

This famous song is from his 1971 album Imagine is clearly aimed at his former Beatles bandmate and songwriting partner, Paul McCartney, although Lennon would later claim that many of the accusations he had written could just as easily describe himself:

 A pretty face may last a year or two

But pretty soon they’ll see what you can do

The sound you make is muzak to my ears

You must have learned something in all those years

Ah, how do you sleep?

Ah, how do you sleep at night?

 Real Niggaz – N.W.A  

Prisoner like a hostage

Yo, you should of covered your muthafucking head like an ostrich

Deep in the dirt cause you’s a sucker

And you ass up high so I can kick the muthafucker

Don’t try to hang your best abroad

Cause my foot will be so far up you ass, you’re get hemorrhoids

Before you try to fuck wit Ren

I’ll put two in your ass and you’ll be shitting a size 10

This was a song attacking Ice Cube, who left the group in December 1989 over royalty disputes. Having written almost half of the lyrics on Straight Outta Compton Ice Cube felt he was not getting a fair share of the profits.


My Summer with Tricky Dick

October 11, 2015

I spent my summer with Charles Manson and Richard Nixon – the former through the You Must Remember podcast and the biography by Jeff Guinn. As for Nixon this summer I read Being Nixon: A Man Divided by Evan Thomas. To complement my reading I also made use of a lot of the excellent YouTube material about the former president. I was also thinking of a One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon by Tim Weiner: But it sounded like too much of a hatchet job and I plumped for Thomas. I think that I made the right choice as A Man Divided is a balanced, perceptive and highly entertaining portrait of Richard Milhous Nixon the 37th president of the United States of America.

Now there have been some eccentric US presidents. Thomas Jefferson edited the Bible leaving out all the spiritual stuff. Jimmy Carter claimed he had been attacked by killer rabbits. Ronald Reagan would often cite stories from Hollywood as if they had happened in real life. But Richard Nixon is right up there with the best of them. What strikes me about him was his total lack of ease around people. The book is replete with examples:

In St. Petersburg, Florida, a policeman was severely injured when his motorcycle flipped over while driving in the presidential motorcade. In his considerate way, Nixon rushed from his limousine to express his sympathies. As was his way, he also didn’t know what to say, blurting to the policeman who lay bleeding on the ground, “Do you like your work?

And before an interview with David Frost, in 1977 he asked, “Well, did you do any fornicating this weekend?”

Now if he had been an accountant or a quantity surveyor it might have held him back somewhat.  In a career where pressing the flesh is so important, this should have killed off any chances he might have had. In fact, he was surprisingly successful as a politician. He served as Dwight Eisenhower’s Veep. It was, however a rather distant relationship. In the summer of 1960 Eisenhower was asked if he could think of a major contribution that Nixon had made to his administration. His reply: “Well, if you give me a week I might think of one.

The 1960 presidential campaign is famous for the presidential debate. Those who heard on the radio thought that Nixon was the winner. But it was television where the debate would be decided and Nixon, recovering from an illness and without make-up, looked ill at ease, especially when compared to the allure of JFK. Nevertheless, Nixon would almost certainly have won the election but for the massive voting corruption organised by Joe Kennedy. When he lost the California gubernatorial race in 1962, he went into retirement:

You don’t have Nixon to kick around any more, because, gentlemen, this is my last press conference.”

This sense of resentment against the press and east-coast liberal elites was another defining characteristic of the man. But he did come back and invoking the power of the Silent Majority, he won two successive elections.

What can we say about Nixon’s two-term (One and a half to be precise) presidency? In terms of foreign policy the most notable achievements were his visit to China and the détente with the Soviet Union. On the other hand, his biggest failure was Vietnam. He didn’t take the country, but he didn’t get out and initiatives such as the bombing of Cambodia helped divide society. This was apparent in the Kent State massacre of 1970, in which four students were killed by the Ohio National Guard. But what brought the the polarisation was brought home to me when I saw this video of The Ray Conniff singers performing at the White House. I’m sure he wasn’t expecting this:

You almost feel sorry for him. It’s not like he invited someone from the counterculture to play.

Yet paradoxically many of his policies belie the image of a man of the hard right. He presided over the extension of the Voting Rights Act, the passage of the Clean Air Act, the creation of the White House Office of Consumer Affairs and wage and price controls in a flawed bid to bring down inflation. He increased spending on Social Security, and Medicare. And some 40 years before ObamaCare, he proposed the creation of a national health-insurance scheme.

One of the inexplicable things he did was to install that recording system in the Oval Office. What was he thinking? There is even this quote from him:

“I’m glad I’m not Brezhnev. Being the Russian leader in the Kremlin. You never know if someone’s tape recording what you say.”

It was however a wonderful resource for linguists who could pore over hundreds hours of real language. It was also the basis of the show Nixon’s the One, in which Harry Shearer of the Simpsons portrays the 37th president. The show shows Nixon in all his glorious paranoia. It is a comedy, but using only the actual words said by Nixon and his colourful staff.

They may have been a boon for linguists and comedians, but they played a fundamental role in the event that would ultimately define his presidency – the break-in at the Watergate Hotel. Nixon had to go, but you can’t help thinking that he would have won the election without this bungling, tawdry plan. And if he had been upfront at he beginning, things may have turned out differently. As he left the White House for the last time in August 1974 his parting words were:

“Remember, always give your best. Never get discouraged. Never be petty. Always remember, others may hate you. But those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.”

If only he could have followed his own advice.


Nixon on YouTube

October 11, 2015

As I pointed out in the post, there is loads of material about Richard Nixon on YouTube. Here are two of my favourites:

 


On handwriting

October 4, 2015

Like a Drunken spider walking across the page – that is how one teacher described my illegible scrawling at the age of 11. I am still traumatised by those classes. So I was rather pleased to hear this year that Finland, which regularly tops the PISA charts for the best academic performance in the world, has decided to drop traditional handwriting classes from its national curriculum in 2016 in order to focus on keyboard skills.

As I pointed out in a previous post, writing, unlike speaking, does not come naturally. We have only been doing it for some 5000 years, and two-thirds of the 6000 or so languages in the world are not written down. A child will not be able to produce this highly sophisticated symbolic form of representation without instruction. So if it is not taught, writing as we know it will disappear. Handwriting is becoming an anachronism. Will it die out in the next few decades?

Its defenders argue that writing stimulates cognitive processing, helping us to learn and retain information. It activates the Reticular Activating System (RAS), the area of the brain responsible for tactile learning. Moreover it also helps us to develop other skills such as reading and it is even said to be beneficial for maths. Writing is excellent for practising fine motor skills.

There are a lot of virtues to writing by hand. But I am sure we will be able to adapt to the new technology. Socrates opposed writing itself, because of the effects it would have on memory. But writing has brought with it far more advantages than drawbacks.

One benefit will be in the area of the correction of written work. It is pretty clear that teachers and professors give students lower marks if they have poor handwriting. If you have an identical poorly written handwritten essay, and a nicely written handwritten one, they may well receive different grades. This problem goes away with typed work, where only the content will decide its worth. I also feel that the very large amount of time devoted to handwriting at, kindergarten and in primary schools could be better employed. These kids can already be quite proficient on their keyboards. It will considerably free up teachers’ time, allowing them to concentrate on more important areas.

I’m now going to look at the pseudoscience of graphology. It feels like common sense that someone who writes in an organised way will be tidy. But graphologists go further claiming that leaving wide spaces between letters indicates a proneness to isolation and loneliness because the wide spaces indicate someone who does not mix easily and is uncomfortable with closeness. One graphologist claims that a person betrays his sadistic nature if he crosses his t’s with lines that look like whips.

It may appear believable, but science is about testing our preconceptions. There is no credible scientific theory as to how graphology would work. Like many other such questionable activities it relies on anecdotal evidence; most empirical studies fail to show the validity claimed by its proponents. Indeed, the British Psychological Society ranks graphology alongside astrology, giving them both “zero validity.  It would be harmless if it were not used for recruitment purposes. According to my research the French are quite into this. The Sceptic’s Dictionary has this lovely put-down:”

“If … you don’t mind discriminating against people on the basis of pseudoscientific nonsense, then at least have the consistency to use a Ouija board to help you pick the right graphologist”

A more serious area is forensic handwriting analysis. This is based on the fact that everyone has their unique style of handwriting. Even identical twins who share appearance and genetics don’t have the same handwriting. People might be able to copy it, but they can never write it in the identical way. Wikipedia has this list of characteristics of handwriting:

specific shape of letters, e.g. their roundness or sharpness

regular or irregular spacing between letters

the slope of the letters

the rhythmic repetition of the elements or arrhythmia

the pressure to the paper

the average size of letters

the thickness of letters

Professionals in this field analyse documents for signs of alteration, forgery and, when sample documents are available, they make comparisons to determine or rule out if the same person was responsible for each text. However, forensic handwriting analysis has its limitations too. The big problem with this enterprise is that ultimately it is a subjective one. It’s not like CSI. In the real world you have a complex task being carried out by fallible people whose subjective evaluation will affect the result you get. It is worth pointing out that this critique can also apply to fingerprint analysis. There have been attempts to introduce more standardised training and certification procedures, but its use in court is still questionable.

One famous case where experts got it “wrong” was the infamous Hitler Diaries. Konrad Kujau, a conman masquerading as a collector of Nazi memorabilia, claimed to be in possession of 60 journals allegedly written by Adolf Hitler, which had just been discovered in the wreckage of an airplane that had left Germany after World War II. As well as a number of German publications, The Sunday Times was interested. The London newspaper, recently acquired by Rupert Murdoch, requested a professional handwriting analysis to ensure authenticity. The three international experts in forensic handwriting analysis who compared the diaries to exemplars of Hitler’s handwriting, all agreed that the diaries were written by the same person who wrote the exemplars. The diaries were for real. Only when the ink, paper and bindings were analysed was the forgery discovered.  In fact the three analysts were right – all the documents had been written by the same person. Kujau had also had the comparison documents forged too!

It’s been years since I’ve hand-written a letter and I tend to send few Christmas cards. But, I don’t think handwriting will completely disappear. There is a whole world of penmanship that will remain a passion for some people. Companies such as Montblanc serve this market. But it will clearly be a minority activity as keyboards play an ever-increasing role in our lives. Even the signature may become extinct. I do not generally get too sentimental about technology – I tend to cringe when people talk about the smell of books. Stone carvings and the manuscripts done by monks were undoubtedly beautiful but they were superseded by printing. Civilisation survived and indeed prospered. Perhaps the future will combine the new and the old. The digital pen is an input device which captures the handwriting of a user, converting it into digital data. Here is a video to close with: