The most interesting spin-off, however, that I have had from the whole exercise is the opportunity to take part in some valuable ophthalmic research into retinitis pigmentosa, or RT, the name of my hereditary condition. The invitations range from a visit to Boston from one Leicester Grindspoon, professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, and half a dozen hypnosis sessions with an engaging young man from Surbiton called Bruce.
I am seriously considering the former - New England in the fall is a tempting proposition - and I've already done the latter. Bruce has this theory that smoking cannabis doesn't in fact alter your vision, it merely changes the perception your brain has of what you can see or at any rate what you think you can see. Don't worry, I didn't get it either, but Bruce insisted that putting me into a hypnotic state could well have the same effect on my brain as smoking a spliff.
As I said, Bruce came from Surbiton, not in itself a matter of great moment except that finding somewhere to park in central London if you don't have a permit is a nightmare. You can drive around for hours looking for a meter, as Bruce invariably did. He never complained. As I also said, he was an engaging young man, but I could see that this weekly search for a parking space (he hypnotised me every Monday morning) was beginning to tell on his nerves.)
A double espresso and a Marlboro Light usually restored his spirits but I still felt vaguely responsible for his agitation, even a little guilty - he wasn't charging me his usual pounds 35 fee - and therefore all the more determined to make his visits work and his experiment succeed.
When, having calmed down, he commanded me, in that monotonous Gaelic sort of voice hypnotists always use, to "close your eyes, imagine you are floating in deep space, you are falling asleep, floating, falling, you are now deeply asleep", even though I was wide awake I kept my eyes shut and gave obliging little snores.
Then, when he told me to open my eyes (even though I was still fast asleep) and asked me if I could make out the colour of his shirt better than before, I said yes. Maybe I could. It's difficult to tell what's going on first thing in the morning. Whether it was a deliberate ploy I don't know, but Bruce always wore bright Hawaiian shirts in fluorescent green and pink which Stevie Wonder would probably have been able to make out on a dark night. "Good, good, I think we are getting somewhere," said Bruce, and my vague feeling of responsibility and guilt drifted away.
My latest brush with medical research came last Tuesday morning. Because this particular experiment is still at a delicate developmental stage, I cannot disclose names or go into great detail. Suffice to say that at 8.30am I found myself in the visual science department of a well-known university, assisting a distinguished academic in his research into the biochemistry of damaged retinas.
How? By sitting in a high chair in a dark room flicking my eyes rapidly from one tiny pin-prick of red light on my right to another tiny pin-prick of red light on my left for 10 seconds every two minutes over a half-hour period. Meanwhile, three electrodes attached to my face monitored something important. It wasn't a bit painful; but even if it had been, the exhilaration I felt in being a pioneer, helping to push forward the frontiers of medical science, etc etc, would have overcome any discomfort.
"How much do you weigh?" asked Professor X. "Eight stone," I said. "Why do you want to know?" Because, he said, he had to work out the dosage for the next part of the experiment, whereby he handed me a mug a little more than half full of malt whisky. "Try to drink it all at once," he advised. "It will give me better readings."
What readings, I started to say. No need to ask. The answer was before me. The two tiny red lights had suddenly become bigger, brighter, redder, like giant tomatoes sucking me into their juicy centres.
"Gosh, that's amazing," I said, though it sounded more like "Gosh... thatsh shmashing".
Professor X has a theory that whisky - malt whisky (this was the Macallan) - has a uniquely beneficial effect on the retina. I am sure he is right. An 18-year-old double mature Talisker (distiller's edition) might be even more uniquely beneficial, but that's a personal preference. Science is a truly wonderful thing.Reuse content