Like a lot of people my age, I suppose, my introduction to Tourette Syndrome came with the 1989 BBC QED documentary ‘John’s Not Mad,’ which followed John Davidson, a 15-year-old Tourettes sufferer from Galashiels in Scotland.
I’d been kind of foggily aware of Tourettes before the documentary as a condition which made people swear uncontrollably, but so far as I know this was the first time it had been treated with such sympathy on the television, and as far as I remember it had quite an effect on bringing Tourettes to the attention of the wider public.
For a condition which is believed to have been first documented in the Fifteenth Century, and identified by Gilles de Tourette in 1825, there is still a huge amount of mythology and misunderstanding about Tourettes, which is why Welcome To Biscuit Land by Jessica Thom is so welcome.
Jess is a Tourettes sufferer, and her account of a year in her life is by turns witty, funny, engaging, and infuriating – she still meets people who think she’s ‘possessed.’
As readers will discover, Tourettes is not just about uncontrollable swearing. In fact, of the more than 300,000 people, both adults and children, in Britain alone who are estimated to have the condition, just 10% or so have coprolalia – the use of unacceptable or obscene language. Physical tics – uncontrollable twitching, hitting oneself, and so on – can render something as simple as a trip to the post office almost impossible, and the book gives an invaluable, clear-eyed window into a world most of us know nothing about or perhaps know just enough to misunderstand.
I first encountered Jess’s ‘work’ via @TicBot, a bot on Twitter based on her vocal tics. By no means all of these use swearing; some of them, I think, are rather beautiful, and I do wonder sometimes whether the condition doesn’t represent a kind of neurological cross-wiring in the deep language structures of the brain, something most of us never have access to.
In the book, she speaks of one tic about Keith Duffy, of WestLife, having a peanut allergy. It turns out, she says, that he actually does have a peanut allergy, and she gives these three possibilities:
‘1) It’s a complete coincidence
2) I’m magic
3) I’d seen a reference to his allergy in passing at some point and Tourettes decided today was the day to share this fragment of information from deep inside my mind.’
I’m not going to discount any of these possibilities, but I think, myself, that 3) is most likely.
Although I also think that Jess may be magic.
This is a terrifically well-written book. It’s short on self-pity but it doesn’t skip over the difficulties Tourettes can cause a sufferer, and more people should read this.
Welcome To Biscuit Land is published by Souvenir Press.