I once met Borat’s cousin

His name is Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, and he is based at the Department of Psychology, Cambridge University, where he is a world authority on autism. In fact, I’ve interviewed him twice—firstly in 2000 at his rooms in Trinity College, and a few years later in his Department on the Trumpington Road. With a name like Baron- Cohen , and at a time when Ali G was beginning to do his famous TV stunts, I could hardly fail to ask him the obvious question. He didn’t flinch from the truth.

He’s not as tall as his cousin and doesn’t resemble him facially. He is very softly-spoken and, like many academics, was very precise and deliberate in his responses to my questions. On the first occasion we talked about the advantages and disadvantages of having Asperger’s Syndrome, which back then wasn’t the fashionable condition that it now is. He revealed that many high-achieving academics, most them mathematicians, engineers and physicists, functioned perfectly well in their chosen fields, although quite a few had problems in wider society. He argued that though those with Asperger’s Syndrome were often regarded as odd or unusual by their neural-normal colleagues and friends, it was wrong to demonise them. On the contrary, society should celebrate the fact that their abilities, which included often excellent memories, especially for facts, a liking for repetitive or routine work, and strong interests in systems analysis, were in high demand in the modern world. If all these positive attributes inevitably came with some negative aspects, most notably, a lack of social skills, including a sometimes shocking lack of tact and a brutal honesty, together with occasional disabling physical sensitivities, then that was a price society should be able to pay.

Thirteen years on, and two best-selling books later, Borat’s cousin has become a major academic guru in the field of autism studies, which has grown into a little cottage industry (see the catalogue of the publishers Jessica Kingsley and numerous online sites). Today, the annals of British achievement in the arts and sciences is being retrospectively raked over---with Bertrand Russell, Patricia Highsmith and Jonathan Swift-- emerging as Asperger’s candidates. Baron- Cohen’s most controversial book, The Essential Difference, which argues that male and female brains are wired differently, and that therefore it is possible for a female to have  a man’s brain, and vice versa, is required reading for anyone interested in transgender politics -- not an issue about which Borat himself would have had anything useful to say. [Thanks H]

The other Kate Middletons

There are at least two other well known Kate Middletons. The American (or possibly Australian) Dr. Kate Middleton author of Stress How to De Stress Without Doing Less and several recent works on eating disorders including First Steps Out of Eating Disorders. Also the Ulster poet Kate Middleton author of Into the Wind (1974) married to the Irish artist John Middleton (who drew the cover.) The first has a slight association/ resonance in her medical angles and the second, poet Kate, has a poem which recalls the famous song I've danced with a man, who's danced with a girl, who's danced with the Prince of Wales - written in 1927 by Herbert Farjeon at the height of the popularity of Edward, Prince of Wales.

KM's poem is called I live here too:

I have dined with a man
who danced with a girl
who lived with a man
who died in a fight
on a Derry barricade

I spoke with a man
who drank with a girl
who loved a man
who carried the can
for a guy who planted a bomb

a neighbour of mine
knew one of the girls
who lost her legs
in the Abercorn**

My neighbour's friend
had been to the house
heard the shouts
saw the tears.

** A paramilitary attack that took place in a crowded city centre restaurant and bar (the Abercorn) in Belfast on 4 March 1972. The bomb explosion claimed the lives of two young women and injured over 130 people.