Do not feed the trolls

Not-sure-if-trolling-or-just-stupid

The news that Chris Grayling wants to punish trolls by locking them in the highest room of the highest tower for a thousand years with a dragon guarding the entrance will come as a shock I imagine to those, like a fresh-faced young man I met at a party a few years ago, who believe that ‘the law doesn’t apply on the internet’ (and therefore he could sell WHATEVER PLANTS HE LIKED on there, right?).

 

Um no, not quite.

You can see how he got that idea though, particularly back then.

(I laughed at him all the same, in the style of lawyers everywhere when a non-lawyer says something, anything at all, about the law – I THINK YOU WILL FIND IT’S A BIT MORE COMPLICATED THAN THAT.*)

For early users of chatrooms (like me) the internet did for a time seem like a fresh and hopeful place, where everyone could speak their minds freely and just hang out, ya know, like, chattin’?

The original trolls were people who took the conversation in chatrooms and forums ‘off topic’ (How quaint that sounds to modern ears. How we used to frown upon the change of subject! Tsk tsk.)

But yes, I would agree that the internet can seem frankly lawless, though these days the internet seems a lot less like Eden and a lot more like the Wild West.

Anyone who spends any time in the New Wild West knows that some pretty vile and vicious things happen out here. Death threats, rape threats, suicides – these are sadly so common as to be almost part of the landscape. And so SO often, individuals seem to left to hang out to dry without the protection of the law or even of the rules of common humanity. I have more to say on this topic but, for now, let’s stick to the subject of the Troll.

In particular –  as a long term resident of Flaming Valley, Troll County, Wyoming, I think it’s worth pointing out that no one really agrees what a Troll is.

Trolls all write things on the internet, but that is about all they have in common.

I would argue that only some of them need to go to prison (otherwise, apart from anything else, we would have to build a LOT of new prisons).

And just like the Wild West, it’s often hard to work out the goodies from the baddies, because they don’t always wear a white hat or sport a twirly moustache. (At least not one you can see from their avatar.)

And one man’s brave pioneer is another man’s land-grabbing oppressor of indigenous peoples.

Now I don’t know about you but I don’t have the utmost confidence that Mr Grayling and his colleagues can be trusted to understand who are the black hats and white hats in, for example, #gamergate.

So here, Mr Grayling, is Number6’s guide to internet ‘trolls’ and suitable punishments. You’re more than welcome:

1. The super fans

These types have always been around but in the old days they were confined to hanging outside stage doors wearing customised t-shirts and holding hand-made teddy bears for the objects of their ‘affection’. Sometimes extreme loyalty spills over into a tiny bit of harassment of people they don’t like – for example, someone who might be snogging the object of your obsession, like poor old Paige Reifler

 http://www.dailystar.co.uk/showbiz/391569/Harry-Styles-girl-Paige-Reifler-Directioner-death-threats

Of course we are many of us prone to a little obsessive behaviour from time to time and who amoung us, really, would be happy with anyone checkin’ out our internet history?**

Suitable punishment – related to fan-dom e.g. ritual burning of home-made shrine to Harry Styles.

2. Single Issue Fanatics

Explaining why the world is WRONG and they are RIGHT, often at considerable length with little punctuation to help them. Again, this lot have always been part of the rich human landscape, but before they would usually stay in their bedrooms writing long long screeds about the parlous state of the world until they were forced to leave to go to the shops and buy more green ink.

In fact without the borderline obsessives, many great social changes would never have taken place, for better or worse – Mary Whitehouse was certainly in this category, but then so were Martin Luther and indeed the suffragettes. So, no willies, boobs or bums or uses of the F word on the telly throughout the 1970s and 1980s BUT votes for women – you have to take the rough with the smooth.

Suitable punishment – compulsory inclusion of balanced counterarguments before they are entitled to publish anything (SIFs are allergic to OTOH).

3. Keyboard Krusaders

Fired up, stressed out cousins of the Single Issue Fanatics, these types would be horrified at the idea that they could be considered trolls. They are Brave Truth-Warriors, fearlessly fighting the forces of evil from the safety of their keyboards. (Face to face, they crumple.)

Ukippers mostly fall into this category, and indeed have developed their own jargon to fight the good fight of the oppressed white man, usually consisting of excruciating puns (LibLabCon, Bliar etc) and calling people who disagree with them ‘sheeple’ and ‘brainwashed’.

Suitable punishment – for Ukippers – forced to vote Green. For others, forced to leave house and breathe fresh air for a bit on a nice long walk

4. Menimists

Angrily fighting the good fight against stereotyping of men by threatening women with rape and calling all feminists ugly lesbians and bitches.

Suitable punishment – six months placement as voluntary worker at Kids Company with Camila Batmanghelidjh.

http://www.kidsco.org.uk

5. Professional trolls.

Saying controversial things for a job, like prostitution but without any of the dignity.

Oh you know who I mean, but here she is anyway:

Katie-Hopkins-at-The-Oxford-Union

Suitable punishment – having to do an actual, real job for ever (suggestion – fish-gutter) while everyone ignores them. NB we can ALREADY DO THIS SECOND ONE PEOPLE – GET IN!

6. Beavis / Butthead

The kind of people who follow Ed Miliband’s twitterfeed just to type ‘eff-off Beaker’ at EVERYTHING HE TWEETS. Who are these people and WHO do they think they are talking to?

Suitable punishment – unnecessary. Simply being this person is frankly punishment enough.

*otherwise lawyers would never make any money, and that would never never do.

**how many times, for example, would it be normal to have watched this video clip? I am asking for a friend:

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By destruction, dwell in doubtful joy

images

This Sunday at 5am, when all sensible people were sleeping off the effects of a high-summer Saturday in the sun, I was lying in bed 200 miles from home squinting at a live stream of a little bit of my heart being reduced to rubble.

I am aware that to most people, the idea of being attached to some cooling towers, concrete monstrosities, and eye-sore on the landscape, seems bizarre at best.

I wrote last year  http://www.in-a-village.co.uk/homeward-bound-i-wish-i-was/ about the sorrow in Didcot when the coal-fired power station was turned off for the final time. Since then, we’ve swapped tower-related gossip and rumour – when are they being demolished? Couldn’t they be saved, somehow, to loom above us as they have always done?(No, said English Heritage. They aren’t ‘unique’ enough to be listed, despite their pleasing aesthetic qualities. Pfft.) And if their days WERE numbered, how could we mark their passing?

There is no doubt that there is real affection for the towers. We even have nicknames for them. The Milk Bottles. The Cloud Makers, after the ways the steam would gather into soft fluffy cotton wool balls and sheepy fleeces, particularly on clear days. The Bumper Cars (no I don’t understand that one either). Didcot Cathedral or the Cathedral of the Valleys.

In fact almost everyone I speak to in the town and the surrounding villages feels extremely fondly about them. Their dads and granddads, uncles and brothers helped build them, sometimes losing their lives in the process. I have heard more than once that ‘my dad’s signature is on one of those bricks’. For many people in the town, there are happy memories of working there, part of a community of workers. They were an unmissable part of the landscape for 40 years and naturally we wanted to be there when they disappeared.

For sentimental reasons, so we could be together when it all ended, but also because bloody hell who wouldn’t want to miss three 100m cooling towers get blown up? That’s not the kind of thing you get to see every day. Also, possibly, we were kinda hoping the debris might squash the neighbouring Daily Mail building, thereby destroying Didcot’s REAL eyesore.

But RWE Npower, who had snaffled up the power station for a bargain price in the great Tory Asset Jumble Sale of the late 20th century, had other ideas. Like a killjoy over-anxious grandma, Granny Npower was determined that we should all just stay indoors in the warm and dry.

‘It will be too dusty! It will be too loud! You can watch it from Far Away on a hill! Oh no, actually you can’t because that would also be too exciting and you will get all dust on your nice clean clothes. Anyway we don’t know when we might demolish it. Could be 2am, could be 3, might be later, look just come after a nice nourishing breakfast, when we’ve had chance to run the hoover round and get the Mr Sheen round the place so it’s spick and span.’

So it was hardly surprising that 3000 people signed a petition to persuade Granny Npower to move the demolition to a later time, so that we could all get up early to watch the towers we had driven past every day come crumpling down.

Granny Npower wouldn’t budge, but then neither would the Didcotians. They DEFIED Granny Npower, dressed in her high vis vest, tutting into her walkie talkie about health and safety; they stood quietly on public roads and footpaths, or sat patiently on deckchairs on high ground in the early morning gloaming to see the old girls finally sink to their knees and film it on their iphones. Anarchy in the 21st century is a blurry video clip shared on Twitter (#didcotdemolition).

Not me, though. I am in deepest Wales, and after bidding a sniffly goodbye on Saturday morning I was forced to watch the gut-wrenching moment on my phone via a live stream with my dodgy rural internet connection.

What the hell am I crying for, though? I only moved here ten years ago but I never found them ugly, only pretty awe-inspiring up close, sometimes taking my breath away like standing under the side of a ship or at the foot of a great cathedral. From a distance, I loved the clouds they made, and (sometimes, excitingly) the Didcot Snow that fell. I particularly loved the way the pinky-mellow evening light would reflect off them like gently curving cliffs.

Most of all I loved the things they represented. The story I hear over and over is that they were a landmark, the first sign of coming home. They certainly meant that for me, but they held another meaning for me as well.

The towers, like the power station, meant the town was connected to the outside world, a living breathing place. Like the factories and pit heads and slag heaps I grew up with, they may not be picturesque, they might even look ugly to most, but for the people who live and work here, this is what makes a community. We might not have a castle or a stately home or a cathedral, but the Cathedral of the Valleys was a place that brought the town together, linked us with one another, made us who we are – the people that made the lights come on when you flicked the switch.

RIP – and if anyone can nick me a chunk of rubble, I am DEFINITELY interested.

Watch the moment of final destruction here (it’s actually pretty coolio).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=j70kiQy277A

Some wonderful photographs of Didcot, including some great ones from this weekend, here:

https://www.facebook.com/SocialLandscapeDidcot?fref=ts

What the towers look like today…

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A fan, not a friend

fangirl

 

Twenty years ago I was having my passport checked in some godforsaken Turkish airport, and feeling more than a little nervous.

I had recently seen Midnight Express and although the strongest thing in my back pack was some spearmint tic-tacs, that didn’t stop the waves of paranoia sending the sweat trickling down my sunburnt back.

Suddenly the heavily armed, scarily uniformed guard leapt down from his stool to embrace me warmly.

‘Forest! Brian Clough!’ he yelled, failing to notice me wincing as he slapped me warmly on the back in a state of high excitement.

He was, unlikely as it might seem, a Forest fan, and he had noticed my place of birth was listed as Nottingham.

That’s what being a fan is about – connecting with other people with whom you have absolutely nothing, and yet everything, in common. Turkish passport guy felt this strong affinity to me because I had been born in a place many thousands of miles away from his own home; he was nothing short of thrilled to feel that connection over a very halting conversation about Archie Gemmell and his ability to be all at once literally ALL over the field.

My first experience of being a fan, though, was not watching Brian Clough’s Red and White Army. I LIKED watching Forest play, but I am not a football FAN. I see the beauty and the poetry of the game but it doesn’t sing in my blood.

Though I like a lot of bands, I was only ever a fan of Queen.

In fact it’s not an exaggeration to say that being a Queen fan defined my teenage years. Being a fan in those days was a pretty serious business. It involved scanning the magazines and the papers to make sure you got all the right clippings. Queuing up outside the record shop (Selectadisc, RIP) for newly released records. Sending off my SAE to the Jackie at the Queen Fan Club – still going strong, incredibly enough, and in the Guinness Book of Records too.

Fandom was – still is – a great outlet for all those raging hormones. When all the boys around you seemed, well, a little dull somehow, there was always Freddie oh and Freddie was never ever dull.

Feeling like you belong to something can be a lifesaver in those dark teenage days when you feel like you are the only one who feels SO ALONE, so disconnected from everything. But it isn’t just a question of belonging, it was a way of being too. Queen weren’t just a band for me, they were the philosophy, the design for life – the camp, the sarcasm, the excess, the lust for life. Over the top, and never taking yourself too seriously – ‘if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.’

These days I am, of course, way too old and sophisticated to be a fan.

Ha.

Fandom is one of the things you are supposed to grow out of, like acne and wetting the bed. Well I have pretty much grown out of both of those (apart from the ONE TIME) – but I haven’t grown out of the desire to connect with something, to be passionate and even fanatical about.

Looking around me, lots of people still feel the same way, still paying good money to go and see – and maybe even scream at – their teenage heroes: Robbie Williams or McBusted. Following a football team is a for many a lifelong commitment; there’s no divorce proceedings that can stop you following the same team. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. (So watch out One Directioners – you’re in this for the longhaul….)

It’s not Queen for me anymore though. My fangirl tendencies now point in an almost comically different, and certainly unexpected, direction.

I liked a lot of bands in the 1990s; The Bluetones weren’t even top of my list. I loved Nirvana, Green Day and Blur; I thought Jarvis Cocker and Thom Yorke were incredible performers. I played Jagged Little Pill till I could mimic every one of Alanis’s annoying vocal catches.

But somehow, when all the CDs started gathering dust, I just kept playing The Bluetones until the lyrics were as familiar to me as the Bible verses I learned as a child and these days much more meaningful.

Like every fan, I am a little embarrassing, even gushing, on this subject; I am ready to tell anyone who wants to listen, and many who don’t, about how the poetry of the lyrics, the delicacy of the melodies and the subtlety of the harmonies all combine to create something magical.

These songs, the poetry of them – well it’s hard to put into words the way that they have accompanied my life, the passionate love affairs, the low moments and the painful, poignant corners.

They give me the feeling that someone else knows what it is like to be my kind of human, my kind of weakness and joy and love. Mark Morriss writes about, sings about, what is in my head and heart.  The feelings that are not always easy to express in words, the feelings that are common to us all but at the same time entirely unique.

But fandom now, for me, is a little different, from the days when your heroes lived in a golden land far far away. (Or in the case of The Bluetones, Hounslow.)

Nowadays my heroes live on my Facebook friends list and my Twitter feed.

I helped to crowdsource Mr Morriss’s last album. We have chatted, awkwardly; I have even bought him a drink (which was, I have to tell you, a high point for a fangirl, even a middle aged one). I know his bar order, and can have a pretty good guess at his neuroses. (Which is not a criticism – if he wasn’t neurotic, then his poetry would not be so excruciatingly resonant.)

But, I am still a fan, not a friend.

And standing in the crowd last night with the other fans, feet sticking to the floor, exchanging glances when he mixes up the lyrics (to be fair, there are a LOT of lyrics), feeling a sense of belonging to something, is still a pretty wonderful place to be.

 

 

A history of Selectadisc here:

http://www.selectadisc.co.uk

 

SCREAM:

http://www.markmorrissmusic.co.uk

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Halfway house

halfway-down-milne-shepard-color

 

This week is – incredibly – half way through TicTacGirl’s degree course.

(Though TicTacGirl is no longer really TicTacGirl; a year and a half of an Oxford education means that she is probably now most aptly known by the Native American name of StinksOfBooks.)

HALFWAY THROUGH?? How did this happen? It seems barely a twinkling of an eye since she was gnawing at her revision notes for GCSE AllTheSubjects, and now graduation is within chomping distance.

And it occurred to me, while I was wondering about the ridiculousness of the passing of time, that maybe right now I am more or less half way through my LIFE.

I am 44 now, 45 this year; in this day and age I can reasonably expect to last till 90, I reckon, especially if I eat a bit more fruit and not just the stuff you find squished in between the mint in a Pimms and lemonade.

And there is something magical, something potent, about being halfway.

The halftime whistle, the interval curtain.

All still to play for, all still to be revealed and resolved.

The best conversations are struck sitting halfway up the stairs, like I had with my friend AngelCake the other day. It’s a liminal space, not quite here or there.

(But halfway is one thing; the middle, well that’s quite another. Middle-aged-spread, stuck in the middle with you, or indeed with myself.)

Without getting drawn into a discussion about whether I am or am not middle-aged (mainly because we all know the answer to that) – I wondered whether this might be the time to take a breather, now the half time whistle has blown, to chew on this orange and think about:

What I have learned in the first half 

I guess the one thing that many women my age talk about, the real thrill about being halfway there, is just not really caring anymore all that much about what people think about you.

I don’t mean not caring about other peoples’ feelings, but rather getting the very clear perspective that other people really really don’t care that much about your bushy eyebrows or if you have a ladder in your tights, and indeed the idea that they WOULD care is really pretty vain and self-obsessed of you. They aren’t looking at you, all those other people – they are thinking about what time the last Tube is and whether they left the straighteners on this morning.

And if, by any chance, they ARE sneering at your semi-monobrow, well what kind of person are they anyway? Petty, sneery and absolutely not worth your attention.

That is real freedom, if you can manage it.

Part of this freedom is not feeling you have to be interested, or pretend to be interested, in things that you really don’t care about.

Especially the things that you think you SHOULD care about. I will never give another thought to, inter alia, tennis, golf, almost all sport actually, anything on the financial pages, anything to do with soap operas, anything written in any woman’s magazine, what clothes/colours/lipsticks are fashionable, almost anything on the telly, and jazz.

This has freed up loads of time to do the things that I really want to do which – it turns out, now I’m half way through, now I have a bit of perspective – is mainly centred around hanging out with my friends in a variety of locations talking about things.

For example, if I was to ever see StinksOfBooks again, in the unlikely event she ever leaves the library, I might remind her of the other thing I have learned – that we are all of us Works in Progress.

I acknowledge that in my teens and twenties I was a bit snarly, a bit hard-edged. Rather intolerant with the faults of others, and even more angry even at my own flaws. Especially the ones that I couldn’t seem to change. (Sorry for those of you who had the dubious pleasure of my company back then.)

I am not quite sure what happened but as the second act unfolded, I started to get a bit softer around the edges.

My wonderfully kind sister, who will surely be sainted one of these days, always says – be kind to yourself.

Sounds simple but once you can manage it, then you can start practising with everyone else too.

You, me, that woman sneering at my monobrow, that man who left his straighteners on this morning (which is a problem because he hasn’t told his mum he uses them).

Recognising the pure and simple humanity in yourself and others, and reminding yourself of it whenever you can. Forgetting what you can, forgive the rest and just move onto tomorrow and try again.

Because the other thing, maybe the last thing for today, is that you don’t really know what’s halfway.

Another 45 years would be wonderful, but one thing you can only really feel the force of from this halfway step is – how many people didn’t make it this far.

Stop fretting about what other people think, stop being so hard on yourself and enjoy every minute and every step.

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And the floods shall prevail

severe drought in flood

 

It won’t have escaped your attention that it has been a bit rainy these last few weeks.

Obviously, grim winter weather isn’t particularly newsworthy when it only affects the horny-handed toilers of the rural ‘idyll’; but this year even Paul Daniels had to get his waders out and soon the Daily Mail was salivating with joyous schadenfreude over photos of half-submerged Range Rovers and exceedingly damp Mock-Tudor Mansions.

Because disaster is always so much MUCH more disastrous somehow when you are extremely rich and within an easy commute of London isn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not here to mock.

(Well, no more than is habitual and unavoidable, for a normal hot-blooded Englishwoman.)

On the contrary – I am here to help! As a reluctant recent* refugee to the countryside, I have plenty of tips for surviving and even enjoying everything that the extremes of winter in the British countryside can throw at you.

So here are Number6’s tips for a countryside winter:

  1. Always listen to the updated list of all the closed roads on the radio in the morning. All the way to the end, including ‘and Dry Lane is still flooded’. This will remind you that you should never have moved to the countryside in the first place.
  2. If you do insist on moving to the countryside then don’t move anywhere that is called ‘Brookside’, ‘Lake View’, ‘Snowy Bank’ or ‘I’ve Never Seen the River So High!’
  3. Or anywhere below sea level.
  4. When you first move to the country you will spend a morning walking round the nearest market town, marvelling at the shop windows full of dun-coloured country wear and wellies that cost more than a weekend break to Paris and you will say in wondering tones – who BUYS these things? And the answer to this question is all the sensible folk who know what the weather can be like and will be quietly sniggering at you in your Per Una ‘water’’proofs’.
  5. Make friends with someone with a Land Rover. Not just a 4×4 Chelsea Tractor with personalised number plates and a cartoon of two rhinos shagging on the spare tyre cover, but an actual possibly-green-underneath-all-the-mud farmer-mobile, that looks like it could take a small volley of close-range fire in an emergency (or possibly already has) and may well have Bambi’s mum, skinned and lifeless, stored in the back. You might think these look a bit, well, ugly, probably drink petrol and are a bit tricky to park. All of this will become somewhat irrelevant when 15 miles of snowy roads stands between you and the emergency dentist one January night.
  6. Ditto someone with a generator. And some water butts. And a boat. Basically you need to move in with a farmer. Offer to help them with some lambing, that will get you on their right side.
  7. Don’t make any jokes about building an ark. They are probably all building an ark round the back of the lambing barn but you, in your suspiciously clean Joules wellies, are not among the righteous, but rather shall perish on the dry land.
  8. If you do find yourself in the middle of some floods, just drive straight through them. Otherwise it’s a long way round, and you’ve got all that Waitrose ice cream in the back defrosting. Nice and fast – just put your foot right to the floor. Go on, just do it! Preferably swearing constantly throughout the process. That will help. Overtake this stranded vehicle! Surely the water won’t come up THAT high? I mean the engine is not THAT close to the ground is it? OH GOD WHAT’S THAT BURNING SMELL?
  9. Make sure you have the phone number of your friend with the Land Rover on speed dial, so s/he can come and tow you out of the flood that you have just driven through and beached your Nissan Micro on a dead sheep. You may have to offer to buy them a new water butt, or to do that lambing thing where you have to skin the dead lamb to persuade the ewe to take on an orphan lamb**. But it will be quicker than getting a garage to come and get it; there are filled with all the other city-idiots who did the same thing.
  10. Keep a snow shovel in your boot at all times. It can help to move drowned sheep out of flood water, or you can sit on it on sodden bank and think about how nice it would be to live a high-rise flat somewhere on a tube line.
  11. If you do ignore all of these, because that really is a lovely new house at a bargain price and surely the government wouldn’t let a respectable house building firm build on a flood plain or chop down a whole load of trees that would have probably absorbed quite a bit of this extra water because we don’t need trees and flood plains and well-drained soil – we need houses, right? Well just in case you might start feeling a teeny bit, well, responsible or cross with the government – don’t worry, it’s OK and definitely not your fault. Pop over to the Daily Mail website to learn how it’s all the fault of the bloody foreigners for making a massive fuss about their natural disasters and STEALING our money. All the money that should have been sent to buy Paul Daniels some more inflatable paddling pools, has instead has being frittered away instead on malaria prevention and providing safe drinking water to the 900m people around the world who don’t have access to it. You can even sign a petition about it, if you are a particular fan of the sleight-of-hand-distraction away from the real issues of environmental mismanagement by the injection of some nasty xenophobic prejudice. Now that’s magic, as poor old knee-deep in flood water Paul Daniels might say.
  12. Don’t move to the countryside.
  13. Seriously, don’t.

*I have ‘only’ been living in the countryside for 16 short years now. An absolute baby-newcomer. My wellies aren’t even muddy yet.

** I know this is a true thing because I heard Debbie talking about it on The Archers.

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