My TED Talk, In Which I Whine About Feeling Sad All The Time And How The Patriarchy Is To Blame

This is pretty whiny. While I considered reframing it as a monologue, I just don’t have the heart right now. I advise you not to read it unless you like self-indulgent crap. Normal service will be resumed soon, but right now I’m in a proper sulk and needed to write something before the top of my head came off.

It’s weird talking and thinking about mental health when you’re a man and –

Actually, now I say that, I assume it’s also weird when you’re any other gender but I don’t really have any experience of that so… bleh. I should try a better opening line but I think at least some of my experience is about being a man so I think I’ll leave them in.

I’m second guessing myself. I do that a lot. Anyway.

It’s weird talking and thinking about mental health when you’re a man. I’m probably depressed, if I’m honest with myself (which I rarely am). I’m almost certainly experiencing a degree of burn out, now that I’ve actually looked up what it is and what causes it.

It’s only been about 26 years since I last saw a GP about mental health issues, and I’m very nearly at the point where I am prepared to start thinking about using the D word again rather than a succession of placeholder words that mostly start with G (grumpy, gloomy, grim).

I don’t have any right to be depressed or mentally unwell, obviously. I’m pretty sure there’s no massive trauma lurking in my past to explain why sometimes I struggle to talk, or get out of bed, or do anything other than scroll facebook or kill zombies. As near as I can tell, days when you can’t even are just normal.

Weeks when you can’t even, months when you can’t even… they’re rarer but probably just the sane reaction to the world right now.

(I’ve always got excuses like this incidentally and they form the counterpoint to the regular undercurrent of gloom, grim, and grump.)

I noticed a little while ago that most of my friends are mental, in some capacity. Either there’s something about being a nerd that makes you prone to it, or there’s a quiet pandemic of mental health disaster at work in the world.

Or I make people mentally ill – I am the common denominator in my friends group after all. There’s lots of ways to read the data I guess.

Very few of my friends actually talk about it in public. I mean talk-talk, obviously. For a start most of my friends are men and it’s just not how men are meant to behave. We can talk about how bad that is all we like, waffle on about how the patriarchy oppresses men as well as women, but it doesn’t change anything. I don’t think it sticks. I can’t speak for anyone else but the male role model in my life dealt with his mental health issues by just knuckling down and getting on with it and every time I don’t manage to follow his example I feel like more of a waster. It happens

The CALM campaigns and the mental health awareness stuff help a bit I guess. Not in my case especially, but I guess in general?

But when you do talk we all say “hugs” or “I hear you” or whatever and then move on because powerlessness is part of the whole complex of symptoms.

It feels broadly pointless. You find it helpful for a few minutes but then the next wave hits and you don’t want to give people compassion fatigue by expecting too much from them.

(Given you mostly think you’re weak and lazy, after all. And sometimes when you talk or try to talk about this you get a “I know how you feel because my much worse situation is..” or “You think you’ve got problems my problems are worse because…” or “Think yourself luck that you aren’t….” and that needless to say makes you feel a hundred times worse and plays into the belief you’re just malingering because part of you is genuinely looking for validation that you’re just a whiny prick)

That might just be the gloom talking, of course. And by “you” I mean “I” here but even editing this before I post it on the wordpress it’s hard to get that personal. You provides a safe distance.

Anyway.

One of the reasons I personally struggle to admit I might be depressed and not just gloomy, or grim, or having a bad day, or feeling a bit out of sorts, or struggling to cope a bit, or having a wobble, or feeling under the weather, or being a bit sulky, or not at my best, or a bit low, or in a low mood, or any of the other hundred euphemisms for “I feel worthless and without hope” is the fear of being labelled as someone appropriating genuine mental illness. Or trying to hide their manifest character flaws behind an undeserved self-diagnosis. Or trying to get attention by claiming to “have anxiety” or describing a bit of a wobble as “a panic attack.”

I’d never want someone who is being killed by their own brain to think I was trying to be “cool”. I’d never want to obfuscate things by laying claim to a diagnosis I don’t deserve. Obviously. People who do that are probably cunts.

But at the same time… I don’t talk to medical professionals, obviously.

Both of the two most likely possible outcomes worry me equally. Either the doctor will say “you’re actually just a bit of a whiny prick grow up” or “you’re actually mentally unwell and now we are going to engage in months of trial and error to try and treat it and also you have to talk to a stranger about it once a month and it might well mean you can’t write or function any more because we’re going to just stir up your brain and see where we end up.”

(Or more likely right now: “You’re actually mentally unwell but mental health services are so fucked you’re going on a six month waiting list and also using up resources that should be being used to help someone more deserving.” The modern world everbody!)

The first two diagnoses incidentally are the two I actually had from GPs in my early 20s when I tried to get some sort of explanation for why I was always so low. They were roughly a year apart, and probably explain why I haven’t tried since. This was the 90s obviously but still. It wasn’t that long ago.

So I find myself between two stools. I’ve got quarter century old diagnoses of “maybe depression but probably just malingering” on the one hand, and a fear that I’m just a whiny cunt on the other, and I sort of sit between the two feeling grumpy, and gloomy, and grim.

There’s a weird cognitive dissonance at work as well. My brain simultaneously believes that my gloominess is a result of being weak-willed and lazy but other peoples mental unhealth is real and legitimate (except obviously where I arbitrarily decide they’re doing it for attention – I’m still a prick at heart – but most of those people are strangers so that’s okay).

And that’s where I am today. Same place I was yesterday, same place i was this time last year, same place I was in 2010, and 2000, and arguably 1990 and 1980. Same place I’ll be tomorrow. Just glum, and tired, and with no obvious way out, and whinging into the void.

I’m not sure what the point of writing this is. I feel sometimes like I’m drowning, and that the world and the people who live in it are filling my pockets with rocks.

I write things. I’m allowed to use metaphors.

One thing I struggle to accept is that you probably don’t owe anything to people who are effectively trying to kill (even if they’re not doing it intentionally). But even after seeing someone I know go through literally that I’m still overly cautious to move away from strangers who seem to take perverse joy in relentlessly crushing what little positive feeling I can muster.

I also struggle with the fact that sometimes I feel okay. I can even fake being Upbeat and Positive for days at a time when there’s a need to do so and surely that just makes it more likely I’m faking for attention?

I also remember that I’m not special, and that other people have it worse, and that makes it much easier to just do nothing about it and try and crush it by effort of will.

I’ve not made a serious attempt to kill myself since I was 18 and that was mostly booze stupidity and bubbling-up anger and I didn’t even realise that was what was happening until quite a bit afterwards.

Since then I’ve just mostly got on with it in a way that is almost indistinguishable from being a massive waste of skin. Because that’s what you’re meant to do.

I’m definitely lucky. I have a support network, although that’s pretty much indistinguishable from a bear pit. Sometimes I say the terrible things that are in my heart out loud and I feel better for a bit.

Occasionally I write something like this. Usually I delete it. Occasionally I post it to Facebook because I think it’ll help.

People respond with “hugs”, and “I hear you” and I feel guilty about the undeserved sympathy and then I go quiet for a while, emptying my pockets of rocks as fast as I can, until next time the swells get a bit much and I need to put words down.

I’m Andy Raff and thank you for coming to my TED talk. There’s refreshments in the lobby, and next up we have Mikey Twotrikes the Juggling Murder Clown who I know you’ll enjoy.

Stay Alert

When I were a lad, in the dim and distant past of the ancient days of the 1980s, I was a consumer of childrens’ television programming. I would often watch the BBC. I make no apologies for this; a lot of my peers did the same and we turned out mostly fine. Apart from being conditioned to believe that any childrens’ television programming produced after 1999 was automatically a little bit disappointing.

One of the programs I remember watching was Captain Zep – Space Detective. Some dreadfully serious actors in truly awful futuristic clothing would stand in front of green screens and mug, while animated aliens thundered at them. The kids in the audience would likewise be wearing dreadful space clothing and would participate in solving the crimes committed on alien planets.

Captain Zep

That’s an alien on the right. They all looked like that. In my head at least. I think the ones that stick with me most were the ones that looked like super-tall lamps. Like that robot from the dreadful second series of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. You know the one.

The art was weird. Looking at it now it feels like that style I randomly call “French” – which is a catch-all unprofessional adjective I use for animation where people are weirdly long and thin. Because of Ulysees 31 and that film where it turns out the old guy was the kid all along. You know the one I mean.

It was actually not that bad, as these things go. Having a look over some of the stills and video pieces from the show it’s still pretty okay stuff.

(I keep using the word animation, but rewatching a couple episodes on the YouTubes makes me feel that my brain has remembered it being significantly more active than it actually was. It’d be more “animated” if they jiggled the stationary picture of the alien to show they were speaking.)

There were only twelve episodes, but like a lot of television from the time it remains etched into my memory as a thing that happened and that I willingly and knowingly subjected myself to.

You could write in at the end – this was in the olden days you see and we had to write letters because that was the style of the time – and win a badge. I never wrote in. I’m not very good at puzzles, and I was even less good at them as an eleven year old (maybe ten, actually).

Meme

Even at ten (eleven? twelve?) I got a sense that the kids appearing as part of the studio audience definitely got a whole different level of bullying presented to them in the days after their episodes aired. Those poor kids.

Oh. And Captain Zep – Space Detective also had a ridiculous theme tune. If you’ve not heard the Captain Zep theme tune you can find it on YouTube here. I’m relieved to say I never owned the record myself.

I cannot stress enough how seriously this ridiculous program took itself, even when delivering lines about robotic fish, and how much I lapped it up. I was eleven (and then twelve).

Anyway. It was scifi, from the golden age of childrens’ television scifi which started in about 1977 with Children of the Stones and was finally killed off for good by the Tribe in 1999. Arguably.

I think we were in Cosford at the time, but I could be wrong. We’d have just come back from the Netherlands probably. My memory is shaky. I have a distinct memory – which might be one I’ve made up but go with it – that my dad would get back from work around the same time Captain Zep – Space Detective was on the television. He’d come in, and he’d sit on the sofa. I’d probably be sat on the floor nearer the television than was wise because eleven (or twelve).

At the end of each episode, Captain Zep would sign off with his catchphrase. It was a very 80s childrens’ BBC catchphrase. He would look directly into the camera and without fail each week he would tell us what next week’s episode would be called and then say “See you then. And remember… stay alert!

He would say it with a dreadfully straight face. As if at any moment we viewing kids might be called on to solve the murder of a space president by rebels.

Lerts

I never did find out what a lert was. Or what a loof was for that matter.

And, without fail, my dad would laugh and say “no, stay aloof. Britain’s got enough lerts.”

Every time. Without fail.

Id ask him what a lert was, and he’d laugh and for quite a while I was convinced “lert” was a rude word. Because of cause I was.

And this, your honour, is why the governments’ new COVID-19 advice is almost useless to me. Because every time I see it, I think “No, stay aloof. Britain’s got enough lerts.”

Which now I think about it, works pretty well as a bit of advice.

So there you go.

You can read a much more serious article about Captain Zep that isn’t trying to score cheap political points written by Tim Worthington here.

Six Reasons Atheism Sucks Donkey Bollocks

The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.
Bloody Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden (a lesser-known entry in the Cthulhu Mythos canon, I assume)

Wikipedia Defines…

Atheists

The original was constructed in 2015 after Dawkins had run over someone in a combine harvester or something. This was the updated meme from 2017. It’s probably funnier in context.

Wikipedia defines atheism as –

Actually, before we go any further, I apologise with starting with a quote form bloody Richard Dawkins. Although I’m not sorry, obviously. Quoting bloody Richard Dawkins is not something I do very often and I’m not going to do it again, but the first time I read these words I had that kind of reaction social media tells me is expressed by commenting “This!” possibly in capitals. Or a gif of Thor pointing. Please don’t think it means I look at the man himself with awe and wonder as the messiah of atheism, or have all his books on a little shrine. Bloody Richard Dawkins. Still, if the 2010s have taught us nothing else it’s that we all have to come to terms with “enjoying” stuff written by people who have turned out to be arrogant prick. It’s like having to make peace with your own innate hypocrisy before watching a movie post #MeToo.

There’s going to be a lot of bad analogies in this piece of writing. I apologise in advance.

Like I was saying, wikipedia defines atheism as “in the broadest sense, an absence of belief in the existance of deities. Less broadly, it is a rejection of the belief that any deities exist. In an even narrower sense, atheism is specifically the belief that there are no deities.” That’s a word doing a lot of work. Gotta respect that much work from a word, even if the three positions outlined look very, very similar. This is a word that turns up in paint-spattered overalls to sign on, and complains about needing to get back to work.

There’s a lot more words on that page. It seems people are a bit divided on what atheism actually is, which is nice to know. It also makes it easier for me to talk about my personal experience of being an atheist. Or just “being atheist” whichever is the right phrasing. Which of course leads into…

Six : The Language is Confusing and Pretty Much Useless

The language of being an atheist is… actually let’s start there. Is it a noun or an adjective? Am I “an atheist” or am I “atheist”? I usually say “an atheist” but sometimes I get twitchy at the tone of strict definition. I find it trickier than “a vegetarian” vs “vegetarian”. Something is vegetarian if it contains no animals; someone is a vegetarian if they don’t eat animals. As wikipedia indicates the definitions of “an atheist”/”atheism” are a lot more wooly.

(Although I’m reminded that you can make the “how do you know someone is a vegetarian?” “joke” about atheism without changing more than a single word. Which is nice I guess. I suppose we’re all just lucky I don’t do crossfit or participate in the territorial army.)

But the real challenge is how you talk about being an atheist. I don’t like saying that it’s about “not believing” because it’s purely negative and it presumes everyone else does believe. I don’t like “believes there are no gods” – that I’m accepting as true something for which there is no proof. Taking the non-existence of gods and spirits on faith, if you will. It may be technically correct but it doesn’t feel true. Yet at the same time “I know there are no gods” feels a bit too arrogant for my shy, retiring English soul (which, obviously, I don’t think I have). “I don’t think there are gods” gets closer but again seems to have echoes of a doubt I just don’t feel. How can I explain this with the dreadful language I am stuck with?

“I grok non-existence of gods” maybe?

Or maybe “I am somewhat saddened that there are no gods, but also heartened by it”? Perhaps German will have a word for that sensation.

And for that matter, what do we mean when we talk about “gods” mean anyway? I also believe/think/feel/know that there are no spirits, no wizards, no fairies, no mediums, no ghosts (probably), no guardian angels, no spells, no devils. No heaven or hell save that we make them ourselves. Is that part and parcel of the atheism thing? Or is it something else. Are there atheists in the world who do accept some of these things into their lives? Am I using the words wrong?

Also, can I use atheism as a verb? Fuck yeah I can! Gooooo English!

Anyway. It’s a minefield. And one I think most people don’t really care about. So let’s move on.

Five) Fucking Thoughts and Prayers

Facebook is the end-of-civilisation made manifest upon the earth, as I’m sure we can all agree. One of the reasons is that it allows people I know to share the fact that they are in pain, suffering, afraid, full of sorrow, consumed by loss and what have you. Often on a daily basis.

I joke about being an emotional cripple but even I get the vague sense that it might be helpful to express some sort of support but what can you do? It’d be easy if I could say something like “I will drive you to the hospital” or “here is the money to get a new car” but those concrete expressions are usually beyond my means. So what do I fall back on?

The best I can usually find is some variant of “I’m thinking of you in this difficult time” and it sucks monkey cock. Sometimes what I really want to be able to say is “you’re in my prayers” and mean it. I’m not just thinking of you in your time of difficulty, and hoping it gets better despite all the maths, but I’m taking the active step of asking a supernatural power to intercede, perhaps in the genuine hope they might.

Except obviously I can’t. So I fall back most often on “this is shit” or “fucking hell” or some other sweary expression of anger and frustration. Which, as we all know, is basically code for “thinking of you in this difficult time”.

It’s easy to feel powerless, is what I’m saying (something not just limited to atheists but this is my list so if you don’t like it you can fuck off and write your own list without being so needy. Christ).

And to wish you had more comfort to offer to other people.

And yourself.

Four) Many Atheists Appear Awful

Misogyny

Google searches are just one of the many ways to jam your dick in a toaster the modern world offers each and every one of us.

Alright. I’m mentioning Richard Dawkins again. Mostly because he’s the obvious candidate for “most recognisable celebrity atheist”. I hear Christopher Hitchens is also dreadful, but there’s only so many words I can write before I lose the will to live so I’m going to focus on Dawkins. Because I am lazy.

Maybe this is just me, but many “public atheists” appear awful. Richard Dawkins said some stuff that I intuitively agree with… but he also appears to be a bit of a cunt. That seems to sum up a lot of people the media are keen to canonise as Saints of Atheism. One of my earliest memes on Facebook was about apologising for Richard Dawkins – a possibly over complex play on the idea that Muslims are supposedly meant to publicly apologise every time some fuck knuckle blows themselves up or flies a plane into a building.

One of the things that unsettles me in particular is the way some atheists spend an inordinate amount of time taunting people who believe in things. As if not grokking gods is about being a smug bully. As if atheisming is defined by opposition, which I’m not convinced it is, really. I don’t need people who believe in things to exist to not believe. I certainly don’t need people who believe to be unhappy, or persecuted, to be who I am. Bleugh. I’m not wording well this morning.

Some of them, mind, seem to have understandable reasons for their anger. I know one atheist who still appears to be all tangled up emotionally with their Catholic family background and seems to have a visceral need to denounce Christianity at every turn. No it’s not me, incidentally. While there is Catholicism in the background it is very much in the background; my da abandoned the family faith over the thorny implications of dead unbaptised babies and consequently raised us pretty agnostic. For which I thank him. Even if his mother did once denounce a six-year-old Raff as a “heathen” in a fraught moment that still sticks with me today. I digress.

Worse, there’s apparently a disturbing correlation between atheism and misogyny and sad white men touching themselves about how awake and unsheeple they are. I hate the superior attitude; the need to feel special in your rejection; the sadly familiar urge to force your lack of belief on other folk. I’ve got nothing in common with these people.

Three) I’ve Got Nothing In Common With These People

Here’s a lament I suspect a lot of people understand in their own context. Atheism doesn’t really feel like a creed, or an after school club you can belong to. It doesn’t feel like a neat box. It doesn’t mean I have anything in common with other atheists. Which obviously is something the Modern World has no time for.

Another analogy might be being gay. Maybe? I’m in choppy waters here and regretting starting this paragraph. In the best traditions of being a man, however, I’m going to forge ahead despite the concerns of the rest of the crew and worry about the iceberg later and this has gotten away from me a bit. Focus Raff!

“Gay?” says the media. “Here is a gay person that represents you. All of you. Even though all you really have in common is romantic attraction to the same gender, we will use that single fact to assume all sorts of other things about you. Now say thank you.”

Although actually I suspect this is a poor analogy as I’m not sure I’ve ever met a gay person who didn’t have some shared experience of discrimination which just doesn’t seem true for the non-existant atheist community. Like I said, it’s a morning for bad analogies.

To be fair, most active atheismists I actually know – if I even know their life contains atheisming because despite the joke it just doesn’t come up all that often – are just people who get on with things. Much like most of the religious types, just getting on with getting on and going to Church (or doing live-roleplaying rituals in damp fields way too early in the morning/late at night depending on their leanings). The people shoving things down other peoples’ throats? They’re out there in the wide world not here in my comfortble bubble.

Sometimes, people claim atheism is a religion and then go “aaaah” like they’re Jesus explaining what fishers of men means to his disciple Ian on a 90s comedy show. I don’t buy that, I’m afraid. Even if there are sectarian divisions between the proper atheists and the wishy-washy agnostics. There’s no unifying belief here – not as I would understand belief – despite the need for the wider world to say “you both don’t think there’s a god so that’s the same as following the ten commandments!”

As near as I can tell, atheists don’t generally get together in study groups to discuss being atheists. Actually maybe they do. People are weird, and I’m very much aware that my experience of atheisming is not and cannot be universal. I struggle to imagine what that would even look like, though.

“Today in Atheist Study Group we’re going to talk about how the God of Abraham doesn’t exist”
Probably doesn’t exist.”
“Oh for Christ’s sake, Tom, you agnostic backslider! Fuck off back to the agnostic church round the corner and leave us proper atheists to get on with the important work of singing hymns about how random chance and poorly understood physical laws govern all things!”

Or maybe

“Today we’re going to talk about how the God of Abraham doesn’t exist.”
“What about the Norse God Loki? Does he exist?”
“No. We’re talking about how Loki doesn’t exist next week, Tom. Did you not read the fucking syllabus I sent you? Christ!”

Actually, the non-existance of Loki is probably one of the worst things about atheism all by itself but I’m already well over my word limit.

Two) Death Can Fuck Right Off

I mean, I tend to assume the existence of death is reasonable proof that the universe is not put together for the benefit of thinking people. Being permanently separated from people you love? Yeah. Fuck your blind watchmaker in the ear.

There are few times when I want to not atheism as much as when someone dies. It’s pretty tough to say something comforting like “they’re in a better place” when you know damn well they aren’t.

It feels like a form of self-inflicted cruelty to be aware in your belly that it’s over. That person (or cat) will now exist only in your fallible memories until you also die and are gone for the rest of time (barring Ringworld). Rage against the dying of the light because there is nothing more, and no hope, and everything ends in tears and if you were just a different person you’d have the comfort of heaven or reincarnation but you’re weak and sad and…

This is cheery right? Maybe I should skip ahead. The last paragraph is bound to be more uplifting.

One) No excuses, No hope

Hope

There was going to be a Delta Green quote in here somewhere. Might as well be this one.

Really though, the bit where atheisming really bites down is that there’s no excuses. All the evil in the world is down to human beings being semi-articulate vermin. You can counter that all the good comes from the same place, but I have to tell you that (to use another shaky analogy) all the nice feedback in the world doesn’t balance out one complaint. There’s no excuses. “God made me do it”? “The Devil made me do it”? Fuck that noise.

As soon as you take the supernatural out of the equation it feels like everything becomes several orders of magnitude more complicated. Is it society that made those parents play World of Warcraft so obsessively their baby died? Is it nature or nurture that caused that child to be raped? Is the urge to unload automatic weapons in a school a genetic characteristic, or is it because of too much/not enough breastfeeding? Who has the answers? WHO!?

There’s also no real reason to hope, whatever the fucking sunbeams in the “quality of life is better than it has ever been!” brigade try to tell you. There’s no heaven, and no hell, and often no consequences or rewards. The absolute best of us are doing good deeds in the dark where nobody is there to see or care, and what kind of a way is that to run a cosmos?

Sure, my regular bouts of crushing despair might not be a direct result of atheisming too much, but for me at least they’re tied up in it. Our deific Da is not going to catch us if we fall off our bikes. Our cosmic Mum isn’t going to swoop in at the last moment and stop us setting fire to the house. It’s just us, by ourselves, wearing our parents’ shoes and acting like we know what we’re doing. Every day.

Remember. This isn’t a list about how great atheism is and how its definitely making everything better just because its most likely correct. Jesus, look at me, being all forthright and arrogant and what have you. Like one of those bad people who stands on their soap box and tells religious people that raising their children to believe is the same as child abuse.

And there’s another problem right there, one I don’t like to look at because it leads to nowhere good. Sometimes there’s an insidious little voice at the back of the brain that whispers “If you’re right then these people are wrong and don’t you owe it to them to tell them so they can stop doing it wrong? huh? What kind of a man are you if you don’t have the courage of your convictions?” and the best I can come up with in response is to mutter “Get thee behind me atheist Satan” in a weak and feeble voice and go spend another hundred hours on Path of Exile.

It’d be enough to drive you to drink. Unless being driven to drink is actually a result of your genetics. Or an incident you don’t remember when you were five involving a box of chocolate liqueurs and not choking to death on your own vomit, an incident from which you learnt nothing. Who knows? Who cares?

Floppy haired professor and musician Brian Cox said “The biggest threat to our planet is human stupidity” which is depressing as fuck. And this from the man who tried to trick us all by claiming “Things can only get better” in the early nineties. It’ll all end in tears, indeed. No excuses and no hope.

It’s just us.

Until we’re gone.

And people sometimes ask me what it is I find appealing about the cosmic horror genre.

In Summary : It’s All Donkey Bollocks

Cute Donkey

I think we can all agree that what we need right now is a cute donkey. Who is eating flowers that probably aren’t poisonous. And who we can all imagine isn’t going to be worked to death, or turned into sausages, or have his bollocks sucked by an atheist. Or at least not anywhere we can see it happening.

In summary… I have too much time on my hands. Also I’m feeling a bit sad at the moment so obviously it made sense to try and make other people sad too because as we say at the First Church of Atheism on Temple Street “Misery loves company and also there is no god”.

This was actually meant to be a piece entitled “Why you can’t let the cockwombles get you down” from a prompt over on the Patreon provided by Clive Evans. It started out as that, but then turned into something else pretty quickly, and now I’m afraid you have nearly three thousand words of bad analogies and a fat bearded man failing to express himself clearly about something confusing he’s not equipped to talk about. But as a man, that’s what I do best so…

I opened with a quote from fucking Dawkins, but I’m going to close with a quote from someone I think is a much better writer and philosopher. It comes from an often underrated meditation on the nature of good, and evil, and football.

The Patrician took a sip of his beer. “I have told this to few people, gentlemen, and I suspect I never will again, but one day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. A very endearing sight, I’m sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged on to a half-submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature’s wonders, gentlemen: mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that’s when I first learned about evil. It is built into the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.”

Sir Terry Pratchett, Unseen Academicals

ENGLISH PATIENCE

“And then what happened?”
“Well, there were quite a few internet petitions, let me tell you. Everyone was signing them. Some of them got a lot of votes. There were some really funny memes. Proper biting and critical. Satirical even. The newspaper cartoonists had a field day as well. Real state-of-the-art stuff. And the comments sections! I mean, we know comments sections are bad but gosh. It was like a civil war had broken out on Facebook and YouTube except it was people at keyboards typing angry slogans at each other rather than people with guns shooting each other.”
“Did that work?”
“It wasn’t just petitions and memes! There were also some demonstrations. I lot of people went to London and marched on Parliament with placards – some of them were really funny and satirical. There were some great pictures of them and of the thousands of people all demanding that things be other than they were. I lost count of how often Johnson, May, Corbyn, Farage, Cameron and the rest were burned in effigy. There were even some balloons.”
“Did that work?”

“Of course there weren’t 18 million people or anything, so it was easy to just ignore them. But Known Liar Boris Johnson gave some super speeches, and so did a bunch of other ineffectual politicians whose names are now largely lost to history. There were some really quotable sound bites. Of course with Johnson being a Known Liar it was hard to take him seriously, but you have to understand that quite a few people wanted it to happen so…”

Grandad shrugged, spreading his hands expressively to demonstrate that it was really beyond anyone’s control

“So none of this worked then? It was all just a lot of angry people shouting while everything inevitably just happened? Wow, your generation really fucked up didn’t they”
“Shut up and eat your roast dog.”

Why Bother?

Guest post time. This one came pretty much out-of-the-blue. You may recognise the award-winning Clare Evans from the recent articles about the Fairyland game she ran. She’s also one of the Empire game team, with responsibilities that include running about half the game – especially the parts of it that involve interfacing with the punters. Here she’s writing about the crap painful jobs – upholding equality and diversity and such – and why she bothers to do them.

I get asked by people quite regularly why I am involved in the shit bits of LRP and the conduct and equality stuff. This is pretty much exclusively by people who care about me and I appreciate them asking.

So why?

I’m a die hard liberal snowflake.

Everyone has a right to be themselves without fear of retribution.

I am consumed by Righteous Indignation.

To quote Emma Watson – “If not me, who? If not now, when?”

So how did I get here?

I was the odd kid at school. I was the fat kid who read books and was rubbish at sport. I was the one who lived on a farm outside the village and town and didn’t hang out with everyone else outside school. My Mum is the local do-gooder and my Dad is a defender of the innocent and includes everyone. I was brought up knowing that I could do and be whatever I wanted. Pembrokeshire is pretty straight and white and I’m pretty privileged in my life.

Also I started LRPing at 19. Back in the day the LRP world was even more male dominated, obviously we were still all the outcasts and the massive nerds but still.

I was lucky. I went to my first events as part of a big group of mates. I had plenty of people around me to cushion and protect me. I didn’t drink much at events, there’d been an alcoholic boyfriend in the past and I knew to avoid that. So when I was in the situations where the shit stuff happened I had people who would say “Fuck them, come and do this instead.” The shit stuff happened but I had a support network who supported me. I had the friends who didn’t leave me alone with the creepy guy.

So what about those people who didn’t have that network at events? What about the people who had something worse happen to them and didn’t think they could tell and get support? As I’d been in the hobby for longer, and because people knew who I was, some of them would come to me. I couldn’t do anything about it though. I could only offer sympathy and girl power and swearing into the void.

And I grew up slowly and I read stuff and I talked to people and I learnt and I became more understanding. I’d always been willing to bang my head against the wall in the hopes of getting through it – I once had to explain to my Head of Governors – my mother – that the Games teacher was threatening to sue me for my campaign against gym shorts.

When Empire started I found a place where I was allowed to do stuff to help. In a small way and I found people who wanted to create the place I want to play in and live in. The people who are shits still exist, but these days we’re not just allowed but encouraged to fight that behaviour.  

There’s a vested interest in not acknowledging that stuff happens in our hobby and in our spaces. If we acknowledge that we have to acknowledge our complicity in it. That’s pretty rough. It’s also liberating, I find. I believe firmly that education is the way forward and that we are allowed to have made mistakes – but admitting that and learning from those mistakes is key. 

Some days it’s extra shit, some days we seem to be doing more wrong than right, some days the people who I feel should be on our side just seem to want to beat us down because we can’t make everything good. Those days I want to quit, to say it’s too hard and to leave it be. So I message the people who I fight beside and they tell me why we’re still fighting. Those days I hear another story I haven’t heard before and another reason to fight. Those days the people I look up to support me to carry on.

I know we’re not getting everything right, I know we’re getting some stuff wrong but we’re trying and that’s got to be worth something right?

Still none of this explains why.

I suppose as more of my friends have children and the more I learn the more I want change. If someone ever tells my friends children that they need to wear a shorter skirt to get a skill advantage or give a tent full of men blow jobs to get a thing they want I will raise hell for them, in fact I will raise Hell to make sure that situation doesn’t even exist in the first place.

I want to be the person I needed back then. 

Photo Credit: Beth Dooner

Political Statements and Vampires

New Pastures (By Which I Mean Hills)

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The real reason to live in the North. Also the vegan sausage rolls are very nice.

Well I’ve moved, and more or less settled in. I now live in an attic, but it is a nice attic as long as I don’t stand up from my chair too quickly and smack my head off the roof beam that sits directly above it. There is the small issue of it being up four flights of stairs, and having something I have christened the Disappointment Landing (because whenever I get to it I think “oh thank goodness” but then remember I have two more flights of stairs to go). I also now live on a hill, which is basically a punishment sent by a cruel God for my assorted sins. Everything I own more or less is still in boxes; cardboard ones in the attic or plastic ones in the back of the Boss’ van somewhere in Preston.

The cats have settled in more or less. Muppet seems to have barely noticed we’ve moved (she went downstairs to look at Sam’s parents on the second day, then largely ignored everyone). As near as we can tell Truffle is having adventures exploring the house at night when everyone is asleep as she is still extremely nervy around other humans.

Oh and there’s a Greggs. I’m glad to be living somewhere with a Greggs again.

A Quick Disclaimer

I warn you – this is a long and rambling piece in which I try to put some thoughts in order. I’m on a self-imposed break from Facebook in an attempt to improve my productivity, and this is turning out to be significantly more dangerous than I thought it would be. I’m also like most of the UK a bit stressed about fucking Brexit, and irritated that I missed the deadline for something I was looking forward to due to Writer’s Block and moves.

Also, this isn’t really what I was planning to write about tonight. I’d spent part of the morning planning to go with with the long delayed RITUAL REVIEW : SWIM LEVIATHAN’S DEPTH. Or possibly a 2,000 word rant about CALL WINGED MESSENGER – I spent the last day and a half tidying up two years of WINGED MESSENGER data and now I hate everyone.

BlogTerryAndJune

In this episode, our suburban couple realise that this is the Internet and we’re not allowed to have nice things. Also someone’s mother-in-law is probably awful.

Unfortunately/luckily I got distracted by some in-theory great news that went in a direction so predictable its hard not to imagine it’s a Terry and June plotline. So instead there is going to be ranting.

This isn’t going to be pretty, and ultimately is unlikely to go anywhere good. I’d maybe skip it and come back when I’m writing about live roleplaying.

A Monster I Am…

Paradox Interactive have just announced Vampire the Masquerade : Bloodlines 2. There’s a cinematic trailr you can watch on YouTube and everything. I’m stoked. I’m a massive fan of the first game (I reinstalled it just the other week in fact, and nearly did a ranom blogpost about it after reading up about the game on wikipedia). I was once a really big Vampire:The Masquerade fan but then I became a Vampire:the Requiem fan and then I gave up on Vampires and sulked for a good many years for reasons too many to go into.

BlogVentrue

This prick. With his stupid goofy face and stupid rolly eyes and stupid haircut.

So there I am. Stoked. Potentially a good single-player roleplaying experience with familiar tropes and, if it’s anywhere near as good as the first one, an engaging story with cool characters and a certain amount of sneaking about. Plus character customization so I don’t need to look like that crap pasty-faced weirdo this time round.

I read a Rock, Paper, Shotgun article about the game. I watched a nice Jim Sterling video, in which the normally garrolous Jim said positive things about good games and such. A spirit of optimism prevailed.

Jim having informed me that it was on Steam, I popped over there to stick the game on the old wishlist, and check out the forums which I anticipated would be chocka-blocka people like me enthusing about a fourteen-year-old game and being stoked and hyped and a bunch of other words from a 90s teen romcom.

Oh dear. Oh deary me. I really should have known better.

Something About Abysses And That

What I found was an inexplicable, growing shitstorm already on twelve pages. How? I thought. How can people be angry about this?

Aaaaand then I remembered. The RPS article mentioned you could customise your character “including choosing pronouns separately from your body type“. I’d thought nothing of it at the time, because this is 2019 and I’m an upright primate who can speak in sentences. Also I was more interested in what Brian Mitsoda (original designer and writer of the first game) had to say.

I’d forgotten what an age it is in which we live. Pages of people squealing about LGBT+ content, and real-world politics invading their entertainment, and virtue signalling, and how there were going to be fifty pronouns to pick from, and how people have nothing against gays but they shouldn’t be forced into computer games (and more than a few who do have something about the gays and wotnot and hurrah we live in a world where they get to say that our loud as if its normal), and Social Justice Warriors, and things being shoved down people’s throats (honestly, they must know by now how Freudian that probably is?), and the obligatory “My thread of hooting hate and manbabyrage has been locked censorship” and “people who force diversity on us are the real racists!” and how leftist politics kill puppies and… oh man. It was like being hit in the face with a bucket of bloody diarrhea in slow motion. Someone else’s bloody diarrhea at that.

It made me angry, but also sad. So very sad.

And also full of hate, obviously. I hate being reminded that there is a vocal faction that squats in my notional living space hooting and crapping out hysteria while rubbing at its stubby little penis with its shitstained little hand-claws. I hate the way they get their stink on the things I like. How they mar things with their high-pitched little-yapper-dog style barking.

BlogGamerGate

My Gamergator joke from 2014. I thought it was very funny at the time.

They stopped being Gamergate as near as I can tell, and just slumped into the welcoming arms of the so-called alt-right and now they pop up and yammer and squeal whenever anything threatens the narrative that the cishetwhitemale is the only thing worth being. Here they’re out in force pushing the “politics has no place in entertainment” line.

It’s political, you see, to recognise that trans people (among others – there’s a lot of pronouns out there I understand, although I am by no means an expert) exist and play computer games and are geeks like me. It’s political to allow a gay player to have a gay character and enjoy their roleplaying game. It’s political to have people who aren’t white in your game (that one I will admit I haven’t seen in this particular arena – that was from a discussion thread about a game called Vampyre). It’s political to say that all the geek journalists seem to be cishetwhitemen so maybe its okay to make an effort to let some other people in to do an interview.

But it’s not political, apparently, to erase trans people, to just assume that everyone is happy with the heterosexual romance options, that white is just normal, that wanting to hold the door open so more people can get into the elevator is the real racism, sexism, whatever.

Of course it’s fucking political, you fucking pricks. Just because it’s been the baseline expectation of too many geek spaces (never mind the world) for so long doesn’t mean its not political.

… Lest A Monster I Become

I fucking loathe these people, I really do. I know I’m meant to be tolerant of different opinions, and avoid the echo chamber, avoid the Lotus Eater scenario of basking in your own progressiveness, but fuck me it’s hard to remember that when the dripping baboons are jumping up and down on your stuff.

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“Thanks”, philosopher Karl Popper. Thopper.

Sometimes I wish I’d remained unaware of the annoying Paradox of Tolerance because it was all a lot more Easy Mode when I could legitimately just shrug and say “everyone’s entitled to their opinion”. Except it increasingly feels that nodding and smiling and trying to see both sides and open a dialogue and allowing people to have their opinion is actually causing harm to people who are better people than the people squealing about political correctness gone mad.

Unfortunately/luckily, when it comes to the ol’ Social Justice Warrior activity I’m a lazy coward. I’ve got boundless respect for many of the people fighting the good fight but I’ve not got it in me to actually do something. I’m not even a Social Justice Cleric support-character – more like one of those shitty NPC-only classes from the 3rd edition Dungeon Master’s Guide back when some prick had the epic idea of making everything work the same way as players did and forcing DMs to spend hours statting stuff and applying templates to giant rats. Social Justice Commoner.

I digress.

So tonight I’m angry. And frustrated at feeling impotent. But mostly angry that there are these humanoid turds out there campaigning to drag us back to the 80s when only spotty white straight guys were allowed to be real geeks. Fuckers.

I wish I had some answers but I don’t. Just getting on with getting on, and practicing my welcoming facial expression without coming across too creepy-uncle, and ranting on the internet and what have you is, not coincidentally, also the cowardly, lazy, easy, weasel way out of having to actually do something.

CampOfTolerance

Some people learn about tolerance and acceptance through reasoned debate and academic study. Others – surly fat men for example – learn about it from South Park. It’s like Sesame Street for misanthropes.

What I want to do, what my ample gut tells me I ought to do, is actively work to exclude these people from my hobbies and from my geek spaces, until they learn some manners – or at least until they wash some of their shit off their paws. Round them up and put them somewhere we don’t have to look at them, or listen to their fucking stupid opinions, and make them paint pictures of people of all races and creeds living together in harmony.

More than that though, I want to silence them. I want them to shut up about their hateful, shameful, shitty opinions because they’re basically fuck knuckles. Frightened, hateful little shit goblins three missed meals away from jackboots and smashing shop windows with toffee hammers.

I suspect these are the kind of sentiments that make me a terrible person.

Oh well. I guess I’ll see you on the barricades. I’ll be the one handing out sandwiches and occasionally waving a little flag while everyone else does the actual work.

(There you go. A 1500 word Raff Rant like some of my readers apparently enjoy. Just think – if I’d gotten a Patreon you’d have had to pay for this drivel)

 

 

 

Bang Your Tiny Drum

No humorous 100 words on this one.

Arsenal

As I’m sure we all know, Arsenal Football Club is a professional football club based in Islington, London, England, that plays in the Premier League.

Before I started writing this crap a couple people said they also wanted funny angry Raff ranting so lets hope this is the kind of thing they were after.

This morning a mate of mine drew my attention to a Facebook post by Arsenal football club. As I understand it, it’s related to a move by Arsenal (among others) in conjunction with Stonewall to show support for LGBT equality and inclusivity in sport.

I don’t support Arsenal (although ironically I suspect that by knowing that they are named after the Woolwich Arsenal in London and their nickname is the Gooners I may know more about them than any other sportsball team in the world. Thanks a combination of White Wolf and probably my daft Oirish mate). I’m not a big sportsball guy in general you will be astonished to learn.

The post itself is cool enough given the problems professional sportsballing has with the gays. But it’s the comments under it that grab my attention.

Now I don’t say this often, but today I am telling you not to read the comments. Particularly if you are one of those delicate snowflakes who believe in the essential humanity of humanity, or that fundamentally people are good in their hearts or what have you.

I have read the comments. I like to read the comments on Facebook, and Youtube, and the rest, because I genuinely believe it is important to remember that I live in a cosy liberal bubble full of self-selected people who roughly share my politics and the belief that if you have to interact with other humans you might as well tolerate them in the hope they leave you alone. I digress.

I’ve wallowed in these comments until I stink. They are epic. Unspeakably epic. My Misanthropy and Cynicism bars are now full to the brim an I cannot take on more of either until I level them up later this evening. They unequivocally demonstrate the need for this post, and the stupid rainbow laces initiative it is promoting. As if Gareth Thomas’ recent excitement were not enough (and I actually knew who he was, more or less, even if it was just “that gay rugby fella from Wales”).

So I shared the Arsenal link, and clicked like, as you do. Then I decided to bang my tiny little tin drum about it a bit more because God knows this content doesn’t write itself despite some promising early results from experiments with demon-summoning grids and BASIC programming.

It’s good – no not good, important – to get a reminder from time to time that when it comes to LGBTQ (among so many others – I see you ladies of all stripes, and folk of all colours that are not pasty off-white, and disabled people, and dear fucking Christ this list is already too long), it is not settled. Everyone is not all equal. People are in danger – in danger of their fucking lives – because of who they are.

It may be better than it was but it is not finished with. It’ll not be finished with until people stop needing to wear rainbow laces (or what have you) because the very idea you might need to make a special effort to show solidarity with your fellow human beings is something only historians really know about.

Fuck these commenters. Fuck these utter cunts who respond to a request that “everyone associated with the club feels an equal sense of belonging” with their fucking hate. Fuck them doubly for causing me to feel Genuine Human Emotions without a cartoon fish being even in the frame.

There’s not a lot I can do personally, apart from the keep banging my tiny little drum about it in whatever way I can. So I’ll keep doing that if you don’t mind.