Thursday, 16 October 2014

Why I love videos games

Why I love video games by Louise. Ages 30 {mumble} and a half. Yep. Exactly. 

Gamergate sucks. Literally as well as the other. So here's why I have loved video games, currently love video games and will no doubt love video games until I'm 50 something. I doubt I'll ever know better. 

I have walked. Through the Los Angeles of the 1940's, across the dessert of the Wild Wild West. I have run, nay sprinted for my life as dragons so big their tail ends have dwarfed me have desperately tried to wear the robes from my back. I have shot holes in floors and ceilings and floors and ceilings and believed that the cake is a lie. I've captured untold flags, both blue and red in hue. I've driven Cadillacs and the sweetest singlespeeds. I've flown aeroplanes and spaceships, ridden Sabretooth Tigers. I've drilled and quested and drilled some more so that the other teeny tiny avatars gathered around me do not die today. 

I have dreamed. Of beautiful vistas and wastelands. I've dreamed of tactics and keypresses. I've bunny hopped and cheered as 'Headshot!' has blasted through my crappy little Creative speakers. 

I've commanded armies and revived friends. I've made friends and lost them. I've met them and drunk with them. Some of my friends have met their boyfriends in these other lands. Some have honed epic leadership and organisation skills. Some learned to walk tall, some to walk small. 

We have all learned. 

This is what games mean to me. Those little packets of plastic that contain a disc? That little black box beneath the amp and the Sky box? Portal. Window. To laughter, freedom and friendship. To being good at something when today sucked. To belonging somewhere when life looked unfriendly. To colour when it looked grey. 

Video games are beautiful. The sheer scope and scale of something like Assasins Creed. You may only see the blood and the killing. I'm clapping with glee as Venezia is rendered before my very eyes, a playground to explore, every architectural detail sucked in with eyes wide in wonder. 

I am not a normal gamer. I don't chase completion (though LA Noire is stuck on 99% cos bug. Oh wait no sorry, cos feature), I don't chase achievements. I chase experiences. The gleam of chrome on a beautiful car. The reflections in the pool of water my character just stomped through. 
The click clack mechanics of a new gun. All of this is beauty, and all of it rendered, just for me. 

This is what gamergate can try to take away from me, but it never will. Video games are my wonderland. I play them, I am female. Hear me spell cast/assassinate/backflip/coin collect/case solve. Over and out. 

Note. Tapped on my pad. Mistakes inevitable. Sorry. 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Putting your big girl pants on

It's a funny phrase that. One of the few funny phrases which make complete sense to me however, as the act of putting on different pants for different situations can be an actuality.

I don't deal very well with idioms. I didn't know until I was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (Aspergers) that there was a reason for this. I didn't know that when a friend said it was raining stair rods up in Cumbria, no one else got a literal visual interpretation of this which resulted in sheep impaled bloodily by stair poles.

Yes, really. Being Aspergers (it's not something I have. It's something I am.), somewhat ironically results in some of the funniest moments, images and conversations. My partner has become all too used to answering ridiculous questions such as 'why do people say things they don't actually mean?' and 'why on earth do people say such ridiculous things and never even crack a smile while they're doing it?'

In fact, the reality is, my partner is my responsible adult. We joke about it a lot and it started as a joke way before the diagnosis. But he is. Telling people he has resulted in some wonderful conversations so far, most notably with the nurse doing the pre-consultant weighing and blood pressure checks. We covered her partners Cerebral Palsy and my Aspergers with ease and comfort only given when two people are not trying to avoid saying the wrong thing but instead are genuinely interested in how something affects someone and the workarounds which result.  

And that's the greatest gift a diagnosis gives you. Freedom. It's not an excuse, it's a reason is something I have typed in the last 8 months more time than I can count. I ask for no ones sympathy and no ones extra effort. I simply ask for understanding. Are you asking me to do something which is so easy you wouldn't spare a thought about it but that for me requires 3 hours of psyching myself up to do? Or vice versa - are you asking me to do something I can do in my sleep (oh look another idiom which is highly amusing when taken literally) which you expect me to take days to do? Are you assuming that the thing which was so easy it took minutes means everything I do is so easy it take minutes?

That's what it's not an excuse, it's a reason means to me. It's what diagnosis means to me. It means I can cut myself some slack but you don't need to. It means no longer crucifying myself every single day because I can write a nationally published article which over 10,000 people will read with no editing at all, but I can't cook. Social situations baffle me and sometimes terrify me if they combine expectations and a role I am supposed to be performing but I don't know what that role is because no one else needs it to be explained in minute detail. It means I can turn to you and say no. No because this will be too stressful for me and this is why. No because you haven't explained in enough detail what you require from me and until you explain more I cannot deliver the thing you need me to deliver. No I wont be the first person someone interacts with face to face for your brand but online? Oh absolutely. No problem. And here's why.

Is that making excuses? Is that asking too much from you? Is that not an interaction you have the time for? 

Well bully for you.

Every single day, I put my big girl pants on. Every single day, I do something which scares me a lot. People say that to people as a motivational tool and I'm sorry but I am not the right person to say that to. Every single day, there will be something that I have to do in order to keep a job or keep a relationship or friendship which I do not want to do because it scares me, but I do it anyway. It's exhausting. No, that's not an exaggeration. It's so damn tiring - the psyching yourself up, the self talking that everyone tells you will help but doesn't, the visualisation techniques everyone tells you to use but which are flipping useless when you have no imagination, the constant warding of the anxiety gnawing in your stomach which means you can't east until the thing is over...

Every day.

So we come back to putting your big girl pants on. We come back to cutting people slack. We're back to walking in someone elses shoes. Can you imagine that? Can you actually imagine fear of that level every single day? How does that taste after a week of it? A month? A year? Can you taste the acid in your mouth from all the anxiousness? Or does it taste metallic, that fear? Can you focus and concentrate and do your best work when you can taste that taste in your mouth? Would other people telling you to imagine the audience with no clothes on work if you had no imagination? After a while, would you start to wonder why that didn't work, why you couldn't self talk yourself through, why visualisation didn't work? Would you start to feel like a failure, despite confronting your fears every single day?

What I am is not a failure. I am a warrior. Every day I face my fears and I do something brave. I am scared and I do it anyway. I may not do it well. I may not do it perfectly but I do it. Every single day of the week. Sometimes my anxiety levels are out of control - those are the days when I have to do more than one thing that terrifies me. Some days my anxiety levels bubble along quietly, barely registering on my consciousness. Those are the days when everything is easy, everything is a known quantity and there is nothing unexpected. They are rare. 

So here's a thing. If you know someone with Aspergers, or you suspect you do, and you're getting frustrated, annoyed or irritated, think about this. Think about the battle which is going on in their brain. Think about how tempting they may currently be finding it to leave the situation which is no doubt causing them twice the frustration, annoyance or irritation it's causing you. Think about the strength of character it's taking them to stay. 

Life isn't easy for anyone. I get that. You've got children and emotional baggage and affairs and all kinds of shit going on. I get that. But those things, they fluctuate. They change. Our Aspergers doesn't. It is a state of continual stress and anxiety that you only experience during times of divorce, moving house or planning a wedding. Those things are easy for me. But the other days. They are not. And we all know which way life is weighted.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Talking about my generation

Today is Ada Lovelace Day. If you've been around a while, you'll remember I used to make a point of always posting something to this blog on that day. I will leave it to the reader to surmise why that tradition stopped and why it is now restarting.

So. Gamergate. Ada was a woman in tech.She was a mathmetician, yes, but she worked on the very earliest example of mechanised computer, and for me that counts as a woman working in tech. In the 1800's. She was also a programmer - her Notes containing an algorithm for the first mechanised computer programme.

So. Female. Technical. Programmer.

Not a gamer though. We have to wind forward 150 years for that particular tech to finally start to come into its own. Though I'm not sure Gamergate is an  example of an entertainment form coming into its own. No. Instead I like to think of it as the point where an entertainment form realised it has a problem - and then spectacularly assured the solutions to that problem would never appear. For any one woman to consider following a career path into games making, I think, after the last few weeks would be equally brave and foolish.

Because who, exactly, would voluntarily enter a profession where it is likely at some point that this will happen to you (click for the US site - UK readers obviously aren't interested in such feminist content judging by the headlines you get if you do click through). Yes, that is an adult games developer in the US leaving her home because someone posted her address on Twitter and threatened to do horrific things to her and her husband. It's a beautiful attack in the way it manages to be sexist, racist and utterly terrifying all at the same time.

She's not the first either. Nope, this isn't a one off to be swept under the carpet. At the moment it feels like every week someone somewhere finds another female game developer who has the audacity to have a mouth and use it for something other than night time activities, provokes them, abuses them, and finally death threatens them.

So who are these someones and where have they suddenly come from?

Well. Uncomfortable truth time. They're probably your son. Or your friends son. Or your brothers or sisters son. You see the chances are quite high that if you weren't looking and you weren't paying attention, and you were focused entirely on the implications of digital at work, that you forgot something pretty scary.

Have a think about the world your son currently lives in. It contains porn on tap, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Yes, yes, opt ins. Do you think a 16 year old boy is going to see that as an embarrassment? Nope. He's going to see it as a badge of honour. Blocks on phones can be got around - if your son has a Android phone he can just flatten the phone completely, install a ROM (a developers alternative Operating System) and merrily override any blocks or filters imposed by anyone. I haven't tried but I suspect there are similar for iPhones and Blackberries. What's the harm in that I hear you cry? Well actually plenty. Porn per se isn't the problem, necessarily, but go have a read of the kind of porn your son (or daughter; stop looking so horrified, it happens) is now watching. It's a wee bit different to the Playboy images you used to sneak out from your fathers stash isn't it? I find the section titled Slap Happy particularly interesting. Imagine someone thinking 'wouldn't it be fun/funny if' and the person on the receiving end was your daughter. Sickening thought, isn't it?

Then there's Snapchat. Send pictures of your intimate parts at will, endlessly, to anyone who's stupid enough to open an unidentified image from someone they know from school and keep lol'ing. I mean what's to stop them? In the past this behaviour would have been identified as flashing and would have resulted in a prosecution eventually had the behaviour persisted past police warnings and detentions. Now anyone can be a flasher. Anyone at all. And the police? At best oblivious, at worst walking away from a problem they have no idea how to monitor, no resources to keep up with and no one inside that culture to make judgement calls on when banter becomes abuse.

Chat Roulette, Tinder...I could go on. All of these computer delivery systems deliver something quickly and easily to anyone who is looking. A quick pic of some tits, an interaction with the person who owns the tits over text, through to a meeting to actually touch those tits in person - our young people these days are immersed in a world where you'd be forgiven for thinking sex is the only subject anyone thinks or talks about.

Except of course, it's always been the case that teenage boys have only one thing on their mind. Biologically, it's kind of inevitable. But in the past access to all of these things has not been possible. Young teenage men have had rules and edges to their fantasies, to their imaginations. Now we have made a world where anything they can possibly imagine can be made a reality on their phone - and who can blame them if they blur fantasy and reality, paid porn star with your daughter?

Their lives are invisible to you unless you ask. Unless you have difficult conversations with them about boundaries, about the difference between fantasy and reality.

So how does this relate to Gamergate?

I don't know for sure, but I reckon closely. I think Gamergate is about a lack of respect. I think it's about people who've either grown up or who are growing up in this world of instant gratification. I think it's about boys on 4chan who will type anything to get a reaction - and IRC logs relating to the recent harassment of yet another gamergate female developer strongly show this. It doesn't matter how far you're prepared to go - there will always be someone else who is prepared to go one further for the laughs and 'respect' that this gets from other teenage boys.

Yet I assume it actually is teenage boys. Perhaps it isn't. Perhaps instead it's grown men who we think should know better without ever quantifying what it was or when it was that we actually took the time to educate them so they did know better. Did we teach them at school that women should be treated equally, with respect and dignity and that if you wouldn't say it to your mother in public, you shouldn't be saying it to any other woman in public either? Did you teach your son or daughter about equality? Did you tell your daughter that she could be anything she wanted to be only to watch in horror as she decided to be a games developer? Is it okay that becoming a games developer will now be forever something which turns parents blood cold with horror instead of warm with pride?

No. It isn't. No it isn't. And no it is not.

So we've got a pretty little mess we've made for ourselves, and Gamergate is only the tip of this particularly messy iceberg. But sadly, every scandal, every firestorm has one thing in common.

Women. And the harassment and abuse thereof. So ask yourself this on Ada Lovelace day. What do video games, films, or web pages/apps/platforms look like with no women producing them? Because if you don't do something pretty sharpish, even if that is sitting your son or daughter down and having that chat, that is what you in a very small way will be responsible for.

As for Ada? Spinning in her grave.

Monday, 22 September 2014

One small click for man...

I've been thinking about activism, clicktavism, campaigning and polls. As usual, a series of fragmented occurences all collided together in the space of 5 days and my brain wouldn't stop making leaps. That my brain is finally in a state to make leaps is a cause for celebration in itself...

13 months ago, I could do all three Metro Su Doku's in the time it took me to get from home to work on the tube including changes, approximately 35-45 minutes. 12 months ago I couldn't do the simplest Su Doku. 13 months ago, I could do the giant Su Doku published every Saturday in The Times in well under the time posted. 12 months ago, I couldn't do one fifth of it in the time posted. I said that when I could do it within the time once again, I would know I was well enough to go back to work. What I didn't know a year ago but know now is that whilst mental quickness and fluidity is a good indicator of the minds wellness, other factors would come into play. Like my knee dislocating backwards and sideways, and ankles so weak I literally sprained my ankle in socks on the kitchen floor.

So with this as the background, and apologies if some of the words come out in the wrong order...

On Thursday 85% of Scotlands population, much much less of a population than the one contained within England and therefore a number far more impressive in some ways, voted on a referendum.  This required them to do something offline and in meatspace. As commentators flustered and flurried to try and get a handle on sentiment being expressed in the online world, the true headline making was happening in a truly old fashioned way - through marking a cross in a box.

On Friday, St Georges Square in Glasgow became a little of a flashpoint as those who were already looking for aggro seized on issue of the day and held it aloft as a reason to continue to be idiots.

On Saturday, the majority of Glasgow united, beneath Saltires and Pride flags to donate money to those less well off, and to express their distaste for the events of the previous evening.

Both of those things also happened offline. No donations to Just Giving pages for the Glaswegians and no online trolling for them.

Yesterday I spent 30 minutes answering questions on politics within a online survey presented to me through the Toluna service. For the first time in my entire life, I was asked questions on what I thought, about leaders, about parties and about politics. I gave the time gladly (it was quite a Liberal Democrat swayed survey and it asked a lot of questions about my opinion on their policies and how they might sway my vote or not) not because I am a Liberal Democrat supporter, but because they bothered to ask. No one, not a single person from any political party, has ever asked me how I intend to vote. I'd not tell them if they asked me face to face. But I will happily answer the questions when it's part of an anonymised online survey.

Today, I clicked Like on the Labour Party Facebook page.

I have grown up online. But I have also grown up offline. Inevitably this is so and I am no longer unuusal, not in the way I was 20 years ago. My politics have grown from complete disinterest to complete frustration and disbelief through to...

Now. Where I click Like on the Labour Party Facebook page. It was just a click. Well, a tap actually, I don't use mice any more. Outdated terminiology for an outdated tech? Etymology aside though, clicktavism is dismissed. It doesn't mean anything to click a button. It doesn't require any thought.

Except I've never clicked that Like button before. I chose to do it today. I knew about the existence of the Labour Party before today. I knew about the existence of Facebook today. But I only chose to action something today.

And honestly, it was the events of the previous 4 days which led to me tapping that button. A perfect storm, an alignment of planets...or just reality, which was a well considered, long considered, deeply thought through assessment of where this country is, where it isn't and where I want it to be. I don't want to change the world any more. I don't have the energy, or the brain, or the heart, or the fire right now and it's quite possible I never will. But instead of disengaging me, that's changed me, and I think for the better. I used to think that to change the world you needed to be alone. Now I think, and I'm afraid the Scottish people have taught me this over the past few days, I think we're better together. Not in terms of acountry, not in terms of an economy - my thoughts on thaat arenot for public broadcast I don't think.

But in terms of campagins, change, voice, noise, debate, discussion, learning, policy?

I don't want to be alone any more. I want to go and spend some time with people who I think might think and feel the same way I do. I don't know for sure. I'm not joining anything, I'm not paying anything, I'm not signing anything.

I'm just clicking Like on a Facebook page. But to me that one little action is as seizmic in its representation of a change of my attitude as the crosses in boxes which were ade last Thursday.

You see...we live in world where the smallest of actins make the loudest of noises. Click, click.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The world of grey

Writing about depression while I'm inside it is impossible. But I want to stand up. I want to be counted. So now that I feel sadness fleetingly, in measures of hours and not months, let me tell you about depression, from my view.

I don't have a black dog. I understand this pictorial terminology is helpful for other people. That's cool. But it's not my friend, this thing. I am told anxiety will become my friend because I can never fight it and to do so will only make it stronger. But fighting depression?

It's it bloody, this battle. And for me, lucky as I am in this autistic/Aspergers view of the world, I wear binary armour. I live. I breathe. I wake up every day. Not morning, mark that, but every day. Those things, these things, they are unarguable, infinite. This absolute is my armour and I hold it dear to me. This rigid thinking that I am told so often is a bad thing, in this case is good. The best. The thing that means that even when I am counting breathes, I am still counting.

But there is no dog. But there is a tunnel. It's dark in there, obviously. But it is other. Separate. Because the further most thing, to me, is the grey. Sometimes, still, in a world that is now colour, I am still shocked to a standstill by how colourful everything is. HD TV, the yellows and greens of lichen on stone walls, the bended broken bows of lightning struck dead tree trunks in their stripes of grey, greyer, greyest - even the greys are beautiful to behold.

Depression is not 'negative thoughts' for me. It is an absence of thought. To someone who, thinks at velocity, a constant stream of beautiful lovely data, images, world when I am well is vivid, enhanced, soundtracked and in landscape. I love it. Depression takes it all away. And yes I know that there is an absence of people in this depiction and this is deliberate. Because 2 people kept me breathing too but this is not about that or them.

This is about the grey. It's about the persistent knowledge you are looking but not seeing. Listening but not hearing. It is to be deprived of the joy derived from input. Nothing fits. Nothing works. Sensation is irritating. Hugs are debilitating. Expectation is crippling. And I keep counting breathes.

They tell you, when you come into contact with mental health services that there is a number. It's a crisis number.  I know the team it goes to. I know what calling it means. I was told to only call it in an emergency but there was no explanation of what an emergency is for someone for whom suicide is {void}. Is it when I am counting breathing? Is it when my tummy hurts so bad I can't eat and I want to crawl out of my own skin and I don't know how to calm down and people don't calm me the same as neurotypical people find them calming and I'm screaming help inside my head but I'm mute?

In retrospect, yes. Yes that was when.

And there is the truth. This is what metal health care looks like on the ground. It isn't care. It's assessment and then you are put in the queue. If it were left to the NHS, I would still be in the queue for counselling which to date has lasted 13 months.

But it's okay. Isn't it. Because I am still breathing. Isn't it?

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Nine Worlds Geek Fest 2014 - a review

I'm abandoning linear. My brain doesn't work like that. I experience the world through sensory 'anchors' and so these are some of mine. Intensity of something means it's included here, be it a thought provoked, or a connection made. The realisation that this is a beautiful thing and not a useless thing is thanks to someone awesome. We'll get there.

Whose fandom is this anyway?

6:45pm Saturday - Received fan wisdom is wrong

We walked in late (the venue was so awesome we managed to walk in late a couple of times and it wasn't an issue). Almost the first comment I heard was someone trotting out the 'all the girls chatting around the watercooler pretending they knew who the old doctors actually were, trying to bluff it out' trope and I nearly walked back out. I didn't because there were three women and Paul Cornell on the panel and I actually wanted to hear what they had to say, being as how they appeared to know what they were talking about. There was still a sense of 'you think that's love, you don't know what love is' aimed at new Who fans but I stayed because I wanted to know how bad it would be. It was bad.

2 days later I was trying to pick the music I would walk down the aisle to with my bridesmaid at my wedding. This is Gallifrey is one of the contenders. In the process of finding it I listened to almost all the new Who soundtracks. Every song jolted me back to the episode, every song made me feel how I felt when I watched the screenplay it accompanied. You can tell me I'm not a fan. You can tell me I don't love this show like you do. You can tell me so until you're blue in the face. But you don't know how beautiful The Girl in the Fireplace was. You don't know who Amy Pond was to me. You don't know how River Song makes me feel, what the scale, the sheer jaw dropping scale of the library did to my brain, how scared Blink made me feel. 

The panel missed one. Perceived fan wisdom on new vs old Who is wrong. Especially but not limited to when it comes to the fans thereof. I just didn't feel brave enough to tell you so.

We're using knitting needles and crochet hooks to quietly weave thoughts into peoples heads

3:15pm Saturday - Political Needlepoints: how the craft resurgence has influenced social politics

Knitting looks innocuous. It can be. It's okay for it to be. But you can choose to make it something else. The simple act of knitting in public is an expression of something - we take it outside the home and suddenly, is it in a space where it shouldn't be? What does that mean? The entire sessions was accompanied by the gentle dinging of someones bell stitch markers. 10 minutes in the most beautiful...creature walked in and nearly stopped the panel so beautiful was her cosplay. I asked a question badly about the invisibility of women and their craft in the general social media space and discussion. We are invisible because we do it in the home and then sell/publicise/speak about our work on the internet. 

That makes us invisible. That also makes us stealthy. With stealth comes freedom. Discussed in the panel was this (click the link):
Which I only found because the lady who made it followed me on Twitter after the panel. Twitter. It's easy to focus on the negative in this space. But it still brings amazing feminist rawwrrr women to my yard. I'm still grateful for that.

Community is only as good as those within it

Nine Worlds is the most inclusive space I've ever been in. I am not surprised there was a marriage proposal at the Bifrost evening entertainment from a girl to her girlfriend. If anything I'm surprised there weren't more. I keep trying to work out how you bring so many kind, gentle, patient, fun loving people into one space and so few problems happen. No raised voices. Lots of noise, oh my gosh lots of noise, squeals and sometimes shrieks so high pitched I became convinced I was a cat, unpredictable ways through spaces meaning trying to wind through those people is tricky, so many amazing costumes, so much hard work. Knitted Wonder Woman whom it took 45 minutes to get from one side of the con to the other but who didn't mind in the slightest. More than a few authors bouncing around talking to everybody and anybody, posing with said cosplayers and posting them proudly on Twitter.

I stood before the film quiz a few floors up from the Atrium looking through the glass so I couldn't hear any sound. I watched as people glided through the space, bounded through it, hesitantly entered it, carefully stuck to the edges of it. Aren't spaces amazing for that? Our community is just like that. No one is ever pulled into it unless they want to be. No one is forced to participate. But when it becomes obvious that someone in a wheelchair is struggling with something, the mountain moves. And it's for love, a shared love, and being unashamed and open about that love. The things that bring us together, that entwine us, and weave is together is such a firework explosion of fantastic diversity and colour is love. A show. Words. A book. Music. Thinking. Doing right. Doing wrong. Aiming to misbehave. Believing in something, someone, anything.

We are free because we love and everyone is welcome.

The town I walk through is very different to the town my partner walks through

I had tea with Emma Newman. The tea wasn't as good as their coffee in the Bijou Bar. The Columbian Andino was a happy dance of bitter sweet gorgeous. The tea was thick. So confusing. I could write up the hour she spent and gave freely, I could tell you the doors she opened so I could walk through them. I could tell you about the slightly bizarre sensation of someone talking to you and you being able to hear them so clearly with a world of background noise when you usually struggle so bad with that. I could tell you about being aware my face was possibly being too expressive but also knowing it would be okay and I didn't have spare processing to sort that out. I could tell you that enthusiasm is beautiful reflected. Or that wisdom given is the wisdom given equally by a beautifully dressed well spoken regency lady and a farmer in pedal pushers and t-shirt and running shoes bouncing up and down her track with her Jack Russell nipping at her heels. I could tell you that I am so scared of words sometimes but that I think that's okay, about never self editing and people not having faces.

But really, actually, truly? The town I walk through is very different to the town my partner experiences. That's magical. Not fearful or weird or random or odd or negative or anything. If I can help people to walk beside me as I walk through a space, as I recall with perfect clarity the sensory experience of walking through that space, then that's magic. So Emma Newman is a magician. Which feels right. 

Then Emma turned to me as a ball of energy and nuclear frisson bounced over to us and said 'Louise, meet Tom Pollock' and I lost every word. All my words just abandoned, a tornado of a name jumbling everything, and I ran away. He was epic sweet about the entire thing and I need to write a post about Pen who taught me I am only beautiful when I am entirely myself but that's other.

Free is a lie

Yes it is. But Aral Balkan stopped in the wrong place. His presentation is fantastic. It joins the dots and spots the patterns and the way he delivers it is a joy. But he stopped.

It is wrong that only prisoners in this country (and possibly serving forces) must submit to knowingly having their mail opened and yet email, something equally as private on occasion is not treated with the same reverence nor accord.

However. Ingress, a game which is owned by Google is data gathering and yes it's spyware. The geeks playing it, in the majority understand this. But they understand this and they're making the trade because the trade is this. Ingress tracks your pedestrian movements. When I ask Google Maps to tell me how far it will take me to talk from a to b within London, this is not flippant. It is not a throwaway query. It is a query upon which sometimes my ability to function can hinge. I need to know the real deal. The actual number, of minutes, it will take me to get from where I am standing right now, to the crucial place I need to be in 5/10/15 minutes time. 

I need reality. If Ingress means I get reality, so be it. Because who the hell else is gonna care some occasionally disabled woman needs a real time real assessment of time taken to walk from a to b? No one. That's who.

We trade. All of us trade. Every minute of every day. You make the tea this time and I'll make it next. You have your favourite food this time and I'll have mine next. I am exhausted but you're driving 300 miles so I'll down 3 cans of Red Bull so I can keep you company.

Trading is what moden life is built on. So here's the thing. Yes Ingress is spyware. So is Facebook. So is G+ and cookies and ten thousand other little things in modern life. I don't want you to take it away. I want you to educate me so I can make an assessment if this trade is of enough value to me that I'm prepared to let some of my data go. Millions of people don't understand their data is the trade. Fix that. Don't give me another flipping product.

If you can't deal with me sad, you don't deserve me when I'm happy

I'm a ball when I'm happy and a mare when I'm sad. When I'm sad and ill, I have to make a judgement every second on whether you're the person worth spending some of my hard hoarded energy on. This weekend, people were not draining. No one drained. I didn't need to pretend. I just was me. I dropped the mask, stopped pre-empting every conversation with a disclosure and decided to see how I got on.

I ended up, with three other girls, designing my wedding dress. There was laughter, there was smiles, there was tonnes of chatter. Something I was so worried about became something joyous, something to enthuse about. Why would I want a dress like everyone elses? I'm not like everyone else. I'm like me. Some people spend the time to get to know me and understand me. Those are the people who attend Nine Worlds. They like to think. Sometimes. They like to party. Sometimes. They like to understand people and help them, all of the time. Yes, I'm autistic. Yes, I'm aspie. Yes sometimes I couldn't hear stuff cos of space and sometimes conversations were in the wrong space. Sometimes there was sound leak and sometimes people were too raucous. All of this was drowned by nice. Nice people. Good people. 


Women are very present at Nine Worlds. In panels, organising, volunteering, attending. There's a feminism track. Of course there is. But this isn't a place where those discussions, you know the difficult ones, the ones that make you feel sad then angry? they're not limited just to one track or one room. They're happening everywhere. Game of Thrones and rape as a mechansim. Needlepoint and traditionally women's crafts and how we subvert that and is woodwork more serious somehow? I wondered into a Do black holes exist talk and understood every word - so did the other women there. Women were cosplaying but so were so many men. The fanfic track? I didn't go anywhere near it but I suspect there were women there too. Many women. All squeeing madly about their OTP. Does it matter? Not at all. 

The thing is, if you create a space where people can flit from deep thinking to fangirl squeeing, that's what happens. Suddenly, I am not boxed as a fangirl or someone who likes to think. I can be both. I can be shallow. Just because I like to discuss the ins and outs of astrophysics doesn't mean I have to. Doesn't mean I want to. 

It's okay to be shallow. It's okay to have fun. It's okay to love the things you love deeply and dearly and still fancy the male protagonist. Or the female one. It's okay to be big and dressed as Wonder Woman, childrens reactions to you will be just the same. It's okay to wield a massive hammer and not be dressed as Thor. It's okay if you don't wear make up and it's okay if you do. It's okay if you want to learn how to braid your hair and it's okay if you want to learn how to sword fight. It's all just fine.

Promenado no no no

Gollancz held a 'book launch' on the Saturday night. Ventured in. Lots of people networking. Walked out. Ventured back to thank Adrian Tchaikovsky for his books. He was lovely about it. Ran away again. Nope, still not dealing with this enforced social thing. Okay, that's fine. Maybe next year. 

Just a moment is always awesome

And what else is there to say about that.

Thank you Nine Worlds. I came, I was nervous, I needn't have been. I found, I laughed, I chatted, I made friends, I missed seeing some others. Nine Worlds is simply awesome. 

Monday, 21 July 2014

Autistic dreams & other stories

Two people are standing outside the loos in Starbucks in Preston. One of them hasn't seen another human apart from their partner in quite some time. The other of them came around from a general aneasthetic 4 hours before.  Prior to this moment, the conversation has covered quantum mechanics, the wool corridor that is still the Leeds Liverpool canal, sine waves of brain activity and function and where trashy novels intersect in those waves, and cancer. We're waiting for the partner of one of them.

'Humans eh' says one to the other, piercing them with eye contact. 'Completely unpredictable' they pause for few seconds 'until they're not'
'Yeah' the other replies 'Sheep'
'They can be so fascinating, and yet so boring'
'Schrodingers people'

There is laughter and reflected back at me is the light. It's important that light. It is, I think the thread through this post that I suspect will become very long indeed.

Wind back 12 months.

'I don't know who I am, who are you?' is looping around and around and around in my head. I write it down on a post it note and post it to my Instagram. None of the answers that come back help. It doesn't interupt the loop. Around and around it goes.

The therapist tries. To her credit, she accepts I am not stupid, just broken. I tell her I've done CBT and currently it's like posting a paper origami boat into a tsunami and hoping it will help. My mind is a tsunami. It is sucking everything, absolutely everything  into a massive wave and then that wave is crashing down over me.  It feels as if pieces of my brain were literally being swept up, churned into a seething mess and then hurled down onto a stone beach where they smash into pieces.

I am in a constant state of terror. I don't know if at the time but I've almost literally terrified myself to a stand still. I can't walk. I can't talk. I can't verbalise or articulate or write or tweet. I am literally a piece of meat. The electrics have either gone out or there is a super cell stuck in there, stuck in my brain.

Underneath all of this, of course, is the bubbling narrative of failure. I failed. I let every one down. I was supposed to be kicking ass and instead I was quietly dying, all the systems going off line, giving up, giving in, all the fight sucked out of me by cognitive absence.

That sounds like depression doesn't it? Doesn't it just. It's not. It's far more complex than that. I, it turns out, am far more complex than that.

Depresssion sucks everything from you. And the state of this being is similar for most of those who suffer from it. @markoneinfour has kept me anchored without even knowing it. But the cause of the depression, I believe is different for everyone. Everyone has different triggers. Everyone suffers but everyone I think also suffers differently. I am thankful, so very thankful to my GP for understanding that sometimes she has needed to leave me alone, sometimes she has needed to let me come to her of my own accord and ask for pills, and sometimes she has said the wrong thing and I've backed away for a bit, needing time to think and work out and rationalise.

So why the terror, I suppose is the question. What triggered it? And I'm sure the easy answer would be GDS, would be travelling up and down the country every single weekend, living in two places at once. That answer would make a lot of people happy. But it's not the truth.

When I was 12 years old my world changed. I got my first period. My mum didn't talk to me about periods. She didn't talk to me about anything. She managed to apologise earlier this year for not being able to cope with being a mum to two people. And that I'd beent the one without a mum, essentially, came as no surprise to either of us. The apology came as a massive shock. I suspect to both of us.

The point? I don't ask for help. There has never been anyone to ask for help from and so I have essentially worked through my life with the same attention to detail and focus that I apply to everything.  It makes me selfish. It makes me focussed. It makes me stupid and oblivious to the disintegration of my own state of mind. I am so close to the problem I can neither see it nor feel it.

Normally, my other half can spot when problems are happening and it's a standing joke that he acts as my personal people interpretation module. I didn't have that in London. Oh boy did I not.  I should have worked it out when a colleague decided the only way to tell me how fucked off with me she was was to write me a letter telling me then reading it to my face. I should have worked it out when I couldn't find anyone in the 200 people office, instead needing to gchat people to ask them where they were. I should have worked it out when the amount of meetings I had in the day inversely affected what time I needed to go to bed (9pm most nights). I should have worked it out when I lost my appetite. When I couldn't sleep.

Some of those things sound like depression.  But not all. Not all of them by any stretch of imagination. And the penny didn't even drop when I took the 'Reading the mind in the eyes' test and got something like 8 out of 40 and I guessed those 8. And having to look at nothing but eyes for 20 minutes made me feel sick to my stomach and quite panicky.  Not when a colleague sat me down and asked me if I didn't realise I couldn't deal with people sitting opposite me and interacting with them and felt much more comfortable sat next to people and even my hobby involved talking to people next to me - riding bikes.

It's all so glaringly obvious to me in retrospect. Not to others though. 'I am autistic' I say and they say 'no you aren't, you can't be'.

Well here's the thing. I am. The 45/50 says I am. The trained qualified clinical psychologist says I am. But truth be told. Tony Attwood and his absolutely mind blowing explanations of how autism and especially Aspergers affects women rather differently than men told me I was.

I've been diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Depression and Anxiety in the space of 6 months. 'I don't know who I am, who are you?' still runs through my head. But alongside it runs something else, an understanding, an ability to cut myself some slack. The person who read me the letter didn't understand why I was coming across one way when I was intending to come across in a completely different way. My boss didn't understand. No one understood, least of all me. It turns out, in the end, that the prevailing theory is that I am allergic to people currently. If I spend any time with anyone but my other half, I pay for it. I am exhausted, often for days after. We think that this is because I am doing so much processing trying to fit in and not stick out as being different that I've worn out my brain a bit. While I was in London I was trying to do the following:

  • Process the interaction scripts for 100+ people
  • Remember the faces and names of ditto
  • Get myself dressed and out of the house looking presentable (not smart or anything, just enough to raise too much comment)
  • Eat properly when I can't cook
  • Sleep properly and enough to recover from exhausting days when sleep has always been an issue, insomnia being the least of the problems as it would suggest I'd gone to sleep in the first place
  • Manage a workload that was at the high end of the scale 
  • Attend at least 3 meetings a day at one point, resulting in high intensity interaction for 3 hours every day
  • Remember pretty fundamental processes like going to the loo, drinking enough in the heat etc
What I'd like you to do, is think how your friends daughter/son who is autistic would manage all that. Now I want you to imagine you don't know there is anything wrong with you and you're sat in the absolute best job on earth that hundreds of other people want and you don't know why you're struggling. Now I want you to imagine your support network has disintegrated and you're miles from your boyfriend and you hate speaking on the telephone with a passion unrivalled because you don't know when you're supposed to speak in a conversation even worse than you don't know when you're face to face with someone.

Body language. Knowing when  to talk in conversations, knowing when to shut up ,when to leave, when to arrive, when to leave someone alone....yep, I bet some of you are nodding your heads right now.

The simple fact is, I was burning through massive amounts of processing power, just trying to look like all of you. There was nothing left to do my job. I remember someone commenting loudly in the office that I looked exhausted every evening.

Well I was. This is why. I was, as servers go, running at max. The line was at the top all the time. It was so bad by the end I couldn't drop out of fight or flight. I'd been in it for months by that point. It was normal. I burned through all my reserves, I burned through everything. Right down to the bone.

And then I snapped. 

So if you don't mind, considering where I've been, how I've felt and what I've learned, don't reply to this post with 'You can't be autistic'.

I can, and I am. And I am slowly but surely learning how to not spend my entire waking existence pretending I am just like you. I am not just like you. My brain is not like yours. I do not see the world the way you do. I like that. I don't care if you think this is awful and a waste of talent and time. I couldn't give a flying squirrel.

I am autistic and I am proud of it. I see such beauty because of it. But I also see such agonising sorrow. So yes I have depression. Is it any surprise? But I also have hope. I have some slack with which to cut myself. I have a thing to choose to disclose, and I choose to disclose it here. If you think you can still work with me and understand that this actually changes nothing in terms of my intelligence, my speed, my pattern matchiung, my life loving, question asking joy, thank you.

If you don't want to know me, or talk to me, or work with me any more, then I am sorry. Sorry for you. Good bye.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

I feel like a fraud

This was going to be a post on gender. It's not a post on gender. It is instead a post on benefits. The current benefit system for new benefit claimants, specifically Employment and Support Allowance.

Firstly, if you're going to try and use this post against me as a reason that I shouldn't be claiming benefits at all, cos I can string a sentence together, jog on. Look back at the other 255 posts in this blog. Tell me when most of them were published. Tell me how frequently I used to post. Now tell me how many posts I've made since February?

I haven't left the house for days. Possibly actually no definitely, 10 days. I've spoken to no one but my partner in person since before Easter. I'm trying to help myself by using 'pacing' though this is not something the medical profession are helping me with, being as how the medical profession have yet to discover what's wrong with me. I have two bulging discs in my spine and a 'hyper extendy' spine which along with knees which have a habit of 'floating' backwards makes for interesting mobility issues especially when the pain gets so bad I wet myself.

Too much information? That isn't the half of it. Believe me when I say it's not. There's a reason I'm rarely leaving the house and it's not fear of being found out as a benefit fraud. I'm not a fraud. I imagine I'm what ESA was supposed to help.  Unfortunately for me, I'm caught up, along with apparently 70,000 others in an ATOS backlog which lets face it ATOS have no interest in clearing now they have abandoned their contract mid way through.  

I still feel like a fraud though. Because of many things. Like the fact that the BBC has focused great energy and attention on telling you that the National Identity and Passport people are 30,000 behind but pass one sentence on the fate of me and 69,000 others. But then they would. Those 30,000, they're far more important than me. They're working, is the implication. Hard working people, that's what this country wants. Anyone who can't, whether temporarily or permanently can jog on.  David Cameron has been relentless in his message. Hard working people. Britain wants hard working people. 

Well Mr Cameron, I was. I worked hard. I busted my ass inside your government for 12 hours a day while I could and the commuted 2 hours on top of that. I took 30 minute lunches. I tried. I worked hard. I might have been bloody useless in the post I was put in but I tried so damn hard and no one can deny that - let them bloody well dare. Before that I worked in a comms office in a Council and I worked hard, so so hard. Before that I was in a portcabin in a rubbish depot, before that at a travel agency in technical support, before that in Probation and Courts working hard hard hard.

I've done 2, sometimes 3 jobs at once. Worked shifts 4pm-12 midnight with Tuesdays and Wednesdays as my weekends. I've temped, contracted and been full time. I've never been part time, never given anything less than my all to every single job I've ever done and that includes shelf stacking in the local Co-Op to pay to afford to go to college. 

I've literally busted my ass. Literally, because I'm broken. I can't deal with people, I can't deal with complicated, I can't deal with the pain some days and most of the time the thought of going back to work sends me into a full on sweating jibbering anxiety attack. 

So would someone please explain why this means I have to have people I don't know in my house? Without warning? says it's okay and it's happening and it's official but what does it not say? What's missing from that page?

Why? Why are you checking up on me? Why wasn't I or anyone else told about this massive intrusion into our lives? How is this going to affect those whose health conditions are worsened by stress? Do they know they could cause someone with Multiple Sclerosis a relapse due to stress? Do they understand that that relapse might be the one that robs someone of their sight due to Optic Neuritis or mean they need to self catheter due to loss of bladder control or lack of mobility due to spasticity? 

Of course they don't. They're not medical professionals. And they don't care. Because they're not paid to care, they're paid to do their job.  They'll walk out of that persons life and never have any knowledge of the mayhem in the body of the person they've left behind. And if they can't see it, if they don't know about it, they can't feel guilty about it can they?

Sounding familiar yet?

It's not just this that's angered me though. Next week I have the audacity of leaving the country and goin on holiday. Go on, say it, "you're going on holiday at the publics expense?"

No. I'm not. As I've had to tell everyone I've spoken to at ATOS regarding this holiday since the particularly sarcastic person I encountered on their telephone line who said 'enjoy your holiday' in the most horrid way it's possible to tell someone - I'm on contributory rate. My partner works. Because he works, I have £70 a week to live on and he is expected to pay everything else.  My partner is paying for the holiday. We're going by Eurotunnel which we got free cos of Tesco Clubcard vouchers and then we're camping and the campsite is costing us 18 euros a night. Meals will be boiled rice on the burner with assorted stuff thrown in or baguettes and butter with a bit of cheese. No eating out. No splurging. We might go to Versailles, but they're lovely and allow disabled people free entry for your carer and make no mistake, that's what my boyfriend has become and not of his or my choosing. We might go around some manor houses as we're members of the National Trust, a legacy from when I was working and there is a reciprocal agreement I think.

We're taking the bikes but my pain levels will dictate whether we ride them. I don't know if I'll be crying in pain or okay. I never do. 

Why am I telling you this? Because I feel like I have to. Because this governments narrative of a hard working Britain and no one else being welcome has made me feel worthless. A failure. Unwelcome. But worst of all it has made me feel like a fraud. I have days, despite not having left the house for 10 days or more, where I wonder if this is all my fault and somehow, if I just tried harder, everything would be okay, because it always has been in the past.

I didn't quit until I couldn't walk to the tube in the morning in London with a sit down half way. It was a 10 minute walk. I couldn't have a shower without needing a sit down half way through. Things have improved. I only collapse in a heap after I've finished showering these days.

And still I feel like a fraud. Like I need to justify my continued existence, like somehow breathing the same air as all of you working people is wrong and something I need to apologise for. I cringe when  asked how I am. I cringe when asked my job title. I cringe a lot these days. 

The unannounced visits from the men in black suits from 'the government' who will ask to see my bank accounts, my rent details and my benefits details is just the icing on the cake. 

I'm living in your Britain. You voted for this. Is this how you want human beings to feel in the 21st century in a first world country?

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Are you sitting comfortably?

Well, are you?

Then I shall begin. Actually, no I wont. I shall disclaimer because I am not well. Because I am not well there will be mistakes in this and I wont see them. Some of them will be dyslexic mistakes and some will be words that don't belong in the sentences they crash land in. Or we may be lucky, and a rare 20 minutes of lucidity may occur. We'll see. The fact remains that this (among the more obvious things, the main one of which was that blogging the way I used to became simply impossible) is now why this blog mostly lays dormant except in situations when a particular thing whirls around and around in my head for days and I have to evacuate it from my brain one way or another lest it roost and breed. We don't need cuckoos in there adding to the mess.

Some of you have decided not to vote on 22nd May. That's Thursday for those of you who still work and for whom days are marked with the passing alarms. This Thursday. 36 hours.

Some of you will not vote because the polling station is not convenient for you. It is not conveniently placed between your home and the station/bus stop and the other end and your work. I'd like you to take a trip to Nigeria thanks to Oxfam Flickr.

Long way? On pavements? With proper shoes on your feet and a coffee in a cardboard cup in your hand? Really?

Or maybe it would just require you to get out of bed just a little bit earlier on Thursday morning. Maybe it would require a 10 minute detour. And maybe you might see a rainbow. Or a sunrise. Or hear the dawn chorus.

Maybe the polling station will be busy. Maybe you've had to wait a little bit longer than was entirely necessary the last few times and it's putting you off because it's so humid at the moment and the buildings they're held in are never air conditioned and your hair will just fall over...lets go to India shall we thanks to Al Jazeera on Flickr?

No air con. Again, varying levels of comfort in the shoe area. I didn't cherry pick this picture. Do a search for india voting queues. Spot something? Yep, in all those pictures, where are the women? There is one in the picture above, right at the end of the queue. Women are allowed to vote in India. But there is a world of difference in India between legally being able to vote and actually feeling comfortable enough to - or I'm reading too much into the pictures where the ladies in beautiful saris are always in groups and never alone.

But India aside, lets talk about the school run getting in the way of your voting for a second. There is still one country in the world where the women would love to have your problem dahling - Saudi Arabia. Now the fact might remain that short of breathing there is little women are allowed to do freely in Saudi Arabia but the fact remains, you're a whole 99 problems ahead of them.

To not vote is a decision. It's a passive decision - no action is required to enact it. But nevertheless it is a decision. It is a decision that residents of a number of countries would love to have. I'm not going to get into quibbles about Egypt, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, Oman...but in the United States the original Constitution covered the right to vote, so deeply held was the idea that it should be a right. Subsequent amendments have extended this right to all (14th, 15th, 19th (the got to women in the end) and more). Arguably it could be said that it is a right which should be enshrined in law - and indeed our right to vote is, under the Human Rights Act.

It would be flippant to throw out there that a whole lot of people went to an awful lot of trouble so you could passively not choose to vote - but really, it is that simple. It is becoming that simple. We live in a world where people die, in great numbers and frequently, because they want to live in a country where there is a democracy and a fair vote and a representation of their views and outlooks on life. And you all sit there on your comfortable sofas, curled up with a glass of wine and decide you're too busy.

I never understood the world privilege. I don't have it. Some people have it. That's the way the world works, so I thought. Well, here's the point. This year, you will commemorate the deaths of those in your family who dashed into German machine gun fire in any number of spectacular ways - from boats, through water, across fields, across mud, along trenches. They were brave men. They knew they would die. And if they didn't die, a lot of them were injured. And if they could still walk, and function, they came home, were mended, and then went straight back out again. I've been listening and reading and I think I know why. I think. I think they believed in something. They believed in it so passionately, so resolutely, and so absolutely that they would happily die for it. They believed in us. All of us. They believed in our country. What it was, what it is, what it one day could be. And some of my family are part of the soil, worm wrapped and fading underneath the underneath. Unrecognizable and unremembered except for a name scratched into a stone some place far away that no one ever goes, except to remember.

We are British, just like they were. Royal Scots. Fusiliers. Drummers drumming the sound of death. People still go to fight on our behalf. Nothing changed. We are still the country were democracy resides. You might think it's broken. You might think no one is paying attention. You might think the light is going out and the dark is coming. You night think an awful lot of things - but thinking is no use to anyone. No use at all. No one ever died on a field so you could think quietly to yourself over your cup of tea and biscuit. Boys don't bleed for such inconsequential things. They bleed to protect a way of life, a kindness, a caring, a certain sense of humour that scares the Americans, a seriousness that intimidates the Dutch, a wild and wacky side that sends the Italians running.

We are who we are because we vote. Because we can choose to vote. And yes, it's actually okay to actively choose to not vote. But for the memory of my great grandfather, do you think it could be for a reason other than the school run, your coffee getting cold, or not being arsed to get out of bed in a bit earlier on Thursday morning? Because it breaks me, just a little bit.

And yes. I will be voting on Thursday. I have really no idea who for. My partner just asked me. I told him the truth. I don't know. But I will spend as much as I can of tomorrow, the bits of tomorrow where I have a brain that can read and process and decide, I will spend it reading and phoning people and asking them what they think of the two things which mean the earth to me.

So maybe that's a good way to approach it for you too? What are the two things which mean the earth to you?

P.s. I think we made it. It took 40 minutes longer than any blog post has ever taken me to write, but I think we really made it. Phew. Now go. Shoo. Go read some candidates websites. Phone them. Talk to them. Stop being passive. Responsibility. Adult. Remember?

Friday, 7 March 2014

You get what you deserve

Somewhere between 1605 and 1610 Williams Shakespeare wrote a play called Coriolanus. It is the story of a mans rise and fall from grace among the political columns of Rome in the 5th century BC.

That would be a brief synopsis. This will be neither. 

Coriolanus was his mothers son. She appears to have shaped him into a warrior, celebrating his successes by the scars he returned with. Her approval was wrapped in his demonstrating a lion heart. She encouraged his passion, flamed it even. He went to fight, fought bravely, and based on that fighting encourages him to run for consul. This post was the highest elected office of the Roman Republic. The Republic had multiple consul but loosely this could be equated to a modern day Prime Minister, the highest elected office of our land. 

Brutus and Sicinius are tribunes. They too are elected but are beneath the consuls in the hierarchy. They are schemers and instigators, directly and persistently opposed to Coriolanus, despite theirs and his elected role. In the play they are portrayed as spin doctors, the people with the real power who control through their own networks the emotions and moods of the people. The modern day equivalent? Strictly speaking there is none. No elected officials have the power to control 'the people'. Instead this power has been assumed by portions of the media.

Coriolanus' is also influenced by a Patrician called Agrippa. He is the man Coriolanus trusts to speak the truth, but he is not elected, his post accorded to him instead by social standing and perceived knowledge and understanding of politics. These days we call them Special Advisors and they are no less connected, nor any less trusted by those who require advice and guidance from someone outside the circle of democratically elected officials. 

In order to be elected consul, it is not enough for Coriolanus to have shown his mettle on the battle field, where he excels and understands the clear aims of what he must do. He is asked to collect notes from the phlebians, the ordinary citizens of Rome who are not wealthy and connected but who are 'normal' people. These notes must be collected in order for him to have been 'elected' as far as I can make out. It is the modern day equivalent of a ballot with no box, where the electorate hand their papers directly to the man they want to elect, or instead withhold them.

Coriolanus is a man of class. But he is also a man of war. Like the old Kings of Western Europe, he is uncomfortable with the political manipulations of power, or rather lacks the personality, and so instead ends up on the end of the strings of those who do. But those strings cannot contain his core beliefs, which are that the phlebians, the ordinary citizen do not deserve what the state gives them, because they do not fight and do not earn it. Because this tale is missing a Press Office, his opinions arrive at the foot of the citizen unfiltered and unmoderated and the citizens dislike this and rise up, fanned by the well placed words of the tribunes. 

Coriolanus leaves Rome and this is where I leave him, except to say that he ends the story dangling from his feet above the stage, his throat cut as a traitor. 

Coriolanus is a man. Nothing more. He is his mothers son, his advisors listener and his tribunes target. His wife is an irrelevance. And so we must close the circle to acknowledge that our Prime Minister is just a man, his mothers son, his advisors listener and the medias target. He is not superhero. He is not script written. He is not a figment of imagination. He is real, of flesh and blood.

And like Coriolanus he makes mistakes. And so do his fellow elected officials, who these days spend less time it would seem manipulating the electorate because the media has become a wedge to prevent them, and instead spend far more time than perhaps they should turning their manipulations onto their Leader. Possibly. I cannot speak for the current government, only for past ones. Mandelson, Blair and Brown spring to mind.

So what's the point of all this?

Coriolanus was a great warrior but he was no politician. But because he was a great warrior, he was wedged into becoming a politician. He was honest and spoke the truth at every turn, unable to hide his disdain of the ordinary man. Eventually, inevitably, he was crucified for this.

Sound familiar?

Well actually it doesn't does it. What actually happens is this. A man is elected, Prime Minister or MP. He has good intentions, because they all do. Whether you agree with the policies the good intentions are based or no is completely irrelevant here, the relevance is the starting with those good intentions. Clear objectives. Brave hearts. A determination to change something for the better and leave a legacy. Yes, the leaving a legacy bit is egotistical but bear with me. You've got to forgive them something, because they're human. As are we all, and if you delude yourself into thinking you would do better, well... we'll come to that in a moment.

So they start with good intentions. And then reality gets in the way. Inherited omnishambles, press offices, communications teams, the media, the opposition who have nothing to lose, the fact that you are no longer in opposition and the game has completely changed, all this gets in the way. And the man you were, the honest man, the man who had decided to be open and brave, stand by his pole planted firmly at the top of the mountain called 'Good politics' disappears in a melee of voices clamoring about timings, messages, crisis, reactions, 24 hour rolling news responses and being doorstepped at 4am.

To put not to fine a point on it, a man inevitably walks into this machine as one thing and inevitably walks out another. 

We ask great things of our leaders. All of them. We ask them to be truthful and honest and then we crucify them when they are not. Or rather the media do. But you buy that media, you watch it, you pay money into it's big fat machines. You are responsible whether you like it or not, every single time you buy a front page splash of yet another expenses scandal so you can take it home, devour the details and tut under your breath the next day when it comes up over lunch. Expenses scandals are the red button for the media. It sells papers like Diana used to. And an MP being honest doesn't. You don't want to hear when an MP does something right. You don't want to hear when an MP is being honest. I know you don't because it doesn't sell papers. Unless that honesty is at cross purposes with his own government's policy. Then you're all over it. Because he did something wrong by being honest.

You get what you deserve.

We ask them to deal with the business of the day. Some days, that's a big lot of business. Russian, currencies, global economies, US foreign policy - all of it lands on someones desk. That someone works until 11pm, midnight, 1am, 2am, 3am, so you can sleep in your nice warm bed with your nice warm children tucked up safely in the room next to you without having to worry about any of this because someone else is doing the worrying for you. That person has children and a wife too but you don't think about that because that would be too difficult. And then when they make the wrong decision, guess what happens? The media tears that decision apart, and the subsequently the person who made it, they tear them apart too. Like a pack of animals, no one will rest until there is a name. It's not enough to have a group of names. No. It has to be one name. And no one cares how many good decisions that person has made prior to making that one bad decision. And no one asks if there is a better qualified person to replace them, which often there is not. No. Instead he is fired. Or resigns. Which is basically being fired but politely.

You get what you deserve.

We ask them to look perfect for TV. For camera. Make up and well fitting suits. Heels but only kitten and pearls but only if they're 'on trend'. We pillory them for their weight, for looking podgy (it might be steroids but lets not talk about the shocking fact that an MP might get ill), for getting out of breath (they cared enough to run, it was important enough, god damnit, for that person to run), for wearing the wrong earrings or the wrong colour shoes. We laugh at them. We mock them. We disrespect them and the fact that they may have more important things to think about than what's in their handbag at every turn.

You get what you deserve.

I could go on and on and on. Out of touch. Too posh. Too Scottish. Too down to earth, not down to earth enough, cross eyed, wearing glasses which glint on television, gaps in their teeth, sack of potatoes in that dress, wrong decision, right decision but never fast enough, considered decision was considered too long, you didn't look like you cared, god why on earth do we want MP's that care so much they cry...

You get everything that you deserve.

As a result, a result of all of this, the final mockery of our democratic process is as comedian telling people to disengage entirely from it. Don't vote he says. Express your ire and anger in a different way he says. Nothing happens. I tell you why nothing happened. There is no call to arms so great that it could motivate anyone to take action, no personality nor leader that can fix this mess we have got ourselves into. You say you want normal people to represent the normal people but there is no space for normal people any more, because normal people cry and have kids and sick down their front and have to wear glasses because they're too icked out to wear contact lenses and break arms having fun at the weekend and want to go on holiday where they want to go on holiday not where the fucking papers think it's okay for them to go on holiday.

Those of you who do bother to vote whine a year later that you didn't vote for that policy that's steam rollering through your beloved NHS or your education system. Well you did. If you're naive and stupid enough to not do your research on something so important that has been minimised completely to ticking a box after some random bloke may or may not have bothered to knock on your door during the day while you were at work cos he does have a family to go home to in the evenings who you may or may not have actually asked questions of regarding those policies which are so damn important to you...

You got what you deserved.

This is it people. The end. There is no where else to go in a democracy. Voter apathy means mess. No decisive winner means mess. Politics isn't clear cut and occasionally it does result in a complete mess. Dithering results in mess. Not doing your homework results in mess. Not cutting people some slack results in mess. People are mess. People are human. You elected human beings, not some group of Toshiba robots who box tick endlessly without even thinking about it. 2am or 2pm, there is thought. It's more thought than you'll have, and it will be a bigger decision, that one decision on that one day, than any you will have made in your life short of getting married or having a child. 

You entrust super scary massive shit to these people. Either accord them some respect and do some homework and work out who you actually believe in and trust to represent you and what you want and how you want to live your life or stop whining, devouring the trash in the newspapers and let them get on with it. 

Trust them, or trust yourselves. But for gods sake pick one. Because we really don't want to go back to the end of the beginning of this story where a man hangs by his feet with his throat cut.