Friday, 10 February 2017

Around Skyrim Without a Thune





Skyrim, how I love thee. The only game I've never grown entirely tired of playing (apart from Fire Emblem), Skyrim is still on my PS3, and this time Eve and I have undertaken a slightly different tack.

At the moment our character (a female Imperial called Helena Justina*) is level 63, she is relearning the One-Handed skill, and has maxed out Smithing, Two-Handed, Heavy Armour and only has Pickpocket below level 30. She's completed the Companions and Mages College quests and could become Thegn of Falkreath, Dawnstar, Winterhold, and Solitude if she chose to (she is the Thegn of Riften, but only because we wanted a house, Eve is passionate about loot and enjoys Alchemy much more than I). There's a large bounty on her head because I got a bit sword happy in Marketh, and went to town on the guards there in the stupid big quest - you may have gathered we don't like that particular plotline). We have raided tombs and barrows, defeated Dragon Priests, Draugr Deathlords and even ventured to the shores of Solstheim to adventure there.

So what's different? This all sounds pretty normal for the game, doesn't it?

The catch is, we haven't triggered the Dragonborn quest. Aside from the opening part where Alduin destroys Helgen, that quest has gone entirely untouched. There are no dragons at places like Mount Anthor and while we're picking the words for Thunes up as we play that's all; they can't be unlocked. We can't even undertake to weakly Unrelenting Force a bandit back a few feet if we're in danger of dying. Instead, we have been forced to rely on skills and magic, investigating thing that we do not usually make use of. For example, we have been using Illusion more than usual (it's not a favourite spell skill because a lot of the time it's simply too fiddly and seems to be more trouble than its worth) and investing heavily in the various armour spells you get in Alteration, even if we aren't brave enough to go without armour yet.

It is actually a fun way of playing, forcing us (well me, really - Eve's a bit of a back seat player unless it involves mixing potions or enchanting items) to change the way we approach things. I have a bad habit of leading with Shouts, using Fire Breath or Marked for Death in the first foray. Not being able to do that means that the character uses more stealth and sniping than usual. She doesn't charge into battle nearly as much as other characters we have played. Her skills matter more, she has to be able to strike hard and fast because there's no backup to reach for if things go wrong. Not having the Thunes has made me a better player in many ways because I use the game's inbuilt skills to buff her up and make her more powerful though magic (which means getting XP).

There's an element of humour to it too, running through the Robots, I mean Guards (sorry, my headcanon is that the city Guards are actually robots, which is why they say the same things and you barely ever get to see their faces) and hearing them make comments about dragon attacks. We both know full well that there won't be any until we actually trigger the quest, and even then they won't really start up until we trigger the Blades quest, another thing that will happen late in the game as neither of us has time for them.

The downside of playing this way is that at some point I have to undertake the main quest, which means that I'll have to face Ancient Dragons from the get go instead of progressing through the ranks of dragon kind in a nice orderly fashion. That does not seem so bad, though, it always seemed a bit odd that the game served up draconic foes in a nice, neat order to test your mettle against. This way the big guys will attack and get taken down (at which point I can turn Smithing Legendary because I'll get to make a suit of Dragon Scale Armour).

So, yeah. It's a huge amount of fun even if we have not really revelled in the many factions that dominate the game. I would definitely recommend playing this way as a change to the normal way Skyrim runs.

*The name is stolen from the Falco novels, where Helena is the Roman Private Informer's ally and squeeze.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Again, with Purpose

By K. Steitz



When I was an awkward, bookish teenager, my favorite novels were The Blue Sword and The Hero and the  Crown by Robin McKinley. Those books are still in my collection; their pages are dog-eared, yellowed, the spines are broken. I loved them deeply and visited them regularly. The main characters in both books were these incredible young women who never quite fit in, but cared desperately for their chosen family and fought tooth-and-nail to protect them. At the time, I didn’t think very hard about why I loved them, or how I had found some of the few books in the genre that had female protagonists- I just loved them.

As I grew, as we all must, I learned that fantasy is a genre for boys. It is about strapping young men who come from modest backgrounds and save their homes/countries/etc, or save their lovers whose names never quite matter. I learned that these are stories of wish fulfillment. These stories, and women, and the world, were almost always told through the eyes of men. I heard the phrase “wish fulfillment” and I thought, “Yeah, okay, that sounds right.”

But what if this genre isn’t just wish fulfillment? Now that we have stories told by and for men and women, perhaps we’re looking at something different? What still draws us to Joseph Campbell’s hero cycle? Now, so far from my teens, I wonder if it’s something different. Perhaps these resonate with us because it is not just merely fantasy or wish fulfillment, but because these plots, these heroes and heroines represent purpose fulfillment.

We struggle day in and day out to justify our 8 to 5 office jobs that are at their core, just busy work. We spend the majority of our lives navigating daily life for systems of government and capitalism that will never benefit most of us. We have no grand destiny, and many of us have lost our purpose, but we can read novels of fantastic people and places, making a difference, finding the courage to follow their dreams, to fight the good fight. Wouldn’t it be brave if we followed our own dreams? During these times, wouldn’t it be brave to make a difference?

Steve's note

K. Steitz is a kickass poet, roller derby... player (is that the right word) and feminist. In 2013 she released her first poetry collection A Record of Night and she blogs at But ah, my foes and oh, my friends.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

The Last Refuge of a Scoundrel?

Patriotism.

It's an issue of growing concern, as it waxes in strength across the West, threatening the hard-won cooperation of the EU and America, threatening in the latter to tip into full-blown Nationalism. Defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as: The quality of being patriotic; vigorous support for one's country, I have to say I am not a patriot. Or at least I don't consider myself to be one. In the UK it is a word that is too often associated with the far right of politics, with skinheads and racists. The chant of 'two world wars and one world cup' sums up the attitude of many people and a lot of them are the sort who ask non-white citizens 'when are you going home' rather than accepting multicultural values. I feel it's an unthinking, unreasoning thing, that we're expected to adopt without considering what we're actually supporting. It speaks of exceptionalism, often held in the most myopic terms, wilfully ignoring the work done elsewhere in the world that may be of equal or even better quality. Like the appeals to a British character, it ignores things in order to make its point and spread throughout the population, relying on stereotypes. We might be proud of the British sense of humour, but what nation would admit to being a bunch of humourless idiots? Appeals to science and literature will be met with responses of other countries' achievements and they are right to do so. Shakespeare may be seen as the father of British literature, but he is simply one of many such literary giants (and it could be argued that the UK invests too much in his oeuvre to the detriment of other playwrights and poets). Of course, his canonisation as a sort of secular saint was in itself an act of patriotism, as the 18th Century country sought to create clear blue water between itself and the Papist continent. There was a rejection of Catholic values and at the same time a sort of demonisation of the 'un-English' way of life the mainland espoused. This can be seen in many of the novels that comprise the Gothic, and even in later works like Dracula, where Europeans come in two forms, positively strange or rakish and sex obsessed (even if that is through the medium of blood).

I don't see how anyone, living in the modern age, can be entirely patriotic, indeed I would argue that patriotism is not a desirable trait unless it is harnessed to a keen analytical brain that seeks to make things better for the people of the country. If that will is lacking, it is simply a desire to maintain the status quo, acting a way to shore identity up. Things might be bad here, but at least we're not French, or whatever. Consequently, aside from the Loyal Opposition version of the impulse, I am forced to agree with the idea that it is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

Where I do find pride in my country's achievements it is almost always in the past, rather than as a reflection of our current character (most of which I believe to have been hijacked by international capitalism and repackaged and sold back to us in the form of tat). Even so, I feel you have to take things with a pinch of salt, so much of the history that children are taught is a form of propaganda, a way to explain how the nation arrives at the present day without paying too much attention to detail. I often find myself wondering how many patriots know about Britain's invention of the concentration camp, the Indian Mutiny, Khartoum, and the worst excesses of our Empire (which you could argue we acquired because of a mix of racism and the East India Company running up massive debts from their constant wars). 

This being said, there are things I am proud of about my homeland - it isn't all doom and gloom. Here are five of them:

1) Goth and Punk. Britain has a good habit of taking American art and reinventing it. The two subcultures of Goth and Punk are very much examples of this. The Ramones' sound crossed the Atlantic and was seized upon by disaffected youth, transformed into Punk (which in the UK was as much about class warfare, anger at elders and a desire to reject 'normal' behaviour as anything else), and that grew into Goth, which took the same energy and turned it inwards, focusing on a sartorial, graceful rebellion. They are both beautiful, wild, flowers, full of promise and cynical fervor. I consider them one of the truest expressions of Britishness. 

2) The British Invasion of Comics. In the 1980s a wave of British writers started working at DC Comics and transformed the form. They brought a hard bitten, mature tone that was a world away from the funny suits and escaping villains taht had dominated the genre before. It gave us work lilke Swamp Thing, V for Vendetta, Watchmen and Sandman, and paved the way for Transmetropolitan, Lucifer and the Invisibles.

3) Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage/ A pair of visionaries who committed to building the first computer, the Difference Engine. They laboured for many years and ultimately failed, the Difference Engine waas a disaster. But the fact remains they had the foresight to try and pioneered the field for later generations.

4) Thomas Paine and the Rights of Man. The second book of British poltiical theory, The Rights of Man lays out the tenets of classic Liberalism as a creed, and is a book of philosophy dedicated to combating the totalitarian state envisaged by Conservates at the time. As such it is a tonic and a good reminder of what the ideology stood for. I don't agree with all of it (I've never met a rational human being, but bless Liberals for trying to push that as an idea). 

5) Britain's History of Dissent. I have a fondness for underdogs, and for the awkward, eccentric people of the country who go their own way. But I'm proud of the nation's history of dissent, of campaigning, from the Peasant's Revolt onwards. I like that we're a nation that keeps trying and which holds our leaders to account. The Borgeious perspective of an ordered society where there's a place for everyone and everyone is in their place, holds no lustre to me, any more than the stage-managed nature of politics does - I like debate, dissent, exploration of ideas. Anything that allows that is good, in my opinion and I believe we must never stop dreaming of a better way of doing things, and trying to make the world a better place. 

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Resistance?

In many ways, the new year feels depressingly familiar. The themes that dominated 2016 of death and chaos continue to grind their way across the world, scattering reason before them. Tribalism, blind patriotism and the march of nationalism are the background beat to the news reports we read, watch or listen to. What's different is that with the ascension of Donald Trump to the White House the world feels infinitely more dangerous, not least because someone who appears to have all the self-control of a five year in a cookie shop has now taken power. His first week in power has been a salutary lesson in the speed at which change can happen in the modern world and there's little doubt that many of the Executive Orders (http://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2017/01/all-trump-executive-actions-000288) he signed this week had been prepared in advance, probably as long ago as his election victory if not before. He has an agenda and he intends to stick with it, for good or for ill.

From the perspective of a Gen Xer most of what he's doing feels like the juddering movements of a dinosaur, trying desperately to cling to a discredited ideology, making half-hearted motions towards another way, which unfortunately is equally discredited. As someone who thought that nuclear war was something long dead, as small scale warfare is cheaper, easier, and bypasses all those pesky armies and defences it is sobering to see someone ordering fresh missiles. As someone who thought that feminism was at least partly embedded into 'the system' it takes me aback to see what Trump is signing in regards to women's rights. The Standing Rock issue (which I'm not sure is getting enough airplay outside the USA) has been thrown into motion again, which will be bad for the environment and for Native American rights. In the same way I boggle at his ignorance over environmental issues and cringe, in a rare personal note, at his obscene love of gold. At present, the only thing I feel we can really say is that his Presidency will be a gift to the legal profession.


If we step back and look at this from the perspective of philosophy, then Hegel's theory of dialectic development centred around the concepts of thesis, antithesis and synthesis, seems to apply. Hegel believed that History (with a capital H) did not run in a smooth line but instead exists as a series of lurches from one extreme to another, colonising opposing ends of the political spectrum. We can certainly see it in America's sudden desire to detach itself from rest of the world, Britain's longing for an imagined past when the Green and Pleasant Land was solely concerned with what happened within its own borders (the culmination of the poison we call nostalgia), or the fears of swamping from outside forces in the form of migrants from other nations. If we consider it purely from the perspective of economics and global politics we can see how it has happened, globalisation has hollowed out the first world, especially the anglosphere, because the governments of countries like the UK and the USA felt that their people wanted cheaper goods, and arguably listened to 'clever' men who said that it would be better to move jobs and production to other parts of the globe. But nothing came back to replace those jobs and, as the administrations in those countries were wary of meddling in the market - holding it to be self-correcting they did very little to foster new industries to take the place of what had left. Compare the fate of the UK's fishermen to what happened in Sweden where they were helped by government intervention to retrain as telecommunications specialists, fostering the mobile phone industry in that nation*. In mainland Europe, which as far as I know has stronger internal markets and is less dependent on imports as a result, the issue seems to be one of identity and the fear of countries losing something of their natures as a result of displacement (something that is also true of the UK, we can see that in the fears over immigration, especially in parts of the country that have yet to have many non-white people moving into them). Coupled with a lack of investment for the last nine or so years, services have run down and as a result hospitals and schools are stretched. Having bought the idea that austerity is necessary, even though a) once you look at the figures the British government is consistently missing its spending targets and b) the only way to help economies recover is to spend and built - so let's take a moment to applaud at least part of Trump's programme of works even if I do wish he was going to leave the National Parks alone and the 'magic money tree'  idea seems to be coming into effect again with little thought as to how protectionist and anti-technological innovation policies will affect imports of things like cars.

In other areas, this appeal to Hegelian dialectics feels downright insulting. How can gay marriage or equal rights for minorities be considered an extreme? For that matter how can the Fortress Europe, America, and Britain stance much of the West has taken to immigration be taken as an extreme unless we see it as extremely insulting to people fleeing Western caused poverty, climate change and wars? If we take it to be so, does that mean that at any time we see significant advances in the quality of life of people who are not white, straight men we can expect a backlash? How far does that go? Should we expect teddies to be thrown out of prams when we point out that grabbing pussies is wrong, or that gay people have the right to life, or that murdering a transwoman is still a crime?  It feels as if these things are in the centre ground and that shifting away to a position where heterosexual, white male hegemony is not only the norm but everyone else is made to suffer is a hideous aberration. While I appreciate Alain do Botton's philosophical theory, on the ground this is going to hurt and there are going to be horrific consequences as the nature of the state mutates into a new form.

This is the issue that bothers me, and I hope it will not be something that gets swept to one side. The Women's March we saw on the 21st suggests that it won't but at the same time marches only look good on TV, I'm far from convinced of the effect they have on legislators.

The question then is, what do we do to resist the blandishments of a movement that, to borrow Alain de Botton's words, seems to think that the answer to the 'extreme' of the last thirty years or so is to wind the clock back to the 1950s or even earlier? Let us begin by saying that direct, violent, action is not going to work. Even if it would be extremely satisfying to reenact V for Vendetta we must remember that as Philip K Dick put it "To fight the Empire is to be infected by its derangement" and "Whoever defeats the Empire becomes the Empire; it proliferates like a virus... thereby it becomes its enemies".** Violent disruption will only beget more violence and in the case of victory it will recreate the conditions it was fighting against (to reference de Botton's video again, see the USSR, the French Revolution, arguably even the Commonwealth period of British history). The problem is that this catches us on a cleft stick. If marches are useless, except to make a point and to populate Police databases of potential troublemakers and violence is self-defeating if we seek to resist, and to evolve the argument, then what can we do?

I feel a little strange here, because the more obvious signs of things changing are in the USA, while I'm a Brit. Despite the rise in violence towards ethnic minorities in the UK my country is managing to resist the sort of muscular rightwing rhetoric that a lot of Americans favour, the last threats to abortion where defeated and to my knowledge there is no appetite to legislate punitively against legal abortions. Similarly, gay equality, such as it is, seems safe and the arguments against sexual reassignment surgery are dwindling (at least it's a trend now, not an abomination in the sight of a fictional deity). However, these elements do exist in my country, there is a danger that someone will see the merits of striking out against minorities. All that sort of lurch to the nastier part of the Right requires is uncertainty, lack of food and purpose and someone will decide to adopt some useful idiots.

Some might say that Anonymous have the right idea, except that their video warning to the UK government a few years ago never seemed to render any results, or if they did they were hushed up by state machinery and never trickled out into the public domain. That is not to say they did not find anything, but that as the Panama Papers and the investigation into paedophilia in the British state showed last year, the current hegemony has become adept at distraction and deflection from issues that would threaten the current order. There is an argument that we need better hackers, I guess, but I'm not sure that's the answer.

We can talk to our representatives, to the parties they belong to. We can make sure they understand that their survival at Westminster or Capitol Hill, or wherever, depends on doing what we ask. Or we can debate with them, trying to win them over to our cause. Of course, many will ignore us, choosing to favour their careers or the party over their constituents. If that happens, don't forget it, vote for someone else, raise their lack of representation at another time, like during a Hustings.

One thing I hope we'll see is the rebirth of serious investigative journalism on both sides of the Atlantic. With the press corp exiled from the White House, and Trump's reaction to a question from a British journalist at the press conference he held with Theresa May, the need to dig into what's hidden and expose it to the world has gained a new urgency. While 'fake news' will become the rallying cry of those in power, as they try to shift attention elsewhere (and they will distract and deflect as best they can) a strong press can work wonders.

Beyond that, I guess we have to go back to basics. We have to talk to people, educate them (hard to do, the myths and legends of politics are harder to slay than dragons), argue openly and passionately for what we believe while keeping our heads If style. We must listen, and not turn away people who have different beliefs and we must be kind because all of us are human.

This may be a useful link to positive activism: http://www.trueactivist.com/10-ways-to-make-positive-change-in-the-world/. If you know of other good sites, please post them below, to start building a resource for anyone who needs it.

*Many thanks to Adrian Middleton for mentioning this on Facebook.
** I found these quotes in Grant Morrison's magnus opus Invisibles, I'm not Dick scholar.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Is It Just Me?

The news stories about Rolf Harris, along with a myriad of other celebrities and their improper behaviour towards children, coupled with the revelations about what's been going on in football, where coaches have also been abusive towards minors, have left me spinning my wheels a bit, as I hate that sort of thing (obviously). I feel similarly about dick pics and men shouting abuse at women in the street. In fact, there are a lot of things we men do in this area that I don't get at all, and which I think are downright skeevy and unpleasant.

More to the point, I just don't comprehend what makes men do this sort of thing. Not at all. It's as if I'm sitting on an island looking at a huge continent of people talking and acting in a way that not only seems alien, but reprehensible.

It may be that I fall too much into the School of Life's 'nice man' category - there are certainly things that resonate with me in the video I've posted below, but I doubt a lot of XYs will feel the same way. It feels as if the internet has enabled more men to act dickishly about sex and to use it as a weapon, a way to intimidate and control people. At least I assume that's what motivates them, I can't imagine a situation where you'd send someone a picture of your bits otherwise, to be honest (I mean I know that men are sex-obsessed and that a large number think that unless we have it off regularly then we'll die or something, but come on that doesn't mean you show yourself to random strangers or proposition anyone with a pulse).

That doesn't address the likes of Harris though or explain how Trump became President of the USA even after the revelations about his 'grabbing pussy' came to light (though it has been suggested that women voted for Trump because what he said was simply the reality of their lives, there was nothing outrageous about it for them; it was just normal life) but I do think the two things are linked. The more horrific men's actions online become, the more likely we are to see them in the material world. Being online is no excuse, even if it's entirely understandable that our brains don't grasp the idea of the internet actually being a public space; it's on a machine in our house or our hand so we can look at it as something private and intimate, whereas it's actually just another city albeit one composed of websites and phone wires. What we do here is public, so perhaps we should behave as we would out in public. Would we flash someone in our local park? If not, why is it okay to send a picture of your bits to a girl?


It does feel as if there is a problem around the issue of men and sex which grows right out of the culture of masculinity that dominates our society. For every dick pic there's someone saying that men are always up for it (we aren't, by the way), and a host of men agreeing with them because to deny it would be to look 'unmanly'. I don't think it's helped by the way that promiscuous men are praised, or by the way women who explore their bodies are 'brave' and 'exciting' but somehow men are meant to be satisfied with the basics. There's a stark contrast in how we treat the sexes when it comes to this subject, and the fact that society seems keen to brush it under the carpet (unless money can be made from exploiting sex) scarcely helps. A social change and more education would be a huge boon here but they're both long term things, and I think we need a fix now. No woman should be bothered by men's sexual desires unless they welcome them (enthusiastically),  No child should ever be subjected to sex at all until they're ready, genuinely ready, preferably with someone their own age.

What we can do is start taking a stand. Don't send that sort of skeevy stuff to anyone (I'm sure you don't actually as I doubt my blog attracts that sort of person) and if your friends start talking in a fashion that way, shut them down. I mean, be gentle about it but don't let them degrade women. This isn't much but it's something; if we started treating people as we wanted to be treated that would be a good thing, right?

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Death: Some Thoughts

Let me tell you a story.

Once there was a lady called Margaret Vobe, she was a kind woman, one of those women who always worries about people, who does their best to make everyone happy. She lived down the road from me as a child, a kindly old lady who was always there with a kind word and a cake if you needed it, or with rhubarb crumble. Then, one day, when she was very old, she contracted Alzheimer's. The change in her character was noticeable almost immediately. She became confused, withdrawn and difficult to predict. On good days you could still see the woman she was, and sometimes in her confusion, she would say things that were amusing - 'there's a cow on the bed', for example. But those were rare and it was more common for her to be... lost, really. And as the disease worked its course, it became more apparent how lost she was and eventually she was nothing more than a little bundle of bones, in a room with a TV.

She was also my Grandmother, so I got to see how it affected my Mum when there were phone calls at four in the morning because Granny thought her own Mum was lying dead in the hallway, or when she ran away from the home she went to because my Grampy needed a break. I saw the impact it on him, the way it hollowed him out as well.

Perhaps it's because of this, that I fail to see death as a horrible, terrible thing. Even with the famous people who died last year (and the many who died who weren't famous - and I'm talking normal deaths here, not things like Aleppo or the multitudes who died in the Mediterranean trying to get to Europe from Africa and the Middle East), I remain of the opinion that death is a good thing, a necessary thing in most cases. It can be tragic, especially if a life is cut short in or before its prime but for many people, it represents an end to pain either for themselves or for their loved ones, We should never forget that, and even in our grief we should never forget how debilitating diseases can be, or that death is part of nature, not an opt-in system.

This, at the start of 2017, is what concerns me. There's no denying that last year was a real annus horriblis for people dying, but we're at a point where a lot of famous people are dying, or have reached the age where they are going to have strokes or heart attacks and will run a greater chance of dying as a result. In fact, we may be heading into a dramatic period where a lot of people die and we, the lucky ones, will have to live through it as best we can. That doesn't mean we should be happy about things like this, but rather that we need to reassess our relationship with death.

Ever since the First World War death has been something of a dicey subject. The Victorians embraced it, to an extent, because it was ever present. In the East End, the average life expectancy was 19 years, infant mortality was high, no matter what your class was. There was a culture around death, memento mori, photographs of the dead (as seen in the film The Others). This reaches back through history, a reminder that we are all mortal.


In the last century that changed, we started to push death away as much as we could. Technology allowed us to live longer, it saved more children; as families grew smaller thanks to contraception, the necessities of urban living children and the growth of 'childhood' as an idea, children stopped being mini adults, or workers and became something else. As a result, their status changed, and today most parents would put the lives of their children before that of their spouse (as Fay Weldon said, in her youth, you would save your partner first because you could always have more children*).

We've had about a hundred years of that attitude and now, as we live longer and the things we die of become more complex, I don't think it works as well and I think it's tipped over into being unhealthy, especially when I see how upset people are that someone who's nearly 100 has died. Especially when the famous die. Admittedly at that point, I find myself wondering what we are mourning, after all, we don't know the person who's died. We have an image of them, yes, but that image has been carefully constructed by publicists and by speeches, books, movies and other art forms. And if all we ever knew them for was their work, we haven't really lost anything at all; those works are still there waiting for us to enjoy them. It's just now we might see them a little differently, might feel that absence. But that's life, you change and grow all the time and you can't dictate the way that happens. It seems awfully selfish in some ways to mourn so publicly, to clutter up social media with how sad we are in these circumstances. We are spared the messy jobs of clearing up the person's life, which must be that much harder when your loved one was in the public eye so much. Even if they managed to keep things secret in life, will someone go through the bins or the bags you sent to the charity shop, and discover something that they wouldn't want to be known? Will that colour their legacy (if for instance a dead singer was discovered to be a rubber fetishist, or a tabletop roleplayer or something that society is a little wary of because it breaks the narrative of what a good person is)?

I worry that what we mourn is ourselves, our passing and the process of getting older. Youth has become so fetishised and nobody wants to grow up. The passing of people who were key to our childhoods does reflect the passing of time, that everything, ultimately, must pass over to whatever happens next (if that's anything at all).

I'm not saying, not to mourn, not to grieve, just be self-aware enough to know what you're mourning. And don't just leave it there. If you're genuinely touched by someone's passing, convert it into action. Donate money to a charity that person would have supported, or to fund research into how they died, or to support people who also suffer from that medical complaint (and take a leaf out of George Michael's book and don't make a song and dance about it, true charity doesn't need Macmillan coffee mornings or garish pins, the act is enough by itself). Consider why they were important to you and try to step into their shoes. Sure, you might not have pull of Carrie Fisher, but you could write about the issues you've been affected by and increase understanding of them, or talk about gay rights, or whatever it is that made you look at the person who has passed and feel inspired by them.

That in part is why I'm writing this blog piece. If I have to choose a hill to die on, so to speak (outside of things like the environment, which I do think is important), it's this. My Grandmother's passing affected me deeply simply because I've always felt she was dead before she stopped breathing. Everything that made her, her, had gone and only a shell remained. It made me realise that life, or its semblance, can be more devastating than the short sharp shock of someone being snatched away. In the case of David Bowie's family, I only hope that the 18 months they lived through with David's cancer gave them enough time to say goodbye, though I suspect they will always find one more thing they wish they'd said.  I imagine the same is true for all the other families out there who have lived with something like cancer, or Alzheimer's.

In the meantime all I can say is memento mori - remember you are mortal and make your life count for something.

*Sadly I can't find the article.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Childhood Influences

The recent death of Carrie Fisher brought a lot of emotion out among my friends, mostly but not all related to her role in Star Wars. It set me thinking about childhood influences and how much of a role they play in our lives. Part of this is because, well, as you know I saw the films too late for them to form much of an influence, and when I did it was through a prism of political theory which probably isn't very helpful but continues to colour how I view the franchise. Eve did find them a big influence, as did a load of my other friends and so I'm left in a sort quandary, wondering what did influence me as a child.

My teens were heavily shaped by Michael Moorcock's work, and by a plethora of D&D fiction among other books. Musically I was into miserablist indie, bands like Kingmaker and the Manic Street Preachers - I wouldn't discover Goth or the delights of RPGs until I went to university. I spent most of my time lusting after Stormbringer, or having weird fantasies about an enchanted panther skin that meant I could transform into said beastie (from memory this was a particularly convoluted power fantasy where my school had been dragged through into a massive, magical rain forest and far from being a little, cowed weakling I was able to be Mr Independent with my swanky coat).  Beyond that, I was heavily into Marvel Comics, especially the X-Men with a huge amount of love for the original five, and especially Archangel.

But my childhood? I don't really know if I'm honest. The only films I remember seeing at the cinema before I was a teenager were Disney's Robin Hood, The Jungle Book (twice), Return of the Jedi and Back to the Future, which I only got to see because I pestered my Mum enough for her to come to see it with me. Cinema wasn't really part of my parents' lives, in the same way, that Fantasy and Science Fiction weren't. Beyond that the only exposure to film I really remember was when my parents had their annual cheese and wine parties and I was pushed off to perform video duties with a hired VCR and their friends' sprogs. This was usually an exercise in confirming how little I knew about Film as the guests would invariably have seen things like Sword in the Stone and had no interest in seeing it again. For my parents, these things were distractions, they were adults in the old school and had 'put away childish things', from what I recall.

I probably only got into the genres because of my Grampy, and even then I'd read his big fat book of myths before I even knew about the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings. TV was the same, Colin Baker was the Doctor by the time I saw any Doctor Who*, so perhaps I missed out on the 'cower behind the sofa' years, and while I watched He-Man and played with the toys I had, it was never the huge influence that it seems to have been on other people (and my favourite toy was always Lego). To be honest, beyond the moratorium on watching Grange Hill (a children's soap opera which dealt with things like drug addiction and bullying in rather too much detail for many parents' comfort) and a desire to keep my sister and I from watching ITV as much as possible, I struggle to remember much about telly from when I was a child at all.

Books are clearer, not just the classics like Tolkien, Carrol and Lewis, but authors like Rosemary ManningRosemary Sutcliff and others. I even read some SF with a lot of clones in, which were probably what we'd call Young Adult today, but in those days were just children's books. It puts me in an odd situation where death has already claimed most of the people I would associate with growing up.

I'm not sure where that leaves me today, apart from often looking on in confusion as friends fall apart because of the high number of famous people who are dying (sadly I fear the next few years are going to be rough because we're reaching the point where the Baby Boomers are passing over in increasing numbers and us Gen X types are left holding the ball). I understand that they've been inspired by the people who are dying but to be honest, because I don't see death as a great and terrible thing and because, as I said, most of the famous people who shaped my childhood are already gone (or are connected to things in a fashion that doesn't impact on my enjoyment of said things directly), it feels odd. That's not a judgement on them, probably more of a sign that I'm disconnected from the rest of humanity.

*The age of 8 was apparently a pivotal one for me, as that's when I read Lord of the Rings, saw Dr Who, the friend who's birthday treat was see Jedi was turning 8, and I learnt my first swear word because my Dad had his nervous breakdown.