Author: thomasbw84

Why I’ll Vote Labour in the General Election

Why I’ll Vote Labour in the General Election

Tomorrow brings the snap General Election in the UK. I’ll be voting Labour, and felt like sharing some perspectives on why before the ballots close on Thursday night.

I have never voted for the Tories, but I’m further away than ever from even being close to doing so. Their campaign has been typified by aloofness, bone-headed policies, naked and cynical opportunism and, worst of all, lies. The party that has governed this country for about a decade tries to shift the conversation from its record and does so through the worst kind of politics – insults, untruths and deception.

There’s a reason the Tories don’t want to focus on their record. They claim to be the party for workers, but that’s an extraordinarily bold-faced lie. They’re the party for wealthier workers and business owners, but think that lifting the minimum tax threshold compensates for everything else they take away. I benefit from some Tory policies like tax, but I despise them, because choosing your vote shouldn’t be about which party boosts your coffers, it should be about what you believe is right.

In years of austerity, which hasn’t done enough to alleviate the UK’s deficit despite that being the apparent goal, the Tories have targeted those that will never give them a vote anyway, and those with the least ability to fight back. Single parents (especially women), low income workers and most disgracefully the disabled have been hit with painful cuts. We’re a country that wastes money on missiles and all sorts of extraneous policies without a second thought, yet will slash and restructure benefits to the most needy to squeeze out modest savings in the budget.

A society is defined by how it treats those in the most need, how it cares for its poor and disadvantaged. Under the Tories those with disabilities have suffered terribly, especially those medically unable to work or struggling to find employment even if they can. The long term unemployed are treated like criminals, becoming numbers in the system of cuts when their stories need to be understood. We have people in full time jobs using food banks because our economy is designed to not give a shit about anyone but the comfortable middle class and above. If you don’t ‘get on and do well’ in a specific way, you have no place in a Conservative Britain.

The Tories know this, so how do they try to win the votes of those they continually fuck over year after year? Fear. They play on anxieties over immigration, paint other parties as ‘imposters’ that want to ruin the UK in EU Brexit talks, and they even politicise terror attacks. The most recent terrorist attack in London came right as the polls showed Labour closing in, so what does May do? Does she remain dignified and Prime Ministerial? No, she politicises terror. Despite being in power she talks like a right-wing opposition, playing into the terrorist’s hands by talking of scrapping human rights if it allows for ‘tougher’ laws.

The Tory’s behaviour this week has been a disgrace, and they weaken us in the face of terror. The reason terrorists use homemade bombs or, if they can’t even do that, drive a car into pedestrians and then attack them with knives, is that they’re weak. They’re laughably weak, but terror is powerful, so they act spontaneously and indiscriminately in order to turn us against our values. Principles of equality, compassion, kindness, justice, art, culture; courage, too, which so many have shown when confronting and resisting their attackers. Terrorists want us to forget those things because they’re pathetic, and they’re envious. May, in a desperate bid to avert an electoral shock, has embraced the fear and, in the process, given the terrorists a win.

Never mind that it’s the Tories that cut police numbers and stretch our defensive and intelligence capabilities. They don’t want to talk about how their failures make police men and women work against tougher odds. When senior police officers call our current PM, former Home Secretary and her government blatant liars, then we have a problem.

So that’s why I won’t vote Tory, but why Labour? Well, the Lib Dems are an irrelevance (and Farron does little to impress me), and under our electoral system the Greens have no chance. Though I live in Scotland I cannot vote for the SNP, as they focus on Independence yet do little governing – all talk and hardly any action.

As for Labour, my feelings towards Corbyn have been all over the place. When he became party leader I was excited, but all the resultant in-fighting in the party was problematic and he handled it poorly. He threw out dissenters and put together a cabinet that (in the early days) was amateurish. McDonnell is a bit baffling and inconsistent, and though I hope she gets well soon Diane Abbott is often a bit of a disaster.

And yet, with the focus of an election and in the face of the Tories, Corbyn and his team (which has improved) has fought the good fight. Rather than a cautious manifesto he produced an outline for a fairer country, thinking to hell with the cynics that wouldn’t vote for him anyway. He puts those in need first, and while not all of the policies are top-draw, the principles behind them and the alternative they offer is enticing.

Corbyn asks us to look forward with hope, not fear. He asks us to have empathy for others, to consider how the country can help everyone rather than how it can help us as individuals. He offers a genuine alternative.

Ultimately, I think the reality is that the polls will be a false dawn, and that the Tories will win their majority. I’ll be devastated if that happens, but it’s what my gut tells me is coming. All I can do, though, is play my part and vote.

Whatever your allegiance, I encourage you to do the same. Vote, as it’s a decision that matters more than ever this year.

The Hammersmith Stranger

The Hammersmith Stranger

Not too long ago I was in London for work, and by ‘work’ I mean playing some video games. Now, to be fair, it was a bit of a gruelling day.

Before the London trip I worked 8am until about 8pm, slept for a few hours, and was then awake from 11pm through the night. Covering a live stream out of Tokyo from 3am, I then had a 6.20am flight out of Edinburgh, made my way from Gatwick to London Victoria, and then from there to Hammersmith. Being in a crowded and loud space on so little sleep was both fun (because of the company and gaming) but tiring. I was most definitely rather stretched, sweaty and weary by mid-afternoon as I headed to Hammersmith Underground to make my way to Heathrow – British Airways had cancelled a flight, hence the different airports.

Now, London is a strange place. It’s where the action is, frankly, but I’ve never been a fan. I’ve been to a range of interesting cities at different points in my life – Chicago, Amsterdam, Paris, Hamburg, plus pretty much all the major cities in the UK – and London is easily my least favourite. I’m sorry Londoners, but that’s how it is for me.

For one thing, it’s a place where many of its residents seem downright miserable, and I don’t blame them. Life happens at 100mph there, and few seem to take the time to breathe and count to ten. It’s expensive while also feeling cheap, and I once had a woman actually look at me in horror when I asked for directions a few years ago – much to my colleague’s amusement. They told me you can’t just ask a stranger for directions in London. Well, that’s just rather sad, and it’s something I’ve done in every other city with better results. To be fair, on this most recent trip I asked someone in a shop for directions and they helped me, so there are exceptions to the rule.

In any case, back to the tube station. I was standing and minding my own business, dressed smartly while also no doubt looking a bit scruffy with wind bedraggled hair and a barely groomed beard, when a man appeared next to me and just started talking.

I would guess he was in his late 60s, but perhaps younger and worn down by life. Shorter than me (which is rare) at about 5 foot 5, his clothes were a little worse for wear and he was clutching a travel bag and a Sainsbury’s plastic bag. He had thinning hair and yellowing teeth, while his hands were blackened at the finger tips – the reason for that would become clear.

He had a strong Irish accent (Northern I think) and initially he was talking about Southampton train station; I’m not sure why and I struggled to get that context out of him. He quickly moved on and explained that he’d had a charity volunteer asking him for money, but that he needed the pound more than them as his flat had burned down.

For my part, I mainly just listened, occasionally pitching in with sympathetic comments. From what he told me he’d woken up to discover a fire in his flat, so he grabbed what he could and got out while waiting for the Fire Brigade. He explained that he’d lost everything, and multiple times talked about ‘gardening stuff’ he’d collected for thousands of pounds; he’d seemingly built up this equipment to do some work as a handyman on people’s gardens and property.

I’m giving you the short version, as over the course of five minutes he often repeated points over and over. He then said the police had held him for 24 hours on suspicion of starting the fire himself. They’d let him go but he was still a ‘suspect’, though he was bemused as to why he’d burn down his flat and leave himself broke and homeless; this is only his side of the story, of course.

Now he was trying to figure out where to sleep, and that was the crux of it. He didn’t want anything from me, this wasn’t a build-up to asking for money, he just wanted someone to talk to. In addition to losing his home and being broke in London, I think a big problem he had was loneliness. A lifechanging event had happened and he didn’t seem to have anyone to share it with. All I did was stand there, engage and listen to him.

It was an encounter that I found saddening, of course, empathetic of the plight this man seemed to be in, and not having much to offer him but a sympathetic ear. Yet looking around the station most were visibly trying to avoid him, as if his poverty and desperation was infectious. A nearby woman actually looked at him and visibly gestured that he was unhygienic, an act so childish and callous that I had no idea how to react.

My train arrived, I wished him the best and he returned the favour, smiling as I departed – “Remember, money isn’t everything” were his final words to me. I was just a random guy, but in a world that is sometimes incredibly cruel and shitty he was grateful to have simply had a conversation.

I hope he’s alright, though I worry he won’t get far without help from someone, somewhere. I’m not sure if I could have done much for him. Should I have offered a bit of money, would that have offended him? Too late to say.

Why did I write this? I guess I wanted to recount the tale because we all fear loneliness, having nothing or no-one and finding little sympathy from others. I worry sometimes about my future life, like everyone does. I’m the youngest in my family and I’m single, and have lost touch with so many of my friends – I have time to try and fix these things, of course, but don’t want to end up a 70 year-old on my own.

I also wrote this to highlight that, as a species, we do show some signs of drifting away from each other, losing the ability to help and support those weaker or less fortunate than ourselves. It’s easy to get sucked into our lives and ambitions, while being ‘winners’ is highlighted by some as the biggest priority in life. I happen to think that the greatest reflection of a society is how they treat those that need the most help. A lot of the time people do show incredible humanity, and demonstrate heartening acts of kindness to help others. Yet there are aspects of current life that show the opposite – vulnerable people are pushed out, shunned and isolated.

I think people can be amazing, generous and thoughtful. I just hope those instincts win through, and that we don’t descend into being a society where those out of luck and with nothing to their name are left to wander alone, desperate for even the simplest human connection or show of empathy.

The Commuter

The Commuter

This is a rough and unfinished early draft / excerpt from a planned novel. The bulk of the novel will take place at a later point in the protagonist’s lifetime, but in short interceding chapters he’ll be unnamed and characterised by key actions in his old life. In this case he’s a city worker going on his daily commute.

He knew that sleep wouldn’t come when the radio clock switched to 04:37, meaning he had just 1 hour and 53 minutes before the alarm would go off. If he fell under now he’d miss the alarm, would be late for work and, quite possibly, go further down a path ending in unemployment. That wouldn’t be particularly helpful with two sets of bills to pay.

First came the phone, perfect for an absent minded flick through the news, though he wasn’t truly taking it in. It was all a hot mess, in any case. The famine worsening in Africa, increased flooding in the Far East, and food prices were set to rise again as supplies became constrained by spoiled crop yields. Still, that didn’t matter as much as a celebrity on trial for assaulting their partner, apparently.

He popped the TV on, jumping into some streaming to avoid the TV shopping that fills the overnight hours. He put on a film he’d already seen a few times and watched it play out. The TV flickered away for about an hour and 40 minutes, and when the alarm made its noise he sat up, gathered his thoughts and headed for a shower.

It’s an odd feeling, insomnia, rather like being drunk but without the fun, freewheeling spirit that a full session can bring. His head felt twice as heavy as it should, and his thoughts lacked cohesion. Muscle memory and routine served him well, as he wasn’t actually aware of his actions – showering, brushing teeth, making coffee. It was this absent-mindedness that would often cause a panic later in the day, as he struggled to remember whether he locked the door or turned off the relatively fancy coffee maker.

Driving to the station felt similarly laborious, until he reached the bridge. A small one along the road, at this time of year on a sunny day it would wake him up – the sun would strike autumnal trees quite brilliantly, creating a 500 yard stretch of other-worldly colour. The sky a brilliant blue, it was the red and brown leaves that set the scene, a stark contrast to the dull confines of his flat and the muddy exterior of his affordable car. For a moment he would be wide awake, his mind would buzz with energy and thoughts and plans, and he would be grateful for another day.

The colour would fade when he got to the train station.

***

He took the early train in order to nab a parking space, giving an extra 30 minutes to the cause of his work. Grateful to have a job he took the tedium as a sacrifice to be endured; after all, everyone complains about their jobs.

He stood on the platform, crowded with people adorned in various shades of grey. He always hoped to see an extravagant worker stroll onto the platform in a rainbow coloured trench coat, singing and smiling like an extra from a ‘50s musical. Instead there were the massed ranks of employees in ‘formal’ attire, eyes glued to phones.

The crowd was bigger than normal, and rather than squint at the screens he closed his eyes and waited for the low voices of commentary. Tuts and “fuck’s sake” were the script, apart from one man on his phone engaged in a bizarre argument with a doctor’s secretary, or so it seemed. Strains on the health service meant surgeries often opened at 7am, and the man was demanding an explanation for something or other. As he listened the commuter felt sorry for the secretary.

With a train already cancelled the only hope for a seat was for extra carriages to be added to his own service, but it wasn’t to be. The rails clanked and whined, the train came into view and there weren’t enough carriages. The tuts resumed, and he positioned himself in a spot for the third door, calculating who to let ahead and who to barge in front of. His squared his left shoulder in front of the loud health service complainant.

The crush began and he found himself in the open space between carriages; with a slight twist of the hips and oddly splayed feet he got a spot, swivelling his bag to rest at a jaunty angle, occupying a tiny space of air between him and a rather portly fellow. He got one arm on a pole, and realised he was hemmed in for the next 30 minutes.

Initially, he closed his eyes, letting his weary mind enjoy its weight and semi-delirious state; sleep deprivation makes these moments important. To his left, a few bodies away, two young-ish men started up a loud conversation, eschewing the smartphone gazing of everyone else. Man A was talking over his woes at work; Man B was sympathising.

***

Man A: I spoke to Jill, right, and she said I hadn’t been chosen for the grade 5 job, that it had gone to Maria. I was fuckin’ pissed off mate, I could do the job in my sleep. I’d been grade 5 before, but went to grade 4 when I wanted a change, but I’m really a grade 5.

Man B: Yeah man, that sucks. 

Man A: I mean, I was a team leader before. I can do that shit with my eyes closed, and team leaders are on grade 5.

Man B: Aye, but when you go back a grade it’s not easy to climb back up.

Man A: Some of these team leaders don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. I might keep an eye out, look for grade 5 elsewhere.

***

The commuter, who didn’t know where his salary fell in the ‘grade’ stakes, opened his eyes, distracted by what was becoming an increasingly repetitive conversation. Apparently grade 6 managers are the fucking worst.

About 15 people were crammed in the door area, and the commuter looked hopefully for someone more interesting, someone that wouldn’t self-consciously talk banalities about their job as loudly as possible. Candidate number one was a slightly overweight man dressed less formally than the rest, but well enough to still pass in an office. He was stuck with his right arm up as he held onto a grip, and the commuter realised he was looking right into a visibly sweaty armpit.

They exchanged looks, and sweaty armpit man gave a knowingly apologetic look. “Fun way to start the day”, said the commuter. Not exactly a witty remark, but the best he could manage in the circumstances. The two exchanged half laughs, but both felt better.

The commuter looked around for more faces, and locked eyes with a woman that wasn’t looking at her phone. Probably in her late 20s and with no notable sweat under her armpits, she was joining in the brief exchange, albeit without saying a word. She flashed a kind smile; like sweaty armpit man, there was a sincere and genuine sweetness to the exchange. Perhaps conscious of standing out among grumpy screen dwellers, both the commuter and the woman cut off the look with a second smile, shifting their eyes to a neutral spot. For the commuter the visual blank spot was a poster advising against being violent towards train staff.

The train approached the commuter’s station, and he knew a mini-crush and barrier queue was coming. Yet his mind, weary and heavy and slow, did lift slightly. All it took was a smile and eye contact to give him a brighter outlook, some faith in a good day. He stored the feeling, knowing he’d need it for the next 9 hours.

Back to writing, whether I feel like it or not

Back to writing, whether I feel like it or not

Crikey, it’s been months since I posted on here. Doesn’t time fly?

I’ve been in a bit of a creative funk, in some ways, which isn’t a particularly constructive way to pass the time. It’s much easier to keep everything in my own head – less effort, less general malarkey. I have been busy-ish with work, but that’s not really an excuse. Also, it’s not all been bad. I’ve been relaxed and content a lot of the time, with nice things in my life and some pleasing plans for the future. As always I seek a balance of realism and learning about the shitty parts of life, while also keeping my eye on the positives and inherent goodness in the world.

So, a quick breakdown on my late-Summer / early Fall, before I set about a renewed bid to get writing about non-game things.

Some recent highlights were in Edinburgh during Festival season. I got to go to some excellent talks, the best of which was by Gordon Brown. The ‘dour Scot’ that got characterised when he was crushed by a decade on Downing Street (number 11 and then 10) wasn’t there, but an energetic, sparky and fiercely intelligent politician.

Despite his flaws as a politician (they all have them, because they’re just people), I’ve always admired him. I thought a combination of mistakes (no more than his rivals, really), and his election run as PM being blighted as a popularity contest ultimately did for him in Westminster. ‘Just call me Dave’ Cameron played the bright young thing card at the time that had previously worked so well for Blair. Brown looked tired and grumpy by comparison, probably because he’d been working hard for a decade. In any case, his talk at the Edinburgh Book Festival was brilliant. He laid out a vision for a post-Brexit Britain that put logic, optimism and intelligence at its core. I just hope he finds a platform to push it forward.

Another highlight was seeing Billy Elliot at the Playhouse. An extraordinary show, beautifully performed, and also incredibly ballsy. No shyness in tackling controversy, it got stuck into the miners / Thatcher showdown and pulled no punches. I watched the film again too, which is a classic.

I’ve been reading a bit, watching sport, working. I had a grim failure in a freelance gig, but have had a nice time editing an upcoming eBook. As for Nintendo Life, the Nintendo Switch was announced, which cheered me up no end! I also appreciate the fact that I can work weird hours and have freedom in writing style and editorial content. I try to put some humour into articles occasionally, even in the most mundane of news articles. I probably laugh at my own lines more than our readers do, but it makes the days fun.

I dumped RBS as my bank recently, after one too many headlines about them being incompetent shitheads. I shifted my banking to Nationwide, am setting up savings and should be all set to try and buy a house / flat next Spring or Summer. It’s all frightfully boring and grown up.

And that’s it in a nutshell. I still take pleasure in time with family, walking the dog and so on. I’m still hopelessly out of touch with a lot of my friends, which is my fault.

As for what’s next. Well I’ll write something after America elects its President. If it’s Trump then it won’t be a happy piece. I also want to write out a piece that’s been rattling in my head for two months. It’s a short bit of writing called “The Commuter”, and would probably be a chapter in the book that’s also rattling around in my head. I’m giving myself a deadline of Sunday night, 13th November, to at least publish a shitty first draft.

All this because I turned 32 recently. I’ve got plenty of time left, but only if I start using it. Less stuff in my head, more actual action.

Hopefully.

A Day in the Life – Faffing About in Windsor

A Day in the Life – Faffing About in Windsor

I have a lot of long days sat at home in front of the PC, mainly self-imposed, as I try to blend the job that actually pays money with interests that do not. There’s an odd pressure that comes with the territory of being editor on a fairly large website – if it becomes a smaller website, that job probably won’t exist any more; as such the long hours come from trying to maintain success. My fate is also quite closely tied to whether Nintendo does well or not, which isn’t as fun as it sounds. But hey, I’m a believer and an optimist (most of the time).

Days off are relatively rare, then, so a recent chance to travel da’an saath (that’s how cockneys say ‘down south’, right?) was a welcome one. The journey involved a train down to London from sunny Loughborough, then some tube rides and more trains to Windsor, where old Liz II occasionally goes to hang out. It was nice that the travelling was with Ant Dickens, my good friend and employer; the order in which those descriptors come depends on the circumstances, I suppose.

We were going down to try out the new Legend of Zelda game, one of the few occasions I’ve gone on a slightly pointless jolly; after all, our US guys previewed the bejeezus out of it at E3. We met up with the ever energetic and lovely Alex, who produces the YouTube vids for Nintendo Life, and exchanged lots of pleasantries with thoroughly personable and nice Nintendo UK employees; at one point they even stuffed an enormous wad of cash into my pockets as a reward for writing nice things. Just kidding, heck, they didn’t even have any coffee available…

Still, it’s an enduring quirk of the job (and those of our Nintendo UK hosts) that talking about Mario Party is a thing to be done earnestly. My approach to games writing is to try not to take it too seriously, to be honest, for to be po-faced about a game where you steal apples from a giant Goomba is silly. I do some earnest editorials etc when the time is right but, overall, I try not to behave like the colour of Sonic the Hedgehog’s eyes matters.

Windsor, though, is a lovely place to faff about. On another trip there for more video game journalism corruption – I think I was given a free coffee on that occasion – I had a short amount of time in which to eat before heading home at night. The Windsor McDonald’s it was, then, and what a bizarre place. The theatre is just down the road, so I was surrounded by people in their 50s who wore clothes more valuable than my car – a pre-show Big Mac was clearly the meal of choice. As a town it’s pure tourism, but I rather like visiting. If someone wanted to visit a ‘ye olde Rule Britannia’ theme park, I’d just tell them to go to Windsor.

Gallivanting in Windsor is a rare thing for me nowadays, as living in Scotland means I’m a long way from the ‘action’. Still we have soft water up here, and when you have silly hair and a ragged beard, as I most assuredly do, that’s far more important.

 

KBO – The Only Choice When Brexit and Anti-Truth Politics Loom on the Horizon

KBO – The Only Choice When Brexit and Anti-Truth Politics Loom on the Horizon

Politicians don’t always tell the pure, undeniable truth. Nor are they often outright liars. Politics, as I see it, is a necessary blend of artifice and reality – some like to say we don’t need it, but life without politics is a dysfunctional dystopia. Everything is politics, from the price of the milk to the condition of the roads you drive on, to whether there are enough bins for disposing of your dog’s mess on a walk.

I was a teenager when ‘New Labour’ rose to power in the late ’90s, and I was enthralled. There was such ambition in their actions and it seemed, looking on relatively casually and with young eyes, that it was a truly progressive government trying to make life better. They arguably did so in various ways, with things like the minimum wage, but then the Iraq war happened.

By the time Blair and Bush had pretty much made their minds up, and we’re talking a year or so before the invasion, I was playing in a Supporter’s Football Team. One of my favourite team-mates, a generous and all-round good guy, joined the Territorial Army and, as I was 17-18 at the time, said I should think about doing the same. Easy money, fun training, that was the pitch. I counter-offered: please leave the TAs, I said, as we’ll be at war soon and they might send you. He didn’t think it was likely.

When he came back from the war, he seemed – based on my encounters with him – to be a changed man. He was still warm and generous, but he laughed less. The glint had gone from his eye. I wasn’t the only one who thought this, my parents (also involved in that supporter’s team) saw it too. I wasn’t with the team much longer for unrelated reasons, but it saddened me and I wish I hadn’t lost touch with him. He was starting a new career with the Police and was getting married last I heard (that was a LONG time ago), so I hope he’s having a great life.

The Iraq War, though, was an early example in my lifetime of anti-truth politics. Millions could smell a rat at the time and marched on London to share that view, but the government ignored it. They cited ‘Intelligence’ that couldn’t be shared, and bluffed past revelations that the so-called smoking gun dossier was proven to be full of nonsense. The war happened, and years later – having had access to the materials needed – the Chilcot Enquiry reinforced what many including me had suspected. We were dragged into a damaging war based on exaggerations, half-truths and outright lies.

I felt a lot of anger when I watched some of Tony Blair’s press conference after the Chilcot Enquiry eviscerated his decision making and post-war planning. He trotted out arguments that few would counter outright – Saddam Hussein was a despot that killed his own people, he once had weapons, and he probably had some old chemical weapons lying around even if, shucks, we couldn’t find them. Despite ditching the UN process he tried to imply he had no choice, that the decision had to be made.

It was pathological lying, and I’m not sure Blair even realises how ludicrous he sounded contradicting so much evidence. Yet it was his truth, as he saw it, and he wouldn’t be dissuaded. Thanks to that we had a war, Iraq then collapsed into civil war, and it is now a modern-day nightmare of a place in a day-to-day battle with Daesh (ISIL) and other terrorist groups.

This Anti-Truth approach is everywhere right now, too, and it’s damaging. Those peddling that approach to politics often seem to be so deluded that they believe their own nonsense on a deep-rooted level. Donald Trump makes shit up all the time, but seems to believe it just because he says it. The Brexit campaign had a little more awareness, in that it opted for calculated lies – “there’ll be no chaos, we’ll have hundreds of millions of pounds extra per week for the NHS, the EU will give us a great deal, we’ll be ‘Great Britain’ again”. When the vote for Brexit came and markets crashed, at least they showed they weren’t completely mad – they backtracked, admitted those promises weren’t real, and all ran off from their responsibilities, leaving it to others to fix the mess.

The saddest part of all this? We’re in an anti-intellectual age, where many feel they know better than experts, that an ‘elite’ are making up negative angles for some twisted pleasure. Much of what was predicted after Brexit has happened so far – the Pound continues to fall, real estate investment funds are being locked to stop investors bolting, business are contemplating leaving the City of London, the EU is not keen to give us a sweet deal. Experts said this would happen, yet those with expertise in various areas tell people about this, about what’s ACTUALLY happening, and plenty say they’re negative doom-mongers.

Don’t give us truth, some say, give us placebos so we don’t worry about problems heading our way.

Well, denial isn’t the answer for everyone. Ultimately, it’s important to be blunt and give opinions on problems in the world, and in our small ways try to help deal with the situation. It’s fine to despair occasionally, but at the end of the day this crazy world is the only one we have. If people don’t want truth and logic, tough, some of us just have to find ways to change those attitudes, and to make the best of bad scenarios.

All we can do is KBO – keep buggering on.

Writer’s Block,Voting ‘Remain’ and the Grim Media

It’s been over two months since I last posted on here, which seems crazy. There’ve been a few factors behind that, but I haven’t been in a cave wasting the days away – that said, it’s been a strange couple of months.

For one thing I’ve been struggling with writer’s block, or a form of it. As my day job is to write a whole lot of articles about video games that may seem contradictory, but ultimately that’s work with a formula. I’ve been doing it for a number of years and have my own methods, and the crux is that even when writing is a dreadful chore I can do it in that context. I follow the formula and, like so many people, simply get on with my job.

Part of that ‘block’ has been linked to current events in the wider world, and my feelings about them. I’ve been a heavy reader and follower of the media my whole adult life, and I’ve never known times as grim as these. There’s a lot of anger and outright hatred swimming around, and logical voices are often being shouted down or ignored. The media, as is its job, reports on this poisonous atmosphere, but – combining that obligation with the need to drive circulation and clicks – magnifies it and makes that the prevailing topic. I’ve written about this in the past, how ‘negativity sells’. It’s worked well for Donald Trump, with the US media effectively doing his campaigning for him through relentless exposure. It’s a shallow and dangerous version of politics, and one that’s a threat to any democracy’s health.

Of course, we’ve had our own political campaigns driven by hatred, fear and lies here in the UK. The EU referendum has been a dreadful demonstration of all the worst aspects of modern day political campaigning and media coverage. I now actively dodge televised debates and much of the media coverage for that reason alone. I’ve researched the facts for myself, which often bear little resemblance to the coverage by the press.

Personally, I’m voting In as part of the Remain campaign. It’s an odd vote, which is probably at the core of the issues the Remain team has had, as it’s a vote for an economic and political bloc that is flawed and in need of major change. In my view it’s still better than the alternative, though, with social and economic factors at the core of the matter. I for one also don’t ignore the many, many independent experts in various fields that say Remain is the better choice; it’s the willingness of many to ignore experts – often unfairly branded with a negative connotation of ‘elite’ – that has truly upset me during the whole process.

The problem is that it’s easy to highlight the flaws of the EU, and the fact is that the Brexit campaign has tapped into a lot of anger around the country to do so. There’s an interesting gulf between generations, too, with a lot of polling showing a majority of people aged 35 and under backing remain, and a majority of 50+ backing Brexit. That’s democracy, but it’s a troubling concept that if Brexit wins, we could see figures showing that those that will deal with the consequences of Brexit the least will have made it happen.

Of course, the Brexit campaign leaders (and Remain, in its way) will have to look themselves in the mirror when it’s all finished, which I hope they’ll find difficult. In peddling lies, half-truths and inciting racism and xenophobia, Brexit in particular has shown the worst of Britain.

The killing of Jo Cox was a horrible moment, too. While not directly attributable to either campaign, as such, it was a dreadful coda to weeks of negativity, baiting and dog whistle politics. When learning about her life and career it was plainly obvious that she was a woman of powerful principles and a desire to do good and help those in less fortunate positions. She was the antithesis to the lazy stereotype so many give to politicians. She was a good politician and person – it’s possible to be both. I hope that her legacy will be that people don’t revert to cynicism against all of politics, and that politicians themselves will strive to follow her example in their work.

Ultimately, I’m going to try and stay optimistic that Remain will win, that a silent majority will swing a narrow result.

I’ll wrap up this rambling post with an update on what I’m doing when I’m not working. Well, not much last week (during E3 when I had 18-hour days), but I do have some interesting projects in the works. For one thing I’m still mustering the courage to share some creative writing excerpts, and in actual progress I’ve started teaching myself Python (programming code). I’m treating it as a stepping stone to more advanced languages, with the long term goal of taking that knowledge into some small-time game development. If I can combine writing and game making as creative endeavours and make a living, I’ll consider my life goals largely met.

I’m not entirely happy with where I am in life, but I do reflect on the fact I have a lot to be grateful for. I have a job with flexibility and friends as employers, and the means to look to the future. As I sit at a PC, learning coding from a new Kindle e-reader propped up next to the monitor, and reflect on the things I have and the family that’s a key part of my life, I consider the fact that I’m lucky. I’m getting close to the point where I can realistically start to consider buying a house, too, and these are all luxuries that a lot of people don’t have.

So I’ll keep plugging away and hoping for the best, trying to walk the walk – optimism over negativity, kindness over hatred. We can all do that in our own ways.

Until next time,

Tom

 

The Strange Nature of Dreams

I’m starting, slowly and surely, to get to the point where I’m going to get cracking (properly, for realsies this time) on what will likely be my first novel. I’m planning for it to be a fun process, though at the same time I know it’ll be a tough thing to do. Getting it done around work and general life will be far from easy, but that’s like anything else that’s worth doing.

Anyway, some key segments, which may make their way onto this blog as excerpts, will be centred around dreams. I mean actual dreams we have in our sleep, not aspirations and goals. I think they’re going to be hard to represent and portray, too, as they’re often unintelligible, confusing and immediately forgettable. Well, they are for me.

I often struggle to relate to how dreams are portrayed in movies and popular culture. In many cases they’re largely clear aside from some basic camera filters, or they involve wackiness and bright colours; of course, they’re often narrated in full and with no blank spots. Yet after I dream I often struggle to remember the bulk of what happened – what lingers is the general emotion they triggered, and that’s where the impact is. Again, that’s just my personal experience.

Sometimes the majority of the dream is a fuzzy mess in my memory with the exception of a stand-out moment, normally the point at which I wake up. Sometimes they profoundly affect me, too. Early this week I had a pretty horrendous dream, a nightmare, and like the worst of those it blended reality with a semi-unlikely event. It wasn’t fantastical or crazy, but it had a horrible denouement that rattled me, and I’m only now shaking it off. Part of this is likely my over-sensitivity, but also the fact that in tenuously clinging to reality my bad dreams can strike too close to home.

I want to make dreams an important part of my project, though doing so in a non-derivative way will likely be one of the biggest challenges. I feel like it’s something that, if portrayed well, can be a powerful narrative device. That’s because, in my life, dreams are important and influential on my mood and, sometimes, my broader thinking.

In any case, I’ll see how the idea evolves in the broader scope of the novel. I’m also hoping that the next time I’m awoken by a dream at 4am, it’ll leave a more positive impression.

Escaping the Screens

It’s been a little longer than I expected since my last post, but it’s not been for a lack of desire to write on here. The last week has been particularly busy with work and other mandatory but dull non-work stuff, so this humble little blog had to wait.

After an intense week glued to my PC monitor or laptop, I did value an opportunity over the past weekend to ditch screens and get to the great outdoors. This included a trip into the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, a lovely place in a rather nice part of the city – its altitude also means there are gorgeous views to soak in. I doubt it’ll ever be practical for me to live in that area, but it’s certainly my favourite part of Edinburgh.

I do think getting away from screens is important though, even if it means stubbornly leaving the phone in the pocket when an email notification comes in. Sometimes it can become ‘normal’ to spend hours and hours per day glued to these harshly lighted panels, but it’s not natural. Our computers, phones and TVs are integral to our day to day existence, and they can be hugely valuable parts of our lives, but it does little harm to take a break from them on occasion.

I do have a happy middle-ground, I think, and that’s my old Kindle e-reader. It’s a ‘screen’, yes, but e-ink is amazing (albeit old) tech, and as my model is one of the ancient ones with a keypad it has no backlight; that’s fine, it makes me find some decent light. I think it’s a pity e-readers have fallen away as the market has trended towards cheaper standard tablets – e-ink is lovely technology, mainly because it’s as easy on the eyes as printed text. When I’m out and about and want a lighter bag, or when I’m trying a new novel that I’m unsure of buying in physical form, I often turn to my Kindle. I’ll never support Kindle Unlimited, however, but that’s maybe a topic for another day.

In any case, work and life have been busy, but some novel excerpts and creative writing should be popping up (or starting to) this month.

Until the next one,

TW

 

Constant Online Outrage is a Useless Replacement for Empathy

In recent months I’ve been having a mini crisis in terms of my work. As someone who spends lengthy working days online I see a lot of the good and bad in online culture, and having been doing this ‘job’ for a good few years I’ve seen a shift in how the internet sustains itself. The economy of the web is not just in dollars and pounds, but in trends and mindshare, and I’ve seen the latter non-currency evolve in ugly and facile ways.

I’m at a good age to have a ‘history’ with the web. I remember when it was young, rough around the edges, and loading a low-resolution video would take ages before it would inevitably just buffer anyway. Usage restrictions were tight, so every page view had to be carefully considered. It was a rather humorous place, despite this dog-owner rolling his eyes at the fascination most had with cats.

That’s changed and the web has evolved, however, and I’m not convinced it’s for the better. Along with reality TV the web became a source of celebrity, and as the internet economy grew it began to monetise itself. With monetisation there was a gradual loss of free-wheeling spirit as capitalisation took hold, at least in the mainstream outlets and pages thrown at us by web browsers, and a terrible thing happened – we realised that we could effectively be anonymous or, instead, a fake version of ourselves.

Whereas in the pre-broadband and smartphone era we consumed the web as readers, now we own it, and with that has come the abundance of selfies and celebrities literally only famous for being controversial. Someone can be very rich without much discernible talent if they conquer social media, and controlling that part of the web earns coverage on the endless buzz sites. And here’s something else I’ve learnt – negativity is what many want in their web content.

I’ve seen it in the relatively genteel world of Nintendo, where an issue that’s controversial gets far more engagement than an article about something positive, and that’s a sad state of affairs. The common factor with that engagement is outrage – people like to be angry, at least artificially, and they like sharing that with everyone else. I’ve occasionally done it myself but trained myself out of it, but for some it seems to be a profession.

The trouble is that many people, based on trends and much of the nonsense perpetuated all over the web, get outraged at the wrong thing. To quote The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones – “Anger is distorting modern life”. We rage against things we can’t change or are largely unimportant, because it’s what everyone else is doing, we’re jealous of the person / thing in question, or a host of other reasons. Plenty then share that rage online, desperate to show how much they care about a particular topic, often while spectacularly missing the point.

The trouble with outrage is that it rarely brings about much change. In the real non-digital world there are countless examples where anger and rage has helped kickstart social change, but after the protests and riots there’s always a lot of real work and compromise that happens. Yet in this era of trends millions latch onto a topic, argue furiously for a few days, then forget all about it.

They’re rarely conversations that we have online, either, and with our artificial online identities we can act without reason and logic. It’s the easiest thing in the world to be outraged, to find something to blame and scream bloody murder about it, and now that’s become a popular way to pass time. As millions do this it becomes the prevalent way social media works, which then bleeds into conventional media. It’s all entirely democratic, of course, but when people complain about the media, for example, I want to say it’s exactly what we deserve.

Sadly, I can’t help but feel that more and more people are taking the selfishness and narcissism that floods the web and applying it to real life. I look at the current state of politics here in the UK, EU and US and wonder what the end game is, as a cynical public then ironically encourages increasingly cynical politicians. We have a Chancellor in the UK who often targets the weak and seems to write budgets on a napkin before casually ditching a policy (with no funding replacement) if the public turn on it, and we have the bizarre reality of someone like Donald Trump being a potential President of the United States. Discrimination and hate are becoming far too effective in politics – as I said, negativity sells.

Yet negativity is a waste. Empathy, an awareness of others that is fundamental to the best of humanity, comes from positivity. It’s easy and lazy to find something to rage about, but it takes effort to empathise and to understand. When extremists blow themselves up it’s easy to blame the religion which they claim to represent, but it’s more important to stand with those being misrepresented by monsters that want to terrorise the public.

The internet is still a platform for wonderful things – it has knowledge, entertainment and the best nature of people in abundance. Yet we need to seek these elements out and make them the leading forces in the web economy. Next time cynicism is the first instinct in response to something, we should double take and reassess. If we’re angry about a selfish rich man with an empty palace, rather than give that oxygen we should promote and support organisations that help the homeless. If an attention-seeking celebrity says something vile to get headlines, don’t give them the oxygen of a retweet.

The internet can still be an incredible force of good, but we need to care about how we use it.