Child Grooming & Abduction – A True Story.

Wow. A ‘must-read’ for any parent.

The Prince Blog

Jim decided to share the story of how his daughter was groomed and abducted by paedophiles, in order to help other children and parents.

“Her mother and I divorced when Lucy was five. Her mother has some serious health issues, so Lucy has lived with me, almost exclusively, for 6 years. We are very close and there is a lot of love, laughter and music in our home. She’s my little Princess.

We live in a small, rural town. It’s quiet and nothing much happens. I thought it was a safe place to raise my little girl.

I work around forty hours a week, but I don’t want to say what I do or where I work.

I was aware of paedophiles and grooming, obviously, but I never thought it would happen to my little girl.

I thought she was safe here, with me.

I was wrong.

Looking back, I…

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Death and the high cost of still living

My dad died last spring. He was 91 and had been suffering with Dementia and a shopping list of life-threatening and life-hampering conditions for many years before that. I was sad to see him go, but relieved he was no longer suffering.

His sister, the last of my family’s elder generation, died a few weeks ago (at time of writing) on Christmas Day. She was 94, and like her brother, had been battling Dementia. Again, it was upsetting, but a relief that she wasn’t ill any more.

But why am I writing this? Not to just reel off relatives that I’ve lost in the last twelve months. The short answer is, I don’t know.

It’s just always on my mind. It’s always there, in the forefront of everything I do. I’m going shopping (your dad’s dead), I sit down to watch TV (your Aunt died at Christmas), I visit friends (you’ll never visit your family home again as someone else lives there now). It’s like the gloomiest, most incessant back seat driver ever. Always present, always niggling, and always commenting on everything, irrespective of relevance or context. I’m washing up (your father died sad, scared and alone in a hospital bed).

Because it is always on my mind, it felt like something I should write about on my blog. All the best writers bare their souls and find catharsis in putting figurative pen to virtual paper. But when I came to start writing this, I didn’t know what to share with you. All I knew was that I needed to share… and that I felt/feel incredibly guilty for still being alive.

Being A Girl: A Brief Personal History of Violence

Makes me want to grab the rest of my gender by the lapels and scream in their collective faces.

The Belle Jar

1.

I am six. My babysitter’s son, who is five but a whole head taller than me, likes to show me his penis. He does it when his mother isn’t looking. One time when I tell him not to, he holds me down and puts penis on my arm. I bite his shoulder, hard. He starts crying, pulls up his pants and runs upstairs to tell his mother that I bit him. I’m too embarrassed to tell anyone about the penis part, so they all just think I bit him for no reason.

I get in trouble first at the babysitter’s house, then later at home.

The next time the babysitter’s son tries to show me his penis, I don’t fight back because I don’t want to get in trouble.

One day I tell the babysitter what her son does, she tells me that he’s just a little boy, he doesn’t know…

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harassment is not a virtual issue

Being shitty to people is bad, regardless of what’s nestling between their legs. Read this. Don’t do it. Behave.

rockstar dinosaur pirate princess

I was going to write something about drinking this week, because it’s been a while, and last week’s post was kinda feministy and I like to usually mix things up a bit in between the being Really Angry About Things but something, well, two somethings but really the same something, happened this week which made me, well, Really Angry about Things.

Thing 1 – Sue Perkins – cake botherer, national treasure and all round amazing person – was hounded off Twitter due to some baseless rumours that she could be in the running to present Top Gear. For non UK people, Top Gear is ostensibly a program about cars, but for many years has basically been a vehicle (oh, lol) for the champion of the sort of people that say things like  “I’m not a bigot but I should be allowed to say these things it’s political correctness gone mad MAD I…

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A Fridge Too Far

I had a problem with my fridge. No, I know that’s not the most compelling way to start an article, but bear with me, it’ll all come right in the end. Anyway, my fridge was dying. It wasn’t a cheap fridge so naturally I was somewhat annoyed at its premature bout of terminal illness. So much so, that I started bitching about it on Facebook – “Fridge dying… really pissed off… that’s £600 down the toilet… etc.”

Well, I’m sad to say that the inevitable happened, and over the following weekend my loyal refrigerating retainer shuffled off to the great landfill in the sky. I may have shed a tear as I rapidly devoured the tub of liquefying Cornish ice-cream and the McMountain of softening oven chips.

On returning to work the next week, a colleague of mine – who we’ll call “Jim” for that is his name – asked, in response to my Facebook lamentations, “Did you get your fridge working?”

Jake sees the light

Epiphany, epiphany! They’ve all got it epiphany!

And I was struck by that cosmic kismet, that astronomical alignment, where a perfectly placed funny line is the ONLY correct response. The comedy greatness of what was about to usher forth from my lips could not be under estimated. The Fates had set me up with the ultimate feedline and I was about to deliver on it. So I said the only thing I could say in the situation, with a deadpan face I said,

“It’s worse than that, it’s dead, Jim”

Pause. Wait for penny to drop and hilarious laughter to ensue. Create bond of shared experience with fellow human being. Grow friendship. Began lifetime of mutual admiration and respect. Discover shared hitherto unknown fascination with human DNA. Cure Cancer and Ebola. Collect Nobel Prize. Finally part in death – our lives complete – as fulfilled, revered old men. State funeral. A nation mourns. Exeunt omnes. Curtain.

Jim looked at me with a blank expression that said “it’s Monday morning and I’m yet to have tea”.

“Oh” he replied, “that’s a shame”

And left me. Standing there. Mouth agape. Holding the stillborn cadaver of a comic moment that could have taken its place in humour history alongside Del-Boy at the bar, Dead Parrot and Keanu Reeves’ English accent. A metaphorical tumbleweed blew through my office, closely followed by an orchestra of crickets. Chirp. Chirp.

What had gone wrong? It was the perfect set-up – a dying appliance, a bloke called Jim, a question about its recovery – followed by a fantastically witty Star Trek reference. How could it have failed? This would never happen on The Big Bang Theory. Could it be Monday morning slowness on Jim’s part? Could I have been too deadpan in my delivery? Orrrrrrrrrrrr could it be because Jim is about half my age and hasn’t watched any Shatner era Star Trek?

Nah. Surely everyone has seen some Shatner Trek? It’s always being repeated on some channel or other and it was required viewing when I was a kid and –

Shouty Shatner

JIIIIIIMMMMM!

Hold on. In the past twenty years since I could be called ‘young’ things have changed quite a lot. There are more TV channels, lots more, and there are DVD box sets, and streaming, and video piracy and what’s more there’s enough new Star Trek (and other sci-fi) to mean there’s no need to return to the archive. In fact, if I were alive today (so to speak) I doubt I’d bother watching an old TV show that was cancelled before I was even born. So perhaps twenty-something Jim has not boldy gone where no man has gone before (steady!).

But I was force fed a lot of film and TV in the 70s and 80s – good and bad – and it helped shape my thinking, my language and my humour. And this got me wondering about cultural references, and how the common language of television and film is perhaps not as ‘common’ as it once was.

I was born in the early 1970s and we had three channels to choose from – none of them 24 hour – and a black and white TV set to watch them on. Home video recording hadn’t been invented and even if it had, we couldn’t afford one (we didn’t get a VCR until the late 1980s). So you watched what you were damn well given and if you wanted to re-watch something you had to wait for the repeat, or in the case of a movie go back to the cinema and cough up for another ticket (I think I only did that with Star Wars). This meant that for the most part you ended up consuming someone else’s entertainment playlist – the TV scheduler.

You had a little control, you could hop channels or switch off, but ultimately you had to make the best of watching a stranger’s choices. Because there wasn’t anything more modern and shiny available at that particular moment, it meant you watched a lot of tripe you wished you hadn’t (Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan back catalogue, for example) and a lot of TV and film gold that you perhaps wouldn’t have chosen for yourself otherwise.

This meant that over the years I was exposed to amongst other things Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, Keystone Cops, The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The Invaders, Mission Impossible, Buster Crabbe’s Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers, Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes, Land of the Giants, Time Tunnel, Randall & Hopkirk Deceased, Frankenstein (Karloff), Dracula (Legosi/Lee), The Wolfman (Chaney), The Haunting, Night of the Demon, Brighton Rock, The Avengers (Steed, et al) and of course, the original Star Trek series.

Some of the titles listed above are rightly regarded as classics and you might think “well of course he should watch them”. But remember I was young and like most kids, hedonistic. I just wanted to watch what I wanted to watch, never mind if it was ‘required viewing’ or not.

The Adventure Game

Daenerys Targaryen looked different back then

But because of the limitations of the time, I couldn’t just watch what I wanted to watch (mostly cartoons, TISWAS and anything from the US). I was locked into THAT schedule. By killing time waiting for M*A*S*H to start, or failing to turn over after The Adventure Game I was exposed to these un-selected gems, and because of their age (some from as early as the 1920s) it meant I had something in common with my older relatives and friends.

My Dad and I could have a laugh talking about Laurel & Hardy, if a family friend shouted “I am not a number!” I got the joke, and if I said “it’s worse than that, he’s dead Jim” I bloody well got a laugh. We had stuff in common; a seven year old kid talking to person ten times his age, and that’s the first step in any healthy relationship. Without it, we’d feel uncomfortable and stilted and soon retreat to our respective corners where we still felt relevant.

So does that mean the generation gap is widening now that we have Tivo and video-on-demand? Does being able to choose from a buffet of media mean that we only choose what we like, and never dabble with the slightly odd looking grey dish at the back covered in fluff? Does this mean the ‘youth of today’ are culturally stunted and only live in the now? And does this mean I’m doomed to eke out the rest of my days making bad jokes and seeing the less wrinkled faces stare back at me blankly? Who knows? Let’s try…

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1D6+1 things I only learned through geekdom

Forget QI or Trivial Pursuit, the surefire way to get your synapses on some grade A factoids is by embracing your inner geek. Roleplaying games, comics, genre fiction, TV and films have all given me great pleasure throughout my life, but they’ve also been responsible for filling my bonce with all manner of interesting real world information. Such as…

1. Brachiation is a word

dm-guide-1983

And the phrase “Wizard’s Sleeve” is born

Courtesy of good old Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D 1st Ed to be specific), I found “Bracers of Brachiation” listed in the Dungeon Masters Guide. A quick read of the description and a visit to a well-thumbed dictionary (pre-internet era), I discovered that Brachiation was a means of locomotion, by swinging by the arms like a monkey. My vocabulary swelled by one word, and my character gained an obscure magic item to add to his wish list that the tight-fisted GM wouldn’t pay out on.

2. Tarzan of the Ankylosaurs

tarzan

Me ‘Tarzan’, you ‘Fugly’

Never mind Heston Blumenthal mixing ice-cream with gravy and spaghetti hoops, the comic world is responsible  for far more warped menu mash-ups. One such daring dish was “Tarzan vs. Predator” in 1997. Schwarzeneger’s invisible, crab-faced killer squared off against he of the loin cloth, primal scream and limited vocab’. It turned out pretty well, but I was stunned when Lord Greystoke headed into the HOLLOW EARTH and started enlisting the aid of Tyrannosaurus bloody Rex! Wait what? A swift look up of the Edgar Rice Burroughs source material, and hey presto, I discovered that the Tarzan stories had more to do with Jules Verne than David Attenborough. This lead me to read the first two Tarzan novels and I’m happy to report they are excellent adventure novels – on a par with Indy’s best adventures. Its only the later novels that go bat-shit crazy with the Land that Sense Forgot.

3. Armour is not fashion

ironman

Doughnuts and bolts

Whether it’s TV, film, comics or art, heavy plate armour and chainmail are often depicted as THE coolest thing to wear in that particular time period. Whether it’s ancient Rome, medieval England or planet LV-426, characters loll around in their hardened shells looking suave, mean and above all comfy as a silk worm in an angora sock. Well, from bitter experience of wearing Colonial Marine armour at a leisure attraction and donning leather, chain and platemail at live action roleplaying events, I can attest that the less you wear that shit the happier you’ll be. It’s heavy, it chafes, it pinches, it forces you to sit in positions that aren’t comfortable. It stops you lying down, it hides your pockets so you can’t buy a drink, and going for a wee or (god forbid) a ‘number two’ is a cruel and unusual torture. The armour is too hot when the sun’s out and too cold when it isn’t, and it’s damp when it’s dry and damper when it’s wet. And as for wearing helmets, forget it, you might as well put on a bronze blindfold. It’s no wonder the Romans favoured togas and the Spartans fought in the buff..

4. ‘Law Abiding’ doesn’t mean ‘nice’

oldlady

If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it

The term ‘Law Abiding Citizen’ is often used in reference to nice old ladies, who pay their taxes, clean up after their cocker spaniels and generally don’t destroy entire planets. But thanks to the Dungeons & Dragons concept of alignment, I know different. For those of you not familiar with D&D, ‘alignment’ is a statement of your character’s moral compass. You’ve created a skilled swordsman, but are they good, evil or neutral? Beyond that are they chaotic or, yes you’ve guessed it, lawful? When I first started playing I understood good and evil, but the chaos/law thing was harder to fathom particularly when linked with good or evil. How could a good man be a force of chaos, or more bizarrely how could the cold-blooded murderer I had created be considered in any way ‘lawful’? Enter D&D’s sister magazine ‘Dragon’ with a handy list of examples for each of the major alignments; Robin Hood was Chaotic Good because he ROBBED and broke the law, but he did it for the noblest of reasons. Lawful Evil referenced Darth Vader as a cruel, merciless, fascist, but one that obeyed (for the most part) and promoted the iron fist of Imperial law. If that Dragon article was written today, David Cameron could feature.

5. Unobtainium is a real thing (sort of)

avatar

I’m blue, ba-bo dee-bo

In James Cameron’s big budget sci-fi-by-numbers exercise Avatar, the evil mining corp (are there any other kind?) are devastating the giant smurfs’ planet to obtain Unobtainium. I laughed out loud when that term flopped out of the character’s mouth. Unobtainium? You may as well have called it “Hard-to-dig-upium”. Sci-fi has a rich history of making up science-stuff (Dilithium, Hyperspace, Midichlorians) which is partly why it puts the ‘fiction’ in ‘science’. But as crazy as some of these concepts are, at least the writers are trying to create some plausible terminology. But Unobtainium? Please.

Well, it’s real. Well, it’s a real engineering term anyway. It’s been around since the fifties (says Wikipedia) and is used to refer to any element or material that the egg-heads want or hypothesise about, but can’t actually get. So it’s a real word about a nonexistent thing. Still doesn’t excuse the Avatar writers for not coming up with something better. They can have “Bolluxanium” for free.

6. Dwarf. It gets complicated with more than one

grumpy_dwarf

Nobody tosses a dwarf – no wonder I’m grumpy

If you’ve been to the bakers and have bought more than one loaf, you have loaves. When a Mormon starts out he takes a wife, but soon has wives, and when he tries to trade her in for a younger model she’ll be pulling out a knife or knives. And so if you multiply a dwarf by seven, you’d have dwarves, right? Well not necessarily.

Apparently, the correct plural is ‘dwarfs’. ‘Dwarves’ is mostly Tolkien’s fault. He popularised the “V” form in his Middle Earth stories. So now the general guidance is ‘dwarves’ when it’s the fantasy race of bearded drunkards, and ‘dwarfs’ when you’re referring to real-world short things – trees, plants and of course, people.

7. The imagination is the best entertainment

D20

20 faces o’ fun

A bit of a cheesy one to end on, but from decades of reading, writing and roleplaying, I can confidently say some of the best adventures you can have in fiction happen not at the Imax or courtesy of of your 4K TV screen, they happen in the mind’s eye. Chatting about roleplaying adventures I had years ago, are still as vivid to me as some of my best life experiences. That doesn’t mean I’m a complete saddo with no life experiences to draw on, it just means there’s infinite room in my ‘thought palace’ for some completely made-up memories. There was that time with a Jawa on the besieged Sandcrawler with the turbocharged R2 droid and the ramp and the line of stormtroopers. There was that time when the drunk gunslinger got eaten by the giant worm just as he lit the dynamite. And who could forget the oh so stealthy investigation into the cellar where we knew a flesh-eating ghoul was hiding subsisting on Happy Meals and murder victims and there was that slippery pickle on the top step and- oh dear! So unless you happen to be a real world adventurer, Special Forces operative or playboy spy, I suggest you get yourself some freaky looking dice, grab some buddies and geek out.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve actually learnt anything while getting your geek on.

Sexism in Videogames and Digital Bums

For one reason and another I’ve been looking into videogame sexism lately and it will come as no surprise that I didn’t like what I found. I’ve been waggling joysticks since the 1970s and games were treating women like crap back in that misogynistic decade (when they referenced them at all) and they still do today.

Sometimes it’s as simple as just not including them (as seen in the recent Assassins Creed: Unity debacle), other times games include them as flesh coloured wallpaper – sometimes literally in the more slasherific titles. Girls are repeatedly sexualised where men are not; strip a buff man to his undies and guys think he’s a powerful Alpha male, strip a woman to her undies and she’s clearly just ‘asking for it’.

The messages games send out to women are that they are secondary, not welcome (unless naked) and that they are open to be targeted by the ‘superior’ male gamers. The messages games send out to our young female players are that they can’t be the hero, they can’t aspire to careers outside waitressing, prostitution or maybe housewife, and that if their lives aren’t bedecked with pink then there’s clearly something wrong with them. And don’t get me started on what games say about female body image.

But it’s not just women this is affecting. Representing women badly in games gives us guys some odd ideas about the ‘fairer sex’. From ‘Femme Fatale’ to ‘Sultry Assassin’, the women of our game worlds can hardly be called ‘representative’ of the real world, and with people spending hours, days, weeks and months with these characters, it’s got to bleed into our psyche on some level. Particularly if the players are young and impressionable lads.

As an example, my abiding prejudice of all nurses is based on watching Carry On movies, Benny Hill and Are You Being Served?. In my sub-concious I’ve been conditioned to think all nurses are nymphomaniacs. I know it’s not true – I’m yet to be pounced on by any medical professionals (even a vet) – but that stereotype is still the default position in my head. And it was put there by TV. What games have embedded in my head, particularly seeing as they are more immersive than TV, is too scary to even think about.

Some people reading this may think I’m talking out of my pert arse-cheeks, some might even be getting furious with me for even suggesting such a thing. My gut feeling is to laugh in their faces, tell them they’re deluding themselves and that they should piss off and find some other delusional bigots over on a Gamergate forum. But actually, I don’t want the doubters to leave, I want them to stay and see what I have to say. I want them to challenge my opinions and maybe we can learn from each others’ point of views. But mostly, I want them to stay because they were me not too long ago and I still have some gaming habits that are particularly ‘blokey’.

You’ll take my games from my cold, dead hands

I love gaming and when people attack it as a hobby/pastime/habit, I get quite vocal. It’s like any passion; we love it, we want others to love it and when somebody doesn’t we see them as a threat to us and a threat to our continued enjoyment. Think about how heated your own conversations get when you’re discussing “the best movie of all time” or “the greatest footballer ever” or even your choice of drink at the bar (what do you mean you don’t like drinking “Scruttock’s Old Dirigible”?). If the group doesn’t agree with your choice there’s embarrassment, frustration, self-doubt and anger for you to wrestle with. It’s the same with gaming.

I remember passionately defending violent videogames when the media started linking them to this murder or that shooting. It wasn’t just that I didn’t see a connection, it was that by association they were saying I was somehow implicated. That my hobby was a bad hobby and I shouldn’t continue with it. Of course this wasn’t what was said, but that was the threat I felt and it put me in ‘siege mode’. I remember playing the “it’s satire” card when the ‘humour’ of GTA Vice City was getting a little bit ‘rapey’ and I’ve even played the frequently spat “well the male characters are half-naked too” card when leaping around in some Capcom flesh-fest or other. It’s not so much that I was in the wrong or right, it was more the venom in which I spat back my defense. And that was because I felt my beloved hobby under attack.

Since then, I’ve come to realise that many of the elements I was defending are all-too commonplace to be defended as ‘all part of the fun’ anymore. But perhaps most importantly, I’ve come to realise that by challenging game content we make games stronger not weaker, and that’s why I want the doubters to hang about here a bit longer. Don’t feel under threat, hear what people have to say, because for many players – and not always women – the games are an uncomfortable place to be.

Now that feels like a natural place to finish the article, but there’s something else bugging me that relates to both sides of the sexism argument and something I want to explore with you, dear reader. And that is, when playing games, I like looking at gorgeous women. There I said it. Does that make me a sexist pig? Discuss…

I like big butts and I cannot lie…

It’s something that’s been niggling me since a friend of mine took great relish, a creepy amount of relish you might say, in telling me that if he had to stare at a game character’s arse for hours while playing, he’d like those few pixels to be pert, tightly clad and female. At the time, I was neck deep in my sexism research so I smiled emptily like he’d just told me he was into coprophilia (look it up- actually, no don’t. There are some things you can’t un-see). But I couldn’t get what he said out of my head. I wanted to take the moral high ground, but I kept coming back to the unshakable fact that he had a point.

I too like looking at the female form and like him, I’d enjoyed watching Lara Croft’s jungle aerobics far more than Nathan Drake’s gruff exercises. Mr Drake was just a narrative means to an end, whereas Lady Croft was someone with whom I’d enjoyed the journey as much as the destination. But did that mean I was doomed to a realisation that I was a sexist gamer? Was I someone who would rail against Anita Sarkeesian and all she stood for (see her ‘Feminist Frequency‘ website, it’s brilliant). Was I partially responsible for the patronising and demeaning game content my two daughters had to look forward to in the coming years, because of where I put my consumer cash?

I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t being sexist, I was being sexual. Heterosexual. For liking a gorgeous digital heroine or choosing to dress her provocatively, that wasn’t demeaning women (particularly if playing solo), that was just satisfying my personal fantasy. Had the game featured half-naked wenches just oozing ‘come hither’ looks at my every virtual action or had the female characters in the game all been poor little things in need of my big, manly, rescuing abilities, that still wouldn’t make me sexist. It makes the games sexist. I can understandably enjoy that content because it is built around me – a white, heterosexual male – and it is designed to appeal to my appetites. I’m not saying that’s right, but it is fact.

Shake it, baby

Now, because I have a brain as well as a penis, I am aware that this content is poisonous, particularly to women. But as a male gamer of some 30+ years, I’ve built up a resistance to these toxins, maybe I’ve been immune since birth because of my gender. I can enjoy Duke Nukem and still know that some of the content is offensive. I can be offended by the lack of a female playable character in Minecraft, but still play the game as the character I would have chosen in the first place. I can have my Sid James moment staring at Bayonetta’s backside, but still wish that the developers had had more self-restraint than I do.

Being a feminist gamer isn’t about denying our male appetites, it’s about recognising that our appetites aren’t everyones. It’s about understanding that pandering solely to those appetites – such as always having breast-bursting female characters dressed like hookers – is offensive to the women we claim to adore so much. It’s about realising that it’s patronising to think that women can’t indulge their appetites either when playing games – whether that’s sexy male characters or seeing a powerful woman protagonist rise through the ranks of a game’s hierarchy (not all desires revolve around sex!). We can be that wonderful species that causes women to cry “men!” then tut and roll their eyes and still be there beside them crying “equality”.