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5406911445_13b999a812_zNever, ever, ever, ever use this website to book flights or anything at all.

Here’s our tale of woe.

We’re supposed to be going out to visit a friend in the states this Halloween and in a quest for affordable flights, booked through TravelUp (via Travelsupermarket), without – sadly – doing a proper check to see what reputation they had.

Let’s just say it’s not good.

Let’s also say that it’s not good with good reason.

When we booked a small mistake was made resulting in us having a layover of 12 hours in Washington, we tried to correct this but nobody would call us back or respond to emails, meaning that even though we booked Saturday it wasn’t until today that we finally got through to anyone.

Surprise, surprise they’re not exactly cooperative with fixing anything.

If we cancel the flights we only get £51 back.

If we change our second leg, not even the whole flight, they want to charge us £750, for a flight that only costs £500 in the first place.

They even charge you to call them and deal with their inevitable shenanigans.

At every step they’ve been unhelpful, unresponsive, unwilling and it’s pretty clear they’re scam artists.

Nor are we the only people to have had similar issues. I’m linking to a few stories here:

Never Again

Rude and Unprofessional

Extortion

Please pass this on so nobody else gets suckered, and maybe ask Travelsupermarket why they’re still listing a company under investigation for fraud and extortion.

Safe Fiction

Oh-Bitch-Uary

Noteworthy game designer and pundit Internet arsehole James ‘Grim’ Desborough was found dead this morning in his home in Hampshire. James had committed suicide killed himself, like some kind of pussy following a long struggle with depression feeling sad, and being a huge burden to everyone he knew and was discovered by paramedics in the bathroom of the home he shared with his long suffering wife having slashed his wrists under the influence of alcohol shitfaced because he was too much of a fucking gaylord to cut himself without some dutch courage.

Born in 1975 to Norah and Barry Desborough brother to John Desborough and husband to Donna Desborough none of whom REALLY loved him, James had no children because he’s a pathetic loser but is survived by his wife who doesn’t really like him, his extended family who never understood him and the two cats that he doted upon because he’s a fag.

James will not be remembered for his devotion to the art of storytelling, role-playing games, his strong defence of the arts and of free expression and his forthright and candid views on many topics including advocacy for atheism and sexual freedom. He will not be deeply missed by his many few friends, who were fed up to the back teeth of putting up with his shit to whom he was often a source of comfort and aid, even when he had little to give himself.

In accordance with his wishes, his body will be thrown into a ditch for crows to eat his head will be cryogenically frozen, but a small humanist memorial service will be held in the village hall and the rest of his remains will be interred at the local woodland burial site to the village where he spent most of his life.

Depression lies to you. It will twist anything good into something bad and it takes enormous discipline and willpower not to listen to that dark little voice on your shoulder undermining anything and everything people say.

Robin Williams’ death was a surprise to a lot of people and a lot of people cannot seem to understand why a man so beloved and successful could or would do such a thing. Many of those people are angry at him and they call him selfish, before the body is even cold.

Worse, many papers are reporting in lurid detail what happened. Many anchors, pundits and others are opining on why and how he did it and what a selfish act it was.

That is not good and not helpful and it is going to set off people like me who have depression and who suffer from bouts of suicidal depression. It’s overwhelming. When people talk about the ‘easy way out’ and how ‘selfish’ such an at is, they are talking bullshit.

Bullshit.

Depression eats you up like a cancer. It steals everything good from your life and perverts it into something bad. It’s not logical, it’s not rational, it doesn’t make any sense. You will never be good enough for that black little voice, you will never be successful enough. No amount of money, or love, or family, or friends will work.

Maybe you seek out substance abuse as a way to silence the voice but drugs and alcohol only make things worse in the long run. Cutting yourself makes the pain real, something that can be seen, felt, dealt with, healed, but people understand that even less than they do depression itself.

Suicide isn’t the easy way out. It’s the last resort after years, decades, a lifetime of struggle. It’s what you have when there’s no fight left in you, no spirit, no willpower, no ability to reach out to anyone and say ‘I need help’, and people aren’t going to know you need help because you get so fucking good at hiding it, at smiling through, at playing the clown or talking earnestly about your art. You get good at alchemy, transmuting this deep irrational hurt into rage, fixation, anger, righteousness. You pour it into your work – when you can work – as a way of getting it out of you.

Good things don’t penetrate and don’t last, while the slightest little snide comment lingers in your brain for eternity.

Is it selfish? It doesn’t feel like it when you’re sitting in an ice cold bath, swaying drunkenly and drying to keep your hand steady enough to cut a vein. It feels selfless. Nobody should have to put up with your crap. Everyone would be better off if you were dead. So cut…

Cut you fucking coward.

Free everyone from worrying about you.

Free everyone from being bummed out whenever you enter a room.

Do it.

Don’t do it though. It passes – eventually – even if it does come back. There’s drugs that can help. There’s therapy – even if it’s oversubscribed. People aren’t as pissed off with you as you think. The papers and news might be being irresponsible but the rest of us, we can use this opportunity to reach out, to help people, to show that this big black dog can be survived and that we’re better than this stupid illness that fatuous idiots only see as news or an opportunity for a controversial soundbite.

Here’s some stuff I’ve written before that might, hopefully, help people out:

 

 

 

A response to Gia

Babys-Eye

He’s so handsome.

What a grip!

You’re so big.

You’re my little man.

Tough little guy.

Hey! Don’t cry!

Don’t hit girls.

Why are you picking flowers?

Slow down.

Be a man.

Finish your plate.

Shut up.
Stop running.

Boys smell.

Boys are stupid.

You’re too rough to play with girls.

Hahahahaha! You have a stiffy!

Look at his crotch!

Stiffy!

Stiffy!

Stiffy!

Stiffy!

Ewww, wet dreams are disgusting.

You’re a creep.

Stop looking at girls.

Stiffy!

Jesus, what have you been feeding it?

I touched it!

Disgusting.

Gross.

Creep.

You’re gross.

Peeping tom.

Let me touch it.

Pervert.

I only want to touch it.

He’s a stalker.

He’s a creep.

He’s a pervert.

Rapist.

Pervert.

Touch me.
Don’t touch me.

Look at that bulge!

Pervert.

Creep.

You only want one thing.

Take me.

Get off me.

Yes.

No.

Stop.

Why did you stop?

Don’t you want me?

Give it to me.

Be strong.

Take charge.

Pervert.

Not like that.

You’re all the same.

You’re all perverts.

Why do you want to work with kids?

But this is a woman’s job.

Women won’t trust you here.

We have to check your background.

We have to double check your background.

We have to be sure you’re not a paedo.

The parents wouldn’t like you working here.

Wouldn’t you be happier working somewhere else?

You’re making the women uncomfortable.

Could you be more circumspect.

We’re going to the coffee shop. Do you want anything?

Can you work extra hours?

Can you work weekends?

She can take care of the kids, right?

We could use the extra money…

Don’t stand so close.

She quickens her step to get away.

She hurries at the cash point.

She shies away when you say hello.

Pervert.

Creep.

Misogynist.

Let’s be friends.

This was a mistake.

I love you… as a friend.

It’s not you, it’s me.

Your sexuality intimidates me.

You’re too demanding.

All you’re interested in, is sex.

I’m sorry I cheated on you.

I just need more financial security.

I don’t want kids.

I don’t need a man in my life right now.

Ever.

You’re a bully.

You’re overconfident.

You’re intimidating.

Pervert.

You’re too calm.

You’re too rational.

That isn’t funny.

I’m serious.

I don’t care what you think.

I don’t want to fuck you.

Stiffy.

You dress like a teenager.

You look ridiculous.

Put a suit on.

Wear a tie.

Cut your hair.

Shave.

You’re getting fat.

Tidy up.

Put your junk in storage.

That’s not funny.

You’re so insensitive.

I have a headache.

I’m not in the mood.

It’s a school night.

They’ll hear us.

It’s too late.

Stop asking.

Why did you stop asking?

You’re pressuring me.

You stopped trying.

Why haven’t you fixed it?

Can you get more overtime?

You’re home late, can you…?

We need that money for essentials.

I make more than you now.

That’s my money.

You’re going grey.

You’re getting old.

You’re getting fat.

You don’t spend enough time with me.

You’re always working.

We need more money.

Why do you read this shit?

Why do you buy this shit?

You’re still like a child.

I don’t see the appeal of these games.

You never grew up.

Perpetual teenager.

Grow up.

Why don’t you join a gym?

Balding.

Grey.

Dirty old man.

Pervert.

Don’t you have any hobbies?

Let’s go see my sister.

But you don’t have any friends.

Dirty.

Old.

Man.

286257

Stereotypes are bad, right? We’re not supposed to consign broad categories of people into these simplistic kinds of caricatures and yet… we do. We all do it because it’s a kind of mental shorthand for how to react to and deal with people. Some of us make a conscious effort not to give in to the temptation but no matter how hard you try you have to deal with that stereotype and consciously overcome it.

Why do we do it?

The sad truth is that a lot of the time it’s perfectly valid to stereotype. Most blustering, red-faced religious conservatives are fairly interchangeable – at least on the surface. People dress, speak and otherwise present themselves according to stereotypes to express some aspect of who they are and how they want to be treated. We run into problems when the presentation and the intention don’t match, but it’s still true.

The OED defines a stereotype as: “A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.”

That’s, perhaps, a little uncharitable. Another way to view it, if you’ll forgive me a little pretentiousness for a moment, is that of the Jungian archetype, which often sound more like an eclectic tarot set than a psychological concept. Some of Jung’s archetypes included the mother, the father, the trickster, the child and in motifs such as the flood, creation, the apocalypse.

In terms of stereotyping what you have there are stereotypes and clichés.

So should we banish stereotypes to the dustbin of history or should we embrace them? Archetypes and motifs, stereotypes and clichés have too much power and usefulness to be completely abandoned, though we may need to revise our lists somewhat. The ‘Uncle Tom’ stereotype of the past is probably no longer appropriate unless writing historical fiction, but that doesn’t mean others don’t retain their general usefulness.

A good stereotype or cliché, if such a thing exists, is a weapon in a creative person’s arsenal. Sure, it may seem lazy but in short stories, games and fiction with restricted amounts of text, dialogue or screen time you often need to convey a lot of information in a very short space of time. Stereotypes are a sort of ‘macro’, like stealing someone else’s piece of code and using it in your own programming to save time, or using stock footage in a film.

The thug, the whore with a heart of gold, the dumb guard, the gravel-voiced vigilante, these all serve useful purposes and whether you’re charitable and call them archetypes or uncharitable and call them stereotypes, they convey a lot of information in one go.

This is even more useful when you’re playing roleplaying games and the vast majority of people you run into are unimportant side characters. Without any personality they’re just a cipher, with a stereotype they at least have a little character and you have something to build on.

The ruddy-faced innkeeper, the greedy shopkeeper, the jobsworth guard, these can all be dropped into just about any game at a moment’s notice and they don’t detract from it by being a stereotype, they add an element of character and personality where – perhaps – there was none before.

A stereotype doesn’t have to end there though. While it can be enough it can also serve as a mere foundation.

Consider pretty much every character in, say, The Simpsons. Every single one is a stereotype from the motherly, disapproving Marge to the oafish, irresponsible slob Homer, to the somewhat dodgy Asian stereotype of Apu.

At least, they all started out that way and yet The Simpsons was, from the get go, a big success – once they were free of Tracey Ullman anyway. Why? Because everything was instantly recognisable and we all ‘got it’, because of the use of stereotypes. In 25 years though, every character has developed some nuance, some background (even if continuity is just something that happens to other people) and from those stereotypes have emerged more rounded comedic characters.

The Fast Show was essentially a string of these, centred around mostly stereotypical characters such as Rowley Birkin QC – who was based on a real person. These sorts of stock characters are not a remotely new concept, the idea of the ‘stock character’ a, formalised stereotype, goes all the way back to Classical Greece where, in 319 BCE Theophrastus wrote extensively on character sketches and character as a genre, with thirty stock characters including such recognisable tropes as The Talkative Man, The Coward and The Man of Petty Ambition. Later classical writers and playwrights added to this and the tradition survives to this day in comedy, much of it via the tradition of the music hall.

Returning to games, unless you’re working very intensely with a set character and a set storyline you’re going to need to anticipate certain stereotypes, even more so the case with many computer games which must anticipate and program for the actions of the players, but also within tabletop roleplaying games where the three main archetypes are the magician, the rogue and the fighter.

You can see that in Numenera replaced with Nano, Jack and Glaive.

You can see that in Cyberpunk with Netrunner, Fixer and Solo.

You can see it in almost every game, implicit or explicit, with character classes or without.

Every game starts with a baseline idea of a set of stereotypes, which you can then work with or against, exemplify or contradict.

And that’s where the fun really comes in, where you fill out the details, where you defy the stereotypes or sub-specialise within them to create something new and individual and that can happen over time as you grow more attached to the character and more versatile or powerful, learning new things about their background.

In designing my game Forever Summer I went looking to the source material – kids adventure movies and series, most especially the favourites I saw growing up like Goonies – and saw the use of stereotypes there. Whether it’s Stand by Me or Explorers you know largely all you really need to know about the characters within the first half hour of the film, if not before. Stereotypes get all that introductory mess out of the way, leaving the film free to get on with the story with some more detail about the characters coming out – as a form of character development but not really – as you go along.

Nobody said every game, every roleplaying session, every book, comic or magazine had to be completely stellar and groundbreaking or that you must avoid stereotypes, even when they really do exist in real life. There are people I know in real life who would be unacceptable characters in books or TV series because they seem like crass stereotypes, yet they’re real people.

Seriously, don’t worry about it. Stereotypes are just another tool in the toolbox and if you muck about with them and keep revisiting them, they won’t say stereotypes for long.

Said the long-haired, bearded, role-player with a house full of books…

The Night Eyes

london_fogNight security jobs are unmitigated shitness. You sit – alone in a little room in a huge building, all alone, and stare at flat-screen monitors upon which nothing happens for hours and hours and hours.

A smart phone and a solitary television with the sound turned off the only respite from black and white pictures of an empty building. Twitter and scrolling headlines across the bottom of twenty-four hour news a welcome distraction from mind-numbing monotony.

These people online and the newsreaders become your next-door neighbours after the world’s gone to sleep.

It’s easy to imagine you’re all alone up here, tucked away in your little room. Once it hits three in the morning even London goes quiet. There’s nobody out there on the streets. The ones who are still awake are street sweepers or tucked away in the clubs and pubs far away from the business districts.

This is the time it’s hardest to stay awake, eyes drooping. Your body knows its not supposed to be awake and everything is at its lowest ebb. If it weren’t for the unceasing news and internet chatter – bless you time-zones – it would be easy to think you were the only person in the world.

Even that blurs into one though. An endless parade of far off disasters that lose their impact. What’s one more atrocity or war when they happen every day? Sometimes something makes you prick up your ears though, or your eyes. Maybe you hear something about a place or a person you give a damn about. Not some ambassador from a failed or failing state, but a celebrity or something you have a personal connection to.

That doesn’t happen often though. Most of the time you sit and stare, drinking cup after cup of coffee, fiddling with your phone, staring at the screens and wishing you were home in bed.

Sometimes something weird happens though. It has tonight. So I’m writing it down and printing it out. Even if I am on camera, even if I’m going mad. I just need to have a record.

I handle the night security for London’s latest, greatest, newest skyscraper. The Prism. Eighty floors of empty glass and steel. It’s still being fitted out so there’s nobody there at all, save the workers during the day. Everything works, there’s just no offices yet and the bathrooms are all bare bones.

It was a bit past three and I was nodding half asleep over the monitors, not paying too much attention to them. The air conditioning in the building was on but it felt a bit close and humid despite that. If you don’t have it on the buildings get weird, internal micro-climates, some of the big ones even form ‘clouds’ in the atrium. They didn’t want that here, so the moment the building was sealed, on went the air conditioning.

It wasn’t like I could open a window, but I had a desk fan. That helped a bit, fresh air blowing across my face. It woke me up a little, a start and jump like when your chin hits your chest when you’ve fallen asleep sitting up.

That’s when I noticed a scrolling headline across the bottom of the television, for some reason it caught my eye amongst everything else.

“London threatened with thickest fog since 1952.”

Meteorology wasn’t a big news item and its not like fog was unusual, even today, but I hadn’t seen even a hint of it on my way to work. The main news item was some update about some economic conference, nothing of interest to me. There’s a little camera watching me all the time, quis custodiet ipsos custodes indeed, but I decided I’d risk it and go for a look out of the window.

I had to cup my hands against the window to see through the light glare, but it was true. There was a thick fog running down the Thames against the current like a cheap smoke machine and starting to flow over the sides into the streets. Why they thought it was so bad I don’t know, it was thick, but nothing worse than I’d ever seen before, so I just went back to my desk.

In the five or ten minutes I’d been away from the monitors nothing much seemed to have changed, but there was a picture of London Bridge in the box-out. I tried to turn the sound on, but I realised it didn’t have any speakers. I’d never tried to turn the sound on before so I’d had no idea.

I was too cheap to get mobile broadband, so streaming the news to my phone wasn’t going to work out. Not with a flaky 3G connection in the bowels of a giant Faraday cage. I was stuck with the scrolling text, I couldn’t even turn on the subtitles, I had no idea where the remote control was.

I switched to the internet on my phone, even though it loaded at a crawl I could get a couple of pages up. There was only a small update and a few pictures from the unlucky sods up as late as I was. It looked like it was spreading rapidly, even just in the short time I’d been away from the window. That or it was much thicker elsewhere, downriver from me.

The page didn’t tell you much, just that the met office were mystified as to the cause, it was the wrong weather, there was no pollution to account for it, though it had a sickly stink apparently, and they were trying to work it out and asking for more pictures from people around the city. It was local news really. There was some early speculation that it was down to algae or something else, but nobody really had a clue. This late at night the news and the met office – and everything else – was running on the ‘B’ teams.

Twitter wasn’t that much help either. Only people outside my time-zone were awake aside from a few people out late clubbing and they were wasted. I sent them a couple of feelers. Something was making me feel really uncomfortable about the whole thing though I couldn’t really put my finger on it.

I didn’t want to get up from the desk again, that would mean a reprimand if it got noticed. I started flicking through the cameras trying to get a view of outside through the glass, but the only one that worked was a view of the entrance and I couldn’t make out much from there, just a few wisps of mist.

Back to Twitter, there was a tag now #FogDoom – typical nonsense like #snowpocalypse and all the rest. It wasn’t that busy yet but one thing stood out in the slowly scrolling messages.

Woolwich Witch : Got off Skype with my BF. Bunch of sirens and lights on the road and river.

That seemed strange so I thumbed out a quick message back.

Night Wotcha: What’s going on there? Stuck in central London and can’t get the news.

I flicked through the cameras again while I waited, trying to see anything else, even a speck of outside through the window. Still nothing, but the mist was thicker out the door, even through the camera.

Woolwich Witch: No idea, but the river’s high. I can barely see outside. The noise stopped though. Don’t see the lights.

Night Wotcha: Can you get a better view anywhere? Sounds freaky! :-)

Woolwich Witch: Yeah, I’ll step out and have a look. See if there’s anyone around.

Police aren’t unusual, but a whole lot of them charging through the night down there? Close to the Thames Barrier? That seemed weird. Was it a terrorist attack? Gas or something? It didn’t make much sense to me but it would explain the police. If the river was coming up that could be bad for the city as a whole. Grandad had used to run one of the river taxis. I thought high tide would hit sometime after four in the morning. There was a while yet before that happened.

It was no good, I had to go for another look.

This time the river seemed higher, even from all the way up in the building. It was hard to tell of course, the fog was even thicker now and it was flowing up over the banks and spilling into the streets beyond. It was weird looking, moving in all directions at once, almost like it was alive, questing for a path between the soulless, empty, lifeless buildings.

The BBC news scroller was now talking about a flood warning now, but being not very specific as to why. My desk phone went off with an automated warning, but I didn’t really have to worry here. It was all automated and the building should be well able to resist any sort of flooding. All I’d have to do would be to wait it out until low tide – a matter of hours.

The Woolwich Witch hadn’t gotten back to me again, but I didn’t know her and she didn’t owe me any sort of explanation.

I started thumbing through the hashtag and its all weird nonsense. Drunk and stoned people talking nonsense. More pictures but a lot of them were weird looking. Artefacts and stray pixels, like when it rains hard or a pigeon decides to have a nap on your Sky dish. Some of them were half uploaded, like the image had been cut off halfway through my download, but it wasn’t me.

After the mangled images there were no more posts by that person. Any of them.

I don’t scare easily and I try not to get panicked over nothing but I was scared now. The signal quality on my phone was dropping every ten minutes or so, bar by bar, ‘3G’ to ‘H’ to ‘E’ and even that kept dropping out. The last few tweets I saw on the tag before the data connection completely cut out were even weirder, people who’d gone out to check out the fog and going missing. People not able to get the police.

The TV was all about the fog now. The presenter, someone you wouldn’t see unless you kept my hours, was clearly out of his depth, trying to cope with it. They were calling it a chemical spill, telling people to stay inside because of the fumes, even if it flooded.

Even the TV signal was breaking up now. Weather can do that, but fog was too low on the ground to disrupt any signals. Maybe I was imagining it, but there was a sickly scent, even behind sealed glass and storeys into the sky.

I took the lift down to the great void of a lobby, so empty. Here the smell seemed, paradoxically, less bad. It didn’t make sense to me. Beyond the doors I couldn’t see a bloody thing, it was all thick fog faintly yellow in the dim night lighting.

I about jumped out of my skin when there was a loud bang against the doors. There was a shape there, banging against the glass. The knock loud, but whatever screaming sound was out there dimmed by the thick glass so it sounded distant.

As I got my breath back from the fright I stepped towards the door, and then jogged, fumbling for my keys. Even pressed against the glass I could barely make out who it was, but it was a man. Maybe a policeman, I thought I saw a cap. Just in the seconds it took me to get to the door the banging got quieter and quieter though the shadow looked just as manic and violent as ever.

As I got there it was abruptly silent, a shape in the mist that could have been a man or just dappled shadow, blown away. I fumbled the keys and yanked the door open, shouting out into the fog but there was no answer and the stink made me gag on the words even as I tried to give them voice.

It was hard to breathe, to think, so I got back inside and shut and locked the door again. Back up the lift to my little nest, the only place I might feel safe. The lift seemed slow and the lights kept flickering all the way up, coming on again as I got back. Everything still seemed to be working but the TV was black now, on every channel I could get and the phone was useless.

From the window everything was dark now. I couldn’t even see street lights now. The light from the building made it nearly impossible to see beyond the glass and the moon was dim, a sliver behind grey cloud. I couldn’t see anything.

The smell was getting stronger. I was sensitive to it now, noticing it – or imagining it – behind every smell in the building. New paint, plastic, epoxy, all of it seemed to carry a hint of that stinking fog in it that made me queasy.

It was the air conditioning. It was sucking in the air from outside and the fog with it. It was seeming to rise, shorter buildings disappearing beneath it, the fog seeming higher around the taller buildings as if it were trying to climb them.

I don’t know the first thing about air conditioning. I went as high as I could in the building and cut cables, jammed pipes and stuffed ducts with whatever I could find. Tarp, sacks of cement, plastic, silicon gel from the builders. I think I sealed the building and its only me here. I’m not going to suffocate.

There’s a little computer in my nook. Turns out the tower’s running on generator power now, so I turned off all the lights I didn’t need, and the pumps. Sat and wrote this. I don’t know what’s going on but I’ll save it. I’ve print it out. I’ve put texts to everyone I know into my phone so they’ll send when the signal comes back. I don’t know what else to do but sit and wait.

I’ll go and seal the air conditioning better I suppose, but if there’s nobody out there, what’s the point?

I’m alone.

***

fog-448188Mr Morgan is still missing and has not been seen since the night he caused millions of pounds worth of damage to the Prism Tower, setting back the opening of the tower for at least two months, flooding two basement levels and all but destroying the air conditioning system.

These writings, apparently left by Mr Morgan – though there’s no way to prove that – seem to suggest an impaired state of mind which may have insurance implications. With Mr Morgan missing it is likely that a settlement can be garnered from his estate, though it is unlikely to make much of a dent in the costs.

Without finding Mr Morgan it is hard to know how to proceed further, though it’s clear from his confession that he caused the criminal damage. Given the long term importance of the account I believe the claim is genuine and that we should pay out.

Sincerely,

H Arnold,

Claims Department
Xebi Insurance Co.

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