Depression Awareness Week – 2015

My wife suffers from Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia) and does not work.  We appealed a decision to move her into the ESA Work-Related Activity Group in 2013, and that appeal was successful.  This is the e-mail Greté wrote, and rather than writing some long blog posts about Greté’s illness, I’m posting this to give you an idea of what she battles with daily.  Tomorrow, I’ll post a letter I wrote (but then never sent) to my local MP.  I’ll explain why I never sent it in that post.

Again for clarity, this letter is from and about Greté.

Dear Sir / Madam,

On the 6th November 2013 I (Greté) was placed into the ESA Work-Related Activity Group. I am writing to you, to formally ask you to look at the decision again.

I do not believe enough consideration has been given to my mental health and how both looking for work and then trying to hold down a job will affect me.

I tried to answer the questions in the questionnaire honestly, but feel they have not been reviewed fully in context. For example, I would not be able to attend job interviews on my own, and would be unlikely to be able to attend my first day at any new job on my own either. Which prospective employer is prepared to let me attend my first day at work with my husband or someone else I trust so that I don’t have a panic attack? Which employer would let me attend with someone for the first 2 or 3 months until I built up enough confidence and trust in the place of work and the people present so that I could go on my own? Who could even spare the time to attend with me in that situation? That is the reality of my mental health. Can I go to the local Tesco on my own? Yes, because I have been there literally hundreds of times before with my husband. Could I go to a shop I have never been in before? No, and if I were made to it is likely I would suffer a panic attack before I even made it in through the door.

My conditions (dysthymia, panic disorder, agoraphobia) are not cured. I am not well. I suffer from those conditions every day. At best, I manage my surroundings to try and contain the symptoms and ensure I don’t dip into a double depression. I thought that the work-related activity group would include support and counselling to enable me to begin to move towards the process of looking for work. However, in discussion with the Job Centre Plus staff (I attended the interview with my husband) it is clear that level of support does not exist. At best, the process would help me looking for work, but looking for work is not and has never been the issue. As it happens, I had a panic attack during that interview, despite the presence of my husband, and only his presence stopped me leaving the building. Instead, I just sat and cried uncontrollably throughout the whole interview.

The issue with the mental illness that I suffer with daily is that I can not deal with change, stress or pressure, and under those situations I am likely to have a panic attack and essentially ‘run out’ of the workplace. Perhaps, through some miracle, that would be tolerated once or twice, but it would lead to difficult conversations with the company, and those conversations in their own right would lead to more stress and anxiety.

Ultimately these situations would inevitably lead to further depression, self harm and potentially suicidal thoughts. I know this, because it is exactly what happened the last time I tried working in the late 1990’s. I ran out of the work place after suffering a panic attack on my first day, and the following months were some of the deepest depression I have ever suffered, including suicidal thoughts, which led to referral to a psychiatrist.

Although my condition is now fully diagnosed and managed day to day with medication, that only allows me to operate literally day to day. The pressure of work, interview rejection, deadlines, change, and social interaction would inevitably cause the symptoms of my ever present illness to flare up.

The mere thought terrifies me. The whole process of engagement from the ESA terrifies me. In the last month, my desire to self harm has never been stronger and it is only the safety of my own home and family that has helped me rein those feelings in.

I urge you to reconsider my case and place me in the Support Group.

2015 General Election

Polling_station_6_may_2010Here’s what I want.

I want a society that protects those who can’t protect themselves.
That supports those who can’t support themselves.
That helps those that can’t help themselves.

No matter the fiscal cost. I want to pay tax so that someone who can’t work can have an acceptable standard of living.

I reject the idea that the country is full of scroungers.

Frankly, I don’t care if there are scroungers, because for every thief there are many, many, thousands of legitimate people in need.

I want a government that ‘interferes’ enough to keep people alive, housed, warm and fed. I want a government that gets the fuck out of my private life.

I want a government that has scientific integrity.

And most of all, I want an NHS that gives the worlds best care to everyone who walks through the door – no matter the cost.

It’s not hard

(Image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/25834786@N03/4585036818)

Evil in Dungeons and Dragons

I’m sure there are a hundred blog posts about playing evil characters in D&D games.  I’ve read some.  I just wanted to get my own theory down in writing.

Firstly, and most obviously, D&D is generally about playing heroes and heroines, and neither of those tend towards evil.  Yes, some great heroes and heroines have been a touch vengeful, and some have done things you might consider rather naughty, but they tend to get redeemed at the end.  If you’re starting out evil and your intent is to roleplay seeking redemption, congratulations, you’ve found the only time I’d be comfortable letting someone do it, and it won’t be easy.

Otherwise, I don’t think you should play evil characters in D&D.  Some people disagree.

Apart from the issue of heroes and heroines though, I think the real problem for me is that people playing evil characters don’t actually mean evil, they mean chaotic, or troublesome, or selfish, or greedy.  Those aren’t purely evil traits.  There are plenty of good people in the world who are selfish.  Plenty of greedy people who are inherently good.  Plenty of people who cause chaos but don’t have a bad bone in their body.  Yes, in the polarised D&D world most evil people tend towards being selfish and greedy, but they aren’t exclusive owners of those sins.

Evil people do evil things.  Not mean things.  Not naughty things.  Not unpleasant things.  Actual, evil things.

People who want to play evil characters should have to recount their childhood when they grew up killing the neighbouring villager’s pets.  Or, how they betrayed their own brother and threw him down a well at the age of 7.  Or you know, evil stuff.

Evil is the thing we should be fighting against.  Evil is all the shit that’s wrong in this world and every fantasy world there has ever been.  Evil is the great tyrant.  There’s no space in heroic adventuring parties for people who are pretend-evil, and actual evil people wouldn’t last long enough to make it out of the tavern with their first job.

D&D 5th Edition

wallpaper_BeholderI really wasn’t that impressed with 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons.  To be fair, I’d pretty much stopped playing by the time it was released, and only got to play a few fitful sessions.  I spent more time playing 3rd Edition (and 3.5), but no where near as much time as I spent playing 2nd Edition AD&D.

The MMO origins in 4th Edition were clearly evident, and the intent to ‘gamify’ the game to make it appeal to MMO players was both interesting and also frustrating.  It become more mechanical than 3rd Edition without any major advantage and utterly obscured the roleplaying aspect behind book-keeping.  Not everyone will agree, naturally.

When I heard about D&D Next, or 5th Edition I wasn’t really that excited.  We didn’t have time to play anyway, the friends we played with had mostly moved away, and I’d become a bit disillusioned.  Spending a good number of hours to prepare for a game you only played two or three times a year was hard and not doing enough prep meant the games weren’t as enjoyable for anyone as they should be.  We tried Warhammer FRP, we tried Call of Cthulhu and we tried D&D 4th Edition, but nothing had stuck, so 5th Edition seemed like it had come too late.

However, I read the freely released PDF’s when I got around to it – and they’re exciting.  They’re exciting because they garner a feeling in me similar to that when I read the original Dungeons & Dragons Basic (red) and Expert (blue) books.  Here was a light set of rules, that supported play, but encouraged roleplay.

Gone are mandatory 5 foot squares and military precision during combat, back is the option for purely narrative combat, but with the added light-weight structure if you want or need it.

At the same time, a friend introduced us to Roll20 (http://www.roll20.net), which doesn’t look perfect, but looks good enough to actually do some roleplaying without needing to be in the same room as all of the other players.

So for the first time in a long time I’m excited about roleplaying and I’m especially excited about it being Dungeons & Dragons, which is how I got into this hobby in the first place.

monstermanual_th_0

MCM London Comic Con – 2013 – My experience

In 2013, I started writing a blog post about my experience going to the MCM London Comic Con 2013 in May.  However, I started it in such a way that it took far too much effort to finish, and hence it languished here in my drafts folder.  Rather then let it rot, I’m just posting it as-is, without any additional editing.  It’s all over the place, out of sync in terms of timelines, and a bizarre mix of narrative styles.  I make no apologies (except for this one).


The quality of the light outside has changed.  Gone is the pitch dark of night, replaced by an ever hopeful dawn glow.  The much promised sunrise is not far away now, and the birds are all poised, ready, waiting.  Two cats begin to stir; confident another day will begin much like all the rest.

But this is no ordinary dawn, this is will be no ordinary day, and 20 minutes before the sun rises properly the silence is shattered by an alarm clock.  Harsh, electronic, loud.  From beneath the duvet, hidden from the cold of the previous evening, a hand snakes out.  It would be easy, once the noise has stopped, to pretend it had never started.  To hide, to retreat, to leave the dawn to the cats and the birds.  So very easy.  On any other day perhaps.  On a week day, or a normal weekend, at 7:00 maybe, to wait for another 10 minutes before the alarm goes off a second time.

But not this day.  After the hand, an arm, and following the arm, a torso, and before you know it, an entire person has crawled out from beneath the duvet’s warm refuge.  Blinking in the dim, but increasingly confident dawn light, barely able to make out the digits on the alarm clock, the voice that belongs to the face, that is attached to the body, which has just emerged, croaks out, “Four thirty, time to get up.”

Silence.  A pause, a breath to speak again, but just then, a response, “okay”, voice muffled by the same duvet, another person speaks out.  Another arm, some legs and then another entire person escapes from the captivating duvet.

It’s 04:30, and our trip to Comic Con is about to begin.

I’ve never been to a comic, movie or anime convention before.  I’ve been to a board game convention, but it was a while ago, and it was quite small.  I see pictures of the San Diego Comic Con or DragonCon each year and suffer pangs of jealousy.

So I was happy to go with Greté to this years MCM London Comic Con (2013), to see what all the fuss was about, and maybe take some photo’s of people in impressive costume.  Overall, it was a mixed experience, enjoyable, but with other emotions smushed in.  Here’s how it played out!

Firstly, the actual tickets are very reasonably priced, we wanted to go only for Saturday, since we couldn’t stay over anywhere, and the only real things we had on the agenda were a chance to see Mark Meer (the voice of Commander Shepard, among other things) and for Greté to meet Emma Vieceli (illustrator of the Vampire Academy graphic novels, among other things).  However, in terms of cost, the actual event tickets are the minor part.  The travel (train) was £140 for the pair of us, despite booking around 6 weeks in advance.  Some of that is because we wanted to be able to go early, and come back any time we liked without being tied to a specific train.  Our tickets also included all travel across London.  Still, that’s a fair whack for a day out.  The other issue, and this is something you can mitigate if you plan better than I did, was food and drink.  We were in London all day, and either in the convention or in train stations, let’s say that just ‘having a bite to eat’ was a rather expensive process.

The sun eventually rises.  The cats have been fed and are clearly confused, it’s too early for them to even beg to go out, so they put themselves back to bed, oblivious to the fact that they’ll be indoors all day.  Bags are packed and ready.  Two sets of tickets (self printed at home, two sets in case one set is lost), train tickets, portable pharmacy, cameras, extra batteries, a kindle.

The streets are empty, it’s 05:20 and no human in their right mind is out wandering this early on a Saturday morning.  The sun has risen, and the sky promises a dry and bright day.  We stop at the road before crossing, a habit, a good one, but wasted this early.  There are no cars, I wonder briefly if I am in Shaun of the Dead.  There is anticipation now, a definite sense of something about to happen.

Early entry tickets allowed you to gain entry from 9am, two hours before the general opening times.  We had to get from St Pancras to the Excel by tube.  Greté doesn’t like the tube, I hate being in a rush, and we didn’t want to get stuck in a huge queue at the event – and that meant only one thing.

05:35 train to London!

So we got up at 04:30, put on our favourite genre t-shirts (no costume for us, this year at least, because 6 weeks isn’t enough time to do anything justice), and headed south.  The train was almost empty (although there were more people on it than I thought there’d be) and we arrived on time, in London at around 07:30.  We grabbed some (expensive) breakfast, and got the tube and DLR over to the Excel.  We saw one person on the tube we hoped was in-costume (otherwise her working day must be exciting), and by the time we got onto the DLR it was clear we were going the right way.  Our carriage was shared with some anime characters and at least one superhero.

Once we arrived the Excel station, it was obvious we were going the right way as a sea of humanity, heroes, comic book characters, computer game characters, movie heroes and who-knows-what-else slowly streamed in to the Excel halls.  We followed the crowds, had our tickets scanned, and stood in a designated row of people, near the entrance.  We’d made it, in good time (~08:30), and were near the front of the queue.  A steady stream of people followed us in, and as time wore on, that became a flood.  I’m glad we made the choice to head out early.


 

Added today: We queued for a while, we finally got in.  We met up with friends.  We spent so much of the day walking around that I litterally had to go and see the doctor a week later because my little toe on the my left foot was still numb.  I took a lot of pictures, some of them were even okay ( https://www.flickr.com/photos/eightbittony/sets/72157635466091441/ ).  It was fun, but very hard work, and although I’m not sure I’d look good in *any* costume, I think if I go again, I might make the effort.

The Dragon Reborn in 3 bodies

I’m trying to avoid reading any spoilers about the whole Wheel of Time series.  My intent is to finish the books before I learn any of the significant details about how it all turns out.  This is mainly because my anger, and reason for stopping when the books were new, is that it appeared Jordan wasn’t going to answer any of the questions he himself had raised.  I now hope that Brandon has, but I want to RAFO, not see too many spoilers.

That means I have to be careful when searching the web to see if any of my new theories, spawned during my re-read, are original.  I risk finding out that they’re true or false but only based on later stuff I’ve not read.

So here’s a couple of random thoughts that may be true or disproved already.

One Man – Three Bodies

Lews Therin was a mighty man, battle leader, strong in the One Power, etc.  However, Rand doesn’t really seem to know much about battle, no reason he should, he’s quite young.  He is however very strong in the One Power.  Mat on the other hand, can’t channel, but has come into the possession of an awful lot of knowledge that makes him a great battle leader.  I’m not totally sure where Perrin fits in yet.  But perhaps this time, the Wheel has spun out three men, all ta’veren, and split the skills between them.  This seems to have confused the response from the evil guys, never knowing if they should be killing all three, or working with all three.  It’s almost as if the Light needed a way to get an edge.

One Woman – Three Bodies

If the theory of Lews Therin is true, I wonder if the Wheel has spat out Ilyena Sunhair as multiple women?  Perhaps Elayne, Min and Aviendha?

What’s up with the Aiel

I mentioned on twitter that I was re-reading or in some cases, reading for the first time, The Wheel of Time series.  Someone remarked they didn’t know how I had the patience.  Can’t argue with that – some parts of the series are infuriating, as I’ve already expressed.  Well there’s a really simple thing that keeps me reading.  I’ve so far, generally, avoided all spoilers about the books I’ve not read, including the ending.

That means for me, many of the mysteries are still mysteries (especially as Jordan himself failed to resolve many of them before his untimely death).

Chief among those (pun intended) is what’s going on with the Aiel.  I’m in the middle of The Shadow Rising at the moment, and we get what I think is a pretty good summary of what the Aiel are about.  I love the Aiel, and discovering their origin is really interesting.  Of course, I’d already read this bit, but I’m sure there’s more.  There must be more.  I want there to be more.  So I read on, hoping that Jordan or Sanderson give us more information about the Aiel, and what they were up to.

That goes for many other things and people too, Moraine, Mat, Lan, Verin, so much back story and stuff to explain there, that I really hope there are reveals and closures in later parts of the series.

I think, what I will enjoy most, is once I’ve finished the series, finding some comprehensive online resource describing the truth about everything in Randland and burying myself in it.  There’s a rumour Jordan’s widow is planning an official encyclopaedia.  I really hope that happens.

Wheel of Time Characters are Stupid

There are spoilers below, covering the first four Wheel of Time books by Robert Jordan.

The Wheel of Time books are complex on many levels.  They’re complex in and of themselves in terms of the world and story, and they’re also complex in terms of their broader existence in the world.  They were written and released at a time when the Internet was really taking off, and many, many people talked about the books on early web pages and Usenet.  The connection to the author through those routes was something new for many people, probably including Jordan himself.

There’s been a lot written about the books, both about the issues of feminism they seem to raise (or misogyny and misandry depending on your view), and about Jordan’s ‘errors’ as a writer.  Personally, I think he needed a much stricter editor, and the books from around 4 or 5 onwards would have been a lot better.

You’ll also find people screaming about how the characters are stupid.  Especially in terms of female and male interactions, and in not sharing what they know.  Too often you might feel if they had just shared what they knew then the Shadow would have been defeated more easily.  The whole male/female thing is just infuriating, where all the characters seem to have no clue how the other gender operates.

However, I see those two things as part of the plot, or the world structure. I hope there’s some allegory in there, and some comment on how the world was broken and now the genders don’t trust each other (we’ll see if I’m right when I finally finish the series).

What irritates me far more than those, is when characters that are not stupid act in a stupid way.  I can never work out if Jordan thought his readers were stupid, if he thought his characters were stupid, if he was trying to be subtle and failing, or if he just never noticed what he was writing (and his editor didn’t speak up).

The moments in question pull me right out of the books, and make me want to punch the furniture.  During the particular sequence I’m going to describe in a moment, I killed at least one stuffed pillow on the sofa.

  • Perrin, Morraine, Lan and Loial have been traveling towards Tear, and they travel through Illian.  While there, they learn that one of the Foresaken has risen to be ruler of Illian at some stage, they’re not sure when.
  • Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne are also traveling towards Tear.  When they get there, they find the Black Ajah already ensconced.
  • In Tear, they hear of a High Lord who has risen through the ranks in weeks, despite no one ever hearing of him.
  • They learn that he is Foresaken.
  • During a discussion on one particular page, Elayne, Egwene, Moraine, Nynaeve discuss why Rand should go to war.  One of them (I can’t recall which) says something about Rand not having a choice, and who knows which other nations Foresaken have decided to take a controlling interest in.  It is obvious from the discussion that all the women realise this is something very real, very likely, and very dangerous.
  • That conversation finishes, and Moraine leaves.  On the very, next, page, there is a discussion about how Elayne’s mother, The Queen of Andor, has a new adviser no one has heard of and the Queen appears to be in love with him.
  • Not one of the girls puts two and two together.  They just totally dismiss it.  Not one of them thinks ‘hang on a stark raving minute, but we were just discussing how the Foresaken might try and control nations, and now, Andor, one of the most powerful, has a new adviser to the Queen that until a few weeks ago no one had heard of‘.

We don’t know when Mat told Elayne and the others of this new adviser.  We have to assume it was not in the presence of Moraine, since Mat avoids her like the plague.  So, we can forgive Moraine for not knowing about it here, but the three girls have absolutely no excuse.

These are the same three girls who have hunted Black Ajah, captured two of them, escaped from the Senchean, seen horrors beyond telling and are not, in any way, stupid.  Why then, does Robert Jordan write them in this way, with moments of complete stupidity.  Is it meant to be that way, or is it accidental?  I don’t know, but it’s seriously irritating, either make them dumb, or make them clever but at least be consistent.

This is only one example – there are plenty more, when some obvious fact or notion is overlooked by everyone involved (and all the characters suffer, not just these three), for reasons that can only be described as stupidity, when at other times the characters demonstrate a perfectly reasonable amount of intelligence.

It’s one of the things that makes the series hard for me – I could cope if Jordan ever explained the stupidity, if he made it obvious it was intentional, or if he just said it was a mistake, but unless something is revealed in the last 5 or so books that I’ve never read, it’ll continue to drive me mad when I do try and read them.

Why Jordan? Why are the characters so inconsistently stupid and blind?

What did the fox say?

I’ve taken a lot of photographs, before and after I bought my DSLR, and I think this is probably the one that I’m most pleased with, and which seems to get the best response.

What did the Fox say?

As is often the case, right place, right time.  This little cub ran out of the cover, stood still as it saw me long enough for me to lift the camera and get off 10 shots, 1 of which was miraculously in focus.

The usual random blogging type stuff, usually ranting.