Friday, 26 December 2014

Your Offendedness Offends Me

It's Boxing Day now. Yesterday, I had a great (if weird) Christmas day with some amazing friends and my dad. A lot of my friends didn't have anywhere else to be so I didn't spend the day with my family so that I could get them all together to spend time at my house. One my friends has a three-year-old who spent Christmas with me because he has no other family to be with. One of my friends was raised a Jehovah's Witness and, at the age of 18, had her first ever Christmas. She had as much fun as the three-year-old for all the same reasons. It didn't matter that none of us really cared about the Nativity. It was definitely different to every other Christmas I've ever had, but I thought it was great. It was still about what Christmas was about - getting together with people you care about and sharing and laughing and wearing crappy hats.

I'm not religious. I never have been. I don't pretend to be. I still like Christmas. It's a cultural thing for me. It's something my family do and, though I know some of them claim to be Christian, we don't enforce any religious teaching strictly. I enjoy it. I like seeing my family, I like buying presents for the people I love.

Although I don't buy into the doctrine that gives society Christmas, I like some of the traditions the holiday has given us.

I like that it encourages people to take some time out of their lives to think of others - whether it's humankind as a whole, or just the people important to them. I like that people remember the importance of togetherness.

But I feel like, if the country I grew up in didn't have Christian foundations, I would still not buy into the prominent doctrine and I would still appreciate having a time of giving and togetherness. If it wasn't Christmas, it would be Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or something else, and I would feel exactly the same way.

Which is why this kind of shit annoys me:

I don't care what greeting you want to give people. Say "Merry Christmas" if you want, but don't act like that makes you better than someone who says "Happy Holidays". It just doesn't. You belittling them for giving a different greeting makes you a dick.

I don't understand why this is offensive. If anything, it is more considerate. I - and pretty much all of the people who I've seen sharing these pictures - live in a secular society that accepts all different religions. And Christianity is not the only religion that has a special occasion around this time. If someone says "Happy Holidays", they are not making broad assumptions about your religion - they know that you might be Christian, or Jewish, or atheist, or any other religion - and they want to wish you goodwill regardless. They're hoping that at a time when this country recognises a national holiday, you enjoy whatever you're doing with your life at that time, whether you're celebrating something or not.

Or maybe, they're including the New Year, which is relevant to everyone who uses this calendar, in with Christmas (or whatever) so would still come under the pluralised heading 'holidays'.

The fact is, I appreciate that someone wants to offer me joy. "Have a nice day" is good enough for me. But it doesn't always happen. This is generally the only time of year people will go out of their way to wish you goodwill (where I live in England at least; I hear people are much cheerier in America, for instance).

I think it's nice. I think anyone who doesn't is a fucking idiot. Taking someone else's kindness and getting upset about it because they said it wrong is the behaviour of the worst kind of narcissist.

The number of friends - good mates, who usually I really like - who I have seen sharing this has actually upset me. I hope by next year, people will have learned to appreciate when someone is being nice.

And in the meantime, I hope that everyone has some happy fucking holidays.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Please Don't Die, Kickstarter

Why does everything I love collapse and die?

I think Kickstarter, and its crowdfunding allies (indiegogo, Patreon, and so on), are incredible. I love that someone thought them up. I love how they're used. Mostly. I love, basically, the whole idea of crowdfunded and crowdsourced work.

Personally, I love it from an artsy perspective, because everything I learn about every creative industry makes me hate it more. Seriously, don't bother going after a creative career unless you're willing to either put in all the work yourself or compromise every artist value you have. I am getting closer and closer to a sincere belief that dealing with the established media is like making pacts with every evil entity from every religion and superstition man has ever dreamed up.

Or maybe it's not all that bad and I'm just upset. But my exaggerations come from a legitimate foundation.

Crowdfunding, to me, seemed like a way around all of that. It was a way of letting people choose what they wanted to consume, rather than being forced to drink the generic toilet-water Simon Cowell expects us to accept as 'art'.

I adored everything about it. Immediately. I followed Amanda Palmer's Kickstarter adventure religiously. I've backed loads of projects on Kickstarter - music, films, games - and even when I can only offer a few pounds, I like how much more involved backers are made to feel. For instance, creators will send regular email updates on projects that have more meaning that just to sell you more crap. They write in such informal, friendly tones that you really feel their gratitude. The distance between artist and consumer, when broadened by the industry middle man, only looks wider when you've got the communal feeling of a crowdfunded project to compare.

And then I backed a project called The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, a PC game based on an H. P. Lovecraft story. It was a high-profile project that get over 100,000 views in the first couple of days, not to mention shares on FaceBook and Twitter by all kinds of people. By rights, it should have done insanely well. It should have hit its goal with no trouble at all.

Instead, it got fewer than 2000 backers. Which is pitiful.

The makers of the game sent regular progress updates to everyone who pledged, thanking them for their involvement and generosity and letting them know how things were going.

On 30th October 2014, they sent their final update. It thanked everyone who had been willing to help, and regretfully informed us that the project had fallen through. It explained how they had gone about their Kickstarter campaign in huge amounts of detail - there was practically no way they could have generated more interest in their game. They tried to fathom where it had all gone wrong.

They seemed forced to conclude "Kickstarter is dying".

This is definitely something I did not want to believe, but they offered some really good statistics to back their arguments. They did everything right, but crowdfunding had failed.

And this breaks my heart.

As someone who, one day, would like to make a living doing something creative, and who thinks our arts industry is horrifically broken, I was really excited about crowdfunding.

I am well aware that it had its problems, its kinks that needed fixing. There are plenty of 'crowdfunding gone wrong' stories floating around. There are plenty of people ready to use honest crowdfunding platforms to abuse the generosity of others.

But, at its core, it is a beautiful thing.

And even the slightest suggestion that people have already given up on it disappoints the hell out of me.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Things You Should Know: TFL Rules

In what little time I can snatch between working and sleeping, I have been following up my recent angry blog post about TFL with some research, as I posted it well before I had a chance to do some proper Googling and the information it contains is the result of only brief search. I am yet to call TFL (seriously, look at my working hours, they're disgusting), but have had help from a number of people on various social media who know about these things.

The most useful thing I have found was shown to be me by a helpful person on Twitter, and it was this page taken from the most recent set of guidelines gives to TFL drivers:

If you can't read that, it says;
Vulnerable passengers
Do not leave anyone stranded if they are vulnerable or obviously in distress. For example:

  •   Young or older people 
  •    People who could be at risk if left behind, including those in isolated places or at quieter times
  •   People who are disable, injured, unwell or who have had an accident, assault of similar incident  
  • People who show you a travel support card and may have learning difficulties. Not all impairments are obvious

This seems generous enough, but it does mean that allowing people onto buses without charging is left entirely up to the driver's discretion as the rules are very vague.

What, for instance, counts as "young"? I am 21, which is generally considered young, but I am the oldest I have ever been and, for the most part, I feel pretty grown-up right now. However, if that is the only excuse I have to getting on a bus for free, I will take that excuse.

The terms "isolated places" and "quieter times" are also somewhat vague. I wouldn't consider Hammersmith in general an "isolated place", but it does feel pretty damn isolated when it's 3am and no Oyster stops are open. As for "quieter times", I can only assume that that means, "in the middle of the night" rather than "when there's only one person on the bus, no matter what time of day". To me, that leeway seems to have been put in place purely for instances such as the ones I have experienced.

What is clear from those rules is that the woman with the broken leg I saw get refused definitely had the right to board the bus regardless of fare. She was certainly "injured" and, if she "had an accident", had clearly suffered a "similar incident" that would have justified her needing to get transport instead of walking to her destination.

Given that this information is in the rule book given to bus drivers, there really shouldn't have been a dispute in either of the situations I experienced. I have downloaded the above photo and have saved it to my phone so that, should it happen again, I can show it to the offending bus driver. TFL have said that they have given all their bus drivers "refresher courses" so that they know this information, but the ones I have dealt with either forgot or purposely ignored it. It is a shame that I consider it in my best interests to have to carry it around with me.

Should this fail, I have learned some other things.

I had already assumed, based on what I've gleaned from past experience and my knowledge of other company's policies about abuse, that if you swear too much at a bus driver, they have the right to ask you to leave.

However, if you remain calm and talk to the driver, they can't actually do anything. They can't physically touch you to remove you from the bus, because that is legally considered assault and you can sue them for it. If you remain standing on the bus, they are allowed to call the police to have them remove you. If the police arrive, you can complain that it is the bus driver who is in the wrong and that the rules do in fact say that they should take you to your destination, and now you've got your photo evidence to prove it. If they still ask you to leave the bus, it is then the police's obligation to ensure that you are safe. As you have not committed a crime, and provided you have legitimate reason not to want to walk (for example, it is 3am), they then have no choice to but to escort you home.

Personally, I think this is a waste of police time and that bus drivers should just be more compassionate and remember that, actually, they are allowed to use their discretion to ensure people aren't endangered by being stranded at all hours of the morning. The only reason I can think of for them to not want to help people get home is that they will have to "issue an Unpaid Fare Report", and no one likes having to do extra paperwork.

Sadly, I don't have a photo of the page in the rulebook that explains quite how that works. But, personally, even if it is a lot of hassle as far as paperwork goes, I'd still rather do it than leave someone abandoned in the middle of the night.

But that's just my personal opinion.

Ideally, the bus system should just not allow people to get stuck in these horrible situations and hopefully one day these decisions will be repealed so that this sort of thing stops happening. In the mean time, I hope that people will share this information as much as possible so that no one else gets left behind.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

TFL's Compassionless Bus System

It is gone 2am. I am on my second bus home from work, having worked an eight hour shift. I am tired. Everyone else on the bus is tired. I am looking forward to being in bed.

My bus, the 33 from Hammersmith to Fulwell, pulls into its stop at Barnes Station. A couple of people get off. A handful of people are waiting.

A woman with a broken leg gets onto the bus and swipes her travelcard, valid until 4am. The machine refuses it. The woman shows the driver the travelcard and explains that it's valid for nearly two more hours, it's late, can she just get on the bus?


Someone impatient squirms past the woman with the broken leg, swipes their Oyster card and gets on.

The driver tells the woman to get off the bus. The woman turns, as if about to.

The guy behind her tells her to stay on the bus. He swipes his Oyster card and tells the driver he'll pay for her fare too.

But London buses don't accept cash any more. The driver refuses the guy's money and tells the woman to get off the bus. The guy insists that the woman stays on the bus.

"Mate, she's got a broken leg, I'm not letting her get off this bus in the middle of the night."

The driver kills the engine.

Anyone who hadn't noticed until now, is suddenly aware of the tension at the front of the bus. A disgruntled, yet curious, murmur spreads through the passengers. From where I'm sitting at the back, I can't see the driver. The woman shrinks away from people staring at her, mumbles, "It's fine, it's fine, I'll manage."

The guy gets angry. "Mate, I'll pay. I'll give you money. She can't walk home like this." And so on, to an unresponsive driver, getting increasingly worked up until he calls the driver a dickhead.

This is not a good move. Ever. I know enough about working in customer service to know that if someone swears at you, most places will consider that abuse. I don't know exactly the rules for TFL, but I know that a lot of workplaces will give you one warning for you first swear word and will stop dealing with you on your second on grounds of verbal abuse.

The driver, I imagine, told the guy not to swear at him, to which the guy replied, "But you are a dickhead."

And then he got asked to leave the bus, having already swiped his own Oyster.

He called the driver a dickhead a bit more, then left the bus. The woman went with him.

The rest of the people on the stop got on the bus. The driver started the engine. As he pulled away, the passengers who had started whispering amongst themselves about the disturbance grew louder.

It's gone 2am.

She's got a broken leg.

Should've just let her on.

And, actually, he should have. When TFL introduced the cashless bus system, one measures they said would be part of it was "Refreshed guidance for all 24,500 London bus drivers to ensure a consistent approach is taken when dealing with vulnerable passengers". If anyone can be considered "vulnerable", I think, it's someone with a broken leg who needs a lift home in the early hours of the morning. In this instance, it seemed like someone who was averse to confrontation, too. She kept apologising to people in the front rows of the bus for delaying their journey. If these regulations don't make exceptions for injured people in the middle of the night, I would sincerely question their definition of the word "vulnerable".

I am honestly ashamed of this system. And I'm ashamed of the way that no one could help. I don't know if anyone wanted to, but as long they don't accept cash and a lot of people don't have contactless cards, it's not easy to help people out. If your fare is short a few pence, someone helpful can lend you a bit. But with this system in place, people aren't allowed the opportunity to help out.

Last night, at 2.50am, I boarded my second night bus and swiped my Oyster card. It didn't take. I looked at the driver. He shrugged at me. I smiled and got on the bus, foolishly assuming that the shrug meant that he wasn't bothered.

The driver killed the engine.

I was half way down the bus. I turned, confused. My friend told me not to worry, it wasn't about me. I sat down. Everyone else sat down.

The driver left the engine off.

Someone said, "There's a problem with someone's fare."

I got up and went to the front of the bus.

"Are you actually going to stay here?" I asked.

The driver shrugged and stared out of the window.

"I can't top up," I told him. "The tube station is closed, the top up machines are locked away."

The driver shrugged.

"You want me to walk home? It's 3am nearly. My house is an hour away. There is nowhere nearby open where I can top up."

The driver shrugged, stared out of the window.

A woman in the front told me to use my contactless card.

"I don't have one."

"You're screwed, then."


I don't want a contactless card. If I lost it, it'd be too easy for someone to spend a lot of my money very quickly. If they went into five shops and spent £20 using the contactless technology, I'm out £100. I don't have enough money to just lose £100 like that. It's also far too easy, provided I don't lose my card, to buy lots of cheap junk because it's easy. Ease of purchase is one of the main reasons I have so much rubbish I don't really want off eBay. I don't need it to be easier to buy cheap crap.

And I don't see why I should compromise my opinions of contactless cards to accommodate a system I actively oppose.

My friend tried to use her contactless card, but the machine refused it because it was for a Australian bank. We offered to pay the driver, and he refused to take our money because London buses are now cashless.

Although, last week, from the back of the bus, I had been aware of everyone on the bus being of the side of the injured woman who wanted to get home, for some reason last night I feel painfully aware of everyone wishing I would get off the bus so they could get home. Maybe I imagined it. Either way, it was a nasty feeling.

The driver refused to look at me, instead staring directly out the window and just shrugging when I tried to appeal to his sense of human decency and compassion.

Eventually, another passenger pulled out a contactless card and swiped it for me. I thanked him. A lot. He told me not to blame the driver, "it's just his job".
The cashless bus system they have introduced in London is disgusting. I don't care if it is just his job, you don't push people out into the street alone in the middle of the night. It's common human decency, and the system that not only allows but forces this to happen is putrid and sickening. Frankly, if my job called for me to kick any human being out into the streets in the middle of the night, I'd break the rules until I lost that job, then I'd cause an internet storm by telling everyone that the reason I lost my job was because I showed basic human compassion.

The new measures they have introduced to make this transition easy aren't nearly enough. The "one more journey" measure (where your Oyster will go into debit for ONE bus journey only) is stupid, especially if, like I do, you have two or more night buses (or even day buses) to take. The exceptions they will make appear to be vague. I have Googled for some guidelines about what kind of exceptions they will make - what they would consider an emergency - and I can find nothing. I fully intend to phone them (on a day when I don't have to rush off to work) and find out what the rules are specifically. 

So far, it appears to be that, no matter who you are, how vulnerable you are, how late it is, or anything, if you can't pay, the engine will be turned off until you get out of their hair.

I have had arguments with corporations and companies before. I expect to be treated fairly by people who are taking my money. And if I find that I'm not being treated fairly, I stop using them. I don't eat at McDonald's, I don't shop at Tesco's and I don't buy from Amazon. I can't boycott TFL. I need to use public transport to get to work, so that I can earn money to pay my rent and buy my food, so that I can live. I depend on them to survive.

And as long as I do, I consider it my responsibility to make sure their services remain fair.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Apparently, we live in a world where this is okay.

This will be a short one, because it is effectively a summary I had come to following much incoherent rage about the state of the world. It is one of the many reasons I struggle to comprehend other human beings.

What I don't understand is that civilisation seems to consider it fair for a rich person to steal a lot of money and only pay a fraction of it back, while at the same time it is the norm for a poor person to legally borrow a lot of money and be still be paying it back until their death.

These are two things that bother me when they are completely separate from each other. The fact that we live in a world in which the two not only exist, but coexist, and no one seems to notice, baffles me.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Go suck a dick, media.

It offends me that when I typed 'm' into a search box, the first suggestion was 'Magaluf girl'. I can assume with a fair amount of confidence that I don't need to explain what I mean by the story about the Magaluf girl. I don't care about the Magaluf girl. So she sucked some dick. It wasn't classy, but it also wasn't news.

I don't care how much dick she sucked. She - you - I - everyone - has the right to suck as much or as little dick as they like, for their own or others' pleasure, in exchange for goods, services, money, whatever, as long as they do it of their own free will, and they have the right not to be judged for doing so. She can suck all of the dick in the world and it won't make a difference to my life. Fact is, if I want to know about people sucking dicks, I'll go out of my way to find people sucking dicks. There is plenty of it out there without it also being in the news. So maybe, by society's current standards, it was tacky to exchange twenty blowies for one alcopop, or whatever it was, but if she thought it was a fair trade then that's her call to make.

Personally, I resent the fact that the media has insisted that I have to hear about it, when there are much more important things happening in the world. I've been reading recently about scientists finding the part of the brain that switches on consciousness. I've been reading about secret paedophiles in our government. I've been reading about disabled and mentally ill people protesting because they can't afford to live because of the meagre benefits they get from our twisted government. These are all far more important than the fact that some girl sucked a few dicks, but all have been ignored by the general public because all they are about is that a girl sucked a few dicks. 

This is why I loathe humanity. There are more interesting things to read about, things which are more valuable to humans in general, than "lol at the slut", which is effectively what we've been given here in place of actual news.

What people choose to do with their own and other peoples' bodies is their business and no one else's. If they choose to tell their friends or tweet about it or post videos of it online, that's their decision. Sex between consenting adults is not and never should be in the news. News about rape cases, fine, people need to know how to deal with predators and abusive people, to know that the law and the government won't tolerate people treating each other like that, et cetera, et cetera. But this is just gossip, and it's clogging up the social consciousness to the extent that it is pushing out things that actually qualify as news. 

And because it is apparently far more interesting than anything that actually matters, here is a dick (from Wikipedia):

See the non-effect it has on your life?
Now go do something useful.