Where the viaduct looms like a bird of doom and shifts and cracks…

As this post is so long, I’ve put a short bulleted list at the end of how to identify a scammer, based off the longer text. Use it if you need.

 

The EDS community has a scammer problem. Well, the disability community in general has a scammer problem, but I know about it in the EDS community, so hear me out.

 

Our online communities are tight-knit and ragged at the edges. Everyone knows everyone, somehow, they’re a friend-of-a-friend and thus everyone trusts everyone. We all know the score – We’re skint, our governments are disenfranchising us, we’re in pain – so we all tend towards being nice and accommodating and trusting one another. After all, if you can’t show your bones around another person with EDS, where can you? The ragged edges of the community are the people that we all know on-sight, but aren’t necessarily that close to, but, because of that shared diagnosis and that assumed shared experience, we all just trust and let them in. They cry out, we listen. They blame, we believe. They ask for money, we give.

 

Some of them are genuine. Many of them, as time goes on, turn out to be not. They might want money (they usually want money), they might want attention, they might want to feel loved, they might even just enjoy the feeling of control of being able to sic an online mob on someone.

 

So, here’s a couple of observations on characteristics of the scammer, and particularly the EDS scammer. Now, a lot of these will apply to genuine people, so if you read this and go “Hang on that’s me, but I’m genuine”… You should probably be the most enraged, because these fucking frauds have taken your identity, your history, your daily life, and turned it into something that they can milk on the internet for cash and attention.

 

You’ll note that the word “Crisis” turns up a lot. That’s because these people thrive on a sense of crisis and urgency. If it’s *desperate* and *immediate* and *life or death*, you’ll respond more quickly, you’ll give money, you’ll retweet them, you’ll share their fundraiser, you’ll dogpile their “enemies”. If there’s not a sense of growing, gathering doom and the world being all out to get them, their readers might step back and think; Hang on, is this all real?

Also, this is a long post. It’s long because of how these people work – they throw a huge amount of information at you, a huge amount of contradictions, a huge amount of equivocation and reasoning and extraneous detail in order to make themselves and their story seem hyper-real, and trying to pin that down is difficult. So it’s taken a lot of words to pin it down, and I’ve probably still not done it right.

I have no idea how to clearly get across that I absolutely do not mean genuine-people-with-complex-and-seemingly-contradictory-stories, I mean scammers, absolute scammers, and I’m trying to precis a way to describe them. Many genuine people have complicated, unpleasant lives. These people, as I said above, prey on them by pretending to be one of them, and using the trust and goodwill of that community to gain money and attention.

 

Observation 1: Every crisis in the news applies to them, personally.

I first found scammers like this through the EDS community, but then I noticed that they scammed on a dozen fronts at once, usually by coopting anything that was in the headlines and making it about them, personally.

The most egregious examples of this will make their family trees impossibly multi-national and multi-ethnic. Not just “My maternal grandmother was X and my paternal great-grandfather was Y, so we had some X and Y culture around the house when I was growing up” but literally it will change over time. So, if there was a crisis in Egypt, their whole upbringing will have revolved around their Egyptian grandmother, they’ll have grown up speaking Arabic, and been subject to anti-Arab prejudices and stereotypes, and have considered themselves to be Arab. A week later, when there’s a news story from Brazil, they’ll have grown up speaking Portuguese thanks to their Portuguese grandfather, and been perceived as and considered themself to be Latino. Over time, the story will change – The Russian grandmother was his grandfather’s second wife, the Tajikistani uncles will be old friends-of-the-family, the Cherokee great-grandmother will have been raised off-reservation and never enrolled. Usually there’ll be a Family Tragedy which is why the story keeps changing, or why the scammer doesn’t speak to, or like speaking about, individuals in their family unless it’s in great, sweeping, stereotypical terms (“Baba always washed things in dilute bleach and sang old folktales and reminisced about living in a vardo as a girl”, never “Baba loved plaiting my hair and kept bull-terriers and ate endless frozen pizzas”). Conveniently, whatever ethnic background they claim, they’ll always look as white as milk. Often, they’ll complain that photos “make them look white”, or they’ll draw particular attention to any feature of their face that could be thought of as being stereotypically similar to the current group that’s being marginalised (“I look so white in this photo, but my eyes are Indian”) since, well, if you’re told that something looks like something, you’ll probably agree, or at least you’re primed to agree. Especially if it’s someone’s face. They’ll use the principle of politeness – that you should never tell someone that you disbelieve their experiences – to hide this in plain sight. After all, if they’re telling you, week-in week-out that they’re experiencing street and institutional racism, who are you to say “But… You look white, you’re ginger, you have blue eyes…” The issues faced by the people in the news will pale in comparison to the affect that it’s having on them! Give them money!

They’ll have friends or family in every city that appears on the news. One of the ways that I first spotted my first scammer who acted like this was that he described me as “A close friend” when there was a news-level incident in the city I lived in. He milked money from the crowd by fretting that he thought he’d never see me again, that we were like brothers, that seeing so much disaster brought home to him how vulnerable he was, living where he did, and that he thus needed to be given money to move home… He got the money, and he did. The event in question was the sort of small flood that happens every few years but looks very dramatic. A couple of bikes were washed away. I’d spoken to this chap perhaps three times in my life, always about fairly shallow things.

It’ll then follow on to illness – Thankfully (for them) EDS is one of those conditions where the presentation is so variable that someone with it might have been diagnosed with almost anything beforehand. So, any news article on disability gets answered with “Back when I was diagnosed with [Topical Thing]”. Likewise, they can pick and choose which symptoms they’re having – If someone was in the news for doing something in a fugue state, then their EDS will come with seizures. If paraplegia or hemiplegia is in the news, they’ll have no function in their legs. If the topic is food, their EDS’s main symptom will be food intolerances and low appetite. Any suggestions that these problems either aren’t dangerous, or could be made better with a simple, cheap solution, will be met with equivocation. They need, clearly, a lot of money, and sympathy, and attention. And they need it now!

Depending on the crowd that they’re courting, they’ll also be LGBT. Usually they’ll appear to be straight and cis, and in a hetero relationship (or at least, always showing interest in the opposite sex) but the same thing will apply; Ah, they may appear to be a straight cis woman, but actually they’re a pansexual greyromantic demigirl! Thus anything happening to LGBT people in the news… Yep, you’ve got it, it may as well be happening to them, right now. They’re the ones that need the money, sympathy, attention… All of the above. Money!

Observation 1.2: Every action that they do will have intense personal relevance.

They’re not just eating an orange because they have an orange, they’re eating an orange because it’s the food that their Mother would bring them on payday. They’re not wearing jeans because jeans are comfortable, they’re wearing them because they have a deep grief about the shape of their legs and jeans are the only thing that ameliorates that violence. Someone elbowing them out of the way in the bus queue wasn’t just an arsehole, they did it for racist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic reasons, and it was personally deeply upsetting because it reminded them of the time that they were elbowed out of the way at a Lifechanging Event. Clearly, they are deeply traumatised and need your money!

Observation 1.3: They will convert to as many oppressions as possible.

If they can convert to a minority religion, they will, regardless of whether or not they actually believe it or keep to its precepts. They will identify as as many things as possible which don’t have strict boundaries or which have no bearing on their external actions (They’ll be grey-aromantic, or demisexual, or an indigo child, or an Unusually Sensitive Person, or an empath, or will self-diagnose with atypical autism, or an old soul, or a spiritworker…) some of the things will be real things, even if very loosely defined, some of them will be semi-real things, and some of them will just be pseudoscience and a way of saying “I am special and different”.

The points in (1) are to do with making links between themselves and as many things as possible, so that when later, they want to beg for money, you’re already faintly aware of a connection between them and the item that they’re begging for. “Oh yes, Floorbert needs £100 designer jeans, because jeans have something to do with his trauma” [clicks “Donate now!”] “Oh, Squamina’s great great grandmother was a Cherokee princess, she must be destroyed by [current event]… I’ll give her some money.”

 

Observation 2: They are constantly in desperate personal crisis.

Nothing is ever simple and no problem is too small. Every single stumblingblock in the road of life is the one that will kill them, immediately, and only your money can save them. Everything, arbitrarily, will need to be done NOW, has a short deadline, and if it’s not done by that deadline, all hell will break loose. They’ll phrase it in more and more pitiful terms as the deadline gets closer; “If I don’t get an electric piano by the fourteenth, I’ll have to wait a year to get into music school” “I need an electric piano by the fourteenth to fulfill my dream of being a musician, before I die” “My crippled hands are withering, I have until the fourteenth to get an electric piano and I don’t know now long I’ll last after that” “The thought of the piano, by the fourteenth, is all I live for. I am music, I am nothing but notes and sorrow”. They will manage to make even fairly colossal luxuries seem like the absolute least that a human needs in order to live a good life, and look how much they deserve the best possible life, with all of the hardships that the world has thrown at them…

The constant sense of crisis and urgency is what keeps their followers on their toes. At every corner, there is an opportunity to help this poor, struggling, vulnerable person! And quick! If you don’t they might die right now! Or worse, they might call you out as one of those sham-friends who does nothing but selfishly read their content and then never helps, oh woe. You owe them, you read their articles, you have to pay up immediately!

 

Observation 3: Their EDS only has the picturesque, dramatic symptoms.

They will never, ever, talk about faecal impaction. Not even to other people with the same condition. Or vomiting. Or the reality of losing days to pain, which is more accurately summed up by a pile of empty crisp packets and lucozade bottles than by a wan, gothic figure in a four-poster bed. They will suffer from dramatic fainting fits and seizures and crippling fatigue, and it will all be cloaked in a sort of maudlin romanticism. They’ll dwell on their own mortality, constantly. The care that they need will look more like a hurt-and-comfort fic than reality; A lot of soulful, tender bathing and eating their favourite meals in bed by candlelight, and not very much practical shuttling-around by friends, or having their laundry done by neighbours. It absolutely will not involve things like having to be helped to get to the toilet, or ashamedly admitting that their house needs a professional cleaner, or having to have a third-party take notes in medical appointments for them. They will have something like Victorian Novel Disease, complete with the implication that they are Too Good For This World and need charity to stay alive.

If they don’t, in reality, have EDS, they will repeat common descriptions of symptoms used by others in the community, or they’ll make up unusually florid descriptions which bear very little relation to reality. If they feel that someone is questioning the truth of their story as they’re telling it, they’ll change it – Saying that they’re too confused, or that they can’t remember, or that it’s all a blur from pain. They’ll usually never try to describe something that’s really hard-to-explain, like how a luxation feels, and will focus on simple, dramatic statements.

 

Observation 3.1: Their medical treatment will be all-or-nothing, and usually a caricature of EDS treatment.

Doctors will be baffled by their EDS. More baffled than is usual, I mean. They’ll only ever name-drop opioids or other drugs that hit the headlines when they talk about their medications, everything else will be “Something for migraines” or “Something for tiredness”. They’ll talk about their medications, especially morphine, as if they’re taking far more than is safe, and as if they are the sickest patient on the internet. They’ll really hammer it home – They’re taking MORPHINE, their problems are MORPHINE-LEVEL-BAD and thus they need your pity, sympathy, attention and most of all money.

Any doctor suggesting physio will only be suggesting it for racist or misogynist or fatphobic reasons, likewise any suggesting that talking therapies can help. This will result in more screaming online, more begging for money and attention (“To pay to see another doctor”) and more long screeds about how this is affecting them all much more badly than it’d affect the average person. And thus why you should give them money.

Again, they will seem to draw their words and descriptions from other people with EDS – They might parrot treatments and side-effects directly from others, or have *exactly* the problems in getting treatment that they expect (and that are dramatically satisfying) and no others. They will always face a deeper discrimination than anyone else around them, of course. Much like with their symptoms, if someone seems to be questioning them (and I’ve seen people claiming to get literally impossible treatments in wings of hospitals that don’t exist) they’ll claim either malpractise, that they’ve been lied to by their doctor and that this is just an extra indignity, or they’ll have another acute crisis atop their ongoing-crisis.

 

Observation 4: All of their wants will be framed as needs.

They will never just “Want” something, it will always come with a sad story and a hint for money. From something as elaborate as “I need a piano to play the lost music of my people! By the way, here’s a paypal link” to “I need a takeaway because the only food left in the house is boring”, everything will be framed as a need, and the opportunity will always be there for their followers to pay for it for them. There’ll usually also be a time limit in order to make it crisis-like; “Ugh, I need to buy a guitar within the next hour so that it’s here in time to play at Big Event that I’ve been looking forward to forever!”

There is no way that they can do any of these things without your help, and they are experts at coopting the language of equality and accessibility to make it seem like, in not paying for whatever it is that they want, you’re being racist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic… You get the picture.

They’ll also talk frequently about how it’s ableist and classist to “police how they spend money”. It is, of course, ableist and classist to say that disabled or poor people can’t have nice things, but when someone says “Please! Give me money for groceries or I’ll die!” and then a few seconds later says “Since you bought me food, I bought a £200 musical instrument on a whim to cheer myself up”, they’re doing something very wrong by misrepresenting the situation that they’re in.

This one is particularly insidious since so many of us are so open about our finances and are so close to complete destitution; We tend to expect that someone saying “I have no money” has no money. Plenty of us, upon knowing that we can afford food for the rest of the week, will consider ourselves rich. We’ll then share with others in the community. It’s a little galling to realise, after giving money to someone who is “starving!” that they don’t really mean that they have no food, just no food that they want to eat, when you yourself found the money to give to them by eating just plain rice for three days.

As much as there is no literal compulsion to give money to anyone who is fundraising, there is powerful social pressure. Scammers exploit that, they make themselves as pitiable and noble as possible, and wait for the money to roll in.

 

Observation 5: They will be deeply, unusually, personally fragile and helpless, even though they’re so brave and noble, and this will gain them protection.

This is related to how they keep their masquerade going. They make themselves impossible to criticise, because any tiny slight against them will make them do two things; First, they will be publicly devastated, shaken to their very core by the horrid accusations levelled against them. Then, second, they will whip up a mob against the person who criticised them. The other person will have criticised them because they’re “jealous of their success”, or because they’re ableist, homophobic, racist or transphobic (Again, see the utility of being ‘oppressed’ on many axes – The scammer can always pick an axis that the accuser doesn’t share), or because they’re just plain “hateful”. That’ll do two things in turn – It’ll make the individual critic, who may or may not have been about to expose them as a scammer, no longer a reliable or trusted source (After all, they attacked this poor fragile innocent!) and it’ll serve as a warning to anyone else; Don’t try to expose the scammer, they will make your online life hell. The number of scammers where I’ve spoken to other people who know them, and the people have said “Oh, yeah, I think they’re up to something but I can’t place *what*, and if I said anything I’d get doxxed”. All the while, even though small groups of people individually move away from the scammer, the scammer continues to draw in the more trusting and usually more vulnerable.

 

Finally then, what do we do?

I don’t know. Honestly, I have no fucking idea, but it depresses me and it’s ripping the community apart. I hate to say “Don’t trust anyone, ever, unless you know them, unless their story seems straight and stays straight for years, unless you’ve seen their face or heard their voice, unless you’ve got reasons, other than just ‘because they say so’ to believe them…” but I think that’s where we are, as a group now. Most of us, so close to all of us, are honest and when we ask for help, it’s because we’re desperate. But the few who don’t, who parasitise our community and our goodwill and the trust that we’ve worked for years or even decades to build up, have ruined it. I see a GoFundMe or a BuyMeACoffee link cross my desk now, and I immediately assume that it’s a scammer, or someone begging for treats instead of just trying to live out the week. And I know that hurts genuine people that need help – A few years ago, when I literally was eating nothing but broken rice and smartprice lemonade, I asked for help to get me to my family home to see my Grandmother for the last time. She’s not dead now, but she is gone, and strangers on the internet helped me to spend that last year with her before she vanished into her own head. And for that I’m forever grateful. And I am fucking enraged that people trying to make themselves comfortable by begging from the already-poor have made it more difficult for people in that kind of situation.

 

Maybe, all I’ll say is, take everyone with a pinch of salt. If they seem too tragic to be true, assume that they’re not true. If their daily lives fit a neat narrative arc, assume that they’re fiction. If they constantly need your money, and make you feel like you are obliged to give it (Including by the backchannel of “Nobody has to give! But we’d really appreciate it from those who can afford to spare the equivalent of a cup of coffee…”) question why that is.

 

I’ve rambled for too long anyway. Here’s a precis;

 

A: Scammers prey on our sense of community and our willingness to help each other.

B: Their tactics and how to identify them

B1) They will make everything about them, so that you will think of them often.

B2) They will be in constant, urgent crisis so that you feel that you have to help them NOW.

B3) Their illness will seem slightly unreal, as if they’re trying to tell a story.

B4) Anything that they want will be phrased as a “need” and will justify fundraising for it.

B5) They will be paradoxically vulnerable, and inspire people to gang up on their critics for them.

C: Take all requests for money with a grain of salt, especially if the above criteria are met.

A tale of two ovaries

So, on the 10th of May I went up to the local health centre to talk to the counsellor about being sterilised. And, honestly, she was fantastic. She had no qualms at all about whether or not I needed the procedure, she understood that wanting the weight of fertility off my mind was an important thing, so we talked about physical methods – I obviously wanted it done transvaginally, because incisions would risk adhesions, and she agreed that was a great idea. The local Trust don’t usually work transvaginally, so she referred me on to my usual surgeon, Mr GB, and suggested that a ligation followed by putting the Mirena coil back in place (So that I was sterile AND had no periods) would be absolutely ideal for me.

She waved me off with a smile and a promise that all it would take from now was a bit of form-filling and a quick consult with the lovely Mr GB.

 

So, on the 11th of June when I had to go up to StJ to see the surgeon, I wasn’t worried. I rode in, happy to be out on the bike on its new tyres, and was called up into the office pretty promptly. To see… Not Mr GB. An assistant. Fair enough, I thought. We had a nice chat to start off with – She’s a zebra too, and I was amazed that she’s the second zebra gynae that I’ve met *at that hospital*, and a biker, so we chatted about the bike, and then;

 

“Well, the bad news is, there’s no way that we’re going to give you a ligation. Our trust just do not do them on anyone who’s not already had children.”

 

I got angry, swallowed it back down into a hot ball of sick sweat in my chest, and felt myself flush a terrible colour.

 

“Have you considered vasectomy?”

 

I fought back. I’m not my partners’ property, so I exaggerated a little; “It doesn’t seem fair to give half of the city a vasectomy just to avoid letting me have the snip.”

 

She tried another tack;

 

“I know it’s boring to have to come in every five years and have your coil changed”

“Traumatic.” I corrected her.

“Traumatic?”

“At my first coil change, I told the nurse to stop and take the speculum away. Her response was ‘no’, and she continued to try to grab my cervix in forceps whilst holding my legs apart. I kicked her, broke the speculum, and curled up crying in a corner. The reason I’d needed her to stop was because I was beginning to have flashbacks to being raped with a handheld object by an ex-girlfriend. Since then, I’ve needed to have them done under a general anaesthetic.”

“Well, next time, come here and we’ll do it under a local.”

“Did you not hear me? Plus, you should know this, I have EDS, you have EDS, local anaesthetics do nothing. Christ.”

“They might. Try. You can’t keep having them done under a general”

“But that’s the only birth control that works for me. And the only way to install it. This is why I need to be sterilised.”

“I know, but we just… Can’t. What if you want babies later? It can’t be undone!!!”

 

I eventually got her whittled down to doing an out-of-area referral, to send me a few hundred miles away to be done as a day surgery, but first it would have to pass some other long panel of people who clearly Know What’s Best For Me Better Than I Do. Someone in that line will almost definitely decide that what I really need is the coercive threat of being a broodmare to keep me in line. If just one set of administrators decides that it’s not worth their time or money to put me under a general to get my coil changed, then that’s just it. My sex life ends.

 

Somehow, I managed to get out of the appointment without raising my voice once. But, really, this is the kind of nightmare that feels like it should be left in the past.

 

 

 

Hot Fog

More Ministry of Propaganda; Apparently I wrote this one in November last year, and I just found it now whilst digging in my documents. Presented for your enlightenment (I actually feel fine right now).

 

The Klaxon

 

The woman in the severe grey suit looked, frankly, worn out already. Her horn-rimmed glasses hung on their decorative chain around her neck, and she was picking compulsively at the chipped enamel of one of the links.

“Remind me, citizen, how long has this been going on for now?”

“It’s been…” the citizen paused, then he resigned himself to at least being able to circumlocute around not-knowing; “At the current intensity, forty three hours.”

The crisis was immediately obvious to everyone in the room. Every thirty seconds, across the entire nation, the public announcement system was making an incredibly loud wailing noise. Everyone knew what it was – It was the Suicide Klaxon – and thus the entire populace was vacillating between doing literally nothing, and bursts of frantic, pointless energy. Nobody was working, the schools and universities were empty, even the public baths and hotel bars were silent, lightbulbs blazing over empty rooms and radios playing too-loudly without the chatter of people to mellow them.

The woman – she’d been a playwright once – knew how to start a meeting like this, even if she’d been privately hoping that the Klaxon would just stop on its own.

“Reluctant though I am to call emergency meetings of the Ministry, I believe that this is close enough to a national emergency that one is justified. Comrades, you all recognise the Suicide Klaxon, and I hope-” she paused for effect and put her glasses back on, drawing herself up to her full height “-that you all know that it is simply a malfunction in the system which governs the Klaxon.”

The Engineer looked nervous, immediately, and pulled a sheaf of papers out of his briefcase to defend himself with. The Playwright looked at him with immediate, real sympathy, and continued;

“This isn’t the Engineer’s fault. This isn’t, in fact, anyone’s fault. The Engineering corps are a brave, resourceful organisation, and they have been doing their absolute best to maintain equilibrium through some trying times for our sacred nation. In fact, Engineer, there has been real progress made this year as well, has there not?”

The Engineer looked as if he’d been thrown into the squid pit, only to discover that it was actually full of delicious gooseberry fool.

“Ah, yes, Comrade Minister.” He coughed, “This year alone, the Engineering Corps has made great strides in both solidifying our position as it stands with respect to education, in progress in transport, (where the Great Leader is putting one hundred percent of his effort into securing a better, more motorbike-centred, future) and in preventing a complete collapse in housing due to the natural lifespan of the existing structure.” he finished, looking genuinely proud.

“So” said the Playwright, picking her words carefully; “Along with all of that, as well as the usual day-to-day running of the Nation, it’s actually a great testament to your department’s skill that the only catch that you’ve dropped, so to speak, is one tiny, insignificant, Klaxon.”

The Engineer’s cautious pride broke into a genuine smile.

“Yes, Comrade Minister. All in all, it’s been a very successful year.”

“Good.” she replied. “Now. We have definitely confirmed that this is just a malfunction in the Suicide Klaxon system, and it’s important to let the people know that. Artist, what are you working on?”

The Artist looked up from her sketches; A proud figure astride a motorbike, applying ear defenders before their helmet, with the caption “Some noise is meaningless”. The second cartouche contained a smiling worker sat at a sewing machine, with the subtitle “I can work listening to the radio, I can work listening to the television, I can work listening to my friend’s stories, so I can work listening to the Suicide Klaxon”.

“I think that the key message to get across to the public is that the noise is unpleasant, but not dangerous in its own right, and that if they ignore it, it won’t do them any harm.”

The Doctor coughed.

“It is doing them harm, though. Nobody is sleeping. Nobody is eating properly. Everyone hates the Klaxon, it makes them nervous and eventually it will make them ill”

Both the Engineer and the Playwright fixed him with a glare that fulfilled the five-year-plan for heat generation in five seconds.

The Engineer slammed his fist down onto the table.

“You mean to say, Comrade Doctor, that worrying the citizenry about the Klaxon will make my engineers fix it faster? Or that worrying about it will make it quieter?”

The Doctor looked abashed.

“I only meant that, in general, the Klaxon is bad for us, in the long term”

The Playwright had lit a cigarette and was now watching the match burn in her fingers.

“The citizenry know that the Klaxon is harmful, but what they need to do right now is to find ways to make it less frightening and more bearable, until our engineers can switch it off.”

The Artist held up another sketch; A locomotive driver on the footplate, the boiler belching steam, the fire glowing vivid red, hurtling through a beautifully luminous night under starry skies – “The sound of the engine will drown out the Klaxon – I continue my work so that our brave Engineers can continue theirs”.

“And it has the important counterpoint -” another drawing; A figure in bed, with a dog curled up next to them, reading from a paperback novel, with the legend “Two days of good rest can lead to five days of good work. Two days of bad work can lead to five days of painful recovery. Help the Engineers by staying at home”.

“I like this one” she said, and perhaps even” – she slid a drawing across the table to the Engineer himself;

The engineer’s eyes welled up with tears.

The sketch showed a team of engineers, in full working-dress with tool belts and torches, clutching mugs of hot tea, with home-made scarves and and plates of food around them; “Thank you, citizens! Together, we will turn off the Klaxon!”

The Playwright authorised a print run of two hundred thousand of each poster, and planned a radio announcement. The Klaxon is malfunctioning, the engineering corps are going to repair it, the reason that it was in disrepair was because of the great strides that our sacred nation has made in the previous year and thus the corps were needed elsewhere. Citizens can continue their business safely, knowing that they do not need to take action based on the Klaxon.

On the way out of the meeting, the Doctor accosted her;

“You’re the only one of us with the ear of our Great Leader.” He said, “How is he faring, under the onslaught?”

The Playwright shrugged.

“He’s tired, as we all are. I think he’ll enjoy seeing the posters though.”

Like a Stone

Chris Cornell died today.

 

Many many years ago, when I was a very mentally ill young man, I was sectioned for a week. That week of sectioning happened to coincide with Audioslave playing, and I had tickets to go with my partner. I could not go. I gave the ticket to his best friend, and the two of them went, and I stayed in the hospital.

 

At nearly 2am I got a phone call. Not a voice I recognised, or rather, not one that I recognised on the phone. A voice a bit knackered from singing a set, but still full of crackly good humour and encouragement.

 

My then-partner had got backstage, found Chris Cornell, and Chris Cornell’s response to “Actually, my partner was meant to be here, but he’s been sectioned” was to phone me and say hallo, to tell me to keep my chin up, trust the doctors, take my meds, and to reassure me that I was doing the right, responsible thing. Apparently he did that a lot – Just generally encouraged his fans to look out for their mental health.

 

A couple of years ago, Terry Pratchett died. He was an old, old man and it wasn’t a shock to anyone, not least to PTerry himself. I still get a bit misty-eyed reading The Shepherd’s Crown, but it’s with the acknowledgment of a life fully lived, that reached its close, and thus ended.

 

As far as anyone can tell at this time, Chris Cornell made his own way out. He was fifty two.

 

If Chris Cornell, who was grounded enough fourteen years ago to be able to chat to a suicidal stranger and make them feel like they could keep going, who had all the money and physical health and ability to access treatment that’s available in the world, who had all the biggest, loudest, most amazing distraction techniques available to him, who spoke up for years about what it was and how to face it head-on, was still killed by the terminal illness that is depression, what hope do the rest of us have?

 

I have more to write about. I’ll write later. Today I want Soundgarden and a nice wool blanket and to go back to yesterday and somehow persuade someone to ring Chris Cornell right after he finished playing his set.

Egarag

I had a bizarre dream yesterday about riding a horse down the central motorway. I can’t remember if in the dream it was also a bike, or if it turned into a bike (or if a bike had turned into it) but it was a horse – And of course, this got me thinking about the eternal horse-bike comparisons. You care for them. You spend long hours with them, travelling, otherwise alone (I powerfully suspect that a modern Aslög, invited to meet Ragnar “Neither alone nor accompanied, either fasting nor eating, neither dressed nor undressed” would arrive with a motorcycle, a cup of tea, and wearing full leathers but no helmet). You feel like they have a lot of personality but, as with a horse, a lot of that personality is what you project onto them, or expect, or is a non-human behaviour given a human motivation (I insist that my beloved GZ, which hasn’t been able to be moved due to an electrical fault since the day that I passed my full test, is sulking). They’re valuable, beloved companions to their riders even if to a total stranger they’re “Just a means of transport”. They range from barely-clinging-to-life and worked to the bone, to pampered near-pets, to the core of their owner’s livelihood.

The big place where the comparison breaks though, is maintenance. Obviously, you have to keep both of them in their favoured environments (Actually, warm and dry with low salinity and not too much ambient dust or spores is ideal for both, as is giving the option to take the weight off their heels, in the form of soft straw or artificial bedding for a horse or a paddock stand for a bike, and a fleece blanket to prevent scrapes and surface chill and moisture for both of them… Hm) and you need to fuel or feed both of them commensurate to how much work they do (With the horse obviously doing work just to keep respiring – A horse’s engine basically constantly idles – and the bike should either be left with a full tank or winterised so that it doesn’t rust up) but actual maintenance – Vet med or service and repairs – is totally different. On a horse, leaving it with a problem is cruel. On a bike, as long as you don’t try to ride it, and it’s kept in those ideal conditions, it won’t get worse.

I’m not saying that every part of a bike has already reached the minimum of molecular complexity and thus the heat death of the universe – You can, literally, make matters worse – but you probably can’t do it casually, if you’ve taken the time to read ahead in your Haynes manual and apply a bit of common sense. Bikes may have diaphragms that can perforate and crush washers that can deform and fuses that can pop, but most parts of the machine, once taken off and cleaned and bent back into shape, are pretty durable and as long as they’re not either deliberately broken or corroded beyond use by time on the road, they can be fixed. If the worst comes to the worst, they can be replaced, piece by piece, either from the factory as a legacy part, or as parts from a donor bike. If you (and I know people who have found this) tighten up the mixture screw in a carburettor the whole way, you’ll only have to replace that screw. If you go off half-cocked and try to ride it after you’ve done this, you will literally blow the carbs off the engine and probably destroy either the carbs or the engine or both.

Effectively, if you have a problem, you notice the problem, and you fix the problem, you can’t go wrong. If you need to stop in the middle of disassembling the entire machine, you can just throw a sheet over it at night and leave it for weeks at a time, provided you’re in a relatively clean, dry, temperate environment.

Working on a bike, the worst that can happen is that you have to replace a component. Blow a fuse, shear a screw – You’ll be able to buy new ones. Strip the thread out of a socket – You can do amazing things with blobs of hot metal and the appropriate tap. Even go as far as fouling up the inside of a cylinder – It’ll take skill and money, but you can re-bore it and keep the engine block. My own EN was condemned in 2002 with a structurally corroded frame – Fifteen years later, given a strip-back, structural welding, a few new support bars, and a nice glossy black powdercoat, it’s thriving. It sat SORNed for at least two years at some point. You can’t SORN a horse. At worst, the component will be a large one – Like an engine, or an entire wiring harness. There are people who’ve brought bikes back to life from nothing more than an empty frame, a photograph, and a collection of classified ads in their local bike magazine. There are bikes where every component has been changed enough times that they’ve been handed a Single Vehicle Assessment form and told to re-register as a new vehicle.

As one of my machines is currently sitting awaiting a cure for carb icing (The effect of the venturi and the resulting vacuum, along with rapid heat transfer, in producing ice crystals under certain atmospheric conditions would be fascinating if it didn’t also cause my bike to drop to one cylinder at high speed and make a noise like tinsel being used as a carwash) and the other is awaiting a pickup so that I can work on it in the warm and dry, it is extremely reassuring to me.

Somewhat relatedly; It irks the shit out of me that in British English we only have one word which can in various dialects be used to mean bikehouse, bikehospital, bikegreengrocer, bikepetshop and bikehotel (That’d be a garage, a mechanic’s workshop, a petrol station, a showroom or a used bike dealer, and an underground multi-storey car park, in the dialects that differentiate). So basically, I can get my bike out of the garage and go to the garage on the way to the garage, then garage it there whilst I go to the garage to look at new bikes, then ride it to a garage in the city centre for a cup of coffee before going home and putting it back in the garage.

Totally unrelatedly – I’ve not slept for fifty-odd hours. Bugger insomnia.

Numismomancy

As (some of) you know, I am a bit of a closet numismatist. What, in proper numismatic parlance is called a “change checker” – I won’t run out and buy coins, but I like to have a look at what’s in my pocket and odd coins – mis-strikes, rare designs, fakes – really interest me. And thus, obviously, in the UK at least, the love of my life is the round pound coin. (My favourite coin out of all the world’s currencies of all time is… debatable. Possibly the old 5 yen piece, with the calligraphic lettering and the gear, grain and ocean design).

 

And the round pound is about to no longer be with us, pulled from circulation on my birthday.

 

[Image: WIN_20170409_222456

[Image: Pound coins in a tray laid out in vertical columns. Left to right; The four union badges, the four floral designs, the four city crests, missing Cardiff and Edinburgh, the four bridges, the four animal symbols, the four crowns]

I’ve not managed to collect every year, but I’m only missing three; The city badges of Edinburgh and Cardiff, and the 2016 unique crest, which was only ever available in collectors’ sets anyway. The only other design which was only minted in one year is the crowned royal shield, which I have (top left in the picture) and which I found in my piggy bank when I was about five, and have hung onto ever since, through twenty-odd house moves. That was the coin that got me really interested in the physical properties of coins, and into the idea of collecting them as objects. I remember the animals series being new (And why oh why couldn’t they have been properly consistent, and had a single lion for England, a unicorn for Scotland, the dragon as-is for Wales and the stag for Northern Ireland?) and being tremendously excited about them because they were so different from the crowns, which were the only other ones in circulation at the time.

The bridges series to me are pretty much mentally synonymous with going to university, since they were first released whilst I was there, and their choice for England was the Millenium Bridge, over the Tyne (And I am nothing if not proud of the North, I know people who worked in Wallsend to assemble the pieces, the parts were made in Manchester, and Europe’s largest floating crane was piloted by a Geordie to lower it into place, with a tolerance of less than three inches to make it line up properly. Crucially, locally, the bridge represents Newcastle and Gateshead being joined, in an era when it looked likely that Newcastle would proverbially move to London and leave Gateshead to flounder).

The cities are the odd ducks – I rarely see them (or saw them) in circulation, since they were released whilst I lived abroad and they seem to have been snapped up by collectors far too quickly.

The flowers are probably the most ridiculously beautiful coins in circulation today. Naturalistic, clean lines, lots of open space and beauty, it’s a shame that they won’t get a very long life as coins (And it feels a massive shame that the mint just plans to melt down the ones it takes back).

But anyway, pound coins. And then there’s the non-legal-tender pounds; The ones from the various overseas bits and dependencies and places that few British schoolchildren can be certain are definitely “British” or “Not British”.

 

A much less good photo because my hands are shaky;

 

WIN_20170409_223144

[Image; Pound coins, slightly blurry. Top-bottom left-right; Isle of Man triskelion, Guernsey ship and crest (as in, it’s got two tails, no head), Isle of Man St John’s Chapel, Isle of Man mobile phone, Falkland Islands crest, Jersey “The Resolute”, Gibraltar Neanderthal skull.]

 

For possibly obvious reasons, I don’t expect that I’ll be able to get a pound coin from every territory that uses pound coins, and certainly not one of every tails design. As much as I would like to. I love the Neanderthal skull one, and the mobile phone – Both of them basically saying “Hey, you know what we do here? SCIENCE.” And the Guernsey with two tails is incredibly useful for winning coin tosses with.

 

I also have a slack handful of interesting fakes which I’ve drilled holes through both to see what they’re made of and to wear them as watch fobs. Some of them have lead cores. I’ve not yet found one of the vaunted plastic ones, but I have got a rather beautiful and crisply minted London badge which is completely black with tarnish after only a couple of years of circulation, and a couple with amazing hand-lettered edge inscriptions.

 

But, basically, this is just me doing what I do best; Obsessively cataloguing a thing that I like.

 

I might come back and bore you all to death with Japanese coins at some point too.

 

Anyway, short version – If you find a Cardiff or an Edinburgh in your change, or even a really interesting fake, give me a shout…

Not enough prayers to Vulcan

So, my beautiful secondhand (Thirteenth hand) Kawasaki EN500 has now been in and out of the garage on and off for six weeks.

 

Part of me is pleased that the problem with it is completely stumping the professional mechanics, since it means that I wasn’t just stupid and shortsighted when I couldn’t spot it on my own. Part of me, obviously, wishes that it was something incredibly simple that I just overlooked and that they could have fixed in a second.

 

Part of me is pleased that the problem is only apparent once the bike is hot and being ridden hard, because there’s no way I’d have spotted it in my first test ride so I’m not just stupid for buying it. Part of me wishes it’d been incredibly obvious, then I’d not have bought it and not be having this problem.

 

Part of me is very happy that I have a rare, beautiful, strange, old bike, with a lot of character, and that even if I sell it after a couple of months, I’ll still at least have briefly owned a fire-breathing sweetheart. Part of me wishes that I’d bought one of the fifty million 535 Viragos still pootling around the b-roads of England, because I’d not be so attached to it, or if I was attached to it, it’d be rare that I found a problem in it that I couldn’t fix.

 

So now, with the bike back at the garage for the fifth time, having needed a pickup, running lean – a problem which could seize up the whole engine, causing a disaster that would write off the bike, destroy the engine and probably throw the rider if the bike was in motion at the time – and with a problem in either the pulsar coil or the carburettor, I’m stuck in a conundrum.

 

My other bike, my trusty and beloved GZ125, isn’t starting up. Some sort of electrical fault has killed its ability to ignite, so it’s been sitting under a tarp since the day I passed my bike test, waiting for me to find the time and the energy to fix it.

 

My partner’s bike, which I’m also insured to ride, a sweet and nippy Suzuki VanVan, has no battery, and needs a new battery purchasing before it’ll start up.

 

Currently, I have literally no means of transport, other than begging pillion rides off my best friend.

 

How long do I wait, and how much money do I throw, before I call it a day on the EN500 and sell him as a project? Time is ticking down.