Road Rage: Flipping the Bird

Back in 2009 when I was living in Newcastle, I’d make the trip back home to Doncaster once a month or so for the delights of a non-coin operated washing machine and proper nutrition. The journey itself is a nice and straight forward one; 2 hours and a bit down the A1 with only a small slowing section of average speed check cameras. A pretty mundane route, that would’ve remained so until it created one of the most terrifying and psychotic driving experiences of my life.

For reasons far too complex and lazy to describe, I decided to start my journey down at 10 o’clock on a Friday evening. I enjoy the tranquility of night time driving and the sheer bliss of empty roads to cruise down, so it wasn’t that unusual for me to do. I was basking in the relaxing drive down so much I decided after about an hour and 20 minutes to spice up the mundanity of the A1 and head to country roads for the rest of the voyage home.

I prepped the satnav and told it to avoid the motorway, and made to pull off at the next exit and see where it would take me. Coming off the ramp & roundabout the route immediately became a village with a 30mph speed limit, which I was happy to stick to. The only problem was that soon a mystery set of headlights would come up the same ramp as I and then take issue with a 30mph speed limit, take issue with me obeying it, take issue with the existence of life and take issue over people with any general sanity.

Most of us have come across road rage and whilst I wouldn’t say I’m the Dalai Lama of driving, I’m only ever a grump at most behind the wheel. I however have never seen anything close to this car (that I like to refer to as Headlight Cunt) in terms of sheer, inexplicable anger. Coming off a motorway into a 30mph zone at 11:20pm must really have galled them, as the first thing they did was drive 2 meters behind my rear bumper and start banging on the horn and flashing their lights for 5 seconds. Incensed by my refusal to drive faster through a tight village that I didn’t know in pitch black conditions, they amped up the tempo by leaving their full beams on and escalating the pipping for the next 5 seconds.

At this point in the space of 10 seconds I have gone from peaceful reverie to hounded by the biggest cock-end of a driver. I’m part confused why he hasn’t overtaken me, part pretty miffed about their behaviour and so decide to do what in hindsight was a pretty silly thing; I threw up my middle finger at them. It wasn’t a meditated ‘roll down the window and stick your hand out’ flipping off, more done so offhandedly in the interior of my car so they could see my silhouette.

If I’d thought about how crazy this person was in the 10 seconds our paths had met, I would’ve thought better than trying to provoke them. As soon as I did that, they overtook me. Before I could even think “Thank christ” and enjoy the rest of my drive they swerved back infront of me and slammed on the brakes. My reactions are pretty fast, but even slamming on my own brakes as I did I still crashed into the rear of their car. Just as I’m recovering from the shock of someone deliberately causing a crash 20 seconds after being on the road with them out jump two guys, slamming the doors behind them on what I can see now is a black Subaru Impreza.

They seem like they’re in their mid-30’s, one looks like a 6ft bald stocking over-stuffed with too many muscles and the other is a lankier but still pretty stocky guy carrying a tyre iron. They’re moving fast. I’m 19, out of shape, 140lbs and don’t have a weapon so in 0.2 seconds I decide “Fuck this for a lark” and slam the car in reverse. Adrenaline is pumping through my body and I don’t think I have enough time to spin the car around on a narrow lane and I don’t want to crash whilst reversing, so after backing out of their rear spoiler I punch it into first and drive past them.

The meat-stocking jumps out of the way and I blitz on past and see in my mirror them scrambling back into their car. It’s now about 30 seconds since I met these people. A number of things are pounding through my mind right now. Firstly, ESCAPE. Secondly, what the fuck is going on. Thirdly, holy crap I just drove my car at a guy.

I’m out the village now but I’m barely 5-10 seconds away before they’ve caught up to me as I’m only driving a 1.2 litre Ford Fiesta. The following minute I’ve yet to find a more terrifying drawn out experience in my life, as I’m thinking of a way I can use my abilities and manipulate their reckless driving & speed into a way that will enable me to escape from this situation. The car chase has me keeping to a steady 60mph, any faster and I fear I won’t have the grip or maneuverability to avoid them nor survive the crash they seem intent on causing. They try to pit me once (shunt the back edge of my car to make it spin) , but I go onto the grass just next to the fields either side of me to avoid them. The next three attempts they seem to start being aware of not wanting to crash and damage their vehicle anymore, so try a repeat trick of burst speeding past me then slamming on the brakes hoping I’d go into the back of them. Each time I dodge and get into the lead once more, but I know my luck is running out.

As they make for a 4th attempt we enter the edge of a small town and I see my chance on the satnav; a road turning off. I let them power by as they overtake to slam on the brakes again, only I bank a hard right and go plummeting down a narrow winding 1-car width lane with bushes either side. There’s some houses down the lane, and I throw myself into the open gates of one of the courtyards then kill my lights. What felt like an age but probably no more than a minute later I hear the Subaru roar on past, obviously thinking I was further ahead.

Not wanting to wait incase they realised their mistake and came hunting, I immediately head back down the way I came and through the village to the A1, before having a nerve-wracking drive down the motorway fearful about what I’d see in my rear-view mirror. I tried visualising the licence plate, but I was too busy panicking to remember it so reporting them to the police was out. When I got home slightly shaken and after checking to see if the front of my car was damaged I told my parents and older brother about this, who simply told me it was my fault for antagonising them and didn’t seem too worried. “They were probably coke heads” one of my family opinions.

Even though this was a freak experience with psychotic individuals, I did learn things I still apply to my regular road use. Now if somebody seems a completely insane or unreasonable driver on the road I don’t do anything, even if I’m annoyed, simply try to let them by as soon as possible. Antagonising people who seem to lose all reason & clarity when driving a car can end up with you injured or killed. Another thing I worry about from this is whilst I’m slightly proud of my quick reaction times and escaping abilities, what if the guy on the road hadn’t jumped out of the way? I’m not sure where I’d be legally with that. The main consequence of all this though is I’ve never flipped anybody off since, in or out of the car.

Till now ┌∩┐.

Documentary Quest – Part One

I’m going to make a documentary on the Games Media. This is going to be my open chronicle about all the stresses and behind the scenes thinking for anyone that likes that kindof stuff. You weirdo.

Why?

Over the past 5 years I’ve sat in and outside of Games Media in positions more boring than a Christian sex chronicler’s wildest dreams. Whilst this means I’m barely even a cupboard-hold known name and am remembered as fondly as a pane of glass, I have had the privilege of getting to know this industry from many different perspectives. I’ve worked on magazines, websites, digital publishing & video. I’ve had friends and colleagues set up their own brand names whilst others still have circumvented the traditional routes entirely and embraced youtube, crowdfunding or ‘other’.

I think it’s a weird, fun, underpaid & nonsensical industry with a low-entry point that is misunderstood by many on the outside and which many on the inside struggle to explain. There’s been the semi-wanky but fantastically engrossing “Indie Game: The Movie” shedding light on small-time games development, but the closest the Games Media side has come is to that narrowly focused and off-putting Polygon founding documentary.

I believe in the adage “if you believe you can do better, then do it” so I thought bugger it, I’ve needed a good project for a while and I’m in a good position in my life to make this happen (semi-employed, without a family & masturbating too often). I want to make something informative and enjoyable to watch, that might get people to think and appreciate or change this industry for the better.

But really, it’s mainly about making everybody look at me.

The Plan

So how the fuck am I going to pull this off? (as the nun said to the priest etc.). The basics so far is that I’m going to interview approximately 10 people from various roles in Games Media industry around the UK; travelling down to wherever they live and filming about an hour-long interview with them. Then once I’ve got my 8-15 hours of interview footage, I’ll then script probably about five 15 minute long episodes where I intersplice interview footage with host segments either explaining different facets or setting up a section of aforementioned interview clips.

Basically think of it like a shittier version of Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe only with me as a much worst host, no budget and more focus on the people interviewed. At the moment I’m focusing on getting decent interviewees and covering as many angles as possible without feature creeping or losing focus. There’s no point hard-locking in what I’ll say in my host segments, as I want to be free to react to what might come out of the interview process.

I should also clarify by when I say Games Media, I don’t mean PR or other erstwhile areas. I’m focusing more on the places that cover gaming news, reviews and thought as part of their bread and butter. I’m only touching on it briefly in this documentary but in the future I would like to cover how the Games Media interacts with PR and actual Publishers/Devs and their perspectives, but I think that makes my focus too broad for now especially considering what I have in my budgetry range.

I’ll place the finished product on Vimeo/Youtube probably around the end of March. It’ll be free for all to watch, as I fully don’t expect to even make a single penny back let alone break even. If this kindof thing was profitable, someone in the industry proper would’ve commissioned it already.

Limitations

Money. Money money money. I don’t get my kicks for free. All of the equipment, travel, editing software, hospitality for me and 1-2 other people on the small crew I’ve got together is coming out of my pocket. A round trip to London (where most UK media is based outside of a few outlying places like Bath) driving down costs me around £80 in fuel alone, and if I can’t cram as many interviews as possible into the Weds-Sun slot I have each week it’s going to start mounting up.

It also means I can’t do the rest of the world’s Games Media any justice, as frankly I cannot afford to pay my own airfare and travel around the US or EU let alone for 1-2 others. I’ll try to cover some of the cultural differences between say the US and UK Games Media, but it’s going to be difficult to give it proper credence. I’m going to have difficulty enough making sure UK Games Media people are free and open to interview on a compatible timetable during the timeframe I want to film (Feb-March).

Another thing I fear is that on the 9th person I interview they raise a really interesting point that I’d really want to go back and ask all the other people before them. I’m just going to have to accept it as one of those things sadly, and hope the prep work and questions will be adequate. I’m also terrified that my host segments will drag the whole piece down, and writing a clear concise script that focuses on the key points I want to make on how Games Media works, why people choose to go into it & the past, present and future of it is a daunting task.

Why not Crowdfund?

The big thing I keep being asked when I mention this project is “What about Crowdfunding?”. Well, I have little to no social media presence and my mixed-insider/outsider status means I have difficulty getting others to view my work, let alone chip in money to an unknown & unproven person. Secondly I also feel that even if I did have a big following, crowdfunding makes me feel uneasy. In my mind (even though many cases have proven it otherwise) it doesn’t feel like a money for product service, but instead telling your audience “Could you chuck me some of your hard-earned cash to indulge my own dreams? Nothing’s guaranteed about what I’ll produce”. Some are comfortable with that idea, I’m personally not.  It’s why I’ve saved up my own money to make this project happen, so I don’t feel beholden to anyone.

A third issue is that I cannot for the life of me think of any decent pledge awards that doesn’t mean a fuckload of extra work for a one-man operation to organise. All I really want to do is focus on the creating side plus massive volume of filming and editing ahead of me, not ordering body-sized pillows with custom decals.

Open to Suggestions

I’ve never done anything even close to this scale before, and whilst I think I’ve got a grip on the basics of it I am still very welcoming of advice, ideas and importantly help (locations, places to stay, props) at this stage before anything is properly set in stone and I’ve approached people to interview. To reach me either give me a prod on twitter @EGTF, or email me at egtfenning (at) googlemail (dot) com.

Alzheimer’s

For all the times I’ve sat infront of a keyboard and monitor, I don’t think I’ve truly ever written something personal. I come from a caring line of people, but the way we deal with hurt or grief outwordly is to not complain but joke about it and move on, or grin and bear it till you can. Plenty of dark humour. Don’t succumb to getting wrapped up in yourself. It explains a lot about my writing style, but for once I’d like to share something intimate without detracting from the emotion with constant jokes.

When I was 6, my Grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I was too young to notice the signs let alone what the disease was, but apparently for the  two years before the diagnosis she’d been subtly behaving odd. Now, when you see Alzheimer’s on tv you tend to see an elderly person in a home, forgetting their own name every now and again but otherwise nothing out of the ordinary. Growing up with a relative with the condition it… wasn’t like that, really.

She was an intelligent woman from what I’ve been told, playing backgammon and chess regularly. But being too young and naive to know her as that, I didn’t really realise how this person was changing. A person with Alzheimer’s doesn’t sit about idly in a chair forgetting about conversations they just had, they start to get scared or not realise what they’re doing and operate on base instinct. As the condition progressed routine and impulse started to take over from rationality, such as her stacking objects endlessly then not remembering doing it or why.

As she got worse, she’d start to wander from the house. One example that sticks out in my mind is that she used to do the shopping for her and my Grandad on a routinely basis. One time when she walked out the house she picked up her laundry hamper/bag, walked to the local shop and just started putting everything she could in the bag. Once she got to the counter the instinctive part realised that something was meant to be handed over, so she reached into her hamper and pulled out one of her bras, placing it on the till before walking out to the baffled clerk that knew her.

It’s funny to joke about now and it makes it easier to look back on, but it’s a scary thing seeing someone be slowly lost piece by piece like that. She was aware something was wrong, but didn’t know what. It ended up that she first couldn’t travel to anywhere unfamiliar as she’d want to escape and be home. A memorable incident of this is a family holiday where in the middle of the night she became frightened and confused, so started to run around the halls of the hotel half naked with my Grandad and parents chasing after her.

The life expectancy after diagnosis is roughly seven years with Alzheimer’s, so you get to see those afflicted with it shuffle off with some sense of themselves still there. My Grandad on the other side of the family had dementia, which isn’t easy to see or live with but comes as more a slow softening of the faculties and when he died, I knew he was still there in some way. By the time I was 15, my Grandmother was still alive but not really speaking or moving that much. She could still do a little of both but she’d forgotten me and her other grandchildren’s names, though would stare with familiarity, and just liked to be sat there in a chair whilst we all talked.

When I was 17 roughly, she stopped being able to walk or use words and my Grandad started paying for round-the-clock carers with a special adjustable bed, hoist and sitting chair for their home. This is the part of her condition that affected me the most, as so much of her had been lost. It wasn’t a stage of blissful peace like some seem to suggest, (though maybe she was past the point of self-awareness) as she’d still operate on instinct and get scared by things or lash out. She couldn’t feed herself or go to the bathroom, and could only communicate through noises. The doctors gave her a year at best.

Throughout all of her condition and these latter days especially, my Dad, his siblings and Grandad were amazing. I can only hope to be at least half the people they were if faced with such a situation. Not once did my Dad shirk off going to see her, going morning and night to help my Grandad feed her, clothe her, care for her. Together they sung little dittys they’d make up, over which she’d stop fidgeting and start to smile, moving her feet along with the songs. Those were the parts that gave me hope that a part of who she was still remained, however small, and it was through this care they showed that she continued to live, far past expectations.

She should have died by the time I was 14 according to estimates. She actually died only last month, when I’m now 22. It was only through such love I believe she kept going, and though it wasn’t easy to see at times I’m glad she stayed with us this long. I can’t say how much she was aware towards the end, but if you ever sadly have to deal with someone close to you having Alzheimer’s it’s worth caring for them and easing their suffering. From my experience no matter how far they seem gone, how little appears to still be there they can always be made to smile and when they do, you know it’s all worth it.

New to Games Journalism? Here’s Advice

Hello. I am a Games Journalist who has written such contemporary things as “A few excited blurbs in PC Gamer’s 2010 Top 100” and “A news posts mainly containing new Skyrim screenshots”. I am heavily qualified to advise you about heading into the world of Games Journalism, with numbered points arranged in no particular order as I wrote this at 3am.

1) DRINKING IS GOOD FOR YOU

Do you know of a relatively unreported, yet popular gaming market that you feel you can confidently report on? If your answer wasn’t “Free-To-Play MMOs” then welcome to the first stage of competition for a job! It is called drinking.

It turns out that as a teenager during all those alcohol fuelled attempts to insert or be inserted with a penis, you also discovered drink was an important social facilitator in talking to and getting along with strangers. Remember these skills when you manage to meet Editors, who are at their most susceptible to liking you when plied with liquid narcotics. Don’t weird them out, don’t schmooze too much, put on some deodorant before going out and be enjoyable to talk to and they’ll most likely remember you when they’re next deleting going through the 300+ emails they get a day.

2) I WANT TO REVIEW MODERN WARFARE, GEARS OF WAR AND ELDER SCROLLS

You are not going to review Modern Warfare, Gears of War nor Elder Scrolls. You will not even be reviewing Train Simulator 2012, as somebody is probably already “the simulator guy”. It’ll take you about a year of hard work and proving yourself till an Editor can trust your voice on something meatier than a Tesco PC Section quality game. Every industry you’ll have to jump through hoops, and Games Journalism is no different.

Have you heard of transcription before? It’s the Games Journalist equivalent of mucking out the stables, without the promise of warm hay to sleep on once done. Point being, transcription is where you take a vocal or video interview of a journalist and write down what both sides are saying, then send the transcript off to be edited down to a pretty 10 word quote. The most useful tool for this shit-shovelling is winamp, thanks to the keyboard commands for skipping back and forth 5 seconds you can now try to hear what that quiet Dutchman said on the bad recording somebody made with an iphone.

Keep handing such things in on time to build a professional image, keep annoying the reviews editor to give you a scrap and you’ll be on your way to being a household name for at least a dozen people. Before you know it you too can be pitching your own meaningful articles like “5 new ways to game with your bum on the toilet” and the defensive rebuttal “How my toilet gaming piece was still much better than the Kotaku version”.

3) HELLO CHAP! MY GOOD SIR I WANT TO ENQUIRE FOR A GAMES WRITING POSITION IN WHAT I THINK IS ORIGINAL TERMS

One mistake I still occasionally make and really shouldn’t is shitty email openings. You’re acutely aware that you want to make a good impression in somebody’s overflowing inbox, so to compensate you try way too hard to be funny. Though your own style will always be your own style, my first suggestion based on personal experience from once sifting through writer applications is to drop the faux-gentleman greeting.

The next thing to drop after that is what I’m guilty of; over-convolution. Nobody, not even yourself, wants to see painfully forced jokes in text if they don’t feel natural. My advice here is to keep it short, get straight to the point and don’t be nervous about it. If you’re interested, two of those three things in the last sentence can also be applied to sex.

4) WHILST MY BANK STATEMENT GENTLY WEEPS

Go to a cash machine and draw out a twenty. Now kiss it, hug it, make love to it one last time whilst carefully avoiding paper cuts then kiss it goodbye; you will not have that much money for a long time. That was the advice part, the rest of this point is mainly a warning. Games Journalism is stupidly competitive to get into, doesn’t make ground-breaking margins and in this day and age has budgets dictated mainly by people who have never been at the brunt end of being a Games Journalist or Editor themselves.

The accounts departments of such places are also notoriously stingy and poor at paying on time, so much so that you swear it borders on illegality in how long it can take to get paid; I’m still waiting for payment on work I did almost a year ago (and for which reason amongst others I’m taking a break from games journalism right now). In the U.K. at least, you’ll be lucky to be making more than £16,000-£18,000 per year for your hard work, and jobs are few and far between with a combination of a lesser recession and decline in print. Be a rent-boy/hooker and you’ll get paid more and shafted less often.

5) THE LAZY WRAP UP DUE TO ENCROACHING TIREDNESS

I love Games Journalism, with PC Gamer being a major influence in my comedic sensibilites whilst growing up alongside that of Spike Milligan, Terry Pratchett, my dad and others. I wrote this as fun basic advice for those who find themselves in a similar position to what I was in a year ago, even if my tone does seem negative at times. Don’t give up trying to be a journalist if that’s what you really want to do, I fully intend to return to the field once I’m sure I’ll get paid on time and regularly. Just don’t rely on getting anywhere without good networking skills, some luck and an inordinate amount of talent for the meagre money you’ll be earning.

Miners, Industry, The FTSE and why we’re FCKD

As of September 5th 2011, the FTSE 100 was worth £49 Billion less after trading as it fell 189.45 to close at 5,102.58 points, whilst the rest of the country whom were not wearing a pinstripe suit at the time looked a bit bewildered  and stammered “Bwhu?” at the news. To understand why this happened, what the heck it means and what we’ve got to look forward to, I’m going to do the popular thing and blame Thatcher.

Back in the 80’s the U.K. was doing its utmost to pretend it was still a major military and economic world power. But like the quinquagenarian still trying to bump and grind with those new happening vicenarians on the dancefloor, it wasn’t really working. The U.K’s main industry of coal at the time was easily being undercut by the cheaper, more abundant and better quality coal pouring out of Australia. The miner’s patriotic rejoinder to the rest of the country to “Buy British!” was a little harder to support when most of them were seen to be driving the cheaper, more abundant and better quality Japanese cars instead of showing solidarity to the U.K’s sagging car industry. To try to ensure their future job security and higher wages (amongst the highest in the country) the miners with their strong union began to strike. The country was brought to a slow standstill, with things like secondary picketing still being allowed; wherein it was legal for a union group to picket and disrupt businesses and industries that weren’t their own, from shops to hospitals.*1

The miner’s strike is a complicated issue fraught with emotion and brutality, but whatever your allegiances are it was a clearly unsustainable situation. Britain’s steel and manufacturing was in pretty bad shape too, and a strong leader was needed to bring some order to these struggling industries in the face of a global market that Britain no longer controlled. Instead we got Thatcher, who rather than prune the trees ran through them with a bulldozer.

Thatcher envisioned Britain as a service industry, and set out with very monetarist aims in mind to structure the economy around the country’s Banking, Financial and Insurance areas. The stock market was really taking hold at the time, with plenty of noveau rich being created almost daily; a new social class best summarised by Harry Enfield shouting “LOADSA MONEY” through the nation’s Television screens. Thatcher was enchanted by the idea of Britain as a service industry, where the country could excel and be based upon the commodity of skills rather than finite raw goods or manufactured product.

Now to cut back rather abruptly to the situation today. After the Thatcher years the U.K’s manufacture and raw materials industry was brutally massacred rather than gradually re-trained, with about 1/3 being wiped out. The service industry which 3/4 of the U.K. economy is now based upon has failed to grow as imagined, as the Markit/CIPS services purchasing managers’ index (PIPS) fell to 51.1 in August from the already low 55.4 in July. For those that like me see (PIPS) as either an annoyance in grapes or yet another random assembly of marketing initials that they’re ignorant of, it is a basic indication of the activity/health of the service industry. So if that number falls it means less people are buying and using services, which is very bad news when three quarters of an economy are based on people doing just that.

Something which Thatcher had failed to do was move Britain into focusing on more skilled manufacture, like the German and Japanese did which isn’t easy to replicate or outsource. Seeming as India can offer the same services as Britain but at only 1/4 of the price it would cost to hire an equivalent employee in the EU/US it means the country now struggles massively to be competitive, and has little physical product to back the economy in light of such struggles.

The failsafe most countries have in an effort to guarantee that the value of their tender/money and economies themselves remain stable in such a downturn is to back up the worth with gold; a product which is finite, has no practical use and is valuable. Only, the U.K under Gordon Brown sold the gold reserves to keep the price of gold artificially low, as the government and the U.K banks were taking a massive gamble on the price of gold falling instead of rising. This seems especially foolish now, as the price of gold has risen to an incredible $1900 per ounce as more and more people seek to invest their money in what is seen as a stable asset, something which the U.K now no longer has. Oh bugger.

Still, the banks must have a stable worth! Oh wait no, HSBC, Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland are being sued by the U.S for flogging off rather dodgily £25.8 billion worth of sub-prime Mortgage debts in the prelude to the financial crisis we’re now in.

It’s a combination of all these factors that have helped contribute to the FTSE falling so drastically, combining to losing £82 billion over the past two trading sessions. The hope that it might pick up again is rather undermined by the fact that the price of gold is remaining so high, which indicates people aren’t confident it’ll recover any time soon. The plan to counter this is more quantative easing, which translated out of fancy bullshit terms means artificially pumping more money into the economy to pretend for a little bit longer that it all isn’t happening.

It looks like a second, harder recession is imminent for the U.K, and the global situation with the Euro and U.S Dollar looking fit to collapse more drastically than a heavily obese Icarus shows that things don’t look much better for the future elsewhere. I’m too inexperienced in matters of business and politics right now to be taken seriously if I fight or make grand change, but I’m hoping that there’s somebody out there that is brave enough to push for the global financial reform that is needed as well as re-shape the sickly U.K economy. If there isn’t, it’s probably best to get your riot gear ready.

*1 This may seem unfairly biased against the the miners, so before anybody comes round to kick my teeth in I should explain their side a bit better as many miners were generally positive community members that held their area together. There’s plenty of instances of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) coming to the aid of their fellows, and rather unfairly at the time there was a sneering attitude from the people who dwelt in the cities. But as someone that’s grown up around mining towns I feel it’s important to say that not all were brave coal-faced industrial heroes. Though the work was dangerous and frankly shitty, when their wages were amongst the highest in the country after successful previous strikes holding the rest of the country to hostage again can make even the most sympathetic think “Bloody hell, what a bunch of self-serving greedy bastards”.