Archive for the ‘social media’ Category

One of the joys of having my previous blog archived and searchable (especially since every so often, a rumour does the rounds that Livejournal is shutting down) is that if I’m looking for something specific I wrote in the past, it only takes seconds to find it.

One of the drawbacks, however, is coming across old memes I wrote and either (a) wondering where the hell my mind was when I wrote it, since there’s no way I’d write that now, or (b) being faintly irritated I’m so ‘stuck in my ways’ that lots of answers would be pretty much identical.
Amusing and worrying (for the same reasons as above) though, are the responses from those reading the blog when asked to describe me in one word, or to write a sentence or two about me. Some of the compliments that I remember being genuinely flattered (and sometimes surprised) by are things that, arrogantly I guess, I can still imagine people – though not necessarily the same people – saying about me now. 

Some of them though, honestly? I can’t see being used about me other than in jest, or sarcastically. It could be, of course, that they were used in jest back then, but I don’t remember them being so.

One set of answers in particular that amused and worried me in equal proportion was a set wherein people posted anonymously. Even if I knew – or guessed – who posted the comments back then, there’re literally only a couple that I remember now. Most of the comments below, I genuinely didn’t have a clue who posted them, and to be honest,  there’s not that many folks I’m still in contact with from back then. 

But those quotes about me are, as I say, amusing and worrying:

Quotes like:
– “You look much better now than you did twenty years ago”
– “You seem like a nice chap… but appearances can be deceiving.”
– “You’re an excellent father, and not just to your son.”
– “Sometimes you are like a dog that barks at phantasms and snaps at those who’d reassure you.”
– “You’re one of the kindest people I know.”
– “Sometimes you are a little self-obsessed.”

None of which I think I can dispute that much, but I’m not sure how many people would actually say that now, even anonymously. What amuses me and worries me now of course is wondering what people would say now, if they were anonymously replying to the meme. No worries; not about to run it again, tempting though it might be to do so. 


Time once again for the annual mocking and silliness to occur, with the 2016 update to A Life In Pictures.

Now… about the pics you’re going to see below: I’ve already been about as embarrassed at the shots as I’m ever likely to be, but yes, if you feel the need to go “awwww” at the cute pics of me as a youngster, or mock the pictures of me during the decade(s) that fashion forgot, feel free to do so.

Look, the whole thing started in 2004 when there was a meme going around about putting up photos of yourself when you were younger. I did it… and then continued to update it every year or so for more recent pics…

So, here they are, bringing the photos up to date, as of December 2016. Not a lot of additions this year.But since this has now become a tradition as we approach the end of the year, and I’ve a few more people following me on Twitter and this blog, why not?

Why not indeed…

So, in rough order of age…

Probably the earliest photo I’ve got of me…

3 years old

Aged 4

I’m five, I think, here.

It was 1972, ok? And I was at my brother’s bar mitzvah. I was eight.

Another – newly discovered – shot from Mike’s bar mitzvah. 

My son takes great delight in this shot – I think I was 10 at the time.

Me at age 11

Just after my 15th birthday

August 1980, I’m 16 – yes, that is a curly perm. Shut up.

November 1982 – Freshers’ Fair at Manchester Poly

1983 – me at the PULP office, 2nd year at Manchester Poly.

Age 21, at a work leaving do, having left Manchester Poly a month or so earlier..

1985, at my brother’s wedding… at which I was best man. Yeah, 21 again.

At my dad’s 60th birthday in 1989, aged 25. Blimey, was that really almost thirty years ago?

1994 –  A nice one, from Laura’s and my wedding day – aged 30

A low res shot from the wedding that I discovered in the archives…


September 1997, at UKCAC

Me in New York, January 1998, just after we lost Mike

Part of a formal family shot, mid-1999

June 1999 – my spiritual home

August 2000; taken by Phil – he was five years old at the time

October 2001; New York, six weeks after 9/11; visiting Ian

May 2002, Hypotheticals – not a happy Budgie

mid-2002, taken for a WEF World Wide Wednesday

Bristol, 2003. You can see the greying hair now…

July 2004 – working at the office

December 2004 – at my nephew’s bar mitzvah. See? I scrub up nicely occasionally.

Not exactly sure when this was taken but would have been around now…

August 2005 – at Brighton. First picture for ages that I’m genuinely happy with.

September 2005, last picture of the Nissan before I crashed it…

October 2005. Again, a photo taken by Phil…

April 2006, at the flat.

May 2007, Bristol, Saturday night, at around 2 in the morning.

December 2007 – at the office party, with my ‘secret santa’ gift. No, the book.

May 2008 – Phil and me at Comic Expo

May 2008 – Me interviewing Dave Gibbons at Comic Expo

October 2008 – Me and Phil, studio shot for the bar mitzvah

May 2009 – Me and Matt Jones, (pic by Jamais Cascio)

July 2009 – At the BERG 40th Anniversary Apollo 11 drinkup (pic by Matt Jones)

October 2009 – In New York, with my cousin Nikki.

November 2009 – Me and Phil at Ian’s son’s bar mitzvah.

April 2010, in Luton

July 2010, on Mastermind

August 2010, at Laura’s

October 2010, from Phil Tanner’s Photos – Mitch Benn ‘Proud of the BBC’ video shoot) The actual video’s here.

October 2010, again: at MCM

December 2010, after the office party

January 2011, at Tony and Tracy Lee’s wedding.

October 2011.

Yeah, I grew a beard in October, then shaved it off…

Laura took this one in April 2012 – not a bad shot of me, all things considered.

And then I had my hair cut…

No idea why I took this one, but it has me without a beard, anyway… August 2012

Lesson 1 about falling asleep in a friend’s house where children live. Don’t
(November 2012)

Me, at The Leveson Inquiry. The reading of the summary, not giving evidence…

Met up with an old friend, and wandered around Camden with him. A nice afternoon…

Yeah, I broke my foot…

Lost my father in October 2012 – here’s the progress of the shiva beard before trimming it down

And so to 2013…

Well, in March, I did a charity event where I wrote twenty-four stories in twenty-four hours for Comic Relief.

That’s Mitch Benn in the background, writing his comedy album, which he did also within twenty-four hours.

Phil turned up to support us…

And I got progressively more tired, and more silly, as the hours passed…

A small accident with the beard trimmer led me to shave off the beard I’d had for roughly a year…

Most people were glad I grew it back almost immediately

Later in the year, finally managed to get a photo with two of my closest friends. There’s been any number of pictures of two of the three of us, but rarely any shots of all three… until now.

Not the best pic, I have to admit, but rather pleased we managed it at all!

However, another photo was taken that night which continues to amuse me no end.

You don’t think I’m in it? Really? Look to the right. Yes, just there… that blurred shock of grey/white hair? Yeah, afraid so…

Towards the end of the year, there was something new… a mini-me. Or to be precise, I was scanned for a 3D printing of myself. Very strange to see myself post-scanning on a screen…

But that was nothing to seeing the actual result…

Here’s another shot of the 3D model, this one with Mitch (who was similarly scanned.)

In July, managed to catch up with an old friend, at his reading of The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains at the Barbican. I like this photo, entitled Two beards (old friends attached), a lot.

Here’s the difference a haircut, a beard trim and sticking my contact lenses in makes… from September 2014.

Around the same time, I wrote a post on the rising tide of overt anti-semitism in the UK, and that I’d personally faced. I used the following shot to illustrate it. I was very happy with how it turned out.

Now, this blog post, indeed this blog, is pretty much all ages, and I’ve hesitated before sticking this shot up. Not sure I’ll keep it here, but since this is supposed to be a record of me through the years… I shattered the end of my collarbone in a fall in September. A week or so later, the bruising was well and truly showing, so here it is.

And onto this year.

This was March 2015. I have no idea where or why.

In September, was fortunate enough to catch up with Amanda Palmer after her gig. It had been much, much too long since we’d seen each other. Much and many things were said, but never enough.

From late 2015. I think it was me trying out the new phone’s camera. It’s an odd pose, but as the foregoing shots more than amply demonstrate, that’s not a reason to exclude it. 

Some time ago, the delightful Clara Benn took a shot which proved I was substantially smaller than Mitch, tiny in fact in comparison. November 2015, she proved it again…

isn’t perspective wonderful?

And so to 2016, and I’m not sure what this pic was for, in July, but it’s an odd one…

Something a bit novel for this year’s blog post; I’ve never been much of a fan of ‘filters’ on pics, whether it’s the ‘pup yourself’ Snapchat type thing, or the Prizma neon type things. But I may be changing my mind. Here’s a selfie I took for submitting with something.

The shot’s fine, as it is. Nothing great about it, nothing horrendous. But in black and white, it’s quite a nice shot, I’d say…

But when it’s thrown through the pencil/shading filter, I really like it. Weird…


Anyway… Moving on…

Towards the end of the year, close friends had a baby, and I got to say hello both in October and November. I’ve never hidden how soppy I am about babies. I suspect these photos prove it.

And this is the shot, last week, that convinced me that if I ever do get a hat, it’ll be a Homburg, not a Fedora…

And, to round off this year’s lot, and to officially mark the moment at which mocking may commence, this is me, as of yesterday, post-haircut:

No, I can’t do it.

I started to write a piece about the final Presidential Debate, and Trump’s behaviour then and later, and… and… and… no. Not today. Oh, I don’t think I’d have any problem writing about it; but I try to keep this place relatively all-ages and I found it impossible to do that. I’ll take another run at it after the weekend. 

If you’re reading this, you’re more than likely familiar with Douglas Adams’ rules of tech:

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

While I’d argue against both the age limits, and these days limit it to applications and software rather than ‘kit’, I don’t think the sentiment is far off. 

I have an iPhone 6S and an iPad Air, and carry both around with me most of the time. Or to repeat myself, I carry around two computers. 

Because that’s what they are. To misquote a line from an old advert about the Victoria and Albert museum’s café, the smaller device is a phone with quite a nice computer attached.

That’s the thing: as a mobile phone, the 6S is all right, I guess. It does the job, but I so rarely talk on the phone these days (maybe one call a day, if that); it’s primary purpose is of a small computer that allows me to listen to the radio, or music, check social media, read the news, occasionally write on (though I tend to use the bigger device for that). But a mobile phone?

I’ve had an iPhone since 2008 came out and it’s fair to say that once the App Store was created and I began to get used to “everything in the world” (as David Gorman once described the Internet) being on my phone, or at least available to it, the “phone” bit of “iPhone” became less important to me, and to most people.

Before that? I went through loads of mobile phones, about one every year or 18 months; mainly Nokia, with a few Samsung slide-phones, all of which I enjoyed using, although my favourite was still the Nokia 5210, a rubber encased thing that was just sheer fun to use.

The only phone I got that I disliked instantly and in fact returned was something called the O2 Cocoon, genuinely the only ‘bad’ tech I think I’ve ever owned. A horrible, horrible piece of shit that I genuinely cannot understand anyone thinking that it wasn’t a horrible horrible pieve of shit

But it could at least be argued that mobile phones were around before I was 35, and so Douglas’ second rule applies. And iPads are merely computers with a different input method.  

In fact, almost all tech, almost every piece of equipment I can think of… it’s been around in some form or another for a very very long time. Sure it can do more, sure it’s lighter, but… but… but… how far should I take that. Is a motorbike essentially the same as a bicycle? Is a car just a cart without a horse?

As I suggested earlier, it’s in the realm of software and applications that I find myself agreeing with Douglas Adams more and more. 

One could argue that blogging is just an evolution of the diary, and that I – as a child of the 1960s and 1970s – surely kept a diary as a young lad. And one would be utterly, completely wrong. Not about me keeping a diary, but because I did so, I know that a blog is nothing like a diary

With the rare exceptions of politicians and actors who might, in the back of their heads, think they might one day publish it, a diary was never meant to be read by anyone other than the author. If I’d thought that anyone would read my Letts’ Diaries (complete with ‘history of the world’ section), I’d never have written even half of what I wrote in it. There are women now in their 50s -classmates – who would be traumatised to know I had  crushes on them back then, for a start.

(Odd tangential thought: I wonder if people mentioned in diaries of famous people ever see references to themselves and think ‘huh, I never knew they fancied me’.)

When I started work, and was using the newer software the companies had: WordPerfect, Lotus 123 and the rest, I was always mildly amused at the older members of staff who were very happy thank you but they’ll stick with the software they knew. I’m less amused now that I find myself doing the same thing. 
I’ve forced myself to use Pages and Numbers (but still think of them as Apple’s versions of Word and Excel) on the iPad – and on iPhone when I have to – but I still miss the Excel in particular. 

I use WhatsApp and Skype occasionally, mainly – but not exclusively – for people outside the UK. But it’s still text messaging/iMessage for folks inside the UK.

Snapchat? No, really ‘not my thing’. And nor are almost all of the ‘new’ apps that are social media based. And I have no idea whether it’s the ‘new’ or the ‘social’ aspects that put me off. 


Looking through the apps I constantly use, with the exception of games that interest me briefly and then I delete them (I can’t remember the last time I found a ‘new’ game that I liked to the point of keeping it on the phone for more than a few weeks), they’re all either research tools or things to make day. to day life easier. Nothing there that’s ‘new’ or ‘exciting’.

Emoji. I’m sure they’re fun and all but… no. I don’t know what most of them mean, and they pop up in tweets and texts too ‘small’ for me to instantly understand them. I can cope with the ‘smiley’ and the occasional acronym – I still instinctively think <s> and <g> not :-) – but then I discovered those when I got online… when I was 31.

When I was 31.

“Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary”

Huh, what do you know? Douglas Adams was right all the time.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

I’ve mentioned before that when it comes to popular culture, particularly television, I’m somewhat at odds with my friends. Many shows they like, I don’t, and sometimes – rarely – I enormously enjoy a show which those people kind enough to good-naturedly  tolerate my eccentricities and foibles  find tiresome at best and at worst just plain boring.

But that’s fine, that’s what friends do. We differ about things; some are trivial, some rather more important. A friend of mine maintains his belief that male circumcision is child abuse; we long ago decided never to discuss the matter. Another friend of Irish heritage and I similarly decided many years back never under any circumstances to discuss Oliver Cromwell. To him, whatever else the Lord Protector did, Cromwell determinedly, and with great effect, attempted genocide of the Irish people. To me, whatever else Cromwell did, he’s the bloke who let the Jews back into England 365 years after they’d been expelled by Edward I in 1290. It’s perhaps understandable that we don’t debate the matter.

(Sidebar: a friend once said that one reason why her and her partner ‘worked’ was because they agreed on all the important stuff. Have to say that on many things, important and otherwise, I’ve always enjoyed the intellectual disagreements me and my friends, me and my partners, have had.)

But as I say, that’s with friends. Online, it’s a different matter. I follow just over 300 people on Twitter. I used to follow more, but did a cull a while back to about 200; it’s slowly crept up again organically, which is how it should be. When it gets too many for me to keep up with, I’ll do another cull, I imagine. 

But as to who I follow, well, I’ve only a couple of indicatory rules that guide me; they’re not conclusive, but they operate as a kind of working guide. If I know you, if you’re interesting, if you tweet about things in which I’m interested… odds are I’ll follow you. If I don’t know you, it gets a tad more complicated but not much. Again, if you’re interesting, if you tweet about things in which I’m interested… and especially if you’re recommended by someone whose judgement I trust, yeah again, odds are you’ll get a follow from me. Of course that doesn’t mean that if I don’t follow someone, they’re uninteresting; as often as not, it’s just because they tweet about things in which I’ve little or no interest. 

(In the wee small hours of the morning, that’s what I tell myself to explain why people I’d expect to follow me… don’t. But then again, that’s one of the first rules to follow on Twitter if you want to remain even relatively sane: never wonder why people you’d expect to follow you… don’t, while people you’d never expect to follow you… do.)

Rarely, very rarely, I’ll follow someone who never interacts with their followers. They’re probably the rarest of accounts I follow. The one that immediately springs to mind is Rachel Maddow’s ‘official’ account. As far as I know, she doesn’t type the tweets herself; it’s used solely to promote her show and to link to information about political stories that her show covers.

But mostly, I follow people who interact with their followers. Not to the point of never tweeting original material, but folks who at least acknowledge their followers exist.

Note that at no point in this piece have I suggested that they need to have the same views as me. Sure, you’d probably anticipate that in many cases they do, but not always. Not evemn close to always. The to and fro of Twitter, the cut and thrust of genuine debate* that occurs means that if I want to learn new things, there’s absolutely no point in just following the people with whom I agree.

(Nothing about non-tweeters’ commentary on Twitter annoys me than the suggestion that serious debates don’t happen on Twitter; they do… they happen all the time.)

There are a number of atheists I follow and also a few religious people. I doubt I’d agree with any of them, especially since my personal views vary on a day to day basis. I’ve already mentioned popular culture – and yes, that Doctor Who post is coming, I promise – but let’s just take three things about which it’s astonishingly easy to disagree online: politics, politics and politics… By which I mean global politics, domestic politics, and party politics.

Global politics: Despite long dead Speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O’Neill’s protestation and mission statement that “all politics is local”, it isn’t. I’ve never hidden my support for Israel as long as that support is understood to mean, and is limited to, the continuance of the State of Israel as a political entity. That’s it; everything else is up for negotiation as far as I’m concerned. And despite some seeming to think that all criticism of Israel is anti-semitic in motive and nature, that’s as stupid and wrong an assertion as stating that none of it is. The metonym of using a country’s name to mean the government of that country may be a useful shorthand but it confuses as much as it helps, if it helps at all.  I’ve said in the past and for the avoidance of doubt now restate that I think the current Prime Minister of Israel is a thug, a bully and brings shame to his country on a regular, a depressingly regular, basis. And some of Cabinet go further, making statements that I believe are not only despicable and racist but should forever bar them from office. Of course criticising a government of Israel, a policy, a military action, individual Israelis isn’t inherently anti-Semitic’ nor does criticising any of those make you ‘anti-Israel’ any more than criticising David Cameron, the bedroom tax or the extension of bombing into Syria makes you ‘anti-British’. BUT if you use anti-Semitic imagery and tropes to criticise Israel, it doesn’t stop being anti-semitism just because you slap “Israel” or “Zionism” on the image instead of “Jew”.

OK – take a breath, budgie…

You might imagine that given the views expressed above, there are some people who disagree with me. And you’d be right. The only dealbreaker for me is the support to which I referred to above. If someone wants the State of Israel destroyed as an entity, someone wants the country obliterated, abolished… removed… Then yeah, I’m not interested in anything else they have to say. And not only will I not follow them, they’re likely to be blocked from following me. (Amusingly, on another subject, someone made the comment the other day to me that blocking people was a personal attack. Yes, seriously. They didn’t seem to understand that their freedom of speech carries with it my freedom not to listen. Similarly, as I learned from the sage that is Kurt Busiek a long time back: restriction of venue is not restriction of speech.)   

But leaving Israel aside, there are plenty of things going on in the world that I’m going to disagree with people about. As long as they have a case to make (i.e. they’re not just spray painting slogans) and are not abusive or liars, I’ll listen. And if they’re interesting while they make this case, they’ll often get a follow. Doesn’t matter which country they’re from, which subjects are their own personal interests. Whether I stay following of course is a different matter. 

Domestic Politics: I’ll leave aside the individual coalitions we call political parties for a moment; I’ll address them in a moment. I’m more concerned here about the Big Picture: the processes of our politics, the cross-party subjects and the media. I know – and follow – at least a couple of people who think that parliamentary democracy is the wrong ideal way to govern our country. I disagree, but I’m always interested in what they have to say. I follow people who condemn our constitutional monarchy as an institution and also those who regard it as an essential and irreplaceable part of the British system. I follow some who while they think think the House of Lords isn’t perfect, it’s better than anything else that would replace it, while other people I follow would abolish it tomorrow if they could. I follow people who read the Daily Mail, while others wouldn’t use it as toilet paper (on the grounds you’d wipe on more shit than you’d remove.) I can’t stand talent shows, celebrity based or otherwise, nor so-called reality television, and I thank whatever deities there may or may not be for the ability to mute hashtags relating to either. Doesn’t mean I don’t value the tweets and opinions on other matters of people who do like them.

Again, my point is that as long as you have a case to make, and do so without abuse nor lies, odds are I’ll follow you or at least I won’t mute or block you.

Party Politics: For most of my adult life, as I’ve related elsewhere, if I’d have had to have placed myself somewhere on the party political spectrum, I’d probably have lumped myself in with that particular area of politics occupied by Kenneth Clarke, and Michael Heseltine, and back in history a bit, that similarly occupied by Peter Walker and Francys Pym, by Jim Prior and Anthony Barber. But over the past ten years or so, I’m genuinely unsure whether I moved politically or the parties moved politically and I stayed where I was. Certainly during the last five years, I found myself more and more attracted to the Labour Party, despite their leader who I believed was well intentioned, but suffered from what was once called “the Kinnock Effect”, i.e. you just couldn’t see him as Prime Minister. Well, I couldn’t anyway. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Labour didn’t stand a chance in my constituency (seriously – at the 2010 election, the candidate got about 10% of the vote) so in 2015, I voted for the candidate with the best chance (as far as I saw it, anyway) of unseating him. More fool me; the Conservative candidate – on a static turnout of 76% – increased his vote, his vote-share, and inevitably his majority; from just over 4,000 to a shade over 23,000. My MP is Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative Party’s candidate for mayor.

However, as I’ve previously related, when the results of the general election came in, I was so sickened that I was determined not to allow my future inaction to be one reason why the conservatives won again in five years. So I joined the Labour Party. And we all know how that went.   

Anyway, my point is that before I joined, during the time in which I was a member, and afterwards, I’ve always followed people on Twitter from the left, and for most of the time, hell for almost the entire time, I’ve disagreed with them and vice versa. A couple of names are worth mentioning. If you peruse the comments to this blog, one name will come up repeatedly in reply to many of the political entries I’ve written. His name’s Steve Townsley and twenty-off (twenty very odd) years back, he ran the first politics message board in which I participated, first as a member and then later helping Steve and his successor run it. In twenty years, I don’t think we’ve agreed on much about anything politically. But I wouldn’t pass up reading his views for a moment. I don’t think that either of us doubt the other’s sincerity on holding our respective views, and I would suggest with equal certainty that neither of us think any less of the other when we disagree. (By the way, Steve, after twenty years, I think I get to say at least once that “you’re wrong and I’m right.” Let me know when’s good for you.)

Owen Jones is a writer, opinion columnist and journalist (he’s very specific though: he’s not a news reporter; his pieces appear in the opinion pages) with whom I suspect we would agree a lot about trivial things and disagree fundamentally about some pretty major ones. But I like how he writes, I like how he argues a case, and I’d very much like to meet him one day so we can agree how wrong I am. I genuinely cannot imagine unfollowing Owen on Twitter; he’s one of the few pundits I regard as essential reading.

There are plenty of other people I like enormously online (and hope that we’d like each other were we to meet, which is not beyond the realms of possibility since we have in each case mutual friends) and who are far to the left politically of me. I rarely agree with them. They rarely agree with me. We occasionally go at it, arguing about this or that. But they’re always polite, always courtesy, always have a case to make, and always make it. And that’s why I carry on following them, because I like to read well made arguments.

There’s one final comment I should make regarding muting and blocking, and it’s an admission of cowardice on my part. There’s one person who through no fault whatsoever of their own tweets about a subject that I find genuinely difficult to deal with; that’s solely down to me and my own hangups. This is a person I genuinely don’t want to offend, and it’s pure cowardice on my part that stops me unfollowing them. So they’re muted.

Not exactly a thousand, not even nearly, but as in “a picture tells…”

I’ve never been happy with how I look. Sure, as a child, I looked cute, but then most children look cute in pictures. Some don’t, but most do, especially since the photographs that parents put up online are those in which their children do look cute. I’ve often said that my lad Phil (unaccountably known to some as ‘Philip’) was lucky that Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist when he was a toddler, as his utterings would undoubtedly have been foisted upon you as friends of mine are wont to do with their own. The very best of these, though I may biased are @ThingsGretaSays, @StuffAstridSays and @tallulahlouise.

I did have Livejournal from 2002 and yeah, there was the odd (some very odd) photos of him put online; most of the pics, though, were of the ‘awwwww’ variety, often as part of a birthday entry, emphasising how he’d grown, and changed over the years.


And since I’m approaching – not quite there folks, but it’s getting closer – the time when I’ll update my “A Life In Pictures” post, I’ve been thinking of visual images today.

Particularly, I’ve been thinking of the single image by which people choose to represent themselves online: their avatar, icon, profile pic. Call it what you will; I’ll stick with ‘Twitter pic’ for Twitter and ‘profile pic’ for anything else, I think. Whether it’s facebook, twitter, Blogger, WordPress, or any number of message boards, everyone has the opportunity to use an image to represent them… or of course to not use an image and stay with the default image. On Twitter, it’s an egg. (I don’t know why Twitter uses an egg, unless it’s some kind of reference to an unborn bird, and Twitter’s brand logo is a bird? I suppose that makes as much sense as any other explanation.)

If you do have the default ‘egg’ as your twitter pic, it’s generally seen as a sign that either you’re a newbie and haven’t got to grips with Twitter yet, or that it’s a deliberate attempt to remain anonymous so you can be as offensive as you like. After almost eight years on Twitter, they’re fair assumptions.

Most folks I follow on Twitter fall into one of three categories where their Twitter pic is concerned (I’m excluding brands who – fairly obviously – use their own brand’s logo):

(1) the account uses a picture of themselves, the person who operates the account. Most journalists use a headshot, often the headshot that accompanies their pieces, in print or online. Many of my friends do the same. I don’t think anyone can justifiably object to this as a working principle. It combines the advantages of an explicit statement that this is who I am and of I’m standing behind everything I say. Occasionally, folks – John Rentoul is a prime example – will use a headshot, but a photoshopped one in an amusing or self-deprecating way. Again, perfectly reasonable.

(2) the account holder is a writer or artist; in these cases, many of them will use a pic of a piece of work they’re promoting or of which they’re particularly proud. Takes a while sometimes to get used to the new pic when they swap for a more recent work, but again, completely understandable.

(3) something entirely unrelated to them; an image they just… like. I would say I’m puzzled by this but I’m not really; it’s often less about what they’re showing, and more about what they don’t want to show… i.e. their own face. Now, there people are in the main not attempting any form of anononymiuty; their bios will usually show links to their blogs, their personal sites (where there often are pics of themselves). They just don’t want to have their face as their Twitter profile pic. 

I guess on Twitter, I fall into that third category, but with an element of the second, and even a smidge of the first (at a real stretch).

As I said above, long ago, I had a Livejournal account and I had the oppportunity to use for each blog entry one of up to several hundred images; I had this option, but rarely used it. Very rarely; I used a headshot for the main blog entries; the headshot changed every year or so when I had a new one I liked. For posts specifically about comics, I used a drawn headshot of me that appeared in a friend’s comic book. For posts specifically about an online column I wrote an image I created (later to see fresh life as the main icon for the going cheep tumblr account I maintain.) And for posts about hypotheticals, I used the image designed for it by Dave Gibbons, my collaborator on the panel.

See, many years ago, I ran (from 2000 to 2011) with Dave a panel entitled hypotheticals at the then main British comics convention. If you know all about it, fine; if not, well I may write about it further at some point. The first year’s panbel didn’t have an image. When we were invited back the following year, not having a logo seemed somehow wrong, so I created one, rough and ready. It did the job but wasn’t exactly… erm… good. Dave then came up with a superb logo, and that was the image then used to promote the panel; on t-shirts, on bookmarks, online. 

After we did the final panel, Dave sent me an amended version of the hypotheticals logo, just as a thank you for the work I’d done on the panel over what turned out to be 12 years (neither of us expected it to last anywhere near that long). And it’s that logo I now use for most of my online life; it’s the image I use for Twitter, for my ‘main’ tumlr account, for this blog and for most if not all of the few message board to which I still belong. It’s become even more relevant the past few years since I left the world of financial director-ing with the inevitable consequence that the proportion of people who know me by any other name has fallen through the floor.

So, yeah, it’s budgie and that’s a pic of… budgie.

I don’t hide what I look like, even though I’m still not exactly delighted with how I look in photos, but then again, you’ll all soon see how I look in photos now, how I looked in photos as a child, and then again how I look(ed) as an adult soon, won’t you…?

2015’s update to A Life In Pictures – coming soon (whether you like it or not.)

Some years ago, I posted something online that I believed to be true. Told to me by someone I trusted, it turned out not only to be false, but maliciously so. I hadn’t lied or at least there was no intention to lie nor even mislead, but I’d at best – at best! – propogated an untruth.

It didn’t take long for the real situation, the truth, to come out, and I felt completely shitty. Not only had I abused the trust of people who relied upon me not to lie, I felt inherently shitty simply because I’d postd something that wasn’t true. While it didn’t immediately terminate the friendship I’d had with the person who told me, the event without doubt damaged it, and we were rarely in contact afterwards. Come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time I spoke to him, and I’ve no idea what he’s up to now.

The only person who was offended by my posting, though, was the then editor of Comics International, Dez Skinn. I knew Dez slightly, from online conversations, but certainly not as well as I came to know him later on. And I was told by some people who did know him well that he was both surprised and genuinely offended by the information I’d posted. 

There was only one thing for it. As well as a public apology in the forum in which I’d posted, I called Dez and apologised to him. The wording I used was one I’ll regret to the ends of my days. After exchanging small talk, I said “I’m genuinely sorry if I caused offence…”

I didnt get any further before Dez interupted with “IF you caused offence? If…”

I took the point – I knew he was offended, so why the hell use such a mealy-mouthed combination of words?

Anyway, I apologised for causing offence, and for posting it in the first place, and Dez accepted both, with good grace.

We got on well over the next few years, to the extent that Comics International actually paid for the room hire for the second and third Hypotheticals panels in 2001 and 2002. (It always surprised people – though I don’t know why – that we had to pay for the room hire for the first few panels, until the con abolished room charging for panels.)

But here’s the thing: apologising for the offence caused isn’t enough, which is why I added the apology for the act as well; without that second part, it places the blame on the person who’s been offended, as if the original statement was fine and they’re just being oversensitive.

And we see that all the time. Livingstone tried, last week, before Corbyn got him to unreservedly apologise. His original semi-apology was to say he was sorry “if [Kevan Jones] was upset”.

It’s the same thing as saying “I owe you an apology” and then never delivering that apology. I appreciate that in these litigious days, an apology about something that’s caused measurable – and potential or actual financial – harm is problematic. But that’s not what I’m talking about. No, of course there’s no right not to be offended, and freedome of speech is never freedom of consequence arising from that speech, but it seems to many that apologising is [seen by equally many as] weakness, when I’d argue that it’s not. Don’t misunderstand me; I don’t think it’s necessarily strength to apologise, any more than it’s strong not to cheat in a sport.

Admitting you fucked up is just the right thing to do.

There’s a comedian I admire, and just as importantly, like. Very intelligent fella, very intelligent comedy. He’s one of those I’ve met via Mitch Benn only to discover that my liking of his comedy is at least as much matched by my liking for him personally. Always nice when that happens. He fucked up on Twitter a while back, before we’d actually met; he tweeted an urban myth about religious Jews that shocked, offended and genuinely angered me. And I wasn’t alone. Jewish comedians, non-Jewish comedians, lots of people leaped to correct him, some politely, some… less so.

Within a couple of hours, he’d deleted the tweet, said he’d been a gullible fool, publicly apologised and hashtagged it #iamanidiot.  I don’t know a single person who regarded the apology as anything other than genuine, or treated the accompanying embarrassment otherwise. Couple of months back, I did it again. Fucked up online, I mean. I’m not a huge fan of Peter Hitchens. About the only nice thing I can say about him and his views is that he’s clear as to what he believes and isn’t concerned in the least about telling you, or how it comes over. As my late grandmother would have said, “what’s on his lung is what’s on his tongue”. 
That said, I came across a quote he’d made and used it online during a discussion. Hitchens saw it and asked when he’d said it, as it didn’t represent his views at all. I went back to my source material and… yeah, I’d not realised that the site I’d used was a satirical news site. 


So I deleted the tweet, apologised to him directly and in a public tweet. OK, so far, so… ok. What genuinely surprised me was Hitchens’ response. He genuinely couldn’t have been more understanding. “It happens”, was his general attitude, but he was very pleased at the apology and thanked me publicly for it, saying that misquotes and mistatributions online were common, while apologies were not.

I’m not suggesting that we should apologise more often for causing offence. In many cases – though not all by any means – those who proclaim offence are perfectly willing to offend others and then claim ‘freedom of speech!’ when their statements are protested. 

But, apologising for online fuckups, misattributions, untruths? Yeah, we should alldo that more often. How about we start with “every time an apology is owed” and move on from there?

There aren’t many blogs I read on a ‘whenever they’re posted’ basis. Most of my reading is ad hoc; I see a link on Twitter or on my feedlist of choice, I click on it, read it and am amused, shocked, horrified or – sometimes – bored. Those last tend to be the rarest not because I’m particuarly discerning in my reading, but because recommendations from people I respect tend not to bore me.

That’s not a guarantee, of course, but it’s uncommon at the very least. 

But there are two blogs I read regularly, definitely on an ‘as posted’ basis. Both are written by very intelligent people with whom I disagree about any number of things, but their writings – esecially when they’re blogging – never cease to interest me.

One’s a long-standing friend, so long-standing in fact that our friendship predates the birth of our respective children, both of whom are now in their twenty-first year of life. (Oh gods, they’re 20, boss…) His name is Warren Ellis and his daily, or near as dammit, brain dump is called Morning, Computer. It was the inspiration for going cheep but as you’d expect, it’s far more sensible, far better written and far, far stranger.  (Oh, and Warren has a weekly newsletter which is unique among such things in that I actively look forward to it arriving. Warren will no doubt take this as proof that I am doomed. You can subscribe to Orbital Operations here.)

The other is someone whose brain and intelligent comedy I’ve long admired. I’ve only met him a couple of times and briefly then which is a pity, since he’s one of those people I suspect I’d get more intelligent by osmosis just by hanging around him. His blog entries are as much stream of consciousness as anything else; they’re whatever he was thinking about right at that time, often written in a hurry when he’s on the way home from a standup gig, or in a dressing room. He’s Robin Ince and he blogs here. People on Twitter are, I suspect, fed up of me pointing them towards his blogs with an accompanying though entirely redundant “this is very good, by Robin Ince”.

Both of these gentlemen share one further shame; they’ve both partaken in The Fast Fiction Challenge, Warren several times (he never learns), and Robin was kind enough to give me a challenge when I wrote 24 short stories in 24 hours for Conic Relief in 2013

I might as well say here and now that yes, it’s probable, but not definite, that Twelve Days of Fast Fiction will happen this year. I’m still mulling it over but at the moment, there seem more reasons to do it than not. And people are starting to ask about them. So that’s nice.