There will still be an Anna Raccoon blog, the Raccoon Arms will still be open for all who wish to while away an hour or so, all the old posts will still be available for reference, but the ‘virtual pub’ will be under new management, and Ms Raccoon will not be on the premises.
Undoubtedly there will be changes, but I have total confidence in Matt and Sad, they have been loyal friends, and steadfast bloggers. It will be Sad’s name over the door, not mine.
This is not, I stress, because of any ill health on my part. The Cancer has beaten a retreat, no sign of it for six months now. I won’t be able to say that ‘I have beaten it’ for another four and a half years technically, but if anyone out there had their money on the Cancer winning, I’d hedge your bet, Pal – I did warn you that Ms Raccoon is not in the habit of losing battles.
It may be a hoary old chestnut, but it is a salutary experience, sitting across a desk from a Doctor explaining to you that you must have immediate surgery and chemotherapy, or you have perhaps eight or ten weeks of life left. I was incredibly lucky to have been diagnosed, sheer fluke in fact, I had no symptoms. Without that lucky break I should have been decomposing nicely by now. Now I look back on last year, the darkest year of my life, and I wonder – ‘what would I have been doing with that eight or ten weeks if I hadn’t known, if I hadn’t been given that chance’. The answer probably applies to a lot of people. Wasting it. Squandering it. Frittering it away.
In my case, I should have been spending a lot of the time maintaining this blog. I thought it was important. Not that this blog was important, but that it was important that there was at least one blog, one place, where intelligent folk of different views could learn from each other. My motivation was never about making my voice heard, I didn’t have a burning ambition to convert anyone to my way of thought, didn’t have any particular political ideology – other than that less government and more individual freedom and responsibility was generally a good thing. I don’t hate anyone who disagrees with me, have no desire to silence folk who think differently, nor abuse them.
One day I found myself living in a foreign country, not speaking the language; I knew no one and couldn’t communicate with them anyway. I missed our local pub, always a hotbed of gossip; I missed the cut and thrust of working in a demanding job. New to the Internet, I ventured into the world of ex-pat forums…and beat a hasty retreat. Cripes! Not the good humoured exchanges of our local pub at all! I joined a news site, and ended up working for them as a moderator. It was fun, people from all walks of life would be discussing daily events. I learned a lot, constantly Googling to keep up with all the references to things I had never heard of.
Then Madeleine McCann vanished one dark night – and the world changed forever. Suddenly there were 1,500 comments a day, people were fighting tooth and nail. There was so much angst, sheer nastiness, vicious comments, stress and unhappiness, and that was just backstage. Out in the comments section it was no better. I left, along with a couple of other moderators, and several commentators who just wanted to get back to the previous atmosphere.
I took off for a carefree tour round Italy with Mr G. Bloody wonderful it was, I look back on it fondly. We had no ties, just our dog, and he was quite happy on the back seat of our camper van. We swam, we toured new cities, we barbequed, we had no particular agenda, no time frame. One day we came across an Internet cafe, and I decided to check my e-mail for the first time in weeks. ‘Well’, I said to Mr G, ‘You’ll never guess what, but one of the other moderators has started up a blog and he’s named it after me (actually after my username, but you know what I mean), says he liked my idea of something like a cafe, a meeting place for folks to chat, and he’s gone for it, wants me to write for him’.
Oh, naive fool that I am! Of course, by naming it after me he had deflected all the grief from the original site onto my head. I was the evil bitch who’d set up a competing site, I’d ‘stolen the database’ – fat chance, wouldn’t have known what it looked like if it had been thrust into my hand!!! Cor, I had some ‘orrible e-mails. Not only that, but some of the more obsessive commentators turned up at the new place, and all the back stage angst started again. I had a lot to learn about the darker side of the Internet, but I was catching on fast. What I ended up with was all the pain of ‘running my own blog’, but with none of the control. It wasn’t actually mine.
OK, so start again, if I’m going to have the grief, I might as well do it properly. Anna Raccoon was born. A nickname that some of the commentators had given me. There was no intention of blogging ‘anonymously’, or even psuedonymously’ – after all, everyone who was on the original Anna Raccoon knew exactly who I was, they had exchanged dozens of e-mails with me, and I only ever used my real name on e-mails. I put a lot of time – and money – into setting it up. I’d seen the trouble that could be caused by irate people complaining to Blogger and getting blogs taken down, or hacking into blogs, or spamming them. If I was going to do it, it would have to be a professional platform, hosted in the US, and ‘calmly’ run – no abuse from the moderators, no viciousness, no ‘outing’ of posters. Just a place where people could have different views and exchange them with some humour. (Chorus of ‘Oh naive fool!’ Repeat ad nausea)
I would wake every morning, and whatever I was thinking as I supped my morning tea would turn into a blog post. It might be an amusing tale from my past. A shaggy dog saga. Something that caught my attention on the morning news. Anything to get the conversation going. It was great fun, the old atmosphere was back, and how or why I know not, but new folk were finding it and joining in. How does that happen? I don’t know! The magic of the Internet. It just grew, like Topsy.
One day I wrote something about Lord Ahmed, and to my utter amazement, Vera Baird decided to comment on the piece. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Checked out the IP address, and sure enough, it was hers at the House of Commons. Guido had noticed, linked to it, and suddenly it seemed as though half the world had noticed, and the stats surged upwards. There were any number of ‘strangers’ hanging around the place. Occasionally commenting, but mostly just reading. Who were these people? I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now.
‘Success’ in any form invariably breeds discontent in others. I was amazed when I discovered that there were people I’d never heard of, never met, never spoken to, who were giving of their time – in order to write blog posts about me – or rather Anna Raccoon. Whatever for? I found there were blogs in exotic parts of the world that were just copying and pasting whatever I wrote, and using it to fill up a blog flogging Viagra. Someone registered a porn site, just marginally misspelling Anna Raccoon. Eh? I was baffled by all this, and somewhat intimidated. It was an uncomfortable feeling, knowing that there were all these prying eyes, up to no good, earwigging what continued to be a friendly conversation on line. I had to shut my mind to it, pretend I was just talking to those I knew and keep writing.
The rest is history. I’ve written over 1,500 posts in 3 years. I’ve made mistakes, zillions of them, been pulled up on them, and never minded a bit. I learn from my mistakes. I’ve been violently disagreed with on-line, and not turned a hair, for debate is what it was all about for me. What I’ve never got used to is those silent prying eyes. Thousands upon thousands of them. Every day. Without fail.
What I have to say now, doesn’t concern those of you who use the place as I intended – to debate, to exchange views. You are some of the most intelligent, erudite, evincive, and emotive writers in the Blogopshere. Guido tells me he doesn’t even dare read his comments. Me? I can never wait to see what you have to say. The care and thought and passion that goes into the comments on this blog are a constant source of pride to me. You will never know how much you have meant to me, particularly over the last year. I have clopped my way down five flights of stairs carrying an intravenous drip in order to get to a computer to see what you have to say on occasions. The only way I knew how to say thank-you to you was to go on writing something, kicking off the conversation. It’s been crap some days, many days. Too many days, but you always forgave me and willed me on. Thank-you.
Did you know that you were less than 1/2 a per cent of the readers of this blog. I’ve never been a fan of statporn, but I shall indulge myself this once. Less than a half of one percent. We’ve had 25,000 readers on a single day. Those prying eyes now account for 99.5 % of our readership. Some may just be shy, but amongst them are some of the most vicious, unbalanced, obsessive, cruel, thieving, manipulative, disingenuous, lying, (OK, I’ll put the Thesaurus away now) single minded, shits, in existence. There are still the people who copy and paste just to fill up their own blogs; then there are the ones who copy and paste in order to squirrel away my efforts and tear them apart, far from any debate, amongst their own tribal kinds. There are ones who disagree with something I have said, and who make it their business, not to debate, to prove me wrong, but to punish me for holding a different viewpoint. They lie and embroider, and filet little bits of information about me, and use it to fill entire blog posts with really foul allegations concerning my ‘motives’ for writing whatever they happened to disagree with.
It’s been building up for some years now, and every time it gets me down I resolve to step away from the keyboard, give it up, take up crochet or something, but somehow I always feel I would be letting down those who do comment. Those who explain their disagreement in an intelligent fashion. The past year or so there has been a new development. The personalised hate mail. My fault, I put up a contact page. It seemed a reasonable thing to do. (Another chorus of ‘Oh, so naive!’ if you would please.)
Now I get up in the morning, turn on the computer, and the first thing I see is a hail of e-mails. One from my host, telling me that someone has been trying to ‘guess’ our password overnight, presumably in order to get into the site. Then another, from a ‘friend’ telling me that he has found some disgusting piece of shit written about me in some obscure forum and he thinks I ought to ‘do something’ about it…funny how I never recognise the e-mail addresses of these ‘friends’ from those of my commentators. One of the ‘shy’ but ‘concerned’ ones I guess. Got up at 2am and thought, I know, I’ll cheer Anna up and remind her what sort of people she is writing for.
There is invariably a totally mad one, who’s discovered some inner meaning by adding together a notional number for every letter in the alphabet to one obscure sentence I wrote this time last year and is planning to reveal to the world how I’m really a one legged man disguised as a goat or something, its all in the bible – my fault, write about mental health issues, and you really get ‘em. At least once a week, there will be a long ramble from someone about to lose their home/job/wife/child for absolutely no fault of their own and will I please campaign for them and if I could raise some money for them too whilst I’m about it. I do check them all out, I phone them at my expense if I can, I’ve even been known to travel to England to meet people and try to give them what they want, but 99 out of a 100 of them check out to be absolute nonsense. I could ignore them – but then I wouldn’t be me anymore.
There’s the sort that read a post I wrote two years ago about my Father’s suicide, go googling, and at 3am fire up on Twitter saying ‘no wonder your Father killed himself, he ruined Wales, and you run off like a rat in the night to France’. (Twitter helpfully send me an e-mail to make sure I don’t miss these bonsmots!) Eh? My Father worked on Lake Vernwy 60 years ago Pal, I moved to France 7 years ago – if you want to debate any plausible connection, how about replying to the post at the time, debate it on the blog? What’s the point of that Twitter post, you scabby Welsh git? Just another of the ‘Who’s day can I ruin today’ brigade?
I’ve had the usual ‘I hope you die of cancer, you ignorant cow’ – I’ve learned to ignore them too. The carping from people I’ve raised money from and a year later they come back for more – that one knocked me back a bit, but I got over it. I’ve come to ignore certain subjects, increases the mail bag too much.
What’s really done for me, is the people I know, albeit only on the Internet, the ones I have in mind when I do get through the mail and start to write, managing to ignore the vast malevolent army out there – when they start carping and whining by e-mail, that is the final straw. In the past few weeks, I’ve had one friend who has resolved to never speak to me again because of a post Matt put up – I didn’t even write it! – that deeply upset her, because of some family connection that I couldn’t possibly have guessed at, and I refused to take it down again. Why should I? It was Matt’s post, nothing wrong with it at all, very well received by those on line – but in the background I was losing a friend and getting more grief. I’ve been asked – not so politely – by another friend not to address the subject of euthanasia again because it so upsets her. Last week I awoke to two e-mails, sent long after I had gone to bed, both people I have known for years, both furious with me. I had mentioned someone they are both interested in – the first one accused me of having an agenda, glossing over his crimes, his conviction, actually said I was a ‘paid troll’ deliberately trying to improve his image. I opened the second e-mail, Noooooo, she was desperately upset for the second time in weeks (I’d only just smoothed over the last time) ‘baffled because I felt the need to vilify the man on every occasion’.
They’d both read the same sentence. It didn’t fit either of their agendas. And I am to blame.
I can’t do this. I suddenly realised that I could no longer write on here. The list of subjects I have to avoid for fear of unleashing more grief grows longer every month. I am no longer being honest and chatting to friends. I am intimidated by it all – to the point of not wanting to write any longer. I deeply resent that silent army of readers who have no interest in debating, who just want someone to be a figurehead, a cheer leader for their beliefs, their views, and if you don’t comply, ‘ping’, there is the e-mail telling you that they are never speaking to you again…
It’s ironical that the Blogsphere, supposedly the bastion of free speech, has turned out to be the place where I have no free speech. I can no longer express myself honestly. It’s no longer a place that I look forward to spending time in. It’s become an egg shell treading duty to my commentators.
So, in future, if I wake up thinking of something amusing, or feel like having a chat – I’ll e-mail you. I know which of you are committed to free speech, which of you debate intelligently, which of you understood the purpose behind the blog; I’ll make up a mailing list, and if you want to be knocked off it, just e-mail me and tell me so. I have no wish to impose myself on anyone, but I have a lot of friends out there that I would miss, and I want to stay in touch. Just not on here.
Sad and Matt are a lot more savvy than I am, they understand the dark side of the Internet better than I did. They won’t write in the same way, they will make a lot of changes, hopefully for the better, and I hope you support them. I wish them well, I’m glad they’ve taken up the yoke, the alternative was to close the blog down, and that would have been a shame for all the people who have supported it over the years.
There’s a whole beautiful world outside this door, the Dordogne sun is shinning, my hens are laying, the geese are getting fat, the mill stream glistens, Mr G is rolling past on his tractor, and I want to return to the real world. To enjoy this second life that I’ve been given.
So I’m the new landlord of the Raccoon Arms. I suppose I should introduce myself, though many of you have met me before.
Firstly, I shall stay behind my nom-de-plume of SadButMadLad. It’s not because I’m embarrased about what I say, but it makes my real life a lot easier. It means I don’t have my boss at work reading my stuff and saying that it’s not compatible with the company’s brand. And it shouldn’t be because my work is with computers and nothing to do with politics. Nor does it mean that I have to involve my family in what I do on the Internet. My personal life is separate from my publc life, just like everyone else who keeps their work life seperate from their home life. Using my real name doesn’t change any of my views and my views are already easily found out by Googling my handle. If you really want to use a name, use Jon or SBML.
But who is SBML? Though I’m anonymous, I would be just as anonymous if I used my proper name. Or any other name. What does help in having a conversation is knowing some of background. In the style of a online dating agency entry; I’m foreign born, but have lived in the UK for most of my life though have travelled extensively. I’m in my late 40s and live in the North of England. I’ve been married for 10 years. My major interest is in technology and science. I am a software engineer. My political views have evolved over the years from a left winger attending student demos as a young man to more liberal views. One aspect that was a constant was my distaste for authority and busy bodies and little hitlers. But I never knew that my view could be classified as a political viewpoint called Libertarianism. It was only two years ago that I found I wasn’t alone. Since then I’ve learnt a lot. And I’m still learning.
Secondly, I aim to keep the blog carrying on as Anna started it. It’s her baby and I feel a great responsibility to not harm it and to keep it going for years to come. You might not have noticed but I have been in the back office for some time now helping Anna run the blog and posting some articles of my own. So hopefully you won’t notice too much of a change. The decor will stay the same as will the name. I’ll just have to channel my feminine side.
The blog is not just me using it to spout my personal opinions and jamming it down your throats. Far from it. The blog is a place where I can start a conversation, listen to the feedback, and learn from it. Hopefully others will learn too. It’s also a place where customers can come and sit and feel comfortable talking with others about any subject under the sun. I aim to welcome anyone from across the political spectrum. My nickname is not A Man for All Reasons for nothing.
I will be helped by Matt Wardman as Co-Editor. He has a been running blogs since 2007, and knows his way around social software. Other bar staff will include Gildas the Monk and any others who wish to join and keep this blog going.
Sue might not come back and post on the blog, but I’m sure she’ll keep visiting. Though I hope she doesn’t become a back street driver! No, just joking. She’s more than welcome to add any comments. And her drinks will be on the house.