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Getting old, getting confused, getting afraid

October 7, 2018

I was up in Birmingham yesterday, Saturday 6th, attending TekUCon a one day event for the world of the Empire of the Petal Throne.

Fun was had, thank you for asking, and I finally got to use HEROQUEST to run a Tekumel game which went well (and even better when I ran if for the Whartson Hall group at Roger’s this morning). It still needs work as a system: the players were forgiving of my fluffs and failures. I’m not sure if my next step is to work on the HQ version or see if this has bumpstarted my interest in getting REIGN OF THE PETAL THRONE working.

But all that is by the by. The point of this post is when I got back I found in my e-mails a missive from the excellent Leisure Games of Finchley, thanking me for my order and saying I can pick it up from the shop.

Now under other circumstances I would have merely been puzzled by this. Not only could I not remember ordering anything from them but I always pay for postage as I neither live nor work in London, let alone Finchley. I wouldn’t have panicked: I could wait till Monday to ask them what was up.

But I had finally gotten around to doing something I had been meaning to do for a while the day before and installed a Home Cloud (no manufacturer’s names, no packdrill or endorsement) on my home machine so I can have something under my control where I can put data and backup for my numerous devices, that I can reach through the web. I first had the idea to do this a while ago and a friend’s enthusiastic mention of his setup on Wednesday made me decide to go ahead and order one. It came Friday, I set it up and left it running on Saturday while I was out.

I think (and this probably is the core and jist of this posting) that when you get old, even if you’re not aware of it, doing new things requires an investment of courage that drains your reserves of composure so that if a shock hits you you’re less able to withstand it.

That e-mail made my mind immediately jump to ‘Oh my Gawd! It’s not secure! All my data is vulnerable! All my money will drain away before I can do anything about it!” (Leave aside that ‘most of my money’ is invested where you can’t get at it via my bank account.) My tendency to self dramatisation, which does so much excellent work in service of my hypochondria, went into overdrive.

This wasn’t helped by the fact that my bank no longer update your account over the weekend and any credits and debits are going to be languishing on their cloud somewhere until first thing Monday morning. The upshot of which was that I couldn’t go on line and see if there was any supporting evidence for my gibbering.

Well, all was well after all. I got a phone call in the middle of the Sunday game: Leisure Games responding to the quavery message I had left on their answerphone. It was something I had pre-ordered back in May and had forgotten about. They would post it to me. Perhaps the e-mail should never, in fact, have been sent. Excellent customer service there, lads, and who knew they worked on Sundays?

I got home and plugged the home cloud back in. I feel silly. No, it’s no use telling me I wasn’t.

I have gained perhaps a little insight into why growing more conservative as you grow old is a cliche. You can’t cope with shocks so well: it’s not something you think about normally but the world is growing more and more alarming with every passing day. Like my neighbours who voted Leave I find a lot of the past forty years a gradual betrayal of the best things I remember from my youth. I just blame the mess on different players.

Perhaps those who write dystopias have done too good a job for the world’s health? People take them as prophecies rather than warning and a lot of commentators on public affairs seem to expect things to fall to shit in the next week or so (unless we follow their advice, of course).

In my e-mail feed when I got back from the Sunday morning game was an e-mail from next year’s Eastercon committee. Perhaps I’ll propose a topic for a panel item. “Fear of the Future.” Hmmmmm.

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  1. Some of it, I think, is that everybody with something to sell (ideology in particular) now starts with fear as the easiest lever to pull: “do this or DOOM” is a faster sell than “do this and things might get better”. When everyone is telling you that you should be scared, the world is going to seem scary.

    I don’t think it’s just my getting old that causes me to think that, ten or twenty or thirty years ago, politicians did a better job of pretending not to be purely self-interested. Reality has caught up with cynicism, and passed it. Being opposed to torture, or rape, is now an ideological stance rather than a moral one.

  2. That last paragraph is a terrifying one and seems very true.

    The Iraq War was the turning point where we saw what had been wrought over the previous decades.

    I sort of hope that I’m right in thinking that it’s tied into millenarianism (1) and the underlying conviction that we are Living In The Last Times and therefore everything we choose is of The Last Importance. (Is that really a French idiom or was Edgar Allen Poe bluffing?)

    The first paragraph brings me back to my point about the way dystopia has sunk into everyone’s subconscious since BRAVE NEW WORLD and 1984. Far too many people think that the future is actually obliged to be Grim and Gritty.

    And it may be that I am overestimating the effects of my own favourite genres. If I wanted to trace the beginning of the moral corruption of the public mind I’d go back to 24, to Dirty Harry and to that peculiar British paen to Fascism THE PROFESSIONALS. Hell, even Hughie Green’s famous rant might have had some effect.

    (1) The manic fear of and paradoxical worship of Big Round Numbers! Especially at the moment for obvious reasons tied into Christian themes.

  3. People forget the closing scene of Dirty Harry. The one where he throws away his badge. Because he knows he’s had to step outside the law to get the bad guy, and he’s not fit to be a cop any more.

    But the film made money, so that was conveniently forgotten.

    I call what I think you’re talking about the “rough men fallacy”, from the best George Orwell quote that he never actually wrote. There is a certain type of wannabe who likes to believe that the only way to keep the sheeple safe is by tough manly men being free to do tough manly things and not being constrained by your petty rules, dad. I mean man.

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