Saturday, 25 January 2014

Who's afraid of the big, bad, wolf?

When I was a small boy my father would tell me stories. Grim tales by the brothers Grimm, fairy tales and silly jokes. These were in the heady days of the early nineteen-seventies, before he'd bought his first pub and while he was still working at Parker Rosser's timber yard on Salford docks. I'd rarely see my father from Monday to Friday as he would leave for work, duffle bag and flask slung over his shoulder, before I awoke, not returning until after I was in the land of Nod, so the stories would generally be recounted on a Saturday morning before we settled down to watch the adventures of Flash Gordon, Champion the Wonder Horse and the Lone Ranger on the black and white television in the front parlour.

I'd sit upon his knee with my six shooters resting on my own knee, stetson hung from my neck and my little sheriffs badge pinned to my pyjamas whilst listening to the adventures of children stupid enough to wander into the forest alone or girls with a penchant for crimson cowls.

The stories were frightening, especially given the dramatic slant my father would put on them. He would intersperse the stories with raspy voices, wicked witch cackles and the occasional menacing whisper. The stories were designed to teach a child a lesson. Don't go in the woods alone, don't go near strange animals, don't trust strangers, don't steal and don't tell lies.

 (The latter lesson being delivered via a story about a little boy crying wolf. When my dad told me this story the little boy would get away with the lie twice and be killed the third time. What this actually taught me was that it was okay to tell a lie, just don't push it.)

One of my favourite tales, mainly because the voices he would put on were the funniest and the scariest, recounted the adventures of three goats and their decision that the grass was greener on the other side of the river. They would clip-clop, in order of size, across a rickety, wooden bridge. Each goat would encounter a vicious monster, a troll, who wanted to eat them. Each of the first two goats, the kid and the nanny, would promise the troll that the next goat to cross would be larger and tastier and so, being a slave to his gluttony, the troll would allow them to pass. When the third goat, the big old Billy, encountered the monster he would, being the largest and strongest of the trio, batter the troll, tossing him into the river below never to be seen again.

This tale didn't seem to teach a child any lesson. In fact it contradicted another lesson I'd already been taught, that of the grass not really being greener on the other side. Still, I enjoyed it.

I knew there were no such things as wicked witches, cross-dressing wolves or geese with gilt edged reproductive systems. Occasionally, as I was slipping into sleep and the landing light was extinguished I might imagine a monster or two under the bed but, on Saturday mornings when armed with two, fully loaded, cap guns and my father acting as my trusty sidekick, nothing could harm me.

Little was I to know that, just forty or so years later, the world would discover that trolls really do exist. Thanks to the anonymity of the internet these vile creatures have once again found a bridge under which to hide, ever vigilant and awaiting the clip-clop of the innocent goats passing overhead.

The trolls have heard the story of the three billy goats gruff, and they've learnt a valuable lesson from it. They don't wait for the big, stout-horned, goat, they know they'd be on a hiding to nothing. So they leap upon the first goat, the smallest and weakest. They don't listen to the kid's earnest entreaty, they don't wait for the larger and more succulent nanny, they just pounce. The kid is devoured.


This week two such modern day trolls have been imprisoned for their actions. Twenty three year old alcoholic Isabella Sorley and twenty five year old loner John Nimmo (who I'm sure most will agree actually look like the trolls from the fairy tales) were jailed for twelve weeks and eight weeks, respectively.

The despicable duo "jumped on the band wagon" (Their mitigation for their actions) and sent abusive and threatening messages through Twitter to banknote campaigner Criado Perez and Labour MP Stella Creasy.

The messages in question were, unquestionably, vile. Threats of rape, murder and references to the women's appearances were sent by the two members of the brains-trust via many, anonymous, fake accounts. The pair obviously had the wherewithal to try and hide but weren't bright enough to have heard about IP addresses. Their victims complained, the police asked Twitter who they were and that was that. They had laid an evidence trail from which there was no escape. A virtual trail of breadcrumbs through a forest of social networking.

Their victims distress is, I'm sure, very real. Both ladies report that their lives have been changed by the incident. They say they live, or at least lived, in fear.

As abhorrent as the actions of Tyneside's answer to Shrek and Fiona were, I find it hard to understand why two such obviously intelligent women as Ms Perez and Ms Creasy were frightened. I believe they were, I just can't understand it. I have, as regular visitors to my inane ramblings will by now know, had my own Twitter account for many years. I'm something of an old timer.

I have been trolled mercilessly throughout my years of screaming nonsense into the ether, but not once has it affected me in any way. In fact, perversely, I kind of enjoy it. I've never been trolled by anyone with any real wit or menace. I have had threats of violence and of death, I've been ridiculed for my beliefs and attacked because my chosen football team are better than most other football teams. I have been told I am a benefit cheat, although I'm not on benefits, that I am ugly, though this is plainly not true (Sic) and that I am stupid. I can't argue with that last one. My significant other, Ms Patty Dick Fingers, is, at twenty eight years of age, sixteen years younger than myself. This fact has led to spurious claims that I am a paedophile. (The first time this happened almost spoiled our fifteenth anniversary meal.)

The threats are nothing more than little boxes of up to one hundred and forty characters. The people that send them are losers. Just last week a chap informed me, after failing to upset me and having been ridiculed by some of my own followers about his dull wit and appearance, that he wasn't "borthered" (sic) what I thought of him, that he was sitting "in the gym" and that all his real life mates were laughing at me. The moron had his locations turned on on his Tweets. A quick look at these nuggets of unintentionally imparted information revealed the chap was either on a train heading south from Huddersfield or that his gymnasium was travelling south next to the train tracks at an average of sixty miles per hour. Shortly after I pointed this out to him, my followers and his followers I began receiving messages backing his point of view from one of his friends. His friend had no followers, was following no one but him and, up until that point, had never before Tweeted. His first Tweet included the words "...just stop borthering (sic) him you cunt." A typical tactic of the troll, parthenogenesis.

Without exception, every last troll that I have come across has been a socially inept, unattractive, loner of sub-human intelligence. Every one of them. People occasionally advise me to just ignore them rather than keep responding. I don't want to ignore them. I enjoy it. It's like a battle of wits with an exponent of the art of unarmed combat. Whilst they're trying, and failing, to upset or intimidate me they are leaving others, who may not be as confident and self assured as myself, alone. At the same time they are being shown up to be exactly what they really are, feeble minded individuals whose lives are so without meaning or purpose that the only way they can feel better about their pointless existence is by attempting to make others feel as worthless as they have proven to be.

Nowadays the trolls don't eat their prey, they play with it like a cat plays with a mouse. They scare it, getting it's heart to pump all that tasty blood harder through the body and making the meat it is about to taste all the more succulent. Except they never taste the flesh. They just enjoy the game.

I really hope none of you have been upset by a troll. I hope your own experience of social networking is pleasant and that you get a great deal of enjoyment out of it. If not, the next time you're clip-clopping your way across the virtual bridge en route to feast upon the luscious, green, grass of the neighbouring field and the troll comes crawling out from the shadows just remember...

...he's a prick.


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