Monday, 29 July 2013

The seas of the internet continue stormy. But there are shining shafts of light.

I have, as usual, yet another secret project. I am always starting secret projects and then getting distracted and letting them lapse. This morning, I write 1079 words of this one and wonder whether I shall stick with it. It is a long-term project, and I love it, but I am not certain if it will come to anything. Still, some imperative drives me on, and I blindly obey.

Then I must turn to the other work of the day, attempt to get my house in order as the family begins to gather for the highland games, and do some particularly knotty and rather dispiriting admin. I hate admin because I am very bad at it, and it reminds me keenly of my own glaring shortcomings. (Why, why, why can’t I be one of the Organised People?)

In the midst of all this, the internet still throws up its outrages. A writer I follow is being pestered by a nasty Twitter troll; not violent or abusive, but unkind and persistent. The writer, not surprisingly, feels sad and beleaguered. Hannah Bettss writes a measured and sane response to the whole Caroline Criado-Perez saga, and expands it to encompass the amount of abuse that many female writers get when they venture online. Beneath the piece, in the comments section, on the august Telegraph, that elegant old lady of Fleet Street, one man writes that ‘Speaking for myself I abhor the notion of violence towards women, but that doesn't change the fact that I wish, most of the time, that they'd just shut the hell up. Women talk too much. They always have, and they probably always will.’ Another instructs that feminists should lock themselves up with their dildos. To the Telegraph’s credit, this comment was later moderated, and the dildo part removed.

Oh dear, I thought, demoralised. All my vain beliefs in the goodness and kindness of strangers were tottering and rocking under a wave of general crossness and intemperance.

And then, an enchanting thing happened. There is a woman I got to know online who works for a big and ancient and storied organisation. I had the pleasure of meeting her in real life this spring, and I follow her both in her professional capacity (she organises, very brilliantly, the entire online life of her important organisation) and in her personal incarnation on Twitter. We share a love of thoroughbreds and racing, and it proves a delightful bond.

Today, she put up a particularly enchanting picture on Facebook which made me smile through all my fraught stressiness. I sent a little comment, saying how much it had cheered me. And she replied that she had been thinking of me when she posted, and had hoped this might be the effect.

In the rush and dash of the worldwide web, this is a fleeting act of kindness. It would not make headlines or put a dent in the furious rows which are currently raging about online life. But to me, it was a shaft of light and reason and goodness and sanity in a mad world. I WAS NOT WRONG. Look, there, there, is the good heart, the thoughtful pause in a busy day, the moment of blazing generosity. This is the lifebelt which keeps me afloat on a stormy sea.

I’m not saying the sea is not stormy. I’m not so Pollyanna-ish as all that. I may cling to a kind of defiant naivety, but I am not an idiot. What I do say is that the lifebelts are there, the small boats, the brave little fleets that sail out into the teeth of a gale. And there are enough of them to make a difference.


The fraughtness continues, and the time management does not improve, so no time for the camera today. Just one picture, especially dedicated to my kind online friend. You know who you are. And a picture of my duchess, with her goofy face on, reaching over the fence to get the tips of the lush long grass is my best thank you.

29 July 1 29-07-2013 12-42-57

Oh, that face is saying: the absolute, sheer, absurd DELICIOUSNESS of the long green grass.


And one more thought before I go. Sometimes, in the clamour of the internet, one may feel shy to say something nice, or complimentary, or plain encouraging. The person does not need to hear from me, you may think. I often do. I am oddly bashful about offering words of kindness. Perhaps it is the British in me. Perhaps I am afraid they may come across as mildly patronising even. Oh, well done, pat on the head, blah blah.

But you know what I think? Risk it. Say the thing. If in doubt, write the kindness. Put up the picture of a sweet foal for your friend who loves foals, even if half the rest of your more urban followers will think you an idiot. (I did this yesterday. I know my friend in Brooklyn will have been rolling his eyes. But my friend in Norfolk was in transports.)

Because the only way to counter the mean voices is not to challenge them directly – they will shout back at you even louder and call you names, because their bitterness and misery is too deeply rooted – but to lift your own voice in generosity. It’s like a good choir belting out show tunes to drown out the sound of death metal. If there are enough determined singers, then Oh What a Beautiful Morning wins.

And that is my thought for the day.

Well, that, and: fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke.


  1. What goes without saying, needs to be said.

  2. I love that - I was nodding in sage agreement throughout - then got to the last line and just hooted with laughter. Nicely done!

  3. I admit I am one of those who frequently thinks of commenting then backs away, thinking this person doesn't know me and won't want to read my thoughts. I am now suitably chastised. You are right in promoting the positive online any way possible. Enjoy the games and your family! Thanks for the nudge we all need now and then. :-)

  4. "Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats."


  5. The world is generally stormy and kindness seems our best option, definitely. (Voltaire says it better). Thanks as always and for lovely Red snap, Rachel

  6. Great post - and for the haters and trolls, I prefer Shakespeare: "I do desire we may be better strangers." (As You Like It - Act III Scene II)


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