Troll-Tickling: Have Harmless Fun with Facebook Fools!

You know the type. Someone posts an interesting, useful, feel-good item on Facebook and they instantly douse it with cold water. Hijack it with their own irrelevant agenda. Make ill-tempered, ill-informed criticisms which upset other people. And when challenged, they gaslight, deny, twist and distort, get hysterical, and start hurling playground abuse.

‘I’m entitled to my opinion,’ this type of troll will at some point proclaim, and continue to express it, willy-nilly. Well, I’ve got news for you: your precious opinion means zip. Nada. Nothing. Same as mine. They’re just our personal knee-jerks, often in response to issues which don’t affect us, or we know little about. And just because everyone’s entitled to their opinions, it doesn’t follow that anyone else cares a hoot what they are, or that we’re entitled to inflict them on others whenever/wherever, irrespective of context – that’s for infants yet to learn self-control, manners, and tact. I know if I shared all my weird, extreme, judgey opinions, I wouldn’t have a single friend left apart from Hubcap. I mean, say someone comes round all excited to show off her sexy new leggings. You’re entitled to the opinion that only the very young and very thin should ever wear pale peach; but it would be unkind to tell her, ‘They cling to every bulge of your cellulite and make you look like you forgot to put your pants on.’ No, you quietly let her come to her own epiphany when she glimpses her rear view in a mirror. Or not, if dimply nude is a look she likes. Either way, her choices are none of your business, so keep it to yourself. I speak from painful experience. Certain members of my family were masters of the ‘hurt blurt’ – e.g. ‘By ‘eck, lass, you’ve put weight on.’ (Thanks for noticing, Grandma, you lantern-jawed hag). Or ‘I must say, I don’t like your hair.’ (Why must you, aunt? Oh yes, silly me – you’re ‘entitled to your opinion’).

So the cardinal rule if you don’t want to be trollish yourself is, ‘If you can’t be nice, be quiet.’ It used to infuriate me when the narcissists, obsessives, and passive-aggressive control-freaks kicked off, ripping apart harmless posts, and sowing discord and distress with their ‘opinions’. I accordingly unfriended certain individuals, unfollowed groups which allow or encourage trolling, and initiated a zero-tolerance approach to it wherever possible, because life’s too short to waste on this peculiar brand of attention-seeking.

Alas, sometimes I still get ambushed, as in a recent nasty episode with the nature action group Hubcap and I founded last year. It’s a given that the group (politically unaffiliated/cross-party/united by green principles) must support our local authority, whatever its political complexion, as a major landowner without whose permission we can do very little practical work and stand no chance of achieving our ambitions for an integrated Community Nature Reserve. Currently, Wakefield Council retains the Labour majority it’s had for years – and here, Red means Green in a big way, with a highly pro-active environmental agenda promoted by the Deputy Leader (one of our members) and supported by a local Labour Group willing to get down and dirty with us (unlike other political parties we invited). Therefore currently, it’s a given that our group supports Labour because that’s who we have to work with: an authority which serves our green agenda well and has supported us generously from the outset. And whatever policies we, or other group members, might disagree with in areas outside our remit, like housing or road-mending, we’re always going to extol good environmental initiatives from any source.

For 99.9% of our members, irrespective of their voting preference, this goes without saying. The other 0.1% couldn’t put party politics aside for the general good, or respect our position/the positive relationship we absolutely need to maintain with the Council. One, our Conservative ward councillor no less, trolled the jolly posts I shared about community tree plantings and wildlife ponds on Council land to try and score petty points in advance of the local elections. Another, a supporter/admin of the group in which he was stirring up opposition, (naturally, he didn’t dare attack projects developed/carried out by his fellow members on our group’s private page), obliged me to censor my defence and rebuttal of the inevitable, ill-informed oars that were duly stuck in; then stopped talking to me and implanted another ‘hostile’ who immediately started sniping, arguing about politics, and trying to dictate what I could and couldn’t say. As administrator. On a page I’d created. Yeah, right. Under the circumstances, none of this was remotely funny. The implications of being publicly attacked by group members/our elected member were far too serious – I felt sick if I saw a notification that said councillor had commented on one of my posts because I knew it meant trouble – and we cut their shenanigans short by booting out and blocking all three.

However, normally I take a different tack with trolls, (when I can be bothered to engage at all). Having, by and large, negotiated the rocky, storm-tossed seas of menopause to arrive on the tranquil beach of late middle-age, I’ve learnt to recognise these types less as people than as collections of personality disorders, all alike, and tediously predictable regardless of age or gender. (They’re relatives of certain Old Gits From Hell who’d been plaguing us for years, until recently laid to rest by some of the most exquisitely enjoyable, lethal letters I’ve ever composed – but that’s another story). Anyway, now I can float serenely detached and observe their interactions, I’ve also learnt how to have big fun thwarting and teasing trolls without stooping to their level/saying things I’ll later regret/violating Facebook rules – and have just enjoyed a highly entertaining (if painful on others’ behalf) few days watching a troll make an utter tit of herself on a Ricardian page I follow.

First she did the classic ‘cold water down the neck’ thing on someone’s inoffensive, informative post about new ‘grotesques’ made for Leicester Cathedral, where Richard III was reburied back in 2015 – revealing herself as one of the lobby of overgrown babies still whining because they didn’t get their way, waging futile campaigns for the poor soul to be dug up again/reburied in York because they’re sure it’s what he wanted, and chronically incapable of hearing or saying anything positive about anything connected with Leicester.

People (including an admin) began telling her to pipe down, because everyone’s sick to death of a subject on which there’s nothing left to say that hasn’t been said a million times – usually, by this brigade, in terms laden with abuse and false accusation. But that was her opinion, and wasn’t she allowed to air it? Well, no, thought I; so, deciding to indulge myself for once, I waded in to start Troll-Tickling – and if you fancy attempting this sport, follow these few handy hints:

  1. Forewarned is Forearmed.

Pathological narcissism and non-assertive behaviours (aggression, manipulation, guilt-tripping etc) are so common you can find endless articles online about how to deal with them. The psychological angle is fascinating to study and gives you a real edge, because such folk are so far up their own backsides they have no sense of self-awareness, only of entitlement; you can learn to understand them, but they’ll never understand you because they can’t even understand themselves, and have no idea how to respond to polite self-assertion; plus they’re so predictable you can play them like fish without them ever realising it’s a game, much less knowing the rules. It’s tragic, really; I’d hate to live in that miserable head-space. So if I do choose to spar, it’s always with the hope that a grain of truth will hit home and maybe, just maybe, they’ll pause to reflect, and gain a tad more regard for the world outside themselves.

In that spirit, I mildly put it to the troll that given the page’s name and purpose, it wasn’t an appropriate place to air anti-Leicester views likely to upset other members. She snapped back, ‘So it’s your way or the highway,’ and that I sounded like a one-sided person she was going to ban from her Facebook. She didn’t, of course. She wanted to carry on arguing. Fine by me. Normally, I’d pre-emptively block someone like this to stop them noseying on my public page, but this time I was curious to see which happened first: her being kicked out by an exasperated admin or flouncing out of her own accord – after telling us how horrible we all were and that it was All Our Fault, of course. Mature adults don’t feel the need to do this; they simply withdraw from situations they find unacceptable, with dignity intact, and without drawing the attention trolls crave – even the negative, ‘don’t let the door hit your arse on your way out’ type of attention their trumpeted proclamations inevitably attract. (Or maybe they just smugly imagine the group duly chastised, red-faced and tearful at their departure). Which brings me to:

  • Keep your Temper.

Nothing is more annoying to a troll. Dreadful drama-llamas, they need you to lose it to feed their sense of outrage, so they’ll keep prodding, poking and provoking, dissecting your every sentence, accusing you of the faults/rudeness they exhibit, trying to put you in the wrong, make you lose your cool. They want to trade insults, lead you down rabbit-holes of self-justification, because it’s what they know best; they never learned how to argue constructively, compromise, agree to differ. Don’t take the bait. Resist if you will, calmly and reasonably. Be relentlessly nice, agree, be grateful, (think Wendy Byrde, if you ever watch Ozark on Netflix). You don’t have to work to score points, just pay out the rope then sit back and enjoy as they tie themselves in knots and hang themselves. But remember that ultimately, reasoning with trolls is pointless – they never listen, and they’ll never change without the therapy they’ll never seek because it’s never their fault and there’s nothing wrong with them. Which is kind of darkly funny if you think about it, so…

  • Keep Your Sense of Humour

Trolls don’t have one; they take themselves terribly seriously and expect everyone else to do the same. Which means anyone with any sense of irony, or ability to laugh at themselves, has a massive advantage. For instance, I’m completely un-insultable because a. there’s nothing anyone can call me that I haven’t called myself (and worse); b. I have a realistic sense of self-worth combined with a keen sense of my own ridiculousness/minute significance in the grand scheme of things; c. I’ll own it if someone calls me smug, superior, judgemental or arrogant (although to paraphrase my favourite, magnificently snooty surgeon in Casualty decades ago, ‘It’s not arrogance when you’re right’); and d. while I care very much for the good opinion of my family, friends, customers, and audiences, I’m secure enough not to give a flying eff what rude, obnoxious strangers think of me.

Now, a cardinal rule of sounding off in public is, ‘know what you’re talking about.’ But this troll opined that, failing York, Richard III should have been reburied in ‘Middleham or Fothringham.’ Getting the name of Richard’s birthplace/burial place of his father (Fotheringhay) wrong isn’t the kind of slip any informed Ricardian would make; it’s engraved in our psyche, like the date of the battle of Bosworth. So I pounced. ‘Where’s Fothringham?’ I know it was naughty, but I couldn’t help myself. Some wag’s reply, ‘Isn’t he one of Lord Snooty’s friends?’ made me spit my tea. She called me smart-arse. I was pleased to agree, being guilty as charged, (more letters after my name than in it). I also greatly enjoyed an exchange between the troll and a fellow un-insultable she tried to call immature; other responses, while less jocular, were deliciously pithy, altogether a pleasure to read. I almost felt sorry when, shortly afterwards, Flounce Out was pipped at the post by Exasperated Admin and the drama ended – if not my preoccupation with it, and desire to share the delights of troll-tickling with you.

The beauty of this sport is that it enables you to sit comfortably on the high ground, win wars effortlessly, and make trolls look totally foolish – simply by behaving like a civilised grown-up! The concepts will already be familiar if you’re naturally assertive/emotionally intelligent, (or like me, had to go on courses and read lots of self-help books), or if you’ve been trained to deal with angry, difficult people at work. You can even view troll-tickling metaphysically as a battle between angels and demons, Good and Evil, the Higher and Lower Selves – whatever, it’s a darn sight more fun than letting the dysfunctional drag you down into their mire.

For what it’s worth, that’s my opinion – I assume you wanted it, or you wouldn’t still be reading – forcefully expressed, heavily seasoned with rancour and a good dollop of sour criticism, hopefully leavened somewhat with humour. But hey – the clue’s in the blog name and ranting’s my game, so don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Richard III: History or Histrionics?

One of my pet hates is hysterical hyperbole, the sort of thing frequently indulged in by sports commentators – for instance, a tragedy is when somebody loses their life, not a ruddy football match.

So the other day I found myself unable to feel sorry for a person who, apparently, will carry the scars of recent experience to their grave. Now, I would have sympathised if the writer had been a Syrian refugee, or bereaved in the recent spate of mass shootings in America and France, or had endured any of the other myriad horrors that would justify someone claiming to be scarred for life; but the source of this individual’s trauma is – yes, you guessed it – the treatment of Richard III since the unearthing of his remains three years ago.

Oh, to live in a world where the worst thing that happened was the analysis of a 530-year-old skeleton, publication of the results, and a reburial in a location some folk don’t like! A world where no-one has to flee their home for fear of being raped, enslaved or murdered by a vile apocalyptic death-cult; where no children or animals are tortured and abused; where people suffering painful or distressing illnesses are allowed to die with dignity in their own homes at a time of their own choosing- I could go on, but you get my drift. Alas, that’s not our world – and given the terrible reality of so many people’s lives, I find Scarred Writer’s melodramatic self-indulgence utterly repellent.

Hang on, you might say. Everyone’s entitled to their emotional responses; if this person feels permanently scarred then scarred they indeed are. Yet there can be a fine line between the average, ‘normal’ response to a situation and a gross over-reaction which merits being treated with a metaphorical slap round the head and a crisp, ‘Get over yourself.’ Trust me on this – I speak as a recovered depressive who once had to be physically restrained by my then partner in a dispute over- um, ownership of a slice of toast (blushes). My feelings might have been very real to me at the time, but that doesn’t mean they were appropriate or proportionate to the circumstances – which I suggest is the case here.

This puts me firmly in Scarred Writer’s camp of half-hearted, patronising Ricardians – that is, anyone capable of taking a more moderate stance on events since 2012, or who dares to say that it’s time to move on rather than nurturing that grievance and whipping up yet another tedious war of words to spread and perpetuate ill-feeling within a small community of interest. Actually, I’d go further: I’m not half-hearted, I’m hard-hearted enough to be glad that Richard III’s physical being is now so intimately known, and that he has a nice tomb which isn’t prohibitively expensive for me to visit (as it would be in Westminster Abbey or York Minster). I’m also hard-headed enough to recognise that he would have been a hot commercial property wherever he was laid to rest, and to find nothing dismaying in a provincial city’s delight that they’re making a few quid from being catapulted onto the historical tourism map.

Yes, I care more about history than hysterics… which is why, if Scarred Writer represents the prevailing view within this particular Ricardian community, I shall quietly bow out of it. It isn’t an environment I wish to stay in… and somehow I doubt that they’ll miss me!

The Wars of the Roses Refought over Richard III’s Re-burial

As anyone watching the news, reading the press or visiting social forums will know, the discovery of Richard III’s remains under a car-park in Leicester last year has sparked a war of words as bitterly waged as any medieval battle. Practically from the moment his skeleton was unearthed, the tides of invective began to flow. An early target was Philippa Langley, a long-standing member of the Richard III Society whose years of research, lobbying and fund-raising had enabled the excavation project to go ahead in the first place. ‘Only in it to big herself up and get on TV,’ sniffed some folk of Ms Langley’s painstaking historical detective work. Hmm… is that the rank whiff of sour grapes I smell? Me, I think she deserves a medal for her efforts and the contribution she’s made to Ricardian history.

Worse was to come when the vexed question of where to re-inter the king’s remains arose. The poor Dean of York and President of the Richard III Society received abusive communications from the pro-York camp simply for trying to take a neutral, objective stance on the issue. The Chief Executive of the American Richard III Foundation was derided for her passionate advocacy of York because ‘what’s it got to do with Yanks, anyway?’ The Richard III Society was accused of Machiavellian plotting, cover-ups and withholding information from members. The motives of many individuals concerned with the project, including the Mayor of Leicester, were publicly impugned in such terms that it’s a wonder nobody ended up in court for slander or libel. Venom has dripped from the pages of Facebook and sundry news sites. Altogether, it hasn’t been pretty – and frankly, I’m amazed I’ve escaped the vitriol after some of the stuff I’ve blogged on here.

But now, at last, someone has effectively presented the case for a York re-burial. Yes – in the latest Ricardian Bulletin, (journal of the Richard III Society), David Johnson lays out the reasoning in a well-researched, eloquent letter mercifully free from the inaccuracies and hysterical over-statements that have bedevilled the arguments of some other York supporters.

I might challenge his statement that there is an ‘overwhelming public view that Richard should be laid to rest in [York] Minster’. It depends on the public you’re asking. The Plantagenet Alliance’s on-line petition for a Parliamentary debate on the matter closed with 31,260 names – almost 70,000 short of the 100,000 it needed; another petition for a York re-burial closed with 31,340 names – I’d call that distinctly under-whelming. Meanwhile a rival petition for Richard III to remain in Leicester has 33,247 signatories with three days left yet to run… so I think it’s fairer to say that public opinion is divided.

Otherwise, David Johnson’s letter is highly persuasive. It draws on the Privy Seal Register and Fabric Rolls of York Minster to argue that Richard III’s intention to found a college for 100 chantry priests, with six altars erected within the Minster for their use, parallels his brother Edward IV’s creation of St George’s Chapel at Windsor, and for the same reason – to make a new royal mausoleum. That the sources contain no mention of a tomb, or plans for a chapel to house a tomb, can be explained by the fact that the project was still in its infancy at the time of King Richard’s death.

It’s the best justification I’ve yet seen, and Johnson may well be right that if Richard III had lived out his full span, he would have expected to lie in York Minster. However, one problem is that it still doesn’t prove this was the case; we’re still second-guessing the intentions of someone who died over 500 years ago. And what might those intentions have been on the eve of Bosworth? Richard had the advantage, the ordnance and the larger army of home-grown soldiers to pit against Henry Tudor’s Welshmen and foreigners. I assume he expected to win, kill his rival and hang on to his crown; but it would seem strange if a soldier so experienced in the uncertain fortunes of war hadn’t at least considered the alternatives: that the battle might be indecisive, leaving them both alive to re-group and continue the campaign; or that he would himself die, if not on the field then later, as a defeated captive.

What then of his posthumous fate? Could he trust a new regime to honour his last wishes, if he made them explicit – or to take spiteful pleasure in thwarting them? To what degree, under those circumstances, did Richard III actually care what became of his body, beyond a conventional hope that it would lie in consecrated ground rather than in a mass pit on the battlefield? If he made a will, or issued any form of instruction, it either has not survived or has not yet been found. If he did not, what does that say about his state of mind – that he was sublimely over-confident of victory? That he didn’t want to ‘tempt fate’? Or that if he could not live as King of England, he was not greatly concerned about anything else?

David Johnson ends his letter by saying, ‘one assertion we can make with absolute certainty is that Richard III never chose to be buried in Leicester’. Or can we? It may not have been a positive choice, but one by default; he may have assumed that, in the event of his death, he would end up in a nearby village churchyard (like Lord Dacre of Gilsland, killed at Towton and buried in Saxton) – or in the nearest major settlement to Bosworth…

Of course, I don’t know – but the point is, nobody knows, conjecture as we will. The only things I am certain of is that the battle for Richard III will go on, ironically fought by larger armies than he or any other king could have commanded at the time; and that whether the decision goes with Leicester Cathedral or York Minster, I’ll be shedding no tears (except a few for Richard himself) – I’m just too pleased that he’s going to get a proper tomb somewhere, at last.

History Matters: Richard III

I admit it – I’ve never got over 1066. I might love our Norman castles and cathedrals but I still wail and gnash my teeth over what they represent: the grinding of Anglo-Saxon England under William the Bastard’s boot-heel. Call it race-memory or barking madness, it still hurts… though I’m reconciled to the Norman kings by the 1400’s, a dyed-in-the-wool supporter of the House of York. Weird. When I started Wars of the Roses re-enactment, it wasn’t like choosing a football team to support; somehow, deep in my core, I just knew I was a Yorkist.

So recent events in Leicester have filled me with joy and amazement. Yes, from an obscure grave in a long-demolished friary under a car-park to global mega-stardom, it’s been a funny old week for Richard III – the last English king to die in battle and the first to be subjected to full analysis by modern forensic archaeology. Let’s hope it’ll put an end to the parade of ludicrous caricatures to lurch and hobble across the stage in Shakespeare’s notorious play. Richard III wasn’t a hunchback; he had scoliosis, which made his shoulders uneven but didn’t disable him – he was an active soldier from his late teens. And it’ll certainly end the ignominy of his resting-place – at last, he’ll join our other monarchs with a proper tomb we can visit to pay our respects.

But where should it be? Arguments wax hot and furious between re-interring him in Leicester versus ‘repatriating’ him to the old northern capital, York, where he was well-loved in his lifetime and deeply mourned at his death. Naturally, Leicester want to keep him. He’s been there for 528 years; he was the most famous casualty of the history-changing Battle of Bosworth that took place on the city’s doorstep in 1485; and now he’s the British archaeological find of the century, excavated and analysed by staff from Leicester University. No wonder the mayor and council are rubbing their hands in unconcealed and rather tasteless glee: Richard III has put their city on the map in a BIG way, and will boost local tourism tremendously. Well, hell, these are hard times, and as a former heritage professional I can see where they’re coming from. Even as I sympathise with the other camp – the folk for whom King Richard means far more than filthy lucre. Folk for whom his death, the dishonour of his physical remains and the trashing of his memory by the bloody Tudors remain an open wound; folk who want him back in Yorkshire for love, rather than his tourist-pulling-power. Folk who still mourn, half a millennium later – and that includes me.

So, what’s the answer? Well, it’s a pretty safe bet King Richard wouldn’t have chosen to lie in Leicester, a city with which he had no particular connection except the negative one of having died nearby. But the argument for York Minster is pretty thin: he made provision for a chantry chapel there. Big fat hairy deal. Endowing chantries where masses would be said for their souls was something kings and noblemen routinely did at that time; Richard made benefactions to many religious houses including the lost chapel of St Mary at Towton, and made provision for a collegiate church at Middleham, where perpetual masses would be said for his family – so the chantry at York is no proof of his wish to lie there. The truth is, without a will or definite statement of intent, we’ve got no idea where Richard III wanted to be buried (I suspect Westminster Abbey, alongside his wife Anne and fellow-monarchs). And I’m torn. My head says, keep him in Leicester near the battlefield where he fell and where, against all odds, the University archaeologists have rediscovered him to the great interest of many local people. But my heart says, please give the North back our late lamented King, and re-inter him in York where we love him…