This month saw me share the Story of Scgary: how my childhood friend Gary and our various adventures together had become part of the mythology of
roleplay scenarios used in the training of helpline volunteers at Aberystwyth Nightline.
Do you remember The Expert, that video from 2014 that had engineers around the world laughing and crying in equal
measure? Turns out that, earlier this year, a trio of sequels were made! This is the first of them.
Unless they happened to bump into each other at QParty, the first time Ruth and JTA met my school friend Gary was at my dad’s funeral. Gary had seen mention of the death in the local paper and came to the wake. About 30 seconds later, Gary and I were reminiscing, exchanging anecdotes about our misspent youths, when
suddenly JTA blurted out: “Oh my God… you’re Sc… Sc-gary?”
Ever since then, my internal monologue has referred to Gary by the new nickname “Scgary”, but to understand why requires a little bit of history…
Despite having been close for over a decade, Gary and I drifted apart somewhat after I moved to Aberystwyth in 1999, especially as I became more and more deeply involved with volunteering at Aberystwyth Nightline and the
resulting change in my social circle which soon was 90% comprised of fellow volunteers, (ultimately resulting in JTA’s “What,
Everyone?” moment). We still kept in touch, but our once more-intense relationship – which started in a primary school playground! – was put on a backburner as we tackled the next
big things in our lives.
Something I was always particularly interested both at Nightline and in the helplines I volunteered with subsequently was training. At Nightline, I proposed and pushed forward a
reimplementation of their traditional training programme that put a far greater focus on experience and practical skills and less on topical presentations. My experience as a trainee
and as a helpline volunteer had given me an appreciation of the fundamentals of listening and I wanted future
trainees to be able to benefit from this by giving them less time talking about listening and more time practising listening.
The primary mechanism by which helplines facilitate such practical training is through roleplaying. A trainer will pretend to be a caller and will talk to a trainee, after which the
pair (along with any other trainers or trainees who are observing) will debrief and talk about how it went. The only problem with switching wholesale to a roleplay/skills-driven
approach to training at Aberystwyth Nightline, as I saw it, was the approach that was historically taken to the generation of roleplay material, which favoured the use of anonymised
adaptations of real or imagined calls.
Roleplay scenarios must be realistic (so that they simulate the experience of genuine calls with sufficient accuracy that they are meaningful) but they must also be
effective (at promoting the growth of the skills that are needed to best-support callers). Those two criteria often come into conflict in roleplay scenarios: a caller who sits
in near-silence for 20 minutes may well be realistic, but there’s a limit to how much you can learn from sitting in silence; a roleplay which tests every facet of a trainee’s practical
knowledge provides efficiency, but does not reflect the content of any call that has ever really happened.
I spent some time outlining the characteristics of best-practice roleplays and providing guidelines to help “train the trainers”. These included ideas, some of which were (then) a
little radical, like:
A roleplay should be based upon a character, not a story: if the trainer knows how the call is going to end, this constrains the opportunity for the
trainee to explore the space and experiment with listening concepts. A roleplay is necessarily improvisational: get into your character, let go of your preconceptions.
Avoid using emotionally-charged experiences from your own life: use your own experience, certainly, but put your own emotional baggage aside. Not only is it unfair to
your trainee (they’re not your therapist!) but it can be a can of worms in its own right – I’ve seen a (great) trainee help a trainer to make a personal breakthrough for which they
were perhaps not yet ready.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes: you’re not infallible, and you neither need to be nor to present yourself as a perfect example of a volunteer. Be willing to learn
from the trainees (I’ve definitely made use of things I’ve learned from trainees in real calls I’ve taken at Samaritans) and create a space in which you can collectively discuss how
roleplays went, rather than simply critiquing them.
In order to demonstrate the concepts I was promoting, I wrote and demonstrated a significant number of sample roleplay ideas, many of which I (or others) would then go on to flesh-out
into full roleplays at training sessions. One of these for which I became well-known was entitled My Friend Scott.
The caller in this roleplay presents with suicidal ideation fuelled by feelings of guilt and loneliness following the accidental death, about six months prior, of his best friend Scott,
for which he feels responsible. Scott had been the caller’s best friend since childhood, and he’s fixated on the adventures that they’d had together. He clearly has a huge admiration
for his dead friend, bordering on infatuation, and blames himself not only for the death but for the resulting fracturing of their shared friendship group and his subsequent isolation.
(We’re close to getting back to the “Scgary story”, I promise. Hang in here.)
When I would perform this roleplay as the caller, I’d routinely flesh out Scott and the caller’s backstory with anecdotes from my own childhood and early-adulthood: it seemed important
to be able to fill in these kinds of details in order to demonstrate how important Scott was to the caller’s life. Things that I really did with any of several of my childhood
friends found their way, with or without embellishment, into the roleplay, like:
Building a raft on the local duck pond and paddling out to an island, only to have the raft disintegrate and have to swim back
An effort to dye a friend’s hair bright red which didn’t produce a terribly satisfactory result but did stain many parts of a bathroom
Camping in the garden, dragging out a desktop computer and extension cable to fully replicate the “in the wild” experience
Flooding my mother’s garden (which at that time was a long slope on clay soil) in order to make a muddy waterslide
Generating fake credit card numbers to facilitate repeated month-long free trials of an ISP‘s services
Riding on the bonnet of a friend’s first car, hanging on to the windscreen wipers, eventually (unsurprisingly) falling off and getting run over
Of course: none of the new Nightliners I trained knew which, if any, of these stories were real – that was never a part of the experience. But many were real, or had a morsel of truth.
And a reasonable number of them – four of those in the list above – were things that Gary and I had done together in our youth.
JTA’s surprise came from that strange feeling that occurs when two very parts of your life that you thought were completely separate suddenly and unexpectedly collide with one another
(I’m familiar with it). The anecdote that Gary had just shared about our teen years was one that exactly mirrored something
he’d heard me say during the My Friend Scott roleplay, and it briefly crashed his brain. Suddenly, this was Scott standing in front of him, and he’d been able to get
far enough through his sentence to begin saying that name (“Sc…”) before the crash stopped him in his tracks and he finished off with “…gary”.
I’m not sure whether or not Gary realises that, in my house at least, he’s to this day been called “Scgary”.
I bumped into him, completely by chance, while visiting my family in Preston this weekend. That reminded me that I’d long planned to tell this story: the story of Scgary, the imaginary
person who exists only in the minds of the tiny intersection of people who’ve both (a) met my friend Gary and know about some of the crazy shit we got up to together when we were young
and foolish and (b) trained as a volunteer at Aberystwyth Nightline during the window between me overhauling how training was provided and ceasing to be involved with the training
programme (as far as I’m aware, nobody is performing My Friend Scott in my absence, but it’s possible…).
Gary asked me to give him a shout and meet up for a beer next time I’m in his neck of the woods, but it only occurred to me after I said goodbye that I’ve no idea what the best way to
reach him is, these days. Like many children of the 80s, I’ve still got the landline phone numbers memorised of all of my childhood friends, but even if that number is still
valid, it’d be his parents house!
I guess that I’ll let the Internet do the work for me: perhaps if I write this, here, he’ll find it, somehow. Hi, Scgary!
On 14 June 2017, televisions across the country showed a west London tower block burn. For some, this was history repeating itself – as if five similar fires had simply not been
important enough to prevent the deaths of 72 people in Grenfell Tower.
Catherine Hickman was on the phone when she died. It wasn’t a panicked call or an attempt to have some last words with a loved one.
As a BBC Two documentary recounts, she had been speaking to a 999 operator for 40 minutes, remaining
calm and following the advice to “stay put” in her tower block flat.
As smoke surrounded her, she stayed put. As flames came through the floorboards, she stayed put. At 16:30, she told the operator: “It’s orange, it’s orange everywhere” before saying
she was “getting really hot in here”.
Believing to the last that she was in the safest place, she carried on talking to the operator – until she stopped.
“Hello Catherine. Can you make any noise so I know that you’re listening to me?
“Catherine, can you make any noise?
“Can you bang your phone or anything?
“Catherine, are you there?
“I think that’s the phone gone [CALL ENDS]“
Miss Hickman was not a resident of Grenfell Tower. The fire in which she and five others died happened in July 2009, at 12-storey Lakanal House in Camberwell, south
London. But that same “stay put” advice was given to Grenfell residents eight years later. Many of those who did never made it out alive.
Excellently-written, chilling article about a series of tower block fires which foreshadow Grenfell: similar mistakes, similar tragedies. This promotes an upcoming BBC television programme broadcasting this evening; might be worth a look.
There is a phenomenon of culture that I’m not convinced has a name. Living in the UK, the vast, vast majority of the media I consume is from the US. And nearly always has been. While
television was more localised, all my life the films and games (and indeed an awful lot of the TV) I’ve watched and played has not only come from America, but been set there, or
created by people whose perception of life is based there. And, while we may share a decent proportion of a common language, we really are very different countries and indeed
continents. The result of this being, the media I watch that comes from the US is in many senses alien, to the point where a film set in an American high school might as well be set
on a spaceship for all the familiarity it will have to my own lived experiences.
Which makes playing Forza Horizon 4 a really bloody weird thing. It’s… it’s British. Which is causing my
double-takes to do double-takes.
I’m not usually a fan of driving games, but this review of Forza Horizon 4 on Rock Paper Shotgun makes me want to give it a try. It sounds like the designers have worked
incredibly hard to make the game feel genuinely-British without falling back on tired old tropes.
Breakout your plug-in vibrator and don’t forget the snow stud sheath. No battery-powered device can plow through vaginal snow pack. You need alternating current to warm that shit up
after a long day of sitting naked outside filling your vagina with snow and ice. Don’t get clitoral anti freeze though, that crap stings like a motherfucker.
I don’t know whether I should describe this as being hilarious despite not having a vagina, or because of not having a vagina, but honestly it was side-splitting
however you look at it. Gynaecologist/author/blogger/educator/blogger Dr. Jen Gunter points and laughs at a Daily Mirror tweet discussing “winter vagina”, and provides her own tips for
dealing with the phenomenon. Warm up the mulled wine, ladies!
Abnesti used his remote. My MobiPak™ whirred. Soon the Interior Garden looked really nice. Everything seemed super-clear.
I said out loud, as I was supposed to, what I was feeling.
“Garden looks nice,” I said. “Super-clear.”
Abnesti said, “Jeff, how about we pep up those language centers?”
“Sure,” I said.
“Drip on?” he said.
“Acknowledge,” I said.
He added some Verbaluce™ to the drip, and soon I was feeling the same things but saying them better. The garden still looked nice. It was like the bushes were so tight-seeming and the
sun made everything stand out? It was like any moment you expected some Victorians to wander in with their cups of tea. It was as if the garden had become a sort of embodiment of the
domestic dreams forever intrinsic to human consciousness. It was as if I could suddenly discern, in this contemporary vignette, the ancient corollary through which Plato and some of
his contemporaries might have strolled; to wit, I was sensing the eternal in the ephemeral.
I sat, pleasantly engaged in these thoughts, until the Verbaluce™ began to wane. At which point the garden just looked nice again. It was something about the bushes and whatnot? It
made you just want to lay out there and catch rays and think your happy thoughts. If you get what I mean.
Then whatever else was in the drip wore off, and I didn’t feel much about the garden one way or the other. My mouth was dry, though, and my gut had that post-Verbaluce™ feel to it.
“What’s going to be cool about that one?” Abnesti said. “Is, say a guy has to stay up late guarding a perimeter. Or is at school waiting for his kid and gets bored. But there’s some
nature nearby? Or say a park ranger has to work a double shift?”
“That will be cool,” I said.
“That’s ED763,” he said. “We’re thinking of calling it NatuGlide. Or maybe ErthAdmire.”
“Those are both good,” I said.
“Thanks for your help, Jeff,” he said.
Which was what he always said.
“Only a million years to go,” I said.
Which was what I always said.
Then he said, “Exit the Interior Garden now, Jeff, head over to Small Workroom 2.”
Attribute to God, and not to self, whatever good you see in yourself.
Recognize always that evil is your own doing, and to impute it to yourself.
Fear the Day of Judgment.
Be in dread of hell.
In an age when more and more open-source projects are adopting codes of conduct that reflect the values of a tolerant, modern, liberal society, SQLite – probably the most widely-used
database system in the world, appearing in everything from web browsers to games consoles – went… in a different direction. Interesting to see that, briefly, you could be in violation
of their code of conduct by failing to love everything else in the world less than you love Jesus. (!)
After the Internet collectively went “WTF?”, they’ve changed their tune and said that this guidance, which is based upon the Rule of St. Benedict, is now their Code of Ethics, and their Code of Conduct is a little more… conventional.
This article is a follow-up to my article “Why Google AMP is a threat to the Open
Web”. In the comments of that article I promised I’d soon provide a follow-up, and for reasons I’ll get into, that has not been possible until now – but now I’m finally
Back in February I wrote an article saying how I believed Google AMP has been imposed on the web by Google as a ‘standard’ for developing fast webpages, and my dismay about that.
Google apparently developed this as an internal project without any open collaboration, and avoiding the W3C standardization processes. Google made implementation of Google AMP a
requirement to show at the top of the search results for common news searches.
To many of us open web folk, Google’s AMP violated the widely held principle of search engines not putting bias into search results, and/or the principle of web standards (take your
pick – it would not be bias if it was a standardized approach that the wider web community had agreed upon).
You know how I feel about AMP. I’m not alone, and others are doing a pretty good job of talking to Google about our concerns. Unfortunately, Google aren’t
Did you install EFF’s brilliant Privacy Badger or any other smart HTTP Cookie management tool? Or did you simply pick the privacy preference in your browser that ignores
all third-party cookies? Did many websites you visit annoy you with permission-to-use-cookies pop-ups because of European legislation?
Guess what, it’s all been useless.
Hamburg university researchers have examined closely how web browsers implement
so-called TLS session resumption and how the top million popular websites make use of that feature. They found that 80% of websites make a correct use, unsuitable for tracking
repeat visitors — just resuming an existing session within the last ten minutes.
Unfortunately though, Google is present on 80% of these websites in form of Analytics, Fonts or other third-party inclusions. And among 10% of sites that do not respect reasonable
resumption times, Google sticks out as one of the most greedy ones — it allows for a web browser to stay offline for over a day, and still be recognized as the same web browser the
next day. Considering that it is nearly impossible to surf the web without accessing some Google content, this means that Google can track all your surfing habits without any need for
As Facebook isn’t as pervasively present in all of the web, it went even further. It is enough for you to visit any website bearing a Like button every second day to allow Facebook to
profile you, even if you never dreamt of logging into that service. Could it be our researchers just caught these companies with their hands deep in the cookie jar (pun intended)? For how long have they been
collecting user data this way?
Somewhat conspiracy-theory-like take on an actual, real privacy issue: the fact that TLS makes tracking pretty easy even
without cookies. If you thought my 301-based cookieless tracking was clever, this is cleverer. And harder to detect, to boot.