Monday, 1 January 2007


Like Zola, I have been cogitating [reflectively agitating myself] about the vast blogosphere and the tiny corner of it occupied by the Awkward Squad. In what way is our little ring ‘awkward’? Are we merely awkward individualists, or is there scope and ambition for concerted awkwardness?

In a memorable phrase, A.L. Rowse once said [in a letter to The Times] that “those who believe nonsense must expect awkward consequences”. I forget the context, and to my mind he hadn’t really thought it through – because the really significant and lasting ‘awkward consequences’ are usually those inflicted by the nonsense-believers upon those unfortunates who don’t share their beliefs, as we are now seeing all too clearly in the weird world that is 2007.

The Awkward Squad itself is a consequence of growing dissatisfaction with the way the Guardian’s CiF site operates. Some of us were more and more disillusioned with it as a useful and honest discussion forum [because of the hypocritical censorship] and regrouped around Big Pike when he suggested a blogring. I for one was far from clear as to what a blogring is, and how it differs from a loose federation of friendly blogs. I wonder what others of the ‘Famous Eight’ had in mind when they signed up? I suppose I envisaged us as a flotilla of little boats clustering around Commodore Frank’s racing yacht, about to set sail under his skull and crossbones upon a joint expedition of discovery, foray and pillage.

So far, this hasn’t happened. We have happily developed our individual styles, and enjoyed a warm glow of camaraderie, but so far no cruising orders have emanated from the Commodore. Such specifically Awkward Squad activity as there has been has mostly occurred on his site, taking some unexpected directions. The criteria for admitting new squad members was debated, and an unsuspecting applicant was pounced upon and mauled with such fury that he must have ended up feeling more like a wounded Tigger than a prowling Tyger. An – I should have thought – relatively uncontroversial request for squad support for a charitable effort for one member’s pet charity turned into a ferocious brawl about the nature, motivation, and desirability of charitable giving which must have left the applicant feeling pretty bruised.

These two incidents struck me as bloody-minded rather than just Awkward and – although they were not sparked off by an Awkward Squad blogger - left me increasingly confused as to what the Ring is for, and where it intends to go. I would be most interested to hear what other Awkward Squadders, and commentators on AS blogs, think. What is it that makes the Awkward Squad more than just a group of friendly people who enjoy chit-chatting with one another? What do we exist for? Are we seriously Awkward, or merely Cussed?


Anonymous said...

Cruising orders?
The Commodore cruises with his own officers, Billstickers and HarryStarks, together with first mate Georgina Henry.
Thought that may have been obvious.

anticant said...

First mate to whom? The mind boggles!

Merkin said...

'Cottaging with the Commodore'
Sounds like the title of a punk album.

anticant said...

So we're just regatta dinghies? The icing on the cake? The froth on the beer? Or the grit in the oyster?

anticant said...

Now now, Merkin, Vinegartits will have you walking the plank in no time if you carry on like this.

Nacred said...

The grit in the oyster becomes a pearl, eventually.
Incidentally, I saw that some poor innocent named Perulka was threatend with a nautical punishment on The Pirate's Lair.
I am really starting to wonder about this Awkward Squad.

anticant said...

Quite soon, the way things are going. Yo ho ho and a brandy mince pie.

Anonymous said...

'You are obviously tired of this site and are endeavouring to drive us all away through sheer ennui so that you can shut it down and blame everyone else but yourself.', said the Grumpy One.
I wonder, could it be that The Commodore has already received a job offer from The Balsamic One?.
No matter. I am not a member of that particular squad but my understanding is that 'the squad' does operate in concert - though not visibly on the Net on a day to day basis.
Many things are 'jointly and severally' decided using such things as Skype and MSN.
Oooops, whiff of conspiracy.
Social Networking using computers is evolving and we are learning how to do it.
I notice that one recent American merger was contingent on an agreement re 'internet charges'.
That is, there is likely to be a two tier system for access to the Net depending on cash.
That will be the initial means of control.

anticant said...

What a conspiracy monger you are! "I am not a member of that particular squad but my understanding is that 'the squad' does operate in concert - though not visibly on the Net on a day to day basis. Many things are 'jointly and severally' decided using such things as Skype and MSN."

In whatever way you, who are not a member of the squad, come by 'your understanding' of its inner workings, anticant, who is a member, has no inkling of such practices. This would indicate that an informal two-tier system is operating, akin to the inner cabinet, or TB's sofa at No. 10.

What "things" are decided by this esoteric clique, and how they are then "operated", is opaque because there is no sense of direction or movement as a group. It's very interesting that I put up this piece as a 'floater' to see whether other members of the so-called 'squad' shared my sense of bafflement, and so far no-one who is a member has responded.

My own preference is for "open covenants, openly arrived at". I suppose each of us will just go on doing our own thing as long as it amuses us. If Frank, billstickers, harrystarks, maybe even Georgina, and others are playing esoteric Big Brother games with us proles, that's their problem, but some kind of comment from 'on high' would be nice.

Anonymous said...

Understanding comes in different ways, surely?.
using free software from places such as can be found here would definitely show you why 'MisterD' and 'Eye in the Pyramid' are one and the same.
That could be a good starting point.

zola said...

What day is it?
Zola needs to find direction !!!

anticant said...

Starting point for what? This boils down to a matter of personal preference. If I had the inclination, let alone the time and the energy - none of which I have - to set off along a Sherlockian trail to unmask somebody else's deviousness in a supposedly above board arrangement, I would simply yet again play into their hands, and allow myself to be further manipulated.

What you, stickers/starks, and maybe FF, don't seem to appreciate is that I am simply NOT INTERESTED. I find the whole thing extremely tedious, and don't intend to be distracted by it from my own reasons for being here.

If this is an HONEST operation, those concerned should come clean. If it is not, we who have other priorities will have to regroup.

Szwagier said...

I don't think the Christmas period is the best time to be drawing any long-term conclusions, anticant. Things always tend to be a bit wayward then. Real-life families take over and virtual ones, while not entirely neglected, take second place.

As to awkwardness, well, we haven't tried to define what it is we want to do, or even if we want to do anything. As you'll recall, we were discussing what to do to arrest the drift which had occurred since some of us started our own sites, and the Commodore suggested that we form the ring to show that there was some kind of loose affiliation between us.

I think we do have some common characxteristics, although a taste for collective action isn't necessarily one of them. We are all, in our different ways and for our different reasons, provocateurs.

On the other hand, it seems to me, given what we know of each other's wildly different backgrounds and experience (Ickers notwithstanding) that we're a group of people who would be very unlikely to meet up were it not for the Net, so I'm not surprised that a deal of explicit or implicit negotiation is taking place while we all attempt to find somewhere comfortable.

zola said...

Does that mean I do not need to become an official agent?
Provo am I?
Don't yer know i av a vocation?

anticant said...

Surely the virtue of the Net is that it brings together people who wouldn't otherwise meet. Inevitably there are plenty of nutters out there who are timewasting, if nothing more sinister, so one has to be wary.

The 'festive season' has been a non-event for me, I fear. Life nowadays is simply a matter of getting through each day as best I can.

Szwagier said...

As to festive seasons, I can but agree.

I'm not so sure about the 'nutters'. I don't know how you class someone as a nutter. We all have our particular bees in our bonnets. I wouldn't class someone as a nutter on the basis of not understanding their motivations, though. I'd need more evidence...

anticant said...

Point taken. 'Nutter' was clumsy shorthand. But I think one instinctively senses them, just as one knows what's pornographic without being able to define it.

Customs officer: "Is that book pornographic?"

Traveller: "How would I know? I haven't got a pornograph!"

Szwagier said...

I think they're actually a lot harder to detect on the Net than in real life because of the lack of visual clues. That's why I'm so wary of drawing conclusions. If billst behaved in real life the way he does on the web, he wouldn't have survived to whatever age he is. Too many enemies would've been made.

Of course, he doesn't. He's probably kind to animals and gives money to charitable causes and possibly even likes small children.

Re pornography. Funny how these topics resonate across the Awkward spectrum. I just mentioned that in reference to Toby's latest piece. :)

anticant said...

billstickers is playing a game. It takes at least two to play games. We don't have to feed him.

zola said...


Oh how such simple words make sense.
I guess I concentrate on the small words now ( gin and tonic sir?)

Think I will celebrate again with the fine fellowship of the Hobbits and that terrifying ring.
Just opened another Tolki Larger i av. Tolki the 8th it is.

anticant said...

What sort of a person billstickers is in real life is irrelevant, because he doesn't manifest on the Net as a real-life person. Here, he is an abstract cyberghost, playing abstract cyberghostly games. His real-life persona obviously derives satisfaction from this, or else he wouldn't do it.

Whether or not this act of his pleases or interests the rest of us, and whether we wish to spend our time indulging his whims, is for each one of us to decide for ourselves. We do so by posting, or not posting, in response to his sallies. We all make different choices.

anticant said...

Szwagier said...

Maybe I could comment on your remarks on Toby's thread here, rather than further derail that discussion.

As I understood it, the reason for the ring was that some of us, specifically Duck and I, who had started by posting on Frank's site, started our own blogs, and owing to the amount of time that takes up, eventually stopped posting on Frank's, with the empty spaces in the posting schedule that ensued.

Also, the kind of things we - I mean Duck and I specifically here, although zola also has some - come up with doesn't belong on Franks's site, whose locus seems to be the political situation in the UK.

I have some interest in that, but I'm more concerned, obviously, about what's going on in my own backyard. And also about attempting to show British readers that however bad they might think the British system and politicians are, they are nothing like as small-mindedly venal as those in Poland. I don't think there's enough reporting in the UK of what other people in other countries think about the things that concern everyone, and that's partially what I'm about. THe similarities and differences are instructive, and give the lie to "we're all people, really".

03 January 2007 13:54:00 GMT

anticant said...

Zola said...

Szwagi . Much in agreement there.
In fact, as Duck asked, Zola should think to open up Finland as often as possible for English language readers.
This is no crusade but it is one small guideline for me this new year.

However Zola will try to continue silly mischief and less silly mischief at all times.
persoanlly i enjoy the eclectic nature of this Awkward arena.

03 January 2007 14:04:00 GMT

anticant said...

Szwagier said...

As do I.

Not sure about this third person stuff, though. Bit Ickers-like, if you ask me.

Which I'm sure you will :o)

03 January 2007 14:37:00 GMT

anticant said...

Szwagier and Zola: Thanks for those helpful explanations. Actually, I'm going to copy and re-post them, and this, on my "Awkward Issues" thread, which is where they really belong.

I'm fully in agreement with you about the high mutual level of interest and enjoyment engendered by our various different styles and approaches. And I enjoy the fun, too. Let's all keep on doing what we are each doing, and hopefully go from strength to strength.

However, I do find the issue of Frank's site, and the billstickers phenomenon, problematic. Szwagier says that Frank's locus seems to be "the political situation in the UK", but it isn't really, with all the diversions and irritation that stickers causes - obviously with Frank's approval. It feels to me as if private games are going on and we are being manipulated for someone else's twisted amusement. So if there are "empty spaces" in Frank's posting schedule, he himself is partly to blame.

No disrespect or ingratitude to Frank, but while this caper continues I'm likely to be spending less time over there as it is getting very boring. Also unpleasant - I don't really appreciate being accused of "blubbering and self-pity" on Toby's site today. IMHO we would be much better off without that type of bullying sneer.

03 January 2007 14:54:00 GMT

anticant said...

Zola said...

Szwagi : Would you take away my brand name? After all the time and expense involved to have forged Zola on the public consciousness?
OK : I can be "me" if you want. Is that better?

Anticant : I would not presume to give advice as such. However unless i am wildly mistaken the internet worlds are thick with intrigue and even plots. For me I accept that joke as i joined that team.
This does not prevent critique or other stickabilities though.

03 January 2007 15:09:00 GMT

anticant said...

Zola, of course the internet worlds - just like all the others - are thick with intrigues and plots. But as I keep saying, it takes two [or more] to tango. You say "For me I accept that joke as i joined that team." I wasn't, or else I may well not have joined the team. I don't like being conned.

03 January 2007 15:49:00 GMT

anticant said...

Zola said...

Few are conning you Anticant and a very few if any.
See my site now for a little better short way for me to say what i mean.

You will know as well as any the saying never throw baby out with dirty bathwaters.

03 January 2007 15:58:00 GMT

anticant said...

Zola: I think you know very well what I mean. IMHO - I don't want to do him an injustice, but - Frank's site isn't what it professes to be. It is not a place where you can discuss political issues sensibly and amicably without getting snarled up in the bstickers phenomenon. Just look at what has happened to the last two or three threads. Suzon posts about human rights and the royal family's entitlement to civil marriages - an interesting topic - and she ends up getting roundly abused while the rest of you take flight into a discussion of mantelpieces!

If I wanted to discuss mantelpieces, I would seek out or start a thread about mantelpieces. If I wanted a site where everyone agreed to leave their real-life personas outside and communicate with each other only as disembodied cyberspectres, I would either start or join such a site. I don't do so because [a] it doesn't interest me, and [b] I don't believe such supposedly abstract discussions would get anywhere useful.

My real-life dilemma, you see, is that - whatever the stickers person chooses to think - my illness has rendered me very socially isolated and desperately short of energy. I become extremely exhausted several times a day. I therefore need to constantly review how I am spending the limited energy that I still have. Blogging, and the acquaintanceship of your goodself and the other Awkward posters, provides considerable interest, amusement and relief. However, if it also results in irritation and annoyance from the BullShitters of this world, I shall go somewhere else. There is surely enough room on the Internet for both them and me.

03 January 2007 16:50:00 GMT

anticant said...

Zola said...

I suspect if you just it going then many of those little hassles will somehow "get solved" (as they are already getting sorted out).

It is a new world out "here" too, for me.

03 January 2007 17:00:00 GMT

anticant said...

Zola, I appreciate your efforts to pour oil on troubled waters, but these are more than just "little hassles". It is not simply that I don't want to leave my real-life self outside my blog: I don't believe that it is possible for anyone to do so; and that the billstickers pose of being entirely impersonal is a sham - because it is a psychological and emotional impossibility.

More seriously, this pose enables whoever it is to wound others' feelings and then disclaim all responsibility by saying "well, more fool you for bringing your feelings onto here". I despise that. bills. has seriously upset or annoyed not only myself, but also Suzon, Angela, and Merkin. To say "that's their problem" is not good enough. Do cyberghosts have no manners? Also, it's extremely timewasting and, I repeat, distorts the direction of discussion.

Also seriously - I'm in serious mode today - the issue which Jose raises on my "Loony Tunes" thread about how quickly posters take flight into banter and silliness when confronted with a grim issue such as torture is one I've noticed time and again here. People - not least, you - do take flight into ribaldry or jokiness very swiftly when you are uncomfortable.

BTW, will people please respond, and continue debating this [if you want to], on the "Awkward Issues" thread, which is where this discussion really belongs. Thanks.

03 January 2007 18:02:00 GMT

Szwagier said...

A lot of thinking going on today.

Regarding banter and silliness, I hear echoes of Georgina's "mindless, irrelevant chatter." And as I've said here before, I haven't noticed that the world's problems have become any more solved thanks to my being serious about them, so I prefer, in the main, to have fun, which is more fun than not having fun. I'm sorry if this appears as flightiness or cowardice. It's neither, at least in intention.

I certainly agree with your assessment of billstickers in one respect. The intent to wound is tiresome, and I've told him as much. I assume he continued the argument, but I don't know because I said my piece and walked away.

Then again, he doesn't always distort the discussion - Toby's thread was doing well until the last few posts. I still have things I'd like to say about some of the relevant points there, so when I have the energy to organise my thoughts on the topic I'll try and pull it round.

I understand your desire to use your energy wisely all too well. Despite the age difference, my non-existent (TM bs) illness also requires me to be picky, and it's been a matter of discussion for months now that Frank's site is drifting.

Although it would seem that there are many things you and I disagree about, I, personally, would be sorry to see you leave. The Ring, whatever its purpose, would be much poorer.

anticant said...

Thanks for that, Szwagier. I've no objection to banter and silliness in suitable places - indeed, I enjoy it, as you may have noticed - but what does bother me is its use as an escape from facing up to serious issues, of which torture is surely one.

I agree billstickers doesn't always distort the argument. Indeed, he makes some highly relevant points. A pity he doesn't stick to doing that, instead of adopting this absurd "I'm only a disembodied cyberghost, so can say anything I like without being held accountable" pose. He is not merely unpleasant - he is odiously sadistic, or has been experienced as that by at least one of the people he has mauled. I'm as against censorship as anyone, but I am also against bad taste, even from wraiths.

I never said anything about leaving, but unless the atmosphere improves and there is more relevant discussion I may well post less in the burrow and cease commenting on other sites - at any rate for the time being.

Jose said...

Your serious and well founded opinion, Anticant, cannot be wasted, not if I can avoid that.

Not every day can one find a so well informed person as you are and it should be our task in these forums to try and keep you and people like you - who are really scarce - for the good of all of us.

I am positively sure that the rest of posters who write here - all of them intelligent - are of the same opinion as I am.

We must pamper you, keep you in fluffy cotton, and leave your brain a wide berth so that it can exert its powers to the maximum.

A pinch of salt in an otherwise earnest discussion is always advisable and healthy. A pinch of earnest discussion in some otherwise salty comments is not.

anticant said...

Thank you for those - as always - kind words, Jose. But no pampering or fluffy cotton, please; just help in cleansing the mephitic atmosphere that's around. What's required is a kind of cyberspace Rentokil.

zola said...

King Louis was the King of France
Before the revolution.....
To ra loo ra loo ra loo .....
I'm off to join the Foreign legion

Szwagier said...

I was a bit disconcerted by the "pampering and fluffy cotton" remark. I'm not about to start pampering anybody.

If I may return to the Great HD Charity Quarrel of 2006 for a moment, Jose said, "A pinch of earnest discussion in some otherwise salty comments is not". I disagree. While not defending the tone of the intervention, I would still want to argue that that's precisely what billst did on Angela's charity thread. His questions were good ones. The manner in which they were phrased was deplorable.

I also think he has a point when he says that some are too ready to read insult or aggression into a categorical stating of views. Unfortunately, he has crossed the boundary too often for me, at least, to trust him to reliably keep that distinction in mind.

anticant said...

Oh, so Zola is Beau Geste now, is he?

Szwagier: I'm against censorship and all for full and frank discussion of issues as dispassionately as possible. What I'm opposed to is bad taste and bad manners. When these veer over into what comes across as deliberate sadistic pleasure in upsetting people, then we have a problem.

I am still basically puzzled as to what Frank's intentions were in setting up the Awkward Squad. I though it was a device to bring in more interested bloggers and a wider audience for each others' sites. However, the mauling of Tyger showed I was wrong.

If the intention of the ring is to get a wider audience, we need to change tack. What are we now? At most, a dozen people chatting with each other on our various sites.

And it is obvious that the billstickers phenomenon is counterproductive. In the first place it irritates and upsets some of the existing handful; and it almost certainly drives away first-timers who aren't likely to return when they see what appears to be an esoteric game going on.

I should have thought that by now, Frank and whoever else is behind the BS thing would be saying to themselves "This obviously isn't working well. We need to abandon or modify it".

Szwagier said...

Up to a point I agree. I think Frank definitely needs to decide what to do with his site - 1 article a month will not keep it going. Especially if every article gets diverted into stickery.

As to the rest of us, well, Duckie has quite a few extra commenters, and I know I have a lot of readers, or visitors at least, who don't comment.

Because blogging is really such a word-of-mouth thing, one does need to put oneself about a bit. Getting yourself listed on Technorati is a good place to start, although you usually need to give them a kick after you've registered to remind them to pay attention. It's not a complicated procedure to join up, though. Perhaps that would be agood place to start. Then, when one ring member gets new visitors, there is a chance, thanks to the ring thing, that these visitors will find the other sites. Everybody gains, drip by drip. That, at least, is how I see it. And although tyger got a totally undeserved barracking on Frank's site, nothing of the kind has happened here, or in the Pond, or in the Lair.

Szwagier said...

Here's a lovely quote from Mr Ickers on Toby's language thread. I repost it here without comment.

"People should take care to take the necessary steps to prevent their communications from getting out of control after those communications leave their bodies."

anticant said...

Thanks for that, Szwagier. I've added my sixpennorth. He's getting his cyberknickers more and more into a twist, isn't he? Just a thought - maybe billstickers is Zola's grandma?

anticant said...

szwagier: And also thanks for your latest comment on Frank's site. I feel we are being a bit rude talking about him like this, and I hope he will join in and clarify the situation and his future intentions.

Thanks also for the Technorati pointer. I've been looking at other blogsite listings to join, and will sign up to some soon. It's very much a matter of casting around until you find yourself in a comfortable ambience. I've seen a good many sites where I would NOT want to post!

Szwagier said...

You might think that, I couldn't possibly comment.


Szwagier said...

I feel it's rude too. I still have posting rights on Pike's, so perhaps I should just open a chat thread on Frank's site, and we can continue nt behind his back, as it were. What do you say?

anticant said...

By all means. Where Frank wants to take his site is really an issue for him. My issue is where best to direct the limited energies I have to get the results I want - namely, a better discussion forum than CiF was.

Frank Fisher said...

Hi there, just wanted to make a couple of quick points here. I know my site's drited a bit, and I do feel a tad guilty for that, but then again, I always wanted it to be more than a one-man band, hence giving other people article-posting rights. If I had more time I would be posting more stuff myself - but I have been overwhelmed lately. New job, house things, kids - all that. I'll try to post more, honest.

Now - a conspiracy? Me? Stickers? Georgina Henry? Are you kidding? There is NO conspiracy - I dont have the time to conspire. If I did have the time to conspire, I would be conspiring to make POTS of CASH, not fuel online feuds...

Umm... what else was there.... well I can't ban Bill, that would go against everything I've ever ranted against, it's just not ever ever ever going to happen. Ever. Unless he actually threatens murder or libels someone who might sue me too...

Oh yeah, the Awkard Squad, well all I ever figured it would be would be a very loose association that would capture stray visitors and route them to our other sites, that's all. Not a power base or... whatever else it's thought of.

Now. Who wants to see photos of the scalextric layout I built for my son?

anticant said...

Welcome to my burrow, Frank - the first of many contributions from you, I hope. Trust all will go well in the new job.

No conspiracy theories emanating from here - but as billstickers is so coy about having a real-life identity there was some quite natural speculation that he might be your alter ego.

I most certainly wouldn't wish bills. banned - as you know, I am as strongly in favour of free speech, and against censorship, as you are, ane he's a valuable and even a valued voice.

But I do favour a certain amount of self-censorship, and when useful debates get deflected because some people are - rightly or wrongly - wounded by ad hominem attacks on them I think it is time to ask even disembodied cyberbrains to weigh their words.

As for the Awkward Squad, I think its coming along remarkably well for the short time we've existed. I'm giving some thought over the weekend as to how I would like to see it proceed, and will post a considered contribution on this next week.

What's scalextric? Is it anythng to do with Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?

Maybe you'll do an illustrated post explaining it.