In which I shamelessly reference two bits of geek culture, hell maybe even three.
I’ve got a lot fo thoughts and a lot of feels about what happened at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in the early hours of Sunday morning. But there’s just one part that I really want to share with everyone.
There’s a line in the Lord of the Rings films that I’ll paraphrase here (because Tolkein just loved having nothing but bearded white guys talking to each other) “What can people do against such reckless hate?”
You see, that’s the key word here, “reckless”. Hatred isn’t a straightforward controlable thing. It’s wild and dangerous. If you let it out you can’t stop it, it grows and builds and doesn’t pay heed to any rules. What happened on Sunday was the product of this recklessness.
There’s the old story of someone describing their feelings of love and hate as being like two wolves fighting in their belly. When asked which of them will win the narrator simple replies “The one that I feed.”
So with all the words that are being said right now, please just bear that in mind. Where are these words coming from? A place of love, or a place of hate? Because the most important thing you have to give right now isn’t money or thoughts or prayers, it’s time and attention, it’s the soil for ideas and feelings to grow, so please, whatever you do, don’t give in to the easy path, don’t let the seeds of hate and fear start to grow.
I think “Action” is more traditional, but this was way more fun. I reached for my tie… but wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Rewind a couple of hours to the closing workshop of Eroticon Day 1. Pandora Blake, having given a presentation on how to go about making your own porn, happened to mention that she was available if anyone was interested in shooting something that evening. Suddenly a few disparate thoughts coalesced and I sent a text message to the delightfully devious Zak saying, roughly, “I know this sounds a bit weird, but how do you feel about shooting a porn film?”
Logistics (lack of phone credit) meant that I couldn’t get a response immediately. But when I left the workshop and made my way to the coffee area I was met by a certain writer with a gleeful grin that said, “Oh yes; this is happening!”
So, we found ourselves a little while later in a gorgeously appointed sitting room giddy with excitement, nerves, fear?
What unfolded was something really quite special. I felt incredibly comfortable, in a safe space with two women I trust and doing things that are both familiar and fun. At heart it was a fun, connective little play scene, the kind we’ve shared many times, and the presence of a third person, and of a camera, really didn’t take anything away from that, and it added something, a feeling of sharing this thing of ours.
I’ve avoided porn in the past, mostly through the kind of discretion that means I keep face pictures off the internet, never use my real name or details for kink stuff and am weirdly vague with my colleagues about my weekend activities:
“Oh, I went paintballing,” I say, without adding, “naked, in the woods, without a gun.”
I’ve also always filed it under “that’s great, but not for me,” something that I’m glad exists but I could never do. Why? Because I’d find it too impersonal? Because the pressure would be too much and I’d never be able to get hard under such circumstances?
I was wrong. And I’ve never been happier to say those words. Saturday’s shoot made me reassess what porn means to me and it’s intensely, gleefully liberating, for me at least. If nothing else I have a sensation of putting my money where my mouth is. I’m sure there’s no better comeback to the inevitable ‘porn is misogynistic/exploitative’ line of argument than “well none of the stuff I’ve been in has been.” Fuck it, be the change you want to see in the world.
I came out of Saturday with a real feeling of having made something beautiful; something I am immensely proud of. And what’s more, the idea of creating something like that, and then sharing it, sending it out into the world is a lovely feeling, damn near spiritual. Because we can be the other, we can be defiant in honesty and vulnerability.
“In a world that profits from your insecurities and self-loathing, loving yourself is an act of rebellion.”
Oh, and as for face pictures, well, this was the morning after:
As for when the film itself will be available? Well that’s all very up-in-the-air what with the complications, vagaries and bumbling of censorship law in the uk over the last two years. But if you’d like to help Pandora in her fight freedom of expression against censorship her Patreon is here.
[This is an expanded and illustrated version of a recent post I made on Fet-Life]
One of the things I sometimes say when explaining my geekish enthusiasm (or enthusiastic geeking) for frope is that any numpty can buckle a cuff; rope is different. It’s a skill, its a form of expression. In a world where the mainstream is becoming more adn more obsessed with everything digital rope is something in my life that’s analogue, so analogue.
The great thing about it being so analogue is that you can take what you want from it. The basiscs of tying someone, or even just using a length in our hends to hold someone is immediate; but there’s more there if you want it. There’s the history, different styles, theory and aesthetics; and also there’s the ropes themselves.
My first every rope was some kind of nylon bought off the internet in 2006. Then when I first started getting serious about rope I bought some lengths of sash cord, then upgraded to three lengths of 6mm hemp from Esinem. Those three lengths were with me for best part of a year, had a lot of good energy go into them and ultimately were passed on to some very good friends of mine who were just starting out on their own rope journey (sorry, did I mention this post was going to be pretentious as fuck? Oh well, too late). I’ve moved on to having larger sets of dedicated rope, and have spent a good chunk of the last fortnight processing and dying a new set that’ll be making its way to some ropey events in the near future (also meaning I’ll get full use of my shower back… huzzah!). It’s fascinating stuff and, as time goes on, I can see myself on the dark and slippery slope that may well ultimately end in trying to make my own rope. But for now let me talk a little about my current ropes, what they are and how I’ve processed them. This is still a voyage of discovery and I’m likely to change my approach in the future, but this is a snapshot of where I’m at currently.
I like thick hemp. The smell is intoxicating, and the simple solid weight and bulk in my hand screams “ROPE!” where thinner lines and especially jute ones just whimper “string”. Yes, I’m a cave man, forgive me.
My current set was manufactured at the historic Chatham Dockyards where they have a working rope museum. The 6mm hemp is still made today on the hundred-plus year old rope walk. It’s soft, heavy and beautiful.
Beautiful unprocessed hemp, fresh from the dockyard… not exactly discreet packaging…
I started by pulling off enough rope from the coil to make my set of ropes. Unlike previous sets, I’ve done this based upon arm stretches rather than a precise measurement. My thinking is that four full arm stretches is basically the most I can pull-through, so my lengths are a little over that (but probably around the seven meter mark).
That’s what a set of ropes looks like in a single length.
I broke the entire hundred(ish) meter length over a carabiner. This really pushed out a huge amount of twist that had been stored in the coil.
Then I bought a camping stove (because I have an electric hob in my flat) and set about singing the fluff off it.
Other makes and brands of camping stove are available.
Photos don’t quite do it justice, but the Chatham hemp is super fluffy and singing it makes it go through a miraculous transformation into something that looks like rope, like proper rope that proper rope people use. The downside was it was then slightly sooty (even after a quick wipe with a wet cloth) and smelled of smoke, although the smell began to dissipate after a few days.
Singed and cut into lengths. The camera lighting went a bit skew whiff with this one, it wasn’t really orange.
After singeing I cut it to lengths (eight ‘standard’ lengths, four short ones and an extra long one) and went dye shopping. My previous set had been dyed a dark red and a deep purple. It’s pretty as fuck, but this time I wanted a starker contrast between the two shades. After much deliberation I opted for green and yellow. There’s a reason for this choice of colours and if you ask nicely in person I’ll tell you.
My previous set after some TLC.
I dyed the rope using Dyelon’s hand-dye sachets, using a large salad bowl, warm water and a shitload of salt. I doubled the ropes over two or three times to make loose manageable bundles, and then put one half into the dye mix for the yellow ends.
First half of the dip-dye process.
It took about an hour then I let them dry hanging over the lip of a bucket for a couple of days. I then repeated the process with the other ends and the green dye.
Fully dyed and an initial drip-dry… excuse the laundry in the background.
Then I tied the lengths into magic-rope bundles and put them in the washing machine for a quick and cool spin to remove any excess dye.
Next comes the fun bit. By which I mean the fucking infuriating bit. I’m currently able to dry three ropes at a time under tension. I’m doing this using three 12 litre buckets of water hanging from my shower rail.
So… for the past fortnight this is what taking a shower has looked like… I go through a lot of deodorant.
Getting the ropes up and down is a maddening exercise in carefully not dropping half a length into a bucket of water. But the 12 litres seems to offer enough tension to dry the ropes nicely without them becoming too weirdly slack and bunchy (the Chatham hemp has a tendency to do this). I came home a little drunk the other day to a very wet bathroom floor. At first I thought that my shower rail had given way, nope, instead it just turns out the lengths I’m processing stretched more than I expected them to… note to self, have the buckets at least a foot off the floor.
Once dry I’m currently oiling them with Jojoba oil (Thanks Jin for the recommendation). I’m oiling them fairly lightly because I ended up over-oiling my purple set and I figure that if they still feel too dry after a few days I can always add more. I oiled my previous set with almond oil, which works well, but the smell had started to go a bit off recently.
Bought from the Body Shop… rags obtained elsewhere. The oil makes my ropes suitable for all skin types apparently :-D
Incidentally, part of my recent rope working has been to singe, wash, dry and re-oil my purple set. One other thing I did was add some more twist. The strands of the rope can begin to unspiral over time and with use. To re-twist I tied one end of the rope to the window latch in my bedroom and then traipsed the rest of the length through my flat to the front door… It wasn’t quite enough distance, but close enough to ‘fudge’ it. I twisted the end of the rope around a hundred times, then pulled on the rope, leaning my body weight into it, before releasing. The rope untwisted a little but most of the new twist stayed. I repeated the pull and release a few times.
The last thing I’m doing with the new set is putting the new processed oiled ropes in a plastic bag with the remaining unprocessed hemp to help bring out that glorious hemp smell (thanks again Jin for the tips).
So, within the next few days I’ll have the new set good to go, and I’ll be able to take a shower without ducking between pendulously hanging buckets… I’ll call that a win.
At about ten minutes past one in the afternoon on Saturday I pulled myself into the air. 24 hours later the last person came down. in between at least one person was in the air at all times. The Oxford charity Rope-a-thon was a mammoth undertaking that saw an unbroken chain of 115 suspensions with 12 riggers, 24 models and nowhere near enough sleep (numbers are “ish” as switches and self-suspenders, including YT, were involved).
Originally scheduled to start at midday, trouble with public transport meant that the start of proceedings were delayed by a little over an hour. It was only once we began that the true scale of the challenge hit home. For the first couple of hours we were chronically short-handed, more in need of riggers than bunnies and, to make matters worse, we didn’t have much of a game plan. Some of the first handful of suspensions lasted only a few minutes. We quickly ended up having several riggers in hip-harnesses ready to get themselves off the ground at short notice and a couple of ill-advised suspension strategies (including dangling from a single foot… naming no names…) led to both quick change-overs and mutters cries of “just give me thirty seconds!” At times it was like an earth-bound kinkier version of an episode of Star Trek… where everyone was Scotty… and the dilithium crystals were my biceps.
I’m a little reluctant when it comes to suspensions; I describe myself as someone who does it for practice rather than play, certainly for the time-being. I’m happy to self-suspend and that was my focus for the first few hours, meaning that I quickly developed some rather tasty (though unfortunately not visible) bruises in all the places I’d normally want to put ropes. Ultimately, however, I did start rigging others and the experience of suspending a variety of different people, under pressure and against the clock (“I’ll be airborne in two minutes!”) was one hell of a challenge. But I’m happy to take at least some credit for managing to put together a series of suspensions that were tolerably comfortable, helped no doubt by the awesome, communicative not-at-all-masochistic people I had the pleasure of rigging with. As time went on, I slipped into a steady routine that focused on comfort, support and reproducibility, all important things when everyone in the room is fighting a physical and mental marathon.
Sometime after midnight reinforcements arrived from London in the shape of Jack the Whipper and FaerieWillow and I slipped into an overcrowded bedroom for some much-needed kip before rising a few hours later for the dawn patrol. I couldn’t make it all the way through to the end (I had to be in town for… reasons) but the 24 hour mark was reached with no major injuries, much stress and energy and over £800 raised for Oxford sexual abuse and rape crisis centre.
What did I gain from the experience? Well I learned that I can suspend, comfortably and (somewhat) reliably. The experience also reaffirmed how important communication is and showed me how even slight adjustments to fly lines can make the difference between “I can hold this for ten minutes” and “just leave me here indefinitely and I’ll have a nap.” But most of all I felt part of something crazy and difficult and special, and part of a group, a rope family working, playing, laughing, struggling and hurting together.
I recently saw an extended fan trailer for the upcoming Captain America: Civil War film:
It’s actually does a pretty good job of highlighting how the Civil War storyline isn’t just something being plucked out of thin air for the sake of fanboy nerdgasms but rather taps into a consistent thread of development for the main protagonists. Also, it had me welling up, which I think is another example of how my emotional processing is maybe a little fucked up on occasion.
One line in particular that struck me was a quote from Tony Stark:
“I saw that I had become part of a system that is comfortable with zero accountability.”
I listen to that line and watch the cinematic brilliance of horrible yet weirdly impersonal destruction being waged on CGI cities, you know, with everything zoomed out enough that you don’t see individual people suffering. I watched this and I thought of a discussion held at Eurix, about breaking down the taboo of talking about accidents.
I’ll save my opinion of that particular discussion for face-to-face conversations, but what I will say is that the one thing that I really took home from it was this; taboos are really, really fucking hard to break down. And on occasions such as this, they can be extremely damaging both for individuals and the community as a whole.
I’m lucky in that I’ve experienced relatively few accidents and these have been pretty minor. Note I use the word “lucky” and the word “few” these are important, I’m not perfect and I’m pretty sure nobody else is, and I don’t think it’s simply a matter of experience and skill. Accidents happen; it’s how we respond to them that makes all the difference.
“You start with something pure, something exciting. Then come the mistakes, the compromises.”
And on that front I realise that I’m part of the problem too; because I may have hurt people and not know it, because we’ve created a culture in which it’s hard to tell somebody that they did something, even accidentally, that harmed you. I know because I’ve done it; I’ve been tied in ways that left me with nerve pain in my arms and shoulders and I said nothing. Why? Because it was minor; because I didn’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings; because I felt responsible for thinking they were somehow telepathic and I didn’t want what we were doing to suddenly stop.
If you want any more evidence of how difficult it is to break down these taboos, have a look over this blog post; the vague platitudes, the blurry acknowledgements of personal guilt without getting into specifics, the implication that it’s a little bit me, but mostly everyone else. That’s the problem.
There are a miriad of subtle thigns that influence your choices. And not just yours, mine and everyone else’s too. Yes we all think that it’s the big and important information that dictates what we choose but study after study points to how readily little changes in the way things are put to us can dramatically alter our perceptions. If you’re looking for proof of this, I’ll just mention that in 2010 David Cameron established a unit to look at these subtle influences and ways that they can be implemented.
They call them “nudges”, and in addition to deliberate ones, there are also countless nudges that aren;t necessarily there through malicious intent but just through people’s action or inaction propagate. Case in point, rope and body shapes.
I just got back (well, a week ago, but seriously, drop’s a fucker! What do you want from me?) from Eurix in Berlin. My companion for this trip was a perfectly normal sized person by uk standards (at least according to me with my not exactly critical eye… seriously, I usually have to be prompted to notice that someone is/isn’t wearing makeup… even if their eyelids are sparkly), but, amongst the attendees (ok, specifically, among the bottoms/models/bunnies) she was suddenly far from representative. There was a range of body shapes and types present, but it was skewed, like a dog running through a park excitedly carrying half a tree in its jaws.
The bias towards the skinny and bendy is frustrating. Yes there’s an unhealthy focus on skinny and bendy in the media presentations of rope bondage, and yes I think it’s absolutely fucking ridiculous that apparently some riggers say that larger people can’t be suspended (says fourteen stone of enthusiastic self-suspender who’ll do an inversion from a single wrap waistline). But it goes beyond that to unspoken assumptions and little nuances in the way things are presented.
For example, there was a workshop on an arm tie that is physically quite demanding and for lots of people, impossible. You wouldn’t have known that to listen to the first part of the workshop. There was an acknowledgment that this won’t work for all people and to focus on finding fun thigns that you can do, but this only came right at the end, i.e. at the point where anyone who couldn’t push their arms into the right position would have completely mentally checked out. Then there were the workshops where everythign was gendered; not meliciously, but just in a way that everyone quietly assumed that the top in a scene will be male and the bottom a female. It wasn’t that this couldn’t be challenged, it was that it had to be challenged in the first place.
Like I say, subtle things… or maybe not. To quote a friend of mine “What the fuck do you mean subtle? This is screaming loud and clear!”
You’ve seen Hot Fuzz right? If not, go away and watch it because, if nothing else, it’ll give you some insight into my childhood in a very dull rural village. Anyway, one of the allusions in the film is to a moment in Bad Boys II where one of the characters goes, “Shit just got real!” It’s a cool moment that’s made cooler for not having the rest of that car-crash of a film to screw it up (possibly the most painfully bad Will Smith comedy since “The Pursuit of Happyness”). It’s four words that bring home a terrifying, visceral realisation, that whatever mental barriers we normally put in place, sometimes things matter, sometimes things break through this fourth wall to slap you across the face. This isn’t a blog post about that (sorry to tease), this is a post about shit getting normal.
I recently had an old university friend get in touch. We were close once (I may have had teensy bit of a crush at one point) but time, career, relationships and temperament led to us taking rather different paths. He knows that I’m kinky after a rather awkward conversation in a pub and, after not seeing each other for a year or so we’ve been trying to arrange a meet up.
“I can’t do next week, I’m in Berlin for a rope conference” I texted.
“I don’t even want to know what that means.” he replied.
This took me aback rather, not because I thought that deep down he wanted to know, but that in the grand scheme of my kink life, Eurix is, to my mind, pretty vanilla. I mean, yes, ok, it is a week of near constant rope and, yes, alright, some sexy shenanigans have a tendency to happen and, yes, alright, it was at Eurix last year that I first ended up asking myself the question “how many people need to be having sex in a room for it to count as an orgy” but, you now, on the whole it’s pretty tame stuff right. Right?
That’s the real shock moment, not when shit gets real, but when shit gets mundane, when shit gets normal.
Note: this is based upon an advance review copy of the book. The final version may have changes… like page numbers… and a cover… There’s also exciting book launch stuff over at GOTN’s website 🙂 Enjoy.
To say I’ve been anticipating this book would be an understatement; as in I literally, upon meeting the author at Eroticon last year, asked her about when she was going to do a sequel to “My Not-So Shameful Sex Secrets“. The answer was about nine months and the result of which is a rather different beast to the first book.
That’s kind of to be expected seeing as book 1 (as I shall call it) covers everything from childhood to somewhere in the twenties, it’s kind of inevitable that book 2 will have rather different material to work with. I would be tempted to say it feels like it lacks direction on occasion, but that doesn’t do justice to the excellent job it does of painting a picture of a life, a relationship and a partner that is so well drawn through the pages of this book I feel like I know him without ever having met him.
One thing that book 2 does is focus less on sex, but what it loses in sexy fin times it makes up for in a gut-wrenching depiction of life in a modern anxiety-fuelled career. It is powerful stuff and contains moments that took me back to a very unhappy phase in my life and left me I had to take a moment before carrying on. But sweaty palms and trembling fingers aside, its heart-wrenching stuff and, even in the dark places, GOTN’s characteristic humour shines through.
Overall it was funny, heart-warming, gut wrenching, borderline traumatising but in the best possible way. It’s not the lightest of reads, but it doesn’t get lost in the darkness either.
I’m not a hero. If life has taught me one very clear lesson it’s that I am most definitely not a hero. Certainly in terms of narrative I could never be a hero; heroes are the scary ones that come at you with their perfect teeth and smug happiness and you know they’re going to win despite everything. Even the role of protagonist never sits entirely comfortably with me. To be a narrator, a lead, necessitates being something of a blank canvas. Morally impeccable with only the blandest of character traits, you know, ones that pretty much anyone can identify with like being a bit awkward, or clumsy, or sleeping with your mother and taking your eyes out with pins… Sorry, lost my train of thought there.
I always see myself as much more of a supporting character. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t see this as a bad thing, it’s not that I don’t think I’m worthy of my own story. Rather, it’s the feeling that supporting characters actually get to be somebody, they’re given the freedom to have actual personalities and flaws and hopes that go beyond avenging a ransacked village or being yet another fucking chosen one. Think of the characters who are really compelling, the ones that have nuance and subtlety and inner conflict. I’ll list a few that leap to mind from popular franchises: Arya Stark; Han Solo, Severus Snape; Kara Thrace (Starbuck); Felice Landry. I don’t want to be the one saving the day from the dark overlord or on a quest for the great maguffin. Way too much drama. I’d much rather be me; be the cool one that comes out with devastating one liners and who you never entirely know you can count on in the big fight.
Of course there are some days where it doesn’t quite work like that. There are days when you think it’s all about you and you’ve isolated the reverse power coupling and you’re oh-so excited, only to realise you’re the fucking comic relief.
Fuck it; some days you turn around and realise you’re Hawk Eye!