Thursday 11 July 2013


It's not something we like to contemplate as we airily exchange views with like-minded souls - the lurking troll* who views and spits and goes back to his (it's surely always, or nearly always 'his', not 'her') befouled nest to pour out bile against someone who's never knowingly harmed him. It surfaces in a much more public way every day on Twitter and Facebook, the latest scandal involving horrible abuse of the Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli. To compare greatly awful with small,  I came up against some unwelcome knowledge a couple of days ago.

One thing I learned several years back, having been warned all too often by the diplo-mate, was to stop going in to the school playground of message boards - other than those of soulmate bloggers - because the bullies would always shout the loudest. On Parterre, the most waspish of them all (is there anything nastier than an opera queen crossed?), I didn't learn quickly enough. I'd dared to say I thought Christopher Purves was a better Wozzeck than Matthias Goerne. This, of course, goes against the grain of the anti-English contingent on that very Metcentric site. I can take a couple of howls of derision, but one poster, a certain 'Drew', started dogging every explanatory step I took. I was, it transpired, after a mountain of increasingly vitriolic responses, like some weird little old lady from Des Moines who didn't realise how provincial she was.

Enough. Out. Gone. I was aware this abusive personage had a blog, which Parterre had  linked to, called 'andrewandjoshua'. He purported to be an attorney from Chicago whose ma and pa were everything to him and who had a nice boyfriend called Joshua who mirrored back his every thought. And boy, were those thoughts poisonous, on performers and works of art he hated and harmless ordinary folk who didn't share his ultra right wing views, all of this expressed in a peculiarly stiff and self-regarding style. Again, one look was enough. I didn't go back.

On Tuesday, with - as I've already explained - the laptop in rehab, I found the quickest route to fiddling with my blog was simply to enter my own name on the iPad's Yahoo facility (I don't often go Googling myself, I hasten to add, though I won't say never). Up came a tranche of pictures very different from the ones I usually get on Google. One was half of an image I'd posted of myself in my shalvar kemis, dressed up to sing G&S's Nightmare Song at the local church; the other half, Father Martin Eastwood, had been excised.

It turned out this picture had been posted on, wait for it, not andrewandjoshua but joshuaandandrew, as an example of terrible English dentistry. You laugh; so do I, because I have more than once been told that my teeth are like Prague's Jewish cemetery, but frankly it's never bothered me enough to do anything about it. The abuse, though, after the announcement that this was 'David Nice, of London', got a bit nasty: 'It is a very brave man - as well as an alarmingly fruity one - who would display himself in such a way and then publicise the repelling results'.

This edifying series on 'Adventures in British Dentistry', which has been sitting there unnoticed by me since 2009, continued with another photo, which could only have come from my blog again, of my friends in the Merchant Quartet. The mockery was the same and oddly, there was once again one comment in a very similar style agreeing with Joshua/Andrew. Further photos of 'morons' were put up for no other reason than that Joshua/Andrew didn't like their looks or their political views. To which, of course, the only answer is that there's no such thing as an ugly appearance, only an ugly soul (which in a few cases may lead to the former, but that's a different issue).

More recent abuse was hurled at a 'hillbilly' violinist who'd left the Minnesota Orchestra for the excellent - though in J/A's view low-grade - Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra because he wasn't prepared to put up with a 43 per cent pay cut (this is a whole other area I'm glad my attacker has directed me towards, because the detail of what's gone on in Minnesota beggars belief). I found further personal attacks against me over on andrewandjoshua which managed to label me an anti-Semite - the very thought! - and a degenerate of low intelligence (usually in the imaginary conversations held in the messages section).

My lawyer friend Isabel did some quick and effective detective work. She tracked down a brilliant deconstruction of the a&j/j&a looking-glass world on well-respected Chicago critic Andrew Patner's site The View from Here (which has also educated me on the sorry case of decent critic Don Rosenberg v the far from perfect Welser-Most). He, too, had been playing Sherlock Holmes, though as he writes he may only have got as far as being Watson - as are we are all until the perpetrator is uncovered (and frankly, if he isn't, it hardly matters, though it would be fair to witness some sort of exposure). Scroll down the above link to Andrew P's site to get the full story.

I won't repeat it. Suffice it to say there would seem to be no Chicago attorney - Isabel exploded several of the claims there - no boyfriend, no loving parents, at least as recounted on the phantom site. All the commenters with the curiously similar style and giveaway vocabulary are Andrew 'Norman Bates' Vanz having an imaginary conversation with himself. He does exist, of course, in some very dark place in America, but his power to harm has somehow dissolved with the picture thus built up of a sad soul projecting evil thoughts.

The good in all this is that I've had a delightful exchange with the admirable Andrew P and shall be very happy to meet him in the UK when he visits**. Of course I know I shouldn't feed the troll, and the purpose of this entry isn't to solicit any 'poor you's, but forewarned is forearmed: others who have tried to hunt the slanderer down, which I've no intention of doing - and of course even if I tried Google would do nothing about it - have had various e-tamperings, so if you ever receive anything weird or offensive purporting to be from me, let me know.

Anyway, hello birds, hello sky; it's been a sunny day tending to the newly-returned weeping mulberry in the back yard, writing up reviews of the weird Britten Canticles performance last night for The Arts Desk and of Sakari Oramo's fascinating Elgar Two for the BBC Music Magazine, basking in the friendly e-mails from Cheltenham folk following the appearance of the festival review which has only bolstered happy memories. Sweetness and light to you all. And of course I'm not going back to the offending site or even giving the troll headspace if I can help it. You might all like to flood our mystery man's blog(s) with pictures of imperfect dentistry, of course. On the other hand, best not feed the troll either.

*Tanya Gold in The Guardian, writing on the latest bout of obscene misogyny: 'To call them trolls make them sound almost magical when they are actually lonely, fearful and dumb – in the truest sense'.

**Update - alas, I was shocked to hear that Andrew died suddenly in February 2015. 

Second image is from that fabulously unsettling French masterpiece of a film Le Corbeau; the last is one of Byam Shaw's illustrations for The Pilgrim's Progress.


Mark Berry said...

David: so sorry to hear that you have fallen victim to this ridiculous person's blogs (or 'weblogs', as he archly calls them). He posted something about me a while ago, which was not only vicious but libellous (rather odd for someone who claims to be a lawyer). I should have written it off without much of a though, save for the fact that I didn't really want someone googling me to come up with the claim that I too was an anti-Semite. I took copies, just in case the posting mysteriously disappeared, though it never did, but reassured myself that no one reading his 'weblogs' would ever take anything he or his strange respondents (i.e., him again) said remotely seriously.

Willym said...

Sadly caro it is one of the problems of the internet - anyone can say anything about you with little or no recourse on your part. The crowd of bedsit "opera lovers" seem to be amongst the most poisonous. Those of us who know and care for you - yes silly goose that would include me - know who you are and what you stand for so and more importantly what you achieve. So - now you have to picture this being said with my hands being held close to my chest at pec level and spread outwards as I say "boh!!!" to him and his - indeed if he has any "his".

Susan Scheid said...

David: Isn't it a shame? I don't know if you remember Scott, who commented my way quite often. He was a lovely fellow in Maine who was always game to try out classical music, even though it was far from his ordinary m├ętier. Anyway, someone did something so dreadful, I don't know what, that he pulled himself out of the blog world altogether.

This sort of thing makes me so sad. The mean streak in some people is just appalling, but then, it's in the world all around us, and we must just keep on, mustn't we? I'm so glad you're there. I really can't express how much I mean that, but here's just one example: Prokofiev's Violin Sonata No. 1. So timeless, so moving, so, well, everything.

David said...

Good to hear from you, Mark; there's certainly strength in numbers. Your understandable worry about being googled as an anti-Semite set me wondering: if the charge could be demonstrably proved wrong in the light of what we've written, might not Google - so disingenuous in its laissez faire policy, be forced to act? How many more unsuspecting victims must find themselves slandered before this stops?

David said...

And thanks, you two great shining lights in the world of blog camaraderie, who must have posted as I was replying to Mark. Maybe mockery and that sad, pitying look which j does so well to our resident Hitler in the gardens, are best recourse. May the good prevail.

wanderer said...

That this is a warning, at your own expense somewhat, is very gracious David. There are more than just ars*holes out there - there's pyschos.

I've kept my little blog diary with an identity veil across mainly to protect my professional world which while completely unrelated (so far - there's great material there) needs clean air. But you are a public figure. You blog as a public figure. I congratulate you. Recourse to this stuff is unpleasant, time consuming, fire fueling and god only knows could be horribly expensive. Take care and take advice.

It is interesting how many commentators on Parterre are anonymous.

David Damant said...

I fear that this will get worse and worse - not only in the personal abuse context but generally, as the social networks spread and spread. The authorities will have little chance of controlling it.If they try they will be attacked for trying to shut down free speech. So what at first sight might have been seen as a triumph for democracy will lead to the opposite, a corrosive and pervasive trend to mob rule. And on the personal level we do not all have the fortune possessed by Alistair MacAlpine, to move to stop the allegations and abuse

David said...

You're right, David, I find myself for once on the authoritarian side as regards limitations to free speech in cases of casual abuse. Though it's reassuring to see quick reactions to Twitter abuse, if only after pressure. I hate the disingenuous Google disclaimer to the effect that it believes everyone has the right to self-expression etc - amazing how far you have to go in Google's rule book before any sort of action can be taken.

wanderer, you're slightly creeping me out with your solemn tone. As for anonymous commenters, they're everywhere. Look at the stream of bizarre commenters - many moderated - commenting on Guardian articles (the mountain of hate against George Monbiot amazes me). And it's often the usual suspects, though since they can take any number of extra monikers, who knows how many times they really crop up?

wanderer said...

I find the whole web thing overwhelmingly creepy sometimes. Political spamming and trolling is already rife, down here, the Guardian, where ever (how the right detest Monbiot).

But surely the web will level the playing field (I hate that expression) and give everyman as much opportunity as once was reserved for the rich and powerful. I'm not sure if it will be mob rule (David D.) or more like mob gets to answer back. If nothing else, the web is a great opportunity for education, and alas misinformation. But you don't get shot in the head reading the web, if you can of course.

I did like her reference to identity fraud being as old as masked balls.

David said...

Again, wanderer, you put more eloquently what I meant to add in the reply to David: I DO believe more democratic good than harm will come out of this cyber freedom (indeed, already has). It leaves the concealing rich and tyrannous nowhere to hide, and that's the most important thing.

Have I missed something, though, or who's 'she' and where was her reference?

wanderer said...

I got muddled up. The reference (pen pals, lonely hearts, masked balls) was in Andrew Patner's post on the subject, but somehow I was stuck on 'my lawyer friend Isabel', and 'he' came out 'she'. Apologies all round. Another identity crisis.

David said...

Ah, I see. I'm sure if Isabel had put pen more extensively to paper, her imagery would have given the admirable Mr Patner a run for his money. Though her pinning down of phoney details added to his, her advice, in fact, was brief, as I kept repeating above: don't feed the troll.

jondrytay said...

Good CHRIST, what a story! I've seen that blog before (and been monstered a few times by friend 'Drew' on PB) but I completely bought the backstory. What a disturbed individual.

David said...

Isn't it, Jon? I'm glad you're still there on Parterre to defend the 'fucking Brits' and generally to keep up the voice of decency. La Cieca predictably, as before, did not respond to my e-mail and has done nothing about removing 'andrewandjoshua' from the roll-call. (S)he just enjoys seeing the puppets wriggle, the more painfully the better.

Anonymous said...

I too was attacked by the Drew/Josh venom machine, and have some information on the real identity of the perpetrator. She's (!) a piece of work.
I keep an eye on the writing in case more friends of mine get harmed - but that exposes me to more of the harm myself. It's amazingly destructive.

David said...

She! That absolutely does amaze me, especially bearing in mind the Parterre demographic - and the mostly male 'pieces of work' whose rape threats have just kept piling up following the Jane Austen on a banknote thing (I can't get my head around that, I really can't).

Strong article from the always entertaining Tanya Gold suggesting that the word 'troll' gave some kind of magical status to the brainsick and lonely.

I was going to say 'tell me more', but that's exactly it - I don't WANT to know more. And yet of course I do.

David said...

And this is where it gets to be a bit of a mindfuck. I can't possibly put up your second comment with the name that you cite as the perpetrator(and remember you're 'anon'). Certainly the original menace needs to be stopped, but now I doubt - as I rather did to begin with - that it's a woman. So enough already.

Amy said...

I'm embarrassed. You're right.

Was telling the truth, but all I was thinking about was my own anonymity and safety, not yours. It was naive/dumb of me to include her name with my last comment. I do apologize and wish you the best. Signing my (real) first name, because I keep mispelling "anonymous" anyway. :-)

David said...

Deeply sorry about this, Amy, but you understand that the circumstances are fraught. I admit I was puzzled because the lady in question has a blog with a link to the Minnesota musicians' union, so it seemed to me she was on the other (to my mind, of course) 'right' side of the fence to Andrew/Joshua. Best wishes to you, and thank you.

David said...

Postscript: pleased to see that La Cieca has finally removed andrewandjoshua from the roster.

And Amy, forgive me for not taking up your option of a discussion by email: the mindfuck is such that I still suffer from what is no doubt a degree of paranoia. And I want to put it behind me now.