69 Months Later

A couple of bloggy things have happened in the past week which have got me thinking about why I’m still doing this. The first was this:

Never in my wildest dreams did I envisage that as many as 70,000 page visits would be made to view my ramblings. Admittedly, in the peak years of 2013 and 2014 the success of BlogSurfer was significant in generating site views, and this has subsequently declined. But nowadays, I get more ‘likes’ and comments for my posts, and this more than compensates for not having the bigger numbers any longer. I’ve never considered myself to be a writer – just someone who dabbles and has taken advantage of the ease with which the interweb permits anyone to make their mark, albeit a very small one. And those interactions make it worthwhile: there is a sense of being part of a community, of belonging, and we all need that in our lives.

The second thing was the annual congratulatory message from WordPress on my ‘anniversary’ which, for some reason, they think falls in June. I know this to be impossible as the chronology just doesn’t work for me. But, as you do, I harboured a tiny doubt that they may be correct after all – I’m approaching 65, I have memory lapses more than I used to – so I thought it worth checking. I couldn’t find anything in my settings that would help, so I resorted to checking my previous posts. The first was made on 2 October 2012, and makes reference to my having set up the blog around six weeks earlier. Now this does indeed fit my memory, so maybe I’m not heading into my dotage just yet! Reading that post again was slightly surreal: I’ve never had an out of body experience but I imagine it may feel something like this. Was that really me? Did I really have the nerve to assume that anyone would want to read anything I wrote, that it would hold any interest for them?

I thought I’d share it again, as very few will ever have seen it. In its unedited glory, here it is:

“Hi!

I’ve had this blog set up for 6 weeks now and have somehow acquired 3 brave followers without having said anything, so I thought it was about time I introduced myself and told you what this is about (cue rapid exit of aforementioned followers!). So, I’m Clive (but you guessed that from the blog’s name, right?). I’m 59 (but only just!), divorced, living solo, and I have two beautiful grown up daughters who are the centre of my world. I work in the NHS, for a large Trust in London, and am planning to retire on my 60th birthday. I love books (on a Kindle), music (folk, rock, Americana, alt-country) both at home and live, I enjoy TV sports, especially football and cricket, and am a long-time supporter of Dover Athletic (home town team) and Spurs (someone has to!). All very ordinary then, so why am I telling you any of this?

Almost exactly a year ago, I was diagnosed with depression, along with a still unspecified sleep problem. This eventually kept me off work for nine months, and I went back in July, part-time working up to full-time after a month. As part of this process I was referred for counselling to help me adjust back into the real world, and I’m about two-thirds of the way through a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This has involved a lot of thinking and writing, in ways I’ve never really done before, about me, my feelings, hopes, self view and the whole experience of the past year. And this will continue into the future – I’m still on a high level of medication, barred from drinking and advised to be careful when driving, either separately or together, and still have big problems sleeping. But my counsellor has said that he finds my writing ‘inspirational’ and has encouraged me to start this blog, both because it will be good therapy for me to open myself up like this, but more importantly because others suffering from the same debilitating illness may see something they recognise in this and will hopefully draw some comfort and encouragement from it.

A subject like this could well be, erm, depressing really. But that’s not my way. I intend to write this from my perspective, of course, and I can’t do that for long before throwing in elements that could generously be considered to be ‘humour.’ In no way would I belittle the subject, I’ve experienced too much for that, but there’s no point doing this if people find it depressing or boring to read. And I’ll go off at tangents along the way too – things which strike me as interesting, usually but not necessarily related to my current experience of being ‘in recovery’ from the illness, which I hope you’ll find interesting too.

Enough for now, I’ll start the real posting soon. In the meantime, the three of you, I’m relying on you to help me spread the word and get me millions of followers. No pressure then! See you again soon.“

That post received a princely 3 ‘likes’ and 4 comments – and 2 of those comments were my own in response to others’ kind words of encouragement! Viewing figures were a little higher than either you or I might have imagined, though:

In those days I was much more active on Twitter than I am now, and had a number of people with whom I had regular twitchats. I imagine that they were prompted by Twitter to read the post though, as I say in it, it was only a brief introduction to what I really regarded as the starting point for this blog: when I posted the three parts of ‘The Story of My Illness’ over consecutive evenings in early November 2012. I know that many of them were ‘eagerly’ awaiting these – impatience was growing among some of them! Viewing stats at the time specifically for each of those posts were 52, 40 and 45 – although, as WordPress users will know, most of our page views become part of the large amorphous mass known rather unhelpfully as ‘Home Page/Archives,’ which doesn’t really permit a true view of the ‘popularity’ of a post, does it? If you haven’t seen those posts before, or want another look, they can be found under ‘My Story’ in the menu at the top of the site. They give you a good idea of where I’m coming from.

To those of you with large, popular blogs, with thousands of regular followers who ‘like’ everything you post, those stats will probably seem pathetically low. But that’s not why I do this. I’m content for this to be a hobby and if people are kind enough to read, like and comment then I’m very grateful for that. It’s not as though I make any money from this, nor would I want to: I’ve had many offers of hosting guest posts from commercial organisations, or of reviewing products in return for freebies, but they were all politely rejected. For me, although it is probably being po-faced to say it, it comes down to a question of integrity. I wouldn’t sell my body for money or trinkets (assuming I could find someone sufficiently desperate to take up the offer) so I don’t see why my words should be any different!

Reading that initial post again has given me several ideas for future posts: some things in my life have changed, some need updating, and as what I’m really doing here is sharing me with you I think you deserve to know. Of course, you’ll have had many clues about what is going on with me from my posts, so you will know that I did indeed retire on my 60th birthday – my thoughts on that are in the menu item ‘Retirement’ and I rather belatedly covered the celebrations in this post – and that I still enjoy my music, for example. But you won’t know that one of the lasting legacies of my long spell of depression is that, while I can cope perfectly well with newspapers and magazines, I have read very few books in my retirement: the powers of concentration just aren’t there any more! Life changes, and we adjust!

You may also have noticed the reference to the blog’s name including my own: when I first started out, with absolutely no experience of the blogworld, I just called this ‘Clive’s Blog.’ It was me, and it seemed to fit! I renamed this after I retired, both to reflect my new status as a gentleman of leisure and also my love of music. In case you don’t recognise the title (how could you not?!) I covered this in the first of my occasional series of #SaturdaySongs.

The main reason for starting this blog was to be supportive of those suffering from mental health issues. Whilst I may have digressed (a lot) from this, it is still a regular underlying theme, and you will see more on it from me in the future. Speaking of which, this is my 298th post and I’ve been thinking of a suitable way to mark the 300 milestone. Keep watching – I hope you like what I’ll be doing for it! And maybe I’ll mark my actual 6th anniversary in some way, too, though I haven’t given that much thought yet: it’s three months away, anything could happen before then!

The underlying message behind this post – yes, there is one, and thank you for getting this far! – is that those two little triggers have got me thinking about why I started blogging and why I still do it. I’m not unique or special, and I suspect you all have a variety of reasons for your blogs. But it is worthwhile taking a step back every once in a while, both to reaffirm our intentions and to confirm that we want still to be doing this. I know about me: how is it for you?

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When The Wheels Touch Ground (A Slight Return)

This post, from a year ago today, popped up this morning in the ever-reliable Timehop. I wasn’t sure about sharing it again, as I tend to dig further back into my archives, but I thought on balance that newer readers might appreciate seeing it (he said, hopefully).

As I said in the original piece, I’m spared the disappointment of televised Glastonbury this year, but there seem to be plenty of opportunities to be let down: Sky Arts appears to be on a one-channel mission to broadcast every festival there is! We’ve already had the Isle of Wight, next up Download. At least this year I have the World Cup, and the almost unheard of phenomenon of Germany being knocked out before England. As many said yesterday: do the Germans have a word for ‘schadenfreude?’

I hope you enjoy this little reminder of my thoughts on ageing, musical taste, television presenters who act like children, and why I think open air music isn’t for me.

Take It Easy

It is an obvious truth that none of us has ever been older than we are today. But do we always feel our age? Over recent months I’ve been ill a fair bit, and have been feeling way short of my best, but that had never made me feel old. But, last Friday, I did. The reason for that is shown in this post from my Instagram that evening:

For anyone who doesn’t know of it, Glastonbury is the biggest music festival in the UK. It began in 1970, when it was more of a hippy trip than a fully blown extravaganza, but has grown to the point where it sells out 200,000 tickets at around £200 each, within hours, and without having announced any of the acts who will be playing. I guess the punters want to be there so much that they’re happy to take the risk that…

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I Hope You Dance

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about family, and specifically about how we create our own little dynasty. In our lifetimes, we are nurtured by parents who instil in us the basis of the values by which we live our lives. Sadly, for some, this process is unsuccessful, and I know that not everyone will feel as lucky as I do. Next Sunday is Father’s Day, and I’ll be celebrating the fact that the man who helped bring me into the world is still going strong at 90. I was born in the days when everything happened in black and white, but still have a few cherished photos from that time, like this one:

As you can probably tell, that was quite some time ago – I was born in September 1953, so that photo dates from Spring 1954. I grew up in a town badly affected by WW2, particularly in terms of bomb damage, and although we didn’t know it at the time the rebuilding of our town was taking place while we were on the brink of some major social and technological changes. My teens – the years during which we begin to understand the world a little better, during which we develop our own values and political sensibilities – were played out against the backdrop of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ and all the changes they brought, not least in pop culture, but also with the growth of democracy, of people finding their voice. This was notable in student protests and demonstrations, which hadn’t happened previously on a large scale. It wasn’t as marked in the UK as elsewhere – for example, France in 1968, or the US in the anti-Vietnam War protests – but as I went through secondary school and university I like to think that my awareness of the changing world developed in me a sense of what is important in life, of the values that helped me to care about what kind of world we were creating for our children and for future generations.

As we become adults, we build relationships of our own and, if we are blessed, we help to continue our own dynastic line. I have two wonderful daughters, and would like to think that I played a little part in helping them become the people they are today. My ex-wife deserves the lion’s share of the credit for helping them become the caring, capable women they have turned out to be, but at least one of them appears to have inherited my socialist tendencies!

One of the overlooked results from a divorce – when you are the one to move out of the family home – is that you tend to leave behind the photo albums. I’ve been looking through the photos I do have, and can’t find any comparable with the one of me and my Dad. I did find a number of shots of my first born with me, like this one, probably taken when she was about 4:

The earliest I could find of her, which looks as though she was no older than 2 or 3, is this one:

I’m not sure if that look reflects guilt or pleasure. Maybe both!

And here’s one of her at 5, with her baby sister:

The reason for these reflections, and of thoughts about what the future holds for the people we love, is that this little girl has just had a baby of her own. I’m now grandfather to a beautiful granddaughter, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I could share many pictures with you, but I’ll spare you the overload! This is our new family member:

She has been born into a good family, with parents who adore her and will give her everything they can to build her life. I wonder what the future holds for her? The world in which we live is, in many ways, safer than the one I grew up in, but there are still many threats to our way of life. But it seems incongruous at such a joyous time to be thinking about that. Politicians, governments etc will continue to come and go, but the core of human life will always be there – and love, families, relationships are the essence of that.

What I hope for my lovely new granddaughter is that she will have the best life possible, and will create and take her own opportunities to make her mark in the world. The title for this piece is that of a song by Lee Ann Womack. It is about her own children, written not long after her second child was born. I’m the world’s worst dancer, but fortunately for me the metaphor is used here to mean that Lee Ann hopes her child will find and take opportunities in life – ‘I hope you never lose your sense of wonder……and when you get the chance to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance’:

The adorable toddler in the video is probably around 20 now, and I wonder how her life has developed? Like her mum, I have hopes for my granddaughter’s future, but really these all boil down to one thing – that the little ones will be happy in whatever they do. Really, we can’t ask for any more than them taking their chance to dance, can we?