July In Retrospect

Although I have written some annual reviews of my posts I’ve never previously produced a piece for the past month. Usually that would just highlight the fact that I don’t post very often, but over the past three months I’ve posted nine times (twice) and eight (once). So I’m giving it a try, in case there was anything you missed and might otherwise have been distraught not to have extricated from that veritable deluge of drivel.

A couple of months ago I edited and updated my About Me page. While I was at it I also amended the tagline in my blog’s header, to reflect the fact that I was posting more often about music. This was in part due to my Tuesday Tunes series, which began on 24 March – the day after the UK was consigned to lockdown, in case you needed a reminder! But, looking back at July, I noticed a couple of other music posts in there too. I may have to give some consideration to changing that header again, but I would never make this just about music: there is more in life about which I am prompted to write, particularly mental health. I won’t lose sight of the importance of that as a theme for me – after all, it is why I started this.

So, what might you have missed during July? Well, there having been four Tuesdays in the month, there were of course four Tuesday Tunes posts:

Tuesday Tunes 16: Joke

Tuesday Tunes 17: Mask

Tuesday Tunes 18: Confusion

and the snappily named

Tuesday Tunes 19: Lockdown Music – Part 1

I’m never at a loss for a succinct title!

There were also two other musically themed posts. I began the month with a piece to mark the USA’s Independence Day. Given that many of my readers come from there, it seemed a good idea to play to the crowd! This was that post:

#SaturdaySongs No.18: Independence Day

As it was a Saturday I thought it a good excuse to include that piece in my very occasional #SaturdaySongs series. In doing so, it made me realise that I have a list somewhere of other songs which I had considered for that series: I must dig it out some time. That series began on a weekly basis and has now become approximately an annual event. Whilst I’m doing the Tuesday Tunes series it might be overload to restart #SaturdaySongs, but who knows? I sure don’t!

The other musical post was a sad one for me. Ever since I was a teenager getting into music I’ve loved Fleetwood Mac, both in their better known incarnation but also going back to the early days, when they were known as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac – in all honesty, I think I prefer that previous, blues-based version of the band. Sadly, Peter Green died last week and, as I have done for some of my other musical heroes, I wrote a piece as a tribute to him:

RIP Peter Green

I’ll readily admit to finding that one hard to write, as has been the case with others. Sadly, as they and I get older, my musical heroes are succumbing to the passage and ravages of time, and I fear that will not be the last such piece that I write.

The first of my two non-music posts last month was Taking Stock, in which I reflected on life, mental health and COVID-19. I consider it one of my more serious posts, one of those that shows me to be capable of moderately coherent thought – which is always a good thing for me! If you haven’t seen it please do take a look: it is important ground for all of us, at present.

The other non-musical one was rather different. I have in the past written about the amusement to be derived from the contents of our spam folders, and I thought I’d give it another go. The upshot of this was Spam, Lovely Spam, which includes what I think might be my favourite spam comment ever. A fairly frivolous piece, but I enjoyed writing it!

Whilst looking back at last month I was also prompted to check my stats. I was hoping to be able to find my most read post of the month, but due to WordPress’ insistence on lumping most new posts into their ‘Home Page/Archives’ category this was impossible. This category comfortably headed the top ten most viewed posts last month, and the July eight – which will also, of course, have contributed towards the figure in the top category – made up eight of the top ten places. The intruder, as it has often been since I wrote it, was a piece from last November which came in at no.2 for the month: Under The Covers. I’ve no idea why that one keeps popping up – probably something to do with the way search engines operate – but I rather like its continuing popularity. It is also in the same position for the whole of 2020 to date, accounting for just under 10% of total views: go figure!

I hope this has been a helpful reminder for you of what you might have seen, or missed. I’m not sure if I’ll do this again – that rather depends on the response I get! But it is, I think, always worth trying out something new – well, new for me, anyway. On that note, I am also considering a couple of other possibilities for new themed series. They may not come to anything, but you’ll see them here if they do.

Have a great weekend, and don’t forget to wear your mask if you go out anywhere it is required: this pandemic is far from over! To re-emphasise that point for me, here again is the final song from this week’s Tuesday Tunes:

 

Spam, Lovely Spam

Now that I’ve probably put the Monty Python song into your head, I feel I must come clean and admit that this piece is highly unlikely to be remotely as funny as that, or anything else the Pythons did. But it’s a good title, so I’m sticking with it.

If you’ve never checked your spam folder, you really should: WordPress may have had one of its occasional hissy fits and deposited a genuine comment in there. It can also be a source of amusement, especially if you think these might be the product of a real human, as opposed to a bot – which is probably what they are, though. I take screenshots of the ones that amuse me the most: they can be good fodder for a post, as I’ve found before. Having amassed a bit of a collection over the past few months, I thought it about time that you saw some of these pearls too – although I’m guessing you may have received some of them as well.

The most common comment type to find its way into the spam folder is the one where an offer is being made which would probably involve spending some of your cash on the dubious services of a ‘lady’ whose name bears no relation to her email address. Sorry, but I’ve no wish to run the risk of bankruptcy or of catching something nasty – I’m just not that desperate. Yet.

There are also a great many in Cyrillic writing, but as I don’t speak Cyrillic they are rather wasted on me. For all I know, they could be offers of incredible wealth, and I’m missing out big time. Or lots more of those ‘ladies’ – does anyone know the Russian for ‘hooker?’ Then again, they could be abusive and my delicate nature is being spared by not translating them. On balance, I think I’d rather stay in blissful ignorance. Sorry, Cyril, but it’s a ‘no’ from me.

Quite a few of these comments are attached to my About Me page, and I’ve often wondered why. I don’t have that many cousins who are likely to be going round telling everyone about me, but it appears these guys know of one (click on the images to enlarge them, if necessary):

Both of the cousins mention that they are seeking help for a problem. They don’t specify what it is, but perhaps I should introduce them to one of those ‘ladies’ who are helpfully offering their services? I’m also wondering if I should ask ‘Hairstyles’ and Vance which of my cousins snitched on me? Nice nickname, by the way – it’s a good thing s/he isn’t a proctologist…

The most recent comment came yesterday morning:

Generally, if you’re offering professional skills it is a good idea to display them in your sales pitch. I think Magdalena – who appears to have gender issues – forgot this, so he or she may not be the person I’d turn to if I needed help with my writing or if my nerves were shredded. But the claim that ‘only I can solve all their problems’ rings a bell: perhaps he’s seeking alternative employment after he loses the election in November? And where is ‘Old England’ anyway? Advice from residents of New England welcome…

Sometimes spam people say nice things – ta, Sha:

And sometimes they don’t. The comment from ‘Free Stuff’ in the second set from the top (the Vance one) is one such, and this is another, I think:

Sorry, Aurea, I’ll try to do better in future but, as you can see, I struggle to link things together. You might like to try simplifying your comments, too: that one took some understanding, for a simpleton such as I.

Others have commented on my ‘excellence,’ which is always good to see, even from an automaton:

Looking at the second of those comments, I’m still at a loss to explain the reference to brussels. Do they mean the city, or sprouts? I’ve never been to Belgium, and apart from the occasional PSA reminder in October that it’s time to put the sprouts on for Christmas, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned them, either. But it’s good to know that the Brown Duck will be watching my blog for more information on this – perhaps as an accompaniment when its time comes for roasting? Whichever way you take that comment, it’s weird. And I hope you read that as ‘duck’ in that last name: if you didn’t, it’s your mind, not mine!

The third comment in this one shows that even bots lack self-awareness, just like a lot of real people:

As if Lorinda needed to ask! I do hope she sees this piece, though, as it might answer her question, albeit not in the way she was expecting. I hadn’t noticed the comment above hers until now: does anyone know if we’re allowed to travel to Spain yet?

With that, I think I’ve had enough vicarious excitement for one day. I’ll keep the collection going and if enough weirdos provide further contributions I may do this again sometime. Keep looking at your spam folder too: I’d be interested to compare notes.

As a reward for getting this far I thought I’d end with a song. From where I began this piece there could only be one song, couldn’t there?

Wrong! Gotcha 😉

If you’re now trying to work out where you’ve heard that before, Weird Al ‘borrowed’ his parody from R.E.M.’s song Stand. It turned out well, I think 😉

I leave the last word to the mysteriously named XRumerTest:

Taking Stock

I think that we should all take stock of our lives every once in a while. The last time I did that here was a year ago today: I posted Missing, Inaction, in which I reflected on the effects of an enforced 15 day absence from the internet, and how dependent we had all become on it. That was the main reason for what had been an 18 day gap between posts, but I also mentioned that I had been having a stressful time in my life, having had to move home – a natural hazard when you are a private renter and are at the mercy of the landlord’s wishes. Reading the post again I noticed I had said that I intended to write about the effects this had been having on my mental health but, in the usual fashion, best intentions went out of the window. Things began to settle down, I was getting used to my new home, and it didn’t feel right to be talking about my mental health when there were many people in far worse situations than mine, people who had real stories to tell. The anniversary of that post does, however, seem a good time to be ‘reviewing the situation,’ as Fagin put it.

Looking back to this time last year I now realise how much the whole episode had destabilised me. I didn’t notice at the time but there were impacts, in particular on my sleep patterns – which were shot to pieces. I’ve had sleep problems for years, and was tested (negatively, I’m happy to say) for sleep apnoea during my long spell off work in 2011-2 with depression. Retirement had helped enormously in stabilising that: no longer being required to get up and go to work meant that if I needed to sleep in I could, whatever day of the week it was. I occupied a lot of my time in the internet break by reading – 16 novels in 18 days – but even so, I found myself nodding off at odd times: I’ve never been one for afternoon siestas, but I had a few then. It didn’t register, but these were probably a sign that all wasn’t as it should be.

Over time, though, I began to settle into a new routine, and into a revised version of life. It’s funny how a move can change your outlook on life, and I don’t mean just the view from the window. But that wasn’t the only important factor for me: I had been able to get the medical treatment I needed for a long term condition, and the benefits of knowing that I was in good hands for that had a positive impact on my mental health.

I got to the end of 2019 thinking I’d done well: I was over the move, my health was improving, and I’d managed to get through some outrageous behaviour by my ex-landlord. 2020 was to be the year I really began ‘taking back control,’ to borrow a phrase, but then along came Covid-19 to show me that my use of those words was about as meaningless as they were in their more widely known context. My mobility is limited, so I don’t get out much anyway, but being told that I had to stay in and couldn’t see anyone – not even my daughters or granddaughter – wasn’t part of the plan. Much has been said and written about the impact of the pandemic on our lives, both in the obvious sense of our being required to stay at home whenever possible, with shops and public venues being closed, but also on the hidden factors, such as the effects on our mental health.

Using myself as a sample of one, I can see how my mental state has changed since lockdown began in March, and it hasn’t improved! I’m not saying that I have relapsed into depression – far from it, thankfully – but I can see that my outlook on life is different. I don’t have to go out much, but I know that at some point in the next few months I will need to go back to my doctor for the periodic testing that keeps me well, and I really will need a haircut! Normally, I’d think nothing of either of these but now, if I’m honest, both of these prospects scare me. Am I being stupid? I’d like to think not. Every day we hear new warnings of the potential for a second wave of the virus, and with the reopening of shops and public facilities there comes a relaxation in people’s minds of the need to be alert to the danger that may be lurking. I know I can do the right thing if I go out, but can I trust others to do the same?

I’m potentially vulnerable, and I don’t think I should have to take risks to go out and do simple things. That plays on my mind: I don’t want to become a hermit, but I can see how easy it would be. Looking at those words on screen they strike me as a little pathetic, but they are accurate. I think back to my dark days of 2011-2 and I know that is how I behaved then: I don’t want to go back there. This may all be in my head, but it’s hard to shift, and I doubt that I’m alone in feeling this way.

This time last year I was looking ahead to what I believed would be better times, now the outlook is very unclear to me. Anyone familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs will know that the basic level is classed as Physiological needs, which include food, shelter, health, sleep and clothes. Here is the pyramid, in case you haven’t seen it:

Those Safety needs in the second level include factors like personal, emotional and financial security. Somehow, I think that many of us will be struggling with this tier of the pyramid at present, and for some time to come. That will impact on our move up the levels: relationships with those we love will be affected, and there will need to be a lot of rebuilding after enforced separations.

The future is uncertain for all of us. My outlook is very different from a year ago, and I’d imagine that everyone feels that too. I wonder where we’ll be a year from now? Maybe I’ll take stock again then – hopefully whatever passes for ‘normal’ will have returned, given time.

How do things look for you? How does that compare with a year ago? Are you having to readjust your hopes and plans? I expect we’ll all be doing a lot of that now and in the months to come. As I said at the outset, I believe that we should all occasionally take stock of our lives: I don’t think any of us has had to do so in circumstances like today’s.