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Missing, Inaction

July 11, 2019 23 comments

Did you miss me, while I was away? Did you hang my picture on your wall? No, hold on, I shouldn’t be quoting him, should I! But he did make some undeniably great pop songs, before his downfall and disgrace. So, let’s start again. Had you noticed that I had been AWOL from my blog again? You could be forgiven for that: I’m not exactly the most regular or reliable of bloggers, am I? And as this hiatus was, by my standards, relatively brief, it probably wouldn’t have registered very high on the Richter scale for blogquakes, if such a thing exists. Come to think of it, very few of my posts would be likely to raise Prof Richter from his usual UK torpor anyway. But, if you cast your eyes to the right, you will see that this post is all of 18 days since my last one. Why?

I hadn’t planned on taking a break, although I have alluded in some recent posts to the fact that a lot of real life was happening around me. That in itself wouldn’t have caused the gap – but we should always be wary of gaps, as any traveller on the London Underground will know. The major real life issue was not, for once, my health, though it didn’t have a positive effect on me health-wise. It was that I had to move home. I know that all over the world this is an everyday occurrence but I am used to stability, and this was a decidedly destabilising experience! I had been in the same home for the past eleven and a half years, since my divorce, and this was only my second move of home since 1982: I am a creature of regular habits! But, since the aforementioned divorce I have been living in a flat rented from a private owner. The owners’ circumstances required them to raise the cash from selling the property, so yours truly had to go. The whole experience was incredibly stressful for me, and I’m intending to write a post about that at some point, when I feel up to it: moving home is, after all, recognised as one of the leading causes of stress. But I’ll save that for another day – it requires more care, sensitivity and thought than I can muster at present. The point of this piece – yes, I’m finally getting to it – is a reflection on how dependent we have become on something which we know is there, even though we can’t see it. But, as Joni Mitchell said, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.’ I’m referring, of course, to that modern day wonder known as the internet.

Do you ever stop to think about how much we depend on it? If not, try going without it for a whole 15 days, like I have just done. I knew there would be a few days without it after the move, but wasn’t prepared for an additional delay while British Telecom (aka BT) struggled to work out why the link from the box on the wall in my new flat failed to register any kind of score on their readings – think of it as a telecoms version of ‘Royaume Uni – nul points’ at the Eurovision Song Contest, a phrase with which we Brits were already familiar for many years before the vote for Brexit, since when even fewer countries have deigned to bestow any points on our pathetic entries to the competition. Apparently, leaving the EU doesn’t automatically mean that we leave the song contest too, as anyone old enough (i.e. me) to remember us being in it before EU membership can tell you. I wonder if anyone has done a study of the correlation between the two? I wouldn’t mind betting that the song contest is a popular entertainment choice for pro-Brexiteers: after all, if you’re a moron about one thing it’s likely that you will be equally moronic about others, and the chances are that some would have been sufficiently stupid to think that’s what they were voting for. But I digress, sorry. BT have finally solved the problem, after much testing, digging up the road and playing with cables, etc and I’m now back in the land of the living. Huzzah!

The interweb, then. It was in 1997 that we first got connected to it at home, and around the same time at work. Back then it was a novelty, but in the 20+ years since then it has become an absolutely vital part of our lives, both for work and personal use. I haven’t been completely cut off: I have still had the use of my mobile and data, but that is expensive and the screen is too small for much – it’s good for WhatsApp, texts  and checking emails, but far too expensive for any more intensive use. To avoid any language barriers I should point out, for the benefit of those who insist on using the term, that by ‘mobile’ I’m referring to what you call a ‘cell phone.’ To us, that is something a prisoner would have, but each to their own language, I guess. The ubiquity of the web as part of our lives was brought home to me by my older daughter, who asked if I could get something like a Chromecast while I was waiting for my satellite tv to be reconnected. This is a very intelligent young woman with a PhD, who is a Senior Lecturer at one of the UK’s better universities. With, I thought, remarkable nonchalance and absolutely no sarcasm, I replied that I already have an Apple TV, but it (and a Chromecast) kind of relied on the internet. The reply was along the lines of ‘🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️🤦‍♀️😂😂😂’ but that makes my point, doesn’t it: we are so used to having the web that we forget how much we use it for. Try doing any of these on a small screen when you’re trying not to go into the next band for another squillion quid of mobile data charges:

Blogging, of course, to begin with – it’s just no fun trying to read and comment on blogs on a mobile, here in my cell, and I’ve rather let things slip. Sorry, I’m sure your posts were all great but I might not catch up with you all! I wrote this piece on my (unconnected) iPad during my enforced absence, and have been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to unleash it upon you. Well, a little, anyway.

Doing general ‘business-y things’ is another thing which is made convenient by the internet. I had forgotten just how many places I had shared my address with, and almost every postal delivery brings a reminder of another. But it is but a matter of moments to update my address for them all, and I shudder to think how many letters and phone calls this would have taken back in olden times. I prioritised a few which I thought were essential – like not getting the power cut off, for example – and one of these was my TV licence. Don’t ask me why, I just did, even though I wasn’t able to watch tv. I was glad I did, though, as it seems the previous occupant of my flat didn’t have a licence so my address is now on the hit list for the enforcement people. These faceless bureaucrats work on the assumption that everyone watches tv, and that no one is so primitive as not to. Therefore we must prove that we don’t need a licence if that is the case. Police state, anyone?

Shopping – this just isn’t much fun with an app on a mobile. I managed a full grocery shop, but wouldn’t want to keep doing it that way. I have relied on internet shopping for just about everything in recent years and using only a mobile it was almost impossible to browse for the essentials I need for my new home – I really do need a new washing up bowl! I did spend some of my precious data on looking at getting a dongle for my laptop, to create an impression of broadband, but decided that I would rather not buy a bit of kit which might be inviting the Chinese government into my home to spy on me. I’ll keep my internet browsing habits to myself, if it’s all the same to you. Or them.

News – I’ve mostly been without tv for this period, too, and have come to realise how dependent I am for my daily news fix on the Guardian and Apple News apps. I’ve used radio news but somehow it isn’t the same without pictures: if someone is throwing a milkshake over a fascist I want to see it! But I did eventually realise that my portable tv did actually work with an indoor aerial, even if the main one didn’t, so I’ve at least been able to watch a bit of Wimbledon.

Sports news is the same. I enjoy a full subscription to tv sports services and make much use of them, although I do draw the line at watching those imported efforts like handegg and rounders. The cricket World Cup has been taking place and it has been purgatory for me not to be able to watch. Is it bad that I’ve been wasting my mobile data on apps that update me? I think not, but I’ve been very sparing with my use. Life just hasn’t been the same!

Music – I’ve had to actually play CDs rather than stream my music! I know, it’s shocking, isn’t it? I have a vast collection of CDs and have been reacquainting myself with them. I really should have a massive clear out, though: there are few which aren’t available on Apple Music and it is so easy to use that service. I’ve missed YouTube too – who’d have thought that people like me would spend so much time watching music videos?

Catch up tv – you can’t download without the web, or use the mobile service to watch programmes currently being broadcast. I’ve always used these as back up services, and I’ve missed them. As soon as my Sky connection is reinstalled I’ll be doing a lot of downloading: the newest series of NCIS New Orleans awaits!

Games – I don’t classify myself as a serious gamer, though I’ll admit to being intrigued to see what Apple will be offering with its new service in the autumn (aka fall, if you must!). What I mean is the sort of games you can play on an iPad. Did you ever stop to think how many of these required an internet connection? No, nor did I – until this past fortnight. Whilst much of this is for those dreadful adverts that permit you a free go, some games just don’t work properly without being connected. Now that is something I wouldn’t have imagined moaning about 20 odd years ago when the web entered my life!

Reference and knowledge: not the kind that you can get just as easily from a book – remember them, dictionaries and encyclopaedias? – but the ability to do important stuff like checking IMDb to work out where I’ve previously seen the actor I’m watching now. As I was limited to watching DVDs that wasn’t such a big deal, but I still missed it. 

Above all, and underpinning everything else, is the feeling of not being connected. It is very easy to become isolated if you rely on web based services: I never thought I’d say this, but I’ve missed Farcebook and, to a lesser extent, Twitter and Instagram. Some of my friends think I probably don’t care about them any more! I’ve dropped in on a couple of occasions but they were very brief stops. I’m now gradually reacquainting myself with what is going on, and hopefully it won’t take me too long to catch up!

Yes, I’ve been able to read books and magazines on my iPad during the hiatus, but only those which I had previously downloaded. There is nothing like the frustration of making a choice from my Kindle library only to realise ‘bugger, that one is still in the cloud!’ It’s just so good to feel normal again, as much as I ever do. Expect more from me now that I can see you again across the ether, as I emerge from my cocoon.

For anyone who has struggled to read this piece with the guilt from being reminded of the classic piece of pop ear worm with which I began, I can only apologise. I should, however, like to conclude by pointing out that, as a matter of fact, I’m back! By way of apology, I offer you the other song to which I referred:

See you soon, if I ever escape from my binge watching, listening, reconnecting and reading catch ups!

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Why Do You Pretend To Be Normal?

May 29, 2019 16 comments

A fellow blogger – Stevie Turner – published a post on Monday about the odd phrases that people have entered into search engines as a result of which they have landed on her blog. Her post is called ‘WordPress Search Terms,’ and can be found here – as with all her posts, I recommend it. I’ve often marvelled at some of the weird and wonderful things people search for. In my case, I once wrote a post for Think About Sex Day – yes, it really does exist – which gave me the opportunity to use the word ‘sex’ in the post’s tags, giving rise (or not, ahem) to countless disappointed people since then. I commented on Stevie’s post that my all time favourite was someone who had found my blog by asking ‘why do you pretend to be normal?’ I’ve always hoped that wasn’t aimed specifically at me, but there is always that nagging doubt, isn’t there?

At first I said to Stevie that I hadn’t tried to answer the question, but then I dredged the depths of my memory and realised that I had, in a post from June 2013, entitled ‘Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal.’ The post was written in response to one of the old WordPress daily prompts, back in the days when a) they still did them, and b) they were sensible. As you can see from the conversation I had with Stevie on her post, she expressed an interest in seeing my earlier attempt so, on the basis that I was guaranteed at least one reader, I agreed to share it again. Here it is – I’ll drop back in again at the end for a postword:

—-

STRANGELY STRANGE BUT ODDLY NORMAL

Daily Prompt: The Normal

Today’s WordPress Daily Prompt asks ‘Is being “normal” — whatever that means to you — a good thing, or a bad thing? Neither?’

This is a subject I’ve been struggling to write about for quite a while – since I started blogging last autumn, in fact. I think what has held me back from this is a twofold fear: firstly, that I would look as if I was trying to be an eminent expert, which I’d never claim to be on anything; secondly, it could be pretty dull. But the prompt has persuaded me to do it, so here goes. This is a companion piece to my earlier post today on Men’s Health Week.

Pretending

How do we define what is normal? What standards/criteria do we judge it against? Do we mean ‘conforming to societal norms?’ If you have a mental illness, like my depression, does that mean you are abnormal? Or if you are physically disabled, does that mean you aren’t normal either? Is ‘normal’ something to want or aspire to anyway?

Seeking inspiration, I tried looking in the dictionary. It said:

NORMAL, adjective

1. conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural.

2. serving to establish a standard.

3. Psychology:

  • approximately average in any psychological trait, as intelligence, personality, or emotional adjustment.
  • free from any mental disorder; sane.

So there you have it. It’s a fair cop but society really is to blame for anyone who isn’t normal! I once asked someone on Twitter, now an ex-friend, to define normal and her off the cuff response was along the lines of ‘being or doing something that matches more than 50% of the population.’ That is, I guess, the societal norm approach. But why should you be considered abnormal if only 49% are like you? Where would – or could – you draw the line in such an assessment?

The reason we are no longer friends is that she decided I am an unpleasant, needy ‘attention whore,’ and that I am psychotic. And she said this in a very public way. Naturally, I strongly disagreed with this assessment but it makes my point for me: two people’s view of the same thing, or of each other, can be so different that the ability to define what is actually ‘normal’ must be subjective. In other words, it is different things to different people. To show how hard it can be to assess normality let’s consider her as an example. I know this is a cheap shot but I’ve waited six months for this so please indulge me briefly! Unless more than half the population has slept with over 200 people of both genders and posts pictures of their genitalia on the web to help them feel good about themselves, then by her own definition she is abnormal. And I’m pretty sure she deserves to be called an ‘attention whore’ far more than I do. But that’s just my assessment, and whilst those are true facts about her – unless she is a liar too – I’d imagine that she’d disagree with me. Not easy, is it?

Medication can be good for you!

Medication can be good for you!

Looking back at the dictionary definitions, I don’t really have any problem with the first two, which I see as being ‘situational’ definitions. But as you might expect I really cannot agree with the psychological view! Whilst those may be the standards used by clinicians to diagnose their patients, I don’t believe that people with depression or other mental illnesses are helped by being defined as ‘not normal’ in a social context. I function perfectly well in society. So do most others with this and similar illnesses. Of course, medication can be helpful in achieving that, but would anyone consider it wrong to take medication for an ongoing physical condition, such as diabetes? I think not. That ‘not normal’ description, taken out of context, fuels the beliefs and prejudices of people who don’t understand that there are different types of illnesses. It is a factor in creating the stigma that exist: having depression does not mean you are ‘psychotic.’ But it is easy for people to be led into believing otherwise in these days of mass consumption of mass media. Remember The Sun’s ‘Bonkers Bruno’ headline when Frank Bruno was admitted to a clinic suffering from a depressive illness? I rest my case!

As Men’s Health Week is just about to begin it is an appropriate time to ask, not just for men but for all those suffering depression or who are in some way not ‘free from mental disorder’: can we please stop being thought of as abnormal? Why should we or those who have a severe physical illness or disability be regarded as anything other than normal? Basically, that is an insult.

Ignore labels. I am me. You are you. We are us. We are all unique and special, in our own way. One thing you can do better than anyone else is …. be yourself. 

Who wants to be ‘normal’ anyway?”

———

And this is me today. The concept of normality isn’t something I think about every day, but that line about being yourself is the one that best sums it up for me. We each have our own version of what it means to be normal, and it provides us with the reference points by which we live our lives. Why should anyone define normality for us? As I said in the original piece, it is to some – possibly a large – extent a subjective matter. How we perceive ourself must impact on our view of others, mustn’t it? How could we possibly remove that from our reference framework?

A triple of footnotes:

1. Men’s Health Week is coming up again. This year it runs from 10 to 16 June. I’m intending to do a post about it – it’s about time I reintroduced my Dates To Note series.

2. Apologies for the little piece of revenge I exacted in the original piece. It wasn’t very noble of me, I know, but it was all true and I did feel better for it!

3. The title of that original was borrowed from a song: the opening track of Kip Of The Serenes, the 1968 debut album by the Irish hippy folk band Dr Strangely Strange. In case you were wondering 😉

2018: They Think It’s All Over…..

January 3, 2019 19 comments

Englishmen of a certain age will recognise the source of my title!

A number of bloggers have recently posted reviews of their blogging year, and how 2018 was for them. I wasn’t sure if I should do the same, as I’m far from being the most prolific blogger, and I certainly don’t have a massive following or readership. And anyway, I did a kind of ‘part way through the year review’ when I wrote On Further Reflection so there isn’t much point in repeating myself. What those posts have encouraged me to do is to look back behind the headlines of my post statistics and try to analyse what this tells me about my readers and what they prefer – and this does give me the opportunity to give another plug to some of my own favourites from my 2018 ramblings. I’ve already covered some of the ground in New Beginnings? which I posted on Sunday with a reblog of my review of 2015, so I’ll try not to repeat myself more than I already have!

I posted 51 times in 2018, but there was no regular pattern to those: they weren’t synchronised weekly offerings with a week off for good behaviour. Both April and August saw just one post each, whilst there were twelve in November and nine in December. So much for giving your readers a regular expectation of when they can see something from you! But, as I’ve often said (probably to justify this to myself) I don’t think of myself as being a significant blogger: I’m not seeking huge numbers, nor am I looking to monetise my blog. Some do, and I don’t have a problem with that. But it wouldn’t be for me – I wouldn’t expect anyone to pay me for what I produce from the deepest recesses of my mind!

I rarely reblog someone else’s post: I did that just once in 2018, and that was this one, to assist a fellow blogger in raising money for charity. Call me narrow-minded if you like, but I regard this as my space and want people to come here because they enjoy reading my words. There are plenty of blogs that exist solely to reblog others: there is nothing wrong with that, but are they clear on their motivation? Are they doing it out of the goodness of their hearts and the desire to help others? Or are they doing it so they can bask in the reflected glory of having a blog with loads of page views when they rarely, if ever, write anything themselves? And, if the latter, are they using this to make money for their site? That, to me, is dishonest and not what I regard as true blogging. For me, a blog is where we share something of ourselves, not where we push products at people – and especially not by using others’ work as the vehicle.

Having said all of that, I am much more likely to reblog my own posts, or rework older ones into newer versions. My logic in doing that is simple: many of these were written at a time when my follower numbers were smaller, and I doubt that many current followers will have seen these before. I do it because they said something I felt worth sharing again and, in all honesty, because I liked them. I make no excuses for doing this, but I do recognise that there are only so many times that you can mine through your back catalogue without putting people off!

I did produce some new stuff in 2018, though, and it is gratifying to see that five of my top ten most ‘liked’ posts of all time are from last year, with another one actually equal on ‘likes’ for 10th place but not showing in the list. I guess I must be doing something right! I realise that hitting the ‘like’ button is a facility only available to those who, as I do, use WordPress as their blogging platform, so I know that there is not necessarily a link between ‘likes’ and the actual number of times a post has been read. But it suffices as a reasonably good proxy most of the time, though not always: the post of mine which has actually been read most times – by a distance – dates back to 2017. This was written in support of a friend whose ex-wife’s ex-boyfriend (still with me?) had just received a criminal conviction for the most horrible of crimes. My friend is the focus of a group on Twitter and my post was widely shared and read as a result. If you haven’t seen He Fought The Law before by all means take a look: it is a little different from anything I’ve written before, or since.

But let’s get back to 2018! I think my favourite post of the year was that one in equal 10th place on the all time list. My 15 Nanoseconds was one I greatly enjoyed writing – it is one of my lighter pieces and I got a laugh out of it. Having said that, it only needs one person to follow that link and hit the ‘like’ button to move it into 10th place all by itself – which would be something of a pity as the post it currently shares that placing with is one that I regard as among my most important. Maybe I should make that list the top 11 – do you think anyone would notice?

What pleases me most about the popular posts from 2018 is that two of the top five are themed around Mental Health, whilst two others are very personal to me. There are links to all from the list on the right, but to save you having to work it out these posts are I Hope You Dance and For Mother’s Day (the two personal ones),  World Mental Health Day 2018  and Mental Health Awareness Week 2018, plus the outlier A Man Blogs, Aged 64 And A Half, which was written in a fit of pique when I felt that the blogging world was becoming sexist and ageist. I probably proved the blogosphere right in believing it should be for females and younger people when I wrote that!

So, what does this tell me about what people expect from my posts, and does it give me any clues for what I should be writing about this coming year? Whilst they may not have garnered the most ‘likes,’ my musically themed posts are important to me, so you can expect to see more of them. If I can get my act together there may even be some more #SaturdaySongs posts at some point! But let’s take this back to the very beginning: as I’ve often said (though newer readers may not be aware of this) I originally began blogging to share my experience of depression, in the hope that this would help others. It seems to have done that, and I still get the occasional email from people who have read those early posts: they are under ‘My Story’ in the menu at the top of the page, if you want to see them. Six years on, there is still so much that needs to be done to raise awareness of mental health issues and to help fight the stigmatisation which still, sadly, attaches itself to those of us who suffer. I am acutely aware that my own mental health is precarious and I could find myself in relapse at any time, and I think it is very important that as many people as possible are writing about these issues. Whilst that was my starting point I’ve never made this a blog solely on mental health: there are many others who do that far better than I. But it is a subject to which I have returned at intervals, and I will continue to do so. Only yesterday there was a piece in the paper about young people’s mental health and the problems involved in supporting them, so I believe there is an agenda already there for new posts. I’d like to think my small voice will help in some way, so expect more from me on this.

To end this review, I’d like to thank everyone who has read, liked or commented on any of my posts, either in 2018 or previously. Those interactions are why I and my fellow smaller bloggers do this: if we know that there is someone out there it encourages us to keep going. I don’t know how or where you found me, but I’m glad you did. If you’re a regular you have my heartfelt thanks for supporting me. If you’re new here, I hope you like what you see and will be encouraged to read, like and comment on more of my posts. And a final plug for my Facebook page: all new posts are shared there, along with a #SongOfTheDay and occasional random thoughts and funnies. It’s small, but beautifully formed, and I’d love to see you there. Who knows – you may even be encouraged to follow both this blog and the page, if you don’t already!

Thank you, as always, for reading, and here’s to a great 2019!

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