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On Further Reflection

November 30, 2018 25 comments

A reflection of the blogger?

Two years ago today I published a post called Reflections, in which I mused on why we blog, and what it means to us. Having been reminded of this post I re-read it and it seemed time to revisit and update it. For those who won’t have seen it before I’ll share it again now and then update at the end of this post. This is Reflections (Mark 1):

“It’s a funny old game, this blogging lark, isn’t itWe sit at home (other locations are available) in a kind of self-imposed solitude, thumping away at the keyboard while we spill out the contents of our mind. Then we hit that magic button marked ‘Publish’ and those thoughts can be seen by anyone in the world with access to the interweb. Doesn’t that strike you as a little strange? It does to me. Why do we do it? Are we all self-obsessed narcissists? Or exhibitionists?

It’s a given that we all had a reason for starting our blogs, and those can be many and varied. I won’t bore you by repeating yet again why I started – if you don’t know, but want to, just take a look at my ‘About Me’ page and all will be revealed (there’s a link to it in the top menu, just for you). Many of the blogs I follow have started for a similar reason to mine, but then again many haven’t. And therein lies the beauty and magic of it all, for me anyway: the sheer variety of the blogs I follow keeps me entertained, amused and in some cases instructed on a daily basis. I follow many of these because that blogger has also chosen to follow me and I deem it a courtesy to return that compliment – the likelihood is that we have interests in common and I will enjoy their blog too. There are two main reasons why I don’t follow back. The first of these is where I deem the following of my blog a blatant attempt – usually, but not always, by commercial concerns – to widen their own ‘fanbase’ by indiscriminate following of blogs they clearly have no interest in reading. Sorry guys, but you are very easy to spot! The second is…I’ll come back to that later (I’m such a tease!).

Something prompted me the other day to take a look at my blog’s statistics year by year since I first started this, back in late 2012. I was particularly taken by the stats for this year to date and how they differed from previous years. You’ll notice the link on the right to BlogSurfer – I added this not long after I started at the suggestion of the remarkable Cyd (see Thank You for more on her) and it resulted in some great stats in terms of page views up to 2015, when its influence waned dramatically. The total viewing figures for this year are only about a quarter of those for the peak years of 2013-4, but I don’t care in the slightest. Why? Because I can be pretty sure that the great majority of this year’s views have been from people who actually wanted to read my words, rather than by those who just dropped by in passing from another site. BlogSurfer has prompted just 18% of views this year – in 2013 it was over 90%. The other really revealing stats are that the total number of ‘likes’ this year is around 50% more than the combined total for all previous years, while the number of comments is 250% more!

Isn’t that why we do it? That apparently solo activity is actually helping us to communicate in a way that modern technology allows, and in a way that just hadn’t been imagined when I was younger. I don’t know about you, but I thrive on the interactions my blog generates, and these become a kind of addiction. The more I get, the more I crave. If you look at my blog posting habits, you’ll see that, apart from #NaBloPoMo in 2014 and 2015, my previous activity has been much less frequent than of late. This has also encouraged me to become much more active in commenting on others’ blogs – as some of you can attest! For me, 2016 has been the first year that blogging has really felt like being part of a community. I used to interact with some in the earlier days, but most of them no longer blog much, if at all. Several of you are now Facebook friends – people can deride that, but I see it as a mark of trust and friendship and I value it. If you look at my Facebook friends (my proper name is Clive Pilcher) you’ll see some familiar faces – including Cyd, whose daughter has left her page open for us to drop by and remember her. And if we aren’t already friends on Facebook, I’m open to offers….

I said I’d go back to the second reason why I wouldn’t follow a blog back. It’s a fairly simple one. I’m very fortunate to have English as my native tongue: it is probably the most widespread language worldwide, albeit with localised variations. I enjoyed learning languages at school and studied French and German to our A level standard. But that was more than 40 years ago and whilst I still recognise many of the words I can’t claim sufficient skills to read the languages now. I’m ashamed to admit it, but if your blog isn’t written in English I wouldn’t understand it. Until now, that is. WordPress has recently been promoting a widget for Google Translate, which is claimed to work in over 100 languages. I’ve added the widget – you can see it on the right. Isn’t this wonderful? If every blogger using WordPress added this to their site we could access so many more blogs than we can at present, and those of you that I haven’t followed back could open up your blogs to those, like me, who can only deal in English! Blogging is a global activity, so it seems a no-brainer to do this. My blog has been read by people in around 200 countries – I’d like to read yours too, then this community can truly become a global one! The support of the full worldwide blogging community can mean so much to so many, and I hope this little widget is widely adopted.

So, that’s why I do this and why it is a valuable part of my life. How is it for you? Do tell, I’d love the interaction ;-)”

Whilst revisiting that post I thought it only right that I should take a new look at my stats. Broadly speaking, 2016, 2017 and this year to date have been fairly similar in the numbers of total views, actual visitors, and likes. But there has been a fall in comments. Is that something others have experienced, or is it just me? Maybe it is because (like this post) I have reworked quite a few older pieces that current viewers won’t have seen, but there aren’t enough new viewers who are active commenters? Or, looking at the pattern of new followers, perhaps I’m attracting more of those who are looking for a follow back to boost their own numbers? With a few treasured exceptions, I can’t recall any comments from a fairly large percentage of those who have followed in the past year. But then again, I haven’t commented on many of theirs either: that works both ways, folks! Or, to take the obvious answer, maybe I’m not writing the sort of pieces that would encourage people to comment on as well as like a post. An interesting thought for discussion, perhaps? And it comes with an invitation to add your comment to the discussion: as I said in the previous post I, and I suspect most of us, thrive on the interaction with our readers.

I also mentioned in that previous post that I would welcome the addition of the Translate widget on blogs that don’t publish in English. I can understand your wish to use your native language but English (and the American version of it) is very much the universal blogging language and making the translation available would widen your readership. Many of the blogs I follow are posting in English even though it clearly isn’t their first language. I admire and applaud their efforts but there are still a few following me who don’t publish in English: they are better educated than I, sorry! Please, please add the Translate widget if you don’t publish in English: I’m sure it would be of benefit to others as well as me.

Another change from two years ago is that some who were regular bloggers back then seem to have dropped out. I know of some who have gone through some big life changes which have meant that blogging became far less important to them, and have every sympathy with them. But others just seem to have wandered off into the ether. I don’t know about you, but there is something comforting to me in seeing a new post from a favourite writer, and it’s always a little sad not to see them any more. But there is no shortage of new (or new to me, at least) blogs out there, and hopefully over time I’ll build the same relationship of mutual support with them that I had with those who have gone AWOL. That is, after all, the sustenance on which bloggers depend.

A new development for me is that I started a Facebook page as a companion to this blog: my reasons for doing it are explained here. This is quite possibly just a vanity project, and it currently only stands at 32 ‘likes’ anyway, but it gives me a space to post things that I wouldn’t otherwise write about. There’s a #SongOfTheDay, which from tomorrow will become a #ChristmasSongOfTheDay – I’ve done this for several years now on my Twitter account and on Facebook, and have written catch up posts here: but if you want to see the daily posts then the Facebook page is the place to go – just follow the link to the right. And I also do a kind of Advent Calendar – not the usual sort! – on my Instagram account. If I can, I link these to the Facebook page but the technology is a little erratic so do follow the link to the right for Instagram if you’d like to see my more irreverent (or just downright smutty) side.

Do you ever take time out to reflect on why you blog, on what it means for you and your readers? I can recommend it: it can be an enlightening experience. Then again, as a great philosopher (well, Johnny Nash, actually) once said: ‘There are more questions than answers,’ and it does feel a bit like that inside my head at the moment! What do you think?

 

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My Mind’s Eye – Looking Back and Ahead

September 10, 2018 11 comments

For the second episode of my resharing from the posts I referenced in 300 Not Out – A Retrospective here is the post originally written as My Mind’s Eye. This was first posted on 14 July 2013, and is notable for me both for the fact that it was in response to one of the WordPress Daily Prompts – back in the days when they were sensible and helpful – and for the time in my life that it represents. I’ll be adding a few words after the post, but firstly here’s the original:

Daily Prompt: Opposite Day

“I hadn’t planned on posting again so soon after two posts in the past three days, as this is my 50th post and I wanted to mark it in some way. It is a bit of an event for me, as well as a surprise that I’ve kept going at this, so I’d like to thank you all for being part of my blogworld – especially those who have endured this since the early days! As you may have noticed I’ve rather taken to WordPress’ Daily Prompts in the past couple of months and today’s gave me an ideal opportunity. So here I am again! With its theme of doing the opposite of normal, the prompt reads:

If you normally write non-fiction, post a photo. If you normally post images, write fiction. If you normally write fiction, write a poem. If you normally write poetry, draw a picture.

I don’t think I’m capable of writing fiction or poetry so what I do must therefore be non-fiction. It is all true, certainly: I don’t believe in being creative with the truth (i.e. lying) or in jazzing things up for effect or to draw attention to myself. So that must mean my challenge is to post a photo. I wanted something with some meaning, something which was symbolic for me, and this is what I chose:

The London Eye

The London Eye

iPhone pics 029An odd choice? Not for me. I took this on a grey evening in May from the walkway at the Southbank Centre in London. I was there for one of my bucket list wishes: to see Steve Earle in concert. You may not have heard of him but he’s been one of my favourite artists since he started, which was c.1986 I think. But that’s not why this picture has meaning for me: the reason I am attached to this is that it symbolises my future.

That probably sounds strange if you don’t know the background. For all but two of the past thirty-eight years I’ve commuted into London to work. When I retire in September I plan to make London a place for leisure and enjoyment, rather than work. As I don’t have much of a head for heights, but have always liked aerial photo shots, I want to go up in the Eye to conquer my fear and to take my own aerial pictures. To me this symbolises my future: looking down over the city where I have spent so much time will, I’m sure, give me a feeling of taking control. And what is retirement if not an opportunity to take control of my life and ‘do it my way?’

The Southbank is one of my favourite concert venues. The architecture is hideous – Lasdun’s concrete period – but the two main halls are beautifully appointed with superb acoustics. As this would be the last time I was there before retiring and making my epic voyage on the big wheel, I took a few shots to remember the evening by. That is the one I like best, but I’m also quite fond of the view across the river:

iPhone pics 008

And of the cute little busker:

iPhone pics 012

And the view from my seat (I booked late!):

iPhone pics 021

These photos are a memory of a great evening and of some fabulous music, and a lead in to the rest of my life. I’m looking ahead with a great deal of optimism and marking this new stage in my life with a ‘flight’ or ‘rotation’ on the Eye is, for me, a perfect way to do it. I may even do this on my 60th birthday, to celebrate the occasion. And there are reduced rates for the over 60s 😉”

Back to the present day. Life has a habit of throwing curve balls at you, doesn’t it? For the first couple of years of my retirement I really did enjoy London- concerts, the theatre, museums, galleries and even a bit of shopping. Not to mention my very regular visits for a few seasons to Leyton Orient, including a great day out at Wembley for the League One playoff final in May 2014 – even if the result went the wrong way. But my health has turned against me, and a long term condition has severely restricted my ability to get out and enjoy myself. It’s not life-threatening or anything serious like that, but I look back at that post ruefully, thinking of what might have been and hoping that those plans and intentions can be restarted at some point. I mentioned that I was aiming to take control of my life after retirement. That phrase has, to my mind’s eye, been seriously devalued by its appropriation to support the Brexit campaign. I had no real idea what my future would hold, though I had hopes: those who (unlike me) supported Brexit have no more idea what it means than I did! But my post resonates with me now perhaps even more than it did when I wrote it.

I did get to visit the London Eye, and will be sharing again the post I wrote about it as the next instalment in this extended retrospective. Its significance for me still remains, and one day I intend to pay another visit, and take some more photos to mark the event. Revisiting my previous post has reminded me how important our memories are for us, and also how important it is that we keep making new memories. Life is too short not to!

As a sign-off, I’m correcting my oversight from the original post. As those of you of a certain age – or with a good knowledge of great pop music – will have recognised, I ‘borrowed’ the original title from the Small Faces. I really should have given them the credit for that so, by way of apology to the sole surviving band member, here is two minutes of magic:

 

300 Not Out – A Retrospective

August 29, 2018 29 comments

Recently I mentioned that I was planning something to mark my 300th post. Well, this is number 300, and the more observant among you will have noticed that it has been more than a month since number 299. The gap is much longer than I had intended, partly due to my natural indolence and a bit of illness, but more the result of the several false starts I made on the planned post. Finally, I’ve accepted reality: it just wasn’t working, so I’ve consigned it to the WordPress equivalent of the round metal file on the floor. I covered some of this ground in my recent-ish post 69 Months Later, but I’ve been looking back over what I have posted over the years, and post number 300 seems as good a time as any for a fuller reflection on what I’ve done, whilst using that as a stepping stone to the future. So…. here goes!

I’ve often restated why I began this blog so, at the risk of boring you, I’ll do a brief recap now to start off this retrospective (you have my permission to skip this bit if you’ve heard it before!). I was diagnosed in late 2011 with depression, and was off work for more than nine months. When I went back I was invited to take a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and, as part of this, I did a number of written exercises which got me thinking more than I had ever done before about me, my life, and what was important to me. After all, I was only 59 so it wasn’t too late to start! At the suggestion of my counsellor, who described my writing as ‘inspiring,’ some of these became the basis for my first few posts. These can be found under  ‘My Story’ in the menu above, and if you haven’t read them before I think they’re worth a few minutes of your time if you want to know where I’m coming from.

The point of doing this wasn’t to wallow in self pity, though: what would have been the value in that? I started blogging because I had realised how important our mental health and well-being is to us, and hoped that by sharing my own experience I could encourage others who might also be having a hard time to see that they weren’t alone. The response was encouraging, so I decided to keep going. Mental health is still, and will always be, important for me and it is a theme to which I return even if I’ve rambled off into the distance for many of my posts.

I think you can learn a lot about blogs from the category descriptions their authors use. I’ve tinkered a bit with my categories over the years, both to tighten up what was in danger of becoming an amorphous mass, and also to (hopefully) make it easier for readers to find their way around. The current menu structure has been largely unchanged for quite a while now: it works for me, and reflects what I’m trying to do. Dip in to some, if you haven’t before. You’ll see that some just take you to the most recent post in that category, while others give you a sub-menu of posts – basically, these are the shorter menus (some were getting ridiculously long!).

Over the past couple of years the number of people following my blog has increased tremendously. Many of you won’t have seen some of my earlier posts before, and I’ve mined my back catalogue a lot to share some of these. I usually add a new commentary, updating what I had previously said, and I hope you have enjoyed some of these. It should go without saying that any post which has been given this treatment is one that I enjoyed writing and revisiting, and sharing them again has the added benefit of sparing me from writing something new! As this is a retrospective, I thought I’d highlight a few favourite posts – both mine and those which appear to have been popular in others’ eyes.

Rather surprisingly, perhaps, when I went through my back catalogue I found quite a few posts that I hadn’t recycled. Some of these, such as those I produced in the two years that I participated in November’s National Blog Posting Month – post every day, watch the quality fall off a cliff – were probably best left alone, and I’ve long since removed the menu link for them. Masochists can always find them via the Archives tab on the right, and looking for the Novembers of 2014 and 2015! One early post which I rather like was Dazed And Confused, from August 2013, in which I had one of my little rants: the target for this was marketing, which is a worthy subject for a moan! Another post from 2013 has a great deal of meaning for me. In those days I often responded to the daily prompt offered by WordPress, back when these were meaningful thoughts, rather than the single word option they went for instead – which was responsible for more pointless doggerel appearing in my email notifications than I could ever have wished for. No surprise to me that these prompts were eventually discontinued. In this post, My Mind’s Eye, I was looking ahead to my imminent retirement and sharing the symbolism of the London Eye for what I wanted to do with my future. My two wonderful daughters took me out for a special day to celebrate my 60th birthday and retirement – I must have mentioned my wish to go on the Eye, as that was part of my day! For some reason it took me a while to write about that day, but I eventually got round to it three years later in A Celebration – another of my favourite posts.

Having begun this blog to post about mental health, I’m rather proud of the fact that my three posts which have achieved the most ‘likes’ from readers are all mental health posts: see the ‘Top Posts & Pages’ links to the right. As I’ve said before, I don’t have a huge readership for this blog, and a typical post is likely to pick up around 20 to 25 likes: these three posts are all comfortably beyond that and the top one, Mental Health Matters, has 140 likes. For some of you that is nothing significant but for me it is astonishing! It was written in response to a report in the paper, about the way that the commissioning bodies for health services here in the UK were diverting funds which were supposedly ringfenced for mental health treatments, using them instead for other services. It seems that I wasn’t alone in finding this outrageous! Those top posts can all be easily reached – just click on the titles – so please feel free to take a look at any that you may not have seen previously. Mental health has been a recurrent theme for me. I used to do a regular series of ‘Dates To Note’ which were usually about health and social care subjects. Mental health featured often in these posts, which have their own menu entry above – as, of course, does mental health itself. If you’re interested, you’ll find my most recent posts – from May this year – under both menu headings. One of the aspects of mental health that has exercised me on several occasions is the way that it is stigmatised. This post from 2013 is an early one of this sort, and I have used that as the basis both for a reblog and a reworked piece. Sadly, this is still an issue now and I fear there may need to be another post of this kind when the time comes this year. As I said, mental health is still an important issue for me, so expect to see more about it in future.

Another important subject for me is music, which has played a central role in my life since I was a child. I have absolutely no musical talent whatsoever, but I couldn’t live without music. It gets its own special mention in the tagline for the blog, and the blog’s title is that of one of my favourite songs. As well as countless sharings of songs at random times, I also have my occasional series of #SaturdaySongs where, by and large, I share the story of why a song is important to me. The menu gives you easy access to them all, but probably the most important piece for me which relates to a song isn’t in that series: I Hope You Dance, which I wrote to welcome the birth of my first grandchild, has that honour. I’m grateful that so many of you have hit the ‘like’ button for it: that means a great deal to me.

So, after 300 posts in nearly six years, where do I go from here? What does the future hold for my blog? I don’t imagine that I’ll change my blogging habits in any perceptible way: I’m not someone who can produce to a schedule and, since I retired and tried to remove stress from my life as far as possible, I imagine that there will still be erratic gaps or, more rarely, very short periods between posts. I don’t want to be driven by a clock or a calendar, but at least that means you’ll always have that element of surprise when an email notification lands on you! In short, the future for this blog will be more of the same though hopefully not in any boring way! A blogger I respect enormously told me in a comment today that I ‘have a fantastic blog.’ I’m not sure I deserve that, but I’d like to think that I can in some way inform, entertain and amuse you sufficiently to make you come back for more.

Those of you who, like me, use one of the free WordPress packages will, no doubt, have noticed that Facebook have recently made an ‘improvement’ which has meant that we can no longer share posts with our Facebook friends. They did this in the name of reducing fake news: frankly, I think removing this facility from those of us with personal blogs is ridiculous, but who am I to question Farcebook in its infinite wisdom? This has, however, prompted me to do something new. So, as you can see from the picture link to the right, I have…. cue fanfare…. started a Facebook page for this blog. I haven’t done much with it yet, but the intention is to post pictures, YouTube videos and news links which I hope you’ll find interesting and enjoyable, as well as being relevant and complementary to my blog. And, of course, new blog posts will all appear there – Facebook still lets us do that, probably because it gives them the option to bombard us with entreaties to ‘boost’ our posts. For a fee, of course. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll be taking up their kind offer! So please, take a look and if you feel in the mood to ‘like’ the page I’d be very grateful. As I said, there isn’t much there yet, but I intend to make it somewhere worth spending a moment or two of your time. I expect I’ll be plugging it here a bit, too!

This has turned out to be a much longer post than I intended, so thank you for reading this far! Thank you also for following my blog – assuming that you do, of course – and for bearing with me for however much of the past six years or so that you’ve been here. Thank you also for all of the likes and comments: it’s good to know that so many of you have enjoyed at least a little of what I’ve been doing, and being a part of the blogging community and sharing those interactions is what really makes it all worthwhile.

See you again soon, I hope 😊

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