Missing, Inaction

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!

Facebook

I don’t know if it’s the same for those of you WordPress users who pay a premium for your site, but we cheapskates who just use the free version recently received an email notifying us of an ‘improvement’ being made by Facebook. This email came from WordPress – I don’t recall hearing anything from Facebook about it directly. I could be wrong on that, but I don’t think so. This so-called improvement was the withdrawal of the facility to link our blogs to our personal Facebook pages, which meant that we would no longer be able to share our posts with our friends. No doubt most of mine were hugely relieved at this, but it was an option I know at least a few of them used to read my posts, though they don’t actually follow my blog. We could, of course, still copy a link to each post into Facebook, but somehow that extra little step didn’t seem quite the same.

I read elsewhere that this change was part of Facebook’s efforts to reduce the amount of ‘fake news’ their site was playing host to. The words ‘sledgehammer’ and ‘nut’ spring to mind – this seems to me to be an incredibly extreme reaction by the company as part of the long overdue need to get its act together. Whilst there would, no doubt, have been some who were using their blogs to promote fake news, this ability to link a personal blog to a personal Facebook page could hardly be thought to be a major cause of the proliferation of such crap. I really don’t believe that I could be accused of spreading as much fake news in my sporadic posts to my small group of Facebook friends as Fox News peddles every day to millions of gullible morons in the US and other countries in which they broadcast! A small aside here: Fox News is no longer available in the UK on the biggest satellite network – Sky – as the viewing figures were so pathetically low that they decided it wasn’t worth paying any longer for the access. I now have to get my laughs elsewhere.

As if that change wasn’t enough, Facebook compounded its stupidity by allowing us to share our posts directly to a separate page from our personal one. Yep, if we wanted to spread fake news via our blog direct to a small, private group of friends, we couldn’t – but if we were prepared to set up a public page, which could be seen by anyone, that would be alright. Is it just me, or is that breathtakingly idiotic? In effect they were saying that fake news on a small scale was wrong but it was perfectly alright on a large scale: they had taken the sledgehammer to the nut but had hit the tree instead.

I follow quite a few blogs for which there are discrete Facebook pages, and I’ve hit the ‘like’ button on several of these. More often than not, they are the ones with much larger followings than mine – sometimes, but not always, commercially oriented – and I hadn’t really considered doing this before, as I felt I wasn’t in the same league as them. I gave it a fair amount of thought and eventually decided to set up such a page a month or so ago. I haven’t promoted it at all since then apart from a passing reference in my post 300 Not Out – A Retrospective  and this probably explains why, to date, only one good and loyal friend has ‘liked’ the page! It is called – rather imaginatively I thought – Take It Easy . You can click on that link to find it, or on the site name in the image to the right of this post. Or if neither of those suit you, here is the full web address: https://www.facebook.com/takeiteasyblog/

Why would anyone bother, I hear you asking? Well, apart from the ability to read my posts there, I intend it to be a place where I expand on what I do in the blog itself. As regular readers will know, I love music, and often put on the headphones for a late night YouTube session, in the course of which I share the occasional song with my Facebook friends. I am now going to put up a regular ‘Song of the Day’ on the new Take It Easy page, starting from today – go take a look! These will be separate from the irregular series of #SaturdaySongs that I will still be doing occasionally: those are songs which have some special, personal meaning or memory for me, whereas the Song of the Day will be more of dip into my musical taste, with a little explanation.

In addition to music, I’m intending to make the page a place where followers can go to find other things which interest me, but which I don’t want to devote a full post to. So you will, over time, find things which amuse and entertain me, as we can all do with some of that in our lives, can’t we? There will also be links to news stories that interest me on topics including, but not limited to, mental health, social issues and a little bit of politics. Don’t worry, I’ll try to keep it light, but some things are too important not to be raised and shared.  Basically, I’m intending it will become a magazine style page, with the blog as its core. I will of course cross-reference between the page and this blog, but I hope to make them complementary: I see no point in just setting up the page and only sharing posts, which regular followers will probably have seen already. I’d ‘love it, absolutely love it’ (©️Kevin Keegan 😂) if you’d visit the page and show your love and support by hitting the ‘like’ button, and I hope you’ll feel that to be a worthwhile investment of your valuable time, and will dip in regularly. Thank you in advance, and I hope to see you there – drop me a message if you do visit and let me know what you think.

And finally, to give you a taste of what you’ll find there, here’s a recent post that you won’t have seen on the blog:

(Very) late night music time. I’ve been listening to a lot of Celtic punk/folk recently, most of which doesn’t come from anywhere near Eire! There are the brilliant Dropkick Murphys, from Boston, USA. Then there’s the O’Reillys and Paddyhats who, as I’m sure you guessed from their name, are German 😂 Or you could try Selfish Murphy from, wait for it, Transylvania. Yes, really! But I’m giving you this, because I think it’s fantastic and contains a good allegory for today’s times about people fighting over nothing. This is the Rumjacks who, of course, are Australian 😉

See you soon on the Take It Easy page? 😊