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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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A #NewYearSongOfTheDay

January 1, 2019 19 comments

For the first time ever I’ve been posting songs for the New Year on Twitter and the Facebook page for my blog (if you haven’t ‘liked’ the page yet the link is to the right – go on, you know you want to!). I began on Boxing Day and brought the sequence to an end today with a double, so there were eight in total. This is the full collection – I hope you enjoy them.

The approach of the New Year can be a positive time, when we look forward to what it may bring us, and can also be a time for reflection on the year that is drawing to a close. Both of these moods are represented in my choices. I began with a really positive, upbeat song: I don’t know much about the duo who go by the name of A Great Big World, but anyone who can create a song and video like this gets a thumbs up from me:

For the 27th I went for a long-time favourite song of mine. To me, this is the perfect song to match the mood of looking back, coupled with hope for the future. Counting Crows have long been a favourite band of mine too, since their first album way back in 1992. This song is from their second album, Recovering The Satellites, and includes what is probably Courtney Cox’s best acting performance ever (even better than when she danced with Bruce Springsteen 😉):

It was back to the upbeat and hopeful for the 28th. Semisonic were one of those bands who never got the success I felt they deserved. Their album Feeling Strangely Fine was a little gem, and produced three hit singles in the UK, of which this wasn’t one (!):

Alternating the mood again for the 29th I went for another of my long-time favourite singers and songs. This is from Kate Rusby’s first (of four) albums of Christmas and seasonal songs, Sweet Bells, but is not an original of hers. There are several attributions, including the one erroneously (and lazily) given by the guy who posted this video, but the generally accepted version is that the song was written in 1891 by Will Godwin and Leo Dryden. Dryden sang it in music hall performances and recorded it in 1898. It was also recorded by Peter Dawson (‘Australia’s first man of song’ in case you didn’t know – so not Rolf Harris, then). Dawson’s version is taken a little faster, which I find totally unsuited to what is actually a heart-breaking song from the perspective of a young man looking back at year end, and dreaming of home and family. I think Kate Rusby does it far more justice – this is beautiful:

I marked Sunday 30th with another reflective piece. There is no need for an introduction to Van The Man – like everything he does, this simply oozes class, style and laid-back coolness:

The song which I imagine most people associate with New Year’s Eve is Auld Lang Syne. There are countless versions of this, but none are quite as lovely as the one by Mindy Smith. If you’ve been keeping up with my seasonal music posts you’ll know that I featured Mindy on Christmas Eve – you can find her song here if you missed it. For the video to accompany her version of Auld Lang Syne she asked fans to send her photos of those they loved or had lost, or maybe both. The resulting collage is absolutely wonderful, and is made even better by the number of heartfelt comments from people whose photos were featured. This really does capture the end of year reflective mood so very well:

For today, I marked the New Year with two choices. The first is well-known and an obvious choice: it wasn’t that imagination had deserted me, just that I happen to like it! To begin with, then, here are ABBA:

And to round things off for this time, another selection from the incomparable Mary Chapin Carpenter. She also featured in my Christmas songs collection, on Christmas Day itself, and you can find her by following the link in the paragraph above about Mindy Smith. There is a video of MCC performing this song live, in which she explains the background to the song: it is based on a real life meeting, which she noted down and turned into the most beautiful song. I’m giving you the ‘official’ video from her record company, which is slightly clearer than the live version. As she says,

‘We dwell on possibility on New Year’s Day’

I only had a week to share these New Year songs and could have chosen many more. My YouTube playlist now comprises around 40 songs and can be found here if you’d like to see more.

Having said that I’d finished I’m going to cheat a little now, and add in a bonus just for you: this one wasn’t shared on Twitter or Facebook. One of my earliest childhood memories of New Year’s Day was the televised concert of Strauss family music from Vienna, which my Mum loved and we watched with her, along with the ski jumping from Garmisch-Partenkirchen which followed it. These were both rare treats in the late 1950s/early 1960s, before wall to wall TV took over. The closing delight of the concert was always the final encore, the Radetzky March, during which the conductor would turn to the audience and conduct their hand-clapping. This has always seemed to me to be the epitome of the joy and hopefulness that the start of a new year can bring, so I’ll leave you with this one from a few years ago, during which Daniel Barenboim does eventually keep up with tradition:

I hope that 2019 brings you all that you wish for. Happy New Year!

Winter Solstice

December 21, 2018 22 comments

Today in the Northern Hemisphere is the Winter Solstice, aka Midwinter, aka the Shortest Day. If you’ve read any of my previous posts you will probably have noticed that science isn’t my strong point, so if you’re looking for an in-depth analysis of what that means you’ll need to look elsewhere, sorry! I did try researching this – that is to say, I took a look at Wikipedia – but the article lost me after a sentence or two. Briefly, the Solstice is ‘an astronomical phenomenon marking the day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year. It occurs when one of the Earth’s poles has its maximum tilt away from the Sun.’ Although the day has been given the name of the Solstice that alignment of the poles is actually at 10.23pm UK time. I don’t think there’s much to see though: unlike an eclipse, there is no obvious visible sign. So now you know – don’t say I don’t enlighten you! And I’m pretty sure that those poles to which reference is made have nothing to do with dancing – or maybe dancing is the order of the day? To be safe don’t quote me on that, just in case……

My interest in this day is its significance in a cultural and spiritual sense. Apparently this goes back as far as Neolithic times, when it was seen as the most propitious time for planting their crops and mating their animals – I wonder what those cave paintings were like? This time of year is important in many cultures, dating back long before it was appropriated by Christian faiths as ‘Christmas.’  The Wikipedia article also tells us that the pagan Scandinavian and Germanic people of northern Europe celebrated a twelve-day “midwinter” (winter solstice) holiday called Yule, amongst many names. Many modern Christmas traditions, such as the Christmas tree, the Christmas wreath and the Yule log are directly descended from ancient Yule customs. The underlying theme is how important this time of year is in the natural world, as a time representing rebirth and the beginning of more fruitful seasons.

While I was playing around on YouTube the other day looking for new Christmas songs to share with you, I came across one of their playlists which introduced me to modern day music – some of it pagan – celebrating this time of year. As you might imagine, much of this is what would be termed ‘folk music,’ though there were elements of jazz and heavy metal in there too. I knew nothing of this before, but my interest was piqued. I’ve dabbled a little further and have added some of these artists to my Apple Music library, as I rather enjoyed what I’ve heard so far. I thought this might be of interest to you, too, as I’d bet a fair amount that most readers will know no more about this than I do! So here are just a few examples. Firstly, from a guy based in Brighton, here in the UK, known as Damh The Bard:

There’s a warmth to his voice which I find appealing: his words give a very good explanation of what the pagan midwinter season is about, and draw the comparison with Christian beliefs. An interesting song.

This is far from just being a British thing, though. I also came across an Australian pagan band called Spiral Dance, who played gigs here with Damh The Bard in 2017: small world, eh? This is from their 2006 album The Quickening:

Again, there is a real warmth to the voice of the lead singer, Adrienne Pigott. This style of music is beginning to grow on me!

Moving across the pond to the US I came across this one from Denise Jordan Finley:

That is from an album called Solstice. According to her bio Denise is very much involved with the church, so I think it would be wrong to describe her as ‘pagan,’ but this illustrates well for me how inter-related these apparently different sets of beliefs actually are. And her voice is a thing of beauty, putting me in mind of Jacqui McShee, of Pentangle – in my eyes, that is high praise!

My final selection takes us slightly further north into Canada. The Wyrd Sisters are very much under the radar, selling albums direct from their website and at live shows, festivals etc. The song features on Leave A Little Light, the first of their six albums, all of which were issued independently and seem to be unavailable except via their website. Again, like Denise Finley, I’m not sure that they are fully into the pagan tradition, but the lyrics of this ‘carole’ very much are:

That’s my final selection for this dip into the hitherto unknown – to me, at any rate.  I recognise that this has been a superficial introduction to some music which is representative of customs going back thousands of years, but I wanted to give you a taste of what I had found, and to encourage you to think about the meaning of Yule. As I have said, I have only just got going with this style of music, and have no doubt that someone more versed in it would ridicule my lack of knowledge. But it interests me, and has broadened my musical horizon, and that for me is no bad thing. I hope you have enjoyed this too, and that you also will follow it further: I suspect that we have much to learn. And if you have more than my limited knowledge do please comment and share it.

See you again on Christmas Day, for my final collection of seasonal songs.

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