New Beginnings?

At this time of year everyone takes stock in some way. We look back at the past year and ask ourselves how it was for us, what we liked and didn’t like about it, what we could have done better, and what we have learned to take forward into next year and beyond. In doing so we have plenty of help from the media: those news reviews of the year on TV, the various end of year ‘awards’ pieces so beloved of newspaper and magazine columnists, and the (not) really uplifting montages of those public figures who have died in the past year. I blog with WordPress (other blogging hosts are available) and each year they contribute to this by providing their authors with a brief report on our blogging year. I have now had four of these and have opted to repost them here each year as a kind of record, as much for my own amusement as for yours, but they are building into a little catalogue now. I posted the latest earlier today: here, if you missed it (how could you? where were you!).

Previously I have posted these without really thinking much about what they have meant for my blog but there has been a big change this year, which encouraged me to look more deeply. In both 2013 and 2014 I received over 20,000 page views, whereas in 2015 this reduced to around 11,000. I know I’m not the most regular or consistent of bloggers but I didn’t think I deserved that! But the big numbers hide some important pieces of information for me. Since the early days I have linked my blog to the US site Blogsurfer, which has given me a major part of my traffic: in 2013 and 2014 it accounted for around 17,000 page views each year. But 2015 has seen a massive decline in these numbers, and it has only produced around 4,000 views. Turning that around gives me a large increase – from 3,000 to 7,000 – in non-Blogsurfer traffic. I have no idea why Blogsurfer has dropped off, although there have been several occasions when the site has been down, but these wouldn’t account for that much difference. I can only assume that the user numbers for the site as a whole have fallen, or that its users are fed up with me! The other piece of data that is very important to me is the actual number of blog followers. The figure shown here includes all of the ways in which I link my posts, including Twitter, which is the biggest by a distance. This masks the actual number of followers who have chosen to read what I write. As of today these reached 200, so thank you everyone. Looking back, 34 of those have joined since I started this year’s #NaBloPoMo, which makes my stated decision not to take part in this again in 2016 possibly short-sighted!

How to draw attention to yourself!
How to draw attention to yourself!
I have enjoyed much more interaction around my posts recently, which is hugely encouraging. There is nothing better for a blogger than to know that someone has read a piece, been interested by it and has felt something in it to prompt a comment. If we’re honest, writing a blog would be pretty pointless if we only had family and pets as readers, wouldn’t it! I’ve said before that I am planning some changes for my blog, and I intend to post more on mental health and retirement issues. But the past two months have shown me that I mustn’t do that at the expense of the occasional ramblings which seem to strike a chord with you. So you will still be entertained (?) by my odd thoughts on aspects of life, and by my selections of music and videos.

A fellow blogger made the point to me that her WordPress review told her that people were still reading her older posts and that she should do something about this. My reply was that the same thing happens to me and I am happy to see it. I have a number of posts that I still enjoy seeing again when I look through my back catalogue – some of which I have updated and recycled when the mood took me. In 2013 I posted No Sex Please, We’re British in response to one of WordPress’ daily prompts, and that is one of my most read posts of 2015. Tagging a post with ‘sex’ is a good way of drawing attention from search engines – and of instantly disappointing people!

My Facebook post - click to enlarge
My Facebook post – click to enlarge
The post from this year which meant most to me was Don’t Give Up, which marked my coming off anti-depressants after four years. This attracted a lot of likes and comments, both here and on Facebook, some of those from people who have been with me for the journey since I was first diagnosed with depression and then, a year on, from when I started this blog. I may post all sorts of other things but at the heart of what I’m doing here is my passion for supporting those who have mental illness, in the hope that in my own small way I can offer them some support and help remove the stigma that still, sadly, attach to those of us who have ever been diagnosed with such an illness. I suffered this again this year, from a now ex-friend who should have known better than to judge me. Wrongly, as it turned out. Her loss though, not mine. This is why I have called this post New Beginnings? – that question mark is very important, as recent followers may not be aware of this, and what I will be doing in 2016 may seem new to them. But for me it is a continuation of what I set out to do.

I have one final and very personal thought from 2015. When I started this blog it was at the instigation of my counsellor, who wanted me to turn what I had been writing for him as part of our therapy sessions into a blog, for others to read. At around the time that I was going through this I met someone via Twitter and we became good friends. She was an amazingly creative and funny person, who had suffered much more than her fair share of the horrible things that life can throw at us, but bore it all with wit, courage, charm and determination. She was the most wonderfully supportive follower of my blog, from when it first started, and we used to chat for hours about anything and everything. Throughout this period she was ill and being occasionally hospitalised, and this took a turn for the worse when she was diagnosed with cancer. But she recovered – so typical of her! Then life played its last and most cruel trick. Within weeks of being given the all clear she began to suffer debilitating migraines, which turned out to be brain cancer. Sadly, this was one battle too many, even for her, and she was taken from us in July. I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, but if I did the one for this blog would be to honour her memory and the support she gave me by doing more to support others. I am just one small cog in the great scheme of things but if I can help one person in her memory I will feel I have done a very little towards that. Cyd, I owe you that for your friendship and support.

I hope you will stay with me for the ride. Happy New Year!

It’s Over!

So it’s 30 November, the last day of #NaBloPoMo. This is the second year I’ve committed to posting every day in November and, unless anything changes my mind in the next 11 months, it will be the last time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I haven’t enjoyed it but for someone like me who doesn’t post to any regular frequency this has been a real challenge. I’ve embraced that challenge and hope that I have published a range of posts that give you an idea of what interests and concerns me, but I want to return now to what passes for me as normality.

Looking back over the past 29 days there have been many moments for me to enjoy, not least that there are now a number of people following my blog who weren’t doing so before. I’m following most of theirs too, and the variety of their content has been a welcome addition to my daily reading. As a very amateur blogger I always appreciate it when someone takes the time to read my ramblings, and ‘likes’ and favourable comments are even better (hint!). That strange, amorphous being that is known as the blogging community (Blogworld? Blogosphere? Blogiverse?) is a wonderful place and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to broaden their horizons, both as a reader and a writer. It gives everyone a voice, in a way that wasn’t possible before the explosion of the internet into our lives some twenty or so years ago. There are many bad things about the internet but I believe that the good far outweighs these. The fact that you are here, reading this, suggests to me that you would agree with this.

Two of my most read, liked and commented posts of the past month were Writing, For Fun and Writing, For More Than Fun. In these, I mentioned my future plans for this blog and my writing in general. The main reason for not wanting to commit myself to #NaBloPoMo again is that I feel very strongly about where I want to take this, and the past month has been a distraction from that. An enjoyable one, undoubtedly, but writing and publishing every day has left me feeling a little drained of enthusiasm for the work I need to do to achieve my goals. So, you heard it here first: here’s the plan…….

December starts tomorrow. This is my favourite month of the whole year, as it is the beginning of the Christmas season for me. I’m not big on decorations, which is just as well as I don’t have room for a tree, but I’ve always loved the anticipation of Christmas, the special feeling that seems to embrace us, and I take delight in attempting to persuade myself out of my everyday agnosticism. Up to and including Christmas Day I’m going to do a number of themed posts, of a largely secular nature. At present, this looks like being either four or five posts, and I don’t have any plans to publish about anything else in this period. This will give me some time to work on the changes I want to make to the look and format of the blog, in readiness for the more concentrated focus I want to give to mental health and retirement matters. The intention is to go live with this in January, assuming I get my act together, that is!

I hope you’ll stick with me for this, and will enjoy what I do as part of your pre-Christmas period. And you are cordially invited to join me on Twitter (@clivechip), Instagram (clivechip) or even become a Facebook friend (Clive Pilcher – I use my proper name for that!). If you do, you’ll see my fourth annual Clivechip Advent Calendar (patent pending 🙂 ), where I post a picture a day to amuse and entertain you. I’ll be adding my new #ChristmasSongADay to this as well: I’ll be sharing some of my favourite Christmas songs, as we should all have a good singsong this month! I hope to see you in one or more of these places.

A final word on #NaBloPoMo. One thing I have so far resisted is to use any of the blogging prompts provided by WordPress, my regular blogging provider, and BlogHer, who run the whole #NaBloPoMo shebang. I guess it’s better late than never, so I’m going to respond to today’s BlogHer prompt, which is:

What do you like to do to celebrate an accomplishment?

I’ll admit to not really understanding how BlogHer works. Apparently, when you ‘save’ a post it interprets that as ‘publish now, and be damned!’ And despite having linked my blog to their site I don’t seem to see my posts appearing anywhere in their collective pages. Oh well, you live and learn! Thank you BlogHer, but I’ll stick with what I know best – and what doesn’t have a sexist name! Anyway, ranting aside, my celebration for having fought my way through the blogging minefield for November is to put my feet up and settle down with one of these:

Creative-Teapots-14I’m so rock ‘n’ roll!

150 = 1865

Just over a year ago, I published my 100th post on this blog, which I celebrated in suitably withdrawn style with this post. Today I reach my 150th post and again felt the need to mark my personal milestone. Stretching credibility to its extreme I decided to do this by pretending that this was actually the 150th anniversary of my blog starting, i.e. that I had begun this in 1865. Stick with me! I’ve always had an interest in history, so I wanted to see what was happening in 1865, what kind of world this blog would have launched into, if that had been technically possible. Yes I know I’m stretching reality a little here, but it’s my blog so I can do what I like, right? So, tonight I’m going to party like it’s 1865….

Viscount Palmerston

Being British I’m going to concentrate mostly on what happened here, although 1865 was a momentous year in American history so that will get an honourable mention too. The first thing that struck me about the year was that we had two Prime Ministers. Nothing unusual about that, except that the first one died in office, which doesn’t happen every year! The two were Viscount Palmerston, who was succeeded by Lord John Russell. Politics in 1865 hadn’t really opened up to the plebs, had they! But what is, for me, most notable is that both of these were Liberals. Yes, not just one but two Liberal Prime Ministers in the same year. Given their current representation of just 8 MPs out of 650 it may take a while before that can happen again!

In terms of social history, 1865 really was another age! It was the year that saw the first speed limits introduced – 2mph in towns and 4mph in the countryside. Wow! Elizabeth Jumbo_poster_1Garrett Anderson graduated as the first female doctor in the UK, a notable victory for glass ceiling breakages. A new Poor Law Act improved conditions in workhouses. The Salvation Army was formed. And Jumbo, an African elephant, came to live in London Zoo and was a huge attraction to a populace who had heard the explorers’ stories and seen line drawings, but could never have imagined what such an animal really looked like. They didn’t have television to show them!

In the world of science and technology, this was the year that Joseph Lister discovered the sterilising effects of carbolic acid, the Crossness Pumping Station opened – a major part of the newly installed sewage system for London. Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one! On another forward-looking note, the SS Great Eastern set off on a voyage to lay transatlantic telegraph cable, an early development in the world of mass communication whose importance cannot be understated. The year also saw important developments in the field of electromagnetics and the first modern publication on the theory of eugenics, which became a kind of forerunner of Hitler’s master race theory. In literature, Charles Dickens published Our Mutual Friend, having earlier in the year survived a major train crash that killed 10 people, and Lewis Carroll published Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland.

Tinsley Lindley
Tinsley Lindley

The year also saw the usual crop of  notable births and deaths. Among those who died were Mrs Beeton, the Nigella Lawson of her day, and the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell. The future King George V was born in 1865, as were the writer Rudyard Kipling and the famous nurse Edith Cavell. But I’m going to close the British part of my look back to 1865 by marking the birth of the rather beautifully named Tinsley Lindley. It’s alright, I’d never heard of him either! But his story is so quaint and so typically British I just had to share it! By profession Lindley was a barrister, but I won’t hold that against him. His claim to fame is that he was a footballer, who at one time held the scoring record for England in international matches: 14 goals in just 13 games. He was a centre forward who, because of his career, never became a professional footballer. The thing that really got my attention was that he hated the idea of football boots, which he believed slowed him down as they were too heavy for him. So he played in his everyday shoes! Isn’t that simply wonderful? Somehow, I can’t imagine Wayne Rooney playing in ordinary shoes nowadays, assuming he owns any, that is.

Booth Shoots Lincoln
Booth Shoots Lincoln

1865 was a momentous year in America, too. It was dominated by the Civil War, which came to an end after four years of fighting that cost around 600,000 lives. With the end of the Civil War came the abolition of slavery, which had until then been legal in the southern states. The US also had a change of leader, Andrew Johnson becoming the 17th President of the United States after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth, who was later caught and killed, as were four co-conspirators. The year also saw what has since been recognised as the first quick draw shootout, in which Wild Bill Hickok shot Little Dave Tutt over a poker debt. It was also the year in which the US Secret Service and the Ku Klux Klan were formed. Sorry, America, I really have tried to find good things but it isn’t easy!

I’m no historian, so I’ll leave it at this. Of course I recognise that the world is much bigger than just Britain and the US, but I’m just making a small selection of events to give a feel for how different things were back then and, sadly, in the case of wars and violent deaths how little has changed in some respects. As I said at the outset, I’ve chosen this way to mark my 150th post. If anyone has read all 150 I salute you!