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!

69 Months Later

A couple of bloggy things have happened in the past week which have got me thinking about why I’m still doing this. The first was this:

Never in my wildest dreams did I envisage that as many as 70,000 page visits would be made to view my ramblings. Admittedly, in the peak years of 2013 and 2014 the success of BlogSurfer was significant in generating site views, and this has subsequently declined. But nowadays, I get more ‘likes’ and comments for my posts, and this more than compensates for not having the bigger numbers any longer. I’ve never considered myself to be a writer – just someone who dabbles and has taken advantage of the ease with which the interweb permits anyone to make their mark, albeit a very small one. And those interactions make it worthwhile: there is a sense of being part of a community, of belonging, and we all need that in our lives.

The second thing was the annual congratulatory message from WordPress on my ‘anniversary’ which, for some reason, they think falls in June. I know this to be impossible as the chronology just doesn’t work for me. But, as you do, I harboured a tiny doubt that they may be correct after all – I’m approaching 65, I have memory lapses more than I used to – so I thought it worth checking. I couldn’t find anything in my settings that would help, so I resorted to checking my previous posts. The first was made on 2 October 2012, and makes reference to my having set up the blog around six weeks earlier. Now this does indeed fit my memory, so maybe I’m not heading into my dotage just yet! Reading that post again was slightly surreal: I’ve never had an out of body experience but I imagine it may feel something like this. Was that really me? Did I really have the nerve to assume that anyone would want to read anything I wrote, that it would hold any interest for them?

I thought I’d share it again, as very few will ever have seen it. In its unedited glory, here it is:

“Hi!

I’ve had this blog set up for 6 weeks now and have somehow acquired 3 brave followers without having said anything, so I thought it was about time I introduced myself and told you what this is about (cue rapid exit of aforementioned followers!). So, I’m Clive (but you guessed that from the blog’s name, right?). I’m 59 (but only just!), divorced, living solo, and I have two beautiful grown up daughters who are the centre of my world. I work in the NHS, for a large Trust in London, and am planning to retire on my 60th birthday. I love books (on a Kindle), music (folk, rock, Americana, alt-country) both at home and live, I enjoy TV sports, especially football and cricket, and am a long-time supporter of Dover Athletic (home town team) and Spurs (someone has to!). All very ordinary then, so why am I telling you any of this?

Almost exactly a year ago, I was diagnosed with depression, along with a still unspecified sleep problem. This eventually kept me off work for nine months, and I went back in July, part-time working up to full-time after a month. As part of this process I was referred for counselling to help me adjust back into the real world, and I’m about two-thirds of the way through a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This has involved a lot of thinking and writing, in ways I’ve never really done before, about me, my feelings, hopes, self view and the whole experience of the past year. And this will continue into the future – I’m still on a high level of medication, barred from drinking and advised to be careful when driving, either separately or together, and still have big problems sleeping. But my counsellor has said that he finds my writing ‘inspirational’ and has encouraged me to start this blog, both because it will be good therapy for me to open myself up like this, but more importantly because others suffering from the same debilitating illness may see something they recognise in this and will hopefully draw some comfort and encouragement from it.

A subject like this could well be, erm, depressing really. But that’s not my way. I intend to write this from my perspective, of course, and I can’t do that for long before throwing in elements that could generously be considered to be ‘humour.’ In no way would I belittle the subject, I’ve experienced too much for that, but there’s no point doing this if people find it depressing or boring to read. And I’ll go off at tangents along the way too – things which strike me as interesting, usually but not necessarily related to my current experience of being ‘in recovery’ from the illness, which I hope you’ll find interesting too.

Enough for now, I’ll start the real posting soon. In the meantime, the three of you, I’m relying on you to help me spread the word and get me millions of followers. No pressure then! See you again soon.“

That post received a princely 3 ‘likes’ and 4 comments – and 2 of those comments were my own in response to others’ kind words of encouragement! Viewing figures were a little higher than either you or I might have imagined, though:

In those days I was much more active on Twitter than I am now, and had a number of people with whom I had regular twitchats. I imagine that they were prompted by Twitter to read the post though, as I say in it, it was only a brief introduction to what I really regarded as the starting point for this blog: when I posted the three parts of ‘The Story of My Illness’ over consecutive evenings in early November 2012. I know that many of them were ‘eagerly’ awaiting these – impatience was growing among some of them! Viewing stats at the time specifically for each of those posts were 52, 40 and 45 – although, as WordPress users will know, most of our page views become part of the large amorphous mass known rather unhelpfully as ‘Home Page/Archives,’ which doesn’t really permit a true view of the ‘popularity’ of a post, does it? If you haven’t seen those posts before, or want another look, they can be found under ‘My Story’ in the menu at the top of the site. They give you a good idea of where I’m coming from.

To those of you with large, popular blogs, with thousands of regular followers who ‘like’ everything you post, those stats will probably seem pathetically low. But that’s not why I do this. I’m content for this to be a hobby and if people are kind enough to read, like and comment then I’m very grateful for that. It’s not as though I make any money from this, nor would I want to: I’ve had many offers of hosting guest posts from commercial organisations, or of reviewing products in return for freebies, but they were all politely rejected. For me, although it is probably being po-faced to say it, it comes down to a question of integrity. I wouldn’t sell my body for money or trinkets (assuming I could find someone sufficiently desperate to take up the offer) so I don’t see why my words should be any different!

Reading that initial post again has given me several ideas for future posts: some things in my life have changed, some need updating, and as what I’m really doing here is sharing me with you I think you deserve to know. Of course, you’ll have had many clues about what is going on with me from my posts, so you will know that I did indeed retire on my 60th birthday – my thoughts on that are in the menu item ‘Retirement’ and I rather belatedly covered the celebrations in this post – and that I still enjoy my music, for example. But you won’t know that one of the lasting legacies of my long spell of depression is that, while I can cope perfectly well with newspapers and magazines, I have read very few books in my retirement: the powers of concentration just aren’t there any more! Life changes, and we adjust!

You may also have noticed the reference to the blog’s name including my own: when I first started out, with absolutely no experience of the blogworld, I just called this ‘Clive’s Blog.’ It was me, and it seemed to fit! I renamed this after I retired, both to reflect my new status as a gentleman of leisure and also my love of music. In case you don’t recognise the title (how could you not?!) I covered this in the first of my occasional series of #SaturdaySongs.

The main reason for starting this blog was to be supportive of those suffering from mental health issues. Whilst I may have digressed (a lot) from this, it is still a regular underlying theme, and you will see more on it from me in the future. Speaking of which, this is my 298th post and I’ve been thinking of a suitable way to mark the 300 milestone. Keep watching – I hope you like what I’ll be doing for it! And maybe I’ll mark my actual 6th anniversary in some way, too, though I haven’t given that much thought yet: it’s three months away, anything could happen before then!

The underlying message behind this post – yes, there is one, and thank you for getting this far! – is that those two little triggers have got me thinking about why I started blogging and why I still do it. I’m not unique or special, and I suspect you all have a variety of reasons for your blogs. But it is worthwhile taking a step back every once in a while, both to reaffirm our intentions and to confirm that we want still to be doing this. I know about me: how is it for you?