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Watching The Wheels

February 8, 2017 37 comments

I seem to have lost a month. How careless of me! As you may have spotted from the recent hiatus, I’ve been ill and just didn’t feel up to blogging. They told me the virus would take 6 weeks to get out of my system – and they were right!

Firstly, I’d like to thank all of you who have wished me well, both here and on Facebook. Good blogging friends are irreplaceable! Also, a huge ‘thank you’ to everyone who has visited my blog while I’ve been absent. I’ve been stunned by the levels of views, likes, comments and new follows even at a time where I haven’t given you anything new.

So, what have I been doing? The short answer is….not much, if I’m honest. In the early stages the viral infection caused me so much pain and soreness that I didn’t feel like doing anything. I then got into a routine of watching far more daytime TV than is good for anyone’s sanity! If the programmes don’t get to you the adverts will – what exactly does it mean to be ‘so moneysupermarket’ anyway, other than being a total moron behaving inappropriately? But mostly I’ve been a watcher of life and events as they have been unfolding: that poses risks to our sanity too!

We are living in strange, unsettling times. I wrote a piece some months ago about politicians’ need to tell lies to get what they want. Recent events, particularly in the US, have shown how spectacularly I underestimated their capacity for untruths. Or ‘alternative facts’ as we are now informed they should be called. And it seems I was wrong to hope that the Orange One would tone down his views after being elected. But he had record crowds for his inauguration, everyone loves his executive orders, the protests against his ‘it isn’t a Muslim ban’ are orchestrated by paid stooges, so all is going swimmingly well, isn’t it!

One thing I haven’t done during my absence is watch any so-called ‘reality TV,’ as these programmes bear no relation to any form of real life that I know or would want to be a part of. Even the names can be misleading: be honest, how many of the participants in the recent series of ‘Celebrity’ Big Brother had you heard of? It’s not as though anyone from a reality show has ever gone on to succeed at anything in real life, is it? Oh, wait……. It would appear that the American people have elected as their President (or POTUS45 as he is known) the former host of their version of the Apprentice. Please, UK, don’t even think about doing the equivalent of that here! The thought of Lord Sugar running this country fills me with almost as much dread as the thought of the Orange One on his mission to destroy the world in four years or less. And a quick aside: why do they call him POTUS45 yet they try to give the Superbowl a touch of class by listing it with Roman numerals, i.e. Superbowl LI? Shouldn’t they try to give their President some class too? POTUS VL has a certain ring to it, I think. But then again, no matter how hard you polish a turd it’s still a turd…. although he may have given some meaning to what I think it means to be ‘so moneysupermarket’ – see above for the definition!

There have been some good points in my recent absence, though, in respect of this blog. My post Mental Health Matters seems to have taken off like none of my posts has ever done before. I wrote it 4 months ago and it is still receiving ‘likes’ on an almost daily basis – over 90 now. I’m grateful to all of you for this, as it is an important issue. I now have over 500 followers for this blog, and more are joining every day – again, my thanks to you all! This has encouraged me to keep writing about the topic which seems to be attracting most of you – mental health – particularly since the UK Government’s recent announcement of more support for mental health treatments. A post on that will follow in the not too distant future. Spoiler alert: I’m not convinced by them!

My Facebook friends will have noticed that I have been sharing many more political posts recently. No one has unfriended me yet, but I suspect that some may have hit the ‘mute’ button! Taking time out to become an observer of life has filled me with many fears for our country – Brexit means being a poorer relation with a totally uncertain future – and for the world as a whole. Can any of us sleep soundly knowing that the nuclear codes are in the very small hands of a petulant, thin-skinned, childish, bullying tyrant who clearly hasn’t the slightest clue what his new job actually means? In my own small way I’m trying to do my bit against him – I’ve followed him on Twitter and have taken to retweeting his comments with my own added. I don’t know if this will work, but I’m hoping he blocks me as I could wear that as a badge of honour!

I chose the title for this piece from a song by a man who was sufficiently committed to stand up and protest for what he believed in. The anti-Trump protest movement in the US and around the world needs to keep doing the same, or we’ll be watching the wheels fall off, not go round:

I’m off to catch up on all your blogs – I’ve missed a lot in the past month or so! See you again soon.

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#SaturdaySongs No.7 – Every December Sky

December 3, 2016 27 comments

As we move into December I thought I’d devote my #SaturdaySongs this month to the month itself and to Christmas. I love this time of year, and always have done ever since I was a child. Call me naïve but I really believe that there is an added warmth to human spirit in this month, probably as a counter to the falling temperatures! I’ve often posted in previous years, showing videos of favourite Christmas songs and my own reviews of that year’s crop of Christmas TV ads. No ads this year though: I haven’t yet seen one that I like and I wouldn’t want to fill a post with expletives! But I may be posting a few more Christmas songs – possibly on days other than Saturdays too!

My first December choice is this one:

In this country Beth Nielsen Chapman is sadly underrated, but she has written some of the most beautiful songs of the past 20 years. This one was on her 2002 album Deeper Still. To my shame I’d not heard of her before but was introduced to her music, as with so many other artists, by the national treasure that is Bob Harris – Whispering Bob, as he has been known since his early 70s days on the Old Grey Whistle Test TV show. In the early 00s his weekly show on BBC Radio 2 ran from 10pm till 1am on a Saturday evening, and as I was often engaged in Dad’s Taxi duties at that time I managed to listen to quite a lot of them. So it was on a December evening in 2002 (21st December, to be precise) when I was sitting in my car, in the car park of the pub/restaurant where my older daughter had a Saturday job as a waitress. Bob played this and something about the beauty of the song, blended with a cold, clear, frosty night, entranced me from the outset. I bought the album, which remains a favourite to this day, along with many other of Beth’s releases. The male voice, by the way, is John Prine, whose music also deserves more attention than it receives.

img_1276Continuing the Bob Harris connection of this song for me, fast forward 9 years to 2011. I had been diagnosed with depression in October of that year, and was finding it difficult to do the basic daily stuff. I’m still not sure how I did it but I tweeted Bob a request that he play this song on his Saturday night programme. By then the BBC had shunted him back to a midnight-3am slot and, as luck would have it, in 2011 these were the first three hours of Christmas Day. Bob had put out a call on Twitter for suggestions for music for his programme, and took the trouble to reply to my slightly cheeky tweet – I promised I’d listen to the show if he played this – with the words ‘Deal! Beth’s in!’

We both kept our promise, as you can see from the screenshot from his amazing website. I listened and enjoyed three hours of magical music, and somehow the restorative powers of music helped me get through a difficult time. It is no coincidence that music is used as a therapy in mental health treatments: in addition to entertaining us it can do so much to help our mood. Like many of Beth’s songs, this one contains a real message of hope, and that is what I think I took from it, even on the first listen. I hope you like it as much as I do.

New Beginnings?

December 30, 2015 11 comments

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!

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