Not Going Anywhere

Before going on something of a blogging sabbatical for a few days – an attempt to break the “must post every day” idiocy – I thought it might be a good idea to re-iterate; yes, I’m posting the blog at more than one place, and no, I’m not leaving anywhere (yet).

I’ve often posted to more than one place in the past. Back in the day, blogs only existed at other places. That probably makes no sense to anybody that started blogging in the last decade, so I should perhaps elaborate. Back when blogging first started, there were no platforms. Nobody could publish your blog for you. The only option was to create your own website, and go hunting around the web to find other people that had done something similar. The earliest iterations of Yahoo, Altavista, Lycos, and the various other search engines helped you find other bloggers, because they curated the web – the early search engines were not entirely machine generated.

I can still remember visiting a computer store years ago and seeing a yellow-pages of the internet – a printed directory of websites worth visiting.


Back in the day – before the big blogging platforms such as WordPress, Blogger and Tumblr arrived, the only way to post to blogs was to create pages, and the only way to follow blogs was to visit them. To help you do that, people would commonly have both a “Blogroll” page – listing blogs they liked, and a “Guestbook” page – inviting others to post a “hi, I visited!” message. That was it. Nothing more, nothing less. In the early days the world wide web was a very much more belt-and-braces affair, where people invented it as they went along – a bit like Minecraft I suppose.

Over time, various programmed solutions came about to make blogging easier; where you could write a post and pubish it, and the website built itself (versus you creating a new page for every post). The programmed solutions brought comments, and a wonderful idea called RSS (really simple syndication). RSS allowed you to run a piece of software called an “RSS aggregator”, that would visit the blogs you liked one after another, and pull all of their posts together into one long stream. These days the most iteration of that idea is called Feedly, and lives online too.

After a while, rather than helping people build their own self-contained blogs, first Blogger, and then LiveJournal, Vox, Yahoo 360, TypePad, MySpace, WordPress and numerous others took it upon themselves to do the back-end wizardry for you, and let you get on with the writing part – you didn’t need to look after anything. And that’s where it all starts to get a bit sketchy. Each and every “platform” that offered to help became incompatible with each and every other platform. Each platform offered features that only worked on that platform – and so the walled gardens I’ve written about in the past came about. People fell into communities within each “world” , and stopped crossing paths with one another – mostly because it was inconvenient.

For a modern example, try adding a Blogger RSS feed to WordPress reader. You can see the posts, but you can’t comment unless you visit the blog.

So (he says, after a very long and twisting story), maybe my attempts to keep WordPress and Tumblr at arms length are because I remember how blogs were once upon a time – that there were no walls – that with a little effort, everybody could find everybody else if they looked. And that’s why I’m trying out substack. I’m putting my writing “somewhere else” – outside of the walled gardens. Somewhere people can visit if they choose to that doesn’t require an account to write a comment, or to like a post (substack has no comments or likes).

There’s another thought about having no comments on a blog – you can express your thoughts without fear of reprisals from keyboard warriors. Your words remain your own, without being tainted by another. The other person can of course publish their own words on a subject, but they cannot hijack your “place”, if that makes sense – to reach eyeballs (if that’s what they want to do) they will have to do it themselves. It’s a better kind of world in my opinion. You might wonder how friends might express support or cameraderie if there are no comments – that’s why you list an email address on your about page.

Anyway. Last “anyway”, honest…

It’s lunchtime, and I’ve probably written far too much. I’ll leave it there for the moment.


Rediscovering the Tribe

The last few days have served as a reminder of how wonderful the blogging tribe has become. I’m not talking about the niche food, fashion, or lifestyle bloggers – they can go fall off their marketing tricycle and graze their knees – I’m talking about those of us that have been committing our daily stories to the keyboard for the last twenty years.

The term “blogger” means many things to many people. By turns we can be autobiographers, citizen journalists, soap-box campaigners, armchair psychologists, social commentators, and even historians. The best of us don’t push a brand, a product, or a way to live a life – we tell our own story.

I have a quote by Norah Ephron printed on a piece of paper above my desk:

One of the most delicious things about the profoundly parasitical world of blogs is that you don’t have to have anything much to say. Or you just have to have a little tiny thing to say. You just might want to say hello. I’m here. And by the way. On the other hand. Nevertheless. Did you see this? Whatever. A blog is sort of like an exhale. What you hope is that whatever you’re saying is true for about as long as you’re saying it. Even if it’s not much.

She had such a way with words.

I sometimes notice others striving to emulate the style of their literary heroes – I’ve never done that. I tend to think we should find our own way – find our own voice. While it’s true that reading influences the style and selection of words we write, I have always admired those that say more with less.

I’ve distracted myself from the original intent of this post. It’s a skill. I’m good at it. It ranks right up there with walking into the kitchen to make a coffee, and clearing the sink, emptying the dishwasher, and taking the recycling out before switching the kettle on.

The tribe. Us. The writers.

We may be quiet, and we may be passed over by many, but we are here, we are numerous, and we persist. We will continue to wield our words against the world that shapes us, and we will continue to find each other at the most unlikely times, and in the most unexpected places.

We are bloggers.


St George and the Dragon

Today is “St George’s Day” in the UK. It’s not a national holiday, and is only marked in-so-much that most calendars have it marked in small-print. Quite how the entire country has entwined the story into the national identity and flag is something of a mystery.

While at infant school I remember doing a project on it – which probably had more to do with it being an “easy win” for the teachers. Kids love dragons, and the clue is in the title of the myth – “St George and the Dragon”.

Needless to say, there are thousands of public houses up and down the British isles called “The George and Dragon”.

Isn’t it amazing how an entirely mythical event – no more true than King Arthur, Camelot, Merlin, or any of that codswallop – is still marked, nearly two thousand years after it’s supposed to have happened?

Wikipedia tells us the following about the highly doubtful events that happened at some point prior to the year 303:

The legend of Saint George and the Dragon tells of Saint George (died 303) taming and slaying a dragon that demanded human sacrifices.The story goes that the dragon originally exhorted tribute from the villagers. When they ran out of livestock and trinkets for the dragon, they started giving up a human tribute once a year. This was acceptable to the villagers until a well-loved princess was chosen as the next offering. The saint thereupon rescues the princess chosen as the next offering. The narrative was first set in Cappadocia in the earliest sources of the 11th and 12th centuries, but transferred to Libya in the 13th-century “Golden Legend”.

Utter, utter, utter bollocks.

So we have a dragon that not only eats people, but also exhorts things from people. No doubt the dragon does this by sitting down and having a frank discussion with them? Or maybe it writes increasingly irate letters before turning up, knife and fork in hand ?

I imagine my school-project drawing of St George killing the dragon probably involved quite a lot of red crayon, and screaming from a lady tied to a tree. Knowing my early artistic endeavours, there were probably X-Wing fighters in the sky overhead too.


Witnessing History

I stayed up most of last night watching history unfold on the other side of the world – watching what surely must be the end of Donald Trump. Now I wonder what will come of the people that listen to him, follow him, and are inspired by him.

I’m only really connected to the unfolding news through the wonderful people I know that live in America. I’ve come to know their various hopes and dreams, and witnessed their frustrations over the past few years.

It’s a strange experience – being on the outside, looking in.

It occurs to me that we are all re-writing our rule books at the moment – or at least the rule books we hope most people follow – the rule books that govern the things we do, the things we don’t do, and the things we never even contemplate doing.

People are quick to blame social networks as an “enabler”. While the algorithmic timeline has played a part in surrounding us with, and amplifying concordant views, I can’t help feeling that most blame is often employed to shirk responsibility.

There is too much entitlement, ignorance, and apathy in the world at the moment. If everybody cared a little more, and had the courage to stand up for what’s right a little more often, the world would be a very different place.


Nineteen Years

Almost exactly nineteen years ago, in about half an hour if memory serves, I stood at the business end of a church in Oxfordshire, waiting for the future Mrs Beckett to arrive. Several aunts stood outside waiting for a Rolls Royce to pull up, and didn’t quite know what to tell anybody when it drove straight past. It turned out the driver had just missed the church (it was very small, and my other half talks a lot).

An hour or so later – after forcing us through the rigmarole that Churches do (this was years before I stopped sitting on the fence, and stopped believing in any of it), I turned around and was quite shocked. While you’re facing the vicar, who is invariably quoting chapter and verse and being very solemn and sensible, you tend to forget that most of your family and friends are right behind you.

I’m just trying to think what we have spent the last nineteen years doing since. Before children arrived in our lives we visited quite a few places around the world – France, Tunisia, Corsica, Spain, North America, Turkey. We also visited the various corners of the United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and various places around England.

A little over fifteen years ago we started thinking about children and didn’t get very far. After a long and tortuous story that I won’t get into in this post, we finally became parents about twelve years ago – going from zero to three children overnight (four if you inclulde me as a child too). Suddenly I found myself living in a house with four women. Somehow I’m still lucid enough to tell the tale.

Twelve years on and the children are almost grown – leaving schools and colleges, getting jobs, and beginning to find their way in the world. I have no doubt their directions will vary, and that we’ll need to continually remind them that it really doesn’t matter where you’re going, how you get there, or when you get there – as long as you’re going somewhere that you’re not too unhappy about.

Has it all been perfect? Of course not. Has it always been fun? Hell no. Do I regret anything? Of course. Would I actually change anything though? No. I tend to believe we are a product of our journey – of the decisions we make, the things we do, the things we don’t do, successes, failures, and so on. Without the journey we have no story to tell – no wisdom to inform what we might do next.

Maybe the secret to putting one foot in front of the other is to not be too unhappy about where the next foot is about to land. Everything else follows.


Through Caverns Measureless to Man

The internet came of age when I was an impressionable teen. An infinite rabbit hole, filled with ideas, knowledge, thoughts, idiocy, adventure, and everything in-between. Idealism and optimism convinced us that we might find our tribe somewhere deep in the labyrinth, and forge an escape from the world around us.

I still view the internet in rose tinted glasses.

The beginning of a blog post always seems like an opportunity – an empty page, with limitless possibilities. Words that might agree with somebody somewhere, and build an unlikely connection.

The serendipitous discovery of new writers while on expeditions deep in the catacombs of the internet conjures images of Victorian explorers lowering rowing boats from sailing ships to undiscovered countries.

Call me a fool. I will agree with you.

I choose to see a world full of possibility, friendship, and kindness. I choose to ignore the legions of trolls, soap-box politicians, keyboard warriors, and cancel culture mouthpieces that blight the internet I once knew.

The internet is bigger than any one of us. It will still be here when we are gone. We are assembling a treasure trove for future generations of thoughts, ideas, stories, music, and art. It would be a tremendous shame not to take advantage of it.