Blogging


I was recently nominated for ‘The blogger recognition award‘; I have never ‘accepted’ such awards because I’ve seen they can get out of hand and usually require ‘inflicting’ them on a number of other bloggers. However, though I cannot accept this one because I cannot bring myself to meet the first condition, to nominate 15 others bloggers for it (think of chain letters – 15×15=225 x15=3,375) and thus cannot say something about each blog nominated, another ‘condition’. However, I am going to take the opportunity to fulfil some other conditions, the first of which is to thank the nominator and give a link to their blog.

Kristina Steiner

So, thank you sincerely to Kristina Steiner (click her name to go to her blog) who I came to know recently when she gave a ‘like’ on a post of mine, subsequently finding that she was Slovenian, a teacher of English (as I have been) and had recently (one year ago) published a book. One of the things I love about blogging, the most loved thing after providing an outlet for an urge to write, is discovering new ‘friends’ – often in other parts of the world and in completely different cultures – when they put a ‘like’ on a post. I like to think that Kristina has already become a friend.

I’m saying no more about the novel, entitled ‘Equinox‘, publicly other than to say it has many surprising similarities (yet some big differences) to the longest story I’ve ever written but nowhere near a novel (still in progress – see my post of 2 April). I bought Kristina’s book and finished reading it a day ago. I’ve already commented to Kristina privately and will do so more. You can buy it on Amazon – a Kindle version is very cheap. 

The second requirement is to write this post and show the award. I don’t mind doing that.

How I started blogging

Third is to say how my blog started. That’s easy but may seem a little odd (but I am, I’m told!). I created the blog in 2008, four years after returning to the UK after 11.1/2 years in Romania – most of the time as a volunteer – because although I was writing a lot in PR work positions at that time I wasn’t writing everything I really wanted to write about. However, I did not start blogging on it until four years later when my frustration with British politics, and what British society had become in my absence, boiled over. However, I foresaw that this alone wouldn’t keep my writing urges satisfied for long when I created the blog, so gave it a subtitle of ‘A view from Yorkshire, about anything’, so breaking a basic rule if you want to collect a lot of followers: have a single theme. I never did intend to post every day, another advice for collecting a lot of followers, only when I wanted to get something out of my system. There have also been long gaps due to some serious health problems.

Two pieces of advice

Another ‘condition’ is to give two pieces of advice to new bloggers. I wouldn’t usually be so presumptious but:

I would say always follow up a ‘like’ on your posts, even if only to go to have a look at the ‘liker’s’ blog; in my opinion it’s just polite, something that is sadly much missing from society today. It seems to me that the easier communication has become the less people communicate in any meaningful way (Facebook, which I dislike, being a prime example). You will not always find the blog interesting; I often put a ‘like’ on a blog that I would not want to ‘follow’ as the theme is not of general interest to me but that particular post is. On the other hand, you will find many new ‘friends’ in many different cultures.

My second piece of advice is do not get too hung up on posting frequently, or even regularly. This is against WordPress advice and will mean your followers will build up only slowly. Post when you want, or need, to say something. I find that if something is bugging me it helps to write it down and get it out there; whether anyone reads it, let alone ‘likes’ it, is often irrelevant.

Writing in a foreign language

So, thank you Kristina; I love you already and wish you success with your book and the second which you say you have in the pipeline. I have tremendous admiration for anyone who writes in a foreign language and already follow a number of Romanian bloggers for that reason, even though I read and speak Romanian pretty well. I have special admiration for someone who writes a novel in a foreign language. So, Kristina, I’m delighted that you have already prompted me to learn a little about your country and reading your novel suggested some solutions to difficulties I had encountered in my story. It is a privilege to have begun to know you. Thank you. (more…)

My second passion after music is writing, and a sudden urge to write longer fiction, rather than my usual 100 word stories and haiku, resulted in twelve and a half thousand words in an unfinished story. Attempts at fiction, or poetry, only began in earnest when, a couple of years ago, I was introduced to our then newly-formed local writers’ club. Set a theme at each fortnightly meeting I usually managed to come up with something.

Until that time my real passion had been to write journalistically, more recently mainly by blogging.

The English Patient book cover The detour into fiction may have been halted, hopefully temporarily, by recent events, including reading a novel; my previous experience of it had been only through the film based on it – The English Patient.

The last time I was stopped completely by a novel was when, at 17, I read The Grapes of Wrath for the first time. That time it was the final paragraph (above) which stopped me; I don’t think I spoke for a couple of days – literally.

The English Patient did not stop life in the same way, it just brought my attempts at fiction writing to a halt. I have not yet reached the end; I was towards the end of only the third chapter. Michael Ondaatje seeming to do so easily what I was really struggling with, that combined with another event – or rather non-event – I just lost the motivation to continue. One of the consequences has been a renewed urge to blog more frequently, hence inflicting this on you, my readers.

Cytotoxic

What has cytotoxic to do with this? Well it was just the single word which brought me to a halt when I first encountered it on newly prescribed medication. The word was followed by ‘handle carefully’ and entreaties not to handle at all if pregnant. Now, I don’t think I’m pregnant though nothing would surprise me, even a virgin birth! I knew vaguely that the word meant the contents could kill cells. Until now, far from killing me it seems to be giving me a new lease of life so in this case it’s a single word which brought about a change.

I could become a thoroughly bad girl.

I have my own little tradition for 8 MarchInternational Women’s Day (but first encountered as simply ‘women’s day’ in Romania). I try to do a post about women, remarkable (aren’t they all?), undervalued or oppressed, on this day.

Remarkable

I have several in this first category close to home in our local writers’ club (see below), all with outstanding talent, and at least one in Romania who I’ll mention though there are far too many to mention individually – just look at the bloggers I follow, some of them as young as in their teens!

I’ll try to mention some remarkable women below. As a start I’ll just mention two most influential for me: my grandmother, an unmarried mother in the early years of the 20th century who managed to regain ‘respect’ and was the most influential adult in my early years; my mother who, as a war widow raised three young boys, I being the eldest, with very little money, despite being seriously ill much of the time.

Of course I have to mention my wife if only because she’s stuck with me for almost 17 years. However, one notable achievement was, arriving in the UK with her English limited to “Hello, I’m Petronela. I don’t speak English”, she obtained the GCSE C grade English, necessary to have her Romanian degree and teaching diploma recognised and gain ‘Qualified Teacher Status’, within a year and has been teaching in UK high schools ever since. Highly valued by her pupils and their parents, getting results from children labelled as under-achievers as well as those in ‘more able’ streams, she’s still undervalued by her current so-called ‘senior management team’. Despite this, while many colleagues have long and frequent absences for ‘stress’, many leaving the profession altogether, she has days absent – for genuine physical maladies – counted on no more than two hands in a decade or more.

I mentioned my grandmother above but I’ll add my ‘honorary grandmother’ (there’s only a year between our ages) who kept some traditions of the Romanian Bucovina alive when oppressed by the ‘Securitate’, secret police, in communist times. She still makes some of the best traditional food I’ve tasted. I’ve blogged about her more than once. Her name – Lucreția Hariuc.

Undervalued

I’ll mention just one group this time – nurses (of course I know there are male nurses), not undervalued I think by most patients but certainly by successive Governments in the UK.

Oppressed

I’ve had a go at two dreadful sources of female oppression in the past: female circumcision and forced marriage, both still rife even in Britain either directly or indirectly, especially in my locality.

I’d add every female in the USA, whether they know it or not, now that Trump is in the White House.

For this year I’ll add another group, just giving you the link here:

https://www.facebook.com/SheDecidesGFI/?pnref=story

Some of my local female heroes

I say ‘female heroes’ because giving them a different title already discriminates in my view. Just to list all the amazing females only in my village would make my post impossibly long so I’m going to mention only the female members  of our local writers’ club, founded and run by, of course, a woman. I cannot do them justice here nor would I wish to choose among them so here they are in alphabetical order (there are a few others in the members’ list but they rarely come to meetings so I don’t know them well enough to comment). Where the members listed have an example of their writing on my village website the name is a link to this.

Becky Bond

Becky, writing with unique humour, even on tragedy, recently threw in her job at the BBC because she was told she could not write anywhere else and went freelance. At the moment she’s my ‘muse’, being instrumental in extending my story-writing from a maximum few hundred words to, currently, over 10,000!

Have a look at her (non WordPress) blog. Often hilarious, always unique.

Ruxandra Busoiu

Certainly a remarkable young (mid 20s) Romanian woman who not only founded and runs our local writers’ club (Writing on the Wharfe) but over the past year has pushed us into involvement in the Ilkley Literature Festival (Fringe) and performing in a local (Ilkley) library. She’s served on a local youth offending team for a while now and is currently seeking to become a magistrate; will the white haired male wrinklies dominating our magistrates’ courts allow it?

Marjorie Hanbidge

Marjorie, before retirement, founded and ran a nursery school in the Wharfe valley. She’s another who usually makes us smile or laugh when she reads her poetry at club meetings. I call her our own Pam Ayres. Despite being very seriously ill just before Christmas and still not fully recovered, she was at the first meeting after Christmas to entertain us.

Kelly McCarthy-Wright

Kelly is a wonderful illustrator. I’ve said that in the unlikely event that I have a book published which requires illustrations, I’ll insist on her being the illustrator. She’s no mean writer either and is another who has the ability to make me laugh with her writing.

Emma Nabarro-Steel

Emma is our singer songwriter. A talented musician on both guitar and piano, she once regarded herself as a jazz singer. Now she says she doesn’t know what she is; all I know is that her songs – music and lyrics – delivered in a wonderfully soothing, soft voice, frequently have my hairs rising and sometimes bring a tear. You can explore, or buy, an album released late last year. She also delivers some super-crafted short stories and poetry, being eg instrumental in my attempt at writing a sonnet.

Catherine Turnbull

Catherine, when she joined the club, was editor of a local newspaper but, victim of the now familiar reorganisations in news media, she crossed the fence and now works in ‘PR’ for a large national organisation. She’s been widely published in the mainstream media and is instrumental in keeping us in touch with writing and learning about writing opportunities, some of which I’ve taken advantage of myself.

Does ‘promoting’ posts on Facebook and/or Twitter do more harm than good? It seems to me that readers often stick a ‘like’ on the FB/twit summary or photo without ever going to read the post.

As I said in a recent post, I’ve become more and more disillusioned with these other two ‘social media’, often superficial and frequently ‘nasty’, and have severely cut my use of them but until recently assumed ‘promoting’ WordPress posts on the other two platforms would be a useful way to reach a wider audience. I’m coming to the conclusion that it is, in fact, counter productive.

Anyone else think the same?

PS. Since writing the post referred to in the link above, sick of Trump’news’ and La La Land bull I now listen to BBC radio in the afternoons far less, and don’t watch BBC tv news at 6pm regularly. So I’m writing far more, including getting back into regular blogging and, more important, reading others’.

The author, Christmas morning 2016, with smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and champagne breakfast.

Breakfast, Christmas 2016

I’ve been following Cristian Mihai’s blog almost since I began blogging approaching five years ago. I was first attracted to it because of the excellent writing in English by a Romanian, having taught English in Romania for around a decade. Since then I’ve found other Romanian blogs written in excellent English covering one or more of the wide diversity of topics you would find on mine, which as followers will know, breaks one or two cardinal rules if you want a lot of followers: posting frequently, even daily, and sticking to a theme. As I also speak and read Romanian pretty well, though I’ve never cracked writing it well, I now follow quite a few Romanian blogs posting in just Romanian or both Romanian and English, though I was sad to see that after my long absences several seem to have ceased to blog.

I used to post fairly frequently, though never every day, but some serious health issues two and a half years ago meant that posting became very erratic, particularly as I was also attempting to keep up with editing, and blogging on, a site I created for the Yorkshire village in which I live.

Our 'music corner' at home, showing tv with Vienna New Year concert 2017, panpipes sitting on the Yamaha 'piano'

Vienna New Year concert 2017

So followers may well find me writing on any one of my major hobbies – music, photography (on film); food and cooking; my efforts at writing fiction or ‘poetry’, as distinct from journalism (which was my profession), and our local writers’ club formed and run here in Wharfedale by a Romanian (!); classic cars particularly my mini and vw camper; and a few others. Or my major hobby-horses which include: discrimination in any of its many forms; the beauty of Romania, it’s people, traditions and food, particularly my love affair with the Bucovina; the idiocy of politicians; my experiences with our superb National Health Service and its staff here in the UK and the determination of those in charge of it and successive Governments to destroy it; habitual use of certain ‘four letter words’; and again, a few others, including scrambled eggs! (I know, overuse of exclamation marks but perhaps merited here 😉 ).

So, you have been warned; I am not taking up Cristian’s reblogging offer to find a lot more followers, but just to give him a bit of support. Hence this introductory blog which will be the first I’ll be asking him to reblog. After that, perhaps a few of my past blog posts then one or two new ones.

This facility must surely be invaluable to those younger than me who wish to get better known and maybe make a bit of money out of their writing so it would be very sad to see it not continue. I have no such ambition. I write because I like to write – that’s all.

diaryRomanians in general are quite superstitious; Petronela is no exception and with that in mind the number 17 has become pretty significant for us. So, she assures me that the coming year will be good for us, because:

  • It’s 2017
  • We live at number 17
  • In Romania we lived at number 17
  • We’ll celebrate our 17th anniversary this year
  • P was born in ’71 (deci 17 reversed!)
  • Whenever P wins on Lotto, only ever a small amount so far, including New Year’s Eve, her selection includes the number 17

There are possibly a few more but I can’t bring them to mind for the moment.

Romania, Romanian doctors and medication

Towards the end of 2016 the year became better as a very poor prognosis for me earlier in the year was revised to be much better and new medication (thank God for the NHS; I’m told it costs around £2,000 a month!) has resulted in me feeling better than for two or three years (though I think that 6 weeks of Romanian summer and food had something to do with that too! I’d add to that, odd as it may seem, ending up in A&E my first day in Romania, when the wonderful Romanian doctors identified why long journeys were causing me a problem, so now I can take preventative steps).

I had a lot of problems getting in the ‘Christmas spirit’ last year, with the slaughter and starvation of children in Syria and the Yemen, to mention just two, let alone the events in France and Germany. I’ll probably return to this in future posts.

To end on a happier note, I can do no better than end with my New Year’s post on what I think is the best social media site (I’m excepting WordPress), blipfoto, when I ‘blipped’ a photo of our ‘musical corner’, where the tv sits. I returned to this wonderful community, which has none of the ‘crap’ so often evident on Facebook, just before Christmas after a long health-enforced absence (it’s based on keeping a photo diary). I don’t privatise my posts on this so if you’re interested you can probably find ‘realgrumpytyke‘ there.

The world stops for Vienna (my 1 January ‘blip’)

vienna99-17

Little did Petronela’s younger sister (RIP) know what she was starting when she insisted that I, then a volunteer teacher staying alone in the school hostel in 1999, be invited to spend New Year’s Day with the family. We watched the Vienna New Year’s concert together, P and I married about 18 months later, and we have watched the Vienna concert together every year since that first time.

The concert combines two of my great loves, so-called ‘classical music’ and classical ballet, a love affair probably begun when I was about 7 years old, being taken to live performances at Bradford’s St. George’s Hall and the Alhambra by my grandmother after years of listening on the ‘steam radio’ and wind-up gramophone.

I think there was less ballet this year but it was great to see flashbacks to earlier years in this year’s concert, including ‘our year’, and to see students from the Vienna State Opera Ballet Academy dancing among the audience.

Thankfully no CCTV in our flat to catch P and I dancing/clapping to the Rodetzsky March in our pyjamas (the concert did start as early as 11.15am!).

PS. I see that unthinking I slipped in a word of ‘the other language’ – for me Romanian – above. I’ll leave it. We often do that in our conversations as I often cannot think quickly of the English word and P cannot think of the Romanian one! So our conversations are often a garble of the two languages. Very confusing for eavesdroppers.

I’ve always disliked Facebook. After resisting it for years I finally succumbed when teenagers in a project I ran in the village where I live said it was the best way to communicate with them. For this I created a private group. Later our local writers’ club created a private FB group and that remains very useful.

I have found limited use of Twitter useful too – letting me know of new posts from blogger friends who do not have a ‘follow’ possibility on their non-Wordpress sites but ‘boost’ their posts on Twitter, and to let friends who do not use WordPress, and do not wish to follow by email, of my new blog posts.

But the love affairs with FB and Twitter, if they ever existed, are over. On the other hand, my love for radio has regrown over the past few months. The following rundown refers, of course, to when I am home alone on weekdays.

Twitter

After signing up to FB and Twitter I was rapidly bombarded by ‘suggestions’  for new groups/people to ‘follow’. In Twitter particularly posts appear regularly from organisations or people I have not ‘chosen’. Almost never are these of interest. On the other hand I did sign up to several favourite musicians but most of these are just promotional rather than containing interesting information. Then there are ‘friends’ who rarely post anything original, they just ‘share’ posts from others. Again, these are rarely of interest. In Twitter particularly annoying are multiple, lots, of posts per day, and many repeats; TES (more sensibly named in the past Times Educational Supplement), which I chose to follow because my wife is a teacher, is really irritating in the respect. It’s no longer followed but I continue to follow GuardianTeach. (In the past I unfollowed quite a few WordPress bloggers who blogged multiple times a day and bunged up my reader and/or inbox).

Facebook

As far as FB is concerned, it seems often to bring out the very worst in people. One recent example was prompted by a mildly contentious post on the WordPress site/blog I do for the village in which I live. It concerned an organisation run by someone with whom I am regularly in contact; in fact only a few days before she had emailed me for some help, which I had given. However, when she did not like the post on the village site did she comment there or approach me directly? No, she posted her objection on a village FB page and, of course, this was followed by a host of FBers joining in.

The village FB page, despite the pinned post asking that posts be limited to “Anything that adds life to the village”, probably has more that do not do this than do, and so many are barely disguised advertising. Many have nothing at all to do with the village other than they may have been written by someone who lives in it but often promote events, and businesses elsewhere (and of course self-promotion is rife). I’m only too aware of the problems for the admin to control this. 

Going to ‘home’, the reader is littered with ‘suggested posts’ and advertisements which are almost never of interest, and other ads are often promoting ‘scams’.

Messenger

Something I do like is ‘Messenger’. Very useful for short communications with friends and ‘friends’, including my wife. It’s become even more useful as free WiFi has been introduced on local bus and train services. The telephone and texting have become almost redundant!

Drastic prune underway

I’m sure that anyone running a business should be using FB and Twitter but I do not so they have become more and more irritating and time wasting. Recently I decided to do a drastic prune of both. I am now in the process reducing ‘follows’ to a small number of friends (in the original sense) and an even smaller number of organisations with which I am involved in some way. I’ve not yet completed the job but already my daily FB and Twitter trawl is quicker and much more relevant. One of the first to go was the village FB group mentioned.

Radio

On the other hand a love of radio way in the past has been revived. It’s not perfect, but so much less superficial than tv. The few minute bites on tv usually leave me with a host of unanswered questions; more often than not a radio programme tackling the same subject satisfies my information need.

Classic FM

Most mornings I have Classic FM on the radio; I deliberately did not say I ‘listen’ to it!’ I have found a perfect low volume at which the music is a pleasant background but the majority of presenters’ interjections can be ignored and, even more important, so can the advertisements the perpetrators of which seem to have the view that the Classic FM audience is either senile or stupid.The station has improved a lot recently by running fewer of the assinine ads and also by airing the musical pot-boilers less frequently and introducing me to many new pieces and even previously unknown, to me, composers. I have found that I have a volume control in my head which I can wind up if something interesting or I wish to stop and listen to comes on.

I find the women presenters far more acceptable than the males with one exception, Aled Jones (and every time his rendition of Handel’s ‘Have you heard my lady’ is aired I wind up my in-ear volume control to experience the exquisite tingling in the spine which his voice and amazingly clear diction always provoke). 

At 1pm I switch to BBC4 to catch up on what to the media is the most important news, following which I get a host of facts and opinions on everything from gardening (even though I do not have a garden) to finances, books, science, medicine and the tortuous thinking behind Round Britain Quiz. I don’t switch off the Archers though I might use the 15min intermission to do some urgent small job. Although the 45 minute drama at 2.15pm is of variable quality it is always interesting to me as a would-be writer. I may make it until 5pm at which point I usually turn my attention to preparing the evening meal, often a bit before that.

Of course another advantage of radio over tv is that you can often do other things while listening, as I usually do. When the radio is in ‘background’ mode this includes writing, as now.

TV

At 6pm on goes the tv for the news as we sit down to our evening meal; I stick with BBC 1 mainly because I like to watch Look North, especially if my three favourite presenters – Lara Rostrom, Charlotte Leeming and Tanya Arnold – are on air. Lara is a fairly recent addition (a year?) but Charlotte and Tanya are old hands and whatever else I just enjoy watching the professionalism of all three (Tanya is a surprise as I’m not generally interested in sport!).

Back to blogging

Culling FB and Twitter should, I hope, allow more opportunity for blogging, both reading blogs – usually so much less superficial than FB and T – and writing them – so much more enjoyable!

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