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Why I don’t hate Facebook

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There are a helluva lot of people online writing about how much they hate Facebook. They hate it mainly because they feel it takes up too much of their time; because it can be a risk to personal privacy and because it can be a platform for halfwits of all varieties to publicly demonstrate their idiocy.

It can be all those things of course, but when I read these criticisms of Facebook, a part of my brain is bellowing: “LOOK AT ALL THOSE THINGS. THEY ARE UNDER YOUR CONTROL.”  You don’t have to put your place of work, your home address, your birthday, your mobile number or your bank details on there. You can click a thingy that allows you to review any tagged photos of you before they appear. If you don’t want to have embarrassing photos of yourself in compromising positions appear online, either click the thingy that gets them taken down or don’t allow yourself to get in compromising positions in the first place (at least in public). If your friends are posting moronic things, either unfriend them or hide their posts (why are you friends with morons?). If you don’t want some friends to see things you post, then select the thingy that customises who sees what. Make yourself unsearchable so that employers can’t find you if you’re worried that your Facebook self renders you unemployable. Frankly, I have no sympathy.

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And as for those who, like Janet Street Porter does here, claim that people have Facebook friends as a substitute for real life ones – believe it or not, humans have the phenomenal capacity to both type communications on a social networking platform AND speak real words to each other’s actual flesh faces. I know it seems difficult to believe, but it’s true. “These social networkers”, opines Ms. Street Porter knowledgeably, “may be technologically sophisticated, and yet what they actually communicate is anything but. They spend hours boasting about what they’ve eaten, what they’ve watched on telly and who they fancy. Why do they shirk from real-life encounters?” 

I can’t even begin to unpick the layers of shoddy argument here. It’s just a little ball of stupid. Does she believe that people’s face to face interactions are made up entirely of discussions on Shopenhauer’s investigation of individual motivation or debates about whether Newton or Leibniz was responsible for inventing calculus? Clearly she’s never been on the Redruth bus. And as for her comment on ‘real life’ encounters. Well. I can’t make it work as a deductive syllogism:

  • Some people who like social networking online might shirk from (sic) real life encounters.
  • Kevin is a person who likes social networking online.
  • Therefore Kevin shirks from real-life encounters.

Nope.

And if there are people who are troubled by ‘real life’ encounters, but are comfortable with online ones, in what way is this a bad thing? Surely this gives people some pleasure and a sense of being linked to others that they would otherwise not have? And in what way is Facebook not ‘real life’? Is it because we can select the images and words we project into the world? Can’t we do that in fleshspace also if we have more than a handful of braincells?

I don’t understand why it’s an either/or situation. I have more friends than I can handle in ‘real life’ AND an active Facebook life. Facebook enhances my real life. When I left my job a year or so ago, it was through Facebook that I was able to keep up with the colleagues I loved, almost as if we hadn’t been so rudely separated at all. We could banter online the way we bantered on a daily basis at work and I didn’t feel as bereft as I might have done otherwise. It was through Facebook that we casually arranged days out together and this way we kept up the bonds that I would have been heartbroken to have lost.

But alongside that, I do have friends on Facebook that I have never met, and probably will never meet. These are people who I have encountered in discussion groups or through my blog, etc, and have clicked with because of our shared humour and love of language. Social networking is all about the written word, and I adore the written word. The opportunities for communications of subtlety and hilarity are endless, and participants have time to ponder their answers before they blurt. This often leads to threads of discussion or banter that quite simply delight me.

I didn’t mean this to turn into quite the rant it has, but I have one example I’d like to share, before I shut up, of how Facebook can enhance ‘real life’ friendships. There is one person with whom I’m friends on Facebook that I have known in ‘real life’ since I was about 13. He was one of those very shy people who hang around with a social group, but are too self-conscious to talk much to girls, so remain in the background while the girls are about. Because of this, although I knew him, I didn’t really know him in the way the anti-Facebook people mean when they eulogise ‘real life’ relationships. After knowing him this way for about 25 years, this man and I became Facebook friends and it was a revelation. Because his shyness was sidestepped by communicating only in written language, my friend was able to reveal his actual self. Through a stream of interesting and entertaining discussion I discovered that he is incredibly well-read; a lover of poetry, theatre and literature; knowledgeable on a lot of topics; a member of interesting local history societies and above all, tremendously warm, funny and good with words. We developed a friendship that never could have happened in the much vaunted ‘real life’.

Anyway, what prompted this post was a combination of reading some anti-Facebook stuff, and then logging into Facebook and finding this thread (I’ve edited it as a nod to personal privacy & coherence) that took place in response to my last blog post. It reminded me what I love about Facebook:

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Hayley: Perfect words, Teen machine x

 Tony: Your writing is special. Having two small children myself, I am developing into a full blown plasma globe of anxiety about whether I’m favouring one or the other, whether my actions have inadvertently retarded the development of either, and whether they’ll have to go through any sort of bullying shenanigans that I had to go through. I love them both (although I don’t feel the need to repeatedly state that like some sort of medal of honour on Facebook as per some people) and I want them both to be doctor astronaut train drivers.

Throbbingsof noontide: You can’t possibly do it right. Fact. So just do it with love. Shit. I am turning into a fridge magnet.

Troy: You should employ a person to follow you about with a type-writer and tap out your thoughts. Pay them with the glory of watching art being formed.

Tony: If Wayne Rooney has already had 3 books published by the age of 27, I think we should all accept we’re massive failures and should join some sort of religious cult with a sexy mass suicide orgy ritual thing.

Throbbingsofnoontide: I’m up for that, so long as there’s a tea urn.

Tony: There’ll be a plate of custard creams, bourbon creams, rich tea and dark chocolate digestives at the side. Everyone will also have temporary passes as it’ll be held in a regional business conference centre. Knowledge of Powerpoint 2007 preferred.

Throbbingsofnoontide: We’d have to be grouped according to age, though.

Troy: Start a cult, make your own rules.

 Throbbingsofnoontide: Oh, I thought it was Tony’s cult.

Troy: Tony’s Cult. I like that. In my head, the working title was ‘We’re all shitter than Rooney, so let’s have sex, eat biscuits and die Cult.’ Tony’s Cult has more of a workaday ring to it.

Throbbingsofnoontide: It’s more appropriate to a cult that includes bourbons and Powerpoint.

 Tony: I agree. The burning question though, is should we purchase brand-name biscuits or conserve the Cult’s budget and buy cheaper alternatives from Aldi / Lidl? I also propose that the final slide of the Powerpoint Presentation should be a Risk Assessment of the massive orgy. Hazards I’ve identified to date are:-

- Chafing
– Biscuit crumbs
– Knee Dislocations
– Manual Handling
– Inadvertant Onanism

Troy: Inadvertant Onanism. I wouldn’t get that joke without you, Throbbings. If you’ve taught me one thing, it’s when to laugh at educated masturbation humour.

Joe: Throbbings, I read your very first blog when you posted it and remember thinking, “that was good, I will always read Throbbing’s blogs”. Some time later I read another one, maybe your 11th or something and thought “that was really, really good, why the hell have I not been following these? I’m going to go back and read the ones I missed, and I’ll definitely read them all from now on”. I think this is maybe the fourth or fifth of your blogs I’ve either bothered or remembered to read now and I’ve just spent the last three minutes punching myself in the face. I shudder to think of the amount of hours I’ve wasted doing something not as good as reading your blogs, the exact figure is hard to calculate but it’s somewhere in the region of ‘most hours’.

Throbbingsofnoontide: Troy, I am delighted that you learned something so useful.

 Paddy: This made my ovaries hurt. Love your blog posts. This one in particular.

Throbbingsofnoontide: Making a boy have ovaries is my finest achievement to date.

Troy: Ungraciously knocking the two boys with testicles that you made earlier off the top spot.

 Throbbingsofnoontide: I bought some cheap fingerless gloves in Tesco. They are very nice except they seem to have two tiny woolen testicles attached at each wrist. I do not understand their purpose.

 Troy: Obviously you bought the male pair – how else are gloves to reproduce, if not with miniscule material sex-organs?

Throbbingsofnoontide: Holy shit. I didn’t even know gloves were mammals.

 Joe: For what it’s worth, I agree with Tony, your writing is indeed special. Take this thread for instance, I love the way you’ve effortlessly weaved the characters of Troy, Paddy and Tony into what, on the face of it, seemed like an everyday thrilldramaromcomsciencehorrorporn about a middle-aged woman posting a blog. Very clever writing. Adding me into the mix two-thirds of the way in was a masterstroke, nobody saw me coming. Least of all me. I was like ‘oh, I’m not in this thread’, and then I was like ‘SHIT!!! Yes I am!!”. Reminded me a little of when Kevin Spacey turned out to be Luke Skywalker’s father at the end of “The Sixth Sense”. Brilliant. Criticisms – I thought you could have developed the character of Hayley a little more. I liked her a lot, but was left kinda wondering what was the point of her. Is she some kind of metaphor? I don’t get it. Also, having me analyse the story as part of the story in this bit of the story right here, well it’s amusing and everything in a kind of wry post-modern sort of way but this kind of thing’s been done many times now. Maybe it’s a subtle nod in the direction of Charlie Kauffman but if that’s the case, it needed to be a little more subtle. I dunno, just feels a bit ‘contrived’ to me, that’s all I’m saying. All of this, however, is not to detract from what I think has been one of your finest works to date. I give you a fluffy 9.

Mikey: I agree with Joe’s assessment of the plot to date in this thread but I can’t help feeling that the twist ending of me showing up and complaining about the ending is one of the all-time terrible endings. I mean, it just doesn’t make any sense. What am I even doing here? It’s ridiculous. I’ve had nothing at all to do with the story and suddenly I make a dramatic appearance? Honestly, Throbbings, I know you like to surprise your readers but you’ve really overdone it this time. The character of me has been a big mistake.

Joe: Hmmm….. my first instinct was to agree with you here, Mikey. I did think that. What _are_ you doing here? But then, is it not just possible that we’re both simply missing something really, really clever in Throbbing’s writing? I keep thinking back to that Hayley character. Perhaps you and her are connected in some deeply symbolic way? I have some theories on the subject: 1) You are a ghost. 2) Hayley is a ghost. 3) Hayley is a semi-fictitious character who, you manage to convince the authorities, is the mythical mastermind behind a game in which you were only a pawn, before revealing right at the death that you, in fact, are Hayley and leaving nonchalantly in the back of a limo, or 4) Hayley is your father. I actually think all four of those are possible but we’ll never find out if you keep talking over the ending.

Mikey: I don’t mean to keep talking over the ending, Joe, and I can’t help feeling that Throbbings should have made the character of me someone who _doesn’t_ talk over endings but I see what you mean about there possibly being something that we’ve missed earlier in the thread that would piece everything together. Like the bit where Hayley calls Throbbings, “Teen Machine”. Or the bit where Troy introduces the idea that there might be some Custard Creams available. Is it possible that Throbbings is, like, some kind of biscuit-manufacturing machine? And if so, how does that affect her relationship with Tony? Is it conceivable that Tony is going to turn out to be the same person as Hayley? That would be a good twist. I hope that happens. I also hope that you and I get married in the end.

Joe: I’d like that too, Mikey. I always hope that we get married when we’re in one of Throbbing’s threads together, but it never happens, does it. Usually she just has us waffle on for a bit in a way that clearly amuses both of us but more or less ruins the thread for everyone else, before eventually losing interest and returning somewhat sheepishly to our lexulous games. Do you ever feel like we’re becoming typecast? Don’t get me wrong, Throbbings writes way better dialogue for us than most people do but she still has us playing essentially the same two characters we always play. I sometimes think she could exploit our versatility a little more.

Throbbingsofnoontide: No, you’ve got it all wrong. I intended you to be sort of the Statler and Waldorf of the story. You’re the characters who reflect on what’s going on in the rest of the story. I think I may have made you too introspective; you weren’t supposed to start questioning the nature of your existence OR considering wedlock.

 Joe: Pfft. No-one’s ever going to believe a story in which Mikey and I don’t, at some point, consider wedlock. You can’t re-write the laws of physics.

Mikey: Agree with this webpipe. I enjoy well-written fiction as much as anyone but it has to stay at least within the realms of possibility. A story in which Joe and I appear but don’t actually _get_ married is one thing but one in which we don’t even think about it? I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous.

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So, probably, if you hate Facebook, it’s because you’ve got rubbish friends. I recommend you get some better ones forthwith.

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Oh, and thank you Drew at http://www.toothpastefordinner.com/. I love you a little bit.

 

 

 

 

Freedom of choice isn’t always freedom

My wellies have split, so yesterday I walked Porthtowan beach with my left foot sloshing about in seawater as warm as amniotic fluid. I loved my wellies, and am very sad to have to replace them. Apart from the fact that they are beautiful, what I most loved about them was that I didn’t have to choose them – my mum chose them for me – and I’ve come to realise that I hate making choices.

wellies 3I realised this after spending two hours (possibly more) inspecting wellies online. What a total waste of time; time that I could have spent pinning down where human consciousness stems from or finally sorting out a viable sustainable alternative to oil and thereby saving the world. But instead I spent that precious fraction of my life comparing prices, reviews, aesthetics and practicality of rubber footwear.

In the version of the past that I remember, when one needed wellies, one went to a shoe shop where they stocked one type of welly in a choice of dull green or black. Fancy ones had ‘Dunlop’ written on the side, but that was it. And they cost about £3.99.

Today I discovered that the welly situation in the West is very, very different now. Wellies have spread and mutated and developed all sorts of confusing added extras which resulted in  my total failure to actually buy any. I became overwhelmed and – I admit it – very slightly stressed by all the choices. If there were only dull green or black all-the-same wellies in the world, I would have purchased a pair in about 2 minutes flat and gone about the rest of my day without a care in the world knowing that shortly I would be able to walk the dog without developing Trench Foot. But all this choice leads to brain-addling indecision.

Plain wellies, to be fair, do still exist. Here they are.

basic wellyAnd if I wasn’t a spoilt brat Westerner, I would just buy these and get on with working out if there is a finite upper bound on the multiplicities of the entries greater than 1 in Pascal’s triangle.

But, how can I just contendedly buy those when THESE exist?

N_WELLYPRINT_NAVMULT_A

If I bought these, just looking at them would make me happy every day. But, apart from the fact that they are nearly £30 more than the dull ones, would I feel embarrassed sporting the ‘Joules’ logo on the front of my legs? Probably. Joules is  brand that yells “I AM QUIRKY MIDDLE CLASS! I RECYCLE AND OWN A SCRUFFY MONGREL! I EAT QUINOA AND HAVE MISMATCHED CHINA! I GROW MY OWN ARTICHOKES!” So maybe I need something a little more understated. Maybe these:

hunterThese appear quite unassuming, but they are branded too, and this brand is only pretending to be understated. People who wear Hunter wellies (especially dirty ones) are saying/trying to say, “These wellies have been in the family for generations, you know. My great, great grandfather wore them shooting with Lord Wilberforce of Durham. Have you met my labrador, Monty?” PLUS they cost nearly £80, so sod that. I read a review of these where someone had written, “I love my Hunters so much I’ve bought some for my husband and both the children”… There are people in the world who will spend £320 on rubber footwear. I am not one of those.

I can honestly say that I would not care ONE BIT if there were no choice whatsoever in the realm of the wellington boot. I wouldn’t feel the need to wield a banner proclaiming that we are being oppressed by a lack of variety in waterproof footwear. Or kettles. Or cars. Or irons. Or electric sanders. Or washing powder. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has stood in a  supermarket being trolley-bashed repeatedly while staring at the variety of washing powders stretching as far as the horizon both ways and sobbing quietly to myself, “I just want one that cleans clothes.” WHAT CRITERIA are we supposed to use to decide which one to buy? The cheapest? The prettiest? Names we have heard of? Smell? Word-of-mouth? Just PASS ME ONE and I’ll leave quietly. Same thing happened when I was buying a second hand car. They were ALL CARS. They all had steering wheels and exhaust pipes. How was I supposed to CHOOSE between them? Does it drive? Can I sit down in it? Does it stop again when I’ve finished? It happens in restaurants too. Apart from anything with seafood in, I could probably eat any of it. I usually deal with the problem by  waiting until the waiter looks at me expectantly, see what leaps into my brain, and order that. I wish they would just issue me with a meal. So long as there’s a cup of tea at some point, I’ll be happy.

When spouse and I became parents for the first time – 22 years ago – we were (cringe) Anarchists, and we believed that our young son should be given freedom to make his own choices in everything. I still believe this, I suppose, but what I didn’t see then is that we’re not really equipped to make free choices without substantial guidance until we’re much older (and in my case, never). The amount of free choice we gave him, we eventually realised, caused him great stress because he would panic even over seemingly trivial choices – if I choose this one, then I might regret it and realise that the other option was better – too much choice used to freeze his faculties with anxiety and then cause him to enjoy his final choice less than he would have under different circumstances.

I don’t know if it’s possible to draw any conclusions from this and my own experiences with choice-based distress, but I wonder if the fact that the doctrine of freedom of choice is used everywhere nowadays is really as healthy as we like to believe it is. Certainly in the area of consumerism it can be pretty distasteful, and in education I believe that choice has been at least partly responsible for a big decline in real learning as opposed to qualification-collecting. But that’s a whole other story.

While I was searching for (and failing to find) an entertaining image for this post, I found this TED talk instead. I think Barry Schwartz says it much better than I did. Damn him.

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Oh, and I’d be grateful if someone could just choose some wellies for me. Thanks.

Image by http://dannyburgess.tumblr.com/
Image by http://dannyburgess.tumblr.com/

The only thing I ever won before this Christmas was a set of kitchen knives in St. Day School raffle.

veryinspiringblogaward

I am feeling both delighted and guilty.

Delighted because I have been nominated for a Very Inspiring Blogger award – two awards in one festive season is more than a middle aged oaf deserves – and guilty because it means I’m expected to do some more rambling about myself. This time I’ll keep it to a minimum.

It was Nina at vackrare.com who nominated me. She is a graphic designer and a fantastic photographer whose mission it is “to beautify the world”. Certainly the world through her Swedish lens looks very beautiful – go and explore. She has an exceptional aesthetic eye. I only wish I’d been less lazy and learned some Swedish from my mother as a child, then I would be able to read her words as well.

The rules are:

  1. write 7 facts about yourself
  2. pass the award on to those bloggers who inspire you

Well, I’ll keep the facts short

  1. The only thing that annoys me about brown spaniel is that noise he makes when he’s licking his nether regions
  2. Tea and toast – evidence of a creator’s hand (not really).
  3. I spent all day reading articles and comments on goodmenproject.com and the commenters on some of the articles have made me want to go and live on a deserted island and/or drown myself in a vat.
  4. My wellies have sprung a leak and I’m too traumatised by the social class connotations of the wellies people choose to know how to replace them.
  5. My right knee creaks when I go upstairs.
  6. I don’t think Johnny Depp is handsome.
  7. Sometimes I pretend I have a narrator.

The second part of my duties as award winner is to nominate my inspirers, but I have been too busy exploring the ones that inspire Nina to give this the thought it deserves. I’ll do mine in the next installment, but in the meantime, here’s the link to her post so you can share hers.

Thank you again Nina.

An award! I got an award! An actual award!

A thing happened to me today. A splendid thing. I was nominated for a Versatile Blogger Award. Not only that, but I was nominated by someone whose blog I really admire and read regularly: Grimm’s Furry Tail. She is warm, humorous, wise,clever and takes fantastic photos. Do go and see.

This is my first blogging award and it’s unfeasibly exciting – it came as a complete surprise as I had no idea Grimm’s Furry Tail read my blog at all. It’s made me feel like a REAL blogger. And also ridiculously overenthusiastic like an 11 year old girl with a new ipod, or a spaniel with a tennis ball.

As I’m new to all this, I am following Grimm’s instructions on what to do. Here they are:

Display the award certificate on your website.  

VersatileBloggerNominations

  • Announce your win with a post and link to whoever presented your award.  
  • Post 7 interesting things about yourself.
  • Present 15 awards to deserving bloggers.
  • Drop them a comment to tip them off after you’ve linked to them in the post.

So. Seven interesting things about myself. Oh. Seven, you say. Um. Well. I suppose interesting is a matter of opinion, but here goes:

  1. I fell down a mud-filled drain head first when I was 6 and was rescued by a man who pulled me out by my red shoes and who I never saw again (Thank you passing stranger for saving my life).
  2. A boy called Jonathan persuaded me to crush a grasshopper between two granite blocks when I was at primary school and I’ve felt guilty for the rest of my life.
  3. I lived for 5 years or so with no electricity, running water or toilet.
  4. I once rode on a motor bike down a dual carriageway with 2 other people and a dog.
  5. I am descended, apparently, from Thomas Percy – one of the Gunpowder Plotters.
  6. If I had three wishes, I’d be more likely to wish away this extra stone I’ve gained than I would be to ask for world peace.
  7. If a passer-by crunches an ice cream cone in my ear I experience a flash of transitory rage.

As I said, interesting is a matter of opinion.

So, the important bit. Pass on the award to some of my favourite bloggers. Here they are:

1. The Heroic Art of Losing. This blogger hasn’t posted anything for nearly a year, but he is marvelous and needs to be encouraged to return to his making-me-laugh destiny. His versatility lies in the fact that he is even hilarious when he writes about things I have no idea about. Like football. Not only is he hilarious, but he exudes warmth and bewilderment like all the best humans.

2. The Life and Times of Nathan Bradley. He is funny. Funny is my favourite thing. You have to be versatile to be funny. That’s my excuse for nominating him.

3. Bill McCurry: The Whims of Fairness. He is funny too. Am I cheating nominating people for a versatility award just because they make me do actual real-life laughing? I don’t think so. All three of these bloggers write about a variety of everything and make me laugh. Even when they write about sad things. That’s what I call versatile, and I’m sticking to it.

4. Mostly Bright Ideas. Everyone loves him already, and I am shuffling onto the bandwagon. He’s probably won a million awards because he writes interesting things, causes amusement and occasional thoughts and draws pictures. Plus he has good hair. Versatile.

5. Peas and Cougars. Again, everyone loves her, and so do I. She’s probably a triangle, writes good words and draws good pictures. What’s not to like?

6. Literature and Libation. He writes about writing and reading and beer. But when someone is a really good writer it doesn’t matter what they write about. I like it.

7. Week Woman. I sometimes disagree with things on this blog, but I am ALWAYS interested and engaged in the topics. This is a very, very interesting, intelligent and well-written blog that covers a fascinating range of subjects.

8. Life is Funny. This woman can truly write and is genuinely amusing. I also enjoy her dad’s comments.

9. The Green Study. She has been winning a lot of awards lately and deserves them for her engaging, contemplative and human writing. Here’s another award.

10. Kevenbartle’s Blog. The Daily Genius. This is a teacher’s blog filled with warmth, wit and excellent comment on teaching and leadership. But it also features the writer as a human. And one of the most moving pieces on death I’ve ever read.

11. Thinkingcowgirl. What I like about this blog is the way the writer’s experiences with a new herd of cows lead to contemplations on life, the universe and… well… everything.

12. Lagottocattleya. I have nominated this blog for the absolutely breathtaking images and the lovely contemplations and descriptions that accompany them. she writes them in both Swedish and English so rubbish monolinguists like me can understand, and she rises brilliantly to a whole variety of WordPress Challenges.

So, for now, that’s 12 nominations instead of 15. I’m still relatively new and finding my feet around here so have many more bloggers to encounter. I would welcome any recommendations you may have. ESPECIALLY if they make me laugh aloud.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Changing Seasons

This challenge has taught me a surprise thing about myself: I take a lot of photos of feet.

I discovered this when I went in search of some Autumnal photos from a walk some weeks ago and found a set of images of my bewellingtoned feet on a flooded path. Then I remembered I’d also taken some of my pudgy hobbit feet in some pound shop flip flops on another walk earlier in the year. When I went searching the folders for them I kept stumbling on various other feet and realised that feet are very good at expressing the changes of seasons. Bingo.

 

A response

I had a lovely couple of emails in response to this post:

http://throbbingsofnoontide.wordpress.com/2012/07/07/rain-and-dining-tables-45-2/

The sender, a teacher and friend who has just moved out of Cornwall, said he is happy for me to post them here, so I have.

One of the things I’m most looking forward to, especially in weather like this, is of moving into a house. Of being able to make a cup of tea or go to the toilet or even move from one ‘room’ to another without having to put on wellies and walk for 10 metres outside.

Aside from a brief spell at university I’ve lived caravans on my farm since I was 5. Through winters so cold that one year the mirror in my room cracked, rainy seasons where the caravans leak and you find the new leaks caused by the previous winds and cold spells, high winds where the roof cladding and walls stripped off, creaking and groaning as if they’re in pain. Falling through floors weakened by decades of rain, stress and use; thin windows that don’t keep the cold out or warmth in when they want you to, but turn the caravans into an oven when you want cool; power cuts caused by water leaking into circuits; falling over in rain soaked or frozen walks to get a warm drink (negating the point of the drink in the first place because of the journey outside in the cold or wet!); having no water because our spring line has frozen; all the years of having to go outside and have a shit when I was younger before we plumbed in an inside toilet.

People come here and see the farm and tell me that “It’s quiet and there is nobody else for miles and how beautiful the lake and all the green space is” and bloody hell they’re right, and I’ll miss that, but when they tell me that
“they’d easily manage in the caravans if they could live here” (especially if it’s summer when it does look picturesque here), I look at them and I know they’re full of bullshit, they wouldn’t cope at the first sign of rain or a light frost, they don’t know what ‘cold’ truly is, from their centrally heated homes with big thick insulated roofs.

And now I’m going to become one of them, and I’m going to truly relish something as simple as going to the toilet or getting a cup of tea without having to prepare for the elements. Even being inside when it’s raining ridiculously. Your blog post pretty much captures how I feel, especially when I used to visit my friends houses when I was younger. I don’t think I’ve met anyone else who can really understand this.

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After this week it’s amazing how easily I’ve got used to this. Each morning when I wake up I walk from bedroom to bathroom to kitchen to lounge just because I can – without having to put on trousers, a jumper or boots! I think the frequent and quite heavy rain we’ve had this week has played a part too. Several times this week I have caught myself standing in the lounge looking out the patio door at heavy rain, walking to the kitchen and making a cup of tea and then going back to stand and stare out the window; once I return to the window tea in hand, I find myself subconsciously smiling as I stare out the window.

It’s the same smile I used to give whenever I’d walk the twenty metres down the bank from my room to my kitchen to make a cup o’ tea, and then back again; serendipitously timing both journeys with breaks in the rainfall – that smile that somehow I’ve beaten the rain!

And whilst I didn’t sit and watch the washing machine first time like you did when you first moved into a house, I did appreciate being able to wash clothes again without either taking them to a friend’s house, or visiting a launderette.
But my cat did sit and watch the first cycle – I think he was intrigued by the noise.

Also, I love reading your blog, don’t stop, do a creative writing course and find a way to make it support your life so you can get out of teaching, (or carry on teaching on your own terms). I love reading it because I can hear your voice in my head and it makes it even better to read!

Thanks Brynn, we’re going to miss you.

The Love Palace of the Pornognome

Last year I bought my first house. I’m quite old for someone buying their first house, but it took me ages to grow up enough, and I still failed entirely to take the process seriously. But then, that’s not surprising when house viewings like this occur.

This is entirely un-embellished and word-for-word true and I’ve decided to repost it because it’s one of my favourite things that has ever happened to me.

I had made an appointment to view a house near my place of work and I asked my friend H to go with me. I’m very glad I did. Here’s why (not sure why I wrote it as a list, but I did):

1)  H and I arrive at 8, Whatever-it-is Terrace in time for our viewing appointment, and find somewhere to park.

2)  We approach the house to find a crenellated privet, impenetrable fence all around, and a gate which, unlike the one on the picture the estate agent sent, has been reinforced by wood panelling with only the tiniest wafer-slice of letter box set in it, and is bolted, chained and padlocked from the inside.

3) There is no way to alert the attention of the house-seller so I phone the estate agent who then phones his client (who is inside the house) to ask him/her to come out and open the gate.

4) H and I are beginning to think this house-seller has not taken on board the rudiments of making a house appear welcoming to prospective purchasers. This impression remains throughout the experience.

5) We hear the scraping sounds of bolts being drawn back, chains being detached and padlocks being removed. I try to avoid H’s eye as the fortified gate squeaks open and a wrinkled, unsmiling gnome of a man appears before us. “Oh… I thought you were going to be a man,” he says. And just stands there. I make the obvious comment, “nope, definitely not a man. I’m T, this is H…” and the man shakes our hands without offering a name for himself. Rumplestiltskin, I expect.

6) Rumplestiltskin continues to stand in the gateway just slightly too long for comfort and then lets us in to the front garden which is tiny, but really sweet, with pots of traditional cottage garden flowers everywhere and the occasional gnome (garden variety – not relatives). And other non-specific ornamental eccentricities.

7) Rumplestiltskin clangs his fortified gate shut saying, “security is paramount”, turns to us and discusses petunias for a bit longer than is usually appropriate when it’s a house you’re selling and not a 2m squared plot of kitsch patio alone. Finally he says, “did they warn you I’m a photographer… a… er… glamour photographer?” No they didn’t, but why is this of significance, we wonder (and why ‘warn’?). It crosses both our minds that he is a murderer. “So… I hope you won’t be… ” he adds, to clarify.

8) We are finally invited to cram into a tiny hallway which is entirely coated in photographs of women in varying states of undress. Any gaps between soft focus 1970s porn style shots of not notably beautiful flesh are filled with artefacts distributed all over the walls. Hunting horns, ukeleles, hats, Spanish donkey regalia… there is no end to the curiosities. And the smell.

9) Rumplestiltskin leads us into what appears to be a gran’s living room with brown stiff furnishings protected primly with doily-style antimacassars, swirly carpets and a gas fire, only it has been liberally decorated with more wall-to-wall representations of female secondary sexual characteristics. On gran’s gas fire mantlepiece gran’s silver plated portrait frames have been stripped of family photos and filled with breasts.  “Do you want furniture?” enquires Rumplestiltskin. Really not. No. Thanks.

10) Even the kitchen contains nude women. Ugly, in the main. Plus a collection of flies circling around a pile of boxes of something imported from abroad. Probably human organs.

11) We go outside. Rumplestiltskin is particularly proud of his outside toilet. We both admire it. I ask what is in one of the outbuildings and then feel fear while he unlocks it in case it is a torture room.

12) The entire garden is surrounded by high fences and screened off areas because, as Rumplestiltskin reiterates, “security is paramount”.  There is a pond. It is not visible from the house or anywhere else. We wonder if there are sexual practices specific to gnomes and ponds. There are. They involve rods.

13) There is a cage full of budgies at the far end. H says to me, “you can keep your seagulls in here” to break the mood.  Rumplestiltskin doesn’t laugh. He has a fake number plate saying PLAYA 1. And a punchbag in a tree.

14) We go upstairs.

15) We look in the smallest room. It is done out like tiny, bad quality Moroccan-themed purchased-from-Argos harem quarters. Behind the door is a shop dummy in a shiny nylon wig. She has some sort of sex garments on which I have since blanked from my memory. And a whip. I say “Oh! A scary dummy!” H laughs. Rumplestiltskin offers silence from his entirely expressionless face by way of explanation. We are slightly creeped out.

16) The pièce de résistance is the master bedroom. It contains a large bed clad in cheap red polyester satin finery. The corner of the quilt has been turned down as if a hotel chambermaid has been there. Upon the pillow is displayed a bunny ears headband at a jaunty angle. Next to the bed is an attractive vintage screen, hanging from which there are a number of basques and other items of women’s underwear. There is a bra displayed carefully on a stool. The room is filled with more pink rolling flesh imagery. There are racks and racks of clothes: women’s dressing gowns, slippers, soldier jackets, hats, coats, trousers, dresses. There are ornaments of every kind hanging everywere, filling every space. The whole place is entirely claustrophobic. If anyone has sex in there they must do it without actually moving. Either that or smashing everything up is part of the point. We admire the room, pretending it is not entirely filled with sex aids. H remembers her dad’s advice about house viewing; “what sort of heating is there?” she asks.

17) Rumplestiltskin explains the heating and its efficiency and makes no move of any kind to explain any of the mysteries we have beheld. He tells us he doesn’t live here and that he only visits thrice a week. We wonder who feeds the budgies.

18) Rumplestiltskin offers us tea and tries to tell us about council tax bands, but we make our excuses and leave. We hear the bolts, chains and padlocks being reshuffled, clanged and clunked on the gate as we walk away slowly and silently, not looking at each other, up the road.

19) As we are about to reach the car we hear an almighty, extended grunting sound from the sealed away front garden of 8, Whatever-it-is Terrace. Then the sound of a front door slamming.

20) We drive back to work. Trying not to swerve.

Virgin

I have been bullied into this blog doing by someone called Rachael who likes my writing. This is very flattering, and I am motivated by flattery. I am also motivated by gifts of money and pictures of otters.

I don’t know what this blog is going to be about or what it’s for or who will read it (except Rachael. Hi Rachael). This is the world’s worst way to begin writing. I know this because I teach students to do writing sometimes. If they have no idea of their audience and purposes then they fail to hit their assessment objectives and I have to write plans with SMART targets on to bully their creativity even further into submission. While I do this I weep gently into my thwarted ambitions.

So here’s my blog.

And here are some otters.