Picture-free Posts

As a child I learned to read early, almost immediately I started school, at four and a half. And this was in spite of the deadly reading schemes that abounded at the time [in the 1950s]. Two years ago I wrote about reading schemes [ ‘Reading the Years’ ]. Reading is a fundamental, key skill and once you’ve acquired the key everything else in life is unlocked.

During my career as a teacher of young children I met many parents who’d say, regarding the process of ‘hearing’ their child read at home, that the child was not ‘reading’, rather describing the pictures and we’d have to explain that the pictures are the clues, the scaffold that supports the decoding process. Take the scaffold away and the structure may collapse.

And as an early, able reader myself I must confess that I wanted pictorial content in my reading matter until I was around ten or eleven years old, despite being able to read quite sophisticated books.

And these days the genre of the graphic novel has its own following, albeit niche.

As fully literate adults, however we should be able to read without pictures, which is why I am interested in how it is that blog posts with pictorial content produce a greater footfall than those without. I assume that one of the many reasons for tabloid popularity and the more contemporary ‘youtube’ is the lure of pictorial content as opposed to pure text.

A substantial portion of adults never reads for pleasure, four million according to a 2013 report.

Each week I post something in the region of 500 words-most of it, admittedly, drivel. A great deal of it is travel-related and of course it is entirely suited to photographic inclusions. I post a link on to social media. There is footfall from the WordPress community and there is a little footfall from the link. The ‘likes’ are on Facebook, rather than under the WordPress post itself, which is preferable.

But I know that those ‘likes’ on social media are from some who’ve viewed the photo accompanying the link without following the link to read the post! I know this because comments pertain to the picture and not the body of the post. Aha!

So this week’s post is entirely without pictorial content. And next month, being November will be Fiction Month, when I will be posting short stories, some in instalments. Short stories, completely without cost, for the whole of dull, cold, miserable old November, to curl up next to the fire and read!

Fiction Month is the exception to the non-pictorial rule, inducing more traffic than most months, which is heartening! Someone, somewhere out there is happy to sit down and read a story, even in these times of tabloid immediacy.

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The Dark Screen of Ignorance

You have to chuckle at some journalist’s ideas of we older folks. They consider us to be bumbling techno-phobes who cannot fathom the mysteries of computer-thingies or cope with new-fangled technologies such as mobile phones. ‘Older people’ are often cited in articles or programmes about how portions of society are ‘missing out’ owing to their circumstances. Their bills are higher for not being on line; their inability to surf leaves them stuck with High Street offerings.

It is true, however that there are still substantial numbers of people who, whilst having some access to computers via libraries and so on continue to be stuck in a time warp where developing technology is concerned. I hope some members of my lovely writing group will forgive me when I say that communication has become tricky without the facility of email and that access to information, sharing of work and ideas has never been easier than it is in this age of the internet.

Take social networking. Since Facebook became, much to the annoyance of the young, mainstream, many of my peers adopted it, irritating the young to a point where they all left in disgust. Those who didn’t cited worries over security, concerns over boring content or fears that it is somehow irrelevant or not intellectually challenging enough as reasons. Of course all of these things are true to an extent, however facilities exist to eliminate them. You adjust the settings on security, you scroll past the boring or the mundane. A great deal of the sniping over social media, I feel is fear disguised as snobbery. Who wants to be caught looking at a friend’s holiday snaps? It might make you appear to be interested. Horrors!

Keeping up with developing technology is tricky. As soon as we grasped the fundamentals of email and Google there were Smartphones and apps to deal with. ‘Don’t you Skype?’ ‘Don’t you do Instagram?’ ‘Don’t you use Dropbox?’ The relentless inundation of innovation can leave you flailing with inadequacy; but rather than shrinking in horror at the idea of adopting new technological developments we need to try and apply our ageing brain cells to it.

Of course all this is very well when your children are on hand to assist. Once they have flown the coop though you may find yourself adrift as I did yesterday, making a nail-biting trip to PC World and steeling myself for the fifty pounds fee to repair my laptop, which stubbornly refused to illuminate its screen when unplugged. The cheerful assistant offered me a jaunty smile as he pressed a button on the keyboard, restoring light to the screen. Little wonder-he can dine out [if his PC World salary allows] on the tale of the geriatric ignoramus.

The Not Quite World Wide Web

New year, new phone. My twenty four month contract [with a well known supermarket which shall remain nameless] was due to expire. I’d never been entirely thrilled with the phone. Though larger than its predecessor it was still tiny. It was also slow enough for me to be able to hoover the entire house or read all of War and Peace while it loaded anything and possessed the memory capacity of an average flea [and certainly less than our garden pond fish, who remember they are ravenous a whole winter after they’ve been fed]; besides, its screen size was inadequate for someone of advancing years and less than perfect eyesight.

The expiry gave me a chance to review my technological needs. If I had one, single, overriding aspiration it was to acquire mobile internet-that which some call ‘a dongle’.

If you’ve followed Anecdotage throughout the three [yes, three!] years I’ve been churning it out you will know that on occasions I, along with Husband clamber into a home-on-wheels and set off to destinations afar. Access to internet has always been inconsistent. Sometimes there are extravagant claims that Wifi is free and available throughout a site and there is nothing of the sort. Other times we pay some ridiculous sum for the privilege of two hours access on one device only to find-it is not available. Or we can get internet if we stand on top of a picnic table outside the toilets as long as nobody else in the vicinity is hunched over their laptop. Often we are teased by intermittent flashes of connection only to have our hopes dashed before Google has so much as loaded the local tourist board website or I am halfway through one of the long distance Scrabble turns I’m in the habit of taking. We skirmish over who has priority over the one hour’s Wifi on one device. I stress about getting blog posts published [yes, yes, it is a load of rubbish-but still…].

Now I have it; mobile internet-a ‘dongle’ if you like. It is a little, dinky, white slab like a pebble with a black gash along the centre. That’s all. I have tried it at home and it works. Eureka! Now I just have to travel somewhere.

In a week or so we are off to the Caribbean. Last year I reached a new nadir in my mobile phone experiences when all the credit on the tiny, useless phone got sucked out of it within about twenty seconds as I foolishly attempted a Facebook ‘check-in’. The subsequent complications [when there was no credit to phone the bank regarding failed cash withdrawals] are too painful to relate. Barbados has some of the most expensive mobile charges in the world.

The bad news? The little dongley-thing will not work in the West Indies, due to there being no agreement with any of those islands. One thing I know: I will not be using my new [much improved] phone for anything once I am there!

Lower Your Expectations still Further

So now all that Christmas malarkey, with its mountains of sprouts, wrapping up, decking the halls, washing the pots, preparing yet another meal, watching tedious re-runs of ancient ‘Christmas specials’ on TV, picking up sweet wrappers, smiling while you unwrap Aunty Mabel’s hand-knitted tea-cosy, being endlessly nice, hoovering up pine needles, opening yet another bottle of fizz, putting on your indulgent face while some teeny tot trashes your tasteful decorations, discovering the dog has eaten your hand-cooked ham with its special glaze you saw on Nigella, clearing up said dog’s vomited up ham….is now done.

You can relax. But what will you be doing to see 2016 through the year’s portals? Set off to sunny climes, smug in the satisfaction of having booked it months ago? Get scrubbed up and enjoy a swish hotel dinner that you cunningly arranged last January? Drink yourself into a post-Christmas trauma-mitigating stupor in front of TV’s Hogmanay offerings? Or will you retire early with a cup of cocoa and any literary offering that was not a] a biography of last year’s winner of ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me out of Here’ b] the latest ‘must-have’ cookery book or c] some lame attempt at humour?

Or will you, perhaps settle for drinks in the convivial, comfortable company of old friends, those who you’ve chosen to be a part of your life, rather than your relatives, who, whilst having ‘blood thicker than water’ may nevertheless be hard work over a prolonged period. So-friends then. But which friends? Your childhood bosom buddies from the village where you were born? Your uni friends whose lives you’ve followed on Facebook and met at reunions? Those who you met at the ante-natal classes, parent-first-timers like you? Your fellow five-a-side footballers? The blokes down the pub? The neighbours?

Maybe the answer is to host your own New Year’s bash and invite them all. Then the dilemma is solved; or is it? In my experience any kind of celebratory party that includes everyone you’ve ever known is never an unmitigated success. This is because these polarised factions are likely to have very little in common with the exception of YOU. I’d follow the example of Husband’s friend who recently had his 60th bash. He held a different event for each group of friends or relations [a restaurant, drinks at home etc], negating the need to attempt to get strangers to talk to each other-always a soul destroying task.

Perhaps, however you will do what Husband and I have done on occasions, go to your local pub/bar/café and throw yourself into any New Year’s do that’s going, the more 60s hits, karaoke and chronic DJ jokes the more riotous and cheesier the better. Leap about with anyone and everyone. They may not be ‘auld acquaintances’ or even new ones, but who cares? It’s all ‘best forgot’ anyway…

Facebook: Friend, Foe or Farce?

Have Facebook and Twitter changed the definition of friendship? And have they altered the way we view and approach friendship?

A quick look at some of your Facebook friends’ friend lists will reveal that some have literally hundreds of ‘friends’. How many of these would have been termed friends before the advent of social media? Before the likes of Facebook a friend would have been someone you met up with, if not frequently then on some kind of regular basis. Even the couple you met while on holiday in Gran Canaria would only be your friends if you maintained face to face contact with physical visits or repeat holidays. Unless you’d exchanged addresses and phone numbers the holiday friendship would disappear into the photograph album along with the memories.

Is it some kind of competition? As in, “I have five hundred friends and you have six, therefore I am infinitely more popular and a social butterfly whereas you are a sad, lonely individual”.

Is there a need for a new set of rules, an etiquette for social media sites? I’m wondering because besides the well documented episodes of Facebook bullying there is a boulder-strewn precipice of a path to negotiate where social media friendship is concerned.

What should you do if invited to become a friend by someone to whom you do not wish to expose your life? And what of those to whom you’ve extended ‘friend’ invitations and have received no response? I must confess here, reader that I have experienced both these occurrences during my few years of Facebook. Does the pleasure of ‘friend’ acceptance outweigh the pain of ignorance? It is worthwhile considering, here, the nature of the friendship-if the ignoring ‘friend’ is from a mere, fleeting holiday encounter it can be dismissed. If, however it is your childhood best buddy, the inseparable companion you grew up with, shared your innermost secrets with, laughed and cried with, it is understandable to feel a degree of rejection. But it is worth remembering that these names on the screen are not really real friendships; they are mere digital contacts.

Among my own friends, old and new, a number do not participate at all in social media. Their reasons vary from ‘not knowing how to use it’ to ‘it’s boring’. There is an element of truth to the second complaint, in that we all have FB contacts who spew out the minutiae of their daily lives like effluent, although I point out to those who criticise that there are ways to avoid seeing tedious posts [eg turning them off or scrolling past them]. And unlike many, I do enjoy seeing photos of the places others visit-I may well want to visit those places myself.

So are social media sites overall a good thing? I’d say yes, providing you treat them as the shallow, cursory level of contact they are. But Facebook friends are not a substitute for real, talking, moving, laughing, gesticulating, sharing-experiences people.

Ditch the Lifestyle Advice-It’s all Here with Grace’s Guide

I don’t make resolutions. I may have done so in the long, distant past, but some previous experience must have taught me that such determinations are bound to fail.

This does not prevent everywhere and everything else bombarding you with encouraging and/or harassing messages. Facebook, for instance has many well-meaning souls posting up urgent lists of to-do and not to-do. TV adverts are choc full of well-intentioned exhortations-‘STOP SMOKING’, ‘LOSE WEIGHT’, ‘GET RUNNING’, ‘EAT BUTTER’, ‘DON’T EAT BUTTER’, ‘5 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR WILLPOWER’, ‘GYM MEMBERSHIP OFFER’, ‘START COLLECTING’, ‘TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE’-blah blah…

The trick, as far as I am concerned is to begin any ‘life changes’ you want to make as soon as you are ready, ie now, next week, on August 14th or never, if that is what suits. I gave up smoking during a memorable mini-break in Barcelona with Husband one Easter, resulting in some explosive differences of opinion-one in the middle of a busy thoroughfare as I recall.

I used to be a runner. I began running one random morning, early, before anyone else was awake. I started with a miniscule stumble around the block. Years later I was regularly running ten miles, until injury broke in and stole the party. I happened to be jogging along the promenade one New Year’s day and met some ex-colleagues out walking. ‘New Year’s resolution?’ one suggested, provoking an affront that only an increase in pace and distance could assuage. I’d been running every day for about twenty years by then.

Rather than pledging lofty and unachievable goals I prefer to make myself suggestions. I think, ‘I might take up yoga’ this year, or ‘I might get back to my abandoned novel’, or ‘I could clear out those outgrown and outdated clothing items’. See what I mean? This way you don’t set yourself up for failure. It might happen; or it might not.

Another strategy is to qualify resolutions by adding ‘continue to’, as in ‘I will continue to walk to the shops if there isn’t a hurricane raging’ or ‘I will continue to reply to emails within the month in which they arrive’. As you see, I don’t try to make it too difficult. I’m not aiming to fail. Sometime during this weekend I just might take a look at the website for a new gym that opened towards the end of last year [matching my strategy very nicely] and I might even look for a yoga class to attend-but then again I may not have time.

So there you have it. Tried and tested lifestyle advice. My New Year’s gift to readers. Some people pay a fortune to lifestyle gurus to know how to improve their lives, be better, richer, healthier, thinner and happier. More fool them!

Pouring Cold Water on the Challenge

I realise it makes me into a bit of a humbug-but I have to confess to feelings of relief that the blanket high-jacking of social network sites from the ‘ice bucket challenge’ is beginning to subside. I was just a little tired of watching yet another acquaintance saying something to camera [I don’t know what as I have a tendency to leave the sound off] having water poured over them and exclaiming loudly with their hair and clothes plastered to their skin. But it was for Charideee, of course, which means it must have been a great thing- wasn’t it?
Charities do good work and those who work selflessly for them are to be admired. In these recent times of austerity and financial recessions they have suffered from lower incomes and less giving. So I suppose anyone who comes up with a wacky, ‘fun’ and different idea for fund raising is to be clutched at.
I can never quite understand how those prolonged treks and cycle rides in foreign parts constitutes fund raising-it always appears [and shoot me down if I am wrong] that those who take part are actually enjoying an exciting piece of travel courtesy of those who’ve kindly donated to their particular cause. At least the iced water doesn’t look exotic and desirable.
But isn’t there more than just a bit of smug, do-good, aren’t I generous?/a good sport/a fun-loving sort about such viral challenges as the ice bucket? Why do those taking part need us to see them? Why not go out into the garden, or yard, or car park and tip a bucket of cold water over your head then go indoors and have a cup of tea? Or go and have a bath in some baked beans, shower off and go and dig the garden? Of course, it must not only be filmed, reader-it must be shared on a social network. Why? Well, because a]All your friends must know what a big-hearted, selfless and philanthropic person you and b]You will have been nominated by another fun, generous person-demonstrating that you are also popular and a ‘good egg’.
Wouldn’t it be a great world that had no charities at all in it-because they were never necessary-because the richest, fittest, most advantaged people’s incomes were taxed enough to cover funds to address disease/famine/injury/social deprivation et al; or better still, that the most advantaged gave from their free will, without recourse to iced water, baked bean baths, shaved heads, prolonged cycling or taxation. I know there are those who do contribute a great proportion of their wealth, quietly, without publicising the fact or using it to promote themselves. Good for them.
I doubt the respite will be long. There will be another daft series of selfie videos in due course. In the meantime I’m revelling in the lull.