Thursday, August 08, 2013

The Seven Year Itch

In a couple of days, this blog will be seven years old. From what I've read that's unusual, as many blogs reach the end of their natural life much earlier. That said, I'm aware that this blog doesn't have the youthful vigour it possessed three years ago. If it was a person, this blog would be in a care home, aware that the best was probably over.

When I first discovered the world of blogging, ten years ago, I thought it was an absurd idea. Why would any strangers want to know about the minutiae of my life, or care what I thought about a particular book? I regarded blogging as a harmless but futile pastime.

I was reasonably contented managing a bookshop and although it wasn't always terribly stimulating, I had other projects that stopped me from becoming bored. In my spare time, I researched and wrote material about authors for an intranet site and had also begun to train as a Justice of the Peace.

I was very upset when I discovered that as a magistrate, I wouldn't be required to wear a wig

Naively, I thought that life would just tick along. At some point I'd move to another bookshop and my son would go to secondary school, but apart from a few grey hairs, little would change.

But a couple of years later, things began to unravel. My father died, my wife discovered that she was pregnant, the company I worked for was taken over and we began to have the first inkling that something wasn't quite right with my oldest son.

This time seven years ago, my wife had taken our sons to stay with her mother for a couple of weeks so that I could decorate the house. I think I must have painted half a wall before I began to feel the first signs of the worst food poisoning I've ever experienced. I was in bed for nearly two weeks.

During my convalescence I spent many hours aimlessly surfing the internet. At some point I stumbled across Blogger and out of curiosity, decided to see if I could create a blog page. I casually decided to call it 'The Age of Uncertainty', as it seemed apposite, then wrote a short post and published it.

For better or worse, this blog has nothing to do with John Kenneth Galbraith

Perhaps that would have been the end of it. However, someone posted a comment and I was so surprised and delight that a stranger had read what I'd written, thought about it and given an interesting reply, I felt compelled to try again.

I soon discovered that I was wrong about blogging. It wasn't simply another form of vanity publishing, but rather a new way of connecting with like-minded people whose lives I would have been blissfully unaware of in the pre-internet age. The thoughtful comments, helpful suggestions and sympathetic responses from others have enriched my life. Thanks to the kindness of strangers, I have discovered different authors, visited new places and made a few friends.

I think that  this blog was at its peak when I worked in my last job, as I had a wealth of material to write about and share. I find blogging far more difficult these days, partly because I no longer have access to dozens of photo albums and diaries, but also because I'm now self-employed and feel that I should spend as much time as possible trying to earn some money. The book business ticks along, just, but I hover on the edge of penury.

Also, I find it difficult to write an entertaining blog when my home life is so dysfunctional. The highlights of the last month have been cancelling a holiday, having a kitten put down and trying to persuade my oldest son to leave the house for more than five minutes. I suppose I could extract some black humour from recent events, but I'd rather not.

In light of everything that's happened, I've been wondering if I should continue to maintain this blog. I worry that it has become a disappointment to the people who began to follow it in the days of the Derek diaries and the Victorian photo albums.

However, I'm not quite ready to give up.

I don't want to stop blogging for two reasons. First, I  really enjoy reading people's comments, which are always kind, thoughtful and incisive. Second, the act of writing a blog post is nearly always an enjoyable journey into the unknown. For example, when I did a little research for a recent post about Arnold Bennett, I discovered a great article by someone I'd never heard of called Wendy Lesser and looked her up on Google. A week later, I was reading a wonderful book that she'd written about Shostakovich.

I think the answer is to continue, even if it's only once or twice a month. If circumstances change, then perhaps I can breathe new life into the ailing patient. In the meantime, here is a picture of the winner of the European royalty Buddy Holly lookalike competition:


Lucy R. Fisher said...

Please don't stop blogging - you're one of the most thoughtful people on the Internet. What would we do without your perceptive insights?

Anonymous said...

As your blog is the first one I check out when I log on. you can imagine how I would miss it. Please continue (as little - or often - as you need or want to} but please try not to desert us.


Tim Footman said...

I'm rapidly approaching my eighth blogversary (Ugh, those blog-specific portmanteau terms - so mid-Noughties!) and I'm also rather surprised that it's lasted so long. I also go through patches when I rather lose the will and the gaps between posts grow longer. Then something springs into my mind and I'm back in the saddle. But as you say, it's the responses that make it all come together. One very good blogger (who now appears to have retired from the fray) suggested that blogging should be a conversation rather than a monologue, which makes sense. I wouldn't presume to tell you to keep going - that's got to be up to you - but if you do keep going, I'll keep reading, and occasionally popping up in the box at the end.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog and look forward to reading new posts. I hope you continue, if you are feeling up to to it. You're a wonderfully creative & humorous writer. We are out here, and we hear you, the good and the bad. Kim

Tororo said...

Dear blogger, I came here years ago for the Victorian photos albums and... the middle-of-nowhere bookseller stories made me stay. I guess the only way you could disappoint your readers would be by quitting.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you blog. I've read your posts for years glad to see the old books and read about your life.

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Well, congratulations. I rarely comment, but I read.

Like many, I suppose, it was the amazing things you found in the detritus that brought me here. But I stay, and keep reading, because your writing is so good, every post.

How odd - I had that matching game when I was a child.

Martin Hodges said...

Keep going, Steerforth! Yours is one of my favourite ports of call. Even though I don't always comment, I always read your posts.

I've just notched up my fourth year, and have entertained similar thoughts about packing it in, from time to time. But for some of the reasons you mention, I carry on, as and when.

Happy anniversary!

Anonymous said...

Even in the Netherlands you have got someone who reads your blog regularly. I hope you keep on blogging. I love it!

Sandra Morris said...

I too hope that you keep up your blog, which is one of the relatively few I read on a regular basis.
Your posts are always thoughtful and thought-provoking and I look forward to them enormously.
The blogosphere just wouldn't be the same without you.....

Karyn said...

Well I would miss your posts if you gave up blogging; I always look forward to your posts.

Your first image intrigues me. I recognise most of the component images, of course: I need walk no further than my daughter's bedroom where I am almost certainly likely to find them scattered across her floor. But two seem to be ring-ins.

Anonymous said...

Guilty as charged, I never comment, but the merest hint that you might be thinking about stopping has me rushing out from my silence to second everything that Kim has said with brass knobs, fairy bells and tinsel on.

I love your writing and your take on things.


Rog said...

I was also blogging furiously 7 years ago (as Mr Murph the labrador) but the momentum dropped off when I went self employed about 5 years ago. It's a great creative outlet for wage serfs but a bit more of a superfluous distraction for dynamic entrepreneurs of musty items.
Don't give up though - your blog is always a bright ray of sense and intelligence. Even if it becomes a monthly!

Janis Goodman said...

Please do continue - I find your comments interseting and perceptive and look forward to reading whatever you post.

Annabel said...

I'm a big fan of your blog too, and find your posts amongst the most thoughtful out there, but always tinged with humour. Please keep posting, however irregularly.

Having just got two kittens, I am so sorry to hear you've lost yours. I do so hope that life looks up for you really soon. Best wishes.

Roget said...

I would like to comment further on your main message, Steerforth. For the moment though, I want to suggest that King Baudoin was in fact entering the Gussie Fink-Nottle lookalike contest (all-comers section).

Richard said...

I can only claim to have been reading your blog for about the last year, having fetched-up here via a recommendation, but can happily say I’ve read every entry since, simply because your writing is so damn good: always engaging and informative. I’d be sorry to lose this calm port of considered thought & writing!

Steerforth said...

I've spent most of the day visiting the Horniman Museum in SE London, so I haven't checked the blog. Coming back to find so many encouraging, positive comments has been a real tonic.

Lucy - That's very kind of you. When I read your main blog, which brilliantly exposes the lazy use of clichés, I wonder how many times I've committed a transgression. If I'm ever in any doubt about a sentence, I imagine it appearing in 'The Art of Words' and usually look for an alterantive.

Enid - I don't think I've seen your name before, so thank you for wrestling with 'Captcha' to leave a comment. I'd suggest that you follow this blog, if you don't already, so that you'll know if there's a new post. I hate to think of someone checking this blog, only to find the same page for the umpteenth day in a row.

Tim - I agree; at its best, blogging is a conversation. I particularly enjoy throwing some half-baked ideas into the ether, only to find them return as well-argued opinions and useful suggestions. Thanks to blogging I discovered W.F.Hermans, didn't miss a Paul Nash exhibition, learned how Victorians produced colour plates in books and discovered that I'd made an old author very happy.

Congratulations on reaching eight years. I can see why, as a professional writer, you may have mixed feelings about blogging, but the blogosphere (another mid-noughties phrase I'm afraid) would be poorer without 'Cultural Snow'.

Kim - Next time I'm having a moment of doubt, I'll remember "We are out here, and we hear you, the good and the bad." That will be my mantra for not giving up. Thank you.

Tororo - You are the exception to the rule. According to my visitor statistics, most of the people who visited the blog for Victorian photos never returned. Many thanks for being so receptive to the rather random selection of subjects that have followed. It is much appreciated.

St Casserole - I'm delighted that you've stuck with the blog for years. The nosey part of me wishes that you had a blog about your life and interests.

Tom - The game is 'Original Memory', released by Ravensburger in the late 1960s. I used to play it as a child in the 70s and have introduced my younger son to it recently. I find the images very evocative of both the era and my childhood.

Martin - Thank you for visiting and for all of your comments. I'm afraid that I'm a bit of a hypocrite, as I visit your blog and don't leave comments, but the posts speak for themselves and I struggle to think of anything pertinent to say.

Anonymous Nederlander - I'm very pleased to know that this blog is read in Holland, as I spent several very happy childhood holidays with Dutch friends in Rotterdam and have always had a sentimental attachment to the Netherlands.

Sandra - Your comment makes me think how lucky we are to live in the age of the internet. Poor old Derek wrote thousands of pages of diary entries, only to have them thrown in a skip. Many thanks for continuing to visit, even if you've seen the same page for days.

Karyn - At the risk of sounding like a mutual appreciation society, I'm a big fan of your blog. I think it is an extraordinary project which, in the wrong hands, could have been very different. For more information on the first image, look up 'original memory ravensburger".

Anonymous D - Thank you for crossing the line and posting a comment! I think I needed to know if the blog still had any life left in it, as I didn't want to waste anyone's time (or indeed mine) in a futile pursuit. After reading the above comments, I will definitely keep going.

Steerforth said...

Rog - It's funny, as I thought that self-employment would mean more blogging. I'd have extra time for writing, the freedom to go on little trips and, as the kids would say, the 'headspace'. However, when I look at the latest bank statement, blogging seems like a reckless indulgence. I have mouths to feed! I think the key is to not feel obliged to continually update content for the sake of it.

Janis - Thank you. I've enjoyed looking at your beautiful artwork on your website and the next time I'm in Rye or Hastings, I'll look out for your prints.

Annabel - Thanks. I really admire your blog and wish that I could match your enthusiasm and energy, writing so many thoughtful, incisive reviews of such an ecclectic selection of books. I hope that you and your daughter are enjoying the kittens. We hope to get a kitten (or two, if my wife has her way) later in the year.

Steerforth said...

Roget - You could be right. I'm not terribly 'up' on Mr Wodehouse. I remember turning down an invitation to a Wodehouse Society dinner (somebody at Rougemont must have dropped out and I was one of the few people who lived near London, owned a dinner jacket and might blend in) because I knew that at some point in the evening, I'd be exposed as a charlatan (again!). Sometimes I wish I'd gone anyway.

But re: King B - I can't look at that stamp without hearing 'Peggy Sue'.

Richard - The optimist in me is pleased that you like my writing.The pessimist says that I'm letting you down, I've gone off the boil, the blog's lost it's touch etc. But if that really is the case, the beauty of the internet is that you can silently leave the room without anyone knowing. In the meantime, I'll do my best to justify your kind comments.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steerforth,

Just adding my first comment to say that I'm delighted every time The Age of Uncertainty drops into my e-mail inbox.

And I started reading about a year ago.



PS What about using one of those services that turns blogs into books? I’m sure you’d find an even wider readership....

Steerforth said...

Thanks CJ. I probably wouldn't turn this blog into a book, as I know the fate that awaits such publications. But I'd like to use the lessons I've learned from blogging to try and produce something in print form that's less awful than some of the other things I've seen.

Tom Ford said...

Here's my two cents -- please keep your hand in the game, even if your postings are infrequent. Some things come into being through a rare combination of circumstances and turn out to be magic. The Age of Uncertainty is one of them.

Catherine said...

Please, keep on trogging. That's a combo of trucking and blogging.

Glad to hear you are going to get another kitten or two. It must have been such a shock to find our your kitten was seriously ill.

Canadian Chickadee said...

If you stopped writing your blog, I would be very sad. I've really enjoyed your insights into things. You are one of the blogs I always check when I'm on the net.

I am sorry though that at the moment everything is down the pan. It is especially sad that the kitty had to be put down, when I know with what high hopes you got it some weeks or months ago.

I have no great advice or platitudes to offer, but I do hope things will begin to improve for you.

In the meantime, take care and God bless, xoxox Carol

Andrea said...

It's not so much about the things you find to write about; it's how you write that keeps me coming back.
Please don't think you have to find new and amusing things to blog about (although you do and they're very interesting), but it's your writing and your thinking that make this so good.

As long as you still enjoy blogging, I'll be enjoying your posts.

Anonymous said...

Your blog is like no other. It's always interesting to read your views and even if you feel somewhat stale your writing is anything but...I love the range of topics you cover, your honesty and your wit.

If you feel able to continue blogging I would be delighted. If not I would be pleased that you had entertained us for as long as you have.


Modern Dog said...

Hello Steerforth -- I'm another visitor who doesn't comment nearly enough, but I'm here (really I am) reading every post. I would miss you very much, so I do hope you stay around, even if it's only once a month. Or less. Whatever's best for you. I'll still be reading. :)

Anonymous said...

Please do not stop! I always look each day to see if you are mentioning a book, something you have found in a book or talking about somewhere you have been in your wanders. Intelligent discourse is too rare ... Anne in Cambridge (the U.K. one)

Anna said...

Oh don't leave us, Steerforth! Your writing is always, always interesting and thought-provoking, always to the point and often very funny.. I shall now 'follow' so that I don't miss a word if you decide to blog less frequently... AnnaC

Steerforth said...

Tom - Thank you. I will keep going. There's no reason why it has to be all or nothing, so I'll write when I have something to say.

Catherine - Thanks. The kitten incident was a blow because my son had been making progress with his OCD and we'd even persuaded him to have a trial week at a new school (he hasn't been to school since 2011). The kitten died right in the middle of the trial week and suddenly we were back to square one. We're going to try the school again in September, but I can't see it working unless something changes.

Carol - Thanks. I hope that things will improve. We do at least now have a very good psychologist who is helping my son. I don't envy her, as he's not exactly engaging with her attempts to help him, but she is reassuringly positive and that really helps.

Andrea - It's very kind of you to take the time to comment and I will definitely keep the blog going, even if it's a little erratic.

Sue - Thank you. I'll do my best to justify your generous comment. There are many things that I almost write about, but worry that they won't be of interest. However, one of my favourite blogs - Grey Area - can make buttering a slice of toast sound amusing and interesting, so I suppose it's in the telling.

Modern Dog - It's good to hear from a reader who doesn't normally comment. Thanks for saying hello. It's a relief to know that people won't necessarily disappear if the content isn't continually refreshed.

Anne in Cambridge - Thank you for checking so often. I'd advise you to 'follow' the blog, using Feedly or Netvibes, so that you don't have to check every day. Having said that, I'm being a complete hypocrite as I don't follow any blogs and check my favourite ones every day. I need to act on my own advice.

AnnaC - Thanks - as I wrote above, 'following' makes sense. Now that Google Reader is down, I discovered some great alternatives and will start to follow my favourite blogs and BBC radio programmes.

Anonymous said...

Don't give up Steerforth,I find it wonderful how such erudition and eclectic diaspora can come from someone who shared the same educational background as myself. I've been ducking in and out for a few years now and 'thumbing through the backnumbers', it's such compulsive reading.
TEL Dranlor

Steerforth said...

Thank you Mr Dranlor. Glad you enjoy it. Yes, we didn't have the most promising start in life, did we? Thank God for Richmond-upon-Thames College, which helped us to catch up. It's interesting how we've all gone off in very different directions - I think our 1980s selves would have been baffled by our disparate locations and career choices. But of our peers have remained in the 'sceptred borough'. Teddington seems to be a place that people are destined to leave.

Anonymous said...

Through your blog I've been introduced to Arnold Bennett, Somerset Maugham and Derek to name but a few. I echo the sentiments of many of the previous comments ... You're the first blog I check. I read every post. I love your blog. I'm glad you blog. Keep going ... please keep going.

Maybe one of these flag counters on your blog would introduce you to all the other viewers from around the world who visit regularly : )


Canadian Chickadee said...

Steerforth, try not to beat yourself up about stuff. All you can do is the best you can with what you've got available at the moment. And I know you and your wife have done your very best in this situation. In fact, I think you've been marvelous! (That's the mum-part of me talking!!)

All the best always, xoxoxo Carol

Desperate Reader said...

I too would miss your blog. I enjoyed it back when it was mostly old pictures and Derek but think that it has got better as time has gone on and i'm glad you're not planning on calling it a day yet.

Little Nell said...

I'm sure I've told you before that your blog is one of the reasons I became a blogger (and I'm a relative newcomer here at only two years). Yes, we'd all love to see the return of Derek, and more pictures of dead people, but ask yourself why we still keep coming back long after they disappeared. Well, no, don't bother asking because the answers are in the comments above. Scratch that itch and look forward to the next seven years!

Steerforth said...

Gill - I'm very glad that I've introduced you to a couple of authors. I've had many hours of pleasure reading books that I wouldn't have read if it hadn't been for a recommendation in a blog. I think this aspect of blogging is the internet at its best.

Carol - Thanks. We've tried, but have always been on the back foot. At least we're now getting some help.

Desperate Reader - I'm glad you think that. I think I try harder these days, as I have less to work with, if that makes any sense.

Little Nell - If I could go back in time, I would have saved the Derek diaries. I think they would have made a great book. I still have a few pages left, but they aren't that good.

I'm very glad that I've been partly instrumental in encouraging you to blog, as I've really enjoyed both the entries on Lanzarote and the old photos.

Erika said...

Please keep sharing your writing with us! I had to give up editing a dog journal because of ill health, but it was so enjoyable searching for information (a bit like wandering the stacks in a particularly good library). But with a blog, writing can be as much as you like and as often as you like. All that matters is that you enjoy it.

An Admirer.

Lucille said...

All the above accolades are justly deserved and I can hardly think of anything else to say except that I would miss your blog very much if it went completely silent. Wish I'd known you were at the Horniman. I'd have walked up to say hello in real life. We could have met by the overstuffed walrus. One can only feel slimmer by comparison.

Steerforth said...

Erika - Thank you for commenting, particularly as I now have a link to your interesting blog. I see from your sidebar, you read a very ecclectic selection of books, which is always a good thing.

Lucille - It would have been nice to have met. Sadly, the stuffed walrus is on loan to the Turner Contemporary in Margate, so I never got to see it. I shall probably go there again at a quieter time of year - I have a friend who lives just around the corner from the Horniman.

Thomas at My Porch said...

My blog is also seven years old and I also find it hard to feed the beast these days. I will add to all of the praise her to say that yours is easily the wittiest blogs I follow. You have a kind of Calvin Trillin quality which I think deserves to be published. A column, a book, something.

Anonymous said...

What they said! Natalie

Steerforth said...

Thomas - I love Trillin's dry wit, so I'm very flattered that my writing vaguely recalls his style. I love reading your blog, although when I've had a hard day with dysfunctional children, your photos of a beautiful, uncluttered home and the many interesting (child-free) vacations you go on make me more than a little envious!

I also enjoy your championing of forgotten literary gems. Please don't stop.

Steerforth said...

Natalie - Thanks!

CW said...

I came across your blog by chance when looking for some material on that famous "urban myth" surrounding Captain Pugwash - very amusing indeed. you've got some interesting thouhts floating around. As a fellow veteran blogger of coming up to 8 years now, with a published book under my belt which came as a direct result of blogging, I say keep up the good work!

Steerforth said...

Thanks CW. By the way, at the risk of being pedantic, it was 'Mary, Mungo and Midge' (I've just read your post on John Ryan). That programme brainwashed me into thinking that a 17th floor flat in a tower block was better than my parents' Victorian semi in Teddington.

zmkc said...

I'm always pleased when I see that you have put up a new post and would miss your blog if you stopped.

Steerforth said...

Thanks Zoe - I feel the same way about your blog, which I regularly visit.

I've posted a new entry - nothing amazing, just three quotes that I wanted to share. The were far too longer for Twitter.

RAMAN said...

You should leave ur decision partly to ur readers. I have reason to say that we, ur readers, do not allow u to give up.

Steerforth said...

Thank you Rahman, I will defer to my readers!

MikeP said...

Nothing to add to all that's been said above. Except: you should carry on because you want to - not because we want you to! Can't think of anything worse (for you) than plugging away at a blog that's become a chore.

Steerforth said...

Thanks Mike. I do want to continue, even if it's on a rather erratic basis. I'll try and aim for quality rather than quantity.

Donna said...

I seem to be on the internet all the time, and yet, the only blog I read with regularity is yours. And...I wouldn't have found it had I not become a blogger myself. I believe in the medium, but mostly...I believe in great writing. Yours happens to be in the form of a blog, for which it is well-suited. Part of the enjoyment is extra bits you include, and the photography. Don't give up. I love your voice.

Steerforth said...

Thank you Donna. I agree that blogging can be a great medium. It's quite different to any other sort of writing and the way that we can casually insert a photo or even a film clip into our writing is a modern miracle.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Don't you dare stop Steerforth!

My postings may have slowed right down and occasionally stopped altogether for all kinds of life-distracting reasons, but I always come back to it and feel enriched by it, and I am glad you conclude the same.

Plus you have a much larger audience to disappoint! Lx

Séamas Poncán said...

Happy anniversary.

All of my pastimes are futile, and most of them are harmless.

Steerforth said...

Laura - Well, until Blogger starts cancelling the accounts of people who aren't productive enough, I suppose there's no need to stop.

Séamus - I'd like to know more about the ones that aren't!

Debra said...

Probably I should have read this post before even putting up my first comment. But I have a (too) loud mouth, and am not inhibited enough these days, so...
I'm glad you got so many nice comments from people about your blog.
Every once in a while, the silent majority wakes up and posts a comment. (But then, that's what blogs CAN turn into.)
I enjoy one on one conversations, and have a few with strangers met over the Internet. With E-Mail.
Many of your references go over the top of my head, as I'm not English, and do not know enough about your culture. That's too bad.. for me.
I hope that all the comments encouraged you as a writer, and a person, too.
We all need friends, don't we ?
I'll keep following.

Steerforth said...

Thanks Debra. I'm aware that some of my references don't travel well beyond these shores, but vive la différence, as you might say!

Rechelle said...

I save your posts til the last of my blog reads so I can savour them slowly and enjoyably with a cup of tea or an apple slice-peanut butter sandwich-
please don't stop producing this one small ray of blissfulness in my life-

Steerforth said...

Thank you Rechelle. That's a lovely compliment - I'll try not to let you down.

On a more trivial note, do you eat an apple slice with peanut butter, or are they separate items? I'm intrigued.

Rechelle said...

you carefully slice the apple as if slicing a cross section of a sphere- try and get as many slices as you can that are a least 1/4 inch thick - lay them all out on a plate and with the inside hole of a biscuit cutter, the one that makes a biscuit become a doughnut, core each slice- if by accident you crush that little tool in the maw of your garbage disposal then take a sharp paring knife and carefully core each slice with small precise geometric cuts- thickly layer on peanut butter and top with another slice of carefully prepared apple- this is lovely but takes forever so if I have to I just slice the apple vertically into quarters and then 1/8ths and take the seeds out - spread peanut butter thickly on each slice and enjoy- just not as nice or as novel as an actual apple sandwich - I firmly believe half of enjoying food is in the presentation-