Sunday, July 26, 2015

I Give It a Year

 
Every dog has its day and after almost nine years of blogging, I feel that this one is slowly limping towards its inevitable end. Perhaps the tenth anniversary would be a good stopping point. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

This blog began as an idle experiment to relieve the tedium of being stuck in bed, while I was recovering from a particularly violent bout of food poisoning. It was called 'The Age of Uncertainty' because I had just entered my 40s and the job that I mostly loved had literally changed overnight into one I largely hated.

I wasn't planning to make a habit of it. However, when Ms Baroque kindly commented on my first post, generously refraining from pointing out how banal it was, I couldn't quite get over the novelty that a complete stranger had read my words, thought about them and bothered to write a reply. It seemed quite wonderful.

I think the blog really hit its stride when I worked for a company that provided me with a constant supply of old photograph albums, secondhand books and quirky ephemera from house clearances. I particularly enjoyed sifting through the fragments of lost lives, sharing the best of them. If the rest of the job had been as enjoyable, I might have stayed.

Four years after becoming self-employed, the photos and letters are thin on the ground and I seem to have fewer things to say, perhaps because my time is largely taken up with family concerns that wouldn't make very interesting reading. When I do have an idea for a post, it's often accompanied by an awful sense of déjà vu.

If I had more time, I might have written a post about the Roald Dahl Museum, which I visited a couple of weeks ago (the photo at the beginning of this post is of the wall of the church where Dahl's funeral took place), or of the discovery of an abandoned quarry in Lewes, hidden behind a thick undergrowth:


But most of my mental energy is going into getting my ASD son used to being outside again.

Last year his agoraphobia became so severe, he began to suffer from vitamin D deficiency. The lack of sunlight, exercise and human contact had a predictably debilitating effect and it had been a gargantuan task to reverse this decline, but at last, things are looking up:



This photo, which my younger son created on Instagram, was taken yesterday afternoon during a visit to the South Downs.

Recent trips out have followed a familiar pattern of a five minute walk, followed by a frantic request to go home. But yesterday we walked for over an hour and, to my amazement, were able to go for a pub lunch afterwards. Like a normal family!


All of this has been achieved over time with a lot of help from professionals. There are no easy fixes and we are not going to make the mistake of thinking that the problem has been solved. It will always be an ongoing battle and when winter comes, we will have to be careful not to let my son's world shrink again.

It's extraordinary how little we know about these conditions, except that there is a genetic factor. I have taken part in Simon Baron Cohen's autism test and I am less autistic than the average male, but I did suffer from what are now known as 'neurodevelopmental disorders' as a child, so when I heard that a team at Sussex University were looking for volunteers for a research project, I decided to volunteer.

It's a decision I began to regret when, last Tuesday, my head was place in a vice-like grip and my brain was bombarded with a high-powered electro-magnetic field for an uncomfortably long time, but they seemed suitably appreciative afterwards and perhaps it may turn out to be one of the most useful things I've done in my life.

And that's largely it. The days are spent going on short trips, usually taken between midday and three o'clock to ensure that my older son gets plenty of vitamin D. In the evenings, my wife and I enjoy our guilty pleasure - drinking Pimms and watching The Good Wife on Netflix.

If all that sounds a little dull, I would agree. But after the last few years, dull is good.

44 comments:

Lucy R. Fisher said...

Dear Steerforth - don't give up! And don't feel guilty about fun things. How can watching Netflix possibly be a sin? I don't understand Protestants!

MikeP said...

Well, I will be sorry if you knock it on the head, as will your other readers, I'm sure. I haven't commented much recently, but I'm always pleased if Feedly tells me you've posted. Whatever you decide, I wish you the very best of luck.

Travellin Penguin-Pam said...

I can not get in to tell you how much I would miss your family trials, books, excursions to unusual places. I would also miss your sense of humour. I hope you don't lightly give up blogging. I love your writing. You think life is dull. I am sitting in southern Tasmania in the winter wet and rain and absolutely nothing is happening. I need to get the le a d out and work more on my own blog. Wishing you considered dullness.

Chris said...

Please keep going, if at all possible. We need good thoughtful bloggers who write well, in actual sentences paragraphs instead of 140-character tweets.

joan.kyler said...

I understand not having the time or energy to write for us, but I know I'll miss you if you leave us. On the other hand, you certainly have your hands full and I can understand taking one more thing off your list of things to do. But I'll miss you if you decide to go.

Anonymous said...

Followed your blog for some time and never commented before. I would be very sad to see it go. We all identify with the the boring and mundane aspects of life. That's what makes them (ironically) so interesting when someone else writes about them.

Tororo said...

First, I wish you and the whole family to enjoy plenty of sunny afternoon walks and to get plenty of vitamin D in the process.
Besides... Unlike Ms Baroque I wasn't there when you issued your first post, yet there's been quite some years I keep reading your blog; I never felt any necessity to "refrain from pointing out how banal it was"… mostly because your posts never failed to strike me as "non-banal" (I hope this is an English word)… I mean totally worth reading.
And about the feeling of déjà vu… "Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us." This was written quite some time ago, if I remember well.

Clive said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
rupello said...

Your thoughtful writing is a always a source of pleasure no matter how ordinary the subject matter. I would love to still see the occasional update from you (no matter how infrequent) but anyhow thank you very much for all you have written and wish you and family the best of luck.

Steerforth said...

Thank you all for your kind comments, which are always much appreciated. I'll certainly keep going for the time being, but the updates will probably be more sporadic. It all depends on how things go on the home front. I don't want to lose contact with the like-minded strangers I've met (sometimes face to face, which has always been a positive experience) through this blog, but I'm paranoid about flogging a dead horse.

However if, as some people have said, dullness isn't a problem, perhaps I'll plough my deep furrow of ennui for a little longer.

I didn't know about the Hausfrau blog that Clive mentioned. What a sad end.

Anyway, the point of this post was, largely, an apology for going off the boil, jumping the shark, or losing my mojo (insert desired metaphor), to everyone who continues to visit.

Unknown said...

I can do dull and would miss you like mad if you didn't post, however spasmodically. Please don't think of not keeping us in your life (emotional blackmail in overdrive, I know, but something dramatic is called for after reading your post).

Lorna said...

I have been interested in the life changes you have blogged about. Finnishing is your choice but I shall miss your updates.

rshepherd1964 said...

I just want to add my plea for you to continue your blog to all the others who have already done so. I look forward to reading each new post as it arrives. Your blog is beautifully written, with entries ranging from thought-provoking to laugh out loud funny. And I've enjoyed your photos and the illustrations from books you've shared with us. I would miss your blog very much. My best wishes to you and your family.

rshepherd1964 said...

I just want to add my plea for you to continue your blog to all the others who have already done so. I look forward to reading each new post as it arrives. Your blog is beautifully written, with entries ranging from thought-provoking to laugh out loud funny. And I've enjoyed your photos and the illustrations from books you've shared with us. I would miss your blog very much. My best wishes to you and your family.

Canadian Chickadee said...

I think we would all miss you horribly if you stopped posting. I know I would. I'm sure it must be difficult to come up with something new every day, or even every week. One of the problems with the internet is "FOMO" -- fear of missing out -- that feeling that everyone in the universe has a more interesting life than mine.

Sadly, we all have days when the game doesn't seem worth the candle, and when the housework intrudes, and the rain won't stop, and the dog throws up, and someone has to be rushed to the doctor after an accident. Not exactly illuminating reading, but a very large, necessary, and important part of daily life.

I hope you will continue to write and blog, even if only occasionally, for I too would miss your observations terribly. I check your post almost every day, just so that I won't miss something. See, FOMO again!

zmkc said...

I don't think you would know how to write a dull word. If it is a chore, it isn't worth doing, but if you enjoy writing the occasional blog post, I think there are dozens of people that get pleasure from reading what you have to say. And it doesn't matter if you only have something to say rarely.

Anonymous said...

I'm yet another stranger who loves your blog. I have enjoyed seeing the change from posts with odd book photos to more personal stories about your boys. There are many people who struggle with dull jobs and difficult family challenges, and your voice is one we can identify with. Best of luck, always.

The bather said...

Good blogs are rare.Most are bread and water.Your's is a pot of tea and some hot buttered toast.Your readers know the difference.

Steerforth said...

Once again, many thanks for your comments, which have been a great morale booster. I can assure you that I wasn't fishing for compliments, but had become genuinely convinced that this blog had become as stale as an old loaf. Perhaps that's because I feel a little stale at the moment, although I am fighting it with lots of walks and I've started playing the piano again, after a long break.

Even if I do give it a year and stop in August 2016, I've no doubt that a new blog would soon replace it as I enjoy the comments too much. Other people's insights have pointed me in several interesting directions over the last few years and only the other week, I had a very enjoyable coffee with a reader who happened to be in the area (he made the grave mistake of letting me pick the venue, which turned out to be a 1970s-style lorry drivers' cafe that only offered 'filter coffee' or 'milky coffee').

Writing has been cathartic and the sense of connection that blogging provides has been a great source of pleasure. I'd be reluctant to lose that.

veri maz said...

I came upon you in the hey days of the Derek diaries and stuck around for the pathos. I have your blog in my first read folder as I always look forward to reading it.
If you ever make it as far Sydney I'll take you for a real coffee.

DorothyUnderwood said...

I have a teenage son who has similar struggles (the sense of triumph when you get to have a family lunch out! Full sentences even!) and your blog entries were something I looked forward to, as much for when they didn't talk about eldest, as when they did because the balance of good and hard, mundane pleasures and quiet joys - that was a gift to read. It's hard to blog with teenagers and issues of privacy, and you did very well at that.

David Gouldstone said...

Although I very rarely leave any comments, I read your postings avidly and always find them thoughtful, interesting and sometimes amusing. In many ways your life isn't particularly like mine, yet nevertheless I feel a kind of kinship. I'd miss your blog if it wasn't around.

Jan Stewer said...

I endorse all that has gone before. Most of us live fairly ordinary lives and you have a way of writing that seems to identify so well with that.

Adam said...

Hello, long time reader, second-or-third-time commenter here.

Just to add to the chorus, I came for the old photos and stayed for the gentle refelections of life around Lewes, an interested enhanced when I moved not terribly far away from you (Shoreham by Sea). If I miss anything, it's the odd insights into your business. I once bought a book that you had on your self of unshiftable books, just because I saw it on the blog, and thought it looked interesting.

I always enjoy your posts when they crop up, however infrequent they are.

Anonymous said...


Oh Steerforth.. Don't Go! I have never commented on a blog before, preferring to lurk on the edges mm, stalkerish :)
but your blog is unlike any other I follow - you're not a girl making pom-pom garlands - and I would miss you So Much.
And yes I am being selfish.. sorry. I just love how you write and I would miss your blog terribly.. see this is why I don't ever comment - it's sounding a little bit obsessive. Which I'm not.

I love that you met for coffee in a lorry drivers' cafe.. and why is Netflix a sin? I think I need to explore it a little bit more.

Unknown said...

Only connect..............I see you have brought out all the non-commenters and hope you will take on board what your absence would mean.

Chris Matarazzo said...

I started blogging in 2010 and I know how you feel... It's rewarding, for me, to converse with intelligent people I otherwise never would have known (people not unlike yourself), but it also serves a purpose for me, to paraphrase Neil Peart: How do I know what I think unless I write it down? For that reason, blogging has contributed positively to my own mental health. I was never a journal-keeper; I suppose my ego requires some kind of audience. Still, lately, I have thought about what diverting my blog time into writing fiction (and even into composing) might do...

On the other end of things, I think you sell yourself short when you feel as if your pieces about family and everyday life get tiresome. They certainly do not. Your insights are always compelling. I know how you feel, though -- I am always conscious of trying not to be too me-ish on my blog. I sometimes hit "publish" while cringing and thinking: "I did it again, for the third time in a row."

Someday my blog will some to an end, too. I can feel that now. But maybe not a total end...it can always be there when needed. At anyrate, you have a very appreciative and active audience, but we all need to change paths sometimes...

Kid said...

Just blog when you feel like it, but do your best to feel like it as often as you can. And you needn't worry about being boring - you never are.

Steerforth said...

I'm very grateful for your encouraging comments and will be less paranoid about being dull in the future. It's not always possible to tell how many people read the blog and my visitor stats are sometimes flooded with hits from spambots, usually linking to Russian sites of a rather 'adult' nature, so I was surprised to receive so many comments. Thank you.

SmallP said...

Hello! I too am guilty or being a lurker (or maybe a stalker) by not commenting but I thoroughly enjoy your blog. Your writing style, humour and content are all wonderful and I always look forward to your posts. I think life always goes through cycles just as we go through the seasons so I am sure that sometimes it feels that you blog about the same things but so what. You always have an interesting perspective and humour on these things and that is very refreshing. I hope that your family life doesn't get more stressful as we wind down to Autum and I look forward to any more blog posts that come my way :-)

milton said...

I like your blog and look forward to the posts. We are roughly the same age (I think), and its interesting and often moving to read about how these strange, unpredictable middle years can pan out, and how one muddles through them. Good luck.

Lucy R. Fisher said...

And those photos are lovely. That Victorian ivy and lichen - so melancholy! In a good way. xxxxxxx to you all.

Anonymous said...

I'm another anonymous reader lurking in the shadows. Searching for old diaries on the internet, I came across your Derek posts. I then spent days going through your archives. When I came across some of your photo captions, I began to laugh out loud. Unfortunately, I was at work. So I gulped and snorted and had tears come to my eyes instead. "Allergies," I said to my co-workers. To this day, they comment on the pollen levels and ask me how I'm managing. But that's our little secret.
I would miss you if you stopped -- I love all your entries, boring or exciting, mundane or momentous. That's why I like reading diaries: it's the pattern and repetition as much as the unusual events that matter.
But whatever happens with the blog, I wish you and your family all the best.
And now at home I have a desk drawer filled with a stash of allergy meds gifted to me from near-strangers. We can never know what influences we have on the world.

Anonymous said...

Another lurker that would like to thank you for posts that are always interesting and civilised.

Thomas Hogglestock said...

Oh dear. I follow a lot of blogs, but none other even comes close to giving me the satisfaction I get from reading yours. I am going to join the chorus of those asking you to keep at it, even if it is infrequently. You could write about the size and shape of your morning cereal and I know you would do it with wit and insight.

Do what's good for you, but know that a lot of us really love what you do here and have grown to love the man (and the family behind him).

Richard de pesando MA(RCA) said...

Hello Philip. I’m sad to read this - but understand. I’ve been writing my blog for roughly the same length of time and often wonder if it’s run it’s course and have had several breaks myself. Oddly I find it easier to write when things are going wrong, and much harder when things are going right. If I take an extended break it’s usually because I’m very busy or I just have nothing to complain about. I suppose that suggest why I started in the first place, and for last few weeks, after my ridiculous accident I’ve been very grateful for the opportunity to talk to ‘nobody’ in particular.

I’ve always really enjoyed your blog, regardless of the subject matter - you manage to mash everything together with a tone and charm I’ve never managed. I’ve also like the truthfulness of it. In particular you comments about your son. When I was a child I have a very specific memory a new and rather trendy teacher at my school (I was about 11 - it was the late 70’s - she wore a tartan maxi kilt with a giant chrome pin) trying to suggest to my parents that I wasn’t quite the same as everyone else and that she’s been taught about ‘difference’ at her new redbrick university. My parents, of course - were appalled and never mentioned it again, closing their ears and eyes, and I was instantly ‘in charge’ and have been ever since. I think your son is incredibly lucky to have parents like you and your wife, and the little you share with us honours it all.

I’d also like to thank you for giving life back to Derek. By coincidence - I retrieved all your Derek posts recently to show to a collegue who works in picture restoration and colourisation for museums and researchers etc - he’s looking for new projects and was captivated. I’ve passed him onto Chambre Hardman in Liverpool, but I think you’re been able to give Derek more respect, recognition and affection that possibly he ever experienced in life.

On a personal level - your professional struggles vaguely mirror my own and I’ve appreciated being able to share them.

I really do hope that you continue with occasional updates, outbursts, day trips and reviews - even a few crumbs mean a great deal

All the best

Grey Area

Steerforth said...

Thank you. I'm really touched by the kind comments. I don't quite understand what it is that people see in this blog - I can only see its faults - but I'm deeply grateful (and comforted) that it strikes a chord with some people.

I should reiterate that I wasn't planning to stop now, but simply felt that this blog was slowly running out of material, now that gems like the Derek diaries and the old photo albums had disappeared. However, the comments people have written have reassured me that it's not quite as dull as I'd feared, so I shall keep going.

Another MikeP said...

I've just discovered your wonderful blog today after beginning with an idle thought (I wonder what happened to some of those reps I used to see in bookselling in 80s and 90s London) then going down the rabbit hole of fascination here.

We possibly have some ex-colleagues in common from our shared life experiences (the owner of one of your linked sites changed my life by recruiting me and became one of the best and most interesting bosses I've ever had). All those stories you tell resonate with such strong recognition and emotion. On walking into a bookshop now I sometimes feel an involuntary sense of it being a quaint anachronism. You have reinvigorated my sense of their vitality. I wish I'd discovered you sooner.

Thank you.

Sue said...

I have come late to this post, but I can only say I love your blog.

As I get older, I am convinced that the small things in life are the most important. I'll raise your Pimms and Netflix with a red wine and George Gershwin (I've just been to a Gershwin and friends concert).

Although you make light of your difficulties, I do hope you know that the comments here are heartfelt and sincere: you are much admired.

Warmest good wishes to you.

Steerforth said...

I'm really overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of the comments. I must print them out and keep the pages in a draw for those days when things seem a little bleak.

MikeP the Second - Was your former employer Mr Bookseller Crow? I suspect we do have quite a few reps in common - I spent most of my bookselling career in SW London, plus eight years in Sussex, so I got to know quite a few reps. In many cases, their visits were the highlight of my day.

Another MikeP said...

Yes, my former boss and saviour from chain bookselling hell in EC2 is Mr. Bookseller Crow. He is one of a kind. Have you heard his anecdotes about Christopher Reeve in a Fulham cafe and what the kid said when he saw the standee for Howard Jacobson's Coming From Behind?

Your posts about reps brought so much back. I thought I was unique in being such a callow naïf taken in hand by the grizzled veterans. They were such a great bunch of people; Greg from corgi, Barry from Futura ("the man from the future is here to see you" someone once said) or was it Fontana, Carl at Penguin, the lovely Shereen at Cape and all of those old lags from Robert Hale, Heinemann and the like. And Pam from Mainstream. Oh, Pam. We became an item for a while (there was a certain inevitability about these things given the combination of youth and alcohol at all those book launches). I was very sad to hear of her passing.

I've just read one of your posts about Christmas in pre-NBA bookselling and have had to sit down with a cup of tea to lessen the stress reaction from the repressed memories. After ten years of bookshop management in SE5 (after a few of floor management and buying in EC2) I realise in retrospect that the physical and mental effects I exhibited were the same as PTSD. I came away from that with the gift of shingles too. I had the good luck to get to know and chat with some interesting people there; Jenny Agutter (hooray), Christopher Logue (hooray on his good days but best avoided otherwise), ex-NME hero Chris Salewicz, Howard Brenton when he was writing Spooks and an array of actors, directors, musos, artists and politicians. My wife rolls her eyes now as we watch TV and I regularly say "yep, sold books to her. Him too. And her." I also had the good fortune to attend a launch that was one of the most exhilarating and fascinating experiences of my life. It was for Downriver by Iain Sinclair held at the old Monster Doss House in Whitechapel and afterwards at a Ripper/Krays pub where Alan Moore held forth and I had an encounter with a bona fide East End gangster. I wrote it up for an inflight magazine here in Australia but it was deemed "too intense" for publication.

I escaped to Melbourne where I had the ridiculous idea of expanding the freelance journalism I'd been doing in London just as the internet was beginning its slow motion revolution. So I ended up back in bookselling for a very cool indie chain until the inevitable closure and redundancy occurred. I retrained and qualified as a library technician doing cataloging in Marc21 amongst other things and work for a local Council. Bookselling is so formative though. It's wonderful reading through your posts and being transported back.

Steerforth said...

Mike - I'm sorry to read that Pam's no longer with us. I'm remember her as a very attractive woman who seemed as if she wouldn't take any prisoners if she was crossed. Our first meeting wasn't a huge success - she was pushy and I was stubborn, but we ended up getting on very well and she was one of the reps I would enjoy wasting half an afternoon with, barely talking about the books.

Your experiences sound very familiar - I remember a similar event with East End gangsters, which was both hilarious and rather scary - I rationed my visits to the loo that evening. How many jobs would expose you to such a cross-section of people? Meeting authors like Iain Banks was always enjoyable, but I particularly liked the more bizarre encouters that took place, like sitting with Jordan/Katie Price in my office while she chose items of jewelery to endorse, or explaining to Lee Child why I never bought parking tickets. I could give lots of reasons why I enjoyed bookselling, but if I had to sum it up in seven words, it was a bit of a laugh.

Sadly, I don't think there's much laughter now, since the little grey men and women moved into the book trade.

I haven't met Jonathan, sadly, so I haven't heard the anecdotes. If I'm ever in the area, I will have to pay a visit to his shop.

Little Nell said...

Well, I’ll add my pennyworth, not that it’s needed. You may remember that you are one of the reasons I started blogging. I too have found that I post infrequently these days and ponder the same questions as you. Life seems to be getting in the way a bit lately, and I have also discovered instagram and other distractions like Facebook. However, whenever I do dip into my favourite blogs (including yours) I’m glad I did. Do carry on a little longer.

Sarah Faragher said...

Some booksellers turned to blogging to be able to continue to talk about books, I think, since publishing and bookselling itself changed so much. At least, I know I did. I love your blog, have read your words off and on for many years (and never found them or you dull, I must say!), and would be sad to see you bow out. Books, music, your family, travels, it's all good. Diaries and memoirs are my favorite reading genre, and I consider well-written blogs such as yours to be among our generation's great diaries. Thanks for writing. Glad to hear you will carry on, even if sporadically.