BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

I was, as I think I have said here before, an early(ish) adopter of the Internet. I ordered a computer from long deceased company Colossus, not off the peg but built to spec, in 1996 and went online. I had used the internet before, but through work. It was an exciting and dare I say Brave New World to venture forth on my own. I wish hadn’t said that actually given how the net is being exploited these days.

I bought and played with, and pulled apart, and added to, and programmed my first computer in the 1980s – a ZX81, still in the attic somewhere.*

Since then I have had a sort of love affair with the computer.

I still love the idea.

I hate the way they have been incorporated into a method of control and social domination by various actors in what has become the Digital Age.

Before anyone thinks I have become a Luddite, I haven’t. Not at all. The simple act of turning data into 0s and 1s and manipulating that data for our benefit, to connect us, to simplify tasks, to free up time, to allow interdisciplinary interactions to create new ways of thinking about the world remains a magnificent opportunity and goal.

However, we missed it.

Oh, it goes on in places to some extent, but finding them and participating is almost impossible unless one is already an insider, which is hardly the point of the great democratic experiment of information sharing via the web.

Commerce has taken over and now controls a system intended for academics and the sharing of knowledge. It may be convenient to buy plastic aquarium plants online from China with the click of a mouse (that dates me. Who uses a mouse now?) but is it what some of our brightest minds envisaged as they crafted the internet and the World Wide Web? The reduction of one of the great opportunities in world civilisation to retail, pornography and streaming media, seems like a missed opportunity to me.

Why do I rant now?

Probably because I am getting old and crotchety but also because many things are being moved onto a system that does not work as well as the brochure specs – who knew!? And the existence of the net shuts down the, often better, options. The latest being health care first point consultations. This move is already happening as overworked, understaffed GP practices struggle to meet demand. Matt Hancock is now suggesting digital consultations should be the norm.

I just spent 25 minutes trying to book an appointment, not for me, with a service (not a first point of contact) that has been sent to work from home because of Covid-19. The ‘hold’ system kicked me out once, was impossible to hear when I was eventually connected, and cut me off half way through, before I eventually booked a telephone consultation which will probably necessitate a series of video meeting. All calls were through the internet via a laptop at the service’s end. If I had rung on a normal line it would have been done in three minutes.

Then I read https://thematicallymeandering.com/2020/08/01/digitally-downsizing/ which I recommend.

In it there is a ‘rant’ about online content. I share a lot of his concerns. What worries me as much as the oceans of crap out there from SEO writing styles and advertising is the use, and misuse, of data. I turn off as much targeted advertising as I can but some slips through despite my best efforts. I may be weird because of my ASD but I hate getting bombarded with ‘Your interests: DIY and aquarium plants’ offers because I idly looked at insulation foam and plastic plants for a hobby that has absolutely nothing to do with DIY or tropical fish.

A silly example perhaps, but what else are the big data companies, the hangers on and the dubious governments like the Chinese Communist Party doing with this stuff? My data is apparently valuable and is being collected whether I want it or not. I don’t do the major social media platforms for that reason, and let’s be honest because I have ASD and hate the idea of what passes for social interaction at the best of times. Despite my attempts to decouple from manipulation, the vast majority of us don’t and this affects me. Who knows how major political decisions are being made by a group of floating voters swayed by subtle and not so subtle manipulation by everyone and their dog?

Most seriously what worries me about how the internet has been developed is that, unlike Number Six in The Prisoner, I am apparently a number, and the commercial internet hijackers have got it.

 

*But without the means to operate it – no black and white TV, which was used as the monitor. I kept it for ages, at my parents’ house, in various storage facilities and finally when I stopped moving around with work so much, at home. Until after one (last?) move to our current family home I ‘decluttered’ and binned the still working black and white TV. It could no longer pick up a terrestrial TV signal as they had all been turned off. In a fit of ‘what’s the point of keeping it’ (I had previously watched it occasionally in emergencies when other screens were unavailable) I sent it to the great recycling plant in the sky.

Only to remember too late what its primary purpose had been when purchased in 1982.

SOMETHING FISHY

My son went fishing yesterday.

He went with a friend, all socially distanced of course, all legal; rod licence, day ticket, two fish take away.

I confess I didn’t think he’d need the latter permission. My memories of fishing were of hours of tedium as you sat there not catching anything, getting bitten by midges, getting soaking wet or sunburned. If you ever did get ‘lucky’ the boredom was punctuated by flashing moments of; how do I get the hook out of this thing, how do I not get bitten (Pike), cut, (Perch) by this thing and then releasing it back into the water without drowning myself.

Nothing we caught was edible – I fished in the canal and grotty ponds, no fly fishing or expensive clean fast flowing spinning rivers for me. This was the 1960s and early 70s and waterways were mostly cheap waste disposal systems for industry farms and local yobs of all ages. Water management was barely acknowledged as an issue. So lead, mercury and sewage were some of the less harmful additives to the diet of most ‘freshwater’ fish in many parts of the UK.

So when he came back with his allotted Rainbow Trout I was impressed, proud and, at ten o’clock at night, not a little exercised by having to remember how to descale, gut and fillet a trout. I had done it (okay we got some brown trout out of clear streams in the hills occasionally) but when I thought about it, the last time I had cleaned and cooked a fish fresh out of the water was about 40 years ago. Now fish haven’t changed but my memory, dexterity and patience have.

However, he’d done his bit, now I had mine to do. I was sort of hoping for a father son moment where I showed him how to deal with what he had brought home. The mighty hunter however had (and I apologise for this) other fish to fry. So off to the PS4 he strode leaving me clutching one slippery piscine trophy staring most accusingly at me in a dead, vacant sort of a manner.

The upshot is we now have a couple of trout fillets in the refrigerator ready for cooking, when he arises. I confess I have seen neater bits of filleting. I’ve done neater bits of filleting, but for a late night stab (I’m sorry about this) at a half remembered skill, not bad. I hope. Of course the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. I’m recommending caution as we eat. Read the small print on the packet about some bones may remain.

At the moment he is full of enthusiasm for fishing and he has plans to be a regular. I’m wondering if we should perhaps engage in a few more trial runs before major investments. Initial enthusiasms do have a habit of wearing off. On the other hand, if it takes I guess there are worse ways of spending hours outdoors getting wet and sunburned.

ONE CHEER FOR RISHI!

Public sector workers are getting a ‘Coronavirus’ reward.

Huzzah!

I didn’t clap every week for the NHS Carers Essential workers, because frankly I thought it rather naff and not a very British way of behaving. I was, and am however, immensely grateful for the existence of institutions and people committed to the wellbeing of our society rather than a profit margin for shareholders. And I’ll show it in practical terms by lobbying and by voting for any party that will maintain that principle of public service over profit, and which will reward those involved in providing it. I am not against profit, it has its place, but that method of organising resources has its own reward and value system.

So I was ecstatic to hear that after years of austerity aimed at those not responsible for the economic meltdown of 2009 the Government was going to reward those who responded to the emergency.

Except it didn’t.

And presumably won’t.

It has rewarded those it needs to enforce order; the police and armed services.

It has rewarded teachers.

It has rewarded those at the top of the financial tree in the NHS; doctors and dentists.

The people NOT included are all the other NHS staff; nurses, midwives, porters, managers and admin staff etc.

The argument apparently is they are coming to the end of a three year pay settlement which brought them out of austerity earlier. 6.5% pay increase! Yay!

But that was in recognition of their low pay status, the damage done to morale and recruitment through effective pay cuts, an incentive to replace dwindling numbers because of removal of bursaries for nursing training, overwork, poor shift patterns and general bad treatment in a service starved of funding.

And that 6.5% was spread over three years, so an annual rise below rpi inflation. And an annual increase of 2% is a lot smaller sum calculated on a nurse’s pay than on a doctor’s pay,

And of course it won’t affect all those care home workers who are local authority staff, or more likely minimum wage private sector workers already overworked, underpaid and as we found out often underprotected.

So maybe not three cheers this time Rishi.

Get back to me at the end of the nurse’s pay round and we’ll see what we can do about the other two.

NEW WORLD ORDER: AGAIN?

BBC Radio 4 is running a series of radio programmes, podcasts and snippet articles linking them, under the umbrella label of ‘Rethink’ about what the ‘new normal’ could, and perhaps should, look like as we come out of our immediate reaction to Covid-19.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p08gt1ry

It is a very worthy enterprise in many ways but I wonder if anything good is likely to come of it.

The whole idea seems to rely on a feeling that such momentous events have to be meaningful. In our past, and no doubt in some societies now, we would have said that they meant something in themselves. Meant perhaps that God was punishing us for some error in living our lives, individually or collectively, and we needed to change to avoid repetition of the harsh lesson being given us.

Not many in Europe would buy that interpretation now. The concept of a beneficent, all loving God wiping out between a third and two thirds of the world’s population (Black Death 14th Century) as a random hint to do better would seem odd today to most rational people.

However, we seem to need these large events to signify something. My suspicion, from experience however, is that we should be very careful of the idea that things ‘have to change’ and how that emotion is used in fact and by whom it is used to change things.  After the attack on the Twin Towers in the USA, within minutes of the attack in fact, people who were close to those who had been frustrated by the ‘gloves on’, ‘softly softly’, ‘apologetic’ approach to dealing with terrorism were using the mantra ‘this changes everything’.

Well of course it did, as it hadn’t after the other attack on the Trade Centre (failed), and the years of Irish terrorism and relatively minor attacks on western assets by various Islamist groups. It did so because it killed a lot of people and shocked all who watched it on television. It worked because the will and the ability of those in power or near enough to power to know how to push the right buttons, was there in abundance to seize the opportunity.

So we clung to the illusory promise of safety through the erosion of our civil liberties. We embraced the surveillance state, and the biggest crime of all, yet the one that receives least attention in the west, used the pretext to bring war and death to populations unconnected to the attack on New York and Washington, kidnapped people without trial and assassinated others on our belief they deserved it without recourse to any form of justice. We pushed back understanding between civilisations and created a climate of justifiable grievance and terror on both sides of the divide. A climate which of course justified more coercive control of society in the name of ‘protection’.

So forgive me if, when I hear the phrase, ‘things have to change’ I reserve my approval of that statement until I know how that change will be planned and what it will entail. Most (I haven’t listened to all the episodes of Rethink) of the thoughts I have heard about what the world should look like, are well meaning plugs about the concerns liberal thinking people in a western democracy have had for some years and didn’t know how to achieve: response to climate change, fairer distribution of wealth and income, racial equality and justice etc. all good aims as far as they go.

But for every 6 minute podcast on BBC Sounds as part of Rethink, you can bet there are a hundred meetings in board rooms, cabinet committees, senior police and security agency meetings wondering how to get round those residual problems of civil liberties that get in the ways of controlling populations, avoiding bars to ‘agile entrepreneurial response’ to crises and making sure the complete failure of the way business is structured does not crash the money train.

Yes, and again yes, we do need to change the way the world works, but just because ‘things have to change’, doesn’t mean they will necessarily do so for the better. I’m not against using this as an opportunity to build a better world, I just want to read the small print about what ‘better’ actually means. If it seems too good to be true: it isn’t true.

Let’s make changes by all means, but remember, the people currently with the power to make them made the old system that wasn’t working. And nobody sent Covid-19 as an opportunity for us to respond to; it’s just a virus out to replicate itself. It doesn’t signify anything.

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HEART OF OLDEN GLORY?

Someone sent me a link to a video of the band Capercaillie recently, which led on, as these things do on YouTube, to a tribute to the band Runrig. It was a video of their last performance in 2018 which came as something of a surprise to me as I had not realised they were still going in 2018.

That in itself was odd because I had been a big fan of theirs. I bought their albums, videos of their live performances and had gone to see them live sometime around 1992ish. I felt rather guilty that at some stage between then and now I had in effect deserted them.

My interest in them waned for a couple of reasons.

First because the lead singer Donnie Munro, who had given them a distinct and distinctive character, left the band c1997 to pursue a career in politics, and it changed the face of the band. I would have tried to maintain interest and given the new line up a chance, but that was a significantly changeable period in my life.

Secondly, one of the changes in my life was the loss of a significant presence in my life. I had seen the band with that person and there felt like a connection between the two events in some ways, and the ending of a period in my life. An ending which, at the time, I was not at all happy about.

That sort of thing I find is often not as major as it may appear at the time, but in this case I think it was more so. Within a five year period I lost the person I thought I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, I changed jobs, changed countries where I worked, found and lost another significant person, found my wife and had a major change of outlook about what I wanted from life, and both my parents died.

To say it was an emotional rollercoaster is a slight understatement.

There were also other things going on related to work that were… taxing.

The loss of the front man for a band I liked hardly seems relevant does it?

And in the greater scheme of things it wasn’t, and I barely noticed that I ceased listening to Runrig in particular and Gaelic folk rock in general.

To have this suddenly brought back to mind was a bit like opening a door. An unlooked for door, behind which you have no idea what lies.

Apparently it was my past.

Now I don’t want anyone to think that it has left me hankering for any of the things that lay in that past. The relationships, if not doomed by my weirdness, were obviously not meant to be – it takes two to tango and just because I or another person felt one way about things didn’t make it so for both of us, or at least at the same time to make it work. So they are gone and I wouldn’t be where I am now with the family I love if they had been forced to work any other way.

But it made me wonder what would have happened if…

If what?

Well if any of the other things that might have happened had happened. What are those things? Well having set that question up I am going to be a tease and not tell you the answers. Some of them are personal to other people who I still respect, have feelings for or who may sue me. Some involve the work I did and would have other consequences. I’m not being mean, well I may be, but I’m not intending to be. That wasn’t the point of the story.

So what the **** was the point?

I guess it may only be that I am getting old and the past has a rosy glow of false attraction because I was a younger, more positive and svelter version of myself.

Or perhaps more likely is that the emotional rush reminded me that there are choices and whilst we can’t go back, we shouldn’t just accept where we are now, and appear to be going, as some sort of destiny fixed on tracks. There are choices and alternatives at every stage of life: try and remember to make positive decisions rather than just getting swept along by events and others’ choices.

Or it may be that digging around in the rubbish tip of my brain has uncovered some memories of potential alternative timelines that could be repurposed for potential fictional development. As long as I, you, we realise that the moment you step off the path of what happened it ceases to be real and has no relevance to what are now or could really have been. As that happy go lucky, fun loving angst ridden Danish Christian philosopher Soren Kirkegaard once said ‘Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forward’.

As a plotting device your alternative selves are gold dust, as a plan for your current life? Not so much. Just remember you make the choices now for the future not for the past.

Runrig, like the rest of that part of my life, are now history.

 

*Hearts of Olden Glory is the title of one of Runrig’s songs and one of my favourites.

FIELD TRIP WITH HORSES

My son and I went for a walk yesterday evening. It had been a hot and humid day and a thunderstorm had rolled close by without actually hitting us. It had however cleared the air a little and the evening was glorious with blue sky, golden sunshine and light friendly clouds. We walked through a field where two horses, a piebald and a chestnut, spend their days grazing, bickering slightly and trying to second guess what the people who walk the public footpath offer them. We offered gentle affection, stroking, patting and soft whispering praise. I don’t feed them. The owners no doubt know what they want the pair to eat and while the odd carrot or apple probably wouldn’t be an issue, if everyone does it, you can seriously upset a horse or pony receiving a balanced diet from its owner.

This pair is in great shape and while I, and my family who walk with me to see them, would undoubtedly get fun and satisfaction from feeding them, we have to think of the horses’ welfare. So affection, pats, attention, fine, but extra food, no. I wish I were so disciplined with my own diet!

The field this pair is in is great for giving them balanced natural grazing. When you walk through the field from the lane you drop down a short bank and walk to a brook that marks the field boundary. The low lying ground is something you rarely get any more; it’s a water meadow. It floods with heavy rainfall during late autumn winter and early spring and the area supports an abundant array of plants and herbs in addition to grasses.

As we walked on after saying hello to the horses, we crossed the brook, climbed the bank of the flood plain on the far side and looked inland up the valley. We started talking about how the growth and plants on the flood plain were different from where we stood on the shoulder of the valley. He told me all about how this land had been an inlet of the Severn estuary and ships had rowed up to the Roman capital of the Silures at Caerwent.  We talked about how the medieval castle, now landlocked, would have been on the banks of a quite significant marsh and river in medieval times. He knew the water flowing down the brook had produced a large intermittent lake even after the drainage of the Gwent levels. We discussed how the digging of the Severn railway tunnel had hit the aquifer that supported the lake and the pumping that kept the tunnel dry had drained the water more or less permanently, meaning the lake only reappears infrequently now.

We took a long time for a walk of a couple of miles but it was great to hear him so knowledgeable and full of enthusiasm about so much local and regional geography, history and economics. If we’d sat him down in a classroom and tried to stick all this in his head he would have been very resistant and learned virtually nothing. Letting him experience the geography first hand, look stuff up online, discuss it, read pamphlets from Cadw, connect it with one of his great interests, trains and then put it all together in the field has done wonders for his interest and is confidence in his own abilities.

What a great way to spend an evening.

Plus we got to talk to some horses!

TIK TOKKING IN THE DARK

My daughter, still on release from University thanks to the response to the threat of Covid-19, and not going back until at least October, has now decided to relieve her boredom by gyrating and muttering, she alleges musically, to herself around the house. It is not unusual to find her in unlikely spots stepping left and right and sliding and waving her arms about.

I am told this is in response to something called TikTok.

I’m playing with you here. I know what Tik Tok is.

It’s what for some reason we call an app. Why the word program was deemed unsuitable anymore is beyond reason, although the difficulty some of the tech generation have with pronouncing two syllable words may have had something to do with it.

It’s basically Vine with a slightly longer play run.

If you don’t know what Vine was – 6 second vids – you’ve probably seen the YouTube compilations of kittens falling asleep, dogs chasing their tails and raccoons eating garbage; all that remains of Vine since Twitter bought it and killed it in a desperate search for a profit.

There was obviously a huge market for Vines, hell, even I liked them.

Instagram no doubt had a hand in the death of Vine with a 15 second video app, which stole some creatives, but it never made the hit Vine did. Possibly because:

In stepped Musical.ly with much the same idea. You’ve heard of musers right? No?

Not surprising – they got bought by ByteDance, a Beijing company who already owned …

TikTok.

Musical.ly, started by Chinese business people, was big in the West, Tik Tok was five times bigger in Asia.

They ran together for a bit, then Byte Dance merged them under the Tik Tok brand. Fifteen seconds is your limit and the world went mad for it. ‘Lockdown’ was a blessing for them and teens and wannabes (my aging daughter is 20) have gone crazy for it in the quiet of having to pause and not be distracted by actual real life.

I’m not suggesting the Wu Han outbreak was a marketing plan by Chinese tech entrepreneurs, that would be a little bit crazy, even for a devoted conspiracy nut (which I am not by the way). It was however a great opportunity. A void to fill.

So my daughter substitutes Hegelian dialectic with Tik Tok dance, and an oblique reference to Darwinian competition in international soft power relations and I go slightly demented.

In the meantime, my son, a big Tik Tok fan via You Tube compilations and challenges until a few weeks ago – curiously enough the same time my daughter started her syncopated rhythmic circuit training – now scorns it and her antics. He is thirteen and I had presumed the target age range for the app. Maybe they have already jumped the shark. My daughter looks as if she is practising to do just that.

 

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IS ‘VLOG’ STILL A WORD?

I can get curmudgeonly when I want to. Hard to believe I know. I also lack many of the basic skills of speaking social media. I am therefore doubly ill suited to read with equanimity the maunderings of Miranda Sawyer in the Observer about the response of the Radio 4 programme ‘The Archers’ to Covid-19.

I know one is supposed to either love or hate ‘The Archers’. It is supposed to be one of those litmus tests, a Marmite decider of social division. But it isn’t for me. I’ve listened off and on since I was about eleven I suppose, infected by contact with my parents listening habits and unable to shake the  virus. But it has been intermittent and I lose characters and plot lines without remorse and pick new ones up without commitment. I can in other words; take it or leave it.

So it was with no feelings of an axe to grind in either direction (note to self: does that work?) that I began to read ‘Ambridge in lockdown shock’ yesterday. I won’t bore you with the technical complaints about the deadness of the recording quality done alone in jury rigged, duvet blanketed home studios. The format of internal monologues is, I agree, weird when there is access to modern communication systems. Although I suspect someone thought it was a really cool idea to explore the inner workings of the characters minds after decades of surface viewing only.

No. What really tee’d me off was the smug assumption that life always works exactly the same for everyone as it does for people existing in the Metropolitan Twitterati class. Miranda launched the last section of her critique of how a sixty nine year old radio soap reacted to Coronavirus with: ‘The second episode had a couple of nods towards how people actually live, with Tracy making a “vlog”… (who uses that word, in 2020?)…’

Now I am sure in her world the answer is probably ‘nobody’ but does that mean someone in rural ‘Borsetshire’ (a mythical English county, imagined roughly somewhere around Gloucestershire way) wouldn’t? Because I can tell her that I know kids in rural Monmouthshire, just over the Welsh border, next door to Gloucestershire, most certainly do. My son is quite keen on his and, failing the production of yet another spiky neologism, settles for the no doubt appallingly passé term ‘vlog’ when alluding to his channel.

So what do hep cats in Ms Sawyer’s world call their video diaries and channels I wonder?

I don’t want to criticise all her criticism of the Archers. I was not in a listening phase when quarantine hit us, so I made an effort to tune in when I heard of the new format and was, I confess, singularly underwhelmed. Not because it wasn’t written in urban street slang, although that might be fun for an episode or two, but because I didn’t want to break a plane of understanding in this setting. Part of the rules of the game for a drama like the Archers is that you have to infer motive from actions and like life this is not a clear cut business.

Suddenly knowing from inside the thought processes of characters destroys something of the mystique of the narrative flow. It’s like asking John McClane from Die Hard to voice his internal monologue from the Nakatomi Headquarters. It seems an interesting concept until you realise it’s going to be a huge disappointment as most of the hour and a half is going to be blank tape.

Oh, yes Ambridge is weirder now. But don’t take the mickey out of people because their lives don’t have the ridiculously rapid, vapid and profligate turnover of language and ideas of the media circus. Some of them have real lives to live that don’t revolve around a fear of being two seconds out of date in media jargon, social or otherwise. Even in Radio soaps

FAREWELL

My auntie died this morning.

She had Covid-19 and had been in hospital with an unrelated problem.

I miss her more than I can say.

Not that I saw her a lot, but she remained my main connection with where I grew up, with my father’s family and with something I didn’t know how to relate to without someone like her. Saying I miss her sounds odd like that I suppose, but just knowing she was there felt like a sheet anchor that held me stable within the changing world.

When my parents died and I suddenly realised that all those questions you meant to ask were closed off to me now, she could still answer many things. If I needed to know things, if I needed to get in touch with people in town I knew who to go to.

Her sons are still in the town and my feelings obviously pale into insignificance next to theirs. I can only send them my condolences, love and my thanks for their mother and her unfailing good nature and kindness.

She helped my mum when my father died and I was out of the country. She was lovely to my daughter when I took her to see her she and she sent her and my son birthday and Christmas cards and presents unfailingly to the end. She was a lovely person and remains a warm secure memory about a place I have oddly mixed feelings about.

I should have told her I loved her more. She was so kind and I am a terrible correspondent and she should have heard more often than she did how much it all meant to me.

We mostly saw each other in recent years at family funerals. The irony is not lost on me. The opportunity to correct my inability to put into words and actions the affection I felt has gone. I can’t do what I kept promising myself I would do and write, phone and visit.

There are reasons I didn’t but when the hard reality of an ending arrives like this, it makes it clear they were not good ones.

It’s probably too late to change my nature and fix the problems associated with it, but perhaps her death can be a catalyst for me to at least try.

My love to her and her family.

Thank you.

‘NO ONE RISES SO HIGH AS HE WHO KNOWS NOT WHITHER HE IS GOING.’

A friend, I think of him as a friend, I hope he feels the same, especially after he reads this, recently sent me (and a fair number of other people) a link to a blog about how to plan your novel writing. Not plan your novel; you know, cards, plot lines, character development charts, timelines, making sure X doesn’t reveal they know W before the denouement etc. but rather how do I actually get around to finishing this thing. They are going to cover routines, staying ‘energized’ to the end, balancing writing and life, and of course setting effective writing goals.

Goals.

I have a hobby and I think I have mentioned before, (I’m sure I must; it’s one of my hobbyhorses – see what I did there, hobby, hobbyhorse? Suit yourself.) that I frequently quibble with those who talk about it in terms of projects and goals. It’s my hobby, and let’s face it, it’s playing games with toy soldiers. I take it seriously up to a point, that point being when I start having a desire to keep spread sheets on the types and number of figures I possess and need for various battles and campaigns, progress charts on painting and more paperwork than a tax return. At that point it is time to get a hobby to relax from the hobby.

Okay the point of this diversion is to admit that I am not naturally predisposed to goals. They are the big thing of modern management speak. How can you organise and maximise efficiency without ‘goals’?

I can just about accept that running a business requires a need to know what you are trying to achieve That for some purposes it is a good idea to break this overall aim into manageable chunks, so that the processes involved can be managed within budgets and achieve the aim of selling widgets and making a profit.

But we’ve got into a mindset, and I have to point a finger at the self help brigade here who have bought into lazy acceptance of business speak and vice versa, where we think it is a good idea to run our personal lives as if they were a business. It’s your life. Enjoy it without a spreadsheet.

But writing I have always said is a type of business. I like writing, don’t get me wrong, if I hated it I wouldn’t do it, but I’m not sure I would do anywhere near as much of it if I didn’t get some reward from it.

Over the years, in different contexts, my writing has made me a living. It has been part of various more formal jobs where the writing was conveying ideas or reports of things done to people who needed to know, or just as an end in itself for people to read for enjoyment, sometimes as part of their hobby. My general rule of thumb has been to follow Johnson’s ‘No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money’. So while there is an enjoyment to writing, I can’t say I see it as a hobby.

So should I have goals?

I can’t say my life has had goals, and yet here I am. Generally happy, solvent with a family and not yet ready to give up on possible new avenues of experience and adventure. I won’t be playing full contact rugby again I guess, or at any rate, not more than once, but I am open to many other ideas. Whilst not a complete hero; I don’t like the idea of heroes, I am suspicious of the concept; I feel Oliver Cromwell, a man who made his way to the top if anyone did, had something useful to say to those obsessed with micromanaging life:

‘No one rises so high as he who knows not whither he is going.’

And while accepting that like any self made man our Oliver may sometimes have been economical with the actualité, I like the idea of someone who was ‘living neither in any considerable height, nor yet in obscurity’ ending up as head of state against all expectation.

So no novel writing goals for me I think, and as for managing life and writing, it’s difficult but I feel another quote from Dr Johnson coming on: ‘A man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it.’

(With apologies to any and all genders – he lived in different times, and although an Enlightenment man, he was not enlightened in that way).

Of course, if this were the only thing involved in success, I should be at least PM or a Nobel Laureate in Literature by now. So perhaps a little more career planning on the writing front? Sounds a lot of work, almost like a hobby.