A few days ago, I was reading the football results on the BBC. Two hours later, I was scrolling down sites of ancient ruins in Qatar.
If you follow football, you can probably guess how I got from A to B via X, Y and Z. If you can’t, then Google it.
Everybody knows what I’m talking about here. Those lost hours (days, months) scrolling down Wikipedia entries on dead rockstars. Do you know Bob Marley died of acral lentiginous melanoma?
I’m not even a heavy internet user. I generally use it for the football scores, banking, bureaucracy, writing this blog and listening to music. I don’t even use it for work as I work on a farm. But like everyone, I sometimes get sucked into the void.
True, I occasionally learn things. I learnt about String Theory recently which I included in the post before this. But most of the time, it’s guff.
Take the Guardian newspaper for example. I’m a keen supporter of the paper and its values, but most of the pieces I’ve read before. Different topics, different authors, but the ideas are the same. Features, articles and opinion pieces recycled whenever there’s some special commemoration, anniversary, or event in the offing. Another climate change summit, another slew of ideas and protests that won’t be taken on board by the politicians, because in short, they don’t give a shit.
On the football front, whenever Man Utd or Barcelona have a string of bad results, there’s a mountain of articles on who should be sacked and why and who should replace them. I’ve followed football all my life and we’re having the same arguments now over the sacking of Solskaer as we had in 1990 over the sacking of Alex Ferguson. (If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about – you can read on now.)
In short, history repeats itself. We all know that. And yet we keep on reading about it, again, and again, and again.
Wikipedia is fantastic but it’s also annoying that almost every other word or phrase in a sentence has a link to another Wikipedia page. By the time you’ve finished reading say a piece on rock formations in the Llanberis Valley in North Wales, you’ve got half the internet open citing everything from granite chemistry to the Stereophonics.
Saying this, (and I have been trying to crowbar this song into my blog for some weeks now), I did find out about Alain Bashung recently just by mindlessly browsing the internet.
I was seeing if the word Lego (as in the small plastic brick) is the same in French as it is in English. It is. And it led me to a song called Comme un Lego written by Gérald Manset and sung by Alain Bashung in 2008. I liked it so much that I’ve started to sing and play it (with mixed results). But I’m glad I found it so maybe browsing isn’t always a waste of time.
A friend came to visit me last week and the first thing he said was, ‘Shit Phil, you’ve still got your Christmas lights up!’
I think what worried him most was that the offending lights were still hanging on the tree. It was nearly February.
‘Don’t you know it’s bad luck!’ he pointed out.
I explained that the tree was actually an indoor conifer and was there all year round. The fact that there were lights on it was pure coincidence.
‘Jesus, Phil,’ my friend swooned. ‘If I did that where I lived, everyone would think I was nuts.’
I smiled at my friend and reminded him that my neighbours were over a mile away. And even if they did visit me — which was unlikely seeing as they hated my guts — they wouldn’t even notice a Christmas tree. Most of the farmhouses around here are so full of mismatched furniture, broken lampstands, and stuffed animals, they look more like Victorian bazaars than places to live in. A Christmas tree, I assured him— even with sparkly coloured lights — wouldn’t raise a single eyebrow. Even in July.
‘Plus they cheer me up,’ I continued. ‘When I turn them on each morning the bright, festive glow makes me feel like it’s Christmas Day. Don’t you ever wish that?’
The way he looked at me indicated he thought I’d been living in rural France too long. But I wasn’t joking. I was deadly serious. I’d always found it rather sad watching my mum and dad ruthlessly pack away all the decorations when Christmas was over. ‘Why not leave them out?’ I used to whine.
‘Because,’ my mother always reminded me. ‘There would be no joy unpacking it all again next year.’
She had a point. But it might have been pleasant to leave a few lights up to combat those winter blues. Which is what I do. And only replace the bulbs when the dog chews one off. Which she does with a rabid hunger from time to time. How she hasn’t electrocuted herself, I’m not sure.
I thrust a bottle of Pelforth beer into my friend’s hand and tried to explain what life was like here. That the favoured attire this season for trips to the local shop was wellington boots, mud-splattered jeans, padded blue gilets, and thick filthy sweaters. In fact, if you made the effort to dress up, you’d probably get robbed.
‘No one here really gives a shit,’ I went on. ‘People drive without seatbelts, drive drunk, shoot dogs, shoot cats. Even shoot themselves when they get really bored — it happened to a guy up the road a few weeks ago. Boom…’
My friend edged towards the door, thinking of returning back to London as soon as possible. ‘It must be like living in the Middle Ages…’ he mumbled as he tried to get a phone signal while I stood there shaking my head, a mischievous grin creeping up the side of my face.
‘You’d be better off sending smoke signals,’ I mocked. ‘Or, if you’re desperate, trekking up the mud-clogged hill and trying from there.’
‘Do you have internet?’ he asked urgently, looking at me as though he was about to throw himself off a cliff. Maybe he’d forgotten to ask me before he booked his ticket if I actually had ‘The Internet’. My friend being one of those people who can’t leave the house unless there are at least a hundred mobile phone satellites pointing directly into his brain.
I feigned surprise for a few seconds just to get his blood pressure really racing. ‘Errr,’ I said. ‘Yeh. Sort of. But it’s unreliable and slow. And sometimes even goes off.’
My friend’s eyes glazed over as the word OFF almost sent him into a coma. In his world, nothing was OFF: TV, Phone, Internet, Laptop, Radio, Coffee Machine. Always ON. Always ready to GO.
‘But most of the time,’ I finally declared. ‘It’s OK.’
He let out a long, drawn-out sigh, as though he’d just found out his mother was going to live after some complicated brain surgery.
Later, over dinner and wine, he asked me why I’d swapped a life of London cafes and bars, for a life of Normandy cows and barns. ‘I find it odd you came here,’ he ventured, gently sipping the pricy Bourgogne I’d bought especially for his visit, to save him drinking the gut-churning stuff I normally drank.
‘Don’t you get bored?’ he asked gravely, as people do when what they mean to say is: I would be bored out of my fucking mind if I lived in this rathole!!
‘Not really,’ I answered. ‘I know I’m not going to be here forever, so I just try and enjoy the moment. Plus the stuff I do, like herd cows down country lanes, is the sort of shit people do on those stupid self-discovery courses. Or corporate away-days, where all those morons try to get closer to themselves.’
My friend reminded me that he was one of those corporate morons, and had actually been on an away-day, abseiling down the side of a 50-storey building for no reason whatsoever.
‘And did you enjoy it?’ I quizzed him.
‘Yes,’ he agreed. ‘But I wouldn’t want to do it every day; I’m scared of heights for one.’
After my friend had gone back to the capital, I thought about taking the lights down from the tree. Some deep-buried guilt ordering me to conform to some absurd custom I didn’t like. Maybe it was because my parents were coming in a few weeks time, and I was nervous about what they would say.
‘Shit Philip! You’ve still got your Christmas lights up! We took our decorations down weeks ago.’
‘Yes Mum, I know…’
And so I would have to go through the whole conversation again. It was draining enough explaining it to my friend. To my parents, it would be like trying to find a pulse in a corpse.
So what do I do? Lights off, or on?
Luckily, I’ve got three weeks to decide. And if you want to find out what happened, you can reread this in about mid-February. You’ll know the outcome because I’ll have changed the title.
Why I Keep My Christmas Tree Lights On All Year Round — Except When My Parents Visit
A few years ago I wrote a piece called Why I Canned Social Media. This is a follow-up piece – Like one of those What are they doing now? programmes you get on crappy daytime TV.
So how am I doing? Well, I’ve probably lost most of my friends and I don’t get invited out anymore. But apart from that, I’m fine.
To be honest though, most weren’t my friends anyway. They were just people I said YES to when a friend invite came up on Facebook. Luckily, I have my real friends, many of whom, I’ve developed a better relationship with since leaving social media, simply by using email. Or even seeing them in person. Remember that?
I’m also better humoured than I was before. And I laugh more. Especially when I read about 24-hour social media strikes. That gets me laughing! People protesting because they don’t like something Facebook or Twitter are doing, so they don’t use it for a day. Only to rush back the next to see how many LIKES they’ve got for advertising the fact they were going on a social media strike in the first place.
It’s nuts! It’s like boycotting a supermarket. But for one day only. And on the day you wouldn’t do your shopping anyway — like a Tuesday. I mean, if you’ve got a gripe about Facebook, why don’t you just delete it?
I sound like an ex-smoker haranguing smokers to stop smoking. And I know how utterly tedious it is, because I used to smoke, and hated people telling me to stop. I stopped purely for health reasons. Twenty years on the cigs hadn’t done my lungs any good, so I made the decision. And even though I still miss smoking nearly seven years on, I don’t regret leaving social media one bit. In fact, it’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. For one, I’ve got more time, and secondly, I don’t get that horrible sense of dread of wondering whether I’ve said the wrong thing. Or offended someone.
I’m quite a sensitive person, and sensitive people should not use social media. If you’re bullish and don’t give a shit about anything, fire away, comment like crazy, LIKE people’s lunch for eternity. But not if you are a fragile soul like myself. You’re just going to do yourself an injury.
The main reason I left Facebook was that I had the audacity to criticise my school (it was an old fashioned boarding school). I wrote a piece on my blog about bullying and advertised my thoughts. God! The vitriol I received from people I thought were my ‘friends’ was terrible. Sullying the good name of the school seemed to be the common thread. Being ungrateful, another. Being spoilt, another one. It was insane. Who defends a school? I mean, if what I was saying was a total lie, that might be fair enough. But this was the truth, and yet they couldn’t handle it.
I couldn’t handle it either. So I left Facebook. And I feel so much better now. And even the small things I miss on it, are far outweighed by not having to be conscious of what people might think, or might be saying about me. Not that it should matter. But if it does, and you are vulnerable, I really would advise deleting it.
I guarantee it, you’ll feel better. That’s a promise.
Of course, I still use the internet — I’m using it now — but I like to try and use it in a way that fits in with my personality: Unintrusive and quiet. Even the thought of that stupid red symbol Facebook has when you’ve got a like or a reply, makes me shiver. I don’t even have a Smartphone for the same reason. I don’t want to be connected 24/7. (I even wrote a piece about that too called Why I Don’t Have a Smartphone)
I’ve often thought of canning the whole internet thing. It’s very difficult to escape. But not impossible. To have nothing. No email. No bank. No online tax return. All possible, people do it all the time believe it or not. You just don’t read about it.
It’s a funny world we live in. And I’m thinking there might be two types of humans evolving side by side. The connected and the unconnected. Two sub-species of humankind, who don’t speak or communicate with each other, and who are totally oblivious to one another’s existence. Which is exactly how I feel when I enter a public place these days. You’ve only got to go into any bar, cafe, restaurant, town centre, shopping arcade, to see that most people are on their phones. Doing what? I’m not sure. I guess they are on social media or looking at the football, or the news. I mean what else would they be doing? Reading a book? Possibly. But unlikely.
In truth, I’m not sure what will happen, or where it will all go. We might just split into two species after all. One with a hand. The other with a phone.