BLOGGING MADE EASY
I started a blog just before Christmas 2014, but it wasn’t my idea. It was my daughter Ione who thought I should start one, both to keep me going in productive writing terms, and also to promote my business of running a fiction school here in Kythnos (www.writinginkythnos.com). She unfolded her plan after she had spent the morning cleaning my house, as a sort of selfless and very generous and much appreciated though unsolicited act, coupled with just possibly if she brought any beautiful, probably Albanian boy back home any night, it’d be nice if the romantic rendezvous didn’t smell like a long closed and rotting zoo. Two enuretic and encopretic kittens can lend their astringent odour to a Greek bijou apartment, and she was right on that score. She mopped not only around the feline toilet suite, but lifted the litter trays and mopped underneath. I stood there lost in admiration at all that virtuoso cleaning, and wondered for the millionth time, why some people were so brilliant at it and why I, bless me, always made somewhere substantially dirtier whenever I wished to clean it.
I treated her to a joke which Annie and I always enjoyed, and especially in the first decade of our marriage, i.e. until Ione herself was born in 1989. Apropos the fancy stuff of lifting up the litter tray and mopping up the piss and recalcitrant shit stains underneath:
“That’s S Level what you’ve just done there, kid…”
It was originally my own gag and one that Annie thought hilarious, a bit like the illusory 1978 self-cleaning laundry in the magical laundry basket that I mentioned recently. It was all to do with my idleness, my resistance to change in my self-indulgent habits, and my fear of learning any new, and as far as I was concerned, quite uncalled for, these so-called and much-overrated, reified, hypostatised and worshipped out of all proportion items, called Skills.
Think about it, as my Kythnos pal, the Kythnos Hora architect Thymios, loves to say every third sentence, you just have a think about it, you English malaka. Just as they didn’t have the words ‘psychology’, ‘dustbin’, ’Bacardi’ ‘pumpernickel’, ‘download’ and ‘snog’ anywhere locatable in Shakespeare, neither did they have the noun ‘Skill’ in the sense of a reified capitalised deity such as nowadays you get 24/7 in the otiose and debatable terms Social Skills(fuck that for a game of cards, and especially if you’re a twice divorced and highly unpopular tenured lecturer who teaches it), Life Skills (shag them and all their smug and unempirical relatives, while you’re at it) and worst of all, Communication Skills (kiss my gorgeous ass and See You Next Tuesday, given that half the folk that teach it are borderline autistic, and this time seventy-three times divorced).
What I mean is Shakespeare got on perfectly well without cudgelling his worthy brains re Psychology, Bacardi and Social Skills, and on that basis I got on perfectly well not doing the fancy stuff, like vigorously hoovering in the difficult corners of the sitting room, as Annie would have wished me to. I was nearly 30, before I found out that to get in the tough corners, you have to change the extension and put one of those slit edged plastic attachment things on the hoover, which wonderfully can poke its snout in tight corners and greedily suck up as much fluff and grats (a word for gritty detritus shards that only Annie and I ever used) and dusty refuse as anyone could wish.
When Annie originally urged me to get stuck into the awkward corners with our gurgling 1974 hoover, I pulled a face and deadpan croaked:
“That’s bloody S Level, that is. It’s not on the A level syllabus, and I don’t have to do it…”
Annie was one of the cleverest women I have ever met, but she hadn’t gone beyond O (Ordinary)levels at school, and couldn’t wait to get out of the mind-numbing, conveyor belt factory that her local Grammar School earnestly promoted itself as. It also incidentally yielded the biggest number of unmarried 19 year-old pregnancies, when the Cumbrian GS girls went to Manchester for tertiary education, and once out of the pitiless hothouse, couldn’t wait to disrobe, yell give it to me Terry, gorgeous Mancunian West Didsbury babe, and engage in something that was better than poxy old Geography homework, even if it was all about riveting names like Raleigh, Carolina, and the principal exports of the American towns on the Fall Line. Yet, even though she’d never seen the hallowed and cathedral-like inside of a GS Sixth Form, Annie understood the reference. If you were studying A (Advanced)levels in the Sixth Form, and supposing you were taking a crack at Oxbridge entrance, or somewhere else that fancied themselves as nearly Oxbridge (e.g. funereal and soporific old Durham, or groovy old druggy old Bristol) you could opt to take additional S (Scholarship) Levels. They were a kudos matter as much as anything, and a teacher might try and bully you into taking them, even when you’d already got university entrance, because it looked inordinately good for them, for the maestro teacher behind the maestro pupil. One of them tried to get me to do S Level Chemistry, when I’d already been accepted by Oxford, and I just gave him one bleak look, said nothing and walked away. I had not uttered a sound, but he knew right well that I had said for all the world to hear, fuck that for a game of cards and you can stuff it up your burette, your pipette and your dear old Islets of Langerhans, to switch to Biology which was yet another S level I refused to take.
So…if you were ploughing away at your Biology A level and some bright spark of a fellow student showed off to Miss Prodger by babbling ostentatiously, about Interferon or the biochemical equations of ATP and ADP catalysis, you would turn to the bilious show off, and sneer, We don’t have to do that, that’s bloody S level, not A level! (Miss Prodger by the way would let an 18 year old away with a ‘bloody’ but if you said ‘fuck’, she changed colour and threatened sending you to The Boss, aka Al Capone in a merciless hangman’s Cantab gown from 1931). Hence when I told Annie, hoovering in the corners was S Level, and I was only doing A Level, meaning only the sitting room carpet and bugger the redundant and quite unnecessary frills, she knew at once the reference and duly fell about. Thereafter, we both used the gag about once a month, all the way through till she died at the end of 2009. The last two weeks of her life of course, she was never going to make gags about S Levels or about anything else.
So with the house cleaning out of the way, and it was a hot December midday by now, we set off for a walk beyond little Martinakia beach. On the road to Episkopi, you can spot an interesting looking dirt track, ascending up into the steep hills above the port. I had never been up it, but my guess was it would have some fine aerial views over the port and over the sumptuous Episkopi plain and as far as Apokrousi and Kolona bays. For lunch I had packed a tiropitta and a packet of crisps each, plus a pop bottle of Liokri retsina per head, and as always, as much water as Ione could drink and which I dromedary-wise rarely imbibed. Annie, when she was alive, always marvelled as she noted that the only things I ever drank were wine and coffee. It was not quite accurate, because I do often have boxed fruit juice and now in the Glaros and the Paradisos I quaff fresh orange kheemo which is both delicious and a bargain here on Kythnos. But both Annie and her daughter enjoyed bottled water by the yard, a fact which I always find immoderately baffling. The thing about water, whether bottled or not is, it has no discernible taste, and you might as well swallow fresh air in my view.
En route to the top Ione, expounded the idea of the blog to me. I recoiled a good deal as she spoke, because I imagined at first she meant a two-way blog, pace the dialogue you sometimes get on Facebook. I liked what you said about x, and yes I liked that you liked the fact that I liked x, and yes I liked the fact you liked me liking the fact that you liked x…and it can go on by this infinitely serial cascading and mysterious absence of Intensity and Passion (‘you know, I really like the fact you like the fact, that I am not passionate and not intense’) all the way till the two correspondents are pushing up the earth. But no, Ione didn’t mean that, or she said that at least it could be optional, and you could have a one way blog where people could post comments if they wished, but which you blogger papa, have no means of responding to, even if you wanted to. In the end, as you see I have compromised by regularly putting my personal email address at the start of a post and saying with sincerity that anyone is free to contact me directly any time. That makes the dialogue between myself and any correspondent, private and as it were straight and sober, rather than our vicarious self-conscious babbling for the entire universe.
I’ve already given two reasons why Ione thought I should blog: to get my writing arm going again after the five years silence since Annie had died, and to promote my fiction teaching business Writing in Kythnos. The other reason, was her personal great fondness for the diary pieces I had written about moving to Kythnos and finding my feet after September 2013, or VE Day as I sometimes call it. I had written these at the end of December that year and put them in alongside everyone’s Christmas cards. That Christmas I had sent cards to about 50 people, most of them in the UK, which meant the postage alone was 50 x 90 cents = 45 euros. When I went in the Loutra Post Office, postman Spiros originally from Rhodes was in charge, as the head honcho was at great personal expenses blithely partying in Athens for a fortnight around the festive time. You could see Spiros was under considerable strain, as the post even in quiet as a mouse Kythnos swells a fair bit about Yuletide. The poor bugger had to be both postman and post office clerk at the busiest time of the year, and to be conspicuously candid, he was a moody, sullen kind of fifty year-old Rodiot at the best of times. I shouted yasu and asked him for 50 stamps, and where any other half reasonable postperson would have been delighted by such a grandiose purchase, he stared at me sourly and said:
“Why would anyone in their right mind want to buy fifty stamps?”
He had a point, but it was Christmas rather than Armageddon, as far as I could recall, and I told him as much. Surely this ought to be the season of your anomalous Non- Sulking, Kyrio Spiros, my dear malaka, aka Ebenezer Papadopoulos…
So, Ione stressed, no two-way blog, and people would surely love your cracked entertaining thoughts about Kythnos, about writing, about everything that comes to mind. She told me my barmy anarchic stuff made her laugh like hell, and her favourite diversion back in Wroclaw, where she worked before she came to Kythnos for Christmas, was to receive one of my diary pieces and grab a bottle of beer and settle down on her bed for a good old laugh. Anyone would have been moved by having a daughter say something like that, and I was certainly bolstered and heartened to know that I had at least one firm fan still left in the universe.
The blog has been going about two months by now, and the total number of views is way in excess of that novel of mine that sold best, the Booker listed Jazz Etc of 2003. I have followers in remarkable places, meaning furren parts, and I have no idea who they are or how they have heard about me and my blog. The countries where I am followed, include among the exotic list, Qatar, Turkey and Colombia. I don’t know anyone in those countries personally, nor do I know anyone who knows people there. Because my daughter is a TEFL toiler called Ione, I can work out why folk in Poland, Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, the UK, USA, Australia and Italy are reading it, but again it is oh so different from my fiction publishing, as then only a handful of people bought and read my books from anywhere outside the UK. I have a brother and his family in Australia, and they have always been loyal to me and my books, but otherwise it was only ever going to be good old Blighty, not least because my books are often stuffed full of comic but non-ornamental Cumbrian dialect, and no UK publisher is going to risk their neck on those, when they wont risk their neck on anything other than the safest of safe bets, in any case. The publishing world have the slenderest necks and simultaneously the most unbending rhino hide skins in existence. And please don’t get me to talking about, God love us, literary agents, or I will be spitting blood and feathers for the next twenty years. Suffice to say I once had dealings with a top notch, pop star included literary agent, who turned to me on one august metropolitan occasion, and without any trace of irony, said, You know, John, I’m not really literary, as an agent…
At least she was honest, and I doubt if she could spell Shakespeare or Drabble or frontispiece, much less read him or her or it. But can you imagine an estate agent saying, I’m not really estatey? In the sense that she didn’t really deal with these baffling things called estates, but dealt with what, polony skins or ostrich feathers instead?
Here are the itemised pleasures and benefits of writing a blog as opposed to writing fiction and enduring all the thwarting and depressing processes that follow:
-I can write what I like, and no one can stop me. Can you imagine what that supreme freedom is like for any species of writer? Critics like DJ Taylor say that I have always written precisely what I wanted anyway. That is provisionally true, but it has always firmly tied me to tiny fiction imprints who simply do not have the means of selling books in quantities, if only because they do not have big shot distributors or the finances, to do mega-promotion in national newspaper ads. Thus my 2004 novel Murphy’s Favourite Channels got 10 mostly very good reviews, one or two a full page with mugshot in posh broadsheets and respectable journals, and was a Novel of the Week in that ideological beacon of the far left, the Daily Telegraph, which hosts trenchant letters from Trotskyists in their Esher and Godalming and St Albans chapters. If Cape or Faber had had that kind of coverage they would have sold bucketloads, but because I was with a minuscule imprint it sold 550. I did not earn my advance and Flambard lost money on it, but Flambard were always my salt and my bread and my staff, and my crutch and my life, and be assured their like will not be seen again.
-I can write and publish a blog post when I like, and put it up when I like, without any editorial or publishing delay. By contrast if your novel is accepted for publication, you have to wait anywhere between a year and two years, to see it in print. Right enough, it takes time to assemble and promote a book and get everything niftily in place for its birth, but that still doesn’t justify a two year penance in the Provincial and Letterless Outer Darkness does it? I mean you could die of inanition as readily as cancer in those two long years of wait, wait waiting…
-I have no editor other than myself and this suits me perfectly. I am an antiquated brainbox of a kind, as well as an intelligent imbecile, and there is only me knows what I want to write, no other wishful thinking bastard has the faintest inkling, and never will they. I like digressions and some of my posts take 500-1000 words to reach the mooted theme or subject, but both my loyalest readers and I, could not give a flying shite about that. It’s like being on a bus journey abroad (and remember Kythnos and Greece definitely are abroad), where you are enjoying the countryside, and you really couldn’t give a damn where the bus is ultimately heading, much less the purpose of the bus journey. I can tell you what the purpose of the journey is. The purpose of the journey, is the journey for its own sake, end of story. But put it even simpler, when you eat a bar of chocolate you are enjoying the gustatory and olfactory experience as you proceed a-chewing and a-slurping. Unless you are an eejit or an apocalyptic sourpuss, you are not looking forward to the end = Absence of Chocolate = a Void or Nothingness qua a certain type of Mahayana Buddhist, who sees the ultimate spiritual and epistemological truth as The Void or Shunya.
-I can publish what I write the same day, if I wish. I don’t need a publisher, editor, printer, distributor, bookshop. All I need is a laptop and my daughter’s Facebook to promote it, as, unbelievable as this might sound, I am on neither fb, nor Linked In, nor even Shacked Up, and possibly as a result roundly Fucked Up.
By way of conclusion and as wholly gratuitous aside, I would love to know the reality of that specific UK dating agency that caters only for people who wear uniforms and for those original individuals who get turned on by someone who wears one. In my youth when I was studying German at school I soon learnt that the word Beamte is the most important single noun in German. It means ‘official’, and whereas a Brit would maybe laugh at a bus conductor frowningly ticking them off for tearing the end off their ticket accidentally, and therefore hovering dangerously close to having to purchase a second…no German would ever in their dreams laugh at the epic solemnity of the Holy one who Officiates, much less laugh at them over a mere bureaucratic bagatelle…
Am I myself turned on by uniforms? Mm. I like hospital nurses in a big way but I don’t think it’s because of their uniforms. I think it’s because of their handsome breasts and their flashing thighs and their delectable swaying backsides, and I am talking about the ones in their fifties and sixties, not about the bright eyed kids in uniform. So there you go. Blog on and blog off… and ever upwards and onwards.