Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Blog Identity

These days, I consider myself to be one of this strange new mutation of human critter, the common blogger.

It's not a rare sub-species, and is often hard to tell apart from the rest of humanity, other than wider pupils, jerky movements and extended periods of unintentional nudity. And the enormous blogger's cape we tend to wear.


Recently I saw a great T-shirt with the slogan "More people have read this shirt than your blog" on it, and it got me thinking. Hmm, more people have read that T-shirt than my blog. I tend to think in italics. I wondered if I should try and put myself out there a bit, like a blog-whore advertising my wares. Hello sir, hello madam, take a peek under my skirts. Like what you see? There's more of that in here. No obvious rash either, and they're not warts, they're beauty spots. Big, crusty, slightly oozing beauty spots, oh yeah . . .

So,in which metaphorical corner of the internet super-cul-de-sac should I ply my trade then?

The Gravel Farm isn't very technically advanced. It hasn't got flashy links and gifs, and the avatar/logo/identifying image is a picture of some gravel, which I took myself. It's not what you'd refer to as a sophisticated blog set up, so I can't rely on flashy visuals to tempt in the curious. I'll have to rely on content. It would be nice to have someone make a much more fancy blog for me, popping in every now and then to empty the bins and pick the soiled underwear up before making me a nice cup of tea, but until I get an IT savvy assistant who's willing to be paid in compliments and whatever I can find in my garden, I'll have to manage on my own. Still, it doesn't hurt to advertise, does it. Unless you're a burglar.

I sent off a query into the bowels of the web, and the search imps skittered back with a few suggestions for registering your blog and thus increasing your punterage. One of them was Technorati, which I subsequently logged onto.

Initially, I thought I'd let them off for the unsavoury use of the word "claim" rather than "register", as if The Gravel Farm doesn't have an owner unless they say it does. A bit like those people who have certificates telling them they own a bit of the moon (I think you'll find folks, that the Clangers have got Lunar real estate sewn up pretty tightly thank you very much, and you don't want to cross those buggers; they've got a dragon). In the past, it has been seen as an influential site in generating blog traffic, so I set up an account and put myself down as a member of the blogerazzi.

I then spent the best part of five days (on and off, not constantly, because that would be silly) battling with the ethereal mysteries of and it's less-than-crystal-clear instructions for "claiming" my own blog , all to no avail. Apparently, the URL is invalid (that's right, the one at the top of your screen there, the one that your computer is using right now to let you read this. Utterly invalid that is), and any queries via email are met with an automatic reply informing you that they probably won't be able to reply. Thanks for the help there.

The instructive instructions instructed me to post a single piece of code so they could recognise my blog, which I duly did (and got eleven quality comments!), but still no luck. Utter refusal to acknowledge this blog.

My mind switched back to italics, and I thought sod it.

The daft single word post was deleted (apologies for the comments lost) as I'm not far off the lovely hundredth post, and I don't want my tally to be sullied by such lack of verbosity.

Following this very unproductive episode, I now feel the need to post something more constructive.

So, onto my post.

As some light relief, I was quite taken with a recent blogging exercise I read about where you post the sixth picture from a file on your computer and blog about it. Sounds reasonable I thought, with the mental addendum that anything that would get me flagged with an Adult Content Warning sign would be deleted.

Unfortunately Luckily, I don't have that many rude pictures on my computer, so I thought I would go with the sixth image I found on my Desktop, which was this:

I didn't actually take this. My ladder isn't long enough. It's from the Hubble space telescope and it's an amazing image of the Shuttle Atlantis crossing in front of the sun. I've actually got this as my current desktop wallpaper.

That wouldn't do though. I think the spirit of the exercise lies in using a photo that you have taken yourself. The space shuttle isn't really blogworthy for me as I've been up in it less than half a dozen times.*

I'll try again. This time, I uploaded the sixth picture from the first file under the cryptically entitled document 'pictures' which, beguilingly, contains quite a large number of pictures, most of which I've taken myself. The exciting result was this:

Hmm. A picture of a set of (artfully laid out on my sofa) magazines from the 1930s and 40s entitled 'Illustrated Carpenter and Builder', which I have been asked to sell on a popular auction site on behalf of a friend who eyes the internet with the suspicion usually afforded a very still snake. Possibly wisely.

Well, that won't do either. A bunch of elderly magazines, and not a single Sudoku in any of them. Hardly riveting blog material.

Another go. Go down to the sixth folder under 'Pictures', choose the sixth photo and, verwallah:

An action shot of me, suitably ensconced at the front of a stage at a local beer festival a few months ago, playing a gig with our ukulele club. I remember it well because it was a gorgeous, sunny day liberally enlivened with a few decent pints of lovely beers and ciders, combined with a spot of hardcore uke fun. The gig went well, although a lot of the audience were so well-lubricated that they would've probably been happy with a monkey banging a couple of bin-lids together whilst refraining from throwing it's poo.

Actually, that sounds quite cool. I'm going to think about that.

Monkey. Bin-lids. No poo. Cooool . . .

So there you go. A quick exercise with moderate amounts of cheating, perfect for inducing the flow of the old bloggy juices.

And to get traffic to my blog?

Well, I'll just continue my witterings as per usual, and be grateful to any and all of you who deign to spend some of your valuable time here.

I don't often say it, but thank you.

*Six less than half a dozen, in fact.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Inventing necessities

I need an I-phone.

I need a 42 inch HD ready flat screen telly. I need two hundred channels of crap. I need high speed internet access. I need to see the latest blockbuster. I need faster ready meals, to drink cider with ice in it, to worship celebrities, get antibiotics for that deadly virus, holiday abroad, holiday at home, lose weight, gain weight, to be buff, be more masculine, be more feminine, to have 32 blades on my razor, to express myself and to suffer in silence. I need to go out, to get drunk, drink nothing but water, to ignore modern medicine, have a tattoo, have at least three hundred Facebook "friends" and get my eyes lasered.

I need to respect the stupidest of ideas for fear of upsetting someone. I need to be right, left, liberal, extreme, gay, straight, inclusive to some, racist against others, insular and extrovert. I need to love fat women, but vilify fat people. I need to be patriotic, to hate my country. I need to listen to that single, but not that album, to read that magazine but not that book, to hate that regime but not that country, to hate that leader but not that party. I need to know what's important.

I need to be told.

Programmable microwave - need.
Fridge that tells me it's out of milk - need.
Nightscope - need.
Playstation and Wii - need.
MP3 - need.
Robot vacuum cleaner - need.
Robot lawn mower - need.
Robot - need.

I need to be self-sufficient, to be a productive member of society, to argue, to toe the line. I need a small-holding, a city job, anti-depressants, white teeth, plastic surgery, no plastic surgery, herbal "medicine", counselling, to be breastfed, to complain about breastfeeding in a restaurant and to call an ambulance for a cough I've had for the last week. I need to be famous, infamous, overly nostalgic, to dread the future, to lock 'em up and throw away the key, to complain, to never offer a solution, to distrust scientists and call them "boffins", a man-bag, a red-top, a glossy, gym membership, a mountain bike, a racing bike, retribution rather than rehabilitation. I need caffeine-free, fizzy pro-biotics and gel that makes my hair harder than a tiger with a flick-knife. Yet malleable.

I need to earn twice the average wage like everybody else.

I need a four-wheel drive, 500 horsepower, hybrid diesel that drives like a petrol with in-car DVD, sat-nav, self-stopping and parking sensors. I need a bigger drive to park it on. I need to win arguments by shouting, to phone my vote in, to see my doctor immediately, to be loved even if I'm not lovable, to have three credit cards, to spend what I don't have and blame someone else.

I need Umi:

Or so I'm told.

Of course, what I really need, more than anything, is air, closely followed by water and then, occasionally, food.

I also need to make up my own mind.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Nonchalance Shall Pass.

I was strolling nonchalantly along the banks of the River Severn a couple of days ago, contemplating the bizarre notion that the Forest of Dean, although a mere two hundred metres or so away across the water there, would take me the best part of forty minutes to get to because the nearest bridges are either in Gloucester or via the M4 into Wales.

A nonchalant stroll is an acquired skill, like throwing shurikens or making balloon animals that don't look like sex toys. I've been watching true experts (old blokes) do it, and it requires one to clasp hands together behind one's back, lean to the side and slowly, but forcefully, throw the opposite leg out and around to take a step. At the same time, one must glance up at the sky, then down to the ground, out to the west and then back to the front, all without rushing, before leaning the other way and throwing the other leg out and around for the next step. Every five or six steps, the nonchalant stroller should stop and rotate 180 degrees to ascertain either the position of the rest of his party or, if alone, to nod sagely at the distance already covered. Forward motion is achieved, albeit at the rate of a tortoise on diazepam.

For added effect, one can occasionally blow one's cheeks out and mutter "tum-te-tum", but that is beginning to enter the realms of the fouth dan nonchalant stroller, the type of person who wears stroll fatigues of beige and brown, finished off with leather sandals and light blue socks. Competing at that level would be like entering the Ultimate Fighting Championships and flicking someone's nipple. Viciously. I know my limitations.

Old women can't stroll nonchalantly. Even if they attempt it and do all of the above, they invariably smile benignly and it turns into an amiable meander, which is entirely different.

This is not a bad thing, because the only reason I do the nonchalant stroll is so that I can look at attractive ladies and, if they catch me, I can be completely unfazed because I was looking at other things as well.

You may have thought I was glancing at your chest, but I was also looking west. And is that a stratocumulus up there? Why yes, I believe it is.

Also, boobs.

After an hour or two, I had covered about twenty feet, so I gave up and reverted to normal walking, much to the relief of the people around me who must've thought I was a bad spy.

The river is a marvellous place for musing on stuff. Walking along with the breeze whispering through grass on the banks and the silent flow of the mud-rich waters alongside is a refreshing aid to philosophising. I was taken by the notion that there are things in this world that are mysterious and enigmatic, things that one might never understand even if you were to devote a substantial amount of brain power attempting to reason them out. Infinity, time travel, love, tapirs, and a host other baffling conundra which can be as influenced by subjectivity as revealed by reductionist observation.

Some things we just don't seem destined to understand.

On my walk, I came across one of those things:

I can tell I've grasped your attention with that one.

It was initially brought to my attention by some tourists, who were gathered around it like crows at roadkill. I wandered over, my curiosity piqued and said, as I tend to with crowds blocking my view, "Let me through, I'm a nosy bastard."

The group made way, and I saw the above pictured item.

"Are you local?" a lady asked, well-to-do in slacks and brand new Berghaus jacket, pointing at me with one of those odd metal walking sticks that look like skiers should use them.

"Ar." I said, conforming to stereotype.

"Well, do you know what this is for?" she asked, reasonably. I examined it more closely, seeing that it was a plastic jug which had been screwed to an old picnic table beneath a metal hoop. There was even a little rubber washer around the screw inside to stop fluids leaking out of the jug.

"Aha!" I said, as I dawning realisation hit me like a wet fish.

Unfortunately, it was the dawning realisation that I had no idea.

The crowd leaned forward as one, intent on my revelation as to the function of the thing. I felt bad. Some local had set up a cryptic item to undertake an obscure task, and if I didn't give them an answer these poor tourists would suffer the agonies of non-closure for possibly minutes afterwards. I decided I would make an answer up, and it would relate to one of the local unfathomable pass-times that was relatively common on some parts of the Severn.

"It's for eeling." I told them, matter of factly. I knew people hunted eels up and down the Severn, for reasons best known to themselves. I would suggest for food but, lets face it, only cockernees from Landan eat them.

"Ealing?" someone asked.

"No, eeling." I corrected.

"I thought that was 'elvering'. " another smart arse asked.

"There's no such thing as elves." I pointed out, and looked at the river as though I had spent all my years battling eels in it. They all nodded in grateful understanding and wandered off, apparently not wanting to know how a jug and hoop on a table could possibly be used to hunt eels.

This was a good thing for them, because they can now go home without an unsolved mystery cluttering their minds.

I, however, am not so lucky.

The items pictured are probably not used in the eel-wrangling trade, or even for hunting elves. I looked around furtively and snapped a couple of photos for the Gravel Farm blog.

The loyal readers scattered across the globe will know, I thought. Or at least they will pretend to know and they're not shy about venting their maniacal babblings expert opinions to all and sundry.

So, go on then. Put me out of my misery.

What the hell is it for?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Parenthood and the evolution of society.

Being a father is something I quite enjoy, and after a couple of years I'm fast coming to the conclusion that, when the trial period ends, we're not going to send him back.

I think he'll be pleased with that. The Orphanarium is cold in the winter, even with the new candle.

I think, as parents go, we're not doing too bad a job. The main evidence I have for this (apart from the fact that I've rarely accidentally sat on him) is that my son takes us utterly, utterly for granted.

Sit down, and I'm a climbing frame.

Stand up, and I'm a pair of shoulders to sit on. This desire is indicated by him simply standing in front of me and lifting his arms up, fully expecting - no - knowing that he will be lifted on high to take his rightful place.

My dinner is his dinner.

My snacks are his snacks.

My computer blog time is his YouTube Pingu time ("Wanna watch Pingu on the 'puter!").

He is Emperor of all he surveys, so I'm glad he's only small.

Now, I'm one of those kerr-azy Englishmen who would prefer not to have a monarchy, or a House of Lords, and thinks that democracy is, out of all the bad ways of running things, one of the less horrendous ones that we currently have.

Being a father has convinced me that I'm right.

Hereditary power is wielded by those who haven't earned it and really don't know what to do with it. My son has complete authority over me. Just about everything I do is for his benefit in some way, but he hasn't got a clue. He wanders through life oblivious to our protection and efforts to provide for him, ignorant of how to act for himself, and in return he swans about like he owns the place, which he will one day.

I have enough hereditary impedance in my life without having to put up with it running the society in which I live in as well.

My little boy will one day become a big boy, and he will rebel and earn for himself the independence he will so desire. He will stick it to The Man, unaware that The Man in this case will be behind him every step of the way, letting him make his own mistakes without falling down too hard if I can help it. Maybe, one day, he will experience the same genetically driven pseudo-altruism that we call parental love, and then he will be truly rewarded with the shackles of independence.

I expect that society will, eventually, follow similar lines, and that we will outgrow the perceived need to have our decisions made for us. I'm not expecting, nor indeed want, revolution through extreme acts, unless they are extreme acts of wisdom, but I'm not counting on that. We will, however slowly, move away from that overly-paternal attitude that has developed to control us, and will one day reach the point where we can control ourselves.

We will, in effect, grow up.

It won't go easy. These systems are run by those who get a lot out of running them, who benefit substantially from the wealth, the notoriety, the power and the glory. Old fashioned notions that have no place in benefitting the individual member of society. Autonomy is a scary prospect for many, and not just those who would lose their status. Imagine being responsible for your decisions. Imagine being accountable for your own mistakes.

You can see it happening already, albeit in embryonic form. Despite desperate attempts to appear relevant, like denouncing Facebook, religion is gradually, but definitely, moving away from being a power in society to become a sort of hobby for those who wish to dabble. The old fashioned paternalistic idea of medicine has long been replaced by a more inclusive paradigm of including patients in their decision making processes. Politicians get beasted by a warped media so biased against everyone that any suggestion of wrongdoing is examined with a scrutiny usually reserved for serial killers.

Good thing?


Are we ready for such levels of self-determination though? Will democracy be able to evolve into something that would cater for general autonomy, where decisions are made from evidence, where rationality is valued above hysteria and loud voices?


These are not thought for a whimsy-heavy blog which I have on good authority is not read by the Prime Minister, although I've got a funny feeling that the Queen may be one of my followers.

You know who you are, your Maj.

So, instead I will limit myself to what is truly important, and carry on allowing my boy to steal scraps of cheese from the kitchen:

Look at that! Like a cross between a ninja and a cat-burglar!

Nom nom nom!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A satisfying hand job.

Writing with a pen is becoming a lost art apparently, like taxidermy, knitting and manners. In order to help offset this a tad, I've noticed a number of bloggers handwriting their posts and then uploading them, which seems like a reasonable thing to do.

The other bloggers also have, on average, nice handwriting. I'm not going to link any of them because it would be like wearing dirty undercrackers and then standing in front of La Senza and pointing out how clean all the knickers are in the window. Ooh, look at Madame DeFarge, look at Savannah, look at UnderOvr. They all have cleaner pants than me.

Damn - linked 'em.

Well, the missus hijacked the computer earlier, presumably to order cushions for her cushion room, and I sat on the opposite side of the table twiddling all my thumbs and practicing my patented Woman, Get Off The Computer stare. Apparently, it needs work because she asked if I needed some prunes. This resulted in no tippetty-typing for me, which was a shame because I had planned to blog up. I sighed melodramatically instead, and declined the prunes.

There was a pad of A4 paper and a pen on the table in front of me, and I thought "It would be really useful to have a prehensile penis like what an elephant has."

Then I saw the paper and pen and thought, "I shall hand-write a blog post!"

And I did.

Now, I'm someone who has to write on a regular basis, but not creatively or for fun, and my reports have to be boringly succinct so they can be filed away and read by precisely no-one, ever. For this reason, my penmanship is pretty average, and by average I mean cack.

No matter, I thought, I shall have a go. And as an extra constraint, I shall make myself have but one go, and not allow any crossings out or tippexing. That way, anyone who deigns to look at it will get a more unfettered view of how I operate.

So here it is:

You can see I was quite enthusiastic to begin, and carefully scrawled as neatly as possible, but you'll soon note that I start to lose interest and gradually resume my normal apathetic calligraphy.

If you find you can't read it then, if I were you, I would count my blessings, frankly.