1000 Facebook Friends….And Still Lonely

This week I decided to reboot and revert to my default setting. I reclaimed my life.

Why? Well it’s easy to blame the explosion of social media in all its myriad forms. So I will.

I knew the part of my life controlled by electricity and wi-fi had taken a depressing turn for the worse when I found myself on facebook  leafing through the fourth birthday photos of a child posted by one of my ‘friends’. Nothing unusual in that. Lots of happy smiling faces, a big birthday cake;  harassed parents clockwatching; toddlers being flung off a trampoline;  flaccid bouncy castle; alcoholic party entertainer …you know the drill. It was when I clicked on image 187 that I heard a voice.

It was shouting “sad loser”.

And it was right. I had never met any of the children, or the parents, or the entertainer for that matter. In fact I had no recollection of ever accepting the mother of the child  as a friend in the first place.    

How strange. But it’s not is it?  Most if not all of you reading this will be on facebook and like me you’ll have ‘friends’ who are actually anything but.

Do you know how much time we spend looking through other people’s crappy lives? Add up the five minutes here, the 10 minutes there and it will stagger you. And I mean really stagger you. Think about it. Is that what social media is about? Really?

The reaction to this road to Damascus revelation was swift and brutal. With a precision any surgeon would be proud of I took an electronic scalpel to my friends list and reduced it from 200+ to a hard-core of 35. Let’s face it, most ‘friends ‘ are people you never actually want to meet, never have met and would happily cross a street to avoid. And as for inviting them round to the house, not on your nelly.

I found this an amazingly liberating experience. You should try it. My morning Facebook session is now contained within a couple of minutes rather than the 45 minutes it used to absorb.

And yet, I know some people are upset. They know they have been discarded. They wonder if it’s something they have done. Believe me, it’s not personal. It’s social media. It’s all make believe. It’s a second life. It’s all in the ether. It’s largely inconsequential. It means everything and yet nothing at the same time.

I have a very good friend who I used to work with who spends an extraordinary amount of time on facebook. (Incidentally he is among my inner circle of 35). He has over 1200 friends who he considers to be exactly that. He lives in a remote community and has a happy and active life. And yet last week he posted how deadlines were piling up and how there were never enough hours in the day. It struck me that if he spent less time on social media then he might hit those deadlines.

But it is of course horses for courses. Facebook friends allow you to eavesdrop on their lives and enter their worlds.  But ask yourself …do you have all these friends because you are incredibly popular (and let’s face it not particularly fussy) or are their fascinating lives replacing the voids in your own? Ultimately the whole business is entirely voluntary. 

For the moment I, for the first time in an age, have better things to do. Like running a business, maintaining the vegetable patch, trying to read more books, moaning, playing cricket and being a good and available husband and father. In other words being me.

Your real friends are probably not on facebook. You (gasp) actually speak to them most days rather than hide behind an electronic curtain. Think about it.

Don’t look on me as a pedant. I went to University last year and gained an MA in multimedia journalism with the vast majority of my studies specialising in social media. I can’t do without it. I am obsessed with Twitter…in a good way. It has replaced Ceefax as the first thing I look at in the morning and the last thing I check before nodding off. However those who I follow are motley and transient, and as I get bored easily,  I have clean outs regularly. No-one dies.

I guess we are searching for a balance. For me the balance went way too far the wrong way and now I have righted it. I now have control of my life again. And if I have to jettison a few ‘friends’ along the way so be it.

Well, must go. It’s my youngest son’s  birthday this summer and I need to find a children’s entertainer. Hang on, I saw a great one on Facebook last week….now where was it…ah….bugger….

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Pimp My Sperm (Using Collage As A Method)

There are many things I have done on a kitchen table fortified by cheap white wine but as this is a family blog I am reluctant (for once) to go into detail. One of the less thrilling practices is helping the offspring do their homework, particularly tasks which involve potentially ‘start the car we’re off to casualty’ instruments of doom such as superglue, scissors, toxic marker pens or anything small or tempting enough to lodge in an orifice. As long as it’s not anything to do with arithmetic, history, cloud formations or wildlife in the Tundra it’s a painless interlude between the second and third glass and has the added benefit of clashing with  The One Show. 

As I recall homework was never particularly thrilling. Along with eating sprouts; lighting farts; blasting hair spray onto an open fire (Wowza-I never did like my eyebrows anyway) and juggling with eggs,  homework was a rite of passage for any child with some modicum of ability and parents who vaguely cared.     

Last night my 11 year old came home and announced that, without as much as a titter, that he had to make a sperm cell collage and did we have any suggestions? I am convinced that for a moment my dear wife looked at me, then at an empty coffee mug and whispered ‘over to you Andrew’ but thankfully she kept her counsel. We both laughed. Well you do don’t you? But the child was serious and would not deviate from the task in hand…even though the latest Celtic- Rangers brawl was unfolding on SKY and I could hear the crunching tackles and racist barbs from the next room.

So we all headed for the ‘drawer’- the one with everything you need yet don’t need- for inspiration. Bingo. Some old ear buds and string. And those funny little comedy eyeballs with moving parts. What fun!

I had to go onto Google to remind myself what an actual sperm looked like. (A little tip- have a very broad mind when you delve deep into Google Images). I actually couldn’t remember if they had eyes……(did you? No, thought not.)

Armed with a couple of images we knocked up the collage in half an hour or so, and we were all quietly satisfied with the end result. Yes we did include eyes…..and here it is in all its glory.

Homework safely stored inside the backpack we retired to muse about this intriguing sexual twist to ‘prep’. Later, with the kids safely dispatched to bed, we decided that at no stage in our education – whether aged 6 or 16 and at all points in-between, would there have been the remotest chance of  such homework being given to us in the Sixties, Seventies and early Eighties. As I recall even discussing the sex life of plants brought our science teacher out in a sweat and he had to lean on the blackboard and open windows to recover.  For naive students, even a grainy overhead projector image of a dangling stamen entering the ovary of a flower resulted in hysterics.

So why sperm at 11? Too young? We knew it was on its way… so to speak. Last month the school sent parents a letter warning  them that sex education was on the agenda. Did this happen when I was a lad? No idea to be honest. But it feels OK that both our kids are aware of all the ins and outs of the subject….and it’s led to some remarkably frank discussions about well, y’know…..(blushes). Must go and open a window, it’s getting warm in here….

New Horizons

And so with a mix of anticipation, wind and excitement, I plunge headfirst into 2011.  How on earth can last year be topped?  Scoring a century; graduating with an MA; being diagnosed diabetic; losing all my main crop to blight; being responsible for the Glover household getting in most national newspapers…..it had the lot.  

So here are my resolutions* which I have pinned up on the noticeboard and intend to honour until the end of January at least.

I promise to keep buying newspapers.

I will not pay a subscription for a newspaper’s web content

I will continue to resist Apple’s quest for world domination

I will not buy one of Gregg’s delicious sausage rolls every time I walk past one of their shops

I will be civil to call centre staff in Delhi

I will try to keep drinking green tea even though it is revolting

I will be a good husband and father

Oh yes, and I will do my best to keep the family out of the tabloids.

Think that’s covered all bases.

 *subject to revision, often at short notice.

Run for the hills- Tesco have opened

And so, almost with stealth like cunning – if that’s possible when building a huge structure- and immaculate half term timing, Tesco have finally infiltrated the ring of steel around Bishop Auckland. The new store opened today, beating Sainsbury’s by a couple of days. Well you just knew they’d be first didn’t you.

To be honest I’d completely forgotten, or simply hadn’t noticed that two of the biggest names in Hallowe’en products (oh yes and food) have been racing each other to open first on sites so close you could stand on the roof of one and with a beautifully aimed throw, knock out the security guard standing outside the other with a frozen bap.  

Now take a step back  for a moment. What sort of madness is this? What has this run down town- dominated by pound shops and Greggs- done to deserve all this attention. Bishop Auckland already has two huge supermarkets- Asda and Morrisons. I do the shopping in this household and you can normally spin round both stores with the minimum of fuss, apart from all the mobility scooters cluttering up the chocolate and crisp aisles, and be home well in time for Countdown.

The answer is no-one seems to know. Mind you no-one’s really complaining. There’s jobs galore- if you like stacking tins of soup at four in the morning and being unpleasant to riff-raff.

So what impact has the arrival of the USS Tesco had on Asda- my personal store of choice? Frequent shoppers knew something was up two weeks ago when staff started smiling (a joke in case they are monitoring) and the entire Extra Special range (a cornucopia of fancy products regular Bishop Auckland shoppers could only previously dream of) was reduced by an eye-watering 25%. Now I’m not saying the tracksuited hordes started buying smoked salmon and a fine Sancerre, but change was in the air.

And the game was most definitely on this morning when I passed the time of day with operative Eileen at checkout 14. She raised the T word first. “I’m surprised we’re so busy this morning, Tescos opened today. Heard they opened their doors at midnight.” I confessed that as Tesco was generally an expensive alternative, the regular clientele wouldn’t budge. Price mattered in Bishop.

“Ah, but I bet loads have just gone for a look round.”

This struck me as unusual. I know what a supermarket looks like- aisles, food, lowpaid staff, checkouts, you get the drift. I thought perhaps it was time to re-evaluate my priotities in life if I decided on a whim to take the family to Tesco for a look round. Well I guess the kids are on holiday. And you can only go to the Vegas of the North- Darlington- so many times a month.

And then, to ensure my continuing devotion to Asda, she gave me £40. Well, that’s not strictly true, a book of vouchers valued at £40 (£4 off vodka! £1 off mince! – they know their customers priorities believe me). This is valid from the beginning of November which I suspect is after Sainsbury’s have opened and the pre-Christmas test of loyalty gets fully underway. I expect it to be messy. And so if it means they throw all sorts of inducements our way, bring it on.

And then I headed home. By Tesco. Well, it was rude not to.

Getting Wii-ly Fit

Last week I awoke, at 0510, to some rhythmic but ominous thumping noises coming from downstairs. I was instantly transported back to the Eighties and my old student digs in Edinburgh’s New Town where similar sounds could often be heard (for only a couple of minutes mind you ha ha) leaking through the floorboards from my handsome flatmate’s love parlour as yet another nurse succumbed to his droll Fife patter (translation: the usual shite). “Lucky bugger” I’d mutter, and roll over as the sun came up.

Back to reality, and the present. Where was my wife at this critical moment? I wanted her to go downstairs and chase the intruders (I’ve insured my face so obviously couldn’t go…..)  But she was nowhere to be seen.  So, protected by my fluffy M&S dressing gown and armed with a fully loaded Blackberry and the mini Dyson (which does look like a Flash Gordon ray gun) I set off to make a citizen’s arrest.

As I got nearer the living room the banging got louder and I could hear grunts. Perhaps my wife was snogging him to death. There are worse ways to go.

But of course there was no intruder. She was alone and she was playing with a vibrating piece of technology (pervs, you can log off now, it’s not what you think) which had been dusted down and plugged in after six months hibernation behind the DVD rack.

The Nintendo Wii Fit, so simple and yet so brilliant. With the dark chilly foggy mornings on the rise, and winter not only just around the corner but coming down the drive,  the summertime 0500 walk with a friend and the dogs has been replaced by a 45 minute workout on the Wii. Like so many aspects of fitness you get out what you put in, and boy oh boy she was going for it this morning. The iPod was on, she was ‘glowing’ (women don’t sweat apparently) as the on screen avatar tackled a challenging road circuit in bright sunshine with lots of cheery other runners joining in the fun.  The clock counted down and finally it was over. The machine worked out the timings, assessed her run against previous efforts and declared she was a ‘roaring fire’ or something equally daft lost in translation. She was delighted. (However I remember in the early days she returned to the bed chamber with a heavy heart having been called a ‘wilting disappointment’ or similar.  “Bloody machine’s broken” she pronounced. And that was it…..back in the box for three months.)

And so  my message to the circuit boards in the Wii Fit is a straightforward one. If you want to stay active, remain ‘front of house’ and not behind the DVD rack, then behave yourself and call my wife nice names. And if I ever do decide to stand on you, do not emit smoke and  remark ‘no coach parties porky’. Or else you’re up in the loft with the burger maker, bread machine,  fondue and other duff technology acquired on a whim. You have been warned.

Do You Know What A Sugar Lump Is?

(Picture posed by model before you ask)

With diabetes being ailment of the moment at the NHS, I found myself spending a couple of afternoons last week at some awareness clinics in Bishop Auckland, the Lourdes of the North.

The course was called DESMOND, an  acronym so convoluted I simply cannot remember what it stands for. I’m pretty sure the first D is diabetes and then it all becomes a blur. Perhaps the M is mindless and the final D despair. Who knows.

Two lovely nurses- Brenda and Pat- took the sessions. At one stage I started searching for hidden cameras around the room as I became convinced they were really Victoria Wood and Julie Walters playing an elaborate NHS funded corporate joke. As a double act they were a bit dodgy on day one. Brenda kept losing her place and Pat had mislaid the plastic chicken breast we had to put on plates with other healthy ingredients. By the second day they had warmed up nicely and were even ad libbing off piste from the heaving DESMOND folder dished out by the Health Ministry. Brenda had a cold but would “struggle on” while Pat tackled the section on ‘erectile dysfunction’ with unhealthy enthusiasm. It was around this stage she took one look at the veins in my arm, admired their size and uttered  “ooh Brenda I wouldn’t mind sticking a needle in one of those”. I’m hoping this wasn’t a nursing euphemism.

This was no six hour lecture. The worthy wordy sessions – usually including rib-ticklers such as  ‘gangrene’ and  ‘possibly fatal’- were counterbalanced by practical sessions which to any passer-by would assume we had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Well you just imagine three food deprived diabetics standing in the middle of a room holding plastic bananas-  while being observed by two nurses with clipboards-  trying to work out which plastic food went on which plate. And I’m surely not the only person who thought  ‘well I know its synthetic but at the moment it’s all there is. Anyone got ketchup?’  

Ten people were invited to the sessions. Only three turned up. This didn’t surprise the nurses. Pat said she could tell by our medical records we’d be the ones most likely to attend. Why? The fat gets who have diabetes  can’t be bothered to switch off Jeremy Kyle, put their nachos down and enjoy being educated for an afternoon. Lazy? Definitely. Scared of the changes they’ll have to make to their lifestyles? Guaranteed.

As the DESMOND sessions have to appeal to all ages- and social classes- it is one step up from childlike in terms of the pace and approach to education and awareness. At one stage Pat looked us in the eye and said “you do know what a sugar lump is don’t you?”  Tempted to say “no, but can I guess”, we accepted the dumbing down with good grace, just thankful to be out of the house for a pleasant afternoon with nice people, albeit in the same building as the sexual health clinic. This made life interesting in the reception room as everyone tried to guess who had the worst case of clap. Any itching was quietly observed as we all pretended to read four year old editions of Hello!

All in all the diabetes afflicted seemed to enjoy the sessions and the feedback forms seemed to have lots of ticks. We felt good about it. And that made Pat and Brenda feel good. Did we learn anything? Diabetes is progressive so we’ve got it forever and it’ll probably get worse. Progress can be slowed, not stopped, by a mix of diet, exercise and generally looking after yourself.  And  have the odd treat, and don’t feel guilty about it. Now that’s my kind of health clinic. I can’t imaging a sexual health nurse ever saying that.

How To Get A Five Month Old Story In The Sun Without Trying

Well it’s been quite a week, what with one thing and another.  And I’m still deciding what I’m more proud of- gaining a University MA or the family getting a ‘splash’ in Britain’s biggest selling national newspaper.

The media hurricane has blown through and we’ve all survived unscathed. It’s been fascinating to experience. And as a journalist with 28 years under his belt it’s been quite an eye-opener to be part of the story from the other side of the net curtains.

So, let’s have a closer look at just how a five month obscure blog entry on my company website evolved into the rather breathless  ‘Soft Porn Shock In Family Garden’  headline in Saturday’s edition of the soaraway Sun with accompanying picture of a leggy lovely ‘tackle out’ apart from a rather nice summer hat.

What I have found particularly interesting to observe is how the original version of the story on the Questing Vole blogsite  transformed into a titillating tale fit for publication in a tabloid.  And how did our humble abode suddenly- and to the great delight of my accountant- become a ‘countryside village estate’.

Most importantly, how would the original version  be tampered with when all they had was the blog’s basic facts.  My line throughout – to any journalist  who asked- was to add no additional information whatsoever other than to verify the blog’s accuracy. And did anyone care that my blog entry was written in April? (nope) 

The evolution of the story, as someone who has worked in the regional media in the North of England for over two decades, followed a traditional pattern. First the local newspaper, the Teesdale Mercury, printed this after tracking down my blog on the village website.  

The next day, the Northern Echo called. Was my wife called Joanne? Erm, no. They duly published  their version.  And then we were off and away.  First I got a call from North News, an agency who essentially flog stories and pics to anyone who’ll pay for them. Did I want to do any photographs with our horse? (No thanks). Despite this an hour later a photographer from the agency arrived. “I’m just doing my job” came the standard line. Which was fine. God loves a trier. And I’ve used it on hundreds of occasions in the past.

Then the man from the Express called. Could they confirm our ages?( no) “We can check it from electoral records you know”. (Good for you). I didn’t take to him at all and played a straight bat throughout the conversation. Lesson: be nice to people and they might be nice back.

On Friday morning I got a call from The Press Association. I directed them to the blog and left it at that. My mobile burst into life early the following morning when friends started to text. We were in the Daily Telegraph. Then the postman  turned up. “You’re In The Sun. I’ve never delivered mail to a famous house before. By the way are the dancers still here?”

And that’s been about it. The kids are now legends at school and have been asked for their autographs. No lasting emotional damage we hope.

Looking fresh at the Sun version of the story this morning it does stretch the truth to incredible lengths and gives the whole incident a faintly grubby overtone. It was anything but. The girls were quite delightful and didn’t deserve that.  This tabloid’s distortion of the facts clearly had an impact on readers perceptions of the incident according to their online forum :

That group should have told the family the sort of pictures they will be taking…how disgusting they did that when they saw the 13-year-old lives there. You’d think they’d cover up a bit when the boy was around…disgusting…”

“Another crowd of slappers…..Christ Almighty Britian seems to be heaving with them!”

Others thankfully had a sense of perspective:

“It’s good to see that the Glovers are down to Earth and can see the funny side. Unlike the story of the woman who had to sit down outside a sweet shop whilst her husband had a go at the owner because the pictures on some Maoam sweets looked like the fruits were having sex!”

“I bet the horse didn’t complain LOL!”

So there we have it. How to get in The Sun without trying. Coming soon “The day U2’s  tour bus broke down and they played a private concert in our stables”

**FOOTNOTE**- Data shows traffic to my blog has increased in the last seven days by 736.84% while visits to my company website at http://www.lushplacesmedia.com have soared . Which is good.