Posts Tagged ‘Facebook’

Our second day on the road was a quiet and uneventful one. Consequently, I will give a blessedly shorter account than usual (well, that’s what I say at the beginning of it).

Besides, it was Sunday too, so I’ll keep this all quiet and peaceful like, y’all.

Breakfast in the room was included in our Juliet hotel tariff, which made a pleasant change to our early morning routine. Unfortunately, the weather was not as accommodating as we left in that light drizzle we had become accustomed to over the past few days. But when we left, the temperature was still in the low eighties.


We made two false starts as the windscreen was greasy and it took several ingenious attempts to clear it. A4 printer paper did the trick, and we finally left the environs of Lafayette at 10.30am.

One of the fascinating aspects of driving in the USA is the preponderance of massive roadside signs, advertising everything from hotels, restaurants, casinos, gas stations, people running for political office and, of course, in this part of the country, extolling the virtue of having Christ in your life.


And then there are the churches themselves, principally Baptist and Pentecostal, many of which pop up from nowhere with their immaculate, well scrubbed exteriors and attached cemeteries on a much more modest scale than those we had wandered among in New Orleans.

Some are so small that the congregation could not be more than a couple of dozen. We speculated, however, that, on this late Sunday morning, they would be packed with worshippers.


Aside from those signs, we had very little company on the road (perhaps everyone was in church).

We drove through miles of bullet (unfortunate use of language in this part of the country, sorry), straight road with grass verges on either side, watched over by woods and forest. An occasional vehicle came into view and disappeared as quickly again.


We slowed down as we drove through Baton Rouge for fear of waking it up (though last night’s football victory might have done the job for us).

Our intention on this trip had been to spend as much time on the (‘Blues”) Highway  61 as possible. Our sat nav, however, had taken us up Highway 19 at the intersection of both roads at Baker, and we were required, unless we were to turn back, to continue to Centreville where we could turn west to return to the 61.

Small towns with names as exotic as Slaughter (back to the bullet theme), Zachary and Ethel passed by in a blink of an eye.


We crossed into Mississippi, annoyingly missing the large welcome sign, and sought sustenance at a roadside McDonald’s just south of Natchez.

Although it didn’t have the high tech booking system that we had marvelled at the previously day, the restaurant was clean, colourful – and “minimalist”, as remarked upon by a Facebook friend at the time.


We didn’t believe that we could pay less than yesterday for our lunch, but the bill below cannot lie.


We pulled in to the Vicksburg Best Western hotel at 3.15pm as planned, affording me the opportunity to complete a blog piece before dinner.


In keeping with the “rubbish” food theory I expounded in the previous article, we refrained from negotiating the hair-raising road intersection to get to a Mexican or barbecue restaurant, deciding to walk the two hundred metres to the Waffle House. 


I did not expect my Steak ‘n’ Eggs to warrant any Michelin stars, and although there was some gristle in the steak, it was cooked to my requirements and was edible.

And cheap!

We rounded it off with yoghurts bought from the supermarket next door.

And we went the whole day without alcohol!

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“Work is so busy”.

“I’m too tired in the evenings”.

“The kids take up all my time”.

“I just can’t think of anything to write”.

The list goes on.

Writers are society’s great procrastinators, forever finding excuses for not putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).

And I’m no different.

Aside from (some claim unhealthy) daily absorption in social media, primarily Facebook, I have written little of consequence over the past eighteen months, in fact a total of twenty five posts on my blog, admittedly most of which were of considerable length.

But it is now three years since I published A Half-Forgotten Triumph with my late, lamented co-author, Martin Moseling, to some acclaim in cricketing circles. That was to be the – somewhat idiosyncratic – launch pad for a writing career that, frankly, was always going to be more likely to bring modest pleasure to a small proportion of the reading public than any riches to its author.

Based on a host of articles written on annual trips to San Francisco, I planned to follow Triumph up in 2015 with a book celebrating, from an English traveller’s perspective, the City by the Bay. By the time I’m writing this piece, I would have hoped to have published it.

Not so.

A significant chunk of Smiling on a Cloudy Day: An Englishman’s Love Affair with San Francisco is still sitting on my desk in the nicely decorated binder I bought for the express purpose. Less developed is the manuscript of High Kicks and Red Rocks: A South West Road Trip which was the next planned work.

Now, this is where, in the classic writer’s fashion, I reel out my own excuses – deteriorating health and ultimate death of my father, which took a physical and mental toll, the passing of two other close friends, including the aforementioned Martin, two major operations for myself and, during this calendar year, the need to sell two properties and purchase another fifty miles apart.

Under cross-examination, I do believe I could make a case for partly justifying my inaction in respect of some of those issues, but, ultimately, my natural indolence took control of my writing energies.

But I can no longer cite them, or any other factors for that matter, as reasons for not getting “back on the horse”.

So it is time to dust off that nicely decorated binder and get to work on Cloudy Day, and following that, High Kicks. 

And I will.


(I know – procrastinating again).

A slight spanner has been thrown into the works in the past few months which has had both a positive and potentially negative impact on my writing plans.


My new home on the Channel coast has given me both a source of renewed inspiration and motivation. Without it, I doubt whether I would have been able to exorcise those demons I listed above.

It has been the subject of my four most recent blog posts, the last three alone written in the two and a half months since I arrived in the town that had generated so many happy memories from half a century ago.

But the danger, of course, is that its charms might divert me from the plans I have just outlined for those two books. I suspect that there may one day be a need to make Folkestone the main protagonist of another, more substantial, piece, but, for now, it has to be the light relief, the day job if you like. Aside from the requirement to sustain interest in the upcoming San Francisco book, ever more important as completion approaches, it will continue to be the primary focus of my social media activity.

Now where did I say that nicely decorated binder was?

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A fanciful proposition?



After all, there are no breathtaking bridges (unless you count the Foord Road railway viaduct), no crippling hills (no, not even the Old High Street), no $40 million properties (how much IS the Grand worth?) and no former high security prisons once claimed for Indian land sitting off the shore in Kent’s garden resort.

But, having spent a lot of time in San Francisco over the past twenty years, and written extensively about it in the past five years, I believe there are enough similarities to entitle me to suggest that it has more in common with my childhood playground, and now home, of Folkestone than one might at first think. The only differences are ones of scale and international repute.


Before I plunge into this pool of fantasy, a brief disclaimer.

The only photographs included in this piece are those of Folkestone – for a variety of reasons: 1) Many people will already be familiar with some of the sights I refer to in San Francisco; 2) If they don’t, there are probably millions of images and billions of words on the internet to fill them in, and 3) I have posted hundreds of images elsewhere on this blog and I’d be delighted if you were inspired to go hunting for them!

Back to the proposition.

Firstly, they are both marine ports with world famous stretches of water/land on their doorstep (the Golden Gate and the White Cliffs of Dover) as well as glorious bay/sea views in all directions and weathers.

The boats in Folkestone’s pretty harbour hardly match up to the million dollar vessels you will find docked in Sausalito or Tiburon across San Francisco Bay. But the scene has a timeless charm that is endlessly captivating, whether at high or low tide.


Both places teeter on the edge of their nation. Folkestone, with its proximity to mainland Europe, cemented by the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994, has long vied with neighbouring Dover for the title of “Gateway to England” (personally, I think it’s a draw), while San Francisco is on the seismically challenged tip of a vast continent.

And because of that position, they have both served as major embarcation points for their nation’s military in time of war. In the 1914-18 conflict, it is estimated that as many as eight million soldiers marched down Folkestone’s Road of Remembrance to the Harbour Station en route to the fields of Flanders and France, while in the Second World War, more than a million and a half soldiers left for the Pacific conflict from San Francisco and its neighbour on the other side of the Bay Bridge, Oakland.


“The City” (as (we) San Franciscans call it) is consistently placed high (invariably first) on culinary surveys. The Foodie Capital of the U.S.A is no idle boast. Folkestone may not have attained that elevated status (for a start it’s not in the U.S.A. but you know what I mean), but a number of fine cafes and restaurants have sprouted in the town in recent years, a visible and tasty manifestation of the regeneration, courtesy in no small part to the beneficence of Sir Roger de Haan.

Rocksalt, the seafood restaurant perched alongside the small railway bridge that separates the inner from outer harbour, has recently been named the thirtieth best in the U.K and Googies has been adjudged Restaurant of the Year in the 2016 Taste of Kent Awards.

There are a number of other quality restaurants (Copper and Spices, Blooms @1/4 and Follies are personal favourites), both in the town and dotted along the recently reopened Harbour Arm, capped by the lovely Champagne Bar at the foot of the lighthouse.

And one can’t forget, this being a seaside resort, that there are many establishments serving up fish and chips (not forgetting the mushy peas, white bread and butter and mug of tea).


Coffee culture is strong too – many shops provide coffee and cake in addition to their primary products – and there is a distinct hipster vibe about Folkestone that mirrors – on a smaller scale of course – the atmosphere in neighbourhoods like the Mission, Cole Valley and Potrero Hill on the “left coast” of America.

Any self-respecting coastal resort would not be complete without its harbourside seafood stalls selling freshly caught crab and lobster as well as cockles, whelks and prawns. Bob’s, Chummy’s and La’s are all well established and popular purveyors of the denizens of the sea. A Fisherman’s Wharf in miniature you might argue.


Home to Jack London and Dashiel Hammett, the Beat poets and the Summer of Love, inspiration for the WPA and Mission muralists, San Francisco has always had a reputation for being a town for artists, writers and musicians. After all, it provides a gorgeous natural canvas upon which to create. However, one of the consequences of astronomical rents in recent years has been to drive many artists out of the city.


In contrast, Folkestone’s star as an arts venue of international repute is rising. Every three years – the next is in 2017 – it becomes host to a prestigious arts festival (Triennial), where artists are permitted free rein about town to create public artworks (there are already twenty seven pieces on display by luminaries like Yoko Ono and Tracey Emin).

This is the most high profile manifestation of a burgeoning arts scene centred on the Creative Quarter where galleries and performance space adorn the once run down Old High Street and Tontine Street. Indeed, it is the arts that has been the fulcrum of the regeneration that has become the envy of other coastal resorts around the UK (which, admittedly, have not had the benefit of a sugar daddy like de Haan.


The City by the Bay is renowned for its year round cavalcade of neighbourhood and city wide festivals and fairs celebrating its cherished devotion to diversity, including Pride, the Haight Ashbury Street Fair, North Beach Festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Folsom Street Fair.

In contrast, Folkestone’s admittedly more modest, but nonetheless impressive, calendar of annual events, notably Charivari, the Harbour Festival, Leas Village Fete, Armed Forces DaySkabour and the Folkestone Book Festival among many others.

I cannot resist including a pet (not literally) subject of mine – gulls.

Both places boast a feisty, ravenous population, hardly surprising given their coastal position, but these, reflecting their human compatriots in each town, are genuine “characters”. The giant seagull artwork, now serving on Folkestone’s Harbour Arm as an unconventional tourist information kiosk, has become an unofficial poster boy (or is that gull?) for the town. But generally, so far, I’ve found the local birdlife noisy but reasonably friendly, especially when I cross Radnor Park of a morning when they waddle up to greet me (but don’t let me get too close).


The same cannot be said for those that begin to circle San Francisco’s (base) ball park during the late innings of a Giants game in anticipation of feasting on leftover garlic fries. Fans remaining until the end of evening games have to have their wits about them.

There is one aspect of San Francisco life that I would not want to see replicated in Folkestone. San Francisco rents and the broader cost of living are the highest in the States, due largely to the influx of tech workers from Google, Facebook and Oracle to name but a few.

Now, the Alkham Valley doesn’t have quite the same cudos as Silicon Valley (pretty as it is – Alkham not Silicon), but there are other forces at play – improved accessibility to London through the high speed rail link, continued development and gentrification and relatively cheap house prices (for now) – that increase the risk of Folkestone becoming a town split between affluent “transplants” and residents who cannot afford to live in the place they were born and brought up in.


There is a more substantial analysis called for here, and I may attempt it in due course. Moreover, there are other issues I might have explored – dogs and drinking spring to mind (that’s not about the bowls left outside the Leas Cliff Hall for the delectation of our canine colleagues but rather two very distinct subjects).

But, for now, there is certainly one further similarity between the two places that I must mention – I left my heart in both, in Folkestone as a ten year old gleefully gambolling (not gambling) in the rotunda and in 1995 on a fateful West Coast tour of the U.S.A.

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If you’ve trudged your way through my previous posts – Er…………I’m a Writer and Er………..I’m a Writer Part Two, you will understand that I have struggled with acknowledging to myself, let alone others, that I am a writer and should, therefore, declare myself as such when asked that dreaded question “what do you do?”.

Well, now, rather like the ugly duckling in the Danny Kaye song, I have finally come to accept that my feathers are no longer “stubby and brown”, but rather that I am, if not a “very fine” one, at least a swan.

The particular flock of swans that opened my eyes to this fact came in the form of a writer I only discovered ten days ago.  Kristen Lamb is the author of two outstanding books, namely Not Alone  – the Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There Blog? It’s Me, Writer. I believe the titles are self-explanatory, though I need to go into a little more detail to describe their influence upon me.

I devoured the first book within three days of buying it.  On the basis of Kristen’s advice I have almost trebled the number of followers I have on Twitter in the past week.  The list now contains a number of highly successful authors, agents and publishers. This is called “building my platform” by the way.  I have also amended my profile on both Facebook and Twitter to reflect my current and future goals rather than focusing on my past.  In a word, my “brand” is becoming more “professional” with each passing day.

I have not even finished the first chapter of the second book yet, but feel compelled to share what a seismic change has been brought about in my own attitude by the first few pages alone.

Indeed, on the very first page, Kristen goes straight to the heart of my, until now, enduring dilemma:

When people ask you what you do, you need to tell them, “I’m an author” or “I am a writer”…………As long as you introduce yourself via your day job (other than writer), then you are telling your subconscious that you want to be that day job FOREVER. Don’t even try to cheat with “I am an aspiring writer”. Again, this is a subconscious cue, and twenty years later, you will still be “aspiring”.

In case you have not read my previous articles on the subject, I have described my “day job”, since I retired from the civil service, variously as “retired”, “unemployed” and “student”, sometimes taking a gulp before adding hurriedly that “I’m doing a bit of writing nowadays”.

Kristen addresses, with her customary humour, the embarassment factor that accompanies that brave declaration with:

If you want others to shut up and stop mocking you, just tell them they had better knock it off because there is a part for a nose-picking circus midget with mommy issues in your novel. Then they might agree to play nice.

And finally:

Screw aspiring. Aspiring is for pansies. Takes guts to be a writer. Yes, other people will titter and roll their eyes, but you won’t care. In the meantime, toughen up. You will need the skin of a rhino in this business. Do not look for outside approval. This is about as productive as looking for unicorns or Sasquatch.

So, in the immortal words of the great Frankie Howerd, “titter ye not” people – I AM a WRITER!

After all, what do I spend my time doing when I am not carrying out household chores, caring for my elderly father and spending quality time with my wife – and sometimes even DURING those times – yes, writing.  Blog, Twitter, Facebook, e mails, forums – all writing. This is what I do. And, in the New Year, I intend to step up several gears by entering competitions and submitting articles to relevant magazines, as well as progressing one or two more substantial projects. That doesn’t make me a plumber, interior decorator or civil engineer – it makes me a WRITER.

So thank you Kristen for giving me both the reassurance and confidence to proclaim this to the world.

Her hugely informative and entertaining blog can be found at http://www.warriorwriters.wordpress.com/ .  Whether you are “just” interested in improving how you build and develop your relationships on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, or believe you too could produce an interesting and valuable blog, this is the place to go.  And don’t forget to read the books as well – they have been my inspiration.

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In the past two years, I have re-established contact with a series of people from my past whom I had not seen for a total of more than 130 years – a schoolfriend from 38 years ago, a good friend from university (36 years), a group of work colleagues (nearly 30 years), a couple with whom my wife and I had previously enjoyed a great relationship  (18 years) and an ex-boss (12 years).  And I suspect that many other people have similar tales to tell about rediscovering, if not recapturing (which I doubt is ever possible), some of the more enjoyable periods in our lives.

So, what are the motives for doing this?  Is it because I need to recapture a past that was much better than the present? (it was certainly simpler, but today’s comforts – including the ability to communicate my thoughts in the way I’m doing now – make it difficult to counter that argument).  Or is it just safer to “live in the past” in order to escape from a present that is complicated, stressful, even frightening?  Short of becoming a hermit I just don’t see how such an escape could be effected. Or is it because in most instances I was considerably younger, healthier and fitter then?    Well, that is undeniable, but life on a personal level is “all good” as my Californian friends would say.

Or, maybe, for me at least, it is purely because I have more time (far too much, some might say) on my hands now that I am no longer a wage slave.  There may be something in that, but these matters had concerned me before that, but I did not, or chose not, to articulate them in this public fashion.  And, finally, and on a shallower level, is it mere vanity, a means whereby I can induce more people to say how well I have aged and how young I look?  I would hope not, though I can’t deny, nor could you I suspect, that it is nice to told that from time to time!

It may, at least in part, be an intimation of mortality, an understandable symptom of the ageing process, even possibly a need to “make my peace” with those people; to confirm that, when we do part again, as we will surely do, we do so on unequivocally good terms.  But that presupposes that the people I am back in touch with, I had fallen out with in the first place – which is palpably untrue.   It is a fact that the pace and demands of modern living can, sometimes unaccountably, disconnect us  from people we have long regarded as good friends, leaving the embers of Christmas cards and the occasional e mail – and, perhaps, your displacement by other people from their past!

Whilst there is some truth in all of the above, I suppose the simple answer to the question is “because I can” – four  of the five reunions have been triggered or facilitated by social networking, with the other the result of the reporting of a major life event.  In none of these cases have I pursued or sought out those people because I needed to – in fact, in the majority of instances, it has been the other party that has contacted me, though the experience of resuming contact, once the approach had been made, has been a wholly positive one.

Indeed, regardless of either the route taken to the reunion or the current state of play between the parties, the relationship has enriched my life now, as it had done in the past when we took it more for granted.  And not just because it’s “nice” to see “so and so” again.  I believe that  revisiting some of the good times in our past with people we still value, though we had been long separated, prompts us to think about how we behaved and reacted to experiences then, and how we might learn lessons from that that would enable us to lead more caring, inclusive and uncomplicated lives now in what is unquestionably a more sophisticated and dangerous world.

Psychobabble?  Old hippie drivel?  Perhaps, but if you find that you too are investing an increasing amount of your time in re-engaging with the scenes and characters in your past, consider how that has affected how you live your life now, and whether it has reacquainted you with values that you may have, on occasion, lost sight of.     

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Current estimates are that there are 200 million people with a Twitter account, a mere third of the number of registered Facebook users.  I count myself a member of both communities, but it is the value of Twitter that I want to consider here.

Until recently I had used it essentially as a vehicle for providing me with breaking news on subjects that interest me whilst I am on the move.  And it is simple – just identify the information you want, select the accounts you need to follow to enable you to obtain that information, and away you go.  I just leave my mobile logged into Twitter and I can follow the rolling news as it happens. I can even programme it to provide instant text alerts, something, however, that I would not recommend unless you want to wake up, as in my case, to more than a hundred alerts detailing, literally, the blow by blow account of a baseball game played six thousand miles away whilst you were asleep.  

A more recent and useful example was when I was able to read over by over updates on Kent’s T20 cricket match against Glamorgan whilst dining in an Indian restaurant.  Unlike the chicken dansak, sag paneer and Tiger beer, it didn’t go down too well with the other diners, including my wife, but learning of Kent’s spectacular victory, grasped from the jaws of defeat, made my evening!

I am now taking a more active role in the exchange of information, and it is very satisfying when your contribution is valued sufficiently that your  tweets are responded to, particularly by people in the public eye (be assured, however, that these are artists and sportsmen and women, not “celebrities”!).  Moreover, the number of people following my tweets has been gradually expanding.

There is the added benefit, as many established authors increasingly claim, of using Twitter both to hone your writing skills by creating pithy, relevant tweets of no more than 140 characters and marketing yourself to prospective readers and agents by adding links to your work. 

But it is a double edged sword.  The pace at which news spews into my inbox, some of which compels me to respond to (I am a writer after all (keep telling yourself Tony)), takes up time that could, and should, be expended on “proper” writing i.e. drafting more serious and substantial pieces.  There has been a clear ratio between the increased time I have spent on social networking sites and the lack of blog activity in recent weeks.  The balance needs to be restored, and if it takes this analysis of my relationship to Twitter to help me to understand that, then I am half way to achieving that.

There is still an important place for Twitter in keeping me engaged in issues that interest me, including sport, travel, writing and current affairs, provided it is not allowed to divert me from “real” writing.

However, if, like most of my acquaintances, you haven’t tried it, give it a go and see for yourself.  Be warned though – you may get addicted!

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