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Mega, absolutely MEGA! stream of consciousness blog post 

AKA I’ll Never Eat Lunch In Twitterland Again

In which I let off steam … at great length, as I constantly keep adding to it.  NB: I feel I should apologise … no scrub that, I’m not apologising.   This is how I feel.  In writing it, I have felt like the characters at the end of Black Mirror – Nosedive, joyfully yelling “fuck you!”  I’m not bothered who reads this blog piece, because writing it in itself has felt very liberating, and that has been ample reward enough.  It’s interesting for me, in that when I began writing it, back in April 2018, I was still trying to be moderate and polite in my words, mincing around any possible readers in a somewhat pathetic manner.  That has changed as the piece has grown, and I’ve constantly added to it.   Once started, I couldn’t stop.   It has been fun to finally write something Online where I didn’t have to give a rat’s arse about anybody else’s precious bloody feelings.

Anyone who tries to tell you it’s fun to have thousands of people on Twitter permanently hanging around you like some silent Greek Chorus Of Doom, waiting to rant, carp,  whinge and complain the minute you step out of line … really is talking out of their jacksie.

——–

Social-Media has been much in the news of late, and usually for all the wrong reasons. Whether it be Donald Trump using Twitter to constantly try and start WW3, or Facebook acting like a creepy bunch of Scientologists coming to claim your soul, it seems to have developed an evil, sinister image. I am absolutely baffled as to how or why a lightweight thing like Social-Media has come to have such a towering importance in our lives. When I hear words on the News like “President Trump has tweeted” I feel like I’ve crossed through the looking-glass into some bizarre parallel universe. I mean, hang on a minute, I thought social-media was all about keeping connected with people you’re interested in, or posting pictures of cute animals or what you had for dinner, or tweeting along to the Eurovision Song Contest.

The only social-media I use is Twitter. I’ve been on it for 8 years now (well I was), and I absolutely hate the damn thing. But more of that in a moment. Curiously, I have never felt any strong inclination to join Facebook, in spite of various people over the years telling me to stop being silly and get on it. At the beginning of 2017 I did finally succumb and created a FB account. I deleted it again a short while later. I felt like a lost soul, wandering around the spooky basement of an old lunatic asylum, and hearing anguished screams in the distance. One day, when I was feeling bored, I started up an Instagram account. I immediately tried to delete it again, and was duly informed by Instagram that I wasn’t allowed to! Alright, I thought, it can sit there for all eternity, completely ignored.

I joined Twitter at the back end of 2010, having been told for months beforehand that, as a writer, I might find it useful. For months I resisted, sitting there like Grumio the slave in Plebs, looking spectacularly unimpressed, and saying “nah, I’m alright, thanks”. When I did finally get into it, I became a voracious tweeter. I would tweet about absolutely anything. I coined a phrase “there is always drama on Twitter”, and perhaps it fulfilled that side of me, that nosey parker side, who always loves a bit of gossip, and has an insatiable need to know what’s going on in the world. And yet, even back in the early days, there were plenty of times when I hated it.

“It’s a great way to connect with other writers”, you are told. Well yes it is, if you want them spamming their latest book down your throat morning, noon and night, or constantly reminding you of how EVERYONE thinks they are absolutely wonderful. When they’re not doing that they’re telling you how hard they’re working, which instantly makes you feel guilty, because you’re NOT working at that moment, you’re distracted by them on Twitter (although it does beg the question, if they’re so damn busy, how have they got time to constantly remind you they are?). After a while I felt like the publisher’s assistant in The Provincial Lady In America, who confessed to her that he really didn’t like writers. Now don’t get me wrong, Twitter CAN be very useful for writers. After all, it’s a free platform and a way to get your work noticed. But if you are a writer, just starting out, and you want to use it, do so by all means, but I strongly advise you to avoid other writers – you’ll only end up getting buried under book spam – and don’t rudely demand they read your story at 10 o’clock at night, as I had done to me once.

I think for sheer brass nerve though the prize must go to the guy who, on first following me, bustled in and demanded that I hand my Twitter account to him for the evening!  What a bloody sauce.  The terrible shame about this was that he wrote about subjects that interest me, and which I’ve sometimes covered on this blog, but after that high-handedness I was completely put off reading anything by him.

I want to say a word here about the Finger-Wagger Writers, these are the ones who dictate “advice” to other writers as if it’s hewn into tablets of stone. I nicknamed these “the EAs” – the Earnest Americans, because that is often what they are. I had one who asserted that blog pieces should be a certain number of words and NO MORE. I wouldn’t mind if she ever did any blogging herself, but as far as I know she hasn’t. And she seems to have been polishing the same magnum opus novel for the past 7 years. Another EA pompously tweeted “would you ever read a book written by someone without a creative writing degree?” Well if you don’t you’ll be missing out on most of the Classics, mate. If you listen to this lot, you’ll never get any writing done at all. Oh and as for the length of blog posts, THEY CAN BE ANY LENGTH YOU WANT THEM TO BE!! That is the beauty of blogging.

If you’re lacking in self-confidence as a writer, Twitter can be an absolute sod. Some writers are lucky, and are followed by hordes of adoring fans, who receive their every tweet with breathless adoration and cries “oh I love you so much, I really do!” Sadly, I am not one of that blessed tribe. Back in 2011, I tweeted a short story to Twitter for the first time. A strange woman reacted in a way that has baffled me ever since. Over the course of the next few hours her tweets became increasingly deranged, culminating in one which simply read “LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL” over and over again for the entire 140 characters (as it was then). That particular story can be found in my B-Road Incident collection, if you want to read it for yourself, and erupt into hysterical tweets of “LOLOLOLOLOLOL” as well. I Blocked her in the end, because I seriously began to believe I had a mad-woman on my hands. To this day, I don’t know what I wrote which provoked her so much. Now, in the interests of balance, not everyone has been like that (thank God!). When I nervously tweeted my very first blog piece in June 2011 (about Borley Rectory) one follower sent me a message simply saying “that was an interesting piece, Sarah”. As a writer who suffers chronically from “stage-fright”, I appreciated his kind words, and still do. Over the years since I have occasionally received messages like this from readers, and I do value them muchly.

So, Twitter/social-media is like the rest of life, it has its ups and its downs, you meet kind people, you also meet absolute bellends. You experience the generous spirit of complete strangers, you also have complete strangers who will try and pick a fight over the most absurdly trivial subjects, and who won’t make a word of sense in the process. BUT, in the last couple of years, it has increasingly felt as though the negative is vastly outweighing the positive, for me anyway. It’s tempting to blame it all on Donald Trump and/or Brexit, and I’m sure they are major contributing factors. Something has gone dreadfully awry of late though. Perhaps it’s that we’re all taking it far too seriously, more than it was meant to be, I don’t know. I also don’t want to be one of those old-timers who tries to make out everyone was much nicer before social-media. No they weren’t. You still had bullies and bitches and narcissists and sociopaths and raving loonies, but it was easier to limit their power over you. Unless you were very unlucky, they weren’t very likely to come up to you in the street and shout “I overheard what you said out here 5 weeks ago last Friday at 3 PM, and I want you to know you’re a complete dickhead, and I’m going to set fire to your car with you in it.

I feel sorry for children these days, being constantly on the end of a phone or a computer. In the old days, if you got bullied at school, you would at least get a respite from it out of school hours, but no, not these days, the bully can get hold of you at any time, even when you’re sitting snugly in your room, minding your own business. And I do think (old fart alert!) people have got ruder as a whole. Very few people Online say “please” and “thank you”, too many people treat you – at best – as an automated service, like you’re an offshoot of Google. I’ve lost track now of the amount of times I’ve had complete strangers bustling in on me on Twitter and ordering me to follow them so I can DM them, as they have something important to say to me. The “something important” is usually a journalist who wants free information, and then buggers off again without so much as a “thanks ever so!” One got the name of my book wrong. I genuinely wondered if she’d got the right author, and asked her if it was my book she was referring to, as there was a book with that particular title on the market, written by someone else. I got a near-hysterical response along the lines of so-I-got-your-book-title-wrong-so what, and went on petulantly “I’m having to do A GREAT DEAL OF RESEARCH!!” Yes, writing is often like that, I’ve found.

Dr David Starkey (bear with me) once said that the British Monarchy could survive scandal and controversy, but it would never be able to survive apathy, that its biggest fear would be if we reacted to them with boredom. And that’s the problem I now have with Twitter/social-media. The utter tedium factor. Donald Trump stressing us out by threatening all and sundry with nuclear warheads is bad enough, but it’s the unrelenting day-to-day tedium of it all which is killing it for me. Possibly my biggest gripe about Twitter is what I call the Late Responder. This is the troll who obsessively combs through Twitter searches looking for anyone commenting on their chosen subject, and then viciously attacking them for it. I’ve had my lion’s share of this sort over the years, and I sometimes like to boast that my current record is 3-and-a-half years, that is, between me sending out a tweet, and someone having a go at me for it. I’ve seen others who have had more impressive scores than that though.

By far and away the worst example of a Late Responder I had was when I tweeted a BBC News story about the increase in stalking in recent years. Several days later (sigh) I had a complete nutjob come at me out of the blue, who proceeded to rant on at me over several tweets in a bizarre, stream-of-consciousness way. I felt like I had strolled in in the middle of a complete stranger having a heated argument with himself in an empty bus shelter. It culminated in him saying to me that he could arrange to have me “abducted and beheaded”. I duly reported this tweet to Twitter, who – what a great surprise – replied that they could do nothing. All I could do was Block him. Recently, whilst having a clear-out on Twitter, I had a look at my Blocked list, and found that not only is this raving nutter still around, but he has now spawned a second account, on which he makes even less sense than he did on the first one. Twitter, be ashamed.

Over the past few months it has felt as though that’s all I damn well get on Twitter these days. My last one was yesterday (14/4/2018). I had tweeted earlier in the week that I was concerned about Thomas Cook still advertising holidays in Turkey, given the current world situation. Now I might very well be wrong. I might very well have been over-reacting, but it was on the day that it was announced flights to that part of the world were going to be restricted. But it seems you’re not allowed to have very human, fleeting moments of anxious pondering on Twitter. A few days later my latest little aggressor decided to call me “pathetic” for voicing this concern, and – the final nail in it for me – he included the ubiquitous crying-with-laughter emoji. This might sound trivial (and it probably is), but after several days of extreme worry and sleeplessness about the imminent onset of nuclear war (I’m of the Threads / Protect & Survive generation, cut me some slack here), I really didn’t need this gobby little twat on top of everything else. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I’ve tried to get round the Late Responder problem in recent months by doing regular tweet purges, of using TweetDelete to erase tweets after a certain time (I can recommend this app), but even that’s not enough now. Life is moving so fast these days, that even tweets a few days old can seem prehistoric and irrelevant. I read the other day that a major concern amongst young people is the permanency of social-media, that tweets/messages hang around forever, ready to cause you maximum grief and embarrassment years later. This is a big problem for the generation that has grown up on the Internet – I’m very glad it wasn’t around when I was that age – but it’s this We Will Never Ever Let You Forget What You’ve Tweeted attitude which is killing it finally for me. To live in a world where you are NEVER allowed to forget even the most trivial of comments you’ve ever uttered is absolute sheer insanity. Like having the Recording Angel permanently on your tail. Orwell’s Thought Police would be orgasmic.

<< RANT ALERT >> & why I switched off the Comments section on this blog too

If you absolutely must be a Late Responder, then at least have the common courtesy to explain what you’re on about. You people, do you really think our lives have been on standby in the weeks/months/years since we sent that tweet?!  What if since then, that tweeter had lost a loved one / lost their job / developed cancer, and then they get you abusing them for an old tweet on top of everything else!!  YOU ARSEHOLES REALLY ARE BLOODY IGNORANT.   SO BLOODY PIG-IGNORANT, YOU SHOULD MAKE OINK-OINK NOISES WHEN YOU ATTEMPT TO COMMUNICATE*

It is the main reason why I switched off the Comments section on this blog too.  It is astonishing just how rude, self-entitled and arrogant some people are.   They think they have some God-given right to abuse you / waste your time / cadge favours off you at all hours of the day and night.   One hurled abuse at me for my font colour.  It never seemed to occur to the CRETINOUS DUMB-ARSE that it was her creaky old computer that was at fault!  She concluded her vile message with the word “annoying”.  Yes you are, dear.  Very.  Now try learning some manners.

I’ve read someone recently accusing a person who, like me, had switched the Comments off from their blog, of being “cowardly”.  I have no idea if it is or not, and to be honest, I really don’t care, all I know was that I was attempting to preserve what little is left of my sanity, in a world which is doing its level best these days to remove it.

*My apologies to pigs.

<< RANT OVER >>

JUST AS AN ASIDE – WHY DO TROLLS TROLL?

“Why do people become Internet trolls?” is a question that’s probably been around since the World Wide Web first became a thing in the 1990s.   I’ve just been watching a video about it, where the YouTuber, who has had a lot of problems with these idiots, said “I would genuinely like to sit down in a conversation with them and ask them why they do it”.  I think a lot of us would.   Everyone has their theories of course.  Some say it’s just boredom, they simply have nothing else to do.  Sometimes alcohol is involved, particularly if they send you obnoxious messages in the middle of the night (a lot of my Twitter/blogger trolls seemed to be creatures of the night, and that’s even allowing for different time zones in the world).   Sometimes they’re venting their anger, bitterness and frustration at the world onto you, and if it wasn’t you it would be some other poor bugger getting it in the neck instead.   Some say it’s jealousy,  because you’re doing something they feel they should be doing, only much better of course (of course).   My other half summed it up simply as “some people are just miserable, evil bastards, that’s all”.  (I read somewhere that 1 in 25 people are sociopaths, so I suppose we’re bound to rub up against them at some point, just by law of averages alone).

As I point out in my Hapgood’s Handy Hints section below, the Internet also gives them the blissful gift of anonymity.  All too often they can hide behind a false name, fake avatar, plus their computer/phone screen, and then let rip, safe in the knowledge that you will probably never find out who they are, and so you can’t send the boys round to break their puny legs for them (not that I’m advocating that of course).  Before the Internet, these types would have been the ones who would have sent you anonymous poison pen letters, or pathetic threats using letters cut out of the newspapers and glued to a piece of paper.  The Internet has simply given them more scope.  They are not confined to their immediate neighbourhood for possible victims anymore, they have the entire cyber-world at their disposal.

Trolls seem to get upset about just about anything.   They will mercilessly mock someone for their looks, their lifestyle, their work, for having a different opinion to them, anything.  Personally, they seem to object to me having an opinion AT ALL.  I am not allowed to have my own thoughts on any subject [I hope their heads are frantically spinning with this lengthy blog piece, in which I give my opinion all over the place].  Both on Twatter, and in Amazon reviews, I have been roundly told I should never have an opinion.  Quite how I’m supposed to write blogs and books without giving an opinion on anything, ever, is a bit beyond me*.  And frankly, they’ve got a bloody cheek!  If someone Online, or in a book, gives an opinion I really can’t be doing with, then I simply stop reading/watching them.  It’s as simple as that.  I don’t send a vitriolic message to the author/blogger/tweeter/YouTuber telling them they are not entitled to an opinion.  That would be just ridiculous and high-handed.   Neither do I tell them they’re the worst author in the history of the known Universe (quite an achievement really), or that “a 2-year-old could do better”.   I did manage to track down the identity of one of my trolls, who turned out to be a solicitor in a Scottish town.  Would love to know what his clients would think of his online behaviour.  Fortunately, for him that is, I’m not really into the whole public Name & Shame nonsense.

*One Amazon reviewer whinged about my barefaced audacity in putting my own opinions in my own book.  Another reader gallantly came to my defence, and said “whose opinion is she supposed to have?  Jeremy Paxman’s?”  That still makes me chortle now.  That particular type of reviewer can often be the worst, in that they go on Amazon simply to post this one review (usually of the vicious kind).  It will often leave the author scratching their heads as to how they managed to incur this level of wrath, whereby somebody has gone to all this trouble just to rubbish them.  But it happens.  A lot of authors get it at some point, sadly.  I did look at this guy’s Internet presence at the time.  He seemed to have an obsession with the Paul McCartney conspiracy theory (the one where Paul was supposed to have died in 1966, and then replaced with a body-double).  Even so, as I have never written about Sir Macca, I still don’t know what it was I wrote in 2012 which set him off so.

Some reviewers are out-and-out troll reviewers, in that they make a habit of slagging off everyone.  A quick look at their past reviews can be very revealing in this sense.  But you also get the time-waster reviewers.  These are the ones who are either so thick they don’t actually understand what a book review is (“thank you for the prompt delivery, I haven’t read it, it’s a present for my cousin”), or they use your hard work to get a quick jibe out of someone else they know, and leave you completely baffled.  One of my books last year got a 1-star review from some absolute jerk, who simply wrote “It’s not for me, it’s on my wife’s Kindle”.  I had a look at his profile, and found he had done this exact same thing to about 6 other authors all on the same day!!  I was sufficiently cross to report this one to Amazon, but I’m sure you can guess the outcome of that.   (Clue: tumbleweed noise).   One reviewer I had years ago was using my book to make abstract jokes at somebody he knew … at least I think that’s what he was doing, I’m still not sure.  The “review” made so little sense, that I was almost tempted to turn it upside down, or hold it up to a mirror, to see if it was some kind of obscure code.

Incidentally, if you are an author just starting out, and you’re worried about these shitty type of Amazon reviews, I can suggest having a look at your own favourite authors sometime, and seeing some of the ones they get.  Hopefully, it will make you feel less alone.  Although the downside is the unfairness of  it can make you angry again of course!  I did read one negative reviewer (not one of mine), who claimed authors should not publish if they’re sensitive!  What a load of old hooey.  Where was it ever said that authors should have no feelings??  I do strongly recommend that you NEVER reply to them on Amazon though, as it can just end up looking undignified, particularly if you wind up in a slanging match with the critic.  I’ve seen authors do this, and it’s never a pretty sight.  If you feel you have been unfairly maligned, then defending yourself in a blog post (ta da!) can be a useful way of letting off steam.  Either that, or you can invest in a punch-bag.

Of course trolls come in all shapes and sizes, and if you need a bit of laughter therapy when dealing with them, I recommend you Google a Smosh article from 2010, entitled The 18 Types Of Internet Troll.  They’re all in there, the Flamethrower, the CryBaby, the Retroactive Stalker (the type I call the Late Responder), the Priggish Grammar Nazi*, the self-appointed Expert, all there for your enjoyment, ladies and gentlemen.

*The sort who pounce on every damn thing you write and tear it to shreds, like the nastiest kind of schoolteacher, holding up your homework for the rest of the class to laugh at.  The only comfort I can give you is it’s usually nothing personal with this sort, as they seem to do it to just about everybody they read.  I had a reader whose username (I’ll be honourable and not reveal her true name here) was something spectacularly pompous like “Mrs. E. J. Buggins”.  All I can say is “Dear Mrs. E. J. Buggins Esq.  You are a charmless bore!  Now go and feed your cats.  Yours sincerely, Mrs. S. J. Hapgood”.

Ultimately, you do have to laugh at these idiots, but I would never under-estimate the damage they can cause, or how long it can take for the wounds to heal when you come up against them.   I was once chatting to a B&B owner, who seemed strained and upset.  Turned out he had just received a blisteringly vicious 1-star review on TripAdvisor, simply because he hadn’t been quick enough to answer the front door to check a guest in!  It turned out that that afternoon his little girl had been taken ill, and he had been putting her to bed at the time the guest arrived.    I could only give him my sympathy, and say that most of us have come up against cruel reviews at one time or another.    Most people reading the reviews have got the good sense to spot a total shit when they see one.

Last year I got a 1-star review from someone who accused me of “brutally maligning” his religion, and that I spend ALL my time (crikey!) rubbishing his beliefs.  (a) I do not know you at all, “Amazon Customer” (the anonymous username), so ipso-facto I do not know what your beliefs are to start with, (b) no I do not spend ALL my time rubbishing your beliefs, in fact I do not spend ANY of my time rubbishing your beliefs, as – I repeat – I do not know you at all or what your beliefs are, (c) I am a Believer (in God) myself, so I am scarcely likely to attack someone for having spiritual beliefs.  If I poke fun, then it is Organised Religion I am having a josh at, and when I look at the state of the world these days, frankly it deserves it, (d) you accuse me of not knowing what “peace, love and joy” Belief can bring, well yes I do ACTUALLY, and you are not exactly radiating much “peace, love and joy” yourself.  End of reply.

<<<< The EAs (Earnest Americans) often lay down the law on Twatter and say an author should never respond to negative reviewers (authors have to be absolutely perfect at all times, and not technically human y’see), and that the said negative reviewers are “entitled to their opinion”.  YES, AND I’M ENTITLED TO MINE!!!!!  Now shove off, you’re no help at all at times like this. >>>>

———

In many ways I hope social-media does survive [< christ knows why]. I do believe it can serve a useful function in society. It is an extremely useful way to keep in touch with people, and very useful for keeping up with the News. I’ve lost track now of how many times I’ve read of a big news story breaking on Twitter before I’ve seen it elsewhere. It can also be useful if you’re having travel problems. I’ve used it to find out about trains cancelled at Paddington, and roadworks on a motorway for instance. I also believe it could be used to help alleviate loneliness, particularly amongst elderly people, to give them a feel of community, even if it’s one in cyberspace. For instance, the comedian Sarah Millican does a fine job at Christmastime with her JoinIn hashtag, to encourage people who are alone over the festive season to chat on Twitter. Plus, in spite of what some may tell you, Online petitions can be very effective too.

But now I’ve reached the stage where I’ve all but scorch earthed my entire back catalogue of tweets, and pared my Following list right down to the bone, it’s probably time I called it a day. I am tired of its lack of warmth. Tired of the way you can know people on there for years, but you don’t know them really, not at all. And I’m sick and tired of the endless bots. The ones that come and plague you because you’ve used the word “coffee” in a tweet for instance, or the ones that immediately put you on a List because you’ve mentioned a film title. Worst of the lot are the probably-of-Russian-origin sexbots. There must be an endless conveyor belt of women with melon breasts somewhere on the outskirts of St Petersburg, all lining up wanting to be my “sex companion”. Thanks for the kind offer Vlad, but really I’m not interested.

TWATTER VS YOUTUBE

I have heard people say “but you use YouTube, and that’s social-media!”* Well yes, I suppose technically it might be, but there’s a difference. Unless you’re avidly posting Comments all day long, people don’t tend to constantly come and attack you for things you’ve said on YouTube.  Most importantly, you don’t have that whole annoying Followers/Friends nonsense, where you do this little pointless dance of social-media etiquette when someone follows you, sort of “oh you’ve followed me, so I suppose now I have to follow you back, even though we’ve probably got no interest in one another at all, and we will never ever communicate with each other ever again, in fact, you’ve probably got me on Mute already haven’t you?”

Likewise, with YouTube, you are not STUCK with people.  I subscribe to a couple of dozen channels on YouTube, but if I get bored with any of them for a while, I simply unsubscribe, and then I might go back to them later.  With Fartbook/Twatter/InstaGrot you can’t do any of that.  You Friend/Follow them and you’re stuck with them, for bloody life it can seem!   Sometimes Unfollowing/Unfriending them can feel like you’ve caused a mini-crisis.  (I once had one woman screaming at me over several tweets for unfollowing her … she then went and Blocked me.  I wish she’d just done that to start with, would’ve saved us both a lot of trouble).  You can’t say “well actually you’re boring me at the moment, but I might come back in a few months time and see what you’re up to then”.   No, you are manacled together.  It’s completely ridiculous.   Why on earth would you want a bunch of complete strangers – whom you are most likely never going to meet, and have no obligation to whatsoever – hanging round your neck day-in day-out, like a ruddy great millstone??

Twitter these days all too often feels like a howling cesspit of negativity and time-wasting. When I looked at the Top Trends recently I was struck by how many negative words leaped out at me, everything was “I hate this” or “such-and-such has a had a negative reaction”. WHERE’S THE DAMN FUN GONE??? WAS IT EVER EVEN THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE??? It’s a horrid addiction, and frankly I found smoking easier to give up.

*someone has clarified this for me, YouTube is a Video Streaming Service. The only social-media aspect to it is the Comments section, and you can solve that problem by simply not posting any comments. Glad we’ve got that one sorted.

UPDATE 16/4/2018 – Today it was announced on the News that Wetherspoons, the UK pub chain, was closing all its social media accounts with immediate effect. Good for them. They cite all the recent bad publicity around social media, and the growing concerns over s-m addiction as their reasons for doing so. They said they also wanted to refute the current myth that all businesses need s-m to function … well quite, I mean it does somewhat beg the question as to how businesses managed to function for centuries before it was invented! The world didn’t begin when Mr T-Shirt Man Zuckerberg invented Facebook, contrary to what some will try and tell you.

I’ve long had a theory now that sites like Twitter can actually put you off a business or a person. There have been too many times lately when I’ve enjoyed a book or a video by someone, and gone to find out if they’re on Twitter … and come away completely repelled by what I’ve seen. (It’s a somewhat chastening thought to think people might have had the same thing with me!). Just one example, there is one political commentator I’ve seen a lot on Twitter, and always thought he was a complete idiot, a vacuous rent-a-gob, who tweets things just to provoke people and get a reaction. There’s a lot of it about. Then I watched one of his YouTube videos, and, although I still don’t agree with him on a lot of things, I can at least see that he’s more intelligent, calm and thoughtful when he’s communicating to camera, than he is when making bite-sized Twitter comments.

Sometimes YouTube can also help put someone in perspective. There was a guy I used to have as a Twitter follower who specialised in angry tweets. He ranted and raved about everything, enjoyed provoking women, or boasting about his business empire, or about the amount of followers he had (which made him a social-media colossus, in his eyes anyway), and sported a terrifying, Neanderthal, wild-eyed visage on his profile page, complete with raised fist. One day I looked up his YouTube channel and found a weedy little man in a grey jumper whingeing about the key to his car and why it didn’t work properly. (Tempted to do a Basil Fawlty at this point, and go “no IT works, YOU don’t”).

We used to have a saying on Twitter years ago: “Facebook makes you dislike people you know, Twitter makes you like complete strangers”. I don’t believe that’s true anymore. (We also used to say “don’t take it seriously, it’s only Twitter” – I haven’t read that one in YEARS). Anyway, the sun is shining – for a change – so au reservoir.

*HAPGOOD’S HANDY HINTS:

(1) If you do post on YouTube Comments, but you don’t want the Late Responder problem of people replying to you for years afterwards, simply click on the option of unsubscribing from YouTube Notifications. This will stop YouTube pestering you with messages – and clogging up your phone – every time someone replies to you. Either that, or you can simply go back and delete your original message. It’s up to you. The power is in your hands.

(2) If you’re new to Twitter, here’s my own guide to Tweeters You Might Want to Avoid Like The Plague, although you might come to the conclusion it’s simpler to have nothing to do with that rotten little blue bird of evil at all:

  • anyone who has a long row of numbers in their username. This is an outright troll. They are never good news, they will try and make your life a misery, and should be Blocked on sight. For heaven’s sake, don’t ever engage with them. They are poison. I’m not saying all people who have rows of numbers in their usernames are trolls, but a goodly proportion of them are.
  • the Inspirational/Motivational Quote mob. These are the tweeters who seem to do nothing but post pious little platitudes all day long. Twitter is awash with them. They are like psychic vampires, they will home in on you, and, unless you’re very ruthless with them, will bore on at you all day long forevermore, with an irritating quote for every occasion, usually from the Dalai Lama or Eleanor bloody Roosevelt, or – utterly bizarrely – Will Rogers. The constant use of Mr Rogers got so bad that I actually began to hate the poor man, and it’s scarcely his fault! At their worst I have found them to be insufferably pious and sanctimonious. Constant finger-waggers. I mean seriously people, who the flamin’ hell do you think you are??
  • The same really goes for the “happy day / happy day / every day’s a happy day” crowd. They are the ones who go on Twitter just to babble “Happy Monday / Happy Tuesday … ” you get my drift. What is wrong with that you may well ask? Well nothing in small doses, but some do it ALL THE TIME. Relentlessly. I had a follower who only ever did the “happy day / morning / afternoon / evening / spring / summer / autumn / winter” routine, usually accompanied by pictures of Snoopy. I didn’t dislike her as a person at all, but after several months of this, day-in day-out, I was starting to get the urge to smash up furniture.
  • People who have aggressive Twitter bio’s. By these I mean the ones who insist on putting their religious or political beliefs, or their dietary requirements in their bio description. American God-botherers are amongst the worst. They like to act as though they’ve got a personal hot-line to Jesus, and yet their timelines are usually full of hatred and bile (“your mother sucks cock in Hell!!” < oh thanks, very Christian that is, hashtag sarcasm). Frankly, I don’t think Jesus would be terribly impressed with them. The same rule applies for those who insist on plastering their Twitter page with little flags. It doesn’t matter what the flag is, these people are never nice easy-going companions to have around. They are always on the lookout for a fight, or for something to get offended by.
  • I must add something here about the ones who offer to pray for you. This might sound sweet, but it’s really bloody irritating!! I had one follower who offered to do that when we had to call out British Gas to clear a blocked pipe. She carried on like the Voice of Doom, “ooh he won’t be out to today [he was], I’ll pray for you”. Thanks. At least it gave British Gas a giggle when I told them.
  • The Get-Over-Yourself brigade. These are the ones who think because they’ve got some Followers on Twitter that they have achieved a Princess Di / Elvis level of celebrity. They put things in their bios like “RTs are not an endorsement”. Pompous bastards. Or aggressive things like “no-nonsense bitch”, “I kick ass”, or “if you don’t like my opinions fuck off” (charming). If they have any gongs – like an MBE or an OBE, a degree qualification, or a member of a society for instance – they will insist on inserting that into their username, just so’s you don’t have any chance of forgetting it in a hurry. They will probably flood your timeline with selfies. What fun. They will have no interest in you whatsoever, other than as a means to boost their pathetic Twitter followers count. Some will claim they are a “life guru”, a “social-media influencer” or a “motivational speaker”. God help us. I must also say a word here about the compulsive name-dropper. I used to see one guy on there who seemed to have known every celebrity within living memory. It got to the stage when every time a famous person died, and was trending on Twitter, I’d think “what’s the betting [said person] knew them and is now utterly devastated”. I can’t help being reminded of what I think was a Dorothy Parker anecdote. On hearing a loud crashing noise in a restaurant she said “that must be [whoever she was referring to] dropping another name”.
  • Anyone who has a miserable face in their avatar. Yes, really. I have found, as a general rule of thumb, that this nearly always means they really are a miserable bastard. It’s as simple as that. Some women adopt a sulky pout to try and make themselves look sexy* and mysterious, and then you find they are a moody bitch who disapproves of everything. The men who do this really are just grumpy bastards who hate everything. I once posted a quirky YouTube vid to Twitter, just as a bit of light relief one day. One such Grumpy Bastard came howling at me like an Old Testament God, yelling “And I tell YOU not to believe everything you see on YouTube!” He almost came complete with an accusing finger pointing out of the sky. *anyone who describes themselves as “sexy” in their bios or their username is always a narcissist desperately looking for attention.
  • TeamFollowBack. They’re still around, but thankfully nowhere near as ubiquitous as they used to be. These are there just to hoover up followers. You won’t get any quality content out of them, all you will see are endless lists of Twitter usernames scrolling past your eyes. The same goes for the FollowFriday crowd, but again, this doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as bad these days as it used to be.
  • The ones who go on Twitter just to post “bored”, “zzz”, “whatever” or “yawn”, as if they’re some bratty, over-indulged kid and you’re the hapless children’s entertainer at their birthday party. Block on sight, they’re depressing. No one needs that sort in their lives.
  • The snake-oil salesmen. Oh what a surprise, there are con-men at large on social-media. Well I’ll go to the foot of our stairs. They can vary greatly. From automated bot accounts who will pick up on a word you’ve innocently tweeted, and then try and flog you dodgy phones, to shiny-faced, grinning men in shirts and ties, who try and fool you they’re an invaluable Expert in something. One claimed to be an expert on doing business on Twitter. A particular nugget of wisdom was along the lines of “one way to get an advantage over your competition is to slag them off on social-media” (he didn’t use the exact words “slag them off” but it was along those lines). I hit the roof. THAT IS ILLEGAL!! Because I often write about the paranormal, I’ve seen some dodgy types along those lines too. There was the “clairvoyant” who claimed he was able to move objects by the power of thought alone. And we’re not talking tiny objects here, we’re talking cars, that sort of thing. If he can really prove he can do that it would change the entire course of history, but I’m not holding my breath on that one.
  • The ones who try and tell you what you’re allowed to tweet (and I appreciate the irony of this, as I’m spending this entire list complaining about the tweets I hate). I had one woman who objected for months on end to anyone tweeting news stories, she clearly had never heard of the Unfollow button. It culminated in her actually ordering me to stop reading the news. I told her I would do what I wanted, at which she screamed at me “oh it’s your party and you’ll cry if you want to …” and on and on. When she wasn’t doing this she was preaching Peace and Love at everyone. Go figure.
  • I also have a problem with the “No Profanity” brigade. As you can probably see from this blog post, I don’t have a problem with swearing. I’m with George Orwell and Stephen Fry on this one. Swearing (unless it’s every other word, and then it just gets boring) is usually a sign of a rich vocabulary, and frankly there are more important things to get worked up about in this World than someone using a bit of fruity language. But no, we get the No Profanity lot on Twitter too. They put it in their bio’s, they lecture everyone about it. (They usually got tossed onto the Blocked On Sight pile as well). Interestingly, I read an article about how to spot narcissists on social-media, and it claimed they swear a lot. I’m afraid I disagree with that one. Some of the most egocentric people I’ve seen Online virtually never swore at all. If you want to spot a narcissist it’s very simple … count the amount of selfies they post on a daily basis.  One of the worst examples I ever saw was a woman who was attending a solemn memorial, and insisted on doing it as a selfie. All I could see was her big face, which frankly I could already see in every other picture she had ever posted.  I sometimes think I’ve seen more of her face than I have of people I’ve known for years.
  • Ones who only post links to their Facebook page. These are the ones who have “fb” included in every tweet. What a bloomin’ cheek! It’s as if Twitter is Facebook’s poor relation, and they are begrudgingly chucking you the crumbs from the Facebook table. Arrogant tosspots. The same applies to the Instagram crowd.
  • Which leads me to … the ones who seem to think Twitter IS Facebook. By that, I mean the ones who think their life is an endlessly fascinating soap opera, and you – their hapless follower – is completely enthralled by it. Either that or you’re strapped in a straitjacket to a chair like Alex in A Clockwork Orange, with their tweets rolling past you on the big screen. They do random tweets where you feel like you’ve come into the middle of someone else’s argument, and you have no idea (or much less care) what they’re on about. In my early days on Twitter I had a follower who went on mega-rants about her housemate. I had no idea what she was on about, and I felt like a rabbit caught in a car’s headlights, sort of “am I supposed to say something about this? But I don’t know what she’s on about!” She once posted a bog-standard selfie with the heading “this is me, right now”. Gee thanks, been waiting all evening for that. They are the ones who try to suck the entire rest of the world into their lives. They go Online every day to post about their interminable problems. “I’m not feeling very well today”, “I feel cold because I forgot my hat”, “my train’s late”, “I don’t know what to have for dinner”, “I need a holiday”, “my son can’t visit me at Christmas”, etc etc. Look honey, I don’t know you, it is unlikely in the extreme that we’ll ever meet, I don’t even know your real name, and I already get depressed enough about the state of the world without taking on your problems as well!! Try keeping a diary or something.
  • Parody accounts. They can be mildly amusing to start with, but they often quickly out-stay their welcome. Usually they have a limited number of jokes which get recycled endlessly. For example, for a while I followed a parody account of HM The Queen. I soon became fed up with the way “awkward” was constantly used as the punchline. Many, probably for that reason, don’t last very long. The account-holder soon gets bored with it. And where Donald Trump’s concerned, no amount of parody accounts can possibly match the real thing. The most tedious ones of the lot are the ones who hide behind old sitcom characters in order to vent their extreme political beliefs in blissful anonymity. The innocent twitterer may follow them fondly believing it’s a funny, nostalgia account. It isn’t. Some are just old bores who refuse to believe that anything good has happened anywhere since 1975. They get wearying very quickly. No, they’re not in character, pretending to be Albert Steptoe, Archie Bunker or Alf Garnett, they just haven’t got the balls to tweet as themselves.
  • You also get the polemicists who hide behind anonymous identities. One case in point is self-proclaimed “libertarian legend” Holbornlolz. A couple of years ago he was branded as “Britain’s vilest troll”, although frankly I’ve encountered worse than him myself*. He goes to great lengths to protect his real identity. When you see his real fizzog you can understand why he chooses to stay anonymous, or why he prefers to wear the ubiquitous V For Vendetta mask on his blog (which hasn’t been updated since 2015, perhaps he’s too busy tweeting). I would have a lot more respect for the likes of him if they had the nerve to say what they’ve got to say under their real names. Anyone can be brave when they’re hiding behind a computer screen and using a fake name. *the worst troll I’ve had – apart from the guy who threatened to behead me – was one who included the word “rapist” in his bio. Charming. Twitter is the very pits sometimes.
  • Fake accounts. Apart from the aforementioned pornbots, who tend to be pretty easy to spot, not all fake accounts are. Some can be quite convincing. There was a gobby little brat, with a beard, called Godfrey Elfwick. Turns out – from what I vaguely remember – he was unmasked as a fictional character made up by two bored, twatty Millennials, simply in order to wind everybody up. Life is too short for this rubbish.
  • Cliques. These aren’t easy to spot at first, I grant you that. Sometimes it’s only when you’ve been accepted into the fold that you realise that, far from simply following someone vaguely interesting on Twitter & they’ve graciously followed you back, you have actually strayed into a Rev Jim Jones-style cult. In my innocence, when I first joined Twitter, I thought it was great to finally find an Internet site that hadn’t been hijacked by a clique. I’ve seen too many Internet chat-rooms taken over this way in the past, by the same old farts who have nothing better to do all day than snicker away with their little Online friends, and glaring in horror at any newbie who dares to utter a word. Oh how wrong I was. In my time I’ve strayed into New Age groups (where you will overdose on Inspirational quotes, pictures of lit candles and Compulsory Positive Thoughts, I promise you), TV/film nostalgia groups (particularly when they wish Happy Birthday to someone who died 40 years ago, which just feels macabre), BLOODY SELF-SATISFIED SMUG SNIDE LONDON JOURNALISTS WHO SNEER AT EVERYONE OUTSIDE OF THEIR OWN LITTLE MILIEU, & WHO STILL WON’T GRASP THAT IT IS BECAUSE OF ATTITUDES LIKE THEIRS THAT WE LOST THE EU REFERENDUM!!!  (phew! I’m getting dangerously triggered, I must calm down, my apologies, ladies & gentlemen), Earnest Writers R Us groups. One of the latter had an American woman in charge, whose adoring followers seemed to spend all day telling her how wonderful she was. I baled out when they started talking about having special t-shirts made for us all. I have no idea how serious that suggestion was, but I wasn’t taking any chances.
  • The needy ones. These are the ones who are too self-absorbed for any sane person to waste a moment of their precious time on. You will usually know them straight off, because the instant you follow them back they will send you an automated DM (Direct Message) directing you to their book / their video / their Facebook page / their website, and urge you to come and give it a Like. If you’re still misguided enough to stay around them after that, they’ll probably badger you with demands. “Just touching base with you, have you read my book yet?” or the wheedling “can I have an RT?” Some of them are even worse than that, and will simply put the abrupt command “RT” at the end of a tweet, as if they’re an Oriental despot demanding you wash their feet. It will make you glad you’re not a celebrity (unless you are of course), as they get this rubbish all the time. “Hey [insert name of famous person] it’s my birthday, can I have an RT?” “My cat’s sick, can I have an RT?” FFS. Probably the SADDEST, MOST PATHETIC tweet I ever received was from a writer, who sent me a DM saying “Sarah, can you RT the tweet I did earlier where I mentioned how funny John Cleese and Terry Wogan found my book”. I don’t even know where to begin with how pathetic it was, although citing John Cleese and Terry Wogan must mark it for some kind of Hall Of Fame Most Pathetic Tweet Ever award. From that moment onwards I never had any inclination to read any more of his books. Well done, mate, you scored a brilliant own goal there. There was also the fledgling writer who sent me a DM saying “If you look at my Facebook page, I’ll look at yours. Like for Like?” No, not likey for likey. And good luck with looking for my Facebook page. I once had someone tweet me after 11 o’clock one night, asking if I had any further information about strange occurrences at Loch Ness. I sent him my Loch Ness Timeline piece, which lists all strange phenomena there for the past 100 years. A few minutes later I got another tweet “yes, very interesting, but you haven’t included a full list of references”. I could only reply “goodnight” to him after that. I won’t miss all that.
  • I was going to add something about the chronic RT-ers, they’re the ones who RT absolutely everything, even someone wishing them a “good morning”, and they end up flooding your timeline with the most self-indulgent rubbish as a result. Things that only possibly be of interest to them. But there is actually a very easy way round that one, just turn off the RTs from them. Go to their profile page, pull down the little wheel near their username, and you should get a “turn off retweets” option. It is very handy. I have actually known some followers to virtually disappear once I’d done that. Because they only ever RTd things, I never saw them again! RESULT!!
  • The ones who do nothing but automated tweets. I read an article recently about someone, who was using Twitter to promote his business, complaining he had very little impact on his followers. The reason wasn’t hard to find. He automated all his tweets. Good God mate, no one takes any notice of them! They are a joke! They can end up horribly out-of-synch, such as the ones wishing you Happy Christmas at the end of March, or urging you go out and vote the day AFTER an election (I’ve seen both). It got so bad with one woman that I was starting to be able to predict when her tweets were going to appear, and what they were going to say. It really was time to get shot of her then. Not only does it make you look arrogant and cold, but it also shows a distinct lack of imagination. One follower used to do automated excerpts from his book. Not only did I see the same clips coming round and round again, but they often were so horrible they made me feel sick. You don’t want that when you’re eating your lunch.
  • Any grown adult who uses a picture of themselves as a small child as their avatar. I’ve never understood that one, it’s just plain weird.
  • A word to anyone who uses the word “haters” a lot. Just because someone disagrees with you about something, it doesn’t automatically make them a “hater”. OK? Pathetic.
  • The ones who pepper every tweet with things like “lol”, “my lovelies”, kissy-kissy huggy-huggy and “mwah!” I have images of them chasing you across vast open spaces, with arms outstretched, crying “kissy-kissy my lovely, kissy-kissy! Mwah! Mwah!”
  • And finally – absolutely anyone who posts “lmao” to everything. They haven’t an original thought in their head, have the mindset of a boorish 12-year-old, and try and pull everything down to their level. They are tiresome. It seems to be getting replaced these days by the crying-with-laughter emoji, which is every bit as pointless and irritating. It became a pet hate of mine.

(3) One of the most telling insights I’ve come across about Twitter was from a young girl on YouTube, who was talking about how she gave up social-media for 6 months, and what she learnt from it. She said it was very noticeable that nothing ever changes on it. That you can depart it for a significant period of time, and yet when you come back it’s as if nothing’s happened. You would think that might be reassuring in some way, particularly in these turbulent times, but it’s not. It’s the same old tosh still whirling round. Like going back to a workplace you left some time before, and finding the same old rubbish still there, reminding you why you left in the first place. Recently I saw someone announce she was going on a mass-unfollow, simply because she wanted a change of scene. Last year (2017) I too went on a Twitter purge, unfollowing about 900 accounts. I fully expected my Followers count to take a sharp nosedive afterwards … IT BARELY CHANGED AT ALL!! Likewise, in April 2018, when I tweeted this blog post as my final tweet, I again expected my Followers count to take a sharp nosedive. It stayed almost completely static. It only confirmed to me what a load of old hooey Twitter Followers counts are. If you’re desperate to be rid of someone, but you feel a permanent Block is too harsh, then do a soft-block instead. A soft-block is when you block someone and then immediately unblock them again. It removes them from your Followers list. Some argue that you might as well just Mute them, but I’ve never found that terribly effective. I Muted one guy who drove me mad with his constant moaning. He did disappear from my main timeline, BUT he was still showing up in my Mentions when he sent me tweets (never has the old expression “misery loves company” been more true). In the end, Blocking was the only answer.

(4) BE VERY WARY ABOUT WHAT YOU REVEAL. In the early years of social-media I really don’t think many of us gave much of a thought as to what we posted. It was usually a spur-of-the-moment thing, and as disposable as a hastily-scribbled note. We would share anything. We humans are a sociable bunch. All that has changed. Towards the end of my time on Twitter I was becoming increasingly cagey about what I posted. I’m not talking big stuff here (bank account details), but little things, such as “I’m sitting in the garden”. Not because I thought anybody was stalking me – although that is a very real risk for anybody Online, and shouldn’t be underestimated – but because I simply didn’t want to run the risk of some crashing bore finding something to lecture me, or get offended about, and thus shattering the spell of the moment. Think I’m being paranoid? Take this recent example, what I call IceCreamGate. A vegan lady recently posted an innocuous tweet saying how she’d bought a little girl an ice-cream to cheer her up. All very sweet and harmless, you might think … NOT IN TWITTERLAND. A fellow vegan homed in and proceeded to rant and rave at her about the horror of a vegan buying ice-cream. It briefly became a social-media sensation. I read about it in the Guardian newspaper. I thought “love, just carry on buying ice-cream, but don’t tell social-media, For God’s Sake Don’t Tell Social-Media”. These days I get a naughty kick of out NOT telling social-media things. I once posted a tweet about having a spot of lunch in the back garden, whilst listening to music on my headphones. It was a fine moment. I had a bitter follower coming back at me raving “YOU LIVE LIKE A QUEEN!!” (knighting people? opening parliament? going to the races?). I sometimes still think of him … when I’m sitting in the garden. When I had my very first mammogram I posted a public tweet thanking the radiographer, simply because I had been very nervous about it beforehand. I am a complete wuss when it comes to anything medical. A complete stranger burst in on me demanding to know if the radiographer had told me her name, as it would have been very unprofessional if she hadn’t, blah-blah-blah etc etc etc blah-blah-blah (I can’t say her name was uppermost in my mind at the time). It was horrible. This man – whose name, appropriately, was Richard Bore – had wrecked it. Social-media can go fuck itself. ADDENDUM 7/5/2018: I read an article in the Telegraph about why young people, the ones currently in their mid-twenties, are being so abstemious about sex these days. One of the reasons cited was our old friend social-media. For instance, men who are concerned they may not give an absolutely perfect performance, are worried it may then get plastered all over Facebook. Where sex and relationships are concerned, you now run the risk of every embarrassing little mishap being broadcast to the entire Internet world, sometimes with added illustrations to boot. In the old days the worst you had to fear was somebody having a snicker with their pals behind your back. I can’t imagine what it must be like to worry now that someone might plaster nude pics of you all over cyberspace! I can see why people are more wary.

I’ve just discovered this quote on Quora, by Kahlil Gibran: “travel and tell no one, live a true love story and tell no one, live happily and tell no one, people ruin beautiful things”. Yep, sums it up perfectly.

(5) This one should be obvious, but it’s absolutely amazing how many can’t seem to grasp it. When you include the @ next to somebody’s username, then your tweet will automatically show up in their Notifications. I once had a bunch of students discussing one of my blog pieces this way, seemingly oblivious – or more likely not caring – that each comment was appearing in my Mentions page. HOW BLOODY RUDE!! (The annoying little prick who started it had something like “social-media influencer” in his bio. “Social-Media Dickhead” more like). It’s like having some arrogant little tosspot perching on your desk, and deciding to tell the rest of the office what they think of your work, as if you’re not there. Likewise, it is also extremely rude to tag people into your private convo’s/arguments. Their Mentions will then get stuffed up with your dreary debates, whether they like it or not, and if they ask you to untag them then it’s only good manners to do so. Don’t be so damn arrogant. Would you do that to someone in real life? (Don’t answer that, you probably would).

(6) How To Get Followers. People will tell you a lot of old rubbish about how hard it is to get Followers on Twitter. It’s not, it’s bloody easy. If you’re really desperate, just follow as many accounts as possible. I had one Follower who bragged about being “a complete Follower whore”, in that she spent her evenings following as many Twitter accounts as possible (well if you’ve got nothing better to do …). She didn’t stay as one of my followers for long, once I read that comment. That sort are only interested in the numbers game. And you will always have the spivs and double-glazing salesmen to boost your number. For example, I once followed Nigel Slater, and in return got followed by kitchen designers desperate for customers! I tweeted the word “solar” in relation to a news article about solar flares once, and got solar panels salesmen. Tweeting the words “golf”, “mortgages/insurance” and “plumbers” is also a good bet for some reason, although to be honest, I don’t think a 24-hour friendly plumber based in Los Angeles would be much use to me here in Blighty. If really desperate you can simply tweet the word “followers” or put that word in your bio, and you will be snowed under by the Team FollowBack and Buy Your Twitter Followers Here bots. Another way is to tweet along to popular TV shows, such as The X-Factor or Great British Bake-Off. As you wade through the inevitable trolls, you may also pick up the odd new follower along the way. Unfortunately, you may well find that that TV show is absolutely all you’ve got in common, and you have no other interest in each other at all, but that won’t stop you from following each other for years on end, until you’ve both completely forgotten why on earth you followed each other in the first place. You are never short of company on Twitter … it’s just rarely the meaningful connections you were probably after.

(7) Respect other people’s space In Real Life. One bloody rude and intrusive trend which has arisen with the growth of social-media is the habit some people have of taking pictures of, or filming, complete strangers on their phones, and then posting it on their Facebook/Twitter page, either for “a laugh”, or to try and shame said person in some way. I once had a girl who kept trying to film me on her phone when I was sitting, chatting innocently to my husband, in a pub one day. She only stopped when I stuck my tongue out at her*. I once complained on Twitter about a rude guy on a nearby table, who was being a complete sod to the waitress. A Follower urged me to take his picture and shame him all over Twatterland. No I didn’t. I confined myself to being sympathetic to the poor waitress instead, and giving said bastard filthy looks. He soon got the message and left. What happens In Real Life should stay In Real Life. *A A Gill once wrote that he hated the way TV programme makers would leave a pause at the end when they’ve been interviewing you, as if hoping you’ll say or do something embarrassing for their delectation, either that or just simper in a gormless fashion, making yourself look a sad wally. He would kibosh this by yelling “fuck!” at the top of his voice, causing them to hurriedly stop filming. Me sticking my tongue out at the rude girl was my way of doing this.

—-

You might legitimately feel I’ve been too harsh on Twitter in this piece, and I can understand that. I am genuinely trying to rack my brains to think of a time when I absolutely, whole-heartedly ENJOYED Twitter. (1) a live tweetalong to a 1970s nostalgia show one evening, that was wonderful, and the jokesters were on top form (2) Halloween 2011, when everyone got in the mood and posted spooky or just alternative culture stuff. (3) oh and the day gay marriage was legalised. For a brief few minutes, amongst British tweeters anyway, there was a genuine feel of joy and bonhomie. Other than that, um …

It has to be said though that Twitter got unfairly maligned during the August Riots of 2011, when politicians and media tried to blame social-media for the mess, but it did actually do a lot of good during those highly fraught few days. The Clean-Up operation was organised entirely over Twitter, when people armed themselves with brooms and went to clean up the streets. I was one of the many tweeting during the Riots, and I remember some vulnerable people were warned from straying into dangerous areas whilst it was all unfolding, thanks to social-media. One man who was frightened and trapped in his flat with his wife and baby during it, was kept going by some lovely people sending him messages of support. None of that got reported by the powers-that-be.

Anyway, I’m largely done with it now. I feel I have well and truly done my Twitter tour-of-duty. The only reasons I’m not deleting the account (at the moment) are because I don’t want Russian bots getting their greasy mitts on the username. Although the way things are going I suspect I may well change my mind on that one at some point.

PS: I wrote this blog post mainly because I had 8 years of Twitter-inspired grievances to get out of my system. Trouble is, once I got started on it I found I had great trouble stopping. I want to apologise to any innocent tweeters I may have been sharp and hasty with over the years, but there were just too many times when Twitter got right up my nose!

PPS: check out a short vid called ‘5 Reasons Why I Hate Twitter’ by a YouTuber called Croc Gang Ent, it’s very funny.

If you haven’t already seen it, have a look at the Black Mirror episode Nosedive. If you still want to live in a social-media world after that, frankly you’ll deserve it.

UPDATE 17/5/2018 – I was always planning to do a final update when I was 30 days on from my last Twitter post, but in all honesty, I cannot think of anything terribly profound to say. I feel I got a lot out of my system with this lengthy blog post. Stuff that had fermented for too long. It was never my intention to be unduly harsh on anyone (apart from the worst of the trolls, as far as I’m concerned it’s open season on them), but once the dam burst it all came flooding out y’see.

Only this morning though I read an article by Dan Nosowitz (I Don’t Know How To Waste Time On The Internet Anymore) who said he missed the early years of the Internet, the years of LiveJournals and people blogging their passions and interests. He says that in recent years – he cites 2013 as the turning-point* – Facebook and Twitter have taken over too much. People have been predicting the death of blogging for years, but I refuse to believe it’s had its day. Blogging gives you a far more effective free platform than social-media ever will. It is YOUR space, your little realm. Last year (2017) I didn’t blog for months on end, but once I blew the dust of it, I decided I wanted to get back into it. And although I never did a LiveJournal, I do think they’re a great idea. Back in the Noughties I used to read author Poppy Z Brite’s LiveJournal every day, and found it fascinating. Sadly he doesn’t seem to do it anymore, and has retreated a lot from the Internet public scene, which I can completely understand. *I think 2013 was the turning-point. So many previously keen tweeters seemed to suddenly stop and vanish from the scene around them. They were very wise.

At the end of his article Nosowitz writes that the Internet is not a place of fun and escapism anymore, that it is a “utility world”, that “it is efficient and all-encompassing. It is not very much fun”. I think you have to find the bits of it that still are fun and that speak to you personally. I know I bang on about YouTube, but it has been a godsend for me this past year. I discovered ASMR and ambient noise videos through it, which have helped me enormously. For convenience, I have now collected them all onto one list (ASMR / Ambient Noise/ Background Music) on my YouTube page*, and from the Comments I’ve read on them I know they help a lot of other people too.

There are a lot of articles around on Google about What You Discover When You Stop Doing Twitter, and they all tend to be fairly accurate. The most obvious thing you find is that you suddenly have a lot more time at your disposal, as if some benevolent god has granted you several more hours in the day. You can also enjoy the moment, without feeling the need to share it with a bunch of fractious strangers or spambots preying on you. I did notice sometimes that I almost automatically went to reach for my phone, as if “oh it’s a couple of hours since I last checked in, I’d better do it”. I was reminded of the sequel to The Stepford Wives, where the women had to take a pill every few hours, to keep themselves in robotic mode. I was recently sitting outside our local bakery, and watched a family walking along the pavement. All of them, mum, dad, kids, had a phone in their hands, which they were busily gawping at, not saying a word to each other. The robot family.  Back in 2014 I had a bad dream in which people were choosing to have their heads shrunk, and were perfectly happy about it.  The dream disturbed me at the time – which is why I still remember it years on – but I hadn’t realised quite how prophetic it would turn out to be.

And yes, it’s true what they say, you do become much happier. I’m not saying Life suddenly becomes all sunshine and flowers, but it does get more mellow. You don’t spend all day thinking a complete stranger in cyberspace is about to come and tear you to pieces for something you tweeted back in 2014, or one of your dear “followers” is about to launch into a vicious rant about something you really don’t need to know about. The current Royal Wedding here in Blighty has also made me greatly appreciate the absence of Twitter in my life. Royal events are nauseating on Twatter at the best of times. I still have bad memories of being on Twitter for the Queen’s 2012 Diamond Jubilee. I’m not overstating it when I say it was appalling, and I hope to never to experience mass hostility on that level again. There is nothing worse than being branded a “hater” (a horrible word) just because you don’t share their unbridled enthusiasm. So I really don’t miss the ardent royalists yelling “haters” at the rest of us, or “STFU and sit down”, or orders to leave the country (um … it’s my country too). Of course, you still get the ardent Royalists shouting all over the place In Real Life, but somehow it’s usually easier to handle.

The Royal Wedding is just one instance of a number of occasions I’ve had in recent weeks where I’ve had occasion to think “thank God I’m not on Twitter anymore”. It’s like cutting yourself loose from the Borg Hive Mind. I read an article recently in which another Twitter refugee said he had found himself wondering what other Twitter users thought about something before making up his own mind. It gets you like that. Now I feel liberated. I can have my own thoughts. I can even keep them to myself if I feel like it. I don’t have to justify my opinions to the Grim Collective.

And it’s not just about opinions. One thing that really used to irritate me on Twitter was this assumption that EVERYBODY in the known Universe works 9-5 Mondays-to-Fridays, so on Friday afternoons you would get a mass outpouring of “Happy Friday! Squee! It’s Friday everybody! Clappity-clappy. Happy skippy dance” (yeah eat Crunchie). They would then spend the next 48 hours moaning about the weather / the TV / the kids / going to the shops etc, before an enforced pall of gloom would descend once again on the following Monday. On the day after a Bank Holiday or the Christmas hols we would get bossy Twitter trends like “hashtag BackToWork”, which came as news to those of us who had been working all along. I remembering seeing a female follower doing a ridiculously over-the-top “it’s Monday people, but it’ll soon be the weekend, we can do this, we can get through it”. I knew for a fact that she was a self-employed writer who worked from home, so what buggering jaysus difference did it make to her that it was Monday morning?? I ask you, really! Talk about being brainwashed into the Collective. I once saw a man audaciously tweet “actually I quite like Mondays”. I have images of him being bundled into a back room somewhere, bound and gagged, until he stopped having such daring avant-garde views. Twitter can often feel like a cyber form of Communism in that respect. The drone workers, all clocking in and out at exactly the same time. And God forbid anyone should be so delightfully random as to publicly confess that they actually enjoy their work! I suppose the point I’m trying to make with this particular grumble is how much Twitter can make you feel like you’re being herded into the Collective, and a pretty dismal Collective it is too. One where you are a boring cog in the wheel, groaning on about your grey life, unable to think for yourself, and only capable of a modicum of pleasure when you’re inflicting braggy selfies on your bored and irritated audience.

Recently I had a browse round Twitter – before I finally pulled the lever for the last time – to see what was going on, what kind of threads people were posting, mainly to see what I could write (if anything) for this blog update. I found (1) an earnest spat about Mother’s Day in America (2) some high-handed little so-and-so decreeing that no one sorts laundry anymore (doncha just love it when someone half your age lays down the law), and (3) a trend asking “is calling old white men ‘gammon-face’ racist?” (dunno, don’t care). Oh boy, what a lark! So Dan Nosowitz was absolutely right about the lack of fun these days, but I would argue that that’s Facebook and Twitter for you. It seems to have become a mosh-pit of humourless tight-mouthed prigs, all with a bee in their bonnet about something. What I now call the POAS lot, Permanently Outraged About Something. And if it’s not them it’s the tedious Telling It As It Is brigade (telling it as they see it, might be more accurate), who spend all day inflicting their boorish opinions on us, and making the brazen assumption they know what the rest of us are really thinking (bloody cheek!). I can only assume the reason they’re on Twitter so much is because In Real Life people must run across the road, dart behind trees, out of the back doors of pubs, or hurl themselves into the frozen veg section of the supermarket when they see them approaching. BUT not all the Internet is like that, thank God. Some of us manage to escape from it, into the wacky world of The Rest Of The Internet … and we’re not going back.

Magical words: I Am Not On Twitter Anymore.

*I have now compiled a couple of ASMR/Ambient Noise playlists. One which has all of them on, including long vids (3-12 hour duration), and background music ones.   Another is what I call my Creative Writing / Studying ASMR. These are very atmospheric ambient noise videos (each usually about an hour in length) which I have found particularly beneficial for getting the creative juices flowing (or if you’re studying), and shutting out unwelcome Noises Off. I’m adding to these playlists on a regular basis, so if Ambient Noise/ASMR is your thing too then it’s well worth checking back.  I’ve now added an All Seasons playlist, with long 8-10 hour vids, each one relating to a month of the year.  That was particularly fun to do (I can be a complete nerd too sometimes!).   One day I’d like to do a collection of 12 stories, inspired by each one.  We’ll see.  All the Food/Eating ASMR vids are now back on their own playlist.

THE SELFIE-TAKER 5/6/2018 – A story which has shocked many people is that of the selfie-taker at an Italian train station at the end of May 2018.   A Canadian woman had been hit by a passing train at Piacenza, near Milan.  As rescue teams rushed to help her, a grinning young man took a selfie on a nearby platform.   The selfie-taker has sparked outrage in Italy, with one commentator remarking that the young man had “turned off his soul”.   Another described it as “a cancer which corrodes the Internet”.   I can’t really add anything to what has already been said.   It is a truly depressing state of affairs.

I am reminded of some of the worst selfie-takers I used to see when I did Twitter.   It was truly staggering how many they posted each day, and how it appeared that everything they did (however routine and mundane) had to come complete with a selfie.   Why do people feel the need to live their lives in this way?  Are they frightened they will cease to exist, or become invisible, if they’re not frantically posting pictures of themselves Online?  Can they not function without complete strangers messaging them as to how adorable they look?

There is a belief in some ancient cultures that having your photo taken steals your soul.  It seems with some people they may have been right.

UPDATE 23/6/2018 – I’ve recently begun vlogging on YouTube myself, posting little diary-ish vlogs – usually only a few seconds/couple of minutes long tops – it’s great fun, but you’ll be relieved to hear that you don’t see my big fizzog on them (WARNING: not yet anyway).  I’ve disabled the Comments sections, simply because the thought of getting some boring smart-arse messaging something like “that’s 27 seconds of my life I won’t get back” fills me with a deep inner groan of tedium-induced pain.

A COMMENT ON “ELITE” TWATTER 6/6/2018:  An article in Wired today complained that the problem with Twitter is the way it seems to have become entirely geared towards the “Elite”.  By that I think they mean it has become obsessed with the blue tick so-called celebrity Verified accounts.  The ones that seem to have a followers count the size of several countries.   For months now Twitter has been doing an annoying What You Have Missed feature, (everybody hates it, but Twatter HQ doesn’t care), which heavily promo’s the big (i.e really boring) accounts at the expense of the smaller ones.   Certainly Twitter seems to have become dull and dreary since the “elite” – and that most definitely includes the mainstream media and politicians – discovered it.  I can’t help being reminded of a quirky bistro restaurant we used to frequent back in the 1990s.  It was great … and then the comfortably off middle-classes discovered it, and it went downhill from there, turning into just another overpriced city restaurant frequented by braying, bragging, tight-arsed dipsticks.  It has since gone out of business.

My twopennoth: the Wired article suggests that one way to improve Twatter would be to drop the public stats.  It is nerdishly obsessed with numbers and algorithms, and users fret over their statistics to a ridiculous degree.  It would be a way to equalise it, to put everyone on a level playing-field, whereby you judge everyone on the quality of their content, and not because they’ve got 10 million followers.  I have seen some YouTube accounts which hide their public stats, and I think it’s often a good idea.  It stops people forming judgements at first glance, and would stop the narcissistic, egomaniac attitude of “I’ve got over a 1000 Twatter followers, I’m the biz, doncha know, everyone should listen to me”.    If you think I’m making a big issue out of nothing, all I can say is I really wish I was.  But I have actually read so-called serious news articles these days whereby a famous person’s Twatter follower count seems to be regarded as being Of Great Significance (don’t ask how many spambots this includes).   Meanwhile, I don’t think it will be long before we’re in Black Mirror territory, and we see world leaders being interviewed on TV, with their Twitter followers count included next to their names.

And now B-R-E-A-T-H-E …….

 

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This is a subject that has interested me for a long while, but it seems peculiarly apt during these hideously dark times we’re living through at the moment.  By “daytime darkness” though I mean it in a literal sense, a profound darkness which falls during daylight hours.  Sometimes of course these can have an obvious explanation, such as the weather.  During the awful floods of the Summer of 2007 for instance, it got so dark in our neighbourhood that the streetlights came on at 10 o’clock in the morning (this was in July!), and I had never seen the sky such a strange colour before.

In 1816 occurred the notorious Year Without A Summer, when a volcanic eruption in the Dutch East Indies the year before threw so much sulphur into the atmosphere that world temperatures plummeted, resulting in widespread global famine.  It also inspired one of the greatest creative brainstorming sessions in history, when a house-party on the banks of the Lake Geneva were forced to stay indoors and entertain each other with fantastical stories.  Out of it Mary Shelley produced Frankenstein, Polidori began the whole vampire craze with The Vampyre, and Lord Byron was inspired to write his poem Darkness.  This was the era of The Age Of Reason, and yet here it clashed with portents of doom which were  being proclaimed all over Europe, inducing hysteria and suicide amongst many people.   A scientist in Italy proclaimed that the Sun would go out on 18 July, which didn’t help matters at all, leaving many to fear that the Day of Judgement was nigh.  North America was afflicted with severe frosts and snowfall in the month of June, seriously harming crops.  During the month of May, the temperatures didn’t get above freezing in the New York area.  One woman summed it up succinctly in her diary: “weather backward”.

A few decades earlier occurred New England’s Dark Day, when on 19 May 1780 a strange darkness occurred over the skies of New England and parts of Canada.  The darkness was observed soon after sunrise, and occurred into the following night.  There has been much discussion since as to what had caused it, the most likely suspect being a combination of forest fires, fog and dark cloud.   It was dark enough for candles to be required during daytime, and for frogs to start croaking as if it was night-time.

A less explainable event was supposed to have happened in Wimbledon, London, in April 1904, when an inexplicable daytime darkness hit the neighbourhood.  The only source I have ever been able to find for this story occurred in Charles Fort’s The Book Of The Damned.  He writes that on 17 April 1904 “it came from a smokeless region: no rain, no thunder; lasted 10 minutes; too dark to go even out in the open”.  I have seen some people trying to tie this event in with the Tunguska event, but Tunguska occurred 4 years later, on 30 June 1908.  What is rare is for a darkness to happen in such a small, localised area.

Ruby Side Thompson was a housewife in Essex during World War 2.  During this time she kept a diary which documented the hardships of life on the Home Front.  Sadly, these diaries seem to have been pulled from publication, which is a shame because they are an invaluable record of domestic life in extremely trying conditions.  Now I hope I don’t infringe any copyright issues here, but I’d like to include an excerpt from the diary.  On 10 June 1940, in the immediate aftermath of Dunkirk, when the Nazi’s were advancing relentlessly across Europe, closing in on Paris in particular, and things were looking very bleak indeed, Ruby and her husband went to church (her husband was a practising Catholic):

It was a dull morning yesterday, when we left the house at 7 AM, but when we came out of church at 8 AM an awful blackness filled the sky.  It looked as though a frightful storm was imminent.  Nothing happened: no rain, no wind, no thunder or lightning, only a spreading blackness, and an awful oppressiveness of the atmosphere.  This state continued all day.  It was dark like a black winter’s day, and we had to switch the lights on to work by.  It was an uncanny day”

This made such an impression on Ruby that she was still referring to it several months later.  I can’t help being reminded of a strange day we had in Avebury many years ago in the 1990s, when a heavy, forbidding atmosphere blanketed the village, and which ended sharply when we left the village boundaries.  I have covered this in my Avebury blog piece, but Ruby’s description of “an awful oppressiveness of the atmosphere” sums it up pretty well.

In January 2018 the Guardian reported that mainland Europe was suffering from an acute lack of sunlight, prompting one French newspaper to issue the forbidding headline “IL EST MORT LE SOLEIL?”  A spokesman for Moscow State University’s meteorological unit branded it “the darkest month in the history of our weather observations”.  I can only hope it wasn’t a forewarning of what might be to come.

 

It occurred to me that many of the books I’ve enjoyed the most over the years have all been set in the Spring/early Summer.  I don’t know why this is, I would’ve thought Autumn would be more my time, but that’s how it goes.  So as it’s now Spring-time (allegedly) I thought I’d mention a few of the books I’ve liked which always remind me of this season.

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

The “excellent women” of the title refers to those reliable spinsters (to use an old-fashioned word) who were often the backbones of their small communities, volunteering for thankless menial work, but for whatever reason – usually a shortage of men – they never seemed to be fortunate in the love department.  Mildred Lathbury is one such woman, living by herself in a small London apartment in the 1950s, and helping out at her local church.   I loved Mildred, and her small, unassuming lifestyle.  She is a great character, often quietly fuming inside at the worthy image she has (so now I’m the kind of woman who always hangs up her tea-towel am I!).  Over the course of a few months we follow Mildred as she gets caught up in the relationships all around her, particularly with her neighbours.

The Face Of Trespass by Ruth Rendell

My favourite RR novel, it concerns a washed-up writer, living in a tumbledown cottage in the Essex countryside, and trying to survive on the few meagre royalties his book still earns.  He is obsessed by the memory of a temperamental lover.  This is not one of RR’s Inspector Wexford novels, which suits me just fine, as I’m not a fan of the police procedural genre, and I was fascinated by the lonely life of the central character.  I feel RR was at her very best when writing about lonely people living on the edge of mainstream society.  The book opens at the beginning of May, which  was the time of year when I first read it.

Hangover Square, & Mr Stimpson & Mr Gorse by Patrick Hamilton

Patrick Hamilton is probably most famous these days for writing the play Gaslight, on which two famous thrillers of the 1940s were based (one starring Ingrid Bergman), and giving rise to to the expression “gaslighting”, to show psychological abuse in a relationship.   But he was also responsible for Hangover Square, which for me is one of the finest British thrillers I’ve ever read, and The Gorse Trilogy, about a psychopathic conman, Ralph Gorse (brilliantly filmed as The Charmer in the 1980s, starring Nigel Havers).   Both books begin in the month of January and span the following few months.  In Hangover Square, the central character, a troubled young man called George Harvey Bone, is returning to London after the Christmas holidays, and resuming his wasted existence, moving from grim bedsits in Earl’s Court to seedy London pubs.   He is obsessed with a woman called Netta, who is downright sociopathic and not worth anybody’s time.  The book details their wretched relationship over the next few months, culminating in tragedy at the end of Summer, just as War is about to break out.  In Mr Stimpson & Mr Gorse, the middle book in the Gorse Trilogy, Gorse has found his way to Reading (of all places), where he proceeds to prey upon the insufferably silly Mrs Plumleigh-Bruce, in order to divest her of all her savings.   It is said that Hamilton based Gorse on the notorious sexual sadist and murderer Neville Heath, who preyed upon vulnerable women in the chaos of immediate post-war Britain, and who was hanged in 1946.  Ralph Gorse remains a horribly convincing portrait of an amoral psychopath devoid of all feeling.

The Haunting Of Toby Jugg, & The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley

I’ve blogged about Toby Jugg on another page, but for me this is Wheatley on top form, and listening to a recent audio book of it confirmed just how scary it is in parts.  The novel is told in journal format, and covers a few weeks in the life of one Toby Jugg, a young airman crippled during active service in WW2.  Toby has been sent to a remote castle in Wales to convalesce, and fears that his carers are trying to deliberately drive him insane so that they can get their hands on his inheritance (his 21st birthday is only a few weeks away).   The book covers most of May and June, culminating in grim Satanic rites on Midsummer’s Eve.   Wheatley can be a trifle long-winded, and with a tendency to rant at times, which may be off-putting for some readers used to a brisker, more taut style of story-telling, but some of the scenes are amongst the scariest I’ve ever come across in a horror novel, and those damn spiders … ugh!  I’ve heard there is a filmed version of this around (The Haunted Airman), but I don’t think I could watch it for that reason.   Wheatley’s most famous novel, The Devil Rides Out, is also set in the Spring, culminating as it does on May Eve, Walpurgis Night, the 30th April, and said to be one of the Satanic highlights of the year.   Once you’ve read this, or seen the famous Hammer film version, the end of April will never be the same again.

I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith

This much-loved book is also told in journal format.  It is the story of a 17-year-old girl, Cassandra Mortmain, who lives with her eccentric family in a crumbling Suffolk castle in the 1930s.  She falls in love for the first time, but unfortunately it’s with her sister’s fiance, and the bittersweet pain of first love has never been better evoked.  Cassandra begins her diary on a cold, wet, miserable March day (“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink”), and the bulk of the book covers the months March, April, May and June.  The whole way Dodie writes about the English countryside shouts of a homesick exile, living as she was in California at the time she wrote it.   When the weather warms up Cassandra takes her diary to write outside, and we get beautiful words like “the moat is full of sky”.  Stand-out scenes are the May Day walk to the village pub, the nocturnal swim in the moat, and Cassandra’s special way of celebrating Midsummer’s Eve.   I often think of it as Dodie’s love letter to home.

Murder Most Royal by Jean Plaidy

This book spans several years, covering as it does the lives of Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, but I first read it in the run-up to Easter, and I always seem to start thinking of Anne at this time of the year, probably because she was executed on May 19th.  There are numerous books about the Tudor wives out on the market, but I’ve always had a soft spot for this one, simply because JP doesn’t try to reinvent the characters to suit some modern perspective, which can often be a failing with modern historical fiction.  It is also Plaidy in her prime, before she had a tendency to slip into sausage machine mode, of churning out several books a year.

Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier

Containing quite possibly one of the most memorable openings in English Literature (“last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”), Rebecca concerns a nameless young woman who falls in love with a mysterious older man, Max de Winter, whilst working as a paid companion in the south of France.  He takes her back to his ancestral home in Cornwall, which is still saturated with the memory of his first wife, the beautiful, vibrant Rebecca, who drowned there only a year before.   The main part of the novel is set in late spring/early summer, as Max and his young bride return to Cornwall around May/June time.  I can never forget the huge bank of rhododendrons the narrator sees when she first arrives at Manderley.

Summer At Fairacre by Miss Read

Miss Read – her real name was Mrs Dora Saint – wrote many popular novels set around the fictional small English villages of Fairacre and Thrush Green.  My favourites were the Fairacre school books, narrated by a feisty, good-humoured headmistress.  She began these with Village School in the mid-1950s, and turned them out on a regular basis until Miss Read finally took a well-deserved retirement in the 1990s.   Miss Read remains one of my favourite fictional characters of all time, and I love the gentle, understated humour in these books.   Summer At Fairacre was published in the early 1980s, and begins on March 21st, the first day of Spring, when it snows!  The book covers the next 6 months, coming to a close on Michaelmas Day, at the end of September.  I love it, and Miss Read is often at her funniest in her observations on the absurdities of life.  She’s not as starchy as she can sometimes appear in the early 1950s books.   Yes, these books are cosy and idealistic, but they don’t paint an impossibly idyllic view.  The village has its fair share of strife (particularly if it’s anything to do with Arthur Coggs), and it reminds me of growing up in a small village in the mid-20th century.

Writing about some of these has left me with the slim hope it might inspire the weather to warm up a bit.  I won’t hold my breath on that one.  Anyway, whatever you’re reading this Spring, I hope it gives you as much pleasure as these books have given me.

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I decided I needed a little break from the paranormal world at the moment, (or at least some of the people in it), and thought instead to do an A-Z tribute to my favourite films of all time. I should stress right from the start that I am by no means saying these are the finest, most cultured, most high-brow, most artistic films ever made (hence the title of the piece). In fact some of my choices may well have Serious Movie Buffs clutching their pearls and waving their scented lace hankies around in shock. These are the films that I have watched several times over the years, and would happily watch several more times. These are the films that I would choose to take to a desert island with me. Some of them I have watched more times than I can possibly count. As is the way with any list like this, it’s very much a personal choice. As the old saying goes “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”. I’ve limited myself to one film for each letter of the alphabet, which sometimes required a HUGE amount of self-discipline. You can read longer reviews of each film on my film blog.

A – Angel (2007)

This film is based on the novel of the same name by Elizabeth Taylor, and stars Romola Garai as Angelica Deverell, a sensationalist romantic author at the turn of the 20th century. Angel is a writer very much in the Elinor Glyn style. Elinor’s scandalous novel 3 Weeks was the 50 Shades of its day, centring round an older woman seducing a younger man on a tigerskin rug, leading to the rhyme “would you sin with Glyn / on a tigerskin”. The film details Angel’s struggle to make Real Life accord with the world of her romantic fiction. It captures the Edwardian era beautifully, and Romola is first-class as the idealistic, but controlling author.

B – The Black Torment (1964)

There was some competition for the letter ‘B’, as I was also tempted by Breakfast At Tiffany’s and Black Swan. This one won out simply because it reminds me of the Victoria Holt gothic romance novels I used to read when I was younger. Elizabeth Sellers plays an innocent young 18th century bride who goes to live in her new husband’s handsome manor-house, only to find herself being haunted by the ghost of his first wife. Some genuinely spinechilling moments and a lovely country house all add to the mix.

C – Carry On Camping (1969)

Yes really. The Carry Ons have had more than their fair share of flak over the years, and yet they’ve endured, and are probably even more popular now than they were in their day. They now come with a heavy nostalgia factor, harking back to a more innocent time for humour. Their strength lay in their tight-knit team of actors, and Camping stars a few of the more familiar, much-loved faces, such as Kenneth Williams, Sid James, Joan Sims, Charles Hawtrey, Hattie Jacques, Bernard Bresslaw and Terry Scott. It’s most famous for having the scene where Barbara Windsor bursts out of her bikini top. “Matron! Take them away!!”  Also has quite possibly the most joyous opening theme music I’ve ever heard, a jazzed up version of One Man Went To Mow.  Charlie Brooker famously borrowed it for his Screenwipe series.  I’m still waiting for someone on YouTube to put together a 10-hour version.

D – Dance With A Stranger (1985)

I’m fascinated by the life of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain. Ruth was executed in 1955, for shooting dead her lover, David Blakely, outside a London pub on Easter Sunday. In DWAS Miranda Richardson, with a Monroe-esque blonde bob, gives a faultless performance as Ruth, and the film captures the atmosphere of the 1950s drinking clubs to perfection.

E – The Earth Dies Screaming (1965)

A little-known British B-movie, which is about an invasion by a sinister crowd of robotic zombies. As cheap as chips and running at about an hour in length, this film comes across like a lost episode of The Avengers, but without the humour. It’s not perfect, but I found parts of it quite eerie, and I love the fact that the Brits head to the pub in it. As we no doubt would.

F – The Fog (1980)

Another film that often seems to get a rough ride from critics, and yet everyone I’ve ever watched it with over the years has thoroughly enjoyed it. Directed by John Carpenter, it concerns a sinister fog which rolls in off the ocean and blankets a small Californian town. In the fog are the ghosts of shipwrecked lepers from a century before, and they are out for revenge on the townsfolk. I particularly liked Adrienne Barbeau’s DJ character, running her late night radio station from an isolated lighthouse. Also has some enjoyably spooky music. Don’t get me started on the remake.

G – The Gorgon (1964)

I have a fondness for this lesser-known Hammer Horror effort, because it was effectively the very first horror film I ever saw (way back when), and also because I’m endlessly fascinated by the legend of the Gorgon. Beautiful Barbara Shelley plays a nurse in a German village at the turn of the 20th century, who believes she is being possessed by the spirit of the legendary monster. It also stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. There are some poetical moments in this, most particularly the scene where one character is lured through the forest by the Gorgon’s singing, only to meet his fate at the sinister Castle Borski.

H – The Haunting (1963)

This film scared the bejaysus out of me when I first saw it as a child, and all these years on it still holds up as a classic of the haunted house genre. Four psychic investigators are sent to stay at the sinister Hill House, headed by Dr Markway (the excellent Richard Johnson), who is assisted by Clare Bloom, Russ Tamblyn and Julie Harris, who gives the performance of her life as the neurotic Eleanor. Scary faces in the wallpaper, a door that seems to breathe by itself, loud knockings in the night, and a murderous spiral staircase all add to the Atmosphere. The much-savaged remake in 1997 is possibly worth watching for the huge, ornate house, but is let down badly by awful characters and a lazy over-reliance on CGI.

I – The Innocents (1961)

Based on Henry James’ classic novel The Turn Of The Screw, this film stars Deborah Kerr as a governess sent to look after two lonely children, living an isolated existence at a huge country house. She finds that the place is being haunted by the ghosts of two previous servants. There is an indefinable quality about this black-and-white film which almost seems to lift it into another dimension at times. It includes some outstandingly spooky pieces, such as the sobbing in the classroom, and the sighting of the ghostly figure across the lake.

J – The Jokers (1967)

Oliver Reed and Michael Crawford play an unlikely pair of posh brothers in this enjoyable Swinging Sixties caper from the directorship of Michael Winner. For a lark, the brothers plan to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London, and then put them back. This film is stylish, with an infectious sense of fun (although being a Winner film, it also has its dark moments). Oliver Reed is adorable. Devilishly handsome and very funny to boot, he’s clearly having the time of his life here.

K – King Kong (1933)

The original and the only one I get excited about seeing. Faye Wray is the classic damsel-in-distress, at the tender mercy of that hulking great ape. The scenes on Skull Island still hold up well for excitement.

L – The Legend Of Hell House (1973)

Based on Richard Matheson’s novel*, Hell House basically almost reprises The Haunting ‘s plot of 4 psychic investigators sent to stay in a grim, forbidding mansion, during the week running up to Christmas. This one is the formidable Belasco House, “the Mount Everest of haunted houses”, a gothic pile with bricked up windows, where it is rumoured no one gets out alive. The small cast of Clive Revill, Pamela Franklin, Gayle Hunnicutt and the sublime Roddy McDowell all do a fine job. I admit it, I am a complete anorak about this film. I’ve read the book countless times, seen the film countless times, downloaded the music on YouTube, and researched all the locations. I can’t get enough of it, and come the closing months of the year, I always get an urge to see it again. These days it would probably feature a bunch of silly, squawking kids running around with gadgets, swamped with CGI, and generally being perfectly insufferable. *when is this book going to finally be released on Kindle??

M – Marie Antoinette (2006)

Very hard to choose between this and the lavish, Norma Shearer version from 1938. I adore both these films, and Norma’s version has the added bonus of the sexy Joseph Schildkraut as the Duc d’Orleans, but the 2006 is a glorious, colourful romp. The director, Sofia Coppola, got some flak for using modern pop music as the soundtrack, and yet it works brilliantly. The use of Hong Kong Garden for the masked ball scene, and I Want Candy to showcase Antoinette’s indulgences were brilliant choices. It is a beautiful, abundant film, and I love it.

N – Night Of The Demon (1957)

Based on M R James’s story Casting The Runes, NOTD is about an American psychic investigator, Dr Holden (Dana Andrews) who is sent to England to investigate a devil-worship cult headed by the peculiar Julian Carswell (Niall McGinnis), who is clearly based on Aleister Crowley. Holden finds he has been cursed by Carswell, after he is surreptitiously passed a slip of parchment bearing runic figures. The spooky scene where Holden is chased through the woods by an invisible demon has been described as pure poetry, and I’m not going to argue with that one.

O – Oh Mr Porter! (1937)

The lovable Will Hay in his most famous film. Hay usually played well-meaning but bumbling schoolmasters or police officers. In this one he is a railway worker who is sent to a remote country station on the border between Northern and Southern Ireland. He finds himself assigned with two hopeless assistants, Moore Marriott and Graham Moffatt. The grand finale, involving a showdown with IRA gun-runners on the roof of a moving train is an absolute classic of vintage slapstick comedy.

P – The Private Life Of Henry VIII (1933)

There have been numerous films made about our most memorable monarch over the years, of quite variable quality. This one plays fast and loose with historical accuracy, but it’s all done with such panache, and featuring such a lovable performance from Charles Laughton, that I don’t much care. He is ably assisted by real-life wife, Elsa Lanchester, who is absolutely adorable as Anne of Cleves. And I love the sets too, all flickering torches and twisted stone staircases. Love it.

Q – Quo Vadis (1951)

One of the many lavish historical dramas which Hollywood put out in the 1950s, usually because they were too nervous of the McCarthy witch-hunts to make modern films (and I have a terrible fear we’re heading back to those days at times). Quo Vadis is lavish, and features an unforgettable performance by Peter Ustinov as the Emperor Nero. Also has Patricia Laffan, as the the Empress Poppaea, keeping her pet leopards on a leash.

R – Ring Of Spies (1964)

I was a bit spoilt for choice when trying to choose one for ‘R’. I was tempted by two Hitchcock dramas, Rebecca, and Rear Window, both of which I love, but the low-budget Ring Of Spies won out. It details the Portland Spy Ring of the early 1960s, and at times has a documentary-style feel to it.

S – Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Gloria Swanson camps it up superbly as the forgotten silent era star Norma Desmond, hiding away in her dark, gothic mansion. I love her in this. She clearly relished sending herself up, but the film also has quite an eerie feel at times. Worth seeing just for her impersonation of Chaplin alone. Incredibly, this film was set only 25 years after Norma’s heyday. It’s hard to imagine someone nowadays making a film about a long-lost star from 1993! (Now I’ve said that, they probably will). Anyway, one more time: “I AM big, it was the pictures that got small!”

T – Tale Of A Vampire (1992)

Very little-known low-budget British offering, directed by Shimako Sato, which rarely gets a mention in film guides. I’m every bit of an anorak about this film as I am about Hell House*. Something about it absolutely fascinates me, and that’s not just Julian Sands, who is incredibly sexy as vampire Alex! Suzanna Hamilton plays Anne, a young woman who gets a job at a creepy London library (the film was shot on location around glamorous Deptford). From then on all sorts of strange, surreal things begin to happen to her, and she finds herself being preyed upon by the handsome Alex. She is also being stalked by a sinister man in a fedora hat (the ever excellent Kenneth Cranham). Some parts of this film simply do not make sense, and I suspect it has been heavily edited, losing something in the process. But for me, that is all simply part of its quirky charm. Wintry London has never looked more eerie, and there is a good soundtrack by Julian Joseph. *If anyone ever wants a novelised version of this film, then I’m up for it.

U – Up In The World (1956)

My favourite Norman Wisdom film. Not only is it very funny, but it has a summery, almost idyllic feel to it at times. Norm gets a job as a window-cleaner at a stately home (it was filmed at Woburn Abbey), where he finds himself being plagued by the spoilt son of the house, who is an incorrigible practical joker. Jerry Desmonde, who often crops up as the fierce, staid straight man in Norman’s films, is on top form as his new boss. I loved Norman’s greenhouse accommodation in the grounds.

V – A View To A Kill (1985)

I’m a Bond fan, I admit it, and normally Live And Let Die would get top billing on any list of my favourite films, but ‘L’ was already taken. AVTAK is often rubbished in the Bond canon. It was Sir Roger Moore’s last outing as the super-spy, and it was felt (with some justification) that at 57 he was simply too old for the role. Nevertheless I still have a fondness for it. It’s a lot of fun, if you don’t take it too seriously, and Christopher Walken makes a superb boo-hiss villain. It was also Lois Maxwell’s last outing as Miss Moneypenny.

W – The Wicked Lady (1945)

Hard to believe now, but there was a time when Margaret Lockwood’s heaving bosom was enough to give a film notoriety all on its own. She is magnificent here, as the sociopathic Lady Barbara, snatching her best friend’s fiance away from her on the eve of their wedding, and then turning to highway robbery to enliven her dull country existence. James Mason is at his funniest and sexiest as rascally highway man, Jerry Jackson, and Patricia Roc does an equally spirited turn as Lady Barbara’s thwarted friend.

Y – Yield To The Night (1956)

At the end of her incredibly flamboyant life, Diana Dors said if nothing else, she would always have Yield To The Night to be proud of. DD had been a sort of British version of Jayne Mansfield, more famous for her glamorous looks and her scandalous private life than any serious acting ability, but all that was to change with YTTN. In it she plays Mary Norton, a young woman sentenced to death for shooting her lover’s mistress in the street. It is often wrongly assumed that YTTN was based on the story of Ruth Ellis, but Joan Henry wrote the original story before Ruth’s trial. Nevertheless YTTN was made in the immediate aftermath of Ruth’s execution, when there was a considerable groundswell of public feeling against the death penalty. This is a thoughtful, moving film, quite beautiful in some scenes, with outstanding acting from all involved. DD shows an incredible maturity and ability here, and it is a crying shame that she never again got offered roles of this calibre.

There is no ‘Z’ (actually there’s no ‘X’ either), as I really couldn’t see me wanting to take Zombie Flesh-Eaters to a desert island, and the old Ziegfeld musicals are interesting to watch once, but I’m in no hurry to see them again. If I ever do an A-Z of the Worst Films I’ve Ever Seen, then I’m sure Zeta One will be rounding it off. I was surprised by some of my own choices, as no Bette Davis or Marilyn Monroe films cropped up, and only one Bond. It seems I have a distinct taste for low-budget vintage horror or comedy. Now there’s a surprise. But if we ever get a Star Trek-style Holo-suite in the future, where we can re-enact our favourite films, then sign me up for the Belasco Mansion, or the Deptford gothic library, or Tudor-era Hampton Court, or Swinging Sixties London, or the palace of Versailles, or Buggleskelly railway station, or mucking about with the Carry On team ….

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Recently I was browsing through some of my favourite YouTube channels, and I came across a short film by Beyond Creepy (who I recommend subscribing to if you’re a fan of anything paranormal by the way, he does some very interesting stuff). The 10-minute video, entitled ‘Another Place’, was about people who had what I can only describe as NDEs, Near Death Experiences. One story in particular caught my attention because it was about Roger Ebert, the American film critic.

Ebert had been a writer and film critic for well over 40 years. I’ve read several of his books, and always found him interesting and often very funny. Sadly he passed away on 4 April 2013, at the age of 70, after a long battle with cancer. Ebert said he didn’t fear death, as he believed “there is nothing on the other side of death to fear”.

In the week before he died, his wife Chaz would visit him in hospital, and Ebert would tell her of visiting another place. Chaz, naturally, thought he was hallucinating, due to medication. But, the day before he died, he wrote her a note. It simply said “this is all an elaborate hoax”. Chaz asked him what was a hoax. Ebert said the world, the place, it is all an illusion. He described The Other Place as vast, of a vastness that is impossible to imagine. It is a place where the past, present and the future are all happening at once.

I was reading the Comments underneath this video, and one woman remarked that it reminded her of her grandfather who passed away when she was little. Shortly before dying he had said to her mother “it’s all a cod”. She said she had to ask her mother what this meant, and apparently it was an Irish expression for a hoax, or something that is not what we are led to believe it is.

The idea of Life as an illusion, or even a giant computer game, is one that has gained a lot of currency in recent years. The likes of David Icke for instance believe it is all a huge hologram. Over the past year I’ve also read several books by psychic mediums who claim to have communicated with the other side. The personalities they have chatted with all seem to confirm what Ebert said about the vastness of this place, and where Time (as we know it) has no meaning. I’ve read a number of things over the years where the departed have said that the traditional views of Heaven and Hell over the centuries are wrong, and it is not what we think it is.

Another interesting Comment on the video was one guy who posited the idea that Earth itself is Purgatory, and we are here to learn a specific task. This ties in with some of the books I’ve read where it is asserted that we are often here to work out something of a Karmic nature. All I know is that in recent years there seems to have been a general mass awakening, a development of the subconscious I suppose. Things that were dismissed or scornfully pushed aside years ago as Nutty Stuff, are now being seriously discussed. It is as if we’re all seeing the world through new eyes.

It is certainly an exciting time to be alive.

I once overheard someone saying she hated short stories “where everything’s left up in the air”.  That’s precisely the kind I do like.  I’m not really a fan of the Everything Neatly Tied Up At The End scenario, partly because life is rarely like that, and partly because I like the puzzle element.  The constant guessing game of “so what did happen there?”  I like the challenge of it.  My favourite type of short stories are the ones where the author seems to slip into another dimension, giving us a window on a parallel world.  Anyway, I thought I’d compile a list of the short stories that made a profound effect on me when I first read them.  These are the ones that immediately sprang to mind when I thought of doing this list, and I’m largely doing this from memory, off the top of my head.  I may well add to it at some point.  You’ve been warned.

The Hospice by Robert Aickman

Anyone who knows me well will know I’m a massive Robert Aickman fan, and I find it nigh-on impossible to pick out one story above all the rest.  I went with The Hospice because it was the very first story of his that I read, and it’s left me with a long fascination for his work.  It’s one of his most popular, and has been published in many anthologies.  Aickman is highly surreal.  Sometimes he is too much so, and his stories can feel as if they’re disappearing off onto some wild tangent that skates dangerously close to just being plain silly.  There are times – such as with The School Friend – when I wish he’d helped the reader out a bit more, as that story both beguiles and exasperates me every time I read it.  In The Hospice a man seeks shelter for the night at a small suburban hotel.  The most striking thing about this odd establishment is the copious amounts of food which are constantly served to the guests.  Things take a very dark turn when he finds some of the guests are literally chained to the dining-tables.  Everyone has their own theories as to what is going on with this story.  I’ve read some who believe the hospice is a kind of halfway house, between this world and the next.  Sometimes I’ve wondered if the guests are like human cattle being deliberately fatted up at an abattoir. Apparently this story was filmed about 30 years ago, but I’ve not been able to find a copy anywhere.  ADDENDUM 29/12/2017: a kind soul has posted a copy of this highly elusive film onto YouTube, and it does full justice to Aickman’s original story.  Try and catch it as soon as you can, before some interfering busybody goes and removes it.

The Night Wire by H R Arnold

I know very little about the author of this, and it’s the only work of his I have found.  It is marvellously eerie.  Written in 1926 (according to Wikisource), The Night Wire concerns two wireless operators whose job it is to receive news reports from around the world (the days before Breaking News apps).  One of them begins to receive reports of a mysterious fog descending on a town called Xebico … unfortunately there is no trace of a place called Xebico.  There are free transcripts of this story Online, including on Wikisource, and I have heard a good audio reading of it on YouTube.

Mrs Amworth by E F Benson

E F Benson is most well known for his much-loved Mapp And Lucia books.  But he was also a prolific author of what he called “spook stories”, and his ghostly tales have been anthologised so many times that it can feel as if no short story anthology would be complete without one.  I found it very difficult to pull out one.  I have a soft spot for The Room In The Tower because at times it has a very dreamlike quality to it (the black playing-cards for instance), and The Man Who Went Too Far is an interesting study in someone who lives life to such a rarefied extent that he loses touch with his own humanity.  You can read all sorts of Freudian subtexts into Mrs Amworth.  Benson’s sexuality has been an endless source of speculation (he always comes across as a shy, gentle soul, so I don’t know what he would have made of that), and there is no doubt that women have often featured as the villains in his stories*.  The epitome of that is Mrs Amworth, in which an older woman comes to live in a small English village, and preys upon the young male locals.  It’s a vampire story with a difference, and has a fairly chilling punchline from what I remember.   A short 30-minute TV adaptation of the story was made in 1975, with Glynis Johns superb in the title role.  *Benson was once asked who he preferred writing about, men or women.  “Women”, he replied “They’re more complicated”.

The Summer People by Shirley Jackson

When it comes to short stories, Ms Jackson is most well known for The Lottery, a story about the vindictiveness of small-town mentality, which provoked a furore when it was first published.  The Summer People is less well-known, but it is splendidly dark.  A vacationing couple decide they want to extend their holiday let beyond the end of the Summer, unfortunately this does not work out well.  In some ways this has similarities to W Somerset Maugham’s The Lotus Eater (see below), but it is much more haunting.  As Stephen King once put it: “to Shirley Jackson, who never had to raise her voice”.

The Mezzotint by M R James

I almost felt obliged to include one by M R James, and the one that immediately sprang to mind was The Mezzotint.  It concerns a haunted picture, which seems to change regularly, showing a sinister creature crawling along a lawn to an old house.  It turns out that the picture is replaying a crime from many decades before.  I liked the imagery James creates with this story.

Minuke by Nigel Kneale

I’m never entirely convinced that the haunted house scenario is really suited to the short story.  I can’t help feeling it’s a form that needs time for the reader to move around in, a Slow Build-Up Of Tension as it were.  But sometimes it can work.  This is a rip-roaring read from the author of The Stone Tape, not exactly a gentle ghost story.  An estate agent sells a bog-standard suburban semi to a couple, and then all sorts of mayhem ensue.  This could so easily have been ridiculous, and yet it works.

The Medusa by Thomas Ligotti

Thomas Ligotti is one of the most enigmatic writers around today.   He has been compared to Lovecraft, and he shares the same detached, coolly unemotional style.  I was drawn to this story because I’ve had a fascination for the legend of the Gorgon for as long as I can remember.  In The Medusa the central character is also obsessed with the snake-haired creature, and is convinced that she really exists.  He finally gets to encounter her in the basement of a house.  I found the ending to this quite haunting in a very subtle, low-key way.  This little man (presumably) went willingly to his doom, knowing full well that the object of his fascination would destroy him.  ADDENDUM: for another Gorgon-related short story, I can also recommend The Gorgon’s Head by Gertrude Bacon.  This is an old tale, rarely anthologised these days, in which a ship’s captain relates a very odd experience he had in his younger days.  I’ve seen it branded as far-fetched, but who cares?  I found it eerie and atmospheric.

Seaton’s Aunt by Walter de la Mare

A schoolboy goes to stay at the house of an unpopular classmate, whose little eccentricities make him disliked by the other boys.  Seaton lives with his Aunt, a terrifying woman, who mocks him cruelly.  The Aunt comes across as the type of person I call a psychic vampire.  Someone who sucks the energy out of everyone around her.  I once saw this strange, elegant story compared to Hitchcock’s Psycho.  For sheer originality it takes some beating, and it does show the psychological cruelty that adults can mete out to sensitive children.

The Lotus Eater by W Somerset Maugham

This story concerns a man who has saved enough from his moderately-paid job to afford a holiday on the Isle of Capri.  He likes it so much that he decides to stay there permanently, and to sacrifice his quiet, hard-working existence back home in London, for a life of idleness and ease.  Unfortunately it all backfires on him, and I suppose the moral of the story is that you can have too much of a good thing.  Some might dislike it for that reason, as the author seems to be implying he would have been better off going home and doing his job.  BUT, whilst work certainly isn’t everything, I can’t help thinking of the fact that so many people seem to die within one year of retiring completely.  Just a thought …

The Apple Tree by Daphne du Maurier

I had to include one by Ms du Maurier, and I suppose the obvious one to go for would be The Birds, which is certainly exceptional.  But I like the subtle dark wit of The Apple Tree.  The central character is a woman, Poor Midge, who rules her husband through a sort of understated tyranny.  She exudes martyred patience, and is the sort who constantly gives a sad sigh of “oh well”.  When she finally dies (“oh well”), the husband finds his troubles are only just beginning.  I’ve known far too many women like Poor Midge (“oh well”), and I can only assume Ms du Maurier had too.

The Inn by Guy Preston

I read this one in  a very old anthology many years ago, and although I could remember the story vividly, I couldn’t recall the name of the author!  Anyway, it has been recently rediscovered and anthologised in a new volume, The Greatest Ghost and Horror Stories Ever Written Vol. 7, which is currently free in Kindle format on Amazon.  This is gloriously OTT pulp fiction from the Golden Era.  In it a lonely traveller on the Cumbrian moors seeks shelter at an inn, only to find the owners are a touch on the odd side.  When I first read this I just loved the way the author went for it, and gave the reader a full-on experience. Sometimes I get a little tired of long drawn-out subtlety.

The Little Room by William Sansom

A story which seems to be virtually unknown these days.  I first read it in an old Pan Horror paperback collection during my schooldays.  The story concerns a nun, who has been naughty and broken her vows (it’s never exactly specified how, but sex seems to be involved), and her punishment is to be walled up alive.  Rumours are that this was used as a punishment against nuns in Medieval times, although I’m never sure if it ever actually happened.  This story though seems to be set in the modern era.  The nun has the use of an electric fire for instance, and a device on the wall cruelly informs her how much oxygen she has left.   This story terrified me when I first read it, and I think it still holds up well now.

The Grey Men by Dame Rebecca West

This one was a bit of problem, but I had to include it.  I read it in an old anthology back in the 1990s, and I’ve never been able to track it down since.  I haven’t been able to find it included in any list of Dame Rebecca’s works, and I’m starting to wonder if she did write it at all!  It’s a very short story, barely two pages, but I remember being very creeped out by it.  It concerns the inhabitants of an old people’s home, who claim they are haunted at night by visitations from The Grey Men.  It proved to me, once and for all, that you don’t need a long story to make an impact.

 

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I thought I’d do this one as a bit of fun for Christmas week, as I’m quite fond of this quirky little tale.  There seems to be only one source for this particular haunted house story, and that’s legendary Irish ghost-hunter Elliott O’Donnell, who had some quite extraordinary brushes with the paranormal (including a claim that he was nearly throttled by a ghost in Dublin).  Well either that or he was simply a good story-teller, it’s up to you which slant you take.   O’Donnell’s prolific career as a writer and a ghost-hunter spanned from early Edwardian times to the 1950s.

Back in the 1840s, in a village near Basingstoke, stood a house called The Swallows.  It was a substantial rural property, standing in its own two acres of land.  The house had been standing empty for quite some while, when a Mr Bishop of Tring finally bought it in 1841.  Things were kick off at The Swallows almost immediately.

After being in residence for barely a fortnight, Mr Bishop found two of his servants giving notice that they wanted to leave.  Their reasons for doing so was that they claimed the house was haunted … by either a big cat or a big baboon.  They said they had constantly seen this peculiar creature creeping down the staircases and passageways.   Even more alarmingly than that, they also said they had heard the sound of somebody being strangled.

Naturally news of all this spread like wildfire through the village, and crowds of people descended on the house to see if they could witness anything.   Vigils were kept, and one night, at about midnight, several of the vigilantes were keeping watch in the courtyard when they witnessed something quite astonishing.  What appeared to be the forms of a huge cat and a baboon rose up from the closed grating of the cellar underneath the old dairy, rushed passed them, and disappeared into a dark angle of the walls.   These extraordinary creatures were also seen afterwards by other witnesses.

Early in December 1841, Mr Bishop heard terrified screams, accompanied by hoarse jabberings, coming from the top of the house.  He rushed to the top of the building, only to be greeted by silence.  By that time, understandably, Mr Bishop had had enough of the house, and put it up for sale.  He was lucky enough to find a buyer fairly quickly, a retired colonel.  However that gentleman was also scared out of it, and he too left the property in 1842.

The house seems to have been pulled down soon after that, and the land was used for cottages.  Unfortunately the haunting continued, and the cottages soon became uninhabitable.  The cottages too were eventually demolished, and the land was converted into allotments.

No one seems to have any idea what could have been behind this haunting.  There is some rumour that the property had previously been the lair of a notorious highwayman (when aren’t they notorious?), and he had died after falling through a floor into a vat of oil.  I’m not quite sure where the baboon and the big cat fit in, although there has been some vague speculation that they might have been his pets.

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