First Annual #BloggersBash – This Introvert Gets a ‘Reality’ Check

underground-534617_1280What do you get when you put two dozen introverts round a table in Pizza Express in the heart of London?  A surprisingly good time, that’s what.

I’m a rebellious introvert. You know the sort; we like to believe we’re more… um… extrovert… than we are. We’re proud of being self-contained and comfortable in our own company, but we don’t like people thinking that this makes us antisocial. So it was that when the First Annual #BloggersBash was announced a few weeks ago, I signed up enthusiastically. I wanted to be part of it, and I especially looked forward to meeting up with one or two bloggers with whom I’ve struck up a friendship over the months.

But whilst I look forward to events like this – parties, socials, gatherings of one kind or another (and I properly looked forward to this one too), when the day comes, I always inexplicably find myself wondering why I ever signed up in the first place. ‘Just get up, get washed and dressed and Get On That Train,’ my inner extrovert (is there such a thing?) ordered me. ‘Whatever resistance you’re feeling now, you know you’re going to enjoy it once you get there.’  It’s true, I DO enjoy things like this once I get there. It’s just that when it comes to the day, it always seems easier not to go.  It’s not a confidence thing; it’s not a shyness thing either. I’m not a shy person and I can hold my own in company, business or social. I do find it tiring, but not in a bad way, just in an introvert’s way.

So I got myself up, washed, dressed and off to the station. My mood lifted as a through-train arrived within a couple of minutes and it remained blissfully un-crowded for the whole journey. Decanted from the Tube at Kings Cross, I should have gone straight to the British Library. Instead, my protesting introvert reasserted itself, so I stopped to fortify its poor disconcerted soul with a Costa Coffee, Arabica, two shots. Twenty minutes later, I was ready.

And guess what? It was a super day. From the moment I wandered into the plaza at the British Library (the giant man on the loo/statue of Sir Isaac Newton) is a great landmark) and was eyeballed by BlondeWriteMore Lucy, to a last cheery hug from Suffolk Scribblings Dylan, I enjoyed every amiable, sociable moment.  The lemon drizzle cake (thanks TanGental Geoffle and sorry I’m not big on rhubarb!), the photos (looking forward to seeing how those turned out), the courtesy with which our big group was treated at Pizza Express, the Awards (well done the winners!), the conversations, positivity and friendship, and the general, warm conviviality of the whole thing.

It was fun meeting fellow bloggers ‘in the real world’ – ones I already knew and ones I didn’t – and getting to know other blogs will be an enjoyable follow-through. Sacha and her co-opted team did a terrific job of logistics and it all ran like clockwork. An afternoon filled with conversation, laughter and waves of cheering and whooping too. Amazing, when you consider most of us are unreconstructed introverts, happy to engage from the other side of our respective screens and devices but generally subdued in company.

My afternoon had an unexpected ‘extra slice’ too, with an on-spec call from a friend who lives in Manchester, who was in London with a spare afternoon and hopeful of meeting up. Turns out he was but 5 minutes down the road from our #BloggersBash, which was by then winding up. Cue a stroll up the Caledonian Road and a top-up of caffeine and conversation in a quirky café piled high with books and magazines and boasting old cinema seats for chairs and packing crates in place of tables.  Shabby chic, or just plain shabby – I’m not sure, but it was perfectly pleasant.

All in all and exceptionally enjoyable day, and all the more surprising that it all took place in Central London which, as regular readers of this blog will know, is not my favourite place to be.

To all who came, it was a great pleasure to meet you and celebrate some top writerly bloggers. Blonde Lucy… thanks for the lovely boost you gave me about my guest post. And Dylan… It was a real joy and privilege to meet you in person at last. And I can’t wait to get stuck into that next Beta read!

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10 things that quite irrationally jerk my chain – about going into London

underground-534617_1280I made one of my rare trips into Central London this weekend, to meet a friend for lunch at Leicester Square. It was fun meeting up, but trips into Central London freak me out a bit these days.

That’s weird, since I’ve lived around London for most of my life. I studied in the City. I commuted into the West End, City and along the Embankment for years. I used to love popping into London for an evening out, lining up the kitschiest of cocktails or spending a fortune on theatre tickets and a bite to eat at some anonymous hole where they couldn’t care less if they ever saw you again. I knew secret parking places you could depend on; I used to mooch around Selfridges all day, eat my lunch in Grosvenor Square and swing by Seven Dials just to visit a favourite shop. That was when I could drive the 18 miles or so in a little over a half-hour. Now the journey time has doubled whatever the time of day, the Congestion Charge adds an extra weekday burden, the secret parking places aren’t secret any more and it costs a small mortgage to leave your car anywhere for even an hour or two. That means travel is mainly by London Underground, which is (IMHO) a loathsome experience (even though I’ll admit that both the service and stations have much improved in recent years).

But here’s the problem. I’m an introvert and my introversion has grown more entrenched as the years have gone by. Crowds, bustle and noise discomfort me now more than they ever used to. So those delightful hours spent meeting up with an old friend came with a few… irritants:

  1. The passengers who wanted the whole carriage to share their conversations – their voices screeching and yabbering high up the decibel scale; a relentless, ear-grinding counterpoint to the rattle-and-hum of the train on the tracks.
  2. The blast of sooty air whooshing out of the tunnel as the train departed. It’s a challenge, getting grit in your eye when you won’t touch your face before you can sanitise your hands.
  3. The crowds piling into and around Leicester Square ticket hall… milling, meandering, dawdling, oblivious.
  4. Tourists. The sort who stop suddenly on a busy street to take a photograph of their pals against the impressive cultural backdrop of… a branded restaurant chain. And the ones wielding giant backpacks, who swing about, clouting, bumping and squashing the unfortunates around them.
  5. The vile individual, gobbing gelatinous spittle on to the pavement just feet ahead.
  6. The delicious lunch. Yes, are you surprised? But tasty though it was, it bore a toxic bacterial payload. It has left me with – I’ll put it delicately – tummy trouble for the last two days, confining me to within an easily reachable distance of… oh, you know the rest.
  7. The smallest and narrowest of restaurant toilet cubicles, the sort where you have to squat on the sanitary bin (ladies, you know of what I speak, don’t you?) and then practically climb into the toilet to open the door.
  8. Wetness everywhere in the Ladies room. Soapy basins, water and residue everywhere. Nothing, but nothing, is dry. There is nowhere to rest a handbag. So you grapple with it as you wash your hands, only to find there are… no towels.
  9. Another vile individual, delivering a volley of snorty, snot-laden sneezes into homebound Tube carriage. Enough already. I changed carriages.
  10. The man who sat beside me in that second carriage, his legs in that dominant spread-apart pose that men love to adopt and women hate to witness. For thirty minutes  his thigh jogged against mine as he shot at people’s heads on his mobile.

You’ll tell me I’m intolerant and cantankerous and when it comes to public transport and crowded places, I’m a bit of a clean-freak. And I confess, you’d be right on all counts.

London is one of the world’s finest and most fascinating cities – and I know I’m fortunate to live within its environs. I certainly wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from visiting and taking in its rich heritage and culture, vibrant nightlife and spectacular retail opportunities. But this amazing, extraordinary city – with all its crowds and bustle, and its dirt and grime – does tend to bring out the worst in me.

Information Overwhelm and the Death of… Silence

Compared to our forbears, we are overwhelmed with information. But there are still only 24 hours in the day. So as we squeeze in more feeds, news, Tweets, blogs, emails and updates… what’s getting squeezed out?

I read somewhere that the amount of information a person living in the Middle Ages had to digest in their whole lifetime, was about the same as is contained in one average modern daily newspaper. How anyone can deduce this, I’m not at all sure, but even if it is wildly inaccurate (and when are statistics ever wholly dependable?) it makes an interesting point.

Compared to our forbears, we are overwhelmed with information. It comes at us from every facet of life; TV, radio and the Internet, through flat screens, desktops and mobile devices. There’s a 24-hour news cycle; there are newspapers, headlines, highlights and sound bites; there are websites, data streams and news feeds, blogs, podcasts and emails; there’s Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and dozens of other social media channels.

That’s just the news and views – the keepy-uppy of contemporary culture. Add into the mix the battle to win our loyalty and sell, sell, sell, through advertising hoardings, posters and pop-ups, the ever increasing flood of promotional messages, ‘shares’, ‘likes’ and location-based offers, the ‘if you liked that, you’ll love this’ links, streams, trends and updates; all the time, the implied obligation to stay abreast of technology, celebrity, fashion, lifestyle and more… much, much more.

megaphone-150254_1280There’s so much noise; there are so many entities clamouring for our attention. But there are still only 24 hours in the day. So as we squeeze in more feeds, more news, more Tweets, blogs, emails and miscellaneous updates… what’s getting squeezed out?

Here’s what:

 

Quiet time…  Thinking time…  Silence…

 

 

[Humour me now.  Pause here… Stop reading for a moment. Close your eyes. Take a few silent breaths before you continue…]

 

My coffeeDo you remember those precious moments when all you would do was sit back and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee; no TV or radio blabbering in the background; not trying to keep up with your emails, or your Twitter lists, or your WordPress reader; not collating information from other people’s blogs or scouring the Internet for wise words or quirky pictures to ‘share’; not scratching your forehead for something to ‘update’ your Facebook friends about; not squeezing in a quick post because you haven’t done one for three days and you’re so afraid that people will forget you exist, de-friend or unfollow you – for the heinous crime of… inactivity.

But here’s the thing…

We’re all of us culpable. We’re victims of the tsunami of informational white noise and the clutter of surplus data and opinion. But we are perpetrators too. We who blog and Tweet and upload our thoughts, pictures or videos; we who comment and  debate on forums, upload articles to LinkedIn; we who scour the Internet for stuff to reblog, repost and re-Tweet. All of us – we’re part of the problem.

We’re all afraid that if we don’t participate, producing content, opinion (I’m aware of the irony here) and feedback, that we will be insignificant and unheard. Invisible. So we shout ever louder, trying to make our voices rise above the white noise. Only, everyone else is shouting louder too.

And writers have an even more acute need to be heard above the noise…

We write with the sole purpose of getting our words out there. We create a story – a novel, perhaps – and we naturally want to share it with people. We want to be read. And – joy of joys – the advance of technology has provided us with the most perfect platform. Words are our tools of choice, and the Internet is the home of words.

So we’re all out there now, struggling to be heard. We jump up and down with our hands high, shouting ‘notice me… please notice me’. We strive to be the most resourceful, the most humorous, the most contentious, the most candid, the most unique. We try just to have something, anything, to say, even when we have no idea what to write. And when that happens, we post about the fact that we have no idea what to write. (Yes, you’ve done it, I’ve done it…), and in posting about nothing, we steal two minutes of everyone’s precious time for no legitimate benefit.

And still the volume of noise goes up and up.

So we shout louder. We blog more often, we share more frequently, we Tweet dozens of times a day – for that is what the people whose voices shout the loudest of all say we should do. We post about our thoughts and moods; we upload photographs of what we had for dinner or how pretty the moon looked last night – just for something to say.

But just as we’re doing it, so is everyone. So we’re forced into a never-ending cycle of checking, checking and checking again. What’s happening on our feeds and readers, in our in trays, our profiles and our accounts? We don’t want to miss out, get left behind, miss something fascinating that we could share, find ourselves scrolling back down miles of streamed… stuff.

And still the volume of noise goes up and up.

I wonder sometimes if aliens came from far away, and a far more advanced civilisation, what would they think as they approached Planet Earth? As they swept across the vast, silent universe towards us, when would they begin to hear the first hiss and crackle of our feverish ‘conversations’? What would they think as they drew closer and the volume soared to deafening proportions? What would they make of the incessant babble and clamour, everybody shouting, and nobody listening very much? What would they think of a society that fills its precious time so relentlessly with that babble and clamour?

What would they make of people, who, in their thirst for engagement, leave so little time and space for the purity of silence, self-reflection and contemplation?

inchydony-lightened.jpg

[One more time now. Before you move on to the next… whatever… Stop reading. Close your eyes, breathe deeply and silently, and think for a few minutes of… nothing. Nothing at all.]