Sunday, 31 December 2006


I began blogging on the Guardian’s ‘Comment is Free’ site in the late summer. I’d had another long stay in hospital, and was feeling depressed about myself and the world. Everything seemed out of joint. The international scene was going from bad to worse. Apart from the impervious few who never glance outside their own cosy bunkers, people everywhere were getting more and more frightened, angry, and despondent. Surely, I thought, on a news discussion site hosted by the Guardian – of which I’ve been a lifelong reader – there will be, if anywhere, constructive individuals, groups, and some new thinking.

What I found was rather different. Yes, there were some highly intelligent posters keen to swap ideas calmly and to debate issues dispassionately. But they were outnumbered by the frightened, angry, and hostile, whose aim in posting seemed to be to beat others up from behind the safety of their computer screens – scarcely a heroic enterprise. There were also the personally abusive, who called some of the bloggers who provided the threads, and the posters who placed comments, nasty and sometimes scurrilous names, even using lavatory language. I hadn’t been prepared for this, especially as the site’s ‘talk policy’ said such personal abuse wouldn’t be allowed. This in turn raised the whole issue of censorship. Were posts removed, and some posters barred, only because of their loutish behaviour, or also because their opinions didn’t suit the site managers or some other posters – who had the right, apparently, to demand the removal of a post they disliked which some of them frequently did.

All this seemed a far cry from the site’s proud banner ‘Comment is Free’. Whether or not ‘Facts are Sacred’ [whatever ‘facts’ are], I felt pretty sure that the great Manchester Guardian editor C.P. Scott, who had coined the phrase, wouldn’t have approved the censorious way his successors were running the site. So after a few vain attempts to get matters improved, I ceased posting there.

Frank Fisher, who like myself is a strong anti-censorship campaigner, invited me to post on his site, ‘Give ‘em Hell, Pike’, and shortly afterwards to join the blogring he was setting up, ‘The Awkward Squad’. So I took the bull by the horns, set up and began furnishing ‘anticant’s burrow’, and started getting to know my new Awkward Squad colleagues. First and foremost, Frank himself: ’Give’ em hell, Pike’. This site is like a rambling old house, deep In the country. There are umpteen creaky stairways and mysterious passages, leading off to hidden rooms some of which have been locked up and dusty for ages while others do a thriving trade in visitors who turn the place into a veritable maze of re:re:re:re; comments and retorts. Now and then posters lose their way completely, and end up shouting crossly at one another about matters totally remote from the ostensible subject of the thread. Over all broods a disembodied cyberghost who operates on the dubious assumption that he, she or it is a Platonic template of impersonal abstract intellectual bloggery. This greatly agitates some other posters. Altogether, I find Pike’s place sometimes a bit spooky.

By contrast, Zola-Ink-Spots’ igloo-cum-sauna in remotest Lapland is an adventure playground “for those that find sympathy with a walk on the wild sides of life.” Zola is capable of being pretty wild himself at times; he is also gentle, whimsical, a poet, and a connoisseur of oddities as well as a mine of recondite information. At least one daily trip to Lapland is a must. On the Yellow Duck Pond, a small yellow duck, his mate and their duckling lead a seemingly idyllic life in the Low Countries and provide a wealth of amusement and links to other blogsites. The Pond is a mellow and welcoming place. Szwagier’s Pirate’s Lair is bathed in cool blue light, rather like an aquarium. It reports upon the contemporary Polish scene, and other matters of literary and cultural interest.

At the younger, more earnest, end we find Toby Lewis’s ‘Reason’s Sword’, where Toby applies his thoughtful and studious mind to various topics that interest him. He is a budding philosopher and always worth reading. Chris White’s ‘Blog about Blogging’ is a young journalist’s account if his training and progress, and is fascinatingly alien to journalists of an older generation, like myself, whose only training was that which they picked up on the job.

The other member of the Awkard Squad ring is Angela F, whose blog, ‘Surviving Huntingtons’, is devoted to her personal and family experiences of living with Huntington’s Disease. This sounds as if it might be a gloomy read, but the spirited way in which Angela tackles her life, and then writes articulately and movingly about it, is inspiring and even refreshing.

Each member of the Awkward Squad has their awkwardnesses. I’ll return soon to the ways blogging is evolving, and the purpose and potential of blogrings.


zola said...

Well Anticantique : What can be said?

Perhaps, from Zola, keep on blogging in the sly,shy and shining world. Keep on me old. keep on. I have read your posts and even read them sometimes twice. What more do you want? ( you will get no more than that).
From Zola a happy and fruitful 2007 to you.
Best wishes to yer Ben too.

trousers said...

I'm visiting your burrow much more often lately and enjoying plenty of your writings. Interesting to see your views on CiF and the Awkward Squad.
Frank's site, particularly recently, reminds me in an odd way of a book called The Tesseract, the plot of which describes a number of seemingly unrelated events as they unfold at the same time but which interlink at a crucial moment.