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We had a fantastic day out at the Hawk Conservancy Trust in Andover last Sunday, seeing a huge range of birds of prey. But my two most enduring memories both involved vultures.

Remarkably, I had never visited the Hawk Conservancy Trust before, despite having lived in the neighbouring village of Thruxton. It’s the number one attraction in Hampshire on TripAdvisor, and with good reason. Aside from being a great place for the family to visit, its mission is the conservation of birds of prey.

Anyhow, this isn’t a review, so back to my story.

Vultures have a pretty bad reputation, don’t they? People think of them as ugly creatures who feast off the bodies of dead animals. And while they’re never going to win any avian beauty contests, they’re remarkably graceful in flight. We watched a show where a squadron of six vultures swooped backwards and forwards across the width of the stand. They passed close enough to spectators to feel like they were almost brushing us with their wing-tips. Yes, people ducked.

It was a display of low-altitude formation flying that the Red Arrows would have been proud of. You know that moment in Top Gun when Maverick buzzes the control tower? Yeah, that.

We also learned that vultures are now critically endangered. As usual, the primary reason for this is the interference and cruelty of humans. Rhino and elephant poachers illegally kill their prey, which is bad enough. But dead carcasses attract vultures, whose tell-tale presence overhead attracts the unwanted attention of rangers. To avoid detection, poachers lace the carcasses with poison. One of these alone can kill hundreds of vultures, as well as leopards, hyenas, cranes and storks.

The threat goes beyond the potential extinction of vultures, though. Like all animals, they play a key role in the ecosystem. Without them the delicate balance of nature falls out of kilter. By feeding on carcasses, vultures reduce the threat of breeding diseases such as rabies, which can then be spread by other animals. No vultures, more disease. And all because poachers want to evade capture and escape with their booty of rhino horn and elephant tusk.

Isn’t that just incredibly sad?

Anyhow, the kids (hopefully) took away at least that one conservation lesson from. But just as importantly they had a fantastic day. The display shows were breathtaking – as good as I have ever seen involving animals. It was also great to see the birds able to fly free outside their enclosures on a regular basis.

But yes, I’ll never look at a vulture quite the same way again.

The Hawk Conservancy Trust is located just off the A303, four miles west of Andover, Hampshire. You can find out more about them on their website https://www.hawk-conservancy.org. I was not paid or in any other way incentivised to write this post.

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Abstract (themeless) strategy games such as chess, draughts, Go and Reversi/Othello are among the most popular and enduring that people play. How does Abalone stack up against these?

I was provided with a copy of this game for review purposes.

The first thing you notice when you open Abalone’s eye-catching hexagonal box is how simple its contents are. Two pleasingly solid sets of 14 marbles – one black, one white – and a black hexagonal board. That’s it.

There are no convoluted rules to learn: it’s more like draughts than chess in this respect. The instruction booklet, such as it is, is just four pages long. From opening up the packaging, you can be all clued up and playing for the first time within five minutes.

The board itself initially seems light and plasticky but is actually strong and durable and stands up to repeated play. It comprises 61 holes that can hold individual marbles. A six-sided ‘moat’ runs around the outside, ready to catch any marbles that are pushed over the edge.

And that’s the aim of Abalone. Players take it in turns to move between one and three connected marbles in an attempt to push six of their opponent’s pieces off the board. This is accomplished by achieving numerical superiority. Two marbles in a line can push a single opponent. Three can push up to two. But since pieces in Abalone can move in any of the six hexagonal directions, a player can have strength along one axis and yet be vulnerable on a different one. It’s essential to marshal your marbles effectively and outmanoeuvre your opponent – who, of course, is trying to do the same.

That’s the essential challenge of Abalone. Can you find the right balance between defensive solidity and attacking potential? Can you devise multi-move combinations to keep one step ahead? The more aggressively you pursue victory, the greater the risk of opening yourself up to your opponent’s attacks.

That constantly shifting strategic balance is what makes the game most appealing. However, it’s also the game’s biggest weakness, as I soon found out. I played my first game with Toby, whose instinct is to go all-out. We had an enjoyable game of attack and counter-attack that lasted less than 15 minutes. Next I played against Isaac. His natural style is cautious and defensive. We soon reached a situation where both of us were reluctant to over-commit. Stalemate.

Apparently this is quite a common problem with Abalone. A moderate player can frustrate even a skilled opponent by playing not to lose rather than trying to win. An ordinary game may take 20 minutes. But a defensive stalemate can easily drag on for an hour or more without resolution.

It’s a fundamental flaw that has been addressed with different starting layouts and rule changes to encourage more adventurous play. Nonetheless, we found it all a bit frustrating when games got bogged down.

Having said that, Abalone has a lot to commend it. Its simplicity is appealing. And yet the fact you have to consider potential attacks from up to six directions gives the gameplay a complexity that is closer to chess than draughts. I also liked the way the raised edges around each hole on the board facilitate easy pushing of sets of marbles in any direction, rather than having to pick them up and move them individually. Marbles also make a satisfying ‘thunk’ when they tip over the edge into the moat. The game really shines in the small details.

Abalone is a two-player game for ages seven and over. I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for players much younger than that. Kara (six) is an experienced game-player and picked up the rules easily enough but soon grew bored. She isn’t sophisticated enough yet to grasp long-term strategy. But for Isaac (ten) and Toby (eight), this was much more appealing. Indeed Toby won his second game against me fair and square. He’ll be a chess grandmaster one day …

My conclusion? Abalone will definitely appeal to players of a strategic bent. So if you prefer chess to Pie Face, you will probably like this. It’s simple to learn, hard to master and requires a playing style that is different to other similar games. The game didn’t catch our imagination immediately. However, three weeks after our first attempt, the boys and I are still playing it. It’s a slow-burner that we will keep coming back to after others are long forgotten.

Abalone is available at a recommended retail price of £24.99.

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Italia ’90. Euro ’96. Russia 2018. A third major tournament semi-final  in my lifetime for the England men’s football team. In the end, though, it wasn’t to be third time lucky for the Three Lions.

However, Gareth Southgate and his squad achieved something few other England teams have: exit a tournament with their heads held high, without recriminations or accusations of underperforming. For a few brief weeks they united the nation – and brought waistcoats back into fashion.

Three semi-finals in my lifetime. Three different phases of my life.

Italia ’90

Age: 19. Status: Single. Song: New Order’s World in Motion.

New Order - World In Motion (Official Music Video) - YouTube

David Platt’s last-gasp volley in the final minute of extra time to defeat Belgium. Gazza’s tears. Pearce and Waddle missing penalties as England lost to West Germany in the semi-final. And a John Barnes rap.

The end of my first year at university was not, it must be said, a high point in my life. I felt like a fish out of water, struggling academically with a subject I didn’t enjoy. There were good aspects, of course: friends, sports, cheap beer in student bars. But overall I felt rudderless. I had expected the independence of being away from home to be liberating; I found it disconcerting. I thought I would be able to find my own direction; instead I was lost.

I would finish my university career with a mediocre degree and battered self-esteem. But I also found my future wife. So, you know, upsides.

Euro ’96

Age: 25. Status: Engaged. Song: Three Lions, The Lightning Seeds featuring David Baddiel and Frank Skinner.

Three Lions (Football's Coming Home) (Official Video) - YouTube

*That* goal by Gazza against Scotland. The 4-1 win over the Netherlands. Pearce’s scream of redemption as England actually won a penalty shootout (against Spain). Losing to the Germans (again) in the semi after Gareth Southgate’s penalty was saved. (Whatever happened to him?) Football came home as England hosted the tournament; the European Championship trophy, alas, did not.

Two years after Heather and I got engaged; a year before our wedding. We had finally moved in together six months previously and watched most of Euro 96 on a 14-inch portable TV in our college flat.

It meant I was doing a 100-mile round trip to work every day in the little Citroen Saxo we had bought together the week before the tournament started. But we were happy. Life was simple, uncomplicated. Thoughts of starting a family were still some years away.

Also, who remembers this Pizza Hut advert, released in the aftermath of England’s penalty exit?

Gareth Southgate Pizza Hut Advert - YouTube
Russia 2018

Age: 47. Status: Married with three kids. Songs: A Boy Obsessive and Three Lions 2018, both by yours truly.

A Boy Obsessive: World Cup parody song - YouTube

Harry Kane’s last-gasp winner against Tunisia. Finally, victory in a World Cup penalty shootout (against Colombia). The agony of yet another semi-final defeat – at least it wasn’t on penalties and to the Germans again. Gareth Southgate’s waistcoats. Football nearly came home.

This year was the first time any of our kids had shown any real interest in football. Toby went from mild interest in April to full-on football fever by the time the World Cup started in mid-June. Kara learned the words to Three Lions. And even Isaac, the least sporty of our kids, watched the England games with us.

2018 was the first time football became a family experience for us. No hurrying the kids off to bed before the start of a game or at half-time. Watching clips of England games from 1996 and leaping a silent jump of joy when Toby excitedly pointed at the screen and shouted, “That’s David Seaman!” Being issued with a red card by my own giggling son.

Three Lions 2018 - YouTube

Football is all about the occasional highs and all too frequent lows. But this year’s tournament has been a real high for me. Not just because of England’s unexpectedly strong performances but because of the shared family experience. It’s almost enough to make me forget about last night’s defeat. Almost.

I wonder, though: how long will it be until we reach another semi? And will football ever come home in either my or my children’s lifetimes? Roll on phase four – let’s see what life (and football) has in store for us …

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The post A tale of three semi-finals
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A nation awaits. A World Cup semi-final; England’s first since 1990. The potential reward? Maybe, just maybe, football really might be coming home.

I’m 47 years old. England relinquished their hold on the Jules Rimet trophy a couple of months before I was born. Never in my lifetime have I seen my national team reach the final of a major tournament. Only twice before – the 1990 World Cup and Euro 1996 – have I watched them in a semi-final, losing to Germany on penalties on both occasions.

At least it’s not the Germans this time. But which extreme of emotion awaits tomorrow night against Croatia: the agony or the ecstasy?

How did we get here? We entered the tournament with low expectations. A young side, one lacking creativity. Reaching the last 16 was the minimum requirement; anything further than a quarter-final no more than a pipe dream.

But then something funny happened. England led then were pegged back in their opening game against Tunisia. Same old England, faltering against mediocre opposition. Until Harry Kane popped up with an injury-time winner. Three points; a nation relieved.

Panama were brushed aside before a closing group stage loss to Belgium in the ‘Battle of the B teams’.

The last 16 game against Colombia was a horrible spectacle, made all the more so by the concession of an ultra-late equaliser and the dreaded penalty shootout. England always lose shootouts. Except this time they didn’t, as goalkeeper Jordan Pickford emerged as a hero.

Those of us of a certain age have Stuart Pearce’s visceral scream of redemption at Euro 96 seared into our memories. There he expelled the demons of his shootout miss six years earlier. Gareth Southgate had to wait 22 years for his moment, having missed the decisive penalty in 1996.

England bossed Sweden in the quarter-final. So that leaves only a day of reckoning against Croatia as the final obstacle to a place in the World Cup final. Four weeks ago that seemed impossible.

Dare we believe? Dare we dream?

Everyone knows Three Lions, right? Originally released in 1996 by The Lightning Seeds and featuring the comic duo David Baddiel and Frank Skinner, it wasn’t even England’s official song of Euro 1996. (The instantly forgettable We’re In This Together by Simply Red was.) It’s very much our national football anthem now.

Having already parodied New Order’s World in Motion, what better way to look forward to tomorrow night than with Three Lions? I’ve opted for the 1998 version of the song because it features the commentary of Southgate’s penalty miss in its intro. It just feels right.

Anyhow, here’s the story of England’s 2018 World Cup so far, in parody form. Who knows, maybe there is still one chapter left to write?

Three Lions 2018 - YouTube
https://slouchingtowardsthatcham.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Three-Lions-2018.mp3 Three Lions 2018 (to the tune of Three Lions ’98)

We still believe
We still believe
We still believe
We still believe

It’s coming home
It’s coming home
It’s coming
Football’s coming home

It’s coming home
It’s coming home
It’s coming
Football’s coming home

No hope for England
We all say
They lack creative play
They’re not great, just okay

We started well, then
Tunisia
Scored an equaliser
Our boys stumble, falter
Then Kane’s late winner

Three points and some pride
Panama found lacking
England qualified
Germany sent packing

Laying the ghost of ‘96
Knockout penalty kicks
Pickford grew
‘Tween the sticks

So now I see
Great set-piece routines
Last eight, bossing the Swedes
Alli scoring, so sweet
And Southgate’s waistcoat

Three lions proud again
Semi-final reckoning
Beat Croatia, then
World Cup final beckoning

Dare we even to dream
Of a Cup-winning team?

It’s coming home
It’s coming home
It’s coming
Football’s coming home

It’s coming home
It’s coming home
It’s coming
Football’s coming home

Three lions proud again
Semi-final reckoning
Beat Croatia, then
World Cup final beckoning

Three lions proud again
Semi-final reckoning
Beat Croatia, then
World Cup final beckoning

Three lions proud again
Semi-final reckoning
Beat Croatia, then
World Cup final beckoning

Here’s the original video for Three Lions ’98, which opens with the commentary of Gareth Southgate’s Euro 96 penalty miss and features appearances by 1966 hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst, Robbie Williams and Chris Evans.

The Lightning Seeds - Three Lions '98 (Official Video) - YouTube

Then, of course, there is the original 1996 version, which includes Hurst again alongside England players Robbie Fowler, Stuart Pearce, Teddy Sheringham and Steve Stone, who re-enact some of the most famous moments from England history.

Three Lions (Football's Coming Home) (Official Video) - YouTube

The less said about the 2010 remake featuring Russell Brand and Robbie Williams the better. No. Just no.

Brace yourselves, folks. We’re in for a dramatic night. Come on, England!

Parenting parodies

Thatcham Rhapsody (to the tune of Bohemian Rhapsody)

Toilet Trained (to the tune of Wonderwall)

Fairytale of Thatcham (to the tune of Fairytale of New York)

Kids in Cars (to the tune of Life on Mars)

Won’t You (Buy Something For Me) (to the tune of Don’t You (Forget About Me))

Pretty in Pink (to the tune of Pretty in Pink)

Vote For Me (to the tune of Let It Be)

iPhone (to the tune of Payphone)

When Stars Die (to the tune of When Doves Cry)

Parent Bloggers (to the tune of Single Ladies)

BML (to the tune of Let It Go)

Mummy Mummy Mummy (to the tune of Money Money Money)

Dinner at Maccy D’s (to the tune of Breakfast At Tiffany’s)

Halloween (to the tune of Beautiful)

Smells Like Boys’ Bedrooms (to the tune of Smells Like Teen Spirit)

Stay in Bed till Eight (to the tune of Stay Another Day)

On My Blog (to the tune of It’s a Sin)

Another Brick on the Floor (to the tune of Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2)

Make It Stop (to the tune of Shake It Off)

Support (to the tune of Stitches)

One More Hour of Sleep (to the tune of Rolling in the Deep)

A Bedtime Story (to the tune of The Edge of Glory)

I’m Still Singing (to the tune of I’m Still Standing)

Cake at a Conference (to the tune of Cake by the Ocean)

A Weekend Blogging Conference (to the tune of The Sound of Silence)

Soft Play Down (to the tune of Disco Down)

You Can’t Have Too Much CBeebies (to the tune of The Sun Always Shines on TV)

Royal Wedding (to the tune of White Wedding)

A Boy Obsessive (to the tune of World In Motion)

Instagram (to the tune of Vienna)

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True fact: the first time I met my father-in-law was on the steps of the church 15 minutes before our wedding. It was only the second time I had ever spoken to him. The previous conversation had lasted all of 30 seconds.

They departed back to Australia last week but we’ve recently been hosting the ‘out-laws’: Heather’s dad Max and stepmother Kerry.

Now the kids have (or had) three sets of grandparents. Heather’s mum and stepdad have both passed away. My parents come to stay more or less every other weekend. But it’s a little further to Thatcham from Australia than it is from London. This was Max and Kerry’s third trip to the UK but their first in (we think) seven years.

What was particularly good about this visit was that we had already seen them earlier this year on our trip to Australia and Malaysia. So the kids weren’t so much forming new memories as reinforcing existing ones.

Max is the stereotypical old-school Aussie alpha-male. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way but in terms of describing him it’s a good place to start from. That starting point being pretty much 180 degrees diametrically opposed to me. He’s still straight-talking and practical – he has a garage full of tools and car parts in the same way I have a house full of books and gadgets with USB ports – but he has also evolved a lot in the 21 years since I first met him outside that church.

I think having another child in your mid-forties helps you update your approach to life. But some people remain steadfastly locked in their own personal time bubble, while others accept change more willingly.

Some of those changes have been subtle. For instance, instead of beer he now drinks wine. His gruff exterior, which conceals an equally gruff interior, has been gradually smoothed over time. He also embraces travel, which is not so much a change as a return to youth. (Max met Heather’s (English) mum when they were both in South Africa in the 1960s, when long-haul travel was in its infancy.) He and Kerry arrived in the UK off the back of a European cruise; last year they had a huge US adventure. And he’s definitely mellowed over the years.

I hope when I get to Max’s age I can look back and appreciate how much I’ve changed too. Not least because I’ve only just realised that I’m now a similar age to what he was when we first met. Start that clock.

Anyhow, it was lovely to see both Max and Kerry again so soon after our visit to them. The kids loved having them around, not least because it gave us an excuse to go out for dinner. I even successfully negotiated a barbecue. (Doing a barbecue when you have an Australian father-in-law is akin to driving a car with Lewis Hamilton as your passenger.) No incinerated meat. No food poisoning. Just sunshine, burgers and coleslaw. (I love coleslaw.)

Of course, now the kids are asking when we can go back to Oz to see them again. I’d better start buying lottery tickets …

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What’s the old saying? A picture is worth a thousand words.

So much of what we read and write on social media and blogs is accompanied by a catchy headline or a witty one-liner. They’re all designed to hook the reader into stopping to view more.

But sometimes we don’t need lots of words to grab the attention, provide context or tell a narrative.

Sometimes a picture captures a moment perfectly on its own without the need for further elaboration.

You don’t need to know when this happened, what we were doing or where we were going. You don’t need to know what Isaac and Kara were saying to each other or why they were walking hand-in-hand.

The picture is enough and tells you everything you need to know. Little sister, big brother.

End of story.

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First Journey is the junior version of the popular, multi-award winning game Ticket to Ride. We’ve been road-testing it – or should that be rail-testing?

I was provided with a copy of this game for review purposes.

We were keen to try out this latest edition in the series. Our children are already familiar with the original version, so we wanted to see what they would think of this.

In a nutshell: they loved it.

What’s good about it?

It’s easy to see why. Firstly, it’s simple to learn. Players collect coloured train cards to claim routes on a map of Europe by connecting pairs of cities as shown on their tickets. Some routes are short, requiring a single card of a specific colour. Others require a set of two or three cards to complete.

The first to complete six tickets is the winner. Or, if someone plays all 20 of their trains, whoever has completed most tickets. Simple.

Opening up the box yields a positive first impression. The sturdy playing board is large, colourful and well illustrated. Familiar landmarks such as Big Ben and the Colosseum represent London and Rome, while a jolly leprechaun signifies Dublin. The train cards and tickets are colourful and designed to appeal to kids. Each player has a set of 20 coloured plastic trains, which are pleasingly chunky and easy to handle. There are even a couple of spares of each colour for when pieces inevitably get lost. A nice touch.

Even relatively inexperienced players will quickly pick up the basics. The gameplay has been simplified enough that it doesn’t require a keen strategic mind to be competitive. Our kids certainly won as many games as they lost against us.

It’s also quick to play. Games should last no longer than half an hour but once you have played a couple of games you will find the speed increases significantly. As we were already familiar with the original, we were soon rattling through even four-player games in 15 minutes.

The game can be played by two to four players, although it’s much better with four than two.

Normally with a new game I would have at least one or two minor quibbles or areas for improvement. However, I really couldn’t find any fault with this. It helps that it comes from a well established platform. But this adaptation also finds the right balance between retaining the spirit of the original while making the game accessible for young players. As junior versions go, this is pretty much perfect.

Should I buy this or the full version?

That depends on your children’s age and how experienced and patient they are.

If you’re not sure, it’s probably better to start with First Journey. The recommended minimum age for this junior edition is six. Nonetheless I would say that even a four or five-year-old would be able to play with minimal adult support. While the rules and scoring are greatly simplified in this version, the essence of the original remains. Ticket to Ride players will immediately recognise the aesthetic and gameplay of this variant.

If your kids are experienced game-players, they may prefer the grown-up edition instead. This is aimed at ages eight and over. If they have a basic grasp of strategy and have the patience to play for an hour or more, this may be a better option. It’s a natural step up from First Journey but the greater complexity allows for more variations in strategy and gameplay.

Our children have all been playing the original US-based version of the game since the age of five. Nonetheless, they greatly enjoyed this junior edition. It was perfect for squeezing in shorter games when they don’t have the time or patience for longer sessions, or for playing with grandparents who prefer a simple, more accessible game.

Like its parent, Ticket to Ride: First Journey will provide hours of fun for both younger and older family members. It’s a perfect introduction for children who don’t yet have the patience for a longer, more complex game. I’ve been playing the original for seven years and I cannot recommend this new version highly enough.

Ticket to Ride: First Journey sells at a recommended retail price of £25.99.

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Bloggers seem to have a real love-hate relationship with Instagram at the moment. So now seemed like a good time to give it the parody treatment.

On the one hand, the photo-based social platform continues to go from strength to strength. Just a couple of weeks ago they launched their new video platform IGTV while announcing they had reached one billion active users. And last week they reported that Instagram Stories – which doesn’t celebrate its second birthday until next month – had passed 400 million daily users.

And yet Instagram’s algorithm – which determines the order of a user’s feed – remains a source of aggravation. It’s widely (though unfairly) blamed for falling levels of likes and comments, the lifeblood of bloggers’ credibility with paying brands.

The pressure to keep producing Insta-worthy content in the context of falling engagement levels can be considerable for many bloggers. And yet it is a platform no serious influencer can ignore.

Personally, I really enjoy Instagram. But then I don’t have any ambitions to earn fame or fortune from it, so I can afford to relax.

Anyhow, the song I’ve chosen as the basis for my Instagram parody is the Ultravox classic Vienna. The song holds the distinction of being voted Britain’s favourite single to ever peak at number two in the charts in a 2012 poll run by BBC Radio 2 and the Official Charts Company. It spent four weeks there in 1981, where it was held off the top spot by Joe Dolce’s novelty song Shaddap You Face. (If you’re of a certain age, you’ll know it. If not, look it up on YouTube. It puts the ‘no’ in novelty.)

Instagram - A musical parody - YouTube
https://slouchingtowardsthatcham.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Instagram.mp3 Instagram (to the tune of Vienna)

Publish a picture
Agonise over the caption
Need something witty
Add three emojis and a location
List out 30 hashtags
What filter to use? Maybe Clarendon
It doesn’t look so bad

The image I post
Will it thrive or die
In the algorithm?
Hate that algorithm
Oh, Instagram

Now Stories is booming
And then there’s IGTV too
More content to create
I’m scrolling all night, swiping endlessly
I’m getting RSI
And what’s it all for? Getting fewer likes
It makes me want to cry

The image I post
Will it thrive or die
In the algorithm?
Hate that algorithm
Oh, Instagram

Hate that algorithm
Hate that algorithm
Oh, Instagram

And here’s the original video, an atmospheric affair with a passing nod to The Third Man. It was shot in both Vienna and London – the eagle-eyed will recognise the opening location as Covent Garden.

Singer Midge Ure sports a very 80s pencil moustache and sideburns here. He would go on to co-write Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? with Bob Geldof. And he also notched up a solo number one in 1985 with the grammatically incorrect If I Was. (He should, of course, have used the subjunctive form, If I Were. But you knew that, right?)

Ultravox - Vienna (Official Music Video) - YouTube
Parenting parodies

Thatcham Rhapsody (to the tune of Bohemian Rhapsody)

Toilet Trained (to the tune of Wonderwall)

Fairytale of Thatcham (to the tune of Fairytale of New York)

Kids in Cars (to the tune of Life on Mars)

Won’t You (Buy Something For Me) (to the tune of Don’t You (Forget About Me))

Pretty in Pink (to the tune of Pretty in Pink)

Vote For Me (to the tune of Let It Be)

iPhone (to the tune of Payphone)

When Stars Die (to the tune of When Doves Cry)

Parent Bloggers (to the tune of Single Ladies)

BML (to the tune of Let It Go)

Mummy Mummy Mummy (to the tune of Money Money Money)

Dinner at Maccy D’s (to the tune of Breakfast At Tiffany’s)

Halloween (to the tune of Beautiful)

Smells Like Boys’ Bedrooms (to the tune of Smells Like Teen Spirit)

Stay in Bed till Eight (to the tune of Stay Another Day)

On My Blog (to the tune of It’s a Sin)

Another Brick on the Floor (to the tune of Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2)

Make It Stop (to the tune of Shake It Off)

Support (to the tune of Stitches)

One More Hour of Sleep (to the tune of Rolling in the Deep)

A Bedtime Story (to the tune of The Edge of Glory)

I’m Still Singing (to the tune of I’m Still Standing)

Cake at a Conference (to the tune of Cake by the Ocean)

A Weekend Blogging Conference (to the tune of The Sound of Silence)

Soft Play Down (to the tune of Disco Down)

You Can’t Have Too Much CBeebies (to the tune of The Sun Always Shines on TV)

Royal Wedding (to the tune of White Wedding)

A Boy Obsessive (to the tune of World In Motion)

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The post <strong>Instagram:</strong> A musical parody
appeared first on Slouching towards Thatcham.

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Today is National Writing Day. So please indulge me as I share a personal story with you. Let me tell you about the blogger who discovered he wasn’t really a blogger after all.

The journey begins

Let me start with a confession. When I started blogging back in 2007, I had no idea what I was doing. I knew only that I had the urge to write, a compulsion that dates back to my teenage years.

My first attempt was a general sports blog, where I wrote opinion pieces about whatever caught my attention: the uplifting effect of a well observed minute’s silence; cycling’s problems with doping; Arsenal’s latest calamitous result. I didn’t promote it; I just wrote and published. Don’t judge me too harshly. After all, Twitter was in its infancy, Facebook Pages didn’t exist yet and neither did Instagram. Consequently I was averaging 1-2 page views per day. Often zero.

Was I disheartened by this? No. I wrote because I loved to write. Any external readers were a bonus, not a prerequisite or a goal. I was an aspiring writer whose medium just happened to be a blog.

Things grew over time. I expanded to a second, personal blog, which evolved into this parenting-led site. My sports blog grew, from tens to hundreds and ultimately 1,000-plus views daily. It gave birth to a separate cycling site. My personal blog spawned a TV reviews site.

Alongside my evolving content came dedicated Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. Building connections with other bloggers. Venturing on to the conference circuit. Writing was still my focus but increasingly I became involved in all the other stuff that has become part and parcel of ‘blogging’.

At one point I was publishing 10-15 posts and averaging upwards of 15,000 words every week across four blogs. Like I said, I loved to write. It was never about fame or money, just the love of crafting words into stories for the sheer hell of it.

‘Obsessive lunacy’

Here’s a thing, though. During this period of what can only be adequately described as ‘obsessive lunacy’, one of the posts I wrote for Metro generated over 250,000 views. I should be proud of that, right? And I am, but not because it was a great piece of writing. In truth, it was distinctly mediocre. But it hit a sweet spot in terms of relevance and timeliness – not great writing but a great blog post.

And that’s my point. Stats aren’t everything when it comes to judging writing. But they are seductive.

It’s easy to get sucked in. After all, stats are something most bloggers seem to obsess about constantly, especially if you are looking to make a living from it. Page views. DA (which stands for ‘domain authority’ rather than ‘don’t ask’). Ranking charts.

I know. I’ve been there. Of course it’s great to be climbing a ranking or to be included in a top ten list. Of course I punched the air when my Metro piece gave me my first six-figure post – and then kept going north of 250,000. I have an ego, just like anyone else. But did it prove to me that I was a better writer – or simply a more widely read one? Did it make me enjoy my writing more?

A change of direction

Then, in late 2016,  I had one of those moments of clarity. I realised that ‘blogging’ was getting in the way of ‘writing’. Instead of pouring my energy into content, I was spending too much time promoting either it or myself, or worrying about what numbers it might generate. It wasn’t what I wanted it to be.

18 months on from that day, I’m in a different place. I now focus less on all the  blogging ‘stuff’ and more on writing just for the sake of writing. I don’t worry about how much time I spend interacting with other bloggers, hoping for more views, likes and comments. Okay, I do still promote my content on social media but nowhere near as much or effectively as I could do.

What was once a necessary evil simply became unnecessary. And what had become a chore has become enjoyable again.

Coming full circle

So what is the net result? Growth in my social media followings has stagnated. My blog receives half as many page views as it once did.

To some in the blogging world, that makes me half as successful; a failure. The reality is I feel more fulfilled than ever.

I write about what I want to write, not what I think will be popular. I invest more time in creating original ideas and polishing my words than I did when I was churning out post after post, day after day. Quality over quantity.

Most of all, I’ve come full circle and I’m back where I started. I’m not a ‘blogger’ in the modern sense, with all the baggage that comes with that label. I’m someone who loves to write who happens to have a blog. Which, as it turns out, was all I really wanted to be all along.

And they all lived happily ever after. (Hopefully.)

———-

If you liked this post, why not follow me on the following social networks?

The post The blogger who wasn’t really a blogger
appeared first on Slouching towards Thatcham.

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