Friday, September 02, 2011

A momentous month

Cross-posted from Froogville. You'll soon see why.

I suppose, in a way, I started 'blogging' before there were any blogs; or before the concept had become at all popular, anyway.

When I won a scholarship to work as a legal intern in Canada for a year back in 1997, the Internet was only just taking off in the UK, and I didn't yet have a personal, long-term e-mail account. I'd dabbled with e-mail accounts provided by the institutions where I'd been studying law over the previous two years, and in Canada I would have a work account with the law firm I was placed with; but I didn't sign up to Yahoo until the following year. My time in Canada, then, was the first period in my life when I was separated from all my friends for a protracted spell and yet I suddenly had e-mail available to me to try to keep in touch with them.

Although I did a lot of one-to-one e-mailing too, I quickly got into the habit of sending out a group mailing about once a week with a humorous account of what was going on in my life. Many elements of it were lightly fictionalised (such as the wise saws dispensed by the counter clerk at my local Beer Store) or entirely fictionalised (my fantasy love affair with a cub reporter from the local TV station), in an attempt to make the dull life of a young lawyer seem more interesting.

After a lapse of a year or so, I resumed this habit of more-or-less weekly surreal 'diarising' while working in London. After another lapse in e-mail communicativeness (when I suppose I was preoccupied with suing a former employer for significant sums of withheld sales commissions, but didn't have much else going on in my life), I moved to China, and once again sought to maintain contact with all my friends in the UK and elsewhere by sending out a weekly 'bulletin'. A couple of years ago, I rediscovered a whole batch of these, and had the idea of occasionally reprinting extracts from them on here; but I forgot to keep that up after this introductory post. Maybe I'll revive that idea for this 'celebratory month' of my blogs' 5th anniversaries.

The China Bulletins, alas, tended to grow longer and longer - starting off at a manageable 700 or 800 words each, but soon expanding to 1,000 words and more, and before long to 1,500 or so each week. Moreover, despite an attempted leavening of humour, they tended to be rather earnestly factual most of the time; they lacked the surreal flights of fancy that had enlivened my earlier dispatches from London and Toronto. My friends - with mounting family and work preoccupations of their own; and, doubtless, with more and more e-mail to read, and more and more to read or do elsewhere on the Internet too - began to lose interest after a few months. Some, however, loyally continued to read, and to encourage my literary efforts, at least once in a while. And after another couple of years, one or two of them started suggesting that I should take up writing a blog as well, or instead.

At this point - 2004, 2005? - I suppose the 'Web 2.0' revolution, with its explosion of 'user-generated content', had already broken over the Internet, but I was completely unaware of it because I'd suffered such miserably limited Internet access during my first two or three years in China. I didn't have the slightest idea what a blog was. When I began to find out, I was violently averse to the idea of writing one myself. There seemed to be an inherent narcissism in it, of which I strongly disapproved.

But then.... well, my Net connection got a lot better (not great, but better). And I discovered a blog that I actually liked - Imagethief, a blog started by an American PR professional called Will Moss when he moved to China in 2004. I was soon a regular reader; and then, in the natural progression of these things, a regular commenter. And I found as a result that my own aversion to the notion of blogging, though it hadn't disappeared, was much diminished.

There were technical issues to be addressed, however. I wasn't very savvy with proxies and VPNs back then, and the major blogging platforms were all - at least intermittently - blocked in China. I had to wait until I was home in the UK for a holiday in the summer of 2006 to scope out the options. I plumped for Blogger (a choice I've often had cause to regret; though not to the point of revoking it), as being seemingly the largest platform at that time, and the one with the most straightforward user interface.

I'd set up a Blogger account on a whim, one drizzly afternoon in West London, but I still wasn't completely convinced that I wanted to use it to launch a blog of my own, or that I'd be able to make things work from China anyway. And, for the first week or so after I got back to China, I was busy with other things. But then, on another dull and drizzly day, a Friday, I found myself at home with nothing to do all day, and began noodling around in my new Blogger account. I think, at that time, Blogger and Blogspot were enjoying a period of open access in China, so I didn't have to bother with sorting out a VPN after all (I soon would); I could dive straight into choosing templates and such. Within an hour, I was ready to start composing posts. But... it was lunchtime; so, I went off to ingest sustenance for half an hour, before returning to my keyboard endeavours for a first flurry of blog-writing: 4 posts in a little over an hour! That was September 8th, 2006, the day Froogville was finally born - a day that will live in infamy.

My initial idea for the blog was that I'd write primarily about my adventures on Beijing's nightlife scene, and about my love of bars throughout my life and the strange and wonderful adventures I'd often had in them. However, in my first week of blogging, I'd found so much to write about that was not bar-related, I realised I was probably going to need a separate blog to address that topic. And I'd always liked the name Barstool Blues, which I'd once planned to use as the title for a 'drinking novel'. Thus, on Saturday, September 16th, my other blog came into existence, Round-The-World Barstool Blues. (Blogger, infuriatingly, having initially told me that the simpler Barstool Blues was available as a title, then changed its mind - although I could never find a blog out there under that name. Worse, it wouldn't allow me, for some reason, to use the expanded version of the name as the URL, and so I had to make do with thebarprop instead. One of the earliest of the many, many bizarre vexations Blogger has thrown my way!)

Since the preliminary work of establishing the blogging account - under the Froog alias - had happened back in August some time; and since I'd been vaguely pondering/plotting the launch of the blog(s), at least subsconsciously, from the moment I returned to China at the end of August; and since I didn't have both blogs up and running side-by-side until the second half of September; and since I feel I didn't really start hitting my stride, feeling comfortable with what I was doing with the blogs until around the end of September.... well, the whole of this month is my 5th Blogiversary, as far as I'm concerned.

I should probably do something to celebrate - but I can't think what. I may come up with something in a while.

For now - a big THANK YOU to everyone who has read or commented on the blogs over the years; and especially to that elite handful of semi-regulars (you know who you are). Even if you've dropped out of the blog-commenting habit now (as so many seem to have done, with the explosion of the anti-social media over the past couple of years), I hope you will return to it just once or twice during the coming month of nostalgic reminiscence: I'd love to hear your favourite recollections of Froogville or The Barstool. Come along now - don't be shy.

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