Month: November 2015

I’m not in with the In Crowd

I joined Facebook a year ago, thinking it was a really good way to stay in touch with family who live miles away – thinking it would be a lovely, cosy ‘place’ to inflict images of the domestic life I lead, upon the various far-away relatives  –  until I discovered that sons 1, 2 and 3 mostly didn’t share their mother’s newfound Facebook-based enthusiasm.   But I kept on updating the News Feed anyway with exciting photos of newly installed radiators, the contents of a home cooked meal or the husband asleep in the chair, mid-snore  –  and felt a tiny thrill of excitement when those little red notifications appeared at the top of the page.

A year in and my Facebook mania has faded, and I’ve given up posting domestic-related bliss.  But I quickly check in most days to see what the risible number of friends (22) I have on there have to say.   And it would appear that most of my Facebook friends have, like me, absolutely nothing to say, or no desire to say it, judging by their non-appearances on the old News Feed; but I do have a few regulars who turn up present and correct every single day.

And over time it’s become clear that, whatever Facebook is –  what it isn’t is a place to connect with your nearest and dearest – except if you go the private messaging way.

Because a Facebook News Feed, like every other social media, is an incoherent, facile mess and, at its worst, a playground for bullies (and not just the teenage’d ones) or those with a strident axe to grind. Not that the internet created this vociferous, rubbishy mess – the behaviours seen on social media existed well before we had the extraordinary power to publish our every thought to the world and his mother but, don’t tell me the penny’s just dropped? …..I hear you cry.  Well, as I said, I only became a part of the tyranny of Facebook just over a year ago.

Back then I was living in blissful social media ignorance;  now I know that any Tom, Dick or Harriet has the ability to inflict his/her political and religious viewpoints onto my Facebook page, via my friends’ share buttons – when all I actually want is a photo of their dog or that nice holiday they went on; and even those insights into my fellow Facebookers’ worlds are beginning to lose their questionable appeal.

And speaking of photos.  My News Feed is now awash in a steady stream of profile pics all done out in the French tricolour – the burgeoning tyranny of the worthy-cause profile pic.

The precedents for this are the breast cancer pink ribbon and the Aids ribbon.  Breast cancer is the one disease all women fear, even though heart disease kills three times as many women, but every October I am gently persuaded by social and ‘old’ media, to wear Pink. To publicly display my financial and psychological support for women with breast cancer.   And what if I don’t wear the ribbon?   Or don’t want to wear pink?  Do I not care as much?  Am I not bothered?   What if I’d actually had breast cancer and didn’t want to be reminded of the fact via the wearing of a Pink ribbon?    And somewhere along the line will I start to feel an obligation to wear Pink?  – to feel the tyranny of the Pink ribbon?

There’s a million other equally horrid diseases out there – where are their millions of symbolic ribbons, and why am I not gently ‘forced’ into pinning them onto my unfashionable top?

And now Facebook gives you the option to temporarily re-do your profile pic, to step up to the virtual political plate and show you’re with the Facebook majority.   This led to my News Feed featuring a lot of snazzy rainbows a while back and now everyone’s face is covered with the French flag and some of those faces, hiding behind the flag, have taken the opportunity to tar the entire Muslim community with the terrorist brush.

Does leaving my profile pic as it is send out the unintentional message that I don’t want to celebrate gay pride, or that I’m oblivious to the awful consequences of the terror in Paris?   When all it signifies is that I don’t easily respond to the slight feeling of coercion, implicit in seeing my fellow facebookers rapidly changing their profile pics en masse, for whatever reason.   And I’m too nervous for Politics – the world is a scary place, can’t I just limit my Facebook page to nice cake decorations, cat videos and ‘I F*cking Love Science’ (I can, apparently.)   If  I were to change my profile pic how long do I keep it that way before changing it back – does changing it back mean I’ve forgotten Paris and the lives lost?

And, in a worst case, Thought Police scenario, what could Facebook do with access to all this personal political and religious affiliation, willingly volunteered by its users?   Nothing you might say.  You’re overreacting.  It’s on a par with posting all those cats and dogs.

In 2012 Facebook carried out an experiment for scientific purposes without telling its billions of users.  In a psychological study they altered the tone of roughly 600,000 users’ News Feeds so that only positive or negative posts appeared on there.  The users’ responses to such posts were then monitored with this result:

“When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks.”

‘massive-scale contagion via social networks’  – sounds like some deadly virus doesn’t it, or the beginnings of a scary, future, digital Apocalypse.

Despite my Facebook misgivings I’ll stick with it.  It’s a lovely contagious idea to show support for the people whose loved ones were killed in Paris.  A way to feel that you’re doing your small, public part against terrorism, to uphold the inclusive values of the West, and I can’t fully explain why I don’t immediately align my Facebook profile pic – but am using the tricolour on the blog that no one reads.

I’ll let Jerry Seinfeld do the explaining instead.   Seinfeld recognised the double-edged nature of the worthy cause twenty years ago and this clip sums up my own Big Brother, vague feelings of disquiet.



Art Stuff 2

Sky’s painting competition is back on telly, only this time they’re looking for landscape artists, which has set me off on the amateur painting lark again.  I’ve been thinking though that maybe you, me or any old Tom, Dick and Harry has a shot at entering Sky’s exercise in arty shenanigans, judging by the lovely young girl who, one week, chose to focus on a couple of blades of grass on the lawn, in front of the massive stately home’d landscape; instead of the actual stately home, or any of the other lovely things surrounding it.

I don’t think I can emphasise this enough but the lovely girl (who in less tasking and saner moments is probably a fine artist) chose to draw some grass in the time allotted by Frank and Joan.  Blades of grass so tiny that you had to go right up to the telly screen to see them, hidden as they were in the middle of her piece of white paper.

The judges were very, very nice about it all (except the stunning blonde one, who comes over as the evil snow queen of the art world.)  They chucked out words like ‘minimalist’ and murmured ‘perhaps she was overwhelmed by the task’, in kindly tones – instead of the ‘what on earth was she thinking‘ kind of thing, that I was shouting at the telly.  What yours truly was thinking was that perhaps she’d gone into a kind of art-based state of shock (which is understandable when you’ve got Joan Bakewell cackling over your shoulder every few seconds, like one of those witches from Macbeth.)   Maybe she’d thought I can’t possibly get that MASSIVE stately home down on this tiddly bit of paper, or any of those MASSIVE trees so I’ll go for something teeny tiny….and, more importantly, who am I again?  and just where am I?

My theory is that in her panic she completely forgot how to paint, or how to hold a paintbrush even, so doodling a bit of grass with her pencil was much the safer bet –  but then again I’ve seen worse under the label ‘conceptual’ or ‘abstract’.

My second attempt at portrait painting started two weeks ago, before I got the world’s worst sore throat, well the worst sore throat since the last worst one.  The pain is switching from side to side and even my tongue hurts, at the back where it joins onto your tonsils (if you’ve still got tonsils.)  This could also be tongue strain of course, owing to the fact that I nightly waylay my husband as he enters the back door and regale him with about an hour’s worth of boring gossip and tales of the terrible sore throat – or it could be some horrid tongue disease, but I’m too scared to Google it.  So to take my mind off the ill health I carried on with the painting.

The painting began with a sketch as always.  Like the blades of grass girl I panicked and sat motionless for a while before making a few half hearted lines on the card.  Drawing a couple of blades of grass was beginning to look like a pretty good idea.

painting 1


Sketch two appeared (a bit of my knitting bag is sticking up in the corner of this photo)

painting 2

Previous sketching experience was beginning to teach me that I had to get down to basic lines for the painting stage and rub out most of the areas I’d filled in on this one.

Sketch three appeared.

painting 3

This was the one I went with.  Typing into Google ‘how to mix skin tone’ gave me the combination of red, blue yellow and white.  I mixed these colours and slapped it on with this result.


painting 4


This was perfect, if you happen to be an oompa-loompa, but on any other level it was WRONG.  I left it overnight, so I could look at it with ‘fresh eyes’ (as my YouTube artist friends advise) in the morning,  But if anything it looked worse so I slapped a load of white paint all over it.
painting 5

Why didn’t I just paint some grass?


The next phase in awfulness appeared.

painting 6

I’d thought that by painting in the eyes it would seem human, but it was turning into the Ghost of Christmas Past.


painting 7

Then I painted hair and eyebrows and some different colour skin tones and shadowing.  It took one and a half hours just to paint this.  If there’s one thing I’m learning, it’s that painting takes an awful long time and it still looks rubbish.


painting 8

I yet again bunged white paint over everything and added my felt tip pen thing, which was a complete disaster concerning the eyes.  I added some black eyelashes to the eye on the right, which looked like some dreaded eye disease so painted over almost all the felt tip pen in the next one and also painted in the scarf and coat.


painting 9


Feeling this was more human, I stuck with this version and just kept painting over it for a few days.



painting 10

And this I thought was finished until my husband suggested painting the background blue instead of leaving it white.


painting 11

Should have left it white methinks.  I also blue’d up the scarf a bit more.


Here’s an artistic process that’s really worth looking at.  David Gray works in oils and uses ‘old masters’ techniques and is my favouritest artist on the planet at the moment.  His skill with a brush is a kind of super power.  (Warning: the process has been speeded up for this video – if your eyes go wonky with that kind of thing.)