Category Archives: Blogging

Thinking and feeling

Updating this blog has been a tour down memory lane.

The thing that strikes me most is how badly I write when I am angry and the NHS junior doctor recruitment debacle of 2007 made me very angry indeed. Those posts irritate me  six years on because so many of them lack information; too many are articulate emotional rants.  They communicate badly because the reader has no room to respond. I am irritated and repelled by my former self.

It’s partly to do with speed. Writing coherently takes time and the conversation was moving quickly. I was part of a community of bloggers and activists, very much swept up in the fight. There was a lot being said and little time for reflection. It shows.  (This lack of time to reflect combined with a permanent medium is the reason why I don’t use twitter much.)

I heard Maryam Namazie speak a year or so ago and was impressed by the calmness of her anger. Her anger is powerful but not loud. It fuels a clear and contained rationalism which I struggle for, instead I become enraged. She is calm but driven and focused, and this is what I now hope for when I write on subjects I feel passionate about.

A couple of years ago I did one of those courses which elucidate your working style. This one looked at your style when calm (mine is “analytical” and “thinking”) and compared it with your style under stress.  It was illuminatingly accurate. When I am stressed I become more emotional and less rational; I lose the ability to think.  Discovering this has given me permission to step back from fraught situations and wait until I can think clearly again. I am a more reliable colleague and I hope I am a less emotional blogger.

Two into one

I’ve combined all my blog-posts into a single site, the musings here range  from knitting moebius scarves to the NHS, with a side salad of business process modelling.  All my public posts are now here in one place, including the ones from Facebook.

I am a skeptic and a blogger but I blog about too many things to count as a Skeptical Blogger though I may discuss skeptical matters more now that I’ve got a single place to post things.

Blogging takes me longer now than it used to; my standards are higher and I know more about writing so I no longer blog-as-therapy. In fact I find it less enjoyable now, than I did back in 2006 when I started. 

So no promises on frequency, but good intentions on quality and a resigned acceptance that I’ll tackle any topic which interests me, the shinier the better.

In the meantime, since this is the internet, here is a cat listening to pawdcasts.



Aphra Redux

It’s been almost three years since I blogged here.

I stopped because I wanted to blog in my own name and I didn’t have enough mojo to maintain two blogs.

I am starting again because I want to post pseudonymously again.  Also, I liked Aphra and I miss her.

My life has changed quite a bit during these three years; I live elsewhere and I work for someone else for a start.

Unfortunately I have also become a lot fussier about what I write, which means it takes me more time to produce less.

But my interests are still eclectic.  And I still fizz with anger, rage and shock. And, guess what, the NHS is in crisis again, and the USA is madder and scarier than ever. Oh, and I still notice the banal and the ridiculous and pick it up and say “look… shiny….”.

Ruthless blog-promotion – how long does it take?

It’s a fair cop.  I’ll hold my hand up to it: in these days of cyber-vetting I wanted anyone who googles me to find my professional persona.   The quickest way to make sure of that seemed to be to write a blog, but the days of “build it and they will come” are gone so you’ve got to put in some effort. 

“Quick” is a relative term of course, and this is the first time I’ve actively promoted a blog rather than allowed it to grow organically, and that has been time consuming bit.  If you are about to do this yourself, you might like to know how long it takes.

There are a whole bunch of ways to kick-start a blog, once you’ve got a blog to promote: 

  • content
    • links
    • tags and categories
  • people
    • networking
    • reputation
  • listings
    • blog directories
    • beauty contests


You’ve got to have a blog to promote!  If your content is poor, the blog will fail.  Unfortunately it needs more than good content to succeed.

Links: put links in your posts.  Your blog is more useful and therefore more attractive; your stats will be more informative and that  tells you what your hot topics are.  Some of the people you link to will call by to see who is linking to them.  Your blog becomes a conversation rather than just a speech, and that helps the blog build up a reputation.

Tags and Categories: use them to label your blog.  Categories help people find their way round your blog, tags are useful for infrequent topics.  They both help people find similar blogs, and they help search engines find you.

Promoting to real people

Networking: put the word out among friends and colleagues and in the online places where you already hang out.  I’ve got links from my profiles in Facebook and Linked-In, I emailed some pals, I posted the site’s address in a few of the forums where I’m a regular and I added the link to my email signature. Not surprisingly, the first few comments were from folk who know me.  They know who they are, and the drinks are on me.  

Building a reputation: is a matter of getting out there and joining in. No, not hustling. Not spam.  Not “Cool site.  I link to you.”  Reading is more interesting than writing anyway, but I sometimes find it’s easy to let it fall by the wayside, so this is a discipline that has become a pleasure.   I use Google Reader to gather together the new posts in blogs I read regularly. 

Online Listings

Blog Directories: this is the arduous work of submitting your blog to blog directories, but it’s worth it.  A quick google produces a long list of directories, and then you just register with them and add a reciprocal link to your site.  I say “just”: this is time consuming but mindless.  The directories I’ve submitted this blog to are in the column on the right, but don’t take my word for it: google for the latest advice.   (Update:  Robert A Kearse has commented on this post and provided a link to the list of 300 or so active blog directories on his site – an extremely useful resource).

Beauty contests: is the term I’ve used for sites like Delicous, Stumble Upon and Digg where readers vote on their likes and dislikes.  I’m not convinced by the wisdom of crowds so I find this soul-destroying.  I’m not an active users of any of the sites and, stupidly, I’m not convinced that the people I want to read my blog will use them either.

Which brings me to the question of who is my reader?

Who are you, Reader?  

I fondly imagine that you are some other IT-like person and we are in a pub after work shooting the breeze.  But who knows?  I’m a little afraid to ask.  I’d love it if you came back again and again, subscribed to my feed, hung on my every keystroke, trembled when I posted, quivered as you read.  

In fact you were chasing a search term and will probably never come by again.  

It was nice…

… oh, you’ve gone…

So – how much time did this ruthless self-promotion take me?


Creating content – up to an hour a post: the first draft is always longer.  Adding links, tags and categories is a matter of minutes or moments.

Look and feel – a couple of evenings messing about with WordPress Themes and widgets: this is so soothing that I still tinker with it every now and again.

Promoting to People

Networking – hardly any time at all: I mentioned it in passing and left it at that.

Reading and commenting – I set myself a target of between one and two hours every evening for two weeks and then a couple of hours once or twice a week thereafter. First of all you have to find the blogs, which is where all those blog directories finally prove their worth, but then it’s just a matter of subscribing. Reading and commenting is the fun bit though, where the web turns into a dialogue.

Online Listings

Blog directories and beauty contest sites – several evenings and a couple of weekends: dull but easy to multitask (I cooked food, watched tv, gossiped on MSN, listened to podcasts, stroked the cat and drank tea while I did it).

Is it worth it?  

What’s “worth it”?   At the quantitative end of the scale, I can tell you how many visitors I get but with a blog like this it’s not just numbers.  If I wanted numbers I’d put up pics of public people’s private parts, or cute pictures of cats with illiterate captions, such is the wisdom of crowds.  

I’m pleased that the blog is sparking conversations, and I enjoy the conversations it’s sparked.

I guess the acid test would be unsolicited job offers.  But now I’ve mentioned it, they wouldn’t be unsolicited.  


Should have thought of that.

Harvested at Random

Reed’s post reminded me that the Randomiser is probably the best thing about NaBloPoMo. Here is a list of blogs I like:

Un-bloggy blogs:

Sketch of the Day – a treat and a treasure – grown-up sketches by a grown-up person described with wit and posted every day.

Le Pen Quotidien – another daily drawing blog, less assured and established, but still worth clicking through.

Things I’m Grateful For – an unconsciously thought-provoking private blog which could almost be an exercise in narrative style; it makes no concessions for the reader, neither bothering to explain context nor trying to engage your emotions. Oddly compelling, though I should warn you that it includes animated smileys.

Can I sit with you – a collection of fictional or fictionalised pieces by different authors about the general awfulness of school; the bloggers intend publishing the best via Lulu. A productive use the blogosphere.

From this you’ll see I’m not very interested in diaries, pregnancy, lactation, the extreme cuteness of the writer’s blogspawn, their relationship with their darling husband, recipes, church-bases socialising, or their dating and social lives. Those blogs give pleasure to their authors and do me no harm, but I don’t drop by twice.

Two exceptions might prove to be:

Shelves in my mind – the sort of blog I’d like to write; short considered pieces which examine everyday life with thought and humour. The writer is an American mother in the UK who writes thoughtfully and unsentimentally about her life.

Dairy Daze – More interesting for the quirk of the situation (a city girl who’s now a dairy farmer) than for anything else. Engaging though, particularly if you are interested in rural life in the 21st century, which I am.

Other forms of blogging

While clicking through the NaBloPoMo randomizer I found a blogger who posts one photo relating to her family every day. As photos they were pretty mundane; the first page alone showed three different dinners cooking in pans on the top of the stove. But the idea is interesting. On searching, I’ve discovered that there is in fact a whole Project 365 dedicated to the idea of 365 self-portraits. I lack the stamina and the vanity for that.

However, I rather fancy the discipline of finding one thing worth looking at every day, and then finding a way of showing it which is worth sharing. I’m not going to do that this month, obviously, but I might do a personal BloPhoMo for a month next year.

Likewise, elsewhere on the internet I found a blog consisting of 365 43-word pen-portraits. That also appealed to me mightily.

So I am thinking of doing more themed stuff here next year. We’ve had informal themes, particularly the MMC and MTAS shite-fest, the brain-dump about questions, and of course Fantasy CEO. I like the idea of moving that on from an indulgence to a discipline.

In fact, this blog could do with some discipline altogether. Quite apart from anything else, the words “I” and “me” turn up here too often, so maybe a month of posting without them would do me good. I’d like to get rid of some of my other linguistic quirks: I’m altogether too fond of complex verb formations as you can see clearly in the first paragraph of this particular post, and when I come back to my posts I often find them breathless and – well – colloquial. And there’s another one – that use of “well” to mimic hesitant speech. Maybe I’ll take a month and focus more on form than content and expunge those mannerisms. Oh, and a month off would be nice. In fact, I suspect a month off would be essential. I could take a zen-like approach to blogging by not blogging. A NoBloPoMo in fact.

So NaBloPoMo and Project 365 may spawn all sorts of oddities here next year. I will however spare you a month of haiku. That’s guaranteed.

Putting the Me in MeME

I said I wouldn’t do another meme but I have been thinking about the whys and wherefores of this blog for the last few weeks and worrying about NaBloPoMo slightly, so this is particularly a propos. I picked it up from Charlotte, who gracefully credits yogamum.

1. Do you promote your blog?


2. How often do you check hits?

Two or three times a week, maybe weekly. When I remember. It varies.

3. Do you stick to one topic?

Absolutely not. The blog is where I blart out whatever is on my mind at the time, be it a haiku about birds, photos of places I’ve been, rants about the government, or attempts to understand my own reactions to something I’ve read.

  • I have wide-ranging and eclectic interests
  • You have a butterfly mind.
  • They are completely unfocused.

It’s an indulgence.

4. Who knows that you have a blog?

Well you do, obviously. Most of the friends I’ve made online, many of whom are real life friends now. Colleagues and family don’t.

5. How many blogs do you read?

Not enough, which is bad blog karma. I do read the ones in my blogroll, but intermittently. I keep links to some closed blogs for sentiment’s sake.

6. Are you a fast reader?

It’s a Sunday game; I couldn’t read for my County.

7. Do you customise your blog or do anything technical?


8. Do you blog anonymously?

I blog pseudonymously, which is different. Aphra Behn is a pseudonym I use more or less consistently across the internet at the moment.

9. To what extent do you censor yourself?

I don’t talk much about my emotional life, my relationship, living family members, my employers, books, my studies or my finances. I do talk about my sexuality, my medical situation, my politics (such as they are) and to some extent about my job. Basically you have a certain amount of access to the inner Aphra but less access to the outer Ms Behn.

10. The best thing about blogging?

Feedback. In the words of Chrissie Hynde: I want some of your attention.

This seems to be a self-tagging MeMe, so feel free to post about YouYou. If you link to me, I will certainly read it.

Charlotte poses some questions

I cannot pretend this is anything more than a bit of self-indulgent blog-streaking but the answers Charlotte gave the questions put to her in the Interview meme are illuminating and fun so I decided to give it a go. Besides which, I thought she’d ask interesting questions. Guess what – she did. The answers of course are another matter.

1. Social justice is important to you. When did you first become
aware of injustice in the world and what was your response to that?

I had a nice long answer that encompassed being the youngest of four, feminism, the Miners Strike, Live Aid, and the Countryside and Anti-War Marches of the Blair years. But then I realised that although I don’t like injustice, what really gets me going is dishonesty. It is the moral and intellectual dishonesty of the Blair crowd that enrages me, not to mention the Tory sleazeballs before them.

For me, the first political question is “what is government for?” Surely it is there to make life for the people fairer, easier and safer. To support and protect, if you like.

How dare they take us into a war which – entirely predictably – caused the deaths of 56 people in London on 7/7? And there’s more, it seems, to follow. This will go on for generations. In what possible way is the world a safer place because Blair has spent the last five years wanking all over Iraq at Bush’s behest? And the junior doctor thing? How does instituting a Cultural Revolution against doctors improve our health-care exactly?

Honesty is part of who and what I am. I tend to stare reality in the face to see which one of us blinks first, and I have very little patience for people who are self-serving and self-deceiving. I’ve had my moments, my years, of self-delusion but I am never comfortable with it once I realise it. And the self-serving arrogance and abuse of power of those in power continues to enrage me. I think I have voted for the government only once in my life.

2. You love words, and yet you seem to work in an industry that involves software/numbers. Is this your dream job? If you could start your career all over again, would you take the same direction or do something radically different?

Well, I love mathematical and systemic elegencies too. Besides which, a lot of it is words: my job is to sit between business people and technical people and stop them wanting to throttle each other. I’m a go-between, a buffer zone and a translator.

Actually, it is my dream job. I get an intellectual challenge from my work which I can’t get elswhere and which I miss when I’m not working. I am a compulsive asker of questions and maker of connections and much of my job involves understanding systems. It is easy enough to understand explicit systems that are known about and documented. The fun is in uncovering implicit systems. I like uncovering how things would work if you made this group of people accountable for those decisions; what would happen if that team had access to this data; why does this group behave in this counter-intuitive way and so on.

If I could start again I’d like to live in a world where I could have got a good first degree in maths and modern languages and started off by working for an emergent technology firm like Lotus. But I’m pants at languages and not good enough at maths so I am where I am. Which isn’t a bad place to be.

I think there’s a parallel universe where another Aphra is an estate agent, but that’s another thing entirely.

A very young Buster

3. Who has been your favourite cat and why?

Right pronoun. Hard call.

Buster was fearless and inquisitive, friendly and fun.

Slasher looking serene

Slasher was a zen master apart from the killing things bit which we won’t discuss; he could appear and disappear at will and was an intensely private cat and loving and peaceful company.


Tiger is very sweet. another serial killer of course, but very affectionate.

There have been others: Madam, another Tiger, Archer and Aitken, and Curly, but for sheer cheek it’s probably Buster.

4. Aphra and the WI. Discuss.

Hoo hoo. What’s not to like about an organisation of middle aged women who heckle Blair by slow hand clapping him and making him sweat? Oh, and the nuddie calendar shots too, don’t forget those. I’m a country woman, I’m also a subversive and I like the company of women.

5. If I could guarantee you an all-expenses paid, no strings attached, month-long holiday on your OWN, where would you go and what would you do?

This is the hardest question of all.

With company, I’d go on a road trip; possibly in the Australian outback, possibly trying to do Scandinavia justice. A month isn’t that long, to be honest. But I’m not sure about a road-trip on my own, I like my own company but I like my own company in my own home.

I could probably do two or three weeks on a beach, but not a month. Perhaps it would be interesting to do one of those Mediterranean cruises where clean, young, gay academics provide lectures about Canaletto and the Mycenaeans. I would avoid those life-style holidays on a Greek Island where desperate, single women paint each others’ auras and have emotional crises brought about by too much oestrogen, not enough sex and too close a proximity to the scuba-diving instructor’s bum.

I’d probably visit friends and relations like Rabbit in Winnie-the-Pooh. Meet up with a few Internet Wierdos. Shoot a few breezes. Down a few glasses. That sort of thing.

But I’d rather have a companion, a car and an atlas, to be honest.


  1. Leave a comment saying, “Interview me.”
  2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. Please make sure I have your email address.
  3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
  4. You will include this explanation and offer to interview someone else in the same post.
  5. When others comment, asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

5 reasons why I blog

Severine has tagged me with the meme asking for five reasons why I blog. I realised I didn’t actually know the answer to that one, so I thought about it for a bit, and here they are.

I blog to help me think – Some people think in images, some people work on gut feeling, I think in words. Sometimes I don’t know what I think until I hear myself saying it. If the level of background noise is too loud, I lose the ability to think. So working through thoughts as writing helps me define them and refine them. But any kind of writing would do that, and I certainly didn’t keep a journal or a diary as regularly as I blog, so why do I blog?

I blog to spark conversations – Blogging is not just about writing, it is also about reading, and I like it when people read and post comments. I came here from a cyberplace which was much more conversational and I miss that to be honest. But I do like to talk about ideas with people, and if I write to help me think I post it in cyberspace to start a conversation. But you can have conversations in pubs or chat rooms or any one of any other kind of social space. So what’s different about blogging?

I blog for the attention – The very first words I posted here are: “I want to see what happens when you start over again in a place where you have no history and no credit”. In other words, I want to see just how much attention I can generate. But if it was as simple as that I would blog very differently. The blogs which have garnered the most attention are the medical ones, and if I was nothing but a stats-tart then why would I post things which I know will reduce the stats?

I blog to indulge myself – A photo here. A haiku there. Commentary, poetry, analysis. I could claim it is to try out different forms of self-expression, but if you ask me it’s just a matter of self-indulgence. But if that was all it was, would I put so much effort into making it easy to find specific posts?

I blog to influence others – The ridiculous, incredible, Kafkaesque cock-ups of the recruitment of hospital doctors in the UK have outraged me, and still worry me sick. In less than a month’s time thousands of junior doctors will be out of a job and thousands of hospitals will have unfilled junior doctors positions. The rotas are going to fall apart, because they don’t have the doctors in place to staff them. This terrifies me as a patient, disgusts me as a tax-payer, and enrages me as a voter. But the issues are complex and run completely against any kind of common sense, so people don’t believe those of us who talk about it. I wanted to explain them. But that doesn’t really explain why I blog, because if it was a matter of campaigning, then a campaigning blog would do it better than this one. So what else is in it for me?

I blog as a displacement activity – two, three, hours of an evening spent puttering around the internet rather than painting the house, reading or studying. Shockingly, it used to be more when I hung out in a writing community. I’m aware that I could have got myself at least one post-grad degree in the time I’ve spent hanging out in cyber-space. At any given moment, I’d rather be blogging than doing the ironing, and once I’m sitting at the PC I’m hard to shift. I’ve just bought myself a sofa to replace the awkward and uncomfortable day-bed I’ve got in my living room, so maybe I’ll start watching TV instead.

Ok, that’s six reaons, but another nice thing about blogs is that there’s no word-count.

So how about you. I’m very shy of tagging, but I am genuinely curious why these folks blog:

  • Santra
  • Dr Z
  • Teuchter
  • Paddy K
  • You – if you don’t really know why you blog and fancy thinking about it for a minute or two.

Time off for good behaviour

I’ve decided that I am not going to go online next week. If that works, then I won’t go online the week after, either. It’ll be weekends only, and see how it goes.

“What are you doing this weekend, Aphra?” a colleague asked me on Friday afternoon.

“Nothing – it’s going to be pure bliss”.

The migraine fairy heard me, so I spent the 36 hours from 10.00am Saturday to 10.00pm Sunday either throwing up, sleeping badly or shouting at god. Not a bad definition of doing nothing, but pure bliss it wasn’t. I’m not entirely convinced it’s over, I could just be in a teasing form of remission.

I have better things to do with my summer than spending it having migraines, and I have better things to do with it than spending it online. Fascinating and enthralling though all of you are, and fond of many of you though I am, I intend to spend my evenings painting my kitchen or weeding the garden or admiring the view or gossiping with my neighbours or reading books or knitting scarves.

See you next weekend.