When I began this blog nearly ten years ago, my stats were not worth looking at except from an aesthetic point of view. They do a nice job with the little illustrations which vary every day and often make it look as though you’ve had a surge of interest when you haven’t; but for a long time my blog stats were as flat as a corpse’s blood pressure. Still, I kept posting and before long I had some actual readers. This triggered a ritual daily scrutiny of my stats which was first a habit (tea, email, Facebook, stats) then a compulsion and finally an obsession. If the column dipped I wondered what I’d done to deserve it: likewise if it rose I wondered what had grabbed my readers’ attention. My life was dominated by these stylish bar-charts and the maps and diagrams that accompany them: and when, on occasion, the bar surged like Nigel Farage’s blood-pressure on Question Time, it felt like Christmas.
But there was no fathoming it. Why did people cotton on to some things and not others? Sometimes the comments would give me a clue, but more often than not I was in the dark.
I had told myself at the beginning that I would blog every day. In those bleak early months when I had published nothing, just to write a few hundred words and hit ‘publish’, propelling those words out there for everyone to read, was a huge deal. So for the first few years I was highly disciplined – until one summer I’d had enough. I decided to take a six-week break. And guess what? The stats went down almost to zero – and though they rallied a little, they stayed low for almost a year. So in the end I stopped looking at them. I stopped obsessing about what people liked and what they didn’t like, and I wrote what I wanted to write.
Then about six months ago a weird thing happened. I got a little spiky thing in the corner of my window which indicates a sharp upturn in views. Yeah, right, I thought, expecting a flood of spam comments. No such thing. Whatever the reason (and I still don’t know) my views had gone dramatically up, and dramatically up they stayed. So I’m back on the daily checking again…
This is a bit odd. Occasionally I get a weird sort of spiky icon in my blue corner in the space where I get joyful speech-marks, plus symbols and stars telling me that I have comments, followers and ‘likes’ respectively. But the spiky thing doesn’t happen often, because it indicates a spike in the number of readers. And it’s a bit odd, really. Normally the stats hover at a low but steady rate resembling a small and slightly uneven wall. But today they have zoomed up to 900! I have no idea why some people in the States and Russia and Canada and loads of other places have suddenly started reading me. I only hope it isn’t the prelude to some kind of scam…
Anyway, what prompted this post was something quite trivial in itself but which relates to yesterday’s thoughts. And it was this. Those readers of mine (who at this rate will soon number thousands) who don’t live in Leicester will not be aware of the Victoria Park tree saga. The council have seen fit to cut down a number of healthy trees in order to extend both a car-park and some tennis courts, and many people are up in arms about this. They have at the same time planted some new trees but these will take time to grow. So, into this furore blundered a cheerful, innocent bloke who posted a comment on Facebook about how nice the new trees were looking. Nothing about the old trees; no comment to the effect that they ought to have been chopped down – just a thought about how pleasant it was on a sunny day to see the new seedlings. Well: from the furore which followed you’d have thought he’d expressed support for ISIS, at the very least. Sarcastic comments abounded about how they might be nice in twenty years, about how lovely the new car park will look in the sun and lamenting the loss of habitat for the birds and squirrels, abounded until finally someone took pity on the guy and commented: ‘a simple post on how nice the new trees are looking? Rookie mistake! Grab your tin hat and hide under the table till it all blows over.’
And there’s the rub. Facebook is like one of those people to whom you can never say anything to without it going wrong. You know, the kind of person who, when you say ‘Good morning!’ snarl ‘What’s good about it?’ Or else you have this kind of conversation described in ‘A Fish Called Wanda’:
Archie: You make me feel free.
Archie: Wanda, do you have any idea what it’s like being English? Being so correct all the time, being so stifled by this dread of, of doing the wrong thing, of saying to someone “Are you married?” and hearing “My wife left me this morning,” or saying, uh, “Do you have children?” and being told they all burned to death on Wednesday. You see, Wanda, we’ll all terrified of embarrassment. That’s why we’re so… dead. Most of my friends are dead, you know, we have these piles of corpses to dinner.