Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Mumsnet Blogfest (2)

Well, it was - as I expected - a great day. The only mild pangs of panic came when I arrived and my friend hadn't, meaning I had to ride alone down the long escalator of doom into the infestation of bloggers below. So many women milling about at high volume that at first I had trouble locating the free pastries. When I did, I filled up my plate and sloped off to a quiet corner to mind my own business, which instantly made me a target for campaigning activists, networking journalists and sales pitches. Or women just being friendly, depending on which way you look at it. Oh, suspicious me.

But there was a lot of looking over shoulders going on, the same looking that you see at parties at the Edinburgh Fringe (ooh, get me!), where everyone is trying to see if there is someone else more interesting in the room to talk to than the person they are currently stood with. No one, I should point out, talks to me at Edinburgh Fringe parties. And, it turns out, no one talks to me for long at blogging conferences either. "Where do you come from?" "York." "Oh, not London?" "No. But I used to live in London." "And what's your blog?" "Telly and Travels." "Italian travels?" "No, telly. I write about television, but link it to places I've been." "Oh. So do you work in television?" "Well, not now. I used to be a subtitler." "Oh, so do you go to lots of places then?" "Erm, not really. We don't have a lot of money at the moment." "Oh. Excuse me, I think there's a great beauty blogger over there who doesn't have pain au chocolat flakes stuck to her shirt." As I watched the tumbleweed billowing across the horizon, I realised that I definitely need to work on my blog's USP. All it has at the moment is plainly a mumble of nonsense.

Thankfully, my friend then appeared and I didn't have to talk to anyone else for the rest of the day. And during the first panel discussion session about the potential harm the Internet and social networking may be causing our children, there was a moment of great joy when Sarah Vine said that perhaps worrying about this was comparable to worrying about claims that letting children watch television rots their brains. Because she had spent her childhood watching Dallas and Little House On The Prairie dubbed into Italian and had still grown up perfectly intelligent, thank you very much. "Phew!" I thought. But then it turns out that Sarah Vine is married to Michael Gove, which kind of cancelled out the argument.

By this point, I had become very scared by social media. Or Twitter, to be precise. All anyone on the stage must have been able to see was a room full of people with their heads down, scrolling screens. And all these people were doing was tweeting what was being said on stage to a big Twitter feed on a screen behind the stage, meaning it was being read by a room full of people who, if they had been listening rather than staring at their smartphones, had heard it already. It all seemed a bit, well, unnecessary. Don't get me wrong, I can totally see the point of tweets for businesses or public organisations that need to disseminate information rapidly across the globe, but if you are just a regular guy, is what you have to say really that critical? More critical than looking up occasionally to watch a pretty fine group of speakers? Can't you wait half an hour? The apostrophe errors were very distracting. (Great tip from Fleet Street Fox, btw - combat Twitter trolls by correcting their spelling and grammar.)

I know I am not going to win any arguments here, but it reminded me of when the Tour de France cycled past the end of our street this summer and I asked my husband whether I should photograph or video it. "How about you just experience it?" he replied. (Which is why I only have a photo of their bums.) So let's just enjoy being at Blogfest - we can tell everyone about it later. Like I am doing now.

To add to my anxiety, I then went to a talk on Advanced Social Media. The guy showed me a photo of a traffic jam. He was late because he had been stuck in one, but apparently that wasn't his point. He talked faster than anybody I have ever met about website and devices I had never heard of, and in the end I had to just sink back into my old-fashioned self and let it all whoosh right over the top of my head to the yummy lunch being prepared outside.

The catering lived up to expectations. After the flaky pain au chocolat came oaty biscuits served with delicious herbal teas, and then for lunch there was a choice between a vegetable and almond tagine, prawn noodles or a slightly ropey looking beef stew. The tagine was delicious. Pudding was fruit skewers, brown sugar meringues, lemon cake and chocolate brownies. (Although I expect the less greedy amongst us might have used the connector "or" in that sentence.) Following a session on food blogging (I know, I don't blog about food, but at least I know more about food than I do about social media), we were served an afternoon tea of scones, fruit tartlets and raspberry sponge. And then once Lucy Porter had related a story about penis beakers, Melvyn Bragg and why her husband thinks she doesn't like coconut, we were allowed back up the escalator of doom (now renamed the escalator of delights) to be plied with as much free champagne, gin and tonic and steak on skewers as we wished, before being sent out into the night with a very heavy bag full of Coca-Cola Life, scarves, fish stock, magazines, plates, dry skin serums, and another bag. Flipping marvellous. Apart from the fish stock. Didn't need that.

So what were the highlights of Blogfest, apart from the freebies and the food? Seeing hilarious speakers like Jon Ronson, Rebecca Front, Arabella Weir, Lynn Barber, Rachel Joyce, Lucy Porter, Francesca Martinez and Nick Hornby. Helping to bag my friend the chance of a magazine interview. Catching up with friends. A whole 24 hours - and only my third night ever - away from child care.

What did I learn? That the first steps to writing success are to be brave, have a bath, and actually write something (as opposed to just sitting around awaiting a call from a publisher). That all writers procrastinate and struggle to focus, write at least 40 drafts before they dare submit anything, and still fear that the end product might be crap. That it might help to proof-read something you intend to be funny in an American accent. That to write a good blog, you need to read lots of others. That the secrets to good food blog photography are side-lighting and a wooden board. That you may only try to prevent your kids from finding out about Facebook or online poker after they have already registered for them. That I need to spend more time in coffee shops. That funny subjects could be sensitive to others. That it's OK to let your kids get nits as long as you are pursuing your dream and writing.

But for me, reality still bites. Back at home, there are cat fleas all over our carpets again. And I have just learned that my husband let our daughter walk down to the shops in her swimming hat on Saturday morning. It may be some time before I am allowed out again for such an indulgent day of escape. A whole year perhaps. See you at Blogfest in 2015, hopefully this time armed with more of an Arabella Weir "fuck 'em" attitude and a pithy one-liner (or even a business card) about what I like to write about. Though the one-liner may be a lie.

(No telly was watched for the writing of this blog post, apart from a short video by Jimmy Doherty about the Oxfam and Unilever Project Sunlight "Clear A Plate" campaign. As for the travel - I cleared several plates during Blogfest. And I used to see the not-so-famous-then Jimmy Doherty selling sausages at the Alexandra Palace Farmers' Market when I lived in Crouch End.)

With side-lighting and a wooden board. #clearaplate


  1. Great round up of the day. I keep hearing bad things about that beef stew though...

  2. Thank you! Yes, very glad I didn't try it - people who didn't definitely weren't clearing their plates.