Ten years ago today, a blog was born, blinking into the real world from its digital gestation – IanVisits was born.
Over the past 10 years, you’ve consumed my thoughts in digital typeface, with hopefully only the occasional dose of indigestion. What you’ve read though, was never intended to be a blog.
It’s origin stems from an unfortunate incident. I used to organise group visits to places, and following a dispute on that other website flounced out and set up a website to continue that hobby, and I might as well set up a blog while I was at it.
As it happened, the events organising died off, attending events organised by other people took off, and so did the blog.
An accident, but a very useful one.
I am, at times, subject to bouts of lethargy and if I don’t force myself to go out to do things, then I would spent far more time at home staring at a computer screen and getting depressed.
That’s why I used to organise events, and now that’s why I write a blog. I have a need to be active. Writing this blog is enlightened self-interest. I fill my diary with things to do, and an alarm clock encourages attendance at venues, and you hopefully get an interesting article to read.
It has been ten years of therapy, and without you the readers, it would have been a lonely path to tread.
Putting things in diaries and forcing myself out and about is a Good Thing.
Ten years of writing is a scary thought, from early random postings that when I look back seem as alien today as the primary school work looks to most adults.
There is the perpetual desire to write better in-depth articles, but that is very dependent not so much on having the time, but not being too mentally exhausted to think clearly at the end of a day at an often very frustrating day job.
More often than I would like, I feel the writing is indifferent, not quite up to standard, but at times, the words flow, the thoughts actually make sense, and a well earned drink follows.
Most exciting are the times when there is a chance to visit strange places, whether little known museums or building sites, or when researching an article and find a document in the archives that few people have read before.
When I started, I was one amongst a great multitude of voices, but sadly over the years many have fallen silent. Killed off by careers, families, boredom or sheer exhaustion. Bloging as a publishing mechanism in itself is slowly drying up. The great “democratisation” of publishing has taken place, but people then learnt that living in a publishing democracy is quite hard work.
I am perpetually astonished at how other writers seem to generate a continuous stream not just of writing, but damn good writing at that. So unfair!
However, 10 years is both just another day but also a moment for introspection, so I’ve waded though a decade’s worth of rambling blog posts.
My ten top
Not necessarily the best blog posts, as frankly a couple of them are rather badly written, but they are the blog posts that for some reason mean more to me as the writer for the memories they trigger. Good, bad, and sometimes embarrassing.
Even after I cut the archive of ten years of writing down to my absolute top list of articles, I had 23 to choose from, but it’s a ten-year anniversary so I forced myself to stick to a top 10 list. This isn’t a listicle after all.
In no particular order:
One of my first proper bits of research that resulted in a wonderful morning wandering around an astonishing brick undercroft that lies hidden under the monument.
I spent ages studying the history, and the willingness of the Royal Parks to let me in was a surprise. It was an unexpectedly delightful conclusion to all the research, and one of those exciting chances to share something few have seen.
It also encourages a person to do more research on topics, for what else lies hidden under London.
I think I can claim to starting a trend here, when one cold Christmas morning, with a streaming bad cold I cycled into London to take photos. It was utterly deserted, but if you try it this year, expect to see lots of cyclists out taking photos. Whoops!
But it’s addictive, the chance to have an (almost) utterly empty and almost silent city all to yourself for a few hours is something that just has to be experienced.
Probably related to the delight of the Christmas morning cycles, being in London when the area is deserted is so delightful that I’ll get up at 2am to do it.
Whenever there’s a major ceremonial event, it’ll be rehearsed a few days before, and that means large chunks of London sealed off and soldiers stomping around in the middle of the night while an often lone photographer hangs around for hours in the cold chatting to police waiting for something to happen.
Of all of them, the strangest one was the rehearsal for Thatcher’s funeral, and being in an empty city while soldiers slowly marched up Ludgate Hill slowly beating a drum in mourning sent shivers up my spine in a way I have never experienced before, or since.
It was eerie.
It was just a short trip on an ordinary train in London, yet also one of the strangest. In writing terms though it was a chance to share a rarely known quirk of the railways, which is always a fun thing to do. It’s very rewarding to write an article which turns out to delight and amaze people who read it.
A news broadcaster also picked up on the story, but they ran a negative waste of money piece about it, which was totally at odds with the impression I wanted of a delightful quirk of the railways.
Bad news sells, but there’s enough bad things in the newspapers as it is. Writing a negative piece gives me a headache, and I’m not a fired up activist any more. I’d rather read something more tea and biscuits than a polemic rant. Don’t always seek out the negative just to write a headline, seek out the delightful and give people a smile.
A blog is a curious thing, it can be solely personal diary, or more news with a personal voice. As such, I tend to write less about me, than what I have done, but occasionally, I am the topic of the article.
This was one of the hardest things I have ever written and totally outside my comfort zone as it was about me, rather than someone else, and while not a secret, it wasn’t a topic I talked about a lot.
While I still look back at it thinking, ugh, too personal, I am more glad I wrote it than not.
I am quite disappointed with this article, as I wrote it too soon after the event, and it reads more like a dry travel diary than the really fun day that it actually was. I should have waited a few days and collected my thoughts, then wrote something better.
That said, it’s still one of my best biking event memories, and the notion of “can you take a Boris bike to Paris and back again in a day” was so bonkers that it just had to be done.
I knew about the claims of a flooded tunnel, but no one ever seemed to have more than a sentence or two, so it just had to be investigated. Which eventually resulted in sitting in the National Archives holding a document that was still top secret just a few years earlier and which hardly anyone had ever seen.
More excitingly though, there was enough information to carve out an interesting story. To do all that work and end up with a couple of sentences is a regular frustration that any historian will nod their head in sympathy with.
I have often abandoned stories after researching them as there just isn’t enough to write up. This time though, the joy of having all that information to work with and the ability to write a nice story which magically combined into both the delight of the discovery, and the delight of writing something interesting was a rare moment.
One of the advantages of having a blog with an audience is that you are sometimes invited to interesting places (and vastly more often, asked to plug junk press releases), and London’s largest construction project has been good at inviting people in to show off what they are up to.
I almost actively try not to be an expert on railways and construction in part so that I can really enjoy site visits without it being a mere box ticking exercise, but mainly to support the goal of writing something less boringly technical and more “wow”.
I aim, I hope, to straddle a middle ground. The curious bystander, who’s fascinated by what’s going on, but doesn’t want to read jargon laden trade magazines, yet wants more than a couple of paragraphs in a newspaper clipping.
I’ve picked this article, as it was unlike anything I had ever written about Crossrail, but is also memorable for the worst bout of travel sickness in over a decade that saw me spend much of the trip back to London in the toilet, and took days to recover from.
I suffered for that article!
The City of London is replete with quaint ceremonies and customs often left over from long since abolished laws, but the Trial of the Pyx is still legally required.
To sit in an ornate room with a Judge formally declaring it to be a court, an actual trial commencing, and then watching a lot of men count coins while the Judge takes off his wig and relaxes was one of the weirder ceremonies I have reported on.
Over the past decade, I’ve covered a lot of the City’s old traditions — still a few left to report on — but the Pyx will probably remain one of my favourites.
One of the pleasures of this blog is the chance to go somewhere that would be otherwise impossible to visit, and — when permitted — to share that with you.
That there is a fully mocked up tube station in a West London office block was such a crazy notion that when the opportunity came to visit, I jumped at the chance.
The article wasn’t one I was happy with in terms of how I wrote it — but the reaction of people reading about this secret tube station justified the day off work.
That a local newspaper picked up on the story and ran a negative piece about “waste of money” was disappointing, but I still look back on the visit fondly.
Not one of my favourite blog posts to have written as it was done under extremis, but a very necessary one, and one which stopped me ending up homeless.
I was, and remain, deeply grateful for the support offered, and the comments that were sent, private and public. Apart from staving off fiscal disaster, I also learned a lot about what you like to read about, why you put up with my tedious writings and what excites you.
It’s really quite reassuring to learn that I am not alone in liking the things I like and that there are other people out there that are also interested in concrete buildings, in trains, in visiting odd places, in general weirdness that London is so amply supplied with.
Finances are still very tight, but I have managed to move back to central London after spending six rather uncomfortable months living in a back-garden “shed” with an outside loo. Flatsharing with most of the spider population of Harrow wasn’t pleasant, but it did let me pay down a chunk of debt.
So, health and finances permitting, there’ll be another 10 years of writing ahead.