Friday, 11 December 2009

Thank God for Twitter...

I remember posting a video on my Facebook page last New Year's Eve as I thought it was worth sharing with my circle of friends (it wasn't anything spectacular, just a video I'd found on YouTube that showed lots of dominos knocking each over and finishing with a big "Happy New Year 2009" - click here if you want to see it). The trouble I felt at the time was that although I had around eighty Facebook friends (all people I know in the real world), none of them were really into social networking. I think it's a generation thing... most of my friends are around my age (late 30s to late 40s) but only about half have Facebook accounts, and of these I would say less than a quarter could be considered as active. I was getting a feeling that using Facebook was a bit like whistling in the wind.

I can understand why my friends aren't into social networking - they have busy lives and families.... and wives/partners to talk to. This made me think about why I was posting onto Facebook more than they were. I realised that being a single dad with a limited social life, I needed somewhere to air my thoughts, views and feelings and Facebook was about all there was available to me (I've never really ever thought about venturing into any chat rooms). But it was frustrating that nearly everyone I knew seemed to be uninterested or too busy (or maybe too embarrassed) to engage in the social networking world.

This was all before my time on Twitter, though I was aware of the term and the website. I recall Kate Russell on BBC's Click programme describing it as "a place where you can post messages about what you are doing" in her Webscape section in March 2008 (see). It appeared to be a simpler version of Facebook where you connected to your friends and you could read "tweets" to find out what each other was doing or thinking. At the time I remember wondering "what's the point of that?" and left it there as just another web curiosity.

Then on 15-January, 2009 news broke that an airplane had crashed landed on the Hudson River in New York. Thankfully no-one was seriously injured and though obviously distressing for them, all 155 passengers and crew were rescued safely. One part of this news item that struck me though was that some of the first reports and pictures of the crash came from Twitter via a witness on a ferry helping with the rescue. The twitterer was @jkrums (we still follow each other) and his pictures were posted onto Twitpic. (For a more complete report see this report on the Computerworld website.)

It seemed that something interesting was going on with the Internet and I immediately wanted to dip my toes in and find out more. I created my Twitter account two days later on 17-January though I mustn't have known what to say initially. Eventually I lost my Twitter "cherry" on 05-February with the rather boring tweet "I'm trying to decide whether to carry on ploughing through my emails, or whether I should start making tea" (moaning about domestic chores as always!) This was followed by a posting to Twitpic of the dusting of snow we'd just had with the sarcastic comment "Recent snow that brought the country to a grinding halt."

I those early days my account was in my own name and I even managed to find a few people I knew on Twitter, but like Facebook, they weren't particularly active. I then thought "to hell with it, I'm going to be a complete Twitter tart" and started to follow people who looked interesting and then randomly some of their followers and so on. I also used a few Twitter sites such as Monitter to find twitterers discussing topics I found interesting, and followed them. Some of these twitteres would follow me back, and slowly my base of followed/followers started to grow. A few weeks down the line (I'm not exactly sure when) I decided that to be able to express myself I needed to do two things - take on a name that made me anonymous and to shed the few real world friends still following me.

Enter Mugpi!

I continued to nurture my base of followed/followers - pruning out the ones who were there just to promote something, who had become inactive or where not on my wavelength and engaging with and getting to know real people tweeting about real things. As time went on I developed twitter-friendships with a number of people. Some have come and gone whilst others have become long time twitter-pals. Hopefully many will stay as my twitter-pals for a long time. And of course I continue "meeting" new people all the time. I now find my social network is a-buzz with people of all types and I can have a "chat" and bounce ideas, jokes, worries, news (in fact anything) with a wonderful circle or people almost any time of the day or night. If I have a problem or feeling a bit blue, there is usually someone with a kind word to offer or an ear to lend. I know this is not the same as having that some one special in my life, but its a good second best all the same.

I know it has taken a fair amount of effort to get to this point, but now I am, I feel it was well worth it.

Of course I still have my circle of real-world friends, mostly living in the neighbourhood, but I only see them "as and when". Even if I was the type of person to be calling in on people all the time (I'm not), it isn't so easy when you have three kids in your sole care. So in reality other than the odd chat in the school playground, I rarely get to talk to another adult, and even more rarely do I have the type of conversation where I can get things off my chest. This is assuming I would be able to air some of the issues and thoughts that are going on inside me to my real-world friends. But thankfully this is where Twitter comes in. Suddenly I can now rant and rave to my hearts content if that's the mood I'm in.

What would it be like if Twitter disappeared tomorrow? Of course it wouldn't be the end of the world, but I certainly would miss it and all of my twitter-pals out there. Thank God for Twitter is what I say!

Here are a few useful sites I've used in the past and present that are related to this blog: (provides the date an account was created) (extracts a snapshot of your Twitter data for you to download) (real time filter of tweets on your chosen search criteria)

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Christmas shopping for a single dad...

I've never been a great fan of Christmas - I hadn't been able to put my finger on why until the kids recently asked "Dad, what was the best and the worst Christmas present you ever had when you were a kid?". After a few minutes of thought on this, I could only think of "worst presents" and "average presents" :-(
(I think there could be a whole blog's worth of material there so I'll save that one for another day!)

I now find myself a single dad with three kids, facing my annual "ascent of Everest"..... doing all the Christmas present shopping and wrapping. This will be the third time without my wife and I can't say I've found it gets any easier with practice. I have the same feeling of dread about the task every year. What to buy them? How much to spend? Will they be happy with what they receive? Am I overdoing it and spoiling them? Will I have enough time to buy everything? Will I be able to get hold of what I'm after?

I know I overspend and I know I'm trying to compensate for their Mum not being there with us on Christmas morning as they open their presents. I also know that no matter how many presents they have, it will never fill that painful space left in our lives. But despite all of this, the last thing I would want is for them to be disappointed with the one aspect I can actually affect - the material one.

On top of all this mental and emotional angst, there is the issue of the pure logistics of the task. I know there is the option of on-line shopping (and I do this for a fair portion), but its not ideal, especially when deliveries turn up when the kids are at home.

Obviously I can't drag the kids round the shops with me while I buy "Santa's" presents - so that means weekends and evenings are out. This leaves the times when the kids are at school, but as I'm (supposedly) working full time, there isn't a lot of spare time to go trailing round the shops. This year I booked a couple half days in late November and spent the time shopping (and punching numbers into the Argos self-serve computer for what seemed like hours). Though I managed to buy about 70% of the list in those two half days, it has taken several lunchtime trips and on-line orders to complete the job (and for a birthday present/card/cake etc for my youngest who very inconveniently was born in early December).

I try to start the ascent of my personal Everest well before December to help save me from the panic attacks I would have if I left it any later. As I slowly work my way through my list I can tangibly feel the pressure lifting and my mood lightening (and my bank balance emptying).

I've now more or less cracked the shopping part for 2009 and everything is stowed out of the way in the attic. So that just leaves a few hours (probably about 3 or 4) to bring it all down, wrap it and put it all away again and I'll be sorted until Christmas Eve. The question of how I covertly transfer it all down again and put it out under the tree sometime between the kids going to sleep (which was about 2am last year) and them waking up (at about 6am), is another matter.

I suppose all of this is a bit of a pantomime as my older two (11 and 13) have come clean that they know the score about who Father Christmas really is. But my youngest (9) is still clinging onto the belief - I remember her saying last year "don't worry Daddy, I've asked Santa for all the expensive presents so that you won't have to pay for them". Sweet darling :-) Sadly I don't think this will last many more Christmass before the influence of her elder siblings takes effect.

I know this probably reads like a moan and a groan about me trying to cope with Christmas. Having read it again it has made me reflect that there won't be many more years before the magic goes altogether and the kids just want cash for Christmas (or a car like a friend/neighbour's 17yo). Maybe I should try harder to make the most of it and appreciate the kids being at this age.

Anyway - soon it will be all over and the lounge will be a pile of opened presents and ripped wrapping paper. I will then be able to pat myself on the back and think that, good or bad, the job is done and my ascent complete... well until November 2010 comes around!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Mugpi - a bit more about me than I can squeeze into 160 characters.....

Martin Mugpie... it's probably obvious thats not my real name, but when I started using Twitter I soon realised that the only way I felt comfortable tweeting what I really thought and felt was if the people reading my babble didn't know the real "me". As none of my real life friends were on Twitter, I went in seek of new contacts and now have a group of good twitter friends I'm in regular contact with. If you're not one of my twitter friends already, hopefully you will be soon. : )

I am a 46yo widowed father of three (girl/boy/girl who are currently 9, 12 and 13... though they do keep getting older!). Sadly my dear wife died of breast cancer in 2007 (even over three years on it still seems surreal writing that, like it's about some bad dream). She was diagnosed in Sept 2002 - our youngest was 21 months old at the time. She bravely fought that terrible disease for one month short of 5 years and though she was extremely strong and brave, with never a complaint, she finally succumbed in August 2007 (after it had spread to her liver).

Why Mugpi? Some time ago I described myself as "the mug who runs round after the kids like a blue arsed fly" and changed my twitter avatar to a mug. Since then I've regularly changed the mug picture to reflect my mood, a recent event or just to amuse myself (here is a run through of some of the mugs I've used in 2009).

Most of my time is spent in the multiple roles of single dad, bread winner and cook/housekeeper/cleaner/laundry service/taxi driver/childrens' entertainer...I won't go on! It can be hard work at times, but the four of us try and have fun too. I suppose we know we can't change anything and that we have to make the best of a bad hand.

I don't have a lot of family support (both my parents are dead and my two brothers emigrated to Oz many moons ago), but I muddle through most of the time. One thing I miss now I'm single is someone being there to talk with and to sound off to. Whilst it's in no imaginable way a substitute, I find Twitter to be somewhere where I can offload my thoughts, worries, feelings and angsts. If I put half of what I write on Twitter onto my Facebook account, my friends would think I'd seriously lost the plot! (I keep my Twitter contacts and real life Facebook friends totally separate.)

My current favourite pastime (not that I have a lot of time for much frippery!) is geocaching (see To me it's the perfect combination of technology, the internet and most importantly, an outside fresh air activity we can enjoy as a family. Some geocachers are numbers obsessed, but personally I prefer to use it as an excuse for a family walk or to explore an area we've never had a reason to visit before. I've lost count of the number of new (though not terribly far away) places we've been to since I accidentally discovered the "secret" geocaching world late in the summer of 2008.

My other interests? I enjoy the odd night out with my mates (though this is easier said than done nowadays). More often than not though it will be a glass or three of a good red wine while watching a decent movie on the box. I like to follow F1 and though I'm usually only casually interested in football, for some reason I go football crazy when the World Cup is on.

Well that should give anyone interested enough to have read this far a flavour about me. I hope it didn't send you to sleep!

Happy tweeting!

PS You can catch me on Twitter at