Fire is devastating: we had a fire in the mountains above our village last spring. It burned for what seemed like a month and because, to start with, it was in inaccessible parts of the mountain, it could not be effectively fought. It spread and threatened prime agricultural land and vineyards.
So it was with the Cape Town fire which started on the 1st of March 2015.
Cape Town surrounds the iconic Table Mountain – a national park and a wilderness area – something residents often forget and take for granted. I know. I lived there for nearly twenty years.
So when the mountain burns, as it must, effectively in the centre of a city, the events that unfold are beyond imagination.
Although the mountain must burn – the Western Cape of South Africa is part of the most diverse floristic kingdom in the world, arson and human negligence must be ruled out,. And, while the fire was burning over 5,000 hectares of mountain, with homes and lives being threatened, people criticised the work of the various fire services, many of whom are volunteers, the authorities and the overwhelming outpouring of support.
A crisis teaches one about humanity and community. The good and the bad. So it is, I have learned, in the virtual community in which bloggers “live”. Fiona’s Favourites was started on a whim, and I chose a platform. Little did I know that I had not merely chosen a platform; I discovered a new world and that the blogosphere is a microcosm of any community with all the power dynamics and politics that characterise real life.
The same world in a different dimension
My journey into this new world was precipitated by a very simple motivation: friends asked for recipes after I had posted, on the social media, pictures of dishes that I had cooked. On the back of this, and years of “made-up” dishes that I often couldn’t replicate, with the Husband unsuccessfully suggesting that I write them down, Fiona’s Favourites was born. If I am to be completely honest, the conception of Fiona’s Favourites also coincided with a time of very little work and few prospects. Not a good place to be if one has been self-employed for more than twenty years and if one’s area of expertise is quite specialised. So, what could I do to begin developing a body of writing that was quite the antithesis of my professional life? Trawling the internet and freelance websites all seemed to suggest that a blog might be one way. I might, if I were to find the right recipe, even make some money out of it (that, is still a pipe dream and not really a driving force). More importantly, I was tired of the heavy, intense, argumentative type of writing that is my mostly “professional” voice. Not to mention having to deal with difficult clients.
I have always enjoyed the writing process. Writing, for me, has been both healing and cathartic at different times of my life. Not that any of that writing has been shared – with anyone – it was not written with a reader in mind. So, the prospect of personal writing, was one thing, but how to walk the fine line between personal and private was quite a challenge. The Husband is intensely private and cyberspace, the great unknown, is potentially full of dragons and many-headed monsters. He is also fiercely protective of what he sees as my intellectual property: “You can’t just put your recipes on social media and the Internet – they’re yours!”
My own “website” seemed to be a potential compromise.
My first posts were tentative and quite sterile. Recipes are two-a-penny on the World Wide Web; just typing up a recipe is, in a word, boring. This, and actually knowing, almost all my life, even if they are now in all parts of the world, most of the people I was doing this for, resulted in my, almost sub-consciously writing “around” the food.
Then I ran into a friend in the village.
“I really enjoy your blog,” she told me, “I love the stories!”
I was blown away. I didn’t even know that she had been reading it! Just two weeks ago, a visitor came up to me at the market: “You’re Fiona?”
“I read your blog. It reminds me of McGregor, when I’m back home in cold England!”
Going a step beyond
Knowing that people eat with their eyes, photographs of the food I cooked were important. Pictures also tell stories and in text, they play an important role in breaking up dense material. I have also long “fiddled” with taking pictures and when we moved to McGregor, I began looking at things around me with new eyes. I wanted to capture and share what I saw. So, it was logical that the subject matter began to go beyond food and embraced some of my other favourite things.
Again, I was nervous. Would “my” readers like the change? Well, again, I learned something – people began commenting and the stats told me what I needed to know – something’s working, so carry on doing it!
The blogosphere is a virtual village, filled with people and personalities, rule makers, rule breakers, nice people and nasty people – just like in any community. And they scrap and bicker, live and laugh together (or not), just the same. They live in my computer, but come from all over the world to partake of the fare I share. Most of us have blogs; not all of us enjoy writing (let alone write well); we’re all motivated by different things and we certainly don’t always agree. And that’s not just ok, that’s good.
At the core, I’ve had to learn that my blog is all about my favourite things and that’s what my readers seem to enjoy. From this learning, and with advice from bloggers like OM, I have created a set of rules for myself:
Fiona’s blogging rules
I’m a part time blogger. I do this because I enjoy it – when I no longer enjoy the process, or it becomes a burden, I’ll stop.
- I only claim photographs as my own if they are.
- If I’m not sure of my facts, I’ll check them and acknowledge the source. If I discover that something I thought was true, is not, I’ll correct it.
- The stats interest me; they don’t drive me. I’m delighted with every new follower and every comment is appreciated and acknowledged. I love that I have readers from all over the world!
- I follow blogs that interest me, make me think, laugh, or both! I don’t get irritated if I don’t agree with the blogger’s view, or if a topic doesn’t interest me: I just don’t read that post. No offence intended and I’m sure, none taken. It’s not realistic to read every post from everyone one follows.
- I comment if I want to, and I’ll share my thoughts. I don’t get mean – there’s no need. Life’s too short for all that negative energy.
- I don’t blog about blogging – on Fiona’s Favourites – anymore. My readers don’t care if that they’re reading my 75th post or the 175th. Nor do they really care how many likes or views I’ve had. Why would they? I reserve that for opportunities like this, and only fourteen months into it, am thrilled with my 200 “likes” and just over 4,200 views from 80-odd countries.
I couldn’t even begin to pretend to be an authority on blogging.
Life lessons and the blogosphere
I was quite shocked to learn about trolls. Quite naïve of me, I suppose. Still, I don’t get it that people have nothing better to do than to stalk others and to be mean for the sake of being mean. That said, the blogosphere “real” people do look after their own, as we saw when OM was forced to take a sabbatical. People power prevailed and a phoenix is rising from those ashes.
And so it was in Cape Town. Hilka, who took these photographs, and whose home and family were threatened with destruction in the early hours of the morning of 2 March. She posted this on Facebook:
At the height of the terror on Sunday night, I was wondering whether it was worth living here, considering that this has been the 2nd major mountain fire we have been lucky enough to have survived in the 18 years we have lived in Noordhoek. Any brief doubts I may have had have been wiped away by the amazing community spirit and response to the crisis. People have really pulled together and supported each other and the fire fighting efforts! I love this place! Wouldn’t live anywhere else!
So it already is for the moonscape the fire left on the mountain. Green shoots are already emerging and in a couple of seasons the beautiful flowers will return in all their glory.