We live in a strange world. Most of it we see reasonably clearly as we make our way through our lives. TV. Roads. Pavements. The office. The kitchen. The bolts of our everyday lives.
And then there are all those other bits we don’t see. Well. Not really. There are all those hundreds and thousands of cameras silently recording the nuts and bots of our everyday lives. Remembering the number plate of our cars. Click. File. Click. File. Millions and billions of hoarded images to be called up as and when required to enable someone, somewhere to back track their way through the journeys we have made. Where did we go? And to see who? And when? And for how long?
Other cameras track us on foot. Through cities and towns and buildings. Drawing cash. Paying at the counter. Window shopping. Having chance conversations.
All to be filed away in a billion virtual lockers.
Every phone call we ever make leaves a foot print. And every plastic purchase. And every e mail conversation. Or Facebook message. Or Tweet.
Every minute of every day we are being silently watched and recorded and tracked hundreds and hundreds of times.
Are we bothered? Not really. Most of us are comfortable in our innocence. If the State wants to watch us, then so be it. I guess if we get sufficiaently up tight about it, there is nothing to stop us from heading to the top half of Scotland somewhere to a caravan and a life outside the reach of the digital. The wilderness is still the wilderness. In these times of austerity nobody is about to find the cash to hide cameras in trees and rocks.
But that would be rather drastic. In reality, our mundane little lives go unnoticed. It is easy to collect up billions of snap shots of people's lives. It’s not so easy to find the time to actually look at them. When four lads wearing rucksacks met up on a railway platform in Luton en route to carrying out the 7/7 attacks on London nobody noticed.
The pictures of the bombers were only dug out from the digital archives once the deed was done. And of course everyone asked how it was the nobody noticed. Nobody saw. Because in reality Big Brother might watch, but he seldom has the time and the luck to actually see.
He is merely addicted to looking.
And then sometimes we get a fleeting glimpse of those who are lurking in the digital shadows of our lives and pulling our strings like we were their puppets. Sometimes they steal our codes and steal our money. Sometimes they dupe us into infecting our computers with their malware. Sometimes they annoy us with their spam e mails.
But sometimes there is a little more method in the madness.
And so to this blog of mine. I have been blogging away for several years now and things have changed over the course of my 220 blogs. I am told that my digital foot print has grown. In the vastness of the digital world, the prints I leave in the snow are pretty inconsequential. I am no Russell Brand or Wings over Scotland. When I first posted my blogs I was always mildly surprised if 20 people turned up to my page to have a read. Google provide plenty of information about how many readers dip in and out of a blog page.
How many and where they have come from. And who sent them. And which blogs they have read.
Slowly but surely the number of visitors started to grow. An angry blog about the 2012 London Olympics love in was read over 400 times thanks to a nudge from Aditya Chakrabortty of the Guardian.
I was astounded when my memories of Hillsborough were read by over 5000. I was even more astounded when my tribute to Sir Alex Fergusson was shared and shared and shared until the visit counter clicked all the way to 28,000.
Things changed in 2014 when I became one of the voices of the ‘YES’ campaign. Instead of fifty or sixty readers checking out a newly posted blog, it was almost always over the thousand. When Stuart at 'Wings over Scotland' deemed my thoughts to be worthy of a wider audience, the number would climb to three or four thousand.
And all the while I continued to be pretty well gobsmacked by the attention. After the misery of September 19th, people kept on turning up.
I often wonder why. I guess I have a particular view on the world. An Englishman who manages a Scottish Foodbank. A ‘YES’ man who gets an up close and personal view of the damage caused by the vicious Etonians in Westminster. A father of two mixed race boys whose ancestry remembers the bottomless brutality of the British Empire. A guy who is British who dreams and fights for the opportunity not to be. A guy who never learnt how to be patriotic. A guy who wants to get the chance to be citizen of a more decent country and has little time for the greed and hypocrisy of the one he is stuck with.
Of course lots of people hate my thoughts. They see me as a disgrace and they love to let me know. Almost every day there are small punishments for my support of the dream of ‘YES’. It can be tiresome, but I think I am realistic enough not to moan about it. My minor cuts and bruises are as nothing when compared to the imprisonment and torture those who fought to free themselves from London Rule in Asia and Africa had to endure. And Ireland of course.
I guess my blog page has gained a reputation for being Anti-London. Some say Anti-British. Maybe. Most who turn up to read seem to share my view of the world. Lots don’t, but by and large they don’t turn up. Why would they?
So over time my page has developed a kind of rhythm. I post a new blog and on day 1 about 1000 digital visitors arrive at the page. 700 of so will read the blog. On day 2, 500 turn up and 300 read the blog. By day 3, the number of visitors falls to 100. And then it falls to fifty. If I go a week or two without writing anything, page views fall back to about 30 a day. After a popular blog the tail off is slower.
Everything is logical. If I have posted something, people come along to have a look, sometimes in their thousands. If I haven’t posted anything for a while, the page goes into a kind of sleep mode.
Well it did.
Because over recent months something has changed. Now my sleep mode involves at least 200 page visits a day. At first I was flattered by this. Wow. People are turning up to read the back list! But I am rather too cynical for that kind of Walt Disney stuff. So I started checking out the small print of my statistics page to try and get a handle on what was going on.
What I discovered was interesting to say the least. On the day when I post a new blog and 1000 visitors arrive at my page, well over 90% of the day trippers come from the UK. But when I haven’t written anything for a week or two, the identity of my visitors changes dramatically. If my page receives 200 hits on what should be a sleep mode day, it inevitably turns out that the majority of hits will have come from Russia.
How very strange. It would appear that somewhere deep in the bowels of Putin’s Russia my voice has been heard. Selected. Checked out. And then deemed worthy of some behind the scenes support. What happens when you type ‘Mark Frankland’ into Google? Simple. This page is the first hit. Part of the reason for this I guess is that my blog page always receives 200 hits each and every day. On the days when I post a blog, my visitors seem to be very real and they come from this sceptered isle of ours. On the quiet days a faceless gang of 150 Russian pitch up to keep the visitor numbers high.
It would seem that someone over there in Mother Russia has been given the job of seeking out voices who call London Rule to account. The Independence campaign must have made their job a whole lot easier. But of course Moscow has lots and lots of previous when it comes to this kind of thing. Supporting rebel voices is nothing new. Moscow’s Patrice Lumumba University was named after an Independence campaigner from the Belgian Congo. To this day there is still a John Maclean Street in the Russian capital.
Once upon a time the shadowy lads from the Kremlin found ways to smuggle envelopes stuffed with cash to those who fought to free themselves from whoever was in charge. And the cash covered the costs of hiring meeting halls or printing leaflets of newspapers. Now there is no need for the cash. Now all that is needed is a clever computer programme to provide ghost visitors to the blog pages of those who call London Rule to account.
Can it really be true? It seems that way. There is no other logical explanation why in the last seven days 1300 Russians have pitched up to my blog page to check out what I am saying. Here is a screen shot of my statistics page just so you know I am not getting all weird!
So. It would appear that I have some unexpected new friends in the East. I’m not sure what to think about it really. I am certainly no fan of Mr Putin and his nasty regime. But I guess I have unwittingly joined a pretty honourable list of names. Mahatma Ghandi and Jawaharal Nehru and Kwarme Nkrumah and Julius Nyerere and Nelson Mandela and John McLean to name but a few.
I guess the main thing is to use this opportunity to point out a few facts to other watching eyes. I never asked for a mysterious friend from the East. It seems I have been chosen. And there ain’t a darned thing I can do about it guys. So I do hope none of the boys and girls down there in GCHQ go and get the wrong end of the stick. Let’s be clear here! I don’t like being governed from London and I would prefer to live in an Independent Scotland because that is how I actually feel. It isn’t because my friends in the East have told me to feel that way.
So don’t you guys start getting the wrong ideas, right? Fair enough I went to Cambridge, but we don’t all end up spying for Mother Russia!