Twenty Questions to a Fellow Blogger Part III: Andrew West
Andrew West is a twenty-three year old computer technician / would-be writer who runs the personal, yet popular blog WongaBlog. He lives in Stratford-Upon-Avon, UK
What made you decide to start blogging?
I knew somebody who ran a blog. We were casual acquaintances rather than close friends, but I found it very interesting to follow what she was doing, and found I got to know her better. One day I just thought: why don't I set up my own? I liked that blogging was passive; I could talk about my day, rant or just generally witter about whatever was on my mind without feeling like I was bothering anybody. Plus, my two main interests had always been writing and playing around with computers, so blogging was a great mix of the two.
What is your best blogging experience?
Undoubtedly the people I've come into contact with. I was never any good at face-to-face socialising and found it difficult to meet new people, let alone make new friends. The blogosphere has been bloody brilliant in this respect. I try to be completely open on my website - as far as possible, my online 'persona' is just the real me - and it's genuinely touching when people arrive at my blog and actually keep reading. The Bloggers4Labour are a great bunch of people, and I've really enjoyed meeting them both virtually and in the real world. After a couple of years various of my relatives also started reading, and they'll bring up topics I've mentioned. Hell, I even went on a date that I doubt would have happened without the contact of blogs.
And your worst?
I've had some particularly vicious trolls who took a dislike to me personally, as opposed to what I was saying. That was upsetting, and unfortunately it's not something you can blog about. I've also written posts in haste that I've regretted, or re-read a post the next day and spotted an alternate interpretation that I hadn't intended. I can also get fairly brutal in my criticism of mainstream religion at times, and although I do my best to attack the opinion, never the person, sometimes people identify so strongly with their beliefs that they take it personally and are clearly hurt by what I'm saying. I always feel terrible about that, and it's given me a few sleepless nights.
What do you regard as your best blog entry?
Nothing particularly stands out, but I was proud of a recent post regarding my experiences with life coaching, and had some positive feedback on it. The posts I wrote after Live 8 seemed to go down well, too.
I like Skuds, Jo, Kerron, B4L, the Labour Humanist, Mars Hill - naturally, Butterflies and Wheels, Pharyngula, normblog, BoingBoing, littleredboat, Lifehacker, Memoirs of a Skepchick, Bad Astronomy, Skeptico...I have so many in my feedreader that I can't keep up, which is kinda silly :-)
What inspired you to develop an interest in politics?
I'd always had a casual interest in how the country was run, and in the lead-up to the 2004 elections I tried to educate myself on some of the issues. I found myself coming down on the Labour side more often than not. B4L really helped after that. To be honest I'd always found 24/7 political blogs extremely depressing - good as they are, I still can't read more than a couple of Harry's Place posts without starting to despair about the future - but the mixture of politics and real-life of the Bloggers4Labour is great.
How do you cope with tourists in Stratford Upon Avon?
I actually don't mind them at all. I'm really lucky to live somewhere pleasant enough that people want to come and visit, and I like hearing the different languages and seeing all different kinds of people. I don't find it much busier than any other town centre, either. Sure, people wander around with guide books and maps, but I think it's cool that they're taking an interest. I do the same thing to towns and cities when I go abroad; can't begrudge people doing it over here.
Secular humanism! What started your interest in that?
I was a generic Christian for years, before moving away from any kind of religion in my late teens. The term 'humanism' kept turning up in the writings of scientists and other people I admired, so I investigated further. I was highly skeptical at first - the term sounded a little new-agey, and I certainly wasn't interested in any group that told me what or how to think, or espoused faith above reason. I was very happy to find that humanism was none of these things, and also that I, like many people, had been a humanist for years without knowing the term. I find it to be an incredible force for hope and an antidote to the creeping cynicism that's so prevalent online.
Is there anywhere abroad which you haven't been to, that you would like to visit?
It's a never-ending list. At the moment: Africa. I heard Bob Geldof talking about it last week and wanted to hop on a plane there and then. The Arctic, too. India. Last week I pinned places I'd visited onto a world map, and there's a hell of a lot of blank space.
Is there anywhere abroad you have visited, that you would love to revisit?
Cairns and the great barrier reef. I was there for a couple of days when I was fourteen; the wetsuit didn't fit so I nearly froze, I was attacked by a grouper and I had the worst sunburn of my life, but it was all worth it. Having said that, if I could live anywhere in the world I'd probably choose San Francisco. It's just the most beautiful city.
Who, excluding the present leader and Prime Minister, do you regard as the best British Prime Minister, and if different, the best Labour leader?
I honestly can't answer that, sorry. My knowledge of political history is patchy at best.
Which figure has been your greatest inspiration?
This'll wind people up, but I'd say Richard Dawkins. As well as being a major voice in the cause of science, he's a genuine pioneer in biology. His explanatory skill in science writing is second to none, and when he discusses other areas it's always logical, consistent and fiercely argued. Even if you disagree with what he's saying, it raises the level of debate considerably. His books also introduced me to a rational world-view, which was a turning-point in my teenage years.
Favourite Bond movie?
The World is Not Enough. A decent plot, interesting characterisation, a hard-edged Bond and serious enough to be dramatic.
Favorite Doctor Who?
I have a soft spot for Jon Pertwee (you know, I don't think I like that phrase very much) but David Tennant, at his best, really nails the part. His performances in The Girl in the Fireplace and The Satan Pit were nigh-on perfect, imho.
Chocolate, vanilla, or mint?
All are good, but I never tire of vanilla.
Which Band, past or present, would you most like to see in concert?
R.E.M. Does Elton John count? Him too.
In terms of visiting for the weekend, Oxford, Cambridge, or Barsby, Leics..?
Oxford has a museum containing shrunken heads, so wins by default. Still, I've never actually visited Cambridge, and confess to knowing nothing of Barsby...
Favourite national newspaper?
I've never really compared dead-tree editions, but I find The Guardian's approach to their website, and the Internet as a whole, excellent. I quite like the puzzles and crossword in the Daily Telegraph, but I can't read any of the articles without shouting at them.
What would you say your hobbies were?
Blogging, practicing the guitar, ballroom and latin dancing, sporadic fiction writing, photography, generally browsing the Internet for the weird and wonderful.
And what would you say were your three favourite songs and three favourite books (Bar the Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare)?
"Run" by Snow Patrol
"Hallelujah" by Jeff Buckley
"Wake me up when September ends" by Green Day.
"The Blind Watchmaker" by Richard Dawkins
"Northern Lights" by Philip Pullman
"The Dead Zone" by Stephen King