This blog has been almost entirely dormant this past year. The short answer is, I’ve been busy elsewhere.
Just over a year ago, I created a daily account for social media platforms, which I came to name When Is Births. Every single morning, I have been posting a photograph of a card, filled with the names – sometimes as many as fifty – of prominent people born on the day in question. Some are household names, others relatively obscure. Some are very much alive and well, while others are long gone, but fondly remembered. I posted the very first one at 8am on Monday 25 September 2017. Now, over 10,000 names and nearly 366 entries later (because those with a 29 February birthday still count, even in a non-leap year), the one-year circuit has been completed.
Sometimes, an idea hits you in an instant, and you wonder where on earth it came from. Only later, stepping back, do you realise that idea is the sum total of several seemingly disparate elements, all of which have been bubbling in your subconscious. You often read about songwriters saying how their biggest hit was written in ten minutes, and while you don’t dispute that claim, that kind of flash of inspiration can be a culmination: a combination of life experience, revisiting obscurities or false starts, and as a reaction to what’s going on.
One Sunday afternoon, in early September 2017, while travelling back from London to my home in South Wales, I was thinking about Twitter, and how many people I knew on the platform (myself included) always seemed so jaded and miserable first thing in the morning. It wasn’t just that the news itself was depressing – we really ought to know some of the awful things that are going on in the world – but more that certain public parasites were capitalising on this misery and, through ignorance and hatred, sought to make money off the back of that negative energy. To a lot of us, it felt like a rank in-joke that had long become tedious and unfunny.
I wanted to do something else, but I wasn’t yet sure what it was. I knew I wanted something constructive, regular, challenging, but finite. Every day, if possible – and the day’s date seemed a logical starting point. A blog or a podcast seemed way too much graft for something that few people might sample, and certainly not every day. How about an image, though? I thought about many of the blogposts on this site, and how, rather than use photographs, I’d upload a specially created image, usually showcasing my handwriting skills in some way. I remembered one image in particular: a wall of almost 200 names of much-loved figures who had all died during 2016 representing all the deceased celebrities, from George Michael to Carrie Fisher, David Bowie to Victoria Wood, Prince to Leonard Cohen.
In about ten minutes, I’d worked out my new daily concept. Over the next couple of weeks before launch, I drew up dummy versions, tried to see which colour schemes worked, and which ones clearly didn’t. And I told almost nobody what it was. Instead, I just posted little teaser tweets to my Facebook and old Twitter account, which attracted 160 people even before the first post went live. By the end of 25 September, there were 300 followers; after five days, around 700. As the year is up, we’ve got nearly 2,400. Considering I am basically obscure, that’s not bad. (The name ‘When is Births’, by the way, is a nod to ‘When is bins?’, a question I once annoyed Toby Young with on Twitter, and which became the name of this blog in late 2016.)
I have to tell you, it’s nerve-wracking when you’re about to launch anything, especially when you know it’s going to take up a lot of your time. But I was right to say nothing ahead of launch day, I think. Because it would be an image, it seemed free of one specific interpretation. If someone wanted to just glance at it for a few seconds, that was fine; equally, you could read all the names and count up how many you recognised; you could even, if you wished, investigate the unfamiliar names, and seek out clips, songs and reading matter. I liked this most of all. And because everyone has a birthday, everyone gets a turn. Lastly, I chose to list the names for each day in alphabetical order, not least because it seemed the best way of accidentally ensuring amusing juxtapositions.
People have said some lovely things about the account. I’ve had so many people thank me, and tell me how it’s brightened their morning a bit. And from time to time, some of those people have said, ‘Do you intend to do anything with this idea?’
The answer is: yes, albeit in stages. The first part of the plan is to offer personalised cards (see below), written from scratch, where the recipient’s name is specially inscribed in the namewall. In time, I hope to mass-produce prints in some way, and maybe other spin-offs too, but in any case, the daily postings will continue, free, for the foreseeable future.
Finally, for now, a thank you to everyone who liked, everyone who retweeted, everyone who shared, everyone who said nice things, everyone who politely corrected or suggested omissions. I hope you feel it’s all been worth it.
Meanwhile, there will be something new in January 2019, and more on that when the time comes.
The 366th and last When Is Births will be published on Monday 24 September, before the cycle starts again on Tuesday. A website will launch at some point in October 2018.
If you’re interested in purchasing a personalised A6 card, for £40 (postage free in the UK), please click here to email me, Justin Lewis.