Name Dropping on Twitter and IRL*
(A Brontë Country “Who’s Heard of Who”)
Let’s begin at the beginning.
One upon a time, before Twitter was even thought of, a man called Robert Swindells
wrote a book:
Now it happens to be the case that my parents were very close friends of Robert Swindells and his wife – from way back before Bob achieved fame as an author – and, despite the deaths of both my parents, my wife and I still keep in touch with Bob and Brenda and call in on them from time to time. They live only a couple of miles away and live next door to an old school friend of mine.
So when, about a year ago, Owen Jones tweeted as follows:
Talking about 'Brother In The Land', a book about nuclear war that terrified me as a kid, Radio 4, 4.30pm http://t.co/qsb1ZWX9Bt— Owen Jones (@OwenJones84) July 2, 2013
And Anita Anand replied:
Call me “shallow”, but I couldn’t resist the urge to show off that I knew the author they were discussing:
As it transpired, the next famous person I met in Brontë Country was not Bob Swindells (we’ve been rather remiss at keeping touch with lots of people over the past year or so) but Anita Anand’s husband (sic) Simon Singh (@SLSingh) who came to Haworth to give an excellent talk on Alan Turing, the Enigma machine, and cryptography at a WWII commemoration weekend. As Simon kindly signed one of his books for me (this one), it occurred to me that I have signed copies of books from just two authors, and in each case I have complete collections of the books of the two authors. Bob’s because he very generously kept my children supplied with spare copies of his books as they were growing up, and Simon’s because I’ve bought all his books and, having been along to a couple of events at which he has spoken, have taken advantage of the situation to pester Simon for a signature.
Real books are wonderful things – Bob Swindells, as it happens, regards e-books as an abomination – and they are made all the more wonderful when personalized by the author I think.
…….. But I digress.
At the weekend, my wife and I attended a rather splendid 90th birthday party in a pub just round the corner from the venue where Simon had spoken. There were actually two parties taking place in different rooms of the pub at the same time. Ours, and an extended family do being held by none other than Bob and Brenda (sic).
Naturally, we went over to say hello and I then remembered the conversation on twitter I had promised to pass on. Bob – a fellow leftie – knew Owen Jones’s name but struggled to summon any recollection of Anita Anand’s name.
I tried citing Radio 4’s Saturday Live show. Bob (again drawing on his leftiness) remembered Richard Coles (@RevRichardColes ) from the Communards days and affected a pantomime expression of horror when I explained the Richard had, in the meantime, found god. Unfortunately it seems that Bob, unlike my wife and I, does not listen to the wireless on Saturday morning. I urged him to do so – reassuring him that Richard (in spite of his religious leanings) was still a fine chap - but gave up my attempts to explain who Anita was using that particular tack.
I then tried evoking Anita’s other Radio 4 programme: Any Answers? and Bob realized straight away of whom I had been speaking. He was, I should report, very touched that people like Owen and Anita remembered his books from their teenage years and that his books had obviously made an impression on them.
Bob went on to express his disappointment that he had missed Simon Singh’s talk and his anger about the way Alan Turing had been treated. I remembered that Bob had served in the RAF – though too late for WWII. Bob was born a few months before war broke out, in March 1939.
Having had a lovely chat with Bob and Brenda and their extended family, my wife and I made our excuses and re-joined the party we were actually invited to. I found myself having to explain our brief absence to the person I was sitting alongside.
Here, I thought, was my second opportunity in a year to show off and name-drop - this time in real life!
I tried to explain what I had been up to.
Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that not only had my neighbour at the table not ever heard of Owen Jones, Richard Coles, Simon Singh, Anita Anand, Saturday Live, or Any Answers; my neighbour had not heard of Bob Swindells, any of his books, …. or, indeed, Twitter.
The Roman Emperor Claudius famously once said:
"Acquaintance lessens fame"
He might have added that non-acquaintance completely obviates fame and renders any attempt to bask in reflected glory quite futile.
*For non-tweeters: IRL=”In Real Iife”