The great virginity poll

Every so often, when quite bored, I do a survey on Twitter.

This week, in a particularly deep depressive trough, I decided to ask people at what age they lost their virginity. It’s not a hugely interesting question, but there is always a curiousity about such things and I was bored.

I left it to the people of Twitter to defined “virginity”, given that some respondents are straight, some are gay and some are bisexual. I had a few responsese from people who gave me two ages, one for when they first slept with a man and one for when they first slept with a woman. Show offs. I asked them to provide a single date, which they then did. Because they aren’t really show offs.

I could and should have made the question much more interesting by asking people for their age, gender, sexual orientation, etc. That way I could have made some facile sweeping generalisations, like they do in the press. Oh well. A missed opportunity.

I’d like to hope that everyone responded honestly. With one or two of the people who claimed they had lost their virginity quite late (27) I wanted to ask “Really?” but it’s impossible to do so without causing offence, so I didn’t.

Overall, people lost their virginity slightly later than I’d expected. Maybe this is because we’re bombarded with hysterical tabloid headlines that give the impression that everyone is having drug-fuelled menage-a-troises aged 13. Or maybe it’s because my Twitter followers are mostly pallid, middle-glass geeks whose sexual development was lagging behind the national average.  I lost my virginity when I was 20, which seemed very late at the time. I was shy. I still am.

So, onto the results. 159 people responded, which is fairly good, although what the other 5500 followers of mine were doing that prevented them from taking part, I don’t know.  Probably having sex.

I can’t work out how to get it all in a graph because I’m crap at Microsoft Word. The first figure is the age at which people lost their virginity. The second figure is the number of people who lost their virginity at that age.

12: 1
13: 4
14: 12
15: 25
16: 24
17: 35
18: 22
19: 14
20: 10
21: 7
22: 0
23: 2
24: 1
25: 1
26: 0
27: 1

The lovely Scott has provided a bar graph:

Sophie Scott has also provided a graph:

And Mullies has added a pie chart:

Now I should do something more interesting with my time. I won’t.

The great Tube line survey

One of my favourite things about wasting time on Twitter is the polls I do. Over the last few days I’ve been doing an in-depth poll as my follower’s favourite tube line.

The results are here:

Oh. And I made a new video. It’s food/porn art. It’s not very safe to look at if you’re at work.

Twitter: Melvin Croissant

A few weeks ago I wrote a bit about Twitter and “big room” syndrome. As a post-script, I shall add the following tale.

A couple of days ago I tweeted that I had talked a friend out of buying a book by a famous author. For the sake of discretion, let’s call him Melvin Croissant. I have never read any of his books, although I’ve seen him on telly a few times and thought he was a bit rubbish, in the same way that I assume Paolo Nutini and Pixie Lott are rubbish at music despite never having heard their songs. It’s not an informed opinion, just a vague feeling of antipathy.

Anyway, my friend Matthew was in a bookshop with me and was pondering buying a book by Mr Croissant. I told Matthew to get something more stimulating instead (he eventually bought a lovely book of historical photos of Muswell Hill and Highgate). I wrly tweeted something along the lines of  “I persuaded someone not to buy a book by Melvin Croissant. It felt good.” and thought no more about it.

Until the following day, when I got an email through my website from Melvin Croissant himself. He seemed quite irate that I had started a one-man campaign to stop people buying his book.

I was somewhat stupefyed, but replied saying that it had been a throwaway comment and that I didn’t actually travel the country, sneaking into bookshops and persuading strangers not to buy his books. I also said that had I known he was following the conversation I would have been more discreet. I mentioned that I had forgotten that many public figures have default searches for their name on Twitter.

Everything was amicably resolved. I have since deleted the offending tweets (mainly so you can read this blog post without searching to find out Melvin Croissant’s true identity). But I thought it raised some interesting issues. In a sense there are two Melvin Croissants. One is the public figure, in the public arena, who is fair game for criticism. And one is Melvin Croissant the human being, who probably gets annoyed when people claim that they have talked people out of buying his book.

The fantastic thing about Twitter is that it’s a great leveller. It narrows the gap between celebrities and the ordinary public. This means that I can discuss politics with politicians or swap jokes with comedians (or in some cases comedians can nick my jokes and use them in newspaper articles) but it also means that you have to be careful about what you tweet.

If I were to tweet: “My God, sometimes I want to smash Nicolas Cage to death with a large spade.” then I would consider it a vaguely amusing response to the fact that Nicolas Cage is a mostly bad actor with a ridiculous face, who has appeared in many terrible films. I wouldn’t consider it a personal attack on Nicolas Cage, because I’ve never met the man and I’ve no idea whether he’s a lovely person or an idiot. But were he to read my tweet and respond, I’d probably feel quite sheepish. We’re accustomed to an ironic distance between celebrities and the public. This allows us a safe area to play with the perception of that celebrity. Think about how many times you’ve sat in a pub or at a party, doing impressions of the idiots on television or deconstructing just why Little Britain isn’t very funny. In my case, it’s quite a lot of time. Anyway, with Twitter that ironic distance is narrowed. I’ve started being much more careful about what I say about public figures, because I now realise they may be watching me.

I’ve noticed that quite a few public figures have automated searches set up on Tweetdeck (or equivalent Twitter gizmos) to show them every time someone types their name. I would find that quite a depressing thing to do. Obviously, celebrities want to know if someone is spreading lies or slandering them, but mostly what they will find is people saying that they are fat, or stupid or handsome or annoying or look like a block of cheese. And it must be very tempting to get involved, to correct misconceptions or defend their corner – because with Twitter, unlike with a bad book review on Amazon or a withing put-down on television, the celebrity gets a chance to intervene directly in what the public is saying. If I were famous, I don’t think I’d want to know what the public were saying about me at any given time. It would probably destroy me.

More thoughts on Twitter

Once again I can’t sleep, so here’s a few more thoughts on my current favourite pastime: Twitter.

The first thing to explain about Twitter is that it’s an open network. This is to say that although you “follow” people and they “follow” you, and you therefore perceive the tweetstream as a kind of closed conversation, in fact anyone can read what you are tweeting. If anyone (often my mum, sadly) clicks on my twitter page: they will read what I have to say and I will never know.

This is important, because many of the misunderstandings that arise on Twitter occur because people think they are chatting to a small circle of friends, when in fact they are broadcasting to the entire internet.

If we think about how people use the internet to communicate, it starts small. Let’s say email conversations between two people. Then you might get MSN conversations between a few people, or conversations in a chatroom in which you might have 20 people talking to each other. You might be posting on a members-only messageboard that might get read by a few hundred chosen members.  In a sense, all these conversations are closed. They take place in small separate rooms, with a limited audience.

Whereas on Twitter, you might have the illusion that you’re at a sophisticated dinner party, chatting away to your small circle of friends in a private room, but you are in fact chatting away in the same room as everyone else on Twitter – in fact, everyone else on the Internet. This is particularly true, because if you say something funny or clever or observant, it is then retweeted, so it can spread across Twitter like wildfire.

Over the last few months I’ve tweeted a lot about Masterchef, because it’s fun and because it lends itself to a constant stream of satire. And in the course of doing so, I say many terrible things about the hosts and the contestants. In my mind it’s basically me talking amusing shit to people I know, as I might do in a party or with friends. But of course, the very people I’m slagging off are also on Twitter. It’s like standing in one corner of a room, talking shit about people on the other side of the room. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it, as long as you recognise what you’re doing. Because I’m aware that actually,  I would hate the people on Masterchef to read what I’m saying about them – at least out of context. We’ve all sat at home watching something shit on telly, slagging it off but with Twitter it’s entirely possible that the people you are slagging off can read what you’re saying.

The other problem with the small-room-attitude to Twitter is that it gives you a sense of intimacy. We all say things to friends and family that we would never tell a bunch of strangers. We say things that are lazy, stupid, ill-judged, politically incorrect or offensive. And with Twitter, we often think we’re chatting away to a bunch of friends, as would-be-Labour candidate Stuart McLennan found out. He tweeted away on a train journey, talking about which politicians he fucking hated, the “chavs” at the station and calling  the elderly “coffin dodgers”. Actually, he didn’t say anything particularly terrible, but it was enough to get him de-selected. We say we want our politicians to be honest, but apparently too much honesty is a bad thing. A lot of the things he tweeted about probably don’t look terrible in the flickering, transient medium of a PC screen or a mobile phone, but look a lot worse on the inside pages of The Daily Mail.

In a sense, there’s a gap between the digital world and the print world. The digital world is in many ways a more informal world, where what we say is relaxed, and seems infinitely disposable. We write and behave differently when we’re tapping away in a chatroom to how we write an article for a broadsheet (I’d imagine. I’ve never written an article for a broadsheet). When we lazily type out a silly tweet on a mobile phone, we don’t really think about how it might look in black-and-white in a newspaper. Because of this, many celebrities have fallen foul of Twitter. Actually, most celebrities seem to appreciate the value of Twitter as it allows them to communicate directly with the public and cuts out the middleman of gossip and miscommunication offered by more tabloid routes. But they also fall into the trap of revealing seemingly innocuous details that then get seized upon by the mainstream press.

Richard Madeley (God bless him, he’s blocked me on Twitter) is a relative newcomer to Twitter but has impressed all of us with his diary of banality, interspersed with flashes of genuine, if often inappropriate, observation. During the winter snow, everyone on Twitter joined a chorus of whining at the lack of gritting, the cancelled trains, the school closures and the general inability of Britain to deal with snowfall. And Richard Madeley was no different, so when his local road was iced over he tweeted: “’Grrr. Still no sign of any gritters here.” And “Looks like our councils f***** up again”. (the asterisks are his own, even on Twitter he doesn’t swear). All pretty innocuous comments that anyone could have said. Except that when I tweet about the snow, it doesn’t result in a Daily Mail article entitled “Richard Madeley’s Twitter rant at the gritters as snow forces him to cancel meetings” complete with 127 comments.

So, tweet away, but remember that you never know who is reading.

The perils of social media

Every so often there’s a big media scare about social networking. And it’s always bollocks Daily Mail hysteria rooted in a parent’s fear that they can no longer control their kids or that the print industry is on its knees. And it makes me cringe at the wilful ignorance of editors and journalists.

Nonetheless, I do think social media can be a danger, but it’s not pedophiles or rapists or vengeful ex-husbands that are the threat – it’s merely that some forms of social media change the way we interact with the world.

When I first got a computer, there was no broadband. There were no blogs. There was no facebook. There was no Twitter. I used a dial-up modem and my website was built entirely in HTML. It would take me hours to write/create a page, and when I’d finished it, it just sat there on the net. This wasn’t web 2.0. There was nowhere for me to announce that a new page was up, aside from the website itself. There was no way for people to leave comments, aside from a rudimentary guest-book that rapidly filled up with spam. Once every few months I might get an email from someone who liked my website.

So, when I wrote a page I was dimly aware of an audience, but they weren’t in my face. And as such, I didn’t pander to them. When I wrote a page of fiction, I would allow the ideas to coalesce and gestate in my mind before I uploaded the finished article. If I disliked what I’d written, I would go back and amend it. Then I got a messageboard, and I found that every time I’d written a page, I would alert the messageboard members and they would swoon and flatter me. Then I got a myspace and a blog, and soon I stopped writing on my website, because it was easier to write about my dinner and get feedback (comments! Praise!) straight away. It fed my ego immediately. No wait. Instant delivery! Then along came Twitter, and I didn’t even have to compose proper blog entries. I could just bang out reams and reams of tiny messages and before I’d even started writing a tweet I’d be getting a response about the previous one. Everything sped up. There was no time or space for ideas to develop in my mind. Bang! One idea! Bang! Another idea. No editing, no thinking, just a constant stream. In some ways this is no bad thing. Twitter is particularly suited to my mind. (As my ex-girlfriend and I discussed, different people use their brains in different ways. Her brain fermented over time, like beer. Mine fizzed and popped like coca-cola). Twitter is a brilliant place for me to shit out a hundred different ideas a day. The problem is that it stops me doing other things: it prevents me playing the long game. Why bother waiting weeks or months for feedback and approval, when I can get hundreds of messages a day, all about ME, ME, ME.

In the four years since I wrote my first novel, friends and peers have finished their second and third books. They have stepped away from the pits of instant self-gratification and immersed themselves in things that take time: plot, character, visions, revisions, editing, correcting, polishing. And it’s something I find almost impossible to do. Aside from work, this blog entry is probably the longest thing I’ve written in months. And even now, my brain hurts.

That’s the other way in which web 2.0 is a danger to me: it changes the way I process information. Or to be more precise, I no longer process information – I merely consume it. I speed read hundreds of articles a day, absorbing lots of information, but rarely actually thinking about it. Instead it is simply instantly transformed into a series of rapid-fire punchlines and pithy one-liners. I find myself refreshing pages over and over again, waiting for more news, desperate for change. I find it harder to concentrate. When I’m watching football or a film, I find myself checking Twitter on my phone or looking at Facebook.

There was an experiment years ago – I can’t remember the details, but it involved a mouse. The mouse had a chip implanted into its brain, and when it pressed a certain button in its cage, the chip stimulated the mouse’s brain and gave it a hit of pleasure. And eventually, the mouse just pressed the button all day, without doing anything else. Inevitably, the mouse died of starvation. In slightly less melodramatic terms, that’s how I approach the internet and social media. The buzz of interaction and feedback – of approval – overrides all my other needs and everything else, friends, relationships, family is allowed to wither. And of course, the vagaries and ambivalence of human relationships are never as instantly gratifying as a random stranger on the internet bestowing unqualified approval. The wonderful and terrifying thing about social media is how ruthlessly quantifiable it is. Followers, fans and mentions can all be counted. It’s rarely about the quality of relationships, only the quantity.

This isn’t really a criticism of the internet, it’s more an investigation of how it affects me, and what I can do to stop myself being glued to the PC all day.

Twitter, The BNP, and the nutter

Please note: I have amended this blog so it no longer personally identifies the woman in question.

For the last few months I’ve been really enjoying Twitter. But Twitter, like so many corners of the internet, has its weirdos.

Yesterday seemed like quite a normal day. I was doing a poll asking my followers which newsreader they would rather sleep with, Krishnan Guru-Murthy or Gavin Esler. (previous rounds saw George Alagiah beat Huw Edwards and Dermot Murnaghan beat Jon Snow). Krishnan won.

As the contest reached its climax I tweeted: 

“This is a far more fiercely contested poll than previous ones. A lot of you appear to be on the verge of orgasm,” which seemed a fairly innocuous comment. 

One woman, @suzy——–, a decidedly orange housewife from Liverpool, seemed to take exception to it: 

“Y’see if u insult females by assuming they would orgasm at ur tweet u just make urself look a dick!! P” 

Which seemed odd, because I wasn’t suggesting my tweet would make women orgasm (if I had that effect I’d tweet even more often). I was simply saying that everyone – both male and female – was getting excited. I don’t even mention women in the tweet. 

But Suzy wasn’t finished. She tweeted: “@themanwhofell what was charming is now MAN HATE.”  I have no idea what MAN HATE means. 

She then followed it up with “@themanwhofell time u apologised to the ladies. Or loose ur followers.” Which sounded oddly like a threat. I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to be apologising for and I have lots of slightly off-kilter followers, so I ignored it. 

She then tweeted: “I c u follow nick griffin. R u BNP?” 

I do indeed follow @nickgriffinBNP, a very funny spoof of Nick Griffin in which the BNP leader flounces around with Dianne Abbott and Gok Wan. I’d assume most people would guess that I’m not a BNP follower, since I’m fairly left-wing, Jewish, half-south American and lots of my friends are black, Indian, gay and lesbian (rarely all at the same time). Anyway, anyone clicking on the Nick Griffin account can instantly see it’s a spoof. 

I replied: “Sigh. It’s a spoof Nick Griffin profile. It’s quite funny.” and assumed that was the last I’d hear of it. I was wrong. 

Suzy continued: “REALLY?” and then followed it with “careful when angering us women. We bite!!” Again, quite what I’m supposed to have done to anger Suzy is unclear. Apparently it all stems from my suggestion that people might be orgasming from the excitement at a poll between “sexy newsreaders” and then failing to apologise. Suzy clearly has some issues with orgasming.  

And then I continued with my work/tweeting. But after a few minutes I started getting weird replies. Lots of my followers were getting tweets from Suzy telling them that I was a BNP supporter or member. They found it quite funny, but thought I should know. 

So I clicked on Suzy’s page and found this: 

“@peterformat Greg is BNP”
“@absurdphoenix Greg is BNP”
“@newsarse Greg themanwhofell is BNP. r u?”
“@ianvisits did u know themanwhofell is BNP?”
“@MandrewB did I know themanwhofell is a BNP supporter?”
“@EshaWilliams did u know u r following themanwhofell He is a BNP supporter check.”
“@MarkMoraghan r u aware Greg themanwhofell is BNP?”
“@hunnyjenny are u aware I r following Greg themanwhofell ? He is BNP.”
“@njhamer did u know themanwhofell is BNP?”
“@naocatbird why r u following a BNP member. Themanwhofell”
“@jondesouzaCE themanwhofell is BNP”

 And many more. She had gone through my follower list and randomly tweeted people. Which is just plain weird. 

So, she’s called me both a BNP supporter and member. She knows I’m not a BNP supporter (many of my tweets explicitly take the piss out of Nick Griffin. He’s an arse) but she’s decided to drag my name through the mud anyway. I now realise she is properly mental. 

She’s basically admitting she doesn’t care whether I like the BNP or the SDP or the GDP, she’s just threatening me. Again, not really sure why.

At first I thought it was all a bit silly. I tweeted her:

“@suzy——–, I don’t know why but you’ve decided to spam people telling them I’m a BNP supporter. I’m not. I am Jewish. You are blocked. Xx”

She replied with this (I looked at her page): “@themanwhofell shame. Thought u were a wrighter. U give up too easy.” Again, her tone (if you’ll forgive the spelling) indicates that she doesn’t really care about the BNP, she just wants a fight. Anyway, I assumed she would stop, but she didn’t.

“@holymolydotcom such a shame themanwhofell is following BNP!”
“@cerysmatthews why r u following themanwhofell. He is following BNP”
“@CarrieFFisher u r following themanwhofell. He follows BNP.”
“@richardm56 does it bother u that u follow themanwhofell who is a BNP supporter. Careful.”

Rather wonderfully, that last tweet was sent to Richard Madeley.

At this point most of my followers are having a good laugh at the idea of me being a BNP member, although the ones that she tweeted directly are a bit confused and are trying to block her.

Quite a few of my followers tweeted her, asking her what she was doing. Rather amusingly for someone who had been randomly spamming complete strangers telling them that I was a member of the BNP, her replies were basically that it was none of their business. Clearly irony is lost on her. It should be pointed out that I can understand someone getting angry at the BNP, but Suzy was threatening me well before she saw that I followed a spoof Nick Griffin.

Things got a bit more surreal when I googled Suzy. I always feel slightly exposed on Twitter, because people know a lot about me and I don’t necessarily know anything about them. It turned out she was the ex-wife of a high-profile former England player and football pundit. And rapper. I considered whether it might be someone imitating the footballer’s ex-wife, unlikely though that might be. So I investigated. On her twitter stream, she tweets her current husband and in his twitter stream there are photos of Suzy at home. And the photos are the same woman as the Suzy in various Daily Mirror articles about her footballing ex. It’s definitely her.

My followers continued to tweet Suzy. Her responses were:

“@OJBJ @cripesonfriday glad to n so important to u but that conversation was soo over an hour ago. Get an update lad.”

“@TheRealHiggy hi. R u his lawyer ? Get an update. That was over an hou ago. It’s Twitter not the free weekly”

Her attitude seemed to be that you can accuse someone of being in the BNP and drag their name through the shit, but if you leave it an hour, everything is ok. In the meantime she unfollowed me on Twitter. I can live with that.

At first I thought I should let it go. But the more I thought about it, the angrier I got. Here I am, Jewish and harmless, and some nutter has decided to drag my name through the mud and accuse me of being a racist. My family follow me on Twitter. My friends follow me on Twitter. My work follow me on Twitter. And I’m always the guy who doesn’t make a fuss. I’m always the guy who turns the other cheek. Fuck it. So I decided to act.

I phoned the Metropolitan police. I expected them to laugh, but they took it very seriously. They advised me that Suzy’s tweets constituted harassment and that I should advise her that if she repeated any of the tweets she could be arrested. I tweeted her to tell her that. So didn’t reply.

I then asked her to apologise and to delete the offending tweets, and to reply to everyone she had tweeted earlier, telling them that I was not in any way a member of the BNP. So far no response.

I went out today and came back to find notification emails telling me that Suzy and her husband were once again following me. I’m still waiting for their apologies. Fortunately, being Jewish I know a lot of lawyers…

I shall keep you all up to date on what happens.

ps. Suzy deleted some of her more incriminating tweets. Fortunately I have screengrabs, as seen below.


Well, after posting the previous blog, Suzy’s husband decided to fight her corner. 

He tweeted: “@themanwhofell how have I harrased you? I’ve sent u no pm’s! Or discredeted your profile or persona! Grow up! Numb nuts! What the f0ok!” 

I explained that he hadn’t harassed me, but his wife had by tweeting repeatedly that I was a member of the BNP, when she knew this was a lie. I pointed out that I had asked my followers not to be aggressive or abusive to his wife, and that I wanted to resolve the problems as easily and quickly as possible. 

He came up with an original excuse: her twitter had been hacked. The only problem with that was that just an hour before he contacted me he had sent her a message of support, saying: 

“Hey babes! @suzy——–, don’t worry about the bunch of ‘knob’eads’ who sent u nasty msgs! They obviously have issues regarding the subject.” 

Why would he tweet a message of support if her account had been hacked? 

I pointed this out to him. 

“@David—– I appreciate you defending your wife. I would do the same in your position, but I find it very unlikely her twitter was hacked.” 

He responded with: 

“@themanwhofell it wasn’t her she doesn’t do Twitter ! Please leave my wife out of your political arguments! Many thanx x” 


“@themanwhofell I know for a fact my wife has not used twitter she can’t even remember her passwrd I don’t care if your BNP or not leave her be” 

Again, this is strange. She doesn’t do Twitter? Then why are there messages to her from friends and family? 

I tried to calmly state my position:

“@David—– You say your wife doesn’t do Twitter but there are messages from you and her family on her Twitter. Have you also been hacked?” 

“@David—– But I’m more than happy to drop the matter once she deletes the tweets and tweets everyone involved to say she was hacked.” 

“@David—– Ok. If you could logon to her Twitter, delete her BNP tweets and tweet the people involved to explain, that would be lovely.”

“@David—– Once you’ve done that, it would be my absolute pleasure to leave you both alone.” 

“@David—–Something like: “This account was hacked. The hacker spread lies that @themanwho is in the BNP. In fact he is a harmless Jew”. 

Because that’s how I like to think of myself: as a harmless Jew. 

All this made him angry: 

“@themanwhofell I have not been hacked! Why r u talking about my family? What’s your motivation? Can’t believe this shite!?!?!?” 

I turned a slightly purple colour when I saw this. Having happily seen his wife spread shit about me being in the BNP, and having told me a pack of lies himself, he then had the chutzpah to ask what my motivation was. 

“@David—– My motivation is that your wife or someone using her account has been spreading malicious lies about me.” 

“@David—– If someone had hacked my account and spread lies about you I imagine you’d also be quite angry about it.” 

“@David—– Indeed, if someone had hacked my account and spread lies about you, I would be incredibly apologetic, not aggressive.” 

But by that stage he had disappeared, which was annoying. Because what I wanted is some form of closure. Something very simple: an acknowledgement of guilt, an apology and some attempt to right the wrongs done. I’m not vindictive. I hate conflict. I hate boring people on Twitter with all this shit. But I am not backing down. 

I don’t actually expect an apology. I don’t think she’s the apologising type. Oh well. Looks like it’s going to be another phone call to the police station tomorrow.


Its Wednesday morning and I have now received an apology from Suzy.

“@themanwhofell please accept my sincerest apologies. I thought it was the REAL BNP. I am deleting my account now. Apologies to all.”

I replied with: “@suzy——- Apology accepted. I wish you and your husband well in the future.”

She said: “@themanwhofell thank u. Sorry again.”

I did also ask her to delete the tweets in which she says I’m a member of the BNP. She has now done so. We can all live happily ever after.