When I started following Stephen Fry on Twitter (and was stupidly chuffed that he followed me back), I was one of just a thousand(ish) who did so.
Unsurprisingly, this figure has grown hugely. As I write, he’s being followed by over 63,000 Twitterers, and to mark passing the 50,000 mark, he set a competition for his fawning accolytes (one of whom I cheerfully admit to being).
You had to write a tweet (a Twitter message) which contained exactly 50 “L”s – L being the Roman numeral for 50. Quite a challenge, given that tweets have a rigid 140-character limit. Even more so, when spaces count as characters.
And you had to mark the message with a hashtag: #L so that it could be identified as a competition entry. So that’s two characters gone already, I thought (fatal mistake, as you will see).
What I wrote
A quick look at the entries as they enthusiastically rolled in showed a lot like this:
gavski82: #L illegal llamas loll, a ball?hells bell!all call a folly.a hill will roll,willy nilly.bill fell ill, all still.a pull will lilt,will fall.
Doesn’t make a lot of sense, really. Nor did most of the others.
I thought the only way to stand a chance of gaining Mr Fry’s approbation was for it to be about something, and ideally to have a bit of rhythm to it, like a poem.
So after a bit of scratching about, this is what I submitted:
Ill,dull lull. Poll-all well,lol! All hail jolly poll!All roll pell-mell,all ululate,all lalala!Hail BHO!Hail Michelle!Tell world,allswell#L
BHO, I hoped, was recognisable as Barrack Hussein Obama, whose inauguration had just taken place. And I used as much punctuation and spaces as I could spare to indicate the rhythm of the piece (piece? tut, pretentious, moi?), which should read like this:
Ill, dull lull.
Poll – all well, lol!
All hail jolly poll!
All roll pell-mell, all ululate, all lalala!
Hail BHO! Hail Michelle!
Tell world, all swell
I was quite pleased with it. At least it wasn’t total nonsense.
But I messed up the hashtag. I didn’t leave a space before it, so the hashtag engine didn’t pick it up, which means it wasn’t considered for the competition.
Boo, hoo, so what?
Why am I telling you this? It’s because of the little voice.
I thought, to protect my idea of doing an Obama tribute, I’d leave it until close to the deadline to post my tweet.
I was writing scripts for The Archers at the time, which takes total concentration.
As I sat at my desk at 9.30 on the Saturday morning of the (noon) deadline, I read my “note to self” to post the tweet at 11.30. A tiny fleeting thought passed through my mind: “shall I set an alarm?” No, I thought. It’ll be fine. I need to get on with writing this script.
Next thing I knew, it was ten to midday. Sudden panic. I grabbed my draft, carefully typed it into Twitter, and sent it.
When I came to the end of a scene about twenty minutes later, I went hunting for my entry in the hashtags.
It wasn’t there.
And then I realised that the #L wasn’t two characters. It was three, because it needed a space to separate it out from the other text. A space that I has used in search of my precious rhythm, but could have sacrificed.
God, I was annoyed. With myself, which is the worst sort of annoyance there is, of course. I’d worked quite hard in my limited free time to come up with this offering, and I might just as well have not bothered, as I told myself, my wife, my nearest son, my Twitter buddies, and would have told the milkman if he’d been around.
Listen, you idiot (me, I mean)
So to make myself feel a tiny bit better, I tried to think what I might learn from this. And, not for the first time, it was a lesson about that little voice.
My subconscious knew what the right thing to do was, and it told me. If I’d posted the tweet a bit earlier, my error might well have dawned on me in time to put it right.
But the subconscious is so easily shouted down by the noisy, busy forefront of the mind.
I’ve told the little voice “no, it’ll be fine” before. And I’ve almost always regretted it later.
So when you get that little whisper, remember me banging about the house at 12.30 on a Saturday lunchtime, ridiculously annoyed about a little word game.
And PAY ATTENTION TO IT!
(And I’ll try to, as well)