I’m back. But is anyone else still there?

What a half-hour I’ve just had! Wait, allow me to start again — I’ve already gone and irritated myself: what a half an hour I’ve just had. It’s half-an-hour, not half-hour. I’m not American. I’m very much British.

There, I feel much better now.

So, as I said, I’m back. Back with this blog post. Back writing on this blog, and for the first time in 3 years, no less. And it nearly didn’t happen. Why? Because I couldn’t find my bloody freaking password now, could I. Actually, I couldn’t even remember the Username I have for this Blog. In fact, it was only down to my previous self’s total and utter obsession with writing down passwords and saving them on random, un-labelled memory sticks — fantastic habit, that is — that got me out of this hellish debacle. Feels like backwards time-travelling, in a strange sort of way. Obviously I’m better than I think. Clearly, at some point in the past I sensed that my future self would become utterly useless — something that was hardly a surprise, I suppose, given my previous failures. But still, I’m proud of my past more forward-thinking self, even if it was also a bit too negative, almost waiting for me to go and fuck up. And, who knows? Even today I might have done something incredible to future proof another mistake my future self is yet to make. I suppose I’ll find out in time like the rest of us. I just wish I had an inkling of what that mistake might be right now, as I’ve already lost half-an-hour. The way the world’s looking, I may not be able to lose another. There may only be a few hours left…

Got a bit sinister and dark there, didn’t I. It was bound to happen. I mean, Donald Trump? Anyway, enough of that.

The real question is…is anyone else there? Who knows, not me. And do I care? No, not really, not a bit. After all, it wasn’t like this blog and the writing within it ever made me any money and acquired me thousands of readers, was it? (No, no it wasn’t and it didn’t.) Not that money and having shit-loads of readers is important, but, well, you know what I mean, I’m sure.

Still, it’d be nice to know that just someone is out there. Is anyone? You don’t have to answer, don’t worry. Not that you are, or were going to, but, well…

Funny what triggered me writing this blog post and the existential despair of forgetting a long forgotten password, actually. I was just on that strange Twitter thing — also for the first time in absolutely bloody ages, but in a less stressful know-the-password situation — looking about, seeing if I had any Notifications, and then I found myself looking at a nice Tweet that someone called Tommy had sent me (age forces me to think that I must put weird new-fangled words in italics and there seems no way out. I can’t see it getting better. And now those italics have started to manifest in strange facial expression versions of physical italics whenever I’m forced to say a word like Snapchat). Well, sent the world. But primarily me, I think (I really don’t understand all the new technology, balls to it).

Anyway, this bloke, he was called @tommy66788. Tommy Lawn, as a matter of fact. And Tommy, this Tommy Lawn, he’d carefully used his limited number of characters to ask me if I once wrote a blog post about cowboy boots (something that seems to consistently occur every year or so, as it happens). Made me smile, it did. To this I replied that I did indeed write it, and, as is hard to comprehend for someone who still takes at least a day to reply to an email, Tommy wrote back almost immediately, crushing my mental capacity to fathom just how someone can be so incredibly fast and also live any kind of life. I’m not vain enough to repeat what he said here, of course, but it was nice, anyway. Tommy said that he’d bought some cowboy boots from Texas in America and that he liked the article. He also said that he wears his cowboy boots non-stop. Yes Tommy! To Tommy, I salute you. As mentioned in that post about the boots I bought, I find it and have always found it brutally difficult to turn corners while wearing my cowboy boots. Perhaps I have a special sort, I don’t know (or perhaps it’s me who’s special? Seems it’s looking likely). Or perhaps the corners round here are particularly challenging. Either way, I’ve inadvertently gone and said about 5 times more than Tommy did in his one single admirable tweet, and pretty much said almost all of what he said. Maybe it’s time for me to re-think how vain I actually am after all…

It feels pretty damn good, anyway, this writing a new blog post thing. Let me tell you.

Now I think back over the past 3 years, I’m struggling to really work out why I disappeared from this blog altogether. Were myself and my partner dealing with the miracle of bringing up quintuplets while I simultaneously ran a multi-national business? No. Have I found myself too busy to write words on a screen in rapid succession? Occasionally I have, but then again…somehow I’ve found the time to catch up with both Home & Away and Neighbours, usually one after the other on Channel 5. I suppose, then, the biggest thing that’s changed in the last 3 years is my work and the direction of it. I used to be exclusively a freelance copywriter, but nowadays I’m more involved in video and TV production.

One thing that I know has had an effect on my writing is having this massive iMac computer. See, I didn’t just wake up one day and decide I needed a 27 inch computer and a ridiculous amount of hard-drive storage. I needed all this stuff to do my video work, you see, that’s why I bought it. You might be sat there thinking How would a great big computer prevent someone from writing? And it’d be a fair question. But here’s the thing, my friends: the moment I got my big computer, something changed. Something got disconnected. Where once I’d been able to sit on the sofa and write my blog posts in leisure, blissfully ignoring all other responsibilities and delighting in musing about all kinds of inane crapola, I now had to sit bolt upright at my desk in a completely new position (my laptop had died by the time I got my new iMac). Gone was the connection I’d had with my laptop. With my laptop, there was something about the proximity of my hands on the keyboard and the small screen that seemed to create a kind of emotional pact between me and the small, uselessly underpowered machine. The new iMac was great for video and graphics work, but it was about as useful as a Ferrari if you wanted to grate some cheese when it came to writing long-form stuff (could you grate cheese on a part of a Ferrari? In hindsight I am sure you can. There’s probably a bit you can have custom adapted specifically for it. I feel ridiculous, in hind-hind-sight-sight, for even bringing it up).

What’s silly, in an even more elongated version of hind-sight, is that I’m writing this on my iMac, and it’s fine. It’s happening. I’m doing it. Clearly I am. But something is definitely missing. So I think a new laptop might be on the horizon. Actually, I think it needs to be. I’ve missed writing this blog too much for it not to be. I love creating videos and I love producing art, but writing…well…there’s just something about writing…and I need a small underpowered machine again. Who knows? Maybe I’m undergoing a kind of rapid backwards evolution of some sort. Maybe in a year or two you’ll find me with a bit of slate and a load of chalk.

3 years, eh? A lot can change in 3 years. Look at the UK! Look at the state of the world! So much has changed that I don’t know where to start. Which suits me well, as a matter of fact. Because I’ve written enough for one night, so I’m not going to bother. Yeah, that’s the spirit.

I am going to bother to write my WordPress Username and password down, however. I realise that it isn’t wise to do that, but then, what is it wise to do? Only last week we were on holiday and there was a really steep slope that wasn’t wise to drive up in a shitty hire car, in the ancient village where we were staying, and I went and did that and got stuck half way to the top, didn’t I? Yes, yes I did. And a whopping great nightmare it was, too. Ah, you have to love an ancient village. We really should have hired a horse instead.

This has been fun. It really has. I forgot how therapeutic writing is, when it’s not the most frustrating thing ever in the history of the world. My goodness writing is so frustrating but also so necessary. What a strange combination. And now I keep thinking Could I ride a horse? Probably not. Definitely not. I don’t know about you but I’m really quite scared of horses.

Get people interested: 8 steps to writing a successful Gumtree ad

Thanks to its global accessibility and appealing ease of use — aside from those fucking annoying Captcha word puzzle things that seem solely designed to destroy human patience, optimism and spirit — Gumtree has become arguably the number 1 place to advertise your services for free, or find a new job or apartment. Find anything, for that matter (often precisely what you don’t want and would never ever need, but still). Unfortunately, also thanks to its ease of use and global accessibility, it’s also a magnet for people who can’t spell, will never be able to spell, and apparently have never heard of spell-check, but have heard of words that I’ve never come across, let alone understand. That may sound more than a little harsh, but read more than a few ads like I have, and you’ll find it’s 100% true. If I see the phrase i hav diplomat in Enlish litrature one more time I may well think about screaming, then not bother, then go and smash something up instead. Only after all that might I actually have a good long scream. It’d depend on my mood and how many awful ads I’d seen that day.

If you’re new to this blog, you may now be wondering who the hell I am to be making such a bold claim. That all my ads have been successful. Well, to hell with it, I am actually making that claim. How very bold of me. I’m not saying that each and every one of my Gumtree ads over the years has been exceptional, but what I can say is that each one has been at least moderately successful (using the reasoning that success equates to receiving more than a couple of good replies which have, on the whole, led to the whole thing being worthwhile).

Now, let us begin…

Number 0: submit your ad to the right category

In many instances, Gumtree makes it simple and easy to select the right category for your ad. If you’re a self-employed computer technician, then you’ll find doing this simple, just as you will if you have a flat to rent and you live in London. But it’s not always this straightforward — eg I’m a self-employed cross-dressing consultant for Russian businessmen — and inevitably this means that some people end up putting their ad in the wrong category. This is a slightly different scenario from people who mis-post deliberately, spamming the system just to try and attract attention — which they do, for all the wrong reasons — but it has a similar effect: people don’t click on the ad, and all that time spent creating it proves to be for nothing.

Number 1: write a good title which isn’t identical to every other advert in your category

This one is universal, no matter what you’re trying to sell, or what kind of attention you’re attempting to get. Writing a good title is crucial, obviously, as it’s the very first thing that a would-be interested reader is going to see. So include all the relevant information and don’t make it overly long. Additionally, don’t go over-board with those capital letters. Humour, when used properly, can also be good. Just don’t use the title to crack jokes, and if you’re going to do a play-on-words, make sure it doesn’t sound like total shit.

Lastly, check and double-check your title for spelling mistakes and grammar issues, as well as problems with flow and overall cohesiveness. When I’m scanning ads, I often find the contrast between terrible ads and good ads very telling. Also bear in mind that even if you do write a good ad, the category you’re posting in may be saturated with similarly-sounding ads. In other words, be different and use the title to stand out, because doing so is the best chance you have.

Number 2: writing your ad — the first draft

It seems to me that the reason why so many Gumtree ads are horrendous is really quite simple: for the most part, people who post on Gumtree — as with those who reply on Gumtree — are not, with the exception of just a handful of people, writers. That’s to say they may consider themselves writers, but they may only write creatively now and again, or write emails at work. There’s nothing wrong with either of these people, of course — many people who write lots of work emails write very well indeed — but the fact of the matter is that people who only write once every so often probably don’t show their work to too many people. This means that they likely receive — and have received — limited feedback on their work. The result of this is a few hundred-thousand people who write an ad, think it’s good, then submit it without a second-thought. They then wonder why they get limited replies, or why the replies they do get are a waste of time.

How to avoid this? Write a first draft and give it to someone — ask for their opinion. They don’t have to read a lot, they just have to be human and be able to communicate what they do and do not like about the ad. If they do read a lot, however, then all the better. And don’t be afraid: if someone hates your ad, or has l0ts of constructive criticism for you, it doesn’t mean you’re hopeless (usually). Even people who write all day and all night need feedback every once in a while.

Number 3: make sure you include all the relevant information

I won’t — and more to the point I can’t, because the list is endless and my memory is limited — tell you about all the terrible ads I’ve seen and specifically why they were terrible. But what I can say is that aside from horrific spelling — actually, borderline offensive is more accurate — a lack of relevant information is one of the major things I’ve noticed. From a job hunter’s perspective, when I search through the dozens of Gumtree ads out there, I’m looking for an ad that looks like it’s actually been considered by a real human being. It doesn’t have to be beautiful poetry, or even amusing, but it does have to tell me more or less everything I need to know in a relatively short period of time. If the ad is for a full-time worker, your readers are going to want to know how much the wage is per annum, or the specific skill-sets which you’re looking for, aside from the obvious things (like personality traits which you’d find appealing). If you’re advertising a new creative writing group, don’t forget to include what kind of writing you’ll be focussing on. If you’re advertising a graphic designer position in the heart of London, what about the kind of expectations you have? Is the role freelance or full-time? Will the job be a mainly solo one, or will it involve working as part of a team with a copywriter? If you’re asking for job seekers to apply with a CV, take the time to ask for references as well.

These are just a few things which you might need to include. If you’re not sure what needs including, organise a meeting with your co-workers or ask your friends what they think before you even think about writing the ad.

Number 4: the curse of you will…

I know that human resources departments, since the dawn of the fax machine, have favoured the You will be an astute, diligent worker with 5 grades A to C… approach, but let’s be honest: it sounds dull, vaguely regimental and, at worst, aggressive. The second I see an ad like this, I (often, but not always) feel talked-down-to, and as if the winning candidate would need to have been genetically engineered under strict scientific circumstances to even stand a chance. While we can’t rid the world of these ads, you can avoid creating yet another ad that seems a little too overpowering. There may be hundreds of people out there who could be suitable, so don’t rule 90% of them out by suggesting that they be perfect people with absolutely no flaws — that’s probably being more than  little unrealistic. Mainly because lots of not-perfect people make terrific employees.

Number 5: there’s a thin line between confidence and arrogance

Let’s say you’re an electrician, setting up on your own, and let’s, for a moment, forget what I just said about the You will thing.

So: you feel that you’re a skilled individual with a lot to offer. You’ve spent years working for an employer, and now you’re ready to go it alone. Gumtree is the ideal place to start advertising your services, what with it being either free or relatively inexpensive and with a large captive audience. How do you ensure you come across as an authority but don’t sound arrogant or full of yourself? State your skills with confidence, but don’t bend the truth — that’s always a good start. If you’re not sure what constitutes bending the truth, consider what you’re confident talking about with someone face-to-face. If you find yourself squirming in your seat, thinking No, that’s an outragous lie, that probably means you’re pushing it too far.

Number 6: nobody can see inside your head but you

Remember, as you write, or re-write your ad, that only you know how capable you are. With few exceptions, when a reader views your ad, he or she doesn’t know who you are, or why they should go with you and not someone else. Often, I find myself writing something, thinking that everything I need to include is already there. Then — and this is a familiar pattern I have come to both expect and predict — I read the ad a day or two later and discover that there are gaps. Facts missing, tiny question-marks everywhere, creating a general feeling of incompleteness. This is what you really don’t want. If a reader views your ad and is confused or wants to ask a question, they’re not going to email you and do so. Instead, thanks to this heaving and highly competitive job-market we’re all strangulated by, they’re going to be thinking I need to get that ad sent off as soon as possible! That’s not the frame-of-mind you want your job seeker to be in.

It’s frustrating when people reply to ads and they’re either the wrong people or not specifically skilled enough. Cut down on this by making sure that they have a good idea of who you are and what makes you different as a company/service.

Number 7: do upload images, but make sure they’re worthy of your viewer’s eyes

When you stop to think about it, Gumtree offer an impressive amount of creative freedom to everyone who wants to advertise on their platform. Despite this, and the fact that photographs can be uploaded with the minimum of hassle, a large percentage of people still don’t take advantage. You should. Ads with photos are intriguing, especially if they’re good photos, balancing nice composition with good lighting. The photo-thing can be a trap, of course: while the mysterious Gumtree staff do apparently vet images to ensure they’re not breaking the rules, they won’t suggest that you upload a better quality image, or tell you that a photo of you standing in front of that shelf — the one that your flat-mate vomited on a few weeks ago after a stag-do… — looks awfully off-putting. When in doubt, don’t add a mug-shot — they so often look frightening, as if you genuinely are a serial killer. Otherwise, always, always upload good photographs which have something to do with the context of your ad. Try to avoid photos that look childish, too, unless that is your intention.

Number 8: check and re-check your ad

For some people, spelling and grammar are everything. Conversely, spelling and grammar may not matter much to you. Either way, an ad that’s littered with typos is a bad ad. Not only does it make you look deeply illiterate, but it also makes you look untrustworthy. If you can’t spell, use spell-check. If you don’t know how words should be spelt, and spell-check confuses you, get someone else to help you out. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help.

Finally, submit your ad, but check it when it goes live to ensure that Gumtree hasn’t mangled the title and added unnecessary code. Check the ad, too, and if there are any obvious problems, go back into your account and edit it again.

Naughty naughty Instagram: that thing I’ve never used because I just never understood what the hell it was supposed to be for (and don’t tell me. I don’t want to know)

I once had a boss who was confusing and odd and was, it now occurs to me, a bit like Instagram. This was back when I was a lowly cooked-chicken-counter servant at Waitrose. Ah, the good-old days of woe!

In many ways, I liked my job. I mainly liked my job because I only worked 2 hours Monday to Friday, and I worked in the middle of the day, which meant that although I had to put up with the often-horrendous lunch-time rush – never had you seen more people who couldn’t clear up after themselves – I could get up late and go home with plenty of time left before Neighbours started and Paul Robinson attempted to kill someone, or just deeply upset them. At the time, being an artist and trying to navigate my way through the mysterious world of selling paintings at galleries, this enabled me to both keep my dignity and my sanity (everyone who knew me saw that I was making a proper traditional artist effort to not get a real job so as to allow my art to prosper as much as it could in the face of evil modern adversity, but also recognised that I understood the world and that I had to at least work a bit so I wasn’t freakish and alarming to be acquainted with). Working on the cooked chicken-counter was exceedingly hard going, what with so many different characters trying to fight their way to the top and avoid going out the front to serve the dreaded hate-filled customers, in particular that bloody annoying one who always asked for a variety of cooked chicken that we hadn’t and would never ever have in stock. It was all about politics, you see. Providing you kept that in mind then you’d make it through OK. It wasn’t quite as bad as over at the Freshly Baked Goods counter – this was where the dog-eat-dog world of supermarket politics often spiralled completely out of control, with the effects rippling through the Confectionery Department and even sometimes Customer Services – but things could get pretty heated at times. Christmas time was by far the worst. All of us, in our Santa hats, annoyed, hot and bothered.

But like I was saying, I once had a boss who was a bit like Instagram.

Take November, for example. When it got to November – which I only made the mistake of allowing to happen once – rumour started to circulate about a big meeting coming up. One of those meetings where all kinds of staff members who never normally mix would surely be allowed to stand near one another for the very first time, fuelling the social side of the politics further and giving yet more weight to the popular argument that men in suits aren’t capable of empathy or humour (I have since had to revise this statement, as sometimes I have myself been a man in a suit). And, sure enough, within days of the rumour starting, official-looking notes were put up in all the departments by invisible strangers who came and went almost as bizarrely as crop circles. Many of us suspected it was the usually innocent-looking Janet — an early morning cleaner, sent to do the management’s dirty work for them. We never did find out, although once, years later, Janet was a bit off with me when I bumped into her in the street. Hmm…

Then the meeting came and we all assembled out the back, in that hallowed place beyond the dirty plastic hanging strips in the door-way where customers always looked in but weren’t allowed in because it was for staff only. It was even worse than I’d thought: men wearing suits which cost more than all of the teenage shelf-stackers collectively earned in one year were standing perversely on one side, and there was a general feeling of someone having just badly farted or taken a covert dump on the floor. David from General Household Products was a pain all throughout the meeting – that I do remember. He was leaning up against an abandoned trolley and it kept creaking menacingly, and everyone knew it was David from General Household Products except our boss, Mr Herbert, who you could tell was getting more and more pissed-off.

“I may or may not be asking more members of staff from various departments to work during our extended Christmas opening hours period,” was one of the memorable unthinkable things that Mr Herbert came out with, and instantly all of us part-time and semi-part-time workers were struck with fear and resentment and revulsion and too much more to write here, but that’s plainly obvious. We weren’t prepared for this horror, and I hated David from General Household Products for playing his part in making Mr Herbert more angry in his typically unnecessary overweight way (David was overweight, Mr Herbert wasn’t). Unlike the hardcore full-time workers and tragic people who actually volunteered to do over-time, we had never been conditioned to perform this oh-so-specific supermarket role, and we felt our human rights were being trampled upon. That Christmas was nightmarish on a number of levels: firstly, I was teamed-up with Jordan from Dairy, who everyone knew was a bit thick and attracted trouble at every possible turn – you couldn’t leave him with a crate of semi-skimmed for fear of what might happen – and secondly I was told I would have to work an unfathomable extra hour a day during the upcoming Christmas period. An hour-a-day might not sound like much to all you hardcore full-time workers – and indeed it sounds like almost nothing to me now – but back then, with my reputation as a rebellious young artist to uphold, it spelt the kiss of death that I knew I sort of needed to become a real artist, so as to overcome it heroically, but at the same time would do anything to avoid (apart from working for the man). And so it was that I left the cooked-chicken-counter for good that following January, making my own personal protest with it. Into the big-wide-world I went, expectant, hopeful and looking forward to many years to come where I wouldn’t be forced to interact with customers or a till (a combination that nobody with a problem with numbers should ever be exposed to, I think you’ll agree). Or Jordan from Dairy. Man he was so fucking annoying.

So we’ve established that my boss was a bit like Instagram: he would say things that sounded not just incredibly vague, but were also worded in such a way that they could be extremely specific – if you read between the lines and spent a ridiculous amount of time actually analysing what the words meant or could mean. Since Instagram revised their terms and conditions to say that they could basically do more or less as they pleased with all their users’ photos and data, you and I know there’s been a massive public outcry. And for good reason: we all see our photos and data as our own private property.

Yet the more philosophical people out there aren’t banging their heads against walls or reverting to drilling holes in their heads just yet (it’s an ancient technique I suggest you never try at home, called Treppaning. Please do head on over to Trepan.com for some interesting reading on the subject…if you dare). Because whatever the reason for Instagram‘s latest-latest announcement – they’re allegedly not planning to sell anyone’s photos to advertising agencies, and apparently respect all our basic human rights to own our own property and not have it used without our permission, more or less – the fact of what it means is still the same. Instagram may or may not be planning to use our photographs and sell them on, but other people out there most certainly are. Ever since the arrival of Google, people have being stealing things that don’t belong to them and making money off the back of others: images, text, illustrations, novels. I’ve even had my own novel stolen and made available for download, so I know how bloody irritating that can be. For me, all the news about Instagram really highlights is how clueless the majority of the population are to copyright infringement and similar things. Which isn’t their or your fault of course. Like Jordan from Dairy or David from General Household Products, most people never have to deal with copyright or worry about these things, so it’s bound to be a shock.

Without wanting to defend Instagram – I’m thinking they have enough money and people to do this on their own, so I’ll not feel too guilty about it – just remember this: naughty as Instagram were for making out that they could do whatever they wanted with our images – the phrase massive U-turn after a crazy amount of people closed down their accounts does come to mind – they did at least tell their users that this was what they were planning to do in January of next year. People who steal images, novels, text and data don’t generally have a habit of doing that, especially when it’s on a grand scale, so it’s not just Instagram and Facebook and the FBI who we need to watch out for.

So, as pointed out by numerous people in the comments section of every major online news source which has published this story, it comes down to one thing: if you don’t want Instagram using your photos without your permission, get off Instagram and stay off it for good. Doing so doesn’t mean you’re completely safe, of course, it just means that the likelihood of your images becoming someone else’s property via Instagram is somewhat reduced. As for watermarking your images and that being a bullet-proof solution, as some have suggested, you might want to rethink that before you start gloating that you’ve tricked the system. Software is easily available that can take a rubbish looking image and boost its quality, not to mention remove the watermark and make it extremely saleable. Instagram might have promised that they don’t intend to sell your photographs, but what’s to stop them licensing them? Yes, it’s time to read those terms and conditions again, and that goes for anything you sign up to online. Because privacy is dead. Privacy online doesn’t really exist anymore, save for online banking and password protected services — or so we all hope. It died the moment the internet started, and it’s not coming back any time soon, so it’s time to start planning for the future.

Extradition Oddities: The Fall And Rise Of One Richard O’Dwyer

Richard O’Dwyer, the current poster-boy for internet freedom

Once, a few years ago, on the way into Sheffield town centre by car, my friends and I pulled over to ask a man directions. The man was what I have since described as a Sheffield-fisherman-type. Undermining my description, however, as has been pointed-out over the years since, is the fact that the man had no fishing rods, box of maggots and mank, and he wasn’t wearing wellies. Additionally, he didn’t smell of fish and we were likely miles from the nearest lake. However, he did have a big bushy beard and the mentality of a hardcore fisherman, or so I imagined – he was very patient with us thickos who had no idea where the hell we were going – and so the name stuck.

We didn’t know it, then, but we had struck asking-directions-gold, which is, as it happens, the precise opposite of what might happen if you stopped to ask me for directions. Not only did the Sheffield-fisherman-type have the most magnificent of beards which gave everyone something to ogle at as we listened to our directions, but he appeared to possess an almost disturbingly vast knowledge of the local landscape – both urban and rural. In just five short minutes, we had directions to every place we needed, and in the sixth minute it became a kind of one-sided game, where, without even saying to one another what we were doing, each of us fired out the name of a place and he gave us precise directions to it. Amazingly, he even stood there with his great big bushy beard, in no hint of a rush, and waited for us to record the directions down. Then again, this may have been just to make sure that all his knowledge didn’t go to waste. If I was any good at giving directions I’d make sure every bloody person in attendance wrote them down perfectly, just so that I could walk off home knowing that my knowledge would live on, and that I hadn’t just completely wasted time which could have been spent doing anything else. Like fishing, or eating Wispas and watching Rambo: First Blood.

Towards the end of all this – one of my friends was writing the directions down extra slowly, just to test the fisherman’s patience, and he showed no sign of losing it, which thrilled us all – another car pulled-up behind us. Possessing one of those big aircraft-style spoiler things on the back and bright purple in colour, lots of thudding, intimidating, boy-racer-bassy noise was booming from the vehicle, and looking through the rear window I saw the car was filled with four men: each as muscular as a classic American jock, and each a skinhead, with a can of beer in his hand. Yes, including the driver. At least I was sure there was four, but clearly I was wrong. The next time I turned my head to the left, I saw one of the muscular jock men walking up beside the car, directly towards the Sheffield-fisherman-type. At this point I considered that possibly he had been in the boot of the car all along, hiding under the spoiler-thing.

“You giving directions?” he said, still with the can of booze in his hand. I sank back into the car, the bearded-wonder staring at me for a second with an unreadable kind of look: Help me! Or maybe Help me kill him?

At this point, something bizarre happened. Our directional superhero leaned closer to the car, pushing slightly past the jock to do this, and put his hand on the door. “Have a good one, gents,” he said, in his Sheffield way, and turned to leave. As we pulled away, thanking him, the jock guy, suddenly furious, threw his hand forward, still holding the can, and stalled it when his arm was out straight, ejecting the booze in the direction of the bearded man. We were accelerating by this point, and the last thing I saw was the Sheffield-fisherman-type spinning round on his heels, holding a knife up and moving forward quickly – the jock guy running backwards with his hands up, terrified, and definitely not getting directions, I would have thought.

The point of all this? Some people find people who give directions very threatening, even though they’re alright really. In this next case, infamous student Richard O’Dwyer — who was yesterday finally told he won’t face extradition to the US for his love of directing people to certain websites — is the Sheffield-fisherman-type, and the car full of muscular jocks is the US Government, who may well be presently eating lots of comfort food and drinking lots to try and numb the feeling of not having achieved what they set out to do. Richard O’Dwyer may be a beardless new-age technological wonder, but he did – and will continue to – go to Sheffield Hallam University, thus rendering this lengthy lead into my post entirely valid. Oh yes.

If you’re not familiar with all this, and you’re absolutely sick of hearing about my Sheffield-fisherman-type story, let’s go back to basics:

Richard O’Dwyer is one of those people that you either really love, or really hate. If you love the idea of internet freedom, for instance, then he’s your man. You might even buy him a drink, although I wouldn’t buy him two, because it looks like it might floor him. The creator of TVShack – a now deceased website which kindly linked you up to all the online sources where you could watch films and TV shows – what started as a fun little project for O’Dwyer soon started to turn into more or less sheer hell (not that you’d have guessed watching any of his TV interviews). So it comes down to this, really: someone putting in too much over-time at the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency had found out about TVShack, you see, and they’d gone and told everyone else, who had all collectively decided that the only thing to do was to extradite the offender to the US. Yep, it’s one of those cases. Another problem that the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency had was that O’Dwyer allegedly – I’m saying it’s allegedly, although clearly they are pretty convinced of this – made as much as £147,000 from advertising revenue. Until they shut him down, that was.

So you could say that it wasn’t looking very good. Also, TVShack had rapidly gone from something I’d have boasted like hell about to everyone I met – especially seeing as I am terrible at HTML coding or anything like it — to something you’d want to avoid putting on your CV in a very big way indeed.

However, after all kinds of hassle for O’Dwyer – his mum panicking about losing her son to the US for a decade, for example, not to mention more or less all of us wondering why in the hell this had all become such an insanely big deal – things were soon to take an intriguing twist. Following the cancellation of hacker Gary McKinnon’s extradition order by Theresa May, on the grounds that he had Asperger’s and would surely kill himself if he was to be sent to the US, things started to look up and word had it that O’Dwyer’s case might go a similar route. Yesterday’s verdict is the conclusion of all that looking-up. The signatures of 247,000 people on a petition started by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales also probably helped a bit to suggest that all this had grown into a far bigger issue than it really ever should have.

It’s not all over for Richard O’Dwyer, of course. His phone and internet usage is likely to be checked daily by the US Government for the rest of all-time, and, according to what I’ve been reading, before he can get on with the rest of his life, the Sheffield Hallam student will need to travel to the US within the next few days to pay a small fine — whatever that actually is — and basically have his wrists lightly slapped, which sounds seedy, but I didn’t mean it to, honest. Even once that’s all done, the future of Richard O’Dwyer is blurry and unclear. For example, there may be other charges for him to face in the UK — I say maybe, I have no idea — now that extradition has been more or less ruled-out.

Whatever the case, if you were thinking about setting up a cool new website to link people to anything, especially movies and TV or files of some description, then you should probably think twice or even three times. Especially if where you’re linking to is on foreign soil. Not that I see any of this deterring the hardcore web-warriors from going about their business. TVShack was just one of hundreds, maybe thousands, of linking sites found all over the web. O’Dwyer, who started his site back in 2007, may be the poster-boy of naughty webmasters, but he’s by far not the only one, and it’s certain he won’t be the last.

Note: I know all information contained here to be accurate. Obviously I do, or else I wouldn’t have gone and written it. If any of it’s inacurrate, please leave a comment. Hell, if you want to, leave a comment anyway to say how accurate I am! Thanks.

Diary Of A Twitter Convert (And It’s My Blog So If I Want To Be Grammatically Incorrect And Put Everything In Capitals Then I Will, So There)

Google, when I said Salamandermutantdogthing, this salamander dog toy wasn’t quite what I was thinking…

From now on, when people ask me what I think of Twitter, I’m going to say I think it’s amazing, I mean really genuinely amazing. But it wasn’t always like this. In fact, once, I was anything but like this. As anyone who knows me personally will be well aware, I used to be one of those people with an unjustifiably strong aversion to all things Twitter-related; sitting around like some post-apocalyptic grumpy person, moaning that we don’t call each other enough (actually I do think these kind of people have a point). And it definitely wasn’t that I understood what it was all about (I didn’t). To be honest, as recently as a few months ago, I just didn’t get Twitter, and even when people tried to talk me round, I found it hard to believe that I could gain anything much from it.

Twitter, I thought, give me fish chips any day (don’t try and draw any parallels between battered fish and potato — there aren’t any, I just really love fish and chips).

I know, that’s a great attitude from an indie author who relies on word-of-mouth and social networking to sell paperbacks and ebooks (UK, US) of his debut novel (it’s called The Number 3 Mystery book. It’s more or less one big long running joke).

But there it is. Just like I mostly refuse to eat a chocolate bar upside down — it always tastes weird and wrong when you do that, getting the flavours all back-to-front, although from time to time it makes a nice change, especially with the taste sensation that is the legendary, the sumptuous Double Decker — I can be exceedingly stubborn when it comes to networking, too.

(And my fish and chips being the right size portion, too, but that’s enough about fish and chips. It’s not like I’m hopeleselly addicted or anything.)

And now I must prepare myself for the backlash, because as much as I have gained hundreds of new followers recently, I also possess a staunch army of grizzled old-school friends (and school friends) who will stop at nothing — Rambo-style — to spread evil nonsense gossip about Twitter and those who use it.

“It’s a load of crap,” one particular person whose name rhymes with slur might say. “I’ll skin a cat before I go on Twitter.”

I hope he doesn’t have my epiphany.

Another: “I’ll never follow anyone, following is for dummies.”

And another: “Chris, do you actually ever do any work? You always seem to be blogging.”

Actually that one does have a point: I am always blogging (at least right now, it may slow down soon, we’ll see). Especially recently. A lot seems to be going on in the world and what can I say? I like discussing it. Even if only with myself.

More to the point, what these narrow-minded — cue a second backlash, both on and offline — people are missing is so great that the very act of distilling it into this one blog post gives me that annoying feeling you get when you open up a tin of fish and the fish flicks everywhere all over you (will anyone ever sort out that problem?! Seriously, how come I’ve never seen anyone with an invention for that on Dragon’s Den?!).

Here, then, if you’re still reading, are my all time top-10 reasons why Twitter is amazing, splendid, wonderful (even if it makes me nauseating). And if you still want to have a go at me or send me messages pretending to be someone I don’t know with enormous breasts and an alarming fixation with Double Decker’s — you’re hilarious, Steve, really — then please, feel free.

(And if you are Steve then I really do know where you live.)

1) People who use Twitter are often bored. I am often bored and over-worked. This means that often, while I try and get away from work and take advantage of my self-employed status, I’ll look at Tweets. Because many bored people have written them, they often make me laugh.

2) People you don’t know follow you — good, kind, decent people — and send you direct messages and it makes you think I tell you what, that’s the kind of person who, if I had to, if I absolutely had to, I might (maybe) share my chocolate with. But probably not.

3) Enthusiasm: Twitterers, or whatever the hell we are, are raging-hot-missiles of enthusiasm and desire and loves and hates. I think that’s brilliant. Also, when a total stranger on the other side of the earth wishes you well, purely because they have a keyboard and eyes and you have a keyboard and eyes, snap!, there’s something really fantastic about that. This is wonderful when you have just watched Eden Lake and the world seems nothing more than a demented sphere of gone-wrong politics and hoody scum.

4) A different perspective: you may have woken up after a dream where you were wrestling a giant dog which had been cross-bred with a salamander, bright pink like a prawn and vicious as hell (a trait salamanders lack, I think, but bear with me, this is a dream), but then you sign in to Twitter and realise that other people have also had weird dreams! For example, Teddy in New York dreamed of nightmarish utopian visions where everyone looked like Sarah Jessica Parker and could fire lasers from their breasts, no!, and Lisa from London dreamed about Hawaii and how it was actually a dream — you see where this is going… — and all that sand and glorious sunshine? Sorry, it was just a very big practical joke. It makes you feel good to know that yes, other people are also weird as well. And I thought my salamanderdogthing was bizarre…

5) Twitter keeps you up-to-date with the latest goings on in the outside world. Essential when you never actually see it.

6) The world is full of lovely people, kind people, people who do care if you get hit by a bus (they just wouldn’t know it). Don’t you think it’s a shame to never interact with anyone?

7) When people re-tweet you it makes you go Ahhhhhh.

8) When people direct message you to say Thank you for following, and now I promise you eighteen steps to enlightenment and £50,000 by next week! you think: I’m so glad I’m not the only optimist out there.

9) Smiling faces make you smile.

10) When you do eventually go outside, you know more than your friends and, for some people, I tell you, that makes a nice change.

Did you enjoy this post? Well, if you did that pleases me! My disability-related comedy novel, The Number 3 Mystery Book is available in paperback here and from Amazon UK. If you live in the US, you can get it from Amazon US here. Thanks for reading and goodbye.

Want to read another post about this Twitter phenomenon? Then click here to go to Leigh’s blog!