The story so far…
Colin said he wished something would happen to liven up his life, so secretly, I go online and pretend to be a Chinese man named Xiaoming in order to convince Colin that a photograph of him holding up a picture of a dog has gone viral in China. I follow this up by buying him thousands of fake Twitter followers, all of whom he assumes have found him thanks to an intense interest in seeing a picture of him with a dog. Fame immediately goes to Colin’s head, and he begins to feel under great pressure to follow up this sensational hit with something equally interesting to keep his Chinese fanbase happy. Now I have to tell him it was me all along.
I am nervous as I wait for Colin in the restaurant. The last time I played any sort of trick on him was 22 years ago, when we were at school. He was off sick, and someone asked me where he was. I told him that Colin had been arrested by the authorities because he’d seen an old cardboard box lying on the road and then taken it door to door until he convinced an old woman there was a radiator inside and then sold it to her for £200.
It was ludicrous.
But amazingly, the kid believed me, and the rumour spread. The same kid came up to me the next day and said, “Did you hear about Colin?” then told me my friend been arrested for selling an old woman an empty box for £200. He didn’t seem to remember it was me that told him, so I pretended this was an absolutely outrageous slur on Colin’s good character and became his greatest defender.
When Colin came back to school, he was stunned by the angry faces and accusing looks.
“You think I found a box and immediately sold it to an old woman for £200?” he’d said, and it was only when the words were hanging in the air that everybody realised how stupid it was.
He blamed me within seconds: “This is you ALL OVER!” he yelled.
So why is it that now, all these years later, Colin has not blamed me for the sudden insane surge in his Twitter followers? Why has he not considered that CNN International might not really have tweeted the picture of him that he thinks has gone global – this drunk selfie with a photo of a dog – and that this photo might not have been all that high up on the international news agenda?
Maybe, I think, as he walks in, it’s because he knows. Maybe he knew all along. Maybe he’s been playing me perfectly, faking his delight at a patently ridiculous situation, drawing me in, manipulating me, until I feel incredibly guilty about the deception. Maybe he’s getting me back for school!
“So I posted another picture of me with that dog,” he says, sitting down. “But nothing! No retweets! Nothing from China!”
No, I don’t think he’s been doing that. “Same exact dog too! I went all the way back to the pub where it lives and took another photo.”
Oh, no. He’s spending his time taking new pictures, trying to recreate the glory. He wants to give the Chinese more of what he feels they love – pictures of him with a very specific dog. “Xiaoming’s gone quiet,” he says, a sad tinge to his voice.
“Has he?” I say, smally, but then I stop myself, because in a moment I’m going to have to tell him that I’m Xiaoming, the Chinese superfan who’s been tweeting him, and that I should never have done this, and that just like at school I have betrayed his trust, but that it came from a good place. He said that nothing was happening in his life. He said that he had no stories. Then I made him famous in China!
I realise that he believed because he wanted it to be true. The same way the kids at school wanted to believe Colin would inexplicably start trying to sell cardboard boxes to old women. Because it’s exciting.
“I’ve started translating all the messages Xiaoming sent me,” he says. “To be honest, they’re all a bit weird.” Well, I was in a rush when I wrote them. But now this has gone too far. I am an idiot. How am I going to confess?
“Gentlemen, ready to order?” says the waiter, whom I know.
And then I have an idea.
“Colin, tell Jon what’s been happening lately.”
Jon looks at Colin, interested.
“Well, I woke up one day and I had about 9,000 new Twitter followers because someone at CNN had found a picture of me holding up a photograph of a dog and then it went massive in China…”
He starts to falter. Jon nods him on. “And then I had this one massive fan, and I…”
We all remain silent, as we consider those words now hanging in the air. The ones that have been said out loud. They don’t seem quite as convincing now.
“This is you ALL OVER!” shouts Colin, face puce, and as the light of Xiaoming is snuffed out forever, and my friend’s hope of Chinese dog-based fame dies with it, I start planning what I’ll do to him in 2037.
Time must fly doing this
There are so many ways to spend your time. You could go to the cinema. You could meet your pals for a drink. You could see a play. You could go to the football. So I was surprised when I walked past this advert.
Why anyone would want to spend their evening watching this is beyond me.
Thanks to the unique way the BBC’s cleaners are funded
I was in an office at the BBC recently, where I am pleased to report that if the cleaner’s cry for help is to believed, they are using our licence fees very wisely indeed.