Wednesday, January 28, 2009

On Cycling And Twitter.

Bumper Car, originally uploaded by Dave Gorman.

So as I've explained previously I've recently been experimenting with some straight forward stand-up. I've been enjoying it and most of the gigs have been lovely with a couple of exceptions but after eight years away from it I'm still relatively rusty.

But then, working things out and making improvements is the thing I enjoy most about it...

One of the reasons I enjoy photography is that it provides a creative outlet which has nothing to do with how I make a living and in a weird way, doing some London club gigs right now is providing a similar pleasure. There's a learning curve - or at least a relearning curve - and it's good to focus the mind in any creative endeavour, especially when that's essentially all it is.

The first few I did, I'd take the tube so that I could scan through my notebook and try to familiarise myself with what I was intending to say... but after a while, when I felt a bit more secure about it I started cycling instead because... well, because I think it's the best way to get around London.

Somehow cycling adds to the low-key, lo-fi charm that I'm finding so appealing in stand-up right now. I can't explain why this would be the case but there's something about cycling to gigs that just underlines the fact that this isn't about business. I know it doesn't make sense and that a merchant banker who cycles to work probably doesn't feel like his mode of transport means he isn't really a career banker... but sense or nonsense, that's how it feels.

Meanwhile - and I know that some of you have noticed this already - I've succumbed to Twitter. I don't know what the tipping point was but I eventually caved in and created an account. I left it for a while but then when I looked back in I discovered I had 30 or 40 people following me and as I hadn't done anything for them to actually follow I thought I ought to either post something or delete the account. Anything but just let it fester.

Whenever I think about things like this (Myspace/Facebook/etc. etc.) I can hear the words of one of my old head teachers ringing in my ears. I can remember sitting on the floor at Berkswich Junior School when the head said the words, "A man with more than one watch is never sure of the time." It's stuck with me.

Well it seems to me that a man with more than one website is never sure that his message has been sent. I couldn't stand Myspace because it just led to thousands of mails a week from people who wrote asking questions that they could obviously answer for themselves within a couple of mouseclicks. For some reason, when I blocked my mail there and left a message saying that people could e-mail me at my website instead it just created a weird storm of abuse from people who thought that was unfair and uncool. (And also unkewl.)

Which is odd, because if I call someone and get a message saying that they're not checking that number but that they can be contacted on some other number instead I don't think that's unfair or uncool at all. I think that's jolly helpful of them. But Myspace users don't think like that. They demand the right to contact you through Myspace and seem to believe that anything else is against nature. So I deleted my Myspace account and gave it up as a bad lot. Tom is not my friend.

I was worried that I'd feel the same way about facebook but that seems to have worked out okay. And then people started suggesting, with an ever increasing frequency, that I should join Twitter as well. To begin with, I couldn't see the merit in adding yet another site to the list. Especially one that trades exclusively in messages of 140 characters or less.

Of course I might change my mind but right now it seems to me that where I at first thought that the brevity of the message rendered it utterly pointless, I now see that that is the point. It's what makes Twitter different to other sites... it's why this is a blog and that's a... micro-blog. But even more than that, after cautiously enjoying it for a couple of days, this evening Twitter was briefly bathed in a very positive light.

So this evening I was doing a gig in Shepherds Bush. So I popped on my helmet, lit up all my little lights and cycled across town. Now I think I'm a pretty safe cyclist. I think the key to cycling in a busy city like London is to never assume you're safe just because you have a right to be... you have to take responsibility for your own safety. So I look ahead. I assume drivers are going to open their car doors without looking. I wait at roundabouts until I have eye-contact with the drivers around me - proof that they know I'm there - and so on.

I'm glad that's what I was doing this evening because I nearly came a cropper. A man in a dark Jaguar was driving along Holland Park Avenue at about 7.15 this evening. I looked ahead and saw that he had his phone pressed to his left ear and that made me hang back a bit. Which is a good job because suddenly his car started to drift left. I could see he was looking ahead but nowhere else. He drifted about a yard and a half, shrinking the road in front of me to nothing and forcing me to take rapid evasive action to avoid being smashed into the kerb

Cycling when you're angry isn't wise but that's what happened next. I went after him. Not to actually do anything, just to have a word. I caught up with him a few sets of lights later - just before Holland Park Roundabout (which is as good a demonstration of the advantages of cycling over driving in a congested city as you need. (Although I suppose, the fact that he could have seriously hurt me is a demonstration of the disadvantages also.))

As I cycled past his open window, he was studying his phone, looking like he was about to make another call so I yelled, "Oi... you nearly killed me back there when you were on your phone." Realising there was nothing to be gained by prolonging the exchange, I then cycled on my way.

When I'd locked my bike up, I decided it was worth sending a message via Twitter about the, erm, incident. Partly to let off steam and partly because I'd sent a tweet (I know... but we'll all get used to it) saying I was about to cycle to Shepherds Bush before I'd set off. So, in less than 140 characters I explained that an idiot in a Jag had nearly knocked me off the bike and wondered whether it was reasonable or not (or indeed allowed) to publish the number plate which was still etched in my memory.

Only I'm a technological idiot and being online on my mobile phone still seems like magic to me so I couldn't work out how to see any replies until I got home after the gig.

So I did the show (nice enough, made some new things work, missed out a couple of things I'd intended to do, but all in all, a good experiment) and cycled home. Where I discovered a chorus of people encouraging me to name and shame him. Or at least his number plate.

Only by now - a few hours after the incident - my memory had faded a little and I was no longer 100% sure of his reg. So I posted something saying that I thought it was P16NAL but that it could have been a 17 instead.

And here's the thing that made me think Twitter really does have something special going on... within a few minutes someone had replied saying that they'd checked the licence plates out (I still don't really know how) and that P16NAL did belong to a green Jag. As somebody else commented almost immediately - that's like being in an episode of Spooks.

So... yeah... in conclusion, cycling's ace, Twitter seems lovely and if you're the Jaguaranus P16NAL ... well, I didn't wait around to see if you were in the mood to apologise or not but I'll assume you were and I'll accept it... just so long as you promise to turn your phone off when driving in future. You dangerous numpty.


CSouthwell said...

I wonder if they were twittering to someone about the dangerous cyclist attacking their car...?

I'll have to look out for you doing some stand up Dave.

Katie said...

Twitter's never made any sense to me. At all. I have no idea what it's about.

Come to St. Louis, MO. I will laugh at you. Quite a bit, I'm sure.

PurpleBint said...

I'm one of your twitter follewers :)

Glad you're ok Dave!

Tom said...

DG - 'Tom is not my friend.'

At least let us get to know each other first, seems a bit harsh Dave...

Steve said...

I can't get to the TweetStats site, but at one point last night, you were the 3rd most tweet'd twitter account! Stephen Fry was ahead of you, if I remember correctly!

Matt said...

There is something incredibly addictive about Twitter. I think it's success lies in it's simplicity. I have a Facebook account but I just don't use it anymore, I can't stand all the 'so and so sent you a 16x16 pixel image of a Martini' or 'such and such bit you and you're now a zombie!'. Very annoying.

Anyway, I'm definitely a believer, not a Tweetheist (sorry).

EasyRew said...

@Katie - this might help explain Twitter:

Julia Ball said...

Any chance of you coming to Stevenage again DG? you would have to get the train though and not use the bike :-) Would love to see you up here again

Matt Stevens said...

I Think the "Key to Twitter" is the conversation element of - anyway enjoying your tweets mate(I feel really stupid saying tweets).


James said...

Nice little story.

Good to see you on Twitter, I did wonder when I found you yesterday whether it was an impostor, as you had yet to mention it here. But a quick gander on your main site and all was cleared up.

Hope the constant questions about things like your current friendliness with @misterwallace, when is your next wacky project happening? or do you have any googlewhacks to share? don't taint your experience of Twitter too much.


henweb said...

What a marvelous story - I'm sure (as has become the fashion lately) the newspapers will see it on your Twitter and write a story about it.

I'm really pleased your twittering too, you add a much needed bit of humour to my feed, which is full of geekery and technology-type guff.

Henry (

MrHaytch said...

Recently joined twitter myself after a period of "whats the point in that" and finding it quite enjoyable. Guess its the king of viral linking to the mindless fun jibber of the internet

On the licence plate stuff, if you want to check if the number you have is the type of car you saw an easy way is insurance quotes. Fill out a fake one, type in the number and it will automatically fill in the car type. If it matches the one you saw, voila, licence number confirmed ;)

Anonymous said...

Well done, Dave. I am very glad that you "named and shamed" the Jag driver. I am horrified by the number of people still to be seen driving illegally and dangerously while using their mobile phones.

Joe Cassels said...

I've also tried out Twitter recently and rather like it. It probably helps being known and loved by a large number of followers when it comes to the Spooks style help, but it's still very nice to be able to follow the thoughts and actions of the big hitters. You pick up useful stuff too. Thanks to following your progress with the driver then clicking your micro link to this blog and seeing MrHaytch's comment, I now know how to confirm a number plate.

Twitter was something that I thought I'd never need or want, but I've actually found it very useful. And I only have 2 followers, one of which is Downing Street, which probably doesn't count :)

Dave Gorman said...

@MrHaytch & @Joe Cassels: thanks to Twitter I can now tell you this... go to: and then click on Vehicle enquiry. Put in the licence plate and select the make. If it exists it comes up, if it doesn't it doesn't... which is how we know P16NAL is a Jag and P17NAL isn't.

Gazz said...

I find twitter useful too; restaurant reviews, directions, pretty much anytime you need opinions or quick answers... my moral code won't let me use it at the pub quiz though :p

Len said...

Somebody will eventually use the power and immediacy of twitter for evil. I don’t think it’ll be you though, Dave. My money’s on Fox News…

Groover said...

I just found your blog (I'm not too sure how I ended up here) but loved the story. I just discovered Twitter myself and could relate to the Jag story. Nice post. I'll be back.

Doctor Lilt said...

I am still trying to figure out how Twitter works, it seemed to know people I know and showed me their tweet's (cringe), but I didn't give it permission to go through my hotmail contacts or anything.

Also, I can't seem to send via mobile. it doesn't like my number or network. Odd.

Ok, admittedly I could have saved this post for the Twitter support team or something. Sorry... Carry on.

Glad you weren't nearly killed Dave!

Heleh Hunt said...

This is quite interesting. I tried not to cave in to the hysteria and hype surrounding Twitter, but the pressure is getting very unbearable.

For me, it now feels like a lost battle as most people now use it, I think I might finally give in and get an account.