Having stumbled joyfully upon the Mercia/Merica pun, I began to explore further the idea that a 9th century America, complete with grumpy childish warlord and associated characters might be possible. And the joy continued! It was all there. A powerful woman, far more qualified for the job but denied it due to her gender in Aethelflaed (although in a reversal, Aethelflaed donated a large amount of cash to those economic powerhouses of the day, the fledgling monasteries rather than the banks giving tons of cash to Hillary). A rival kingdom to the south in Wessex. Monks, bards, chroniclers and scribers who could be blamed for everything that went wrong. The Welsh, kept out of Mercia by, oh happy days, a massive earth berm. Links to the Viking Rus. Wonderful. This, my fevered brain thought, this could work. And so I brought in a cast of a few useful historical figures. Cadwallon, King of Gwynedd really existed. Aethelflaed, the Lady of Mercia, was Alfred’s daughter and had more right to call herself the leader of Mercia during her life than pretty much anyone. Bede did write a lot of stuff. So in they went.
And then everything got better. People out there started tweeting back. As these characters. Some genius set up the Jorvik Times, a perfect foil to attack. Another set up Aethelflaed (actually in the beginning there were two but one had to go back to work and couldn’t keep up the time commitment), another set up Sean Halfwitty, another Siddell the Serf (not a real serf, but a wonderfully grovelling addition to the team). And all their stuff was gold. I hadn’t gained a twitter account, I had gained a twitter world.
“All I want from this is you, dressed like you are in that holey jumper and knackered trousers, trying to explain what you’ve done on the telly”
A direct quote from my supportive flatmates forms the title of this update. During the first week I cannot fault the support they gave me as the whole thing went from a nice little niche into something that media giants like Mashable and Medieval Warfare Monthly thought was interesting in a passing sort of way. I can’t fault it because I can’t find it. It was mostly laughing at me as I muttered “This is fucking mental” under my breath, or in the case of the more bearded of the flatmates, texting me with the British town I had just got more followers than its population.
“Boom, there goes Lichfield.”
And so the pressure to come out with good stuff grew. But fortunately there seemed no end to the good puns you can make when you have 600 years of history, most of Western Europe and a sociopathic toddler for inspiration. It’s a fruitful orchard of puns. But the issue was that as soon as my brain came up with the jokes, it forgot them. If I didn’t write them down immediately they were off, away into the ether. Or possibly Aether. And they came at moments when I was generally away from paper, so they had to go straight up on Twitter. Which is why there are upwards of 20 tweets a day in the early weeks. On roughly day 4 of this madness a producer from the Daily Politics got in contact. He very kindly assumed that I’d had this all planned, expecting it to go mad all along and that I must have a huge supply of pre-thought out tweets, just ready to be drip fed to the twittersphere. It was lunch time at work, I’d tidied up my desk to a point where it could charitably be described as a compost heap so I could eat my lunch without active fear of immediate contamination. I looked around me.
“No”, I assured the nice man from the BBC, “None of this is planned. I don’t really do planned. More loosely applied natural chaos.”
“Would you like to come on and explain that to Giles Brandryth and Andrew Neill?”
“Errr. Can I think about it?”
“Ok, but I’ll pencil you in. You’re happy in principle. Tomorrow, yeah?”
Oh. Oh dear.
I have to admit. I chickened out of the BBC interview. Having agreed on a buoyant wave of “When else are you going to get this chance?” I then phoned my dad who, with a long career in broadcast journalism, gave me an extensive list of reasons why it was a terrible idea, beginning with “You’re shit on camera” through to highly applicable but slightly wounding comments on my everyday sartorial choices. And he was right. The two times I’ve been on film, I was shit. Admittedly I was 7 and quite taken with the idea so just stood there grinning like a total loon, but he made a fair point. So, I had to phone up the BBC and cancel my premiere. The producer was understandably annoyed, I was disappointed that I had let him down and I spent the afternoon dwelling on the foibles of accidental anonymous fame over a pint or seven.
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