When I was around 15, my friend Laura showed me a pile of letters. They were replies to a pen-pal request she had posted on Teletext (goodness, that seems archaic now). I was asked to look at the letters she'd rejected, and if I so wished, to choose one/some to reply to. I quickly dismissed all but one letter, the majority were a mere paragraph of immature, badly presented statements, like "I love going out and hate school". The letter I decided to keep and reply to was from John, an 18 year old warehouse worker from Oxford.
I liked John's self-depreciating humour, his passion for music and the way he described his mundane experiences at work. I had no intention of sending a photograph of myself and I didn't think it was important to know what he looked like. My reluctance to send a photograph led John to draw conclusions, I'd get replies saying "don't worry if you're not pretty, I am no oil painting". I tried explaining my thoughts on the picture-swapping, an element of anonymity was part of the enjoyment for me. In the end, he won and I nipped to Woolworths to get some pictures taken in a booth. The next letter I received from John seemed to smack of disappointment. Perhaps he was hoping I was fat, plain, or unfortunate looking. The very thing I had been hoping to avoid ended up happening. "You look so nice in your picture, I don't want to send one of me now..." gone was the humour and lively descriptions of the latest albums he'd spent his wages on. I re-iterated my lack of interest in his appearance, and hoped to (as is commonly suggested to people with issues) 'move on'.
I did get a photograph in the next letter from John, my mum pointed out that he was a doppelgänger for Fergal Sharkey. We continued to write for another year, I can barely remember what I used to write but I still have John's letters. Any references in John's letters to my previous letter seem to revolve around my boredom, eagerness to move away from South Wales, and not having enough money to go to concerts. At 17 I left school and planned to stay with my parent's friends in Oxford for a week, along with my friend Yvette. John suggested we meet up with him and his friend one afternoon. Again, as with the photograph swapping, I was reluctant, but agreed.
My parent's friends live in a quaint village in a rather affluent area in Oxfordshire, I naively thought everywhere was pretty much the same. On the day Yvette and I were to met John, we were warned it was a 'rough area' by my dad's friend, and he dropped us off. Nothing could have prepared us for our visit to John's house. We had both seen plenty of 'poor' people's houses, and our own homes were fairly modest. John explained that his dad and step-mum were heavy drinkers. The carpets were threadbare, walls and ceilings bright yellow with nicotine stains. No light shone through the windows as they were thick with black grime. An overpowering musty fug dominated the atmosphere, leaving you almost gasping for fresh air. We wanted to turn back, but knew our only option was to sit the day out. John apologised several times for the 'mess' but there was no mess, just a neglected shell of a home. We were led to his bedroom to listen to some CD's before his mate turned up. In a vain attempt to 'brighten the place up' a poster of a chimp sitting on the toilet surrounded by loo roll had been stapled to the toilet door. As I imagined, John's bedroom hadn't been decorated since his early teens and was a sad-looking homage to motorbikes.
An awkward twenty minute wait for John's friend ensued, Yvette and I sat uncomfortably as John adopted DJ persona. The small-talk was excruciating, Yvette and John barely spoke, whilst I tried to crack jokes, failing miserably. The arrival of John's rather enthusiastic friend livened things up a little and we headed off to the local pub. A hugely forgettable afternoon slowly panned out, jokes about the Welsh wore thinner and thinner, I realised how little I really knew about John.
When we got home, I reflected on the day out with John. Meeting my pen-pal was a mistake, we are different people in a letter, biro on paper. Our following letters were never the same, and soon after we stopped exchanging them, the rapport was long gone.
I saw a post recently where the author (a girl of around 20) suggested a 'Blogger Meet Up'. The response was keenly enthusiastic, at least 30 people signed up for it. I thought back to how meeting my pen pal became the beginning of the end of our relationship. I thought about how potentially disappointing meeting my 'favourite' bloggers could be. You build up a picture in your mind, think "I'd really get on with this person", and perhaps set yourself up for a fall. I can understand young, single people wanting to 'network', travel the country and connect with other like-minded people, but I stand by the phrase 'never meet your idols'.
I suppose it could be interesting to find out what expectations people have of your character based on reading your blog. On the other hand, some things are far better left unsaid.