Sunday, 29 May 2011

Never meet your idols?

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.


  1. I'd always thought that it would be a mistake to meet bloggers in real life, but last year I broke my own rule and met a couple of people in pubs.

    To my delight, they were a 3D technicolor version of their blogs - funnier and even more interesting. We had a great time and are meeting up again, which is the real acid test.

    I was pleasantly surprised. They even looked more or less as I'd imagined - one slightly younger, the other a little older.

    My friend started writing to a penpal in Nottingham when he was 17 and, five years later, married her! I could never understand what he saw in her, but to my amazement they were together for 11 years before the inevitable divorce.

  2. I wonder if my reluctance to meet fellow bloggers would stem from fear of letting THEM down! Interesting that the people you met looked how you imagined. I tend to get hair and faces pretty accurate but the height all wrong when I visualise people.
    Looking back, I wonder if my penpal was hoping to form a 'real' relationship. This was never my intention, so I suppose there was an element of unrequited desire!

  3. I wish you were my pen-pal back then.

  4. You can’t help but feel sorry for your pen-pal. It’s a difficult decision to make, but I suppose you have to decide early on and stick to your guns. Steerforth seems to have had good luck with his, and there are numerous success stories here in Lanz, as we have a great group of 'forum friends’ who we meet up with when they visit.

  5. I really enjoyed this post, i think your right on the whole meeting other bloggers thing, it would be very strange and I would wonder the whole time if I came across then same as I do on my blog. Like your new blof design too :o) Scarlett x

  6. Interesting post, as usual Luce. I'd really like to meet up with some blog friends, although I can imagine it would be nerve-racking. I guess it depends how much people hide behind a persona - I don't share much of my kids, or what I look like - but my basic personality is what you see on the blog. I think I'd do better one on one rather than meeting a whole gang of new people straight off though.

    When I was about 15 I was far less mature than you sound, and would try and 'be' someone entirely different. I remember writing to a guy via 'Raw' magazine (I think, some dodgy rock rag anyway) and basically fabricated everything about myself, due to a general lack of confidence. [I was a teacher's daughter, too wordy, a 'Sais' or 'posh' due to my accent, etc etc]. Thankfully we never met up, and I became a bit happier being me!

  7. I remember having penpals when I was younger. I always felt so intimidated by how seamlessly cool they were, too young to discern the difference between perception and reality. When I read back on old letters and old blogs that I loved five or six years ago, I can't quite grasp what it was that I found so achingly unattainable. Perhaps all blogs are a letter to a penpal you haven't found yet.

  8. Hello Luce. I've seen your comments on other blogs - probably Scarlet and Lakota - and then this morning over at Keshling and so I've come to visit. Been reading back through your blog (your writing is very entertaining - often I skim through blog posts but yours I have read thoroughly) and have arrived here.

    I've done a few blog meets in the past - I first started blogging in 2005 and used to fly from France to London for the meet-ups (such FUN I cannot tell you) - and became quite friendly with a few people - they were all lovely and absolutely, EXACTLY as they were on their blogs. Actually a couple of them came to my wedding 2 years ago as well.

    I think we show more of ourselves and personalities than we realise on our blogs - it's not the same as a penpal.


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