There’s somebody out there reading this blog who thinks they are my friend.
They know my name, my mobile telephone number and, more significantly, where I work.
Yesterday afternoon they thought it would be funny to send me a text message purporting to be from the Chief Executive of the Authority that employs me. It invited me to attend a meeting with the Chief Exec to discuss “blogging tactics used by me against” the authority that employs me.
Serious stuff. The stuff that, if proven, can lose people their jobs.
My first reaction was shock. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything on this blog that would count as “cyber terrorism” or “cyber sabotage”. I was on my way to University at the time to attend a lecture and so the feeling of displacement compounded my sense of confusion. There was no way I could sit calmly through a lecture with this hanging over me so I caught the bus straight back into town and to work.
So – a waste of bus fare and an important lecture lost to me forever.
Maybe at this point this mystery person who thinks they are my friend is chuckling away to him/herself (though I rather fancy it’s a him). Disruption caused. Panic initiated. Target hit.
I returned to work and the first thing I did was to ring my wife who was lovely and calming and supportive. But nevertheless the worry was very real. This could see me out of a job with two young children right before Christmas and with the country sliding into recession. Worst case scenario, perhaps, but it had to be faced.
Are you laughing openly now, mystery friend? Now that you know that your little joke ruined not only my afternoon but that of my wife? It must be hilarious to put someone through that sense of dread while you sit smugly at home in your armchair, proud of yourself. Such a consummate joker you are. Jeremy Beadle must be spinning in his box with sheer jealousy.
I had a couple of hours before the proposed meeting. Ample time to calm down a little and think it all through. Things weren’t quite right, you see. Things were – the more I thought about it – decidedly fishy. The Chief Exec hadn’t spelt his own name correctly. The originating mobile number didn’t match that on the work’s contact list. The grammar and punctuation was appalling, little better than that of a child (I know you’re not a child, friend, but this is meant to be insulting). And why would the Chief Exec use something as crass as a text when he could ring or send an email?
Of course, it is human nature to rationalize things. Although I was filled with doubts and suspicions – and these were gathering pace – they were not enough to completely eradicate the feeling that I still had to take the summons seriously and attend. Maybe he was a bad texter? Maybe the contact list was out of date? Maybe by sending a text he was making an effort to keep things “informal”?
At the appointed time I went to the Authority HQ and reported to the reception desk.
Friend, you are no doubt thinking at this point, “Success!” You got me there, mouth dry, ready for a showdown with the big boss that could see me potentially out of a job. Would I erase my blog? Would I remove the offending posts? No. I’d already talked this over with Karen. I believe in the things I have written here. I’m committed to them. I believe in them and my opinions. Let the worst happen but my writing stays.
This eleventh hour, friend, is the hour when you could have redeemed yourself a little. This was the moment when you could have rung and launched into your “Ha! Fooled you!” speech. I would have sworn at you. Called you an irresponsible little turd and worse. But that would have been the end of it.
But you didn’t ring. You let it all go ahead.
Do you consider it bravery, this allowing the joke to run on to its natural conclusion? Do you think in some way it proves that you too have the courage of your convictions?
Thankfully I had enough about me and enough suspicions to not drop myself in the poo. I pleaded ignorance as to the reason for the meeting, explaining that I’d just had a weird text summoning me here at this time. They confirmed my suspicions very quickly. The Chief Exec had not sent any text (he wouldn’t send texts anyway) and was in fact in Coventry this afternoon. I explained my suspicions that I’d been the victim of a hoax. They were very supportive. It’s amazing how supportive real friends and even casual acquaintances can be.
Did I still have the number that sent me the text?
I was tempted to give it. So tempted. But in the end I said that I’d foolishly deleted it. Better to nip this in the bud right here, I thought. Too many questions and I could be under close scrutiny for real...
So you got away with it, friend. But I did that for me – not for you.
Of course, now all is calm again I can see that I had nothing really to worry about. Blogging is not illegal. I haven’t written anything I believe that is damaging to my employers. Indeed I have never named them or the people I work with. And as Karen later pointed out, this is England not Zimbabwe. I am allowed to have and voice an opinion. It is not a sackable offence.
I’m proud that when it came down to it my opinion meant more to me than my job. But perhaps this is more foolishness on my part – a backward priority – but then there’s a lot of that about, isn’t there? It’s rather akin to putting an opinion or an idea – or a joke even – before a friendship. People do it.
I returned to work after apologizing to the receptionists for wasting their time. The few work colleagues I’d confided in were pleased to see me back and more pleased to hear how it had all panned out. The census of opinion was the same. Who would do such a thing? As jokes go it wasn’t even funny and given the current economic climate it was actually very nasty. Did I have any idea of who it could be who was behind it?
Oh yes, I said. I had a few ideas. A few inklings.
Has your laughter now finally abated, friend? Are you rubbing your hands with glee and carving another notch into the arm of your chair?
You’re probably outraged that I’m making such a big deal of this. You’re probably thinking me a drama queen and asking why I don’t see the funny side. Well, that’s easy to answer, friend: there isn’t one.
Most of all, you are probably thinking that you are still my friend.
But you’d be wrong.
I don’t have time, energy or the inclination to keep friends like you.
This is truly where the joke ends.
See you. Wouldn’t want to be you.