Thursday 16 April 2009

he always took the time to speak to me, I liked him for that...

I received an email a little while ago from someone I went to school with. As regular readers will know, I don't really look back on my time at that school with any great fondness. It was a hugely formative period of my life - far more so than my time at university - and it had a crucial role in the shaping of my personality; it was here too that I made some of the most lasting friendships of my life. It was also a time of my life that I was delighted to put behind me, and since I left, I have actively avoided cultivating any ties with my old school, in spite of the plethora of reunions and dinners that they keep inviting me to. My friends aside, the thought of staying in touch with the vast majority of the people I met there fills me with horror. I know full well that not everybody fulfills the stereotype of the arrogant, floppy-haired public schoolboy, but a good many of them do. I've spent far too long running away from that stereotype and from people's preconceptions of public schoolboys to want to spend any time with living, breathing examples filled with some sepia-tinted nostalgic view of the time they spent at their alma mater. If the time I spent at that school turns out to be the best years of my life, then I want a refund.

So, I think it's fair to say that the email was not entirely welcome. Less welcome still was the dawning realisation, as I read, that my email address had been harvested from this blog. Emails sent from Friends Reunited are one thing and are easily ignored, but this one was different and altogether more unsettling. I don't blog under my real name for the very simple reason that I don't really want all of this to come up when I'm googled. I'm fully aware that it's only a figleaf of anonymity and that anyone who reads this who really wants to find out who I am can do so easily. Hell, if you ask me, I'll probably tell you. My name is not a secret, and I don't really write about anything controversial, but I don't really like the idea of people idly searching for me by name to land here.

To be fair, the guy who sent this email was very much not a typical public schoolboy - quite the opposite, in fact. I wouldn't say that we were especially close at school, and obviously we haven't kept in touch, but he was in a lot of the same classes as me, we ate and slept in the same House for five years, and he was basically okay. I don't know if he had stumbled across this blog accidentally or if he had been pointed in this direction, but he was planning his honeymoon and wanted to know about our trip to Ecuador in 2007. Did we learn any Spanish? Did we take much cash with us? That kind of thing. Harmless stuff really, but although I received the email several weeks ago, I haven't yet answered. Initially, I had no intention of answering at all: I was mildly alarmed to be contacted in this way via my blog and to have someone I knew from school rummaging around through my archives.... although, to be honest, given that most of my friends, several colleagues and now some members of my family read this already, I'm not sure why I would be too worried about that. I think what really pissed me off was that the email, although politely written, made reference to nothing except my trip to Ecuador and any advice and tips I might be able to pass on. Fair enough, I suppose. That's both a reasonable thing to ask and something that I would be more than happy to share with any passing stranger who emailed me to ask having read my blog entries on the subject. So why did I not reply to this? I think what irritated me was that many of the most recent posts I had written when he sent the mail were about my health, and yet this guy had just dived straight into asking me about Ecuador. Was he really interested in getting back in touch with me, or just interested in what I could tell him to help him plan his trip? I'm sure Ecuador was very much on his mind, and he may well have just landed here via a Google search and recognised me via a photo, but if you accidentally stumbled on five years worth of material written by someone that you used to know reasonably well, wouldn't you read around a bit? I'm pretty sure that I'd read the most recent posts, anyway.

So I didn't reply.

On reflection though, I think I'm being rude. He was always a decent enough guy and I don't really mind him reading this blog (although it's not as though I could stop him, is it?). Perhaps I'm overreacting. After all, is his directness not a good thing? He hardly comes across as disinterested in his email, and he seems friendly and polite, but would it somehow be better if he pretended to be more interested in MEMEME? What exactly would I expect him to say about the fact that an old acquaintance he hadn't spoken to in more than a decade has just been diagnosed with MS? He'd hardly be the first person who didn't really know what to say to me about that. What could he say?


What do you think?

Yeah, you're right. I should reply.

(and if, by any chance, he happens to be reading this.... well, that's one of the perils of rekindling an acquaintance with a blogger, innit. If it's not too late, I'll be more than happy to share my experiences of what is a beautiful, interesting country filled with lovely people. You'll have a great time.)


  1. Last year I received an email through my blog from an ex-boyfriend, which properly freaked me out. Eventually I worked out how it had happened - he was one of the first people I knew to have a - now defunct - blog, and at one stage I linked to it, in a post about him. Given that he's a web designer, I should have known better. It made me feel uneasy, for a short time, knowing he was reading; now it doesn't bother me at all. If I'm happy to have complete strangers read the rubbish I write, then it's fair game, innit?

    (I do, however, absolutely agree - your former classmate was extremely rude.)

  2. I'm a little bewildered. How was he rude? If he'd written to you right here in the comment field and said, "Hey Aloysius, nice blog, I need some advice about Ecuador," I'd have said he was somewhat thoughtless. However, he seems to have contacted you privately through your email. Should he have pretended not to know who you were? As for failing to mention your MS, I can think of two possibilities there: a) he wasn't sure of how to respond, felt it had nothing to do with Ecuador, and so said nothing; b) he may have assumed that you didn't want to be defined as "my former schoolmate who now has MS".

    Being a Canadian (and I have a bone or two to pick with you about your impressions of Canada based on, from what I can tell, one ten-day trip to the Rockies, but I'll spare you) I'm related to three people living with MS. Sometimes I mention it, sometimes I don't. It depends on what we're talking about.

    You knew him better, though, so maybe you have some insights into his motives that I didn't pick up from your post.

  3. hiya Persephone, and welcome. The point I was trying to get across here was not that I thought this old school friend of mine WAS being rude, but that this was how I had initially taken him to be and was now reconsidering. As I think I said, and as you say, I'm not sure what, in his position, you can say.... and I certainly don't want to be defined by my MS either, although I'm actutely aware that, at the moment, I keep blogging about it. I haven't emailed him back yet, mind, and he could have passed the time of day with me before diving straight into the question of how much cash he should take to south america, right? He was a decent sort though, so I'm sure he meant well.

    As for Canada, actually I've been before, and I also know a number of Canadians who happily fit the bill as the nicest people alive, so I'm basing what I say on that really. I'm sure you know different, but it's just my p.o.v. I thought the bits of Canada I've seen, and the people I've met there, were great. There are arseholes and shitholes everywhere though, right?


  4. Actually, what bemused me about your Canadian impressions were your assertions that Canadian music taste is stuck in the past. Maybe at ski resorts in the Rockies it is, but I wouldn't know; I don't ski. Also your blanket description of the so-called "Canadian spring" which can indeed be bleak and brownish in some areas, but can be remarkably mild, verdant and English-like on the coasts, particularly in Victoria, BC where I grew up. My point being, it's a huge country and saying "Canadian music tastes are..." or "The Canadian spring is..." is rather like the four fabled blind men describing the elephant. Or my making generalizations about Britain based on my all-too-brief and infrequent visits there. (Although I know many very delightful Britons and am closely related to several...)

    There. I feel better now.

  5. Persephone - fair comments both. I shouldn't generalise about these things. To be precise, when I was talking about the Canadian spring, I was referring to a single patch of brown grass I saw next to a highway in Calgary.... So yes, I'm well prepared to believe that it's a lot more verdant elsewhere. As for the music, I did hear a lot of 80s rock, but in several places it was coming from Sirius, which I think is an American radio station, and at least 25% of all staff working at the ski resorts are Australian, so.....

    I loved your country though, and we're determined to to back in the summer. I'd also very much like, as well as going back to the mountains, to see Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto....

    Thanks for stopping by, and apologies for generalising.

  6. .... I quite like being held to account for what I say here, actually. At least it means someone is paying attention. I don't mind shouting into the void, but a bit of discussion is most welcome. I sometimes forget that people read this shit.... Blogging's a funny business, and I think to be a blogger you have to be or quickly become a bit funny yourself.