With Unfriends Like These…

In which The Author carries out his first ever cull

I realised about a fortnight ago that I had 561 friends on Facebook. I thought it was an excessively large number for anyone to cope with – especially as many of them never seemed to be online anyway. So I decided to try and reduce it to a more manageable number. It’s known in Facebook circles as a ‘cull’. I’d never done it before, but friends of mine have done it from time to time. I’ve noticed people pop up on the ‘People You May Know’ panel whom I know were on my Friends List at some stage. Presumably I’ve been a victim myself on occasion without realising it. I’ve also deleted (and blocked) individual people, of course – but that’s usually because they’ve done something to piss me off (like pouring a double vodka and Coke into my Netbook).
A few weeks ago, after the Netbook incident, I unleashed a foul-mouthed tirade of abuse against the perpetrator as a status update, and told anyone who didn’t like it that they should unfriend me there and then. (‘Unfriend’ isn’t a new word, incidentally. It’s been around since at least the late thirteenth century, and originally meant ‘an enemy’. Now it means ‘to remove someone from a social network’.) One person who took me up on the offer was Matt. I didn’t really mind, to be honest. When his life was at rock bottom two years ago, I had to put up with his repetitive, self-pitying drunken whining on many occasions. Now that he’s on the up, it came as no real surprise to learn that’s he’s joined the ‘Fuck you, Jack, I’m all right’ school of thought. At least we both know where we stand.
Anyway, for some reason I decided the time had come for a proper cull. I set myself a ceiling of 500 and opened up the Friends List as a whole. The whole process was easier than I expected, to be honest.
  • Phase One: Inactive profiles.
About two dozen people had deactivated their accounts for some reason or another. I came across Brogan’s (pre-Timeline) profile, Helen Wakeford’s NUS President profile, Geggs’ old profile, and so forth. They were easy to delete, because Facebook clustered them at the end of my friends list. I just went systematically through them and selected unfriend.
  • Phase Two: People who only seemed to have a Facebook profile for the sake of it.
Maybe they’d set it up when they were students and then forgotten about it. Take Ralph, for example. He’s a large, bearded, gentle, highly intelligent (PhD in Physics – you get the idea), eccentric chap who used to work with us in the old shop in Cardiff. When Ralph laughed, those around him were in constant fear that he might die of an asthma attack. He would curl up in his seat and utter strange squeaking noises from deep in his chest, while his face grew deeper red before turning a frightening shade of purple. I twice managed to reduce him to this state of near-collapse. The first time was the day after I’d been chatting to a cute Chinese student at closing time, and accompanied her to the bus station once we locked up. We were in the staff room, and Ralph remarked on how well she and I had been getting on.
‘I do like Chinese girls,’ I told him. ‘The only trouble is, a couple of hours later you want another one.’
As the saying goes, Collapse of stout party.
The second time was also in the staff room. We used to have the Guardian delivered every day, and I used to do the cryptic crossword during my break (everyone else was too scared to attempt it). Ralph decided that it was time to dip his toe into the water, and we started a bit of a masterclass if our breaks coincided. One day I was explaining how a particular clue worked when Trish piped up.
‘I finished the crossword yesterday,’ she announced proudly.
I replied, ‘Yeah, but this isn’t the one in Heat, Trish!’ Collapse of stout party once again.
Ralph’s got a Facebook profile, but it’s as about as active as the Midland Bank account which I opened when I was a student the first time around. In the three years or so he’s been on my friends list, I don’t think he’s interacted once. So I didn’t feel any great qualms about unfriending him. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to walk past him in the street if ever I bump into him and his wife in Cardiff, though. It just means that I’m cluttering up his news feed with status updates, shares, Tweets, links and Goddess knows what else. If he does log in out of the blue, he won’t have at least three years’ worth of my nonsense to wade through. Similarly, although more reluctantly, down the memory hole went Jason, Jayne, Gayle, Sue, Dai, Angela, Gareth, and many more people who use Facebook once in a blue moon (if that!)
  • Phase Three: The dearly departed.
My old pals Stuart Cable and Jon Williams (see Not Born Beautiful) were there. I must be doing quite well compared to some people, only having two late friends still on the list.
  • Phase Four: Friends of friends.
As I said in Wetiquette, I don’t really subscribe to Stanley Milgram’s ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ hypothesis any more. One of them was Ann, who’s involved with the campaign to save Bute Park in Cardiff from having a road built through it. I think she must have sent me a Friend Request because we were members of the Save Bute Park group. But as I already follow her on Twitter, there seemed little point in having her as a Facebook friend as well. Ann bit the cyberdust as well.
Another was Donna, who’s involved with Dapper FM, the community online radio station based in Penywaun. Several of my pals are involved with Dapper FM as well, but I’ve never met Donna, so I reluctantly decided that she’d outstayed her welcome. Too many of my friends have had cyberstalkers and trolls appear on their Friends Lists recently. I’m confining myself to people whom I actually know personally from now on. Furthermore, anyone who doesn’t use their own name won’t even get a look in. AyJay Olly and Sminxie Poledancer have only survived because they’re old friends from pre-Facebook times.
Anyway, about an hour later I got to a nice round figure – 450. I had to check with Helen which of her two profiles was the current one, but eventually I got there. That seemed like plenty. It might have been Socrates (or maybe Aristotle) who thought that the optimum population of Earth was 25,000, because that was the maximum number of people you could expect to meet in your life. In his model, everyone would know everyone and therefore society would be pretty much self-policing, as disputes could be sorted out in person. It’s a nice idea. I thought 450 people would be plenty for a fairly self-policing Facebook profile.
A few days later, I decided to try and hit 400.
There wasn’t any deep-seated reason for this change of policy. It just seemed like more of a round number. I took out former Waterstone’s colleages like Alan and Ross, who haven’t bothered to stay in contact. (The old Dillons gang are still there, meanwhile. I think that speaks volumes for the way we all felt about our change of environment.) I took out a couple of Josie’s and Rowland’s MENSA pals, whom I met at the post-Xmas meal in Aberdare but have never interacted since. I took out even more people who seem to log in once a decade or so. There didn’t seem much point in their being there either. Eventually I overshot the target slightly, and finished at 399.
Donna J. sent me another Friend Request on Monday, which I ignored. She emailed me last night, and said that she wanted me to refriend her as she missed my statuses. I explained my new Friends policy, and as we didn’t actually know each other I hoped she’d understand. Yes, okay, she might know Geraint and Doz and Eggy and the rest of the Dapper FM crowd. But since I never listen to the station anyway, and have frankly no interest in whether it survives or perishes when the funding dries up, I saw little point in accepting her Friend Request.
I’ve had another one, from someone whom I don’t think I know. I’ve ignored that one as well. If ‘Julie’ cares to volunteer some more information about how we know each other, then I might reconsider it. I’m operating on a strict basis of ‘one out, one in’, like an overcrowded nightclub or the Order of the Garter. Yesterday, there was one vacancy.
 Then, mid-afternoon, Rhian and Claire S. called into the pub.
Now, I’ve known Alex for years, since we first drank together in the Cambrian when the girls were doing their A levels. We’ve always got on pretty well, even though she’s a pain in the arse when she’s drunk (and only slightly less so when she’s half-cut). She was a bit of a Goth in her younger days, and to be honest I thought we had enough in common to (maybe) get together at one stage. She was interested in kinky stuff. She was the second person to see the pillory I built in the spare bedroom. Rhian had seen it mere seconds earlier, so don’t worry, we never used it! She likes books and films and music (shite music like Meat Loaf and Alice Cooper, but all the same …) We went to the pictures together a few times (including one trip to Cardiff), and spent a fair bit of time together.
In 1999, the Coliseum showed Tim Burton’s film Sleepy Hollow, featuring Christopher Walken as the Headless Horseman. At that time, Adrian the manager used to display stills from the film in the foyer during the screenings. I asked him once what happened to the publicity material when the films had finished their run. He told me they went in the bin. I asked him if I could take some of them off his hands instead. As a result, I’ve got a massive poster for A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Kevin Kline, which is going to hang in my stairwell, and a framed still from Gladiator on the wall of my front room.
Anyway, I managed to get the Headless Horseman still for Amanda N. She’d really liked it the night a gang of us went to see it, and I told her I’d try and get it for her. I succeeded admirably. The only problem was that Amanda never got to receive it.
I went straight from the film to the regular Wednesday karaoke night, with the Headless Horseman tucked underneath my arm. After that we went to Judges. Alex nagged me all night to give her the still, but I told her it was promised to someone else. Anyway, while we were in Judges she half-jokingly decided to steal it. Bear in mind that Amanda didn’t know I’d managed to get hold of the picture. I decided that what she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. So I told Alex she could have it – but I wanted something in return.
We ended up snogging fairly seriously, but that was far as it went between us. A few days later, Kerry mentioned it, and I said I wondered whether we were going to carry on where we’d left off. Kerry told me that Alex ‘only liked me as a friend’ (that old chestnut again) so I put it down to the fact that she hadn’t been wearing her glasses that night. And that’s where this particular story ran into the sand …
Until yesterday.
I was in the pub when Rhian and Claire walked past, and they came in. They wanted me to answer a question for them. I was online, naturally, but it wasn’t the sort of thing they could look up on the Internet.
Alex had told Claire that she and I had slept together. The girls have know Alex since school, and apparently she’s well known as a pathological liar. But this was a new one on me. I told them that I could count the number of women I’ve shared a bed with on the fingers of one hand – Sam, Gema, Maria, Karen L. and Australian Emma – and the girls I’ve actually fucked on one finger. (As I’ve noted previously, Gema and I were so drunk, neither of us are sure whether anything happened.) So Alex was clearly lying – again.
But there’s no need for it. Thirteen years ago, after that night in Judges, when we were both primed and ready for action, she walked away. She had her chance and threw it back in my face. Now she’s living with her long-term boyfriend and they have a young daughter.
Maybe, like Annette in Skirting the Issue, Alex spent so long fantasising about us doing kinky things together that she can’t tell fact from fiction any more. I don’t know. But I know one thing for certain. As of lunchtime today, there are two vacancies on my Friends List. After all, with Friends like that, who needs enemies …?
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