When I first started out on Twitter I was obsessed with the retweet button. I looked enviously upon people whose tweets were constantly reposted and fantasised that one day I would compose a 140-character message loaded with so much semantic gunpowder that it would fly around the world and light up computer screens from Inverness to Invercargill.
After about 18 months I reached the holy grail of seeing ‘retweeted by X and 100+’ people underneath one of my pearls of wisdom, but I’d long realised that this was a pretty shallow ambition. There is a game element to Twitter, but it’s not the main objective, any more than the main point of sex is to shoot out as many dancing tadpoles as possible. So I gave up chasing retweets and started talking to people. It was far more rewarding.
But then a strange thing happened. This afternoon, just after three o’clock, I tossed out a one-liner that had been dimly forming in my head since Saturday, when Simon Hoggart mentioned satnav jokes in his Guardian column. Over the weekend I’d tried, in my idle, feckless way, to come up with one, and at about the same time a Bonnie Tyler song turned up on YouTube, and somehow the two concepts mashed in my head and gave birth to this:
“I once bought a Bonnie Tyler satnav. It was rubbish. Kept telling me to turn around, and every now and then it fell apart.”
I occasionally chuck out jokes on Twitter, for no good reason except that they’re better out of my head than in, and perhaps because I secretly like watching people cringe. Mostly they die on the vine. This one got a good handful of retweets in the first couple of minutes. And then some more. And after that my activity stream went ballistic.
I still don’t really know what happened, but in among the retweeters were famous folk like Stuart Maconie, Rob Brydon and Caitlin Moran. Between them they have umpteen gazillion followers. Suddenly my throwaway tweet was spreading like bubonic plague in a field hospital. I got tweets telling me I was a trending topic in cities where I’ve never set foot, spawning the map you see above. In about six hours I picked up as many new followers as I usually gain in a year. My WordPress site (here) had one of its busiest days even though I didn’t publish anything. And my mentions column was in meltdown. It was all very surreal.