It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that meeting someone you've only ever known via the internet is both foolish and dangerous. However, that's exactly what I set out to do on Monday this week. To put it in context, I didn't feel as though I didn't know the person. I've been in virtual contact with Violet Fenn for a few months now - sharing our thoughts on this and that, our experiences of life, the things that hurt and concern us and having quite a few laughs in to the bargain. Added to this I 'knew' her from Bad Mothers Club and Facebook and felt that if she really was a psychopath, she'd gone to enormous lengths to create an identity for herself (or even himself)! And what an identity; a highly imaginative, individual person with a delightfully different take on life, the universe and everything. I reckoned that designing a fake persona that included making the wackiest soft toys ever and enthusing over hyperbolic crochet and vintage fabrics was too much for even the most determined loony.
So it was that I suggested we meet at Birmingham New Street. I was incredibly excited about meeting Violet and as I stood waiting for my train I wondered if she'd look as I'd expected (I'd seen plenty of photos of her), what her voice would be like and began to panic that I'd invented a Violet I liked and that the real person I was about to meet wouldn't be 'her'. We exchanged a few excited texts from our respective trains and the Violet who was texting certainly sounded like 'my' Violet but my heart was thumping and I wondered how people coped with internet dating. At least the person I was meeting wouldn't have any of those expectations of me!
Violet arrived slightly before me as my train was delayed. As the train stopped for the third time outside a station, I fell into conversation with a young man opposite me. I explained what I was doing and he asked if I would recognise my friend. I told him she had a mohican hair style which was the cue for Violet to text me to say 'don't look for the mohawk'. I needn't have worried, I recognised her immediately and was so overjoyed to meet up at last that I flung my arms round the poor woman.
It was soon as if we had never not met. We talked ten to the dozen (we both talk far too fast) and spent the next few hours getting to know the real people behind the internet personas. Except the internet personas were the real people in our case and I really did feel I was meeting someone I already knew. The sort of person with whom I could admire lampshades , grope Anthony Gormley statues and try on the worst wigs ever (one that made me look like a sort of demented version of Vivienne Westwood - no bad thing in my humble opinion).
I didn't forget though to ring my mother to inform her that Violet was not a murderer bent on tricking me into meeting her/him at a station and whisking me to a den of vice and violence. Violet equally rang her partner to inform that, contrary to worries the day before, I was not a 20 stone trucker called Brian.
Knowing Violet 'virtually' had already enriched my life but knowing her properly has put the tin hat on it! We both said that one of the wonders of the internet is that you make friendships with people that a) You might never have met - certainly true in our case and b) You might not ordinarily have become friends with. We felt that, had we met in the conventional manner, we would probably have liked one another but there are so many people that you do end up liking that you would never have thought of as a potential friend before.
Of course this is the beauty and equally the danger of the internet. Just as you can be judged for what you say and think rather than how you dress and present yourself, there is also the potential for people to be something they aren't at all and trick the trusting or naive. A very dear friend was caught out in this way in spectacular fashion and this certainly preyed on my mind as I made the trip to Birmingham. But overall, making 'virtual' friends has been a boon and if nothing else makes you realise that there lots of people out there thinking and feeling the same things as you, enjoying the same things, laughing about the things that make you laugh, suffering and enduring in the same way and from whom you can learn a great deal and really open up your world. Provided of course they don't try to murder you first!