‘The beads of sweat start from your forehead like acne on a teenager’s skin, your face becomes the colour of old net curtains and your lips are ashen’
I love modern technology. But what pitfalls lie in wait for the unwary! And worst by far is when, having pressed send, an iron octopus grabs your heart as you realise you’ve sent something that you cannot unsend. Something terrible. Something that may destroy a friendship and ruin the rest of your life. The beads of sweat start from your forehead like acne on a teenager’s skin, your face becomes the colour of old net curtains and your lips are ashen. Not that you can move them because your mouth has suddenly become so dry that you need to use your fingers to separate them from your teeth.
A sudden thunderstorm? No, it’s not rain on the roof but the hammering of your accelerated heartbeat. Your entire body feels as if someone has swiftly and skilfully removed all the bones.
It first happened when a very sweet new friend had offered me a picture by Anna Kavan, an author that I was particularly keen on. She also drew rather druggy pictures now and again but there weren’t many of her drawings around, and his offer had transported me with its generosity. I just couldn’t wait to see it. He was coming round with it at six o’clock the following evening.
However, so keen was I to get my hands on this picture that I’d double-dated. So I emailed the other appointment. ‘Can’t make it after all. But I’m sure you understand because I’ve been offered a picture by Anna Kavan and I’m desperate to get it. So rather than wait till next week, I’ve arranged for the lovely donor to drop it in tomorrow and daren’t put him off in case he drops dead in the meantime.’
There was no prospect of him dropping dead. He was barely older than me. I’d just written those words to emphasise the intensity of my longing for the picture.
I pressed send. And I sent it to the person who was making me the gift.
He was so gracious about it, and faintly amused (or pretended to be) that, when a similar thing happened to me, the other way round, how could I not behave in the same way?
I’d been writing a rather sleazy piece for a newspaper about a minor celeb called, let’s say, Terri, and the commissioning editor had promised to send me some additional material to spin it out. She duly did – but when I scrolled down, I found she hadn’t erased the email she’d sent asking for it.
This email read: ‘God this day is an effing nightmare! Can you send me what you’ve got on Terri? I now have to send it to 94-year-old Virginia Ironside to pad out what I can only describe as the tackiest piece of “journalism” ever.’
Bit of a blow, of course, but remembering how decently my friend had behaved over the email about the picture, I decided to be gracious in my turn. ‘Quite agree about the tackiness of the journalism,’ I wrote, ‘but must point out I’m not yet 94!’
I got a grovelling phone call, effusive compliments about the piece, and, later, a huge bunch of flowers thanking me for my ‘sagacity and sanity’ concerning the gaffe. Not words, I have to say, that I’d apply to anyone under the age of fifty, but still.
The latest horror was of a slightly different ilk. My neighbour across the road, just back from a tour of Africa, came racing over the road in a panic. ‘I can’t apologise enough!’ she cried. ‘Someone’s hacked into my Facebook account while I’ve been away!’
‘How awful!’ I said, mildly concerned.
‘No, but it’s about you!’ she said. ‘They’ve posted: “Just got back this morning from Africa to find my dear other half in bed with Virginia across the road. The marriage is over and I’m moving out!” ’ Already her old nanny and five old friends from all around the world had emailed their condolences.
She instantly denied it, but when her burglar alarm went off at midnight recently, and she, being away, couldn’t raise her sleeping husband, she advised me to sneak over in my dressing gown using the spare key to turn it off.
As I was creeping out, I bumped into one of their teenage children, returning from a party. I tried to explain, but I don’t think I can live this one down.
I love the internet, but what a minefield.
Virginia’s latest book is ‘No, Thanks! I’m Quite Happy Standing!’ (Quercus £16.99).