What happened when I embellished, on Twitter, a tale about a mysterious train ticket.


  1. The background: in early May, I received a train ticket in the post. The ticket was from Nottingham - where I live - to Matlock, dated for July 16. I hadn't ordered the ticket. I had no reason to be in Matlock on July 16. I was puzzled. I phoned the train company, who confirmed that the ticket had been bought and paid for by a third party, for delivery to me. I asked Twitter for advice; I asked if I should go to Matlock on July 16. Most people said I shouldn't; a few people, in a frankly voyeuristic spirit, said I should.
    In June, the mystery was solved: the organisers of a reading I was booked to do in Buxton had sent me the ticket. Not all that exciting an outcome.
    I started thinking about what it would have been like to use the ticket while still having no idea who had sent it. I imagined detailing this trip on Twitter, in real-time. I forgot about it again.
    On a whim, on the morning of July 16, I decided to act as though it was still a mystery.

  2. At this point, it wasn't clear how seriously anyone was taking me; or indeed whether anyone was all that interested. And even at this early stage, a doubt was raised:
  3. I took this as reassurance. I assumed that if someone was already doubtful then perhaps I could continue and the whole thing would be taken as tongue-in-cheek. I went in to a meeting for a couple of hours (and, for a record, those who doubted; I really *did* go to a meeting).
    When I came out of the meeting, interest in the #MatlockMystery had built up: it was being retweeted and reported, and people were being encouraged to follow me in order to find out what had happened. The notion of any of it being tongue-in-cheek seemed to have fallen off the radar.
  4. And then a weird thing happened. Cultural historians of Twitter will think of a name for this one day: the sensation where, once people take an interest in something you're tweeting about, you feel the need to justify or fulfill that interest. It's something about feeling a responsibility to the audience. It's similar to when you're telling an anecdote in the pub and you realise more people are listening than you expected: you embellish the anecdote. And I'll admit I was enjoying the audience, the interaction, and the sense of real-time storytelling.