History may well adjudge Tim Berners-Lee as the most influential Englishman ever to have lived. Children of the future will yawn at Shakespeare, struggle with Newton, and wonder what all the fuss was about with regard to Churchill. None of them will be able to ignore the World Wide Web. As he scribbled down his grand idea on the back of an envelope is it possible that he conceived how swift and total its conquest of the globe would be? Academics, terrorists, enthusiasts of every shape and colour have found each other via this extraordinary medium. And now, on a sticky morning in late May, I was about to gravely disappoint a motley bunch of Americans, unfortunate enough to have bumped into me on a website, a blog, strictly speaking, called "Surviving Grady".
It's a curious thing to meet people you already know for the first time. You assess them differently, and experience a subtly different shade of self-consciousness as they assess you. It must be something akin to what happens when two public figures first meet.
Il Papa: I thought you'd be taller.
Bono: I thought you'd be... holier.
Cyn is warm and chatty, easy company. Her online persona can tend towards the belligerent so I'm pleasantly surprised. I tone down the Englishness, too, so perhaps we're both muting our cyber-selves somewhat. We're acknowledged by a guy in a filthy pair of chinos, a shift manager perhaps. Cyn, with typical directness outlines our demands to him. We need a table big enough to accommodate a dozen or so souls, if everyone shows up. He slopes off to sort something out for us.
Next to arrive is Bridget, who I imagined, based on her rather impish sense of humour and a blog photo taken from a steep angle, to be tiny. She's tall, however (it can't be her!) and wearing a vivid green Red Sox tee-shirt. She's pretty and obviously very smart but shy in spite of this, I sense. I've forgotten that the rest of us are half a generation older than her, of course, and upon realising this I resolve to curb my behaviour in deference to her. I keep this up for about twenty minutes or so. At least into my third beer.
Kelly's next. Again she's taller than I'd thought. She's also in black, with fair, celtic skin, and impossibly curly red hair cropped short to make it manageable. She's lugging a backpack jammed with camera equipment and a toy ferret. It becomes clear, very quickly that she's one of those people whom I hold in the highest regard, because they exhibit all the qualities I lack. She's thoughtful, reasonable, funny without being a clown, self-aware without being inhibited. That slim sliver of the afternoon that I don't spend making lame jokes I spend listening to her, and agreeing with everything she says.
It's eleven thirty, so the four of us go inside, loitering sheepishly by the entrance. There are large LCD screens everywhere and a robust sound system blaring although there's only us and the waiting staff to hear it. Before we're seated Cindy turns up. She's a voluble, pneumatic blonde who is obliged to suffer the worst of my more animated misbehaviour. She sits next to me, a decision, I imagine, that she is still regretting.
As the day wears on, my recollection of events becomes a little impressionistic.