FAT PROSE

Your friendly local Gonzo journalist, answering the questions no-one’s asking

Archive for the category “The two combined”

Missing you already

“Do Craigslist’s ‘Missed Connection’ ads really work?”

Craigslist seems a lot like the much cooler but less wholesome older brother of Gumtree, a fraternal relationship beneath the stern parents of eBay and Amazon who keep chiding them not to talk to strangers. Originally localized to America, Craigslist now covers 27 separate areas of the UK and acts as a locale for the glib sales of vacuum cleaners and virginities side by side, all posted anonymously so as not to compromise any sort of professional identity.

Most conceivable goods and services can be found offered up somewhere on Craigslist, however there is one section which stands alone as by far the most strange, addictive and hauntingly beautiful. Reading it has become something of a slight personal obsession; as opposed to staid product descriptions it’s more akin to a fractured soap opera, people almost selling scraps of their souls rather than chintzy tat or an opportunity to listen to a terrible band.

This is namely the Missed Connections zone of Craigslist, an esoteric form of personal ad for anyone who has fallen in love with someone they’ve glimpsed on the bus or passed in the street or any such scenario where they’ve lacked the time, opportunity or backbone to approach, make conversation and ask for a contact number. The average Missed Connection comes with the specific time and place of the encounter, description of this beloved person, and the suggestion of some form of tryst. Here is an example posted just today to illustrate the concept:

Now let us consider the conditions that have to be met and the planets that have to align for such an enterprise to be successful. First, the love interest in question has to be aware of and regularly check these Missed Connection listings, already quite a niche and unknown Internet tidbit to find yourself browsing. Then they need to recognize themselves from the description, some of which are phenomenally vague – “you have blonde hair”, “you’re medium height”, “you were wearing shoes”, etc. The person also has to be single, and in addition not freaked out that someone treated the brief eye contact shared on the number 8 bus as an unbreakable bond of affection and lust so strong they were forced to track them down online, indeed that needs to be a quality they’d look for in a partner. Only if somehow against infinitesimal odds this chain of coincidences runs unbroken are we at the stage where two people are aware of one other, the same as two people first meeting at a bar for instance – they still need to find eachother mutually interesting and attractive and only then might a relationship bloom.

It seems an absurdly unlikely wherewithal to start dating someone you were probably only admiring to prevent yourself having to look at piss-streaked public transport floors or the big, sad, bloodshot eyes of buskers. This whole concept of coolly-connecting-instantly-with-a-stranger-in-a-public-place-and-falling-in-love is galvanized by Hollywood with uplifting arty films like ‘Before Sunrise’ where an innocuous conversation between a guy and a girl on a train begins some hopelessly poignant romance.

I’m sure Missed Connections’ existence does help people cope with their monotonous daily routines by imagining maybe they’re in a romcom, and falling for a randomer who shares their commute seems the sort of thing that’d set the film’s kooky, quixotic, life-affirming adventures off. Maybe they’re not just twice-divorced Darryl Thomas from I.T, maybe actually they’re Hugh Grant or Paul Rudd and actually everything’s going to be OK. When of course everyone else on the tube or bus aren’t necessarily deuteragonists awaiting recognition in the sitcom script that is your life, they’re trying to get to work and ignore the guy that keeps staring at them.

Advertisements on the tube hardly discourage this either, with plugs for Match.com over-exciting the imagination of travelling singletons.

The ingrained notion that buses and trains are really just loud, moving single clubs seems to have clouded just how improbable Craigslist’s Missed Connections really are, so much so that various other sites have originated to provide the same service – MissedConnections.com, ISawYou.com and LoveinLondon.net are all designed to help Londoners track down the one that almost accidentally brushed against them once in a smelly tube carriage.

London newspaper ‘Metro’, distributed free every weekday to be listlessly read on the way to work and trodden into station floors as a tabloid pulp come evening, even has a section titled ‘Rush Hour Crush’ where people can mail in to have their commuting romances published and hopefully read and reciprocated.

Missed Connections, then, are clearly quite a popular concept and some people obviously take them very seriously. I even found one woman whose search for a suited man she’d shared a smile with was so desperate she’d posted on every Missed Connection site available:

But do these Missed Connections ever work? I asked the woman above, who’d been pretty comprehensive in tracking down her man, and she reported back to say that in her case no, “I don’t think that the person who messaged me back was the one I meant in my text.” Are these even designed to work, or do they just act as an outlet for the shy and beta to appease themselves by saying “well, at least I tried!” Whilst there is the odd reported case of a relationship spawning, either by Metro submission or Craigslist post, it’s such a rare and incredulous event that it usually makes the news, and if a dating method creates a couple so infrequently that whenever it does it makes headlines can it really be classed as functional?

To determine the success rate, if any, of Missed Connections, I decided to run a series of tests. I could find no evidence of any other documented studies of this sort so as far as I’m aware these are unique in that respect.

Firstly, for a better insight into the minds of the people who post such ads I decided to reply to some pretending to be the elusive missed romance described. Statistically, in America it least, the vast majority of Missed Connection posts are men searching for women (m4w) at 59%, followed by m4m at 27%, w4m at 13% and w4w filling the final 1%, so to increase my chances of getting a response I created a coquettish female alter-ego by the name of Abbey Davies and replied to some Missed Connections.

It was hard to find any common denominator in the responses I received. On one hand an Indian gentleman called Naz offered to rape me after replying to his ad, stating “get yourself dressed up and meet me tomorrow to let me have my way with you…  Central line… tomorrow afternoon, Liverpool Street”, whereas the discourse generated from replying to Trevor’s ad was cringingly charming:

I wanted to gauge the personality of those who wrote such adverts to help when it came to writing my own Missed Connections ad, but with no one character type defining the average poster I reasoned I’d just have to improvise. My plan was to have a meander around London and surreptitiously photograph one male and one female, then splash them across every possible online platform associated with tracking down Missed Connections to see if I had any success whatsoever in finding them. Here are the pair in question; most likely I will never really know who you are but I’m afraid you have been exposed to an extensive unwilling media assault, so sorry about that.

The respective Craigslist ads I posted looked like this:

In addition to hunting them online I also submitted their descriptions to the Metro’s ‘Rush Hour Crush’. I did this over the course of a weekend, and as neither appeared in Monday’s copy I assumed they’d been discarded as not interesting or soppy enough to be featured. So imagine my surprise when Tuesday’s copy had both my ads, and not just that, but I’d won a toothbrush!

I allowed these various posts to germinate for a while but my search for the blonde girl, taking the form of a ten-a-penny m4w listing, seemed to blend into obscurity and produced not a single response. However my w4m pursuit of the Muttley man happily produced a more lucrative return – I wordlessly received this picture from one Michael B:

and one unnamed conversationalist went along with some exquisitely odd sexual arrangements:

Most promising of all was the message from ‘fun85’, who wrote:

I tried desperately to follow this lead up but after his inaugural mail I was never to hear from him again, and the anonymity Craigslist offers means I couldn’t even track him down via his e-mail address. I fear I scared him off like a nerdy deer.

I realize of course he could be bullshitting; the only fact I have to work with is that his distinctive T-shirt is allegedly from M&S, and my thorough research into this claim has come up inconclusive – the only thing I have learned is that it actually reads “The Mutt’s Nuts” rather than “The Mutt’s Mutt” as I originally thought. However I want to believe that the sender really was the paunched Hanna-Barbera fan I saw on the train, and he stopped replying simply as he found the situation too weird, particularly when I sent him a picture of the inside page of Tuesday’s Metro where Abbey’d offered to be his human pitstop.

It seems apparent then that for Missed Connections to work the person written about has to be flattered or excited or have some semblance of positivity about the experience, or instead of a relationship there’s going to be at best confusion and at worst a court order. Muttley-shirt, were it really him, seemed to devolve from happy surprise to the gnawing realization that this was all a bit strange, so I wanted to see if this was the usual reaction; if so, this million-to-one matchmaking method is surely doomed from the get-go.

To find the specific people referenced in Missed Connections and inform them that someone had written about them online proved an interesting but not impossible task, as some posts refer not to strangers bumped into on random commutes but actually at the love interest’s place of work. These ones sort of puzzle me – if you know where they work, then you can go and ask them out; that’s not a missed connection, that’s a known connection, a fear-of-potentially-unreciprocated-affections connection.

So I collated some of the London Missed Connections posted within the last month that specify where the target was employed, printed them out and aimed to physically hand them to the love objects described. I intended to find their reaction and contact the original posters to let them know how it went, and I maintain this was a nice thing to do – the anxiety in finding out exam results is always worse than the actual knowledge of them, and likewise it’d be better to put these Craiglisters out of their misery rather than them checking their emails every half hour and getting crushed by disappointment every time there’s no response. I was going to force these people into facing up to their possible romances whether they liked it or not, as some glum, administrative cupid in a hoodie.

The day started poorly. I intended to begin with this ad, posted by a woman who’d been served by a guy at a red food stall on Golborne Road whom she wanted to get to know. Seeing as the odds of him searching for himself on MissedConnections.com were extremely minimal I thought I could be the middle man here, but having walked the entire length of the road in question the only food stall I could find was blue and even that was unmanned.

Likewise I couldn’t be sure I was in the same Lloyd’s Pharmacy branch as described in this m4m ad, so I just shelved it next to some tampons for someone to find.

My third attempt though I was feeling more confident about. The ad, which has since been removed, read simply:

To the lovely male barista at AMT Balham – w4m – 25
You will never read this anyway, so I can be crude.
I would do you like a truck.
What’s up with the ring on your finger though?

I headed to Balham station and the AMT was easy to find.

I love that as a photo, so much chaos hanging in potential, I think I might submit it to a gallery of some sort.

I ordered a coffee and as the female worker pottered about making it I asked if she usually had a male co-worker with her. She reported she did, a man called Tom who wasn’t in that day. I explained the situation and she promised she’d pass the Missed Connection on to him, seemingly very enthused.

I was on quite a high from this positive interaction as I worked my way to Dulwich Village, my last port of call for the day. This ad has also been removed since I told its creator it’d been personally delivered, but it originally read:

i want to kiss you once! You are so cute – m4w
you work at Gail’s Bakery – I know I am too old for you but you would be amazed of how good a kisser I am

This one I was slightly more reserved in handing over due to its paedophilic overtones, but regardless I marched into the exorbitant artisan bakery clutching the sheet confidently.

There was only one conceivable worker the post could have been aimed at, a young brunette with a ponytail whom I made a beeline for. I handed the note over with some flustered explanations and her face was a picture of perplexed nausea. Upon my asking if I could snap a photo of her holding it to send to this mystery older guy her response was unequivocal, pushing the paper back into my hands and firmly stating “no, no one here wants this, not me, not anybody. Please just take it and leave.”

So it was a mixed bag of emotions I faced when informing people they were someone’s Missed Connection. When I returned home I messaged the original posters to tell them I’d printed out their respective ads and handed them to the people they’d referenced, and our Balham AMT mothertrucker replied with surprising good cheer.

I’ve played around a lot with Missed Connections over the last couple weeks, both responding to them and creating them, and it’s hard to come to any definitive conclusion as to whether or not they work. The girl at Gail’s Bakery reacted to her personal ad as if I were trying to thrust a dead dog into her arms, and there are clearly a lot of pretty unpleasant people who seem to have misread the topic as Missed Copulations.

However if there really did exist an Abbey Davies with a craving for man-children in tight ‘Wacky Races’ tops, then on a surface level that Missed Connection worked, and he’d simply been spooked off by my incessant demands that he send a facial photo to certify it was really him. Even if he hadn’t replied, Abbey’s Inbox was plenty full of suitors claiming although they weren’t the male in question they’d love to get to know her more, and as proven by portrait artist Trev some of them are clearly decent people willing to go to quite admirable lengths for girls they don’t even know.

When I began work for this article I was all ready to trash Missed Connections as useless, but weirdly the success rate seems to be slightly higher than you might expect. I think it tends to strike a chord with both wan romantics and incredible perverts, the two extreme ends of the dating spectrum separated by the normal people who ask each other out in real life, and considering males and females in both camps religiously check Craigslist and also post every time they make eye contact or brush someone’s arm on a busy tube, finding likeminded soulmates via the site makes statistical sense.

I don’t think there’s any fear of this replacing conventional asking out, be that through text or spoken word or uneasy tacit assumption after a night of drunk sex, but it’s not quite the hopeless love lottery I once thought. From the feelers I put out there, even if you transpire to not be the original person described it still creates a discourse between two people presumably single, London-based and sufficiently desperate for a relationship to be looking on Craigslist for one, and I’m sure there exist regular couples that work with even less in common than that.

Bloody critics

“What do vampires think of the Twilight franchise?”

As a child I once went to a Halloween party dressed as a vampire, and took some pride in my choice of costume. I had a cape and a set of fangs and was liberally spattered with fake blood which I tracked all over the host’s beige carpet; I kept pretending to bite people and a couple times actually did. This, however, was a good few years before an American author by the name of Stephenie Meyer awoke from a dream with a concept for a novel that would birth the Twilight series – 4 books which combined have sold over 100 million copies worldwide. Nowadays any boy who wants to go as a vampire to his friend’s Halloween party probably has all the box sets of ‘Glee’ and wears meggings to his school’s non-uniform day.

I cannot think of any feared mythological figure whose identity has been so battered by popular culture than that of the vampire. In my youth vampires were construed of as all genuinely nasty exocannibalistic maniacs, the paradigm of which was the star of Bram Stoker’s novel ‘Dracula’. The vampiric protagonist, Count Dracula, was based on Vlad the Impaler, an indisputably unpleasant man. His favoured activities, as documented in visceral Tsarist pamphlets, included:

roast[ing] children, whom he fed to their mothers. And (he) cut off the breasts of women, and forced their husbands to eat them. After that, he had them all impaled.

Compare this to the behaviour of the Twilight generation’s archetypal vampire, Edward Cullen, prone to staring wistfully out of slightly misted windows with eyes deep wells of infatuation and woe, and you have a sense of how tepid and effete this new Hollywoodized vampire model is. The vampires I grew up with didn’t want to find true love, they didn’t want to be “understood”, they wanted to bust your jugular vein open and mess, you, up.

This new strain of vampire that’s more likely to be broody than bloody has arisen because Twilight, at its core, is really just a tale of troubled and forbidden love for teenage girls to pine over; the fact that one half of this fanciful relationship is vampiric is really just happenstance to prevent the story being too banal. Seeing as it wouldn’t work out between seventeen-year-old Bella Swan and the slavering, murdering blood-fetishists that vampires used to be, we now have sensitive, caring introverts with exquisite cheekbones who sparkle in the sun. This identity has leaked into other examples of, to quote a legitimate genre, “vampiric chick-lit”, such as ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and ‘The Southern Vampire Mysteries’ on which the TV series ‘True Blood’ is based.

This crippling of the traditional vampire concept, just to maximize revenue through the conduit of fanatic teenage girls, doesn’t sit right with me. Vampires should be the embodiment of pure evil; real people have actually been publicly executed due to vampiric suspicions, particularly during a period of hysteria in Eastern Europe known as “The 18th-Century Vampire Controversy”. As little as 10 years ago, Malawi governor Eric Chiwaya was stoned by a mob of citizens accusing the government of colluding with vampires. Vampires should be feared, not coveted.

But who am I, a mortal norm, to judge how vampires should be portrayed? How do actual vampires feel about this shift in public opinion? Are they bitter and embarrassed at how Twilight has represented them, or pleased to have this new image that makes them the desire of girls the world over? Naturally, I would have to ask them.

You may question my ability to interview supernatural beings, but there do exist many popular groups of people who call themselves vampires and occasionally amass to discuss all things vampirical. One such example is the “London Vampire Meetup Group”, which assembles on the first Thursday of every month. Clearly to find some answers to this query I would have to attend one such meeting, under the guise of a new member.

So on a fiercely hot Thursday evening I pulled on my blackest, densest clothes – I didn’t know the dress code but I couldn’t imagine I’d blend in wearing tie-dyed shorts – and set off to Camden to find this bar. I’d been able to find very little information about this group online, so had only the vaguest idea of what I might be walking into. I kept neurotically imagining the opening scene to the movie ‘Blade’, where a witless human stumbles into a club of vampires and is soaked in blood that pours from the sprinkler system, undead revellers around him whipped into a savage frenzy, fangs bared.

The place looked reasonably normal from the outside, at least:

Inside it was quite a baroque environment, a little darker than the average pub but aside from that the aesthetics revealed little about the nature of its patrons. My prediction about the dress code was accurate, with everyone in black apart from one guy boasting a bright red mohawk, wearing a blood-red sweater vest with “LUTHER IS OUR GOD NOW?” written in permanent marker on the back.

I ordered a beer and looked around. A few people had prosthetic fangs, there was a lot of esoteric gothic clothing and a couple crossdressers stood about. Annoyingly everyone seemed to know each other, which I suppose was inevitable from their monthly meet-ups, but it did mean as the newcomer I felt about as alienated as is humanly possible. I propped up the bar and tried to get drunk enough to socialize with these members of the occult.

After a couple pints I managed to strike up conversation with a DJ called Mark, who had an interest in vampires but was mainly here to accompany his extremely vampiric girlfriend. I awkwardly broached the topic of Twilight, to which he made a disgusted face and shook his head, dismissing the franchise as “shit”. However I gathered from our subsequent conversation about Stanley Kubrick that he was something of a film buff, and disliked Twilight more due to its watery, prosaic plot and jaded directing rather than its reflection of the vampire world. For a more trustworthy consensus, I’d have to ask one of the group’s regulars.

A further two pints later I found myself speaking with a woman named Carla, whose devotion to the vampire clan was clear both from her funereal garb as well as her explanation of how she’d spent the last six months of her life.
“I’ve been trying to enter a coven, y’know, a community of witches,” she told me cheerily. “I’m studying Wicca at the moment to hopefully be ordained into its second tier. I just hope I can please my High Priest!” I smiled blankly at her and continued pounding back lager.

Eventually I managed to steer discourse towards Twilight and was faced with the same repulsed mien Mark had exhibited. She included True Blood and The Vampire Diaries in her all-encompassing condemnation of how pitiful modern-day vampires were. It was clear she was a fan of vampires’ dark, barbaric side, as she spoke excitedly of how the media should really portray them as bloated corpses with their skin rotting off, the polar opposite of the beautiful, chiseled Cullen family served up by Twilight.

It seemed pretty evident that this group, united by a fandom of classical, menacing vampire folklore, would obviously be averse to anything which trashed the traditional idea of Dracula in such a way. This group had been around since long before Twilight’s conception, meeting monthly under their organizer who goes by the name of ‘Thunder’. I managed to snap a shot of him early on in the evening whilst pretending to take an innocuous photo of my Budweiser.

After speaking with Carla he appeared alongside me at the bar. “Are you the one they call Thunder?” I asked him, sneaking onto the list of Top 10 strangest introductory sentences of my life thus far.

Thunder was a very pleasant and strikingly normal man who explained about the group to me whilst nursing a Guinness. He apologized for the small turnout, even though at around 50 vampires present it was busier than I expected it to be, and also apologized for forgetting his fangs. “It’s very remiss of me,” he said, with genuine shame.

It was an interesting and enjoyable chat, but I was here to speak about Twilight. I managed to work it into conversation and Thunder palpably winced. “When Twilight first came out,” he explained, “we were swamped with 16 year old girls who all wanted to join. Not only is this an 18+ group, but their idea of a vampire is a bit different to ours – that was fairly annoying. I don’t think you’ll find any Twilight fans here.”

I thought that statement would comprehensively settle this question – I wanted to find out whether vampires liked Twilight, and the leader of a vampire association unequivocally said that no, they do not. However, he then went on to say “as a group we’re not really vampires as such, we’re just huge fans of vampiric culture and literature. We don’t engage in any blood drinking, that’s for ‘sanguine vampires’.”

It was indeed niggling me that the group, for all their black clothing, arcane appearance and insane beliefs did seem very happy and gregarious, not really how I imagined vampires to be. And if they didn’t actually drink blood, could they even be considered vampires at all?

I returned home from The Elixir Bar a little drunk and did some research into the sanguine vampires, or ‘sanguinarians’, that Thunder mentioned. These are real people who actively drink blood, believing it’s necessary to maintain their physical and mental health. They don’t just binge on rare steaks and black pudding, they actually have personal blood donors who donate whatever blood they can spare for sanguinarians to glug back in order to stay fit and healthy. The forum Black Swan Haven (black swans being vampiric lingo for a non-vampire that sympathises with vampires) is an online community where sanguinarians can find donors in their area and prospective donors can offer up their blood for anyone who would like a sip.

Having scoured the forums and with my wits still cloudy with Budweiser I rattled off an e-mail to a vamp who stated he was looking for a donor, asking if we could meet up and hesitantly offering a slurp from my veins should that be a requisite to us meeting. He declined the blood I proposed, saying he was after a long-term donor rather than just a one-off sample, however he did agree to meet me. So a few days later I headed to Kent, to meet up with someone I’d met on the Internet, on a blood-drinking message board.

His name was Bryce, a tall, quite nasally vampire who met me from Kent station one evening; it had to be evening of course, as Bryce is strictly nocturnal. We headed to a pub, more specifically the sort of venerable old tavern occupied solely by elderly men, where the only female was the barmaid and even she laboured beneath the following sign:

Bryce began to tell me about his life as a vampire. He’d been drinking blood for the past 4 years, beginning with animal blood which allegedly tastes disgusting and moving onto humans’. His usual dietary requirements were 250ml of blood a month, so sort of like a period in reverse, but if possible he’d like to drink a lot more. Thankfully when I met him he’d fed 2 weeks ago so his cravings were minimal, if not I imagine I’d have been a lot more on edge throughout our meeting, terrified I’d get a papercut and he’d misconstrue that as me serving up a liquid lunch.

His claims became more and more outrageous as the evening continued. He told me he also associates with a vampire called Amy, some psi-vamp pranic energy leech who can make you pass out with just a stare, and a charismatic guy named Oliver who seems determined to fulfill all the Dracula stereotypes, even down to his having a crippling allergy to garlic. Bryce declared he could smell people’s blood from a distance away and from that determine whether they had any illnesses; I proffered my wrists and he gave me the all-clear, the first medical checkup I’ve had in years. On occasion him, Amy and Oliver will go to a Brighton club that caters to vampires to try to scope out the freshest morsel on the dancefloor, getting drunk on tumblers of whiskey mixed with human blood.

If I’m honest it was quite a lot to take in, particularly as apparently him being a vampire meant his alcohol tolerance was exceptionally high and admittedly it was quite difficult keeping up with his drinking rate. I was knocking back a seemingly endless amount of ale, aware that I had to get a train home at some stage as I wasn’t overly keen on being stranded in a county where the only person I knew considered me a canapé. You can see my eyes are tinged with slight drunken concern in the photo I took of the two of us:

Thankfully I was still lucid enough to remember my purpose for being there, and eventually succeeded in bringing Twilight into the conversation. Bryce if possible was even more hostile to the franchise than the London vampires. “Oh I cannot stand it!” he decried, “it’s absolutely detestable.” When I argued that surely the series had made him incredibly popular with the girls he riposted that Twilight’s representation of vampires is unrealistic. ‘Real’ vampires don’t glitter in the sun, they blister and develop hives, and vampirism does not necessarily make you an automatic touchstone for brooding chivalry.

Bryce even reported that since Twilight several people had asked him to ‘convert’ them, much like Bella requested from Edward, as having been romanticized by the media a vampiric life is now viewed as extremely attractive. But not only is that impossible, it’s an incredibly deluded and stupid wish – if you’re a teenage girl and you can’t find a boyfriend, there’s a whole host of possible explanations more likely than the root of the problem being that you’re not a vampire. You could be emotionally stunted, or a deeply unpleasant person, or just plain hideous.

The vampirism Bryce exhibits is almost certainly just an acute form of anemia, with the odd blood supplement boosting his iron levels and providing an autonomic endorphin release that makes him feel alive again, combined with a dash of light sensitivity and a huge side serving of psychosomatic confusion and general madness. True vampiric life then, as seen from my trips to Camden and Kent, consists largely of either dressing up or being ill, none of the intense lust and bewitching enigma Twilight insists upon. The vampires I’ve met seem to be largely quite introverted, there’s the odd outgoing one like Oliver or Thunder but overall I suspect they want to be left alone and try to have a fairly normal life, not put on a podium and forced to live up to the infamy of the incredibly sensitive hypersexualized vampires everyone knows from Stephenie Meyer.

This pushing of vampires into the public limelight can actually be a danger to them. They are at heart just a bunch of goths and anemics, not undead monsters or revenant killers or corporeal evil, and yet there are some people so delusional they actually see it as their mission in life to hunt and kill these ‘vampires’. I always thought the profession of vampire hunter was just a fictitious one to base a film or TV show around; from Buffy to Blade, vampire hunters are always hugely watchable and celebrated protagonists because they’re ridding the world of sin with puns and gratuitous violence, and also because they’re either a hot blonde or really cool black guy. So imagine my surprise at finding out vampire hunters actually exist, and you could enroll their services of vampire disposal from their base in North London.

The “only vampire elimination specialist in London” states on their site they “have first hand knowledge of dealing with these blood sucking vermin.” Their services include vampire disposal, vampire deterrents, and post attack counselling.

The world is completely fucking mad, and you can never leave.

I was eager to get in touch with John Michaelson, the site owner and original London vampire hunter, curious as to his opinion of Twilight. It’s surely a sign that business isn’t great that the only contact information available on the company’s website is a link to John’s MySpace, so to try to converse with him I had to make an account. I didn’t feel he’d be likely to reply to a cheery, bright-eyed figure in a Hawaiian shirt so instead I created a profile for my emo alter-ego Matthias Grumhorn.

MySpace is now so redundant it’s no longer even possible to send messages to anyone, and hence sadly I was never able to touch base with John. If I had to make a prediction, as a man who makes a living slaying vampires and actually writes the words “vampire hunter” on his income tax form, I very much doubt Twilight would be one of his favourite films. It seems that whether we be human or vampire, blood-guzzler or superstitious naysayer, whatever our differences we are united by our one common belief that Twilight, be it in novel or film format, simply isn’t very good.

Don’t drink and blood drive

“Can you get a blood alcohol content so high you legally require a liquor license to donate it?”

A Bloody Mary cocktail consists of vodka, tomato juice, Tabasco sauce, and not, to my eternal disappointment, a shot of blood from an alcoholic, who may or may not be named Mary.

When you drink alcohol it’s absorbed by your stomach and small intestine and dissolved in the water in your bloodstream, and it’s this blood that then ferries your drink eagerly around the body, like a swarm of haemoglobic club reps, up to your brain to make it crazy and down to your liver to make it sad. So surely it’s logical to assume that siphoned off and chilled a stein of booze-infused blood would make for an acceptable tipple?

Whilst at University, facilitated by the quantity of spare time studying English Literature provides with its meagre 5 hours of lectures a week, I drank a fairly obscene amount of alcohol. My main liquid vice, as shared by most quasi-alcoholic University students, was Jägermeister, the 35% digestif referred to colloquially in its motherland of Germany as “Leberkleister”, or “liver-glue”. I would partake of this horrible drink so frequently and in combination with so much orange Red Bull mixer that of a hungover morning bowel movements would more resemble having poured a can of tinned peaches into the commode.

During and after some of the more debauched nights of Jäger consumption, I’ve suspected my blood must still be so alcoholic that if quaffed or transfused or otherwise inserted into a light drinker or teetotaller they’d feel at least a bit giddy. I’m sure I can recall donating blood in a hungover state before – if the bag of my arterially-brewed hooch were to then be hooked up to someone under the age of 18, would that be akin to supplying alcohol to a minor? There’s a £5,000 fine for that! Keen to avoid such a penalty, I decided to find out if such an event were possible.

Blood alcohol content (BAC) equates to the amount of alcohol, in mg, present in every 100ml of blood. To have 80mg of alcohol per 100ml would give you a BAC of 0.08%, which is the drink driving limit for the UK and much of the world – the equivalent of knocking back a couple pints of ale. At this level your blood has about the potency of non-alcoholic beer, which is never labelled as 0.0% proof as there’s always some small amount of residual alcohol remaining from the manufacturing process. Alcohol-free Beck’s Blue, for instance, is still listed as 0.05%.

Indeed for a drink to be legally considered as alcoholic at all UK legislation states it must be at least 0.5%, which would classify it as a “low-alcohol drink” so long as it did not exceed 1.2%. Consequently, for your blood to be perceived in the eyes of the law as an alcoholic drink it must have an alcohol content of 0.5%, necessitating you reach a state of inebriation over 6 times the drink drive limit and attain a BAC which most charts agree wanders lazily into the realms of coma or death.

However, these proud zeniths of blood fermentation are possible to obtain and even survive. There are several reported cases of people registered with BACs of 1% and higher, admittedly usually taken at the scene of an accident they can’t remember and just preceding a Biblical hangover. About the highest ever recorded took the form of a South African man who was pulled over whilst driving along the Eastern Cape, and found to have a blood alcohol content of 1.6% in addition to 15 sheep crammed into his Mercedes-Benz which he’d stolen from neighbouring farms. Unsurprisingly, this man was arrested.

Obviously drinking that much is not something you should or could do frequently, however the fact the man survived and even had the lucidity to arrange over a dozen sheep in quite a small space makes me consider that maybe there have been times where my own blood alcohol has spiked into similar territory, making it less blood and closer to shandy that’s running through my veins. The unnamed sheep-smuggler certainly proved it’s possible to have blood that’s legally classed as alcohol – if he were to round his night of drunken farm pillaging off by giving blood, at 1.6mg of alcohol per 100ml and the average blood drive bag holding 470ml his donation, were you to drink it, would be the equivalent of a tequila shot.

So with the potential for alcoholic blood confirmed, what are the legalities of donating it at a blood drive? Could that be considered supplying alcohol without a license, which can come with a £20,000 fine and/or six months imprisonment? If the police find you handing out your bags of bloody moonshine are you expected to keep them quiet with a “couple ventricles-worth on the house for you fine officers”? I went about finding a) if it’s possible or necessary to obtain a license for this activity, and b) whether you’re physically allowed to donate blood when you’re that plastered anyway.

To apply for a liquor license you have to go through your local council, for me that was West Berkshire. Some research indicated I required a Temporary Events Notice, or a TEN, because I only intended to donate alcoholic blood once at a single localized event, rather than trying to turn my heart into an actual pub. This license costs £21 and must be acquired 10 working days before the event; to procure one you must e-mail the licensing division directly. “You must send a copy of the TEN to the police at least 10 working days before the event – if you apply online, the council will contact the police for you” it reminded me as I composed my mail.

I asked sincerely if I needed a one-time personal license were I to supply blood at a BAC of 0.5% or higher at my local blood drive. I also mentioned that although I was aware there would not be a financial transaction in handing my alcoholic blood over, I would almost certainly consume the tea and biscuits they provide after a blood donation and that might be viewed as an exchange of commodities. Their response was curt, dismissive, and bright blue.

It seemed fairly unequivocal then that unless you plan to sell your blood booze to the black market or some college vampires who want to party, you do not need any form of license. However I wanted to test the practical side too – namely is it actually feasible to raise your BAC to 0.5% and stagger your way to a blood drive, and even then will nurses allow you to donate? With the help of an online BAC calculator, the charmingly titled ‘R U Pissed?’, I calculated that drinking 933ml of whiskey (37 units worth) over the course of 5 hours would just about get my blood to the concentration of a low-alcoholic beverage.

The site, which calls itself an ‘online breathalyser’, uses your age, weight and height against what you’ve been drinking and how long you’ve been drinking it for to work out your BAC and let you know whether you’re OK to drive. At a BAC of 0.04% it tells you “you’re feeling a little tipsy”, at 0.05% “leave it an hour or two before you drive” and at 0.08%, “get a taxi!” I wasn’t flooded with confidence at the message it generated for the 0.5% I sought:

Still, it was my journalistic duty to cover this story, even in the supposed face of certain death, so I bolstered my whiskey collection and set about turning myself into a human distillery.

This test actually took two attempts to get right. The first saw me drink the right amount of alcohol but in an even shorter space of time than the 5 hour period I’d set myself, meaning I got absolutely, inhumanly twisted. I left the house but didn’t make it to the blood drive, lost my keys along the way and somehow awoke late afternoon in bed covered in scratches and spooning the house’s mailbox I’d drunkenly torn from the wall brackets.

So for my second try, one week later, I resolved to take my time a bit more. I was drinking Bells, not my favourite scotch but certainly one of the cheapest.

Bright and early I awoke and immediately poured myself a stiff one. I knew from my previous failed attempt I had a morning of not particularly pleasant drinking ahead of me – necking 40% alcohol at such an early hour feels more comparable to taking medicine. It may have been more palatable if I had a drinking partner, but it’s difficult to find anyone who will join you for a quadruple scotch on the rocks at 9am on a Wednesday morning.

At the precise moment of taking the above photo a text rumbled in from the blood centre to remind me not only of my appointment but also that supplies of my blood type were low.

This became even more intriguing – if my blood was currently scarce it had less chance of sitting in a warehouse to ferment and was more likely to be whisked off straight to a hospital to start getting a car crash victim intravenously tipsy. I began to grow concerned that my blood might not get checked for alcoholism en route and actually cause somebody harm, but thankfully whiskey helped me quell these fears and I soon found myself approaching the litre’s end.

I managed to stagger to the small community church where the blood drive was occurring, and clearly took some pictures which I don’t really remember taking.

Stumbling through the doors I found myself standing before a mass of silent, austere, charitable faces, all seated towards me, so I felt like I’d reeled onto stage during an ill-rehearsed school play. A blood drive is not the sort of place where it’s cool to be drunk – it can give you the edge at a house party and is downright mandatory for a night of clubbing, but with 40% of A&E patients admitted due to alcohol, it’s hard not to feel somewhat ashamed to be swaggering and tottering about in front of a crowd clutching their collective arms who’ve just given the very blood you’ll inevitably need one day from trying to climb up a statue while wasted.

It was such a surprising and serious scene to behold I panicked and wheeled around, lurching into the nearby toilets. As I did so I could hear laughter behind me, the bunch of donors clearly tickled by their assumption that I’d suddenly lost the nerve to give blood. Or, alternatively, it was because I’d drunkenly headed into the ladies toilet by accident.

I adjourned to the gents to compose myself and headed back into the hall to end up speaking with a nurse named Carol. Somewhere between my stumbling about, reeking of scotch, and bumbling into the women’s restroom, she could sense something was awry.
“Matthew Rose. Blood” I managed.
“Do you have an appointment?” she asked, her jovial tone tinged with suspicion.
I told her I did and she flicked through the pages of her schedule to find me. “You’re due at quarter past 2, yes?” she continued.
“No it’s Matthew Rose!” I reiterated.
“Yes, I know,” she said patiently, and then “are you hungover?”
“Nope!” I declared with proud truth.
“OK..” she said, as I stifled a burp. “But, do you think there may be some alcohol currently in your system?”
For some god-damned reason I put my hand on her shoulder and looked her in the eyes with heart-breaking sincerity. “I think that may be the case,” I told her.

At hearing this Carol said she had to check with the head nurse to see if I’d still be allowed to donate, leaving me holding onto a table for support and bathing in the glares emanating from the assembly of donors. I earnestly had no idea whether I would be allowed to give blood in this condition or not. The council certainly didn’t seem to object, maybe this happens all the time?

When Carol returned however it was with the news that there’d be no giving blood for me today, despite my assurances to her that I didn’t require a TEN to donate it. She told me it would be too dangerous both for me as the donor as well as the recipient, and with that I was left to stagger home, almost getting hit by a car along the way.

So no, a liquor license will never be necessary to donate blood no matter how much you’ve had to drink. Regardless of the procedure not being a transaction and hence not in your local council’s jurisdiction, alcoholic blood is simply not wanted or needed at a blood drive. When someone is recovering from liver cirrhosis the last thing they need is a bag of blood with the same impact as a tequila slammer.

I don’t mean for this article to exude an anti-alcohol vibe, alcohol is a fantastic liquid, but even the stoutest fan of stout must concede that alcoholic blood can be trouble. I awoke from my first attempt with inexplicably tattered arms and my second having narrowly avoided being smashed by a car, not to mention the countless other injuries attained from drunken exploits over the years, and the last thing I’d need if one of these landed me in hospital would be yet more alcohol in my system. Donating alcoholic blood isn’t a licenceable activity simply because it’s a bad idea and nobody does it. Let’s instead give blood whilst we’re sober, so we can get the pure, non-alcoholic artery-juice we need for when we do drink a bucket of daiquiri and try to leap an entire set of escalators.

0Q – Part 1

“What happens if you get every question wrong on an IQ test?”

IQ, or Intelligence Quotient, has been deeply ingrained in mass society as a cut-and-dried indicator of how clever someone is. If someone has a higher IQ than you, then it’s considered a mathematical certainty that they are smarter, and thereby they can do all sums faster, have a much richer vocabulary, and fix all their own electronics.

‘Test the Nation’ was a show which, between 2002-2007, would air annually on BBC1 and constituted a couple hours of interactive IQ tests you were encouraged to take part in at home so you could calculate your own Intelligence Quotient. It was hungrily taken in by households across the country to be discussed around the water cooler the next day, usually after everyone had rounded their scores up to the nearest 20.

I suppose the attraction that led to its nation-wide popularity, as well as its being commissioned for 6 successive years, is that it’s nice to have a quantifiable figure for something as intangible as whether someone is quite bright or, as you’ve often suspected, pretty dumb.

However I think for the generally naïve public to know their IQ can be dangerous, especially when they believe it’s a precise measure of their brain’s output all because a professor has talked about left vs. right hemispheres and grey matter and psychometrics and other encouraging academic lingo, and on the BBC no less. If the show had been filmed for Channel 4 it would almost certainly have been more frothy and light and irreverent, no doubt presented by Gok Wan wearing some fashionable, avant-garde mortarboard, and so viewers would have been more flippant about the results they came out with.

The concern with the BBC variant is that for its majority it’s reasonably studious and austere, hosted by cold, sober people like Anne Robinson. So if your average desk-jockey admin assistant, who does the odd sudoku in ‘The Sun’ but generally lives a fairly unscholarly life, tunes in to ‘Test The Nation’ and emerges with an IQ of above 130 (or 148 if using the Cattell III B scale), he’d consequently believe unquestioningly that he’s in the top 2% of the country and eligible for Mensa, likely leading to him getting ideas above his station. Even if they haven’t botched the test and their IQ really is that high, it still doesn’t mean they should leave their comfortable office position at Generic Finances Inc. to start practicing eye surgery or apply to NASA lest their incredibly advanced cognitive powers go to waste.

The truth is that your IQ is really a pretty redundant number. It’s a measure of very innate, subconscious intelligence, and doesn’t necessarily provide the skillset required to reattach a retina or determine how fast a manned spaceship should leave a launch-pad. When Mensa members assemble they only play word games and make the odd witty remark, they’re not trying to find the Higgs Boson particle. For instance Shakira, the Colombian singer-songwriter, supposedly has an IQ which makes her eligible for Mensa, and she’s not contributing works akin to King Lear or Candide, she’s submitting that she’s “not looking for cute little divos or rich city guys that just want to enjoy, but having a very good time and behaving very bad in the arms of a boy” (She Wolf, 2009).

Almost all experts of neuroscience and pedagogy know IQ can be used as a general indicator of how well your brain plays ball, but as a definite calculable measure of mental capacity it’s pretty pointless. Yes, with an IQ of 120 you’re probably more switched on than someone with an IQ of half that, but not necessarily brighter than someone with an IQ of 119 or 115 or even 100. Just earlier this year 16-year-old Essex schoolgirl, Lauren Marbe, was reported to have an IQ exceeding that of Einstein or Bill Gates. She is described as a “ditzy” teenager who loves “fake tanning, blonde highlights, manicures,” as well as her favourite programme, TOWIE.

Society’s faith in the purportedly fool-proof IQ system will almost certainly mean Lauren, by dint of having a higher IQ than Einstein or Gates, is regarded as therefore being smarter than those two, but that’s just not necessarily the case. We should not expect a Microsoft competitor from this girl, and whilst I’m sure she’s just ace at working out the next in a series of abstract shapes, we shouldn’t favour her ‘reem’ theory of relativity over old Albert’s.

To demonstrate how unreliable IQ tests are, before someone puts this giggly Essex girl in charge of NATO or finding a cure for cancer for her to doubtless drop a fake eyelash into, I want to take a test and try to score an IQ of 0, or to get every question wrong – the two can be mutually exclusive. Consider the following:

Answering every question incorrectly in an IQ test would merit a score of 0% and hence, it would be reasonable to assume, an IQ of 0. However an IQ of 0 would equate to being brain dead, and to have had the mental ability to lift a crayon and circle some answers, albeit all wrong ones, you must have some IQ, there must be some synapses still flaring in the mound of neural dog food sitting in your skull. It is complicated by the fact that IQs are charted on a bell curve:

With 68% of the population having an IQ between 85 and 115 there are plenty of comparable results and so an Intelligence Quotient can be measured very specifically, but in the 0.2% of people with an IQ of above 145 or below 55 there is too little data to ascertain any definite number – you’re just referred of as having a vague IQ “over 145” or “below 55” and it’s presumed you’re either too clever to care or too stupid to understand.

Consequently the result of an IQ test can be contextual to the average; you can technically get every question wrong and still score an IQ of, say, 44. But I’m not happy with this as a compromise when it concerns the metrical currency of our human intelligence. After all, if every question wrong can mean an IQ of 44, what would an IQ of 43 mean? I even read that if the law of averages plays against you it’s possible to take an IQ test and emerge with a negative IQ, which I’m sure we can all agree as a concept is an absolute mindfuck.

To try to resolve this issue I took a number of online IQ tests, attempting to clear them all without a single correct answer. As you might imagine this is actually fairly difficult as you have to know the right answer to every question in order not to choose it, as well as terribly counter-intuitive to spend 10 minutes cooking your brain working out that the answer to a question is b) 6 and then selecting that the correct answer is instead c) 50. Here are my results:

The Guardian IQ test: This is a 25 question test which measures your IQ against your salary to determine whether you should rightly be getting paid more for your job, precisely the reason why I deemed these tests to be futile and dangerous, and why the admin assistant we mentioned earlier would surely end up weeping having accidentally blinded someone or stranded several people on the Moon. If you do well in the test, you’re rewarded with the message:

Having been actively encouraged to quit my job just because I know what a Fibonacci sequence is and what a cube looks like, I tried the test again trying to score as low as possible. The first time I scored an embarrassingly high 4/25, leaving me with a cleverness coefficient of 0 sugarcoated by saying at least I was being paid the right amount.

The second time I managed to score 0/25, producing a more brusque message:

I left the Guardian test unsatisfied; their “cleverness coefficient” seemed wildly skittish and didn’t go anywhere towards telling me what my actual IQ was, simply whether I should leave my job or not.

 

– IQTest.com: 38 ‘True or False’ questions in 13 minutes. “If you take longer, you will be penalized, or if you get through the test in less time than thirteen minutes, your score will be increased” it states, meaning having rattled through the test in half that time I then had to wait a further 7 minutes before submission to squeeze every drop of idiocy into my test result.

Annoyingly the results had no measure of how many questions I’d answered right or wrong, but I was fairly confident that I’d got them all incorrect, and my IQ came out at 19, which signifies profound mental retardation. I was also offered a graph and a certificate which proudly displayed my significantly deficient IQ in case I wanted to hang it in my study, for $9.95.

I’m sure there’s probably a lot of money to be generated from people’s belief in IQ tests and subliminal intelligence boosters and other such purchasable dross; money that you probably won’t even have since the Guardian told you to quit the fast-food chain you worked at and apply to be an anesthesiologist instead. I still wasn’t happy with my result; if I scored 0/38 and earned an IQ of 19, what did an IQ of 18 mean?

 

– IQTestExperts.com: This one comprised of 30 questions with a 15-minute timer counting down alongside. I almost certainly answered every one wrong and still came out with an IQ of 54, which according to the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale is only ‘mildly impaired’.

I had to enter my e-mail address to progress to the screen which showed this score, and I’m reasonably certain this was the source of a hijacker who changed my account password a few days later. The IP address traces it back to Hanoi in Vietnam. I would recommend double-checking your account security before taking this test.

 

– BBC IQ test: Thus far all online IQ tests had really done were tell me to resign, ask me for money, or try to sell my details to the Vietnamese, scoring me with a plethora of different IQs seemingly picked at random and placing me anywhere between forgetful and vegetative. I had confirmed that at least sites don’t attribute a flunked test with an IQ of 0, they’re aware that you need some cognition in order to pick an answer at all, but besides that they all seemed to disagree on what IQ to give me. If IQ classification is as steadfastly valid as it’s made out to be, you would have thought the same score would have been generated each time; surely the esteemed and extensive quiz used on BBC’s ‘Test the Nation’ would put this matter to bed?

The test takes a long, long time to complete, presumably as it’s pulled straight from a show which has to fill 2 hours of airtime. Different sections flex different abilities such as memory, logic and reasoning, and it seemed a pretty solid test albeit a little overly entertainment-focussed what with some sections titled “Spot the missing celeb!” etc, probably why some periodicals critically panned the programme as just a glorified “quiz show.” Particular segments like the visual tests took some pondering as I’m relatively colourblind, whilst others like the vocab section I obviously ravaged, and ultimately I finished with a triumphant score of:

Now this must be clear evidence that IQ tests are fundamentally skewed and untrustworthy. This plainly states that scoring 0/70 in a test, the lowest conceivable mark, still represents an IQ of 70, which is only just considered below average. This was the very test televised and undertaken by millions of people, the test that influenced whether people thought they were perhaps too overqualified for their jobs, and probably not a far cry from the test that exalted Lauren Marbe as being more intelligent than Stephen Hawking. This is today’s Twitter feed from Lauren, does it strike you as the utterances of someone who could keep up with and maybe even correct some of Stephen’s gravitational singularities theorems?

I don’t think the lines “where’s my tan gone?” or “come my party, safeeee” have ever rumbled from Stephen Hawking’s speech synthesiser.

The IQ tests I’ve completed thus far then seem to be just as inaccurate as I suspected. A score of 0% should be a universal baseline that all tests agree on, and yet my supposed IQ has varied from 19 to 70, from brain dead to just simpleminded, it’s all very confused and unreliable. No wonder people can take these tests and achieve vastly contorted results that render them twice as clever as Isaac Newton whilst they sit ‘lol’ing heartily at Keith Lemon from their bookless, poster-coated bedrooms.

However, I concede that these are all online tests, some that appear to be the guise for scams at that, so inaccuracies are almost to be expected. The only way to really gauge the consequences of spectacularly failing an IQ test is to take a physical one, namely the supervised, pen-and-paper test that determines whether you are eligible to enter the UK Mensa society. Only by avoiding a single correct answer in an exam of that calibre am I to find exactly what happens if you get every question in an IQ test wrong, and possibly prove that as a measure of intelligence an IQ score is negligible.

I will book my Mensa IQ Test for the near future, deliberately flunk, and report back to you with my findings in Part 2…

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