The thing is, I had a very nice birthday this year. And lots of lovely people were nice enough to say happy birthday to me on Twitter, despite me being indulgently attention-seeking about it (…in, like, one tweet. Seriously). I got some presents. People at work gave me cake and awkwardly sang the song in the way British office workers do. And I went home and had a nice dinner with my girlfriend. The only unusual thing this year was that I didn’t organise drinks with friends. I normally do that every January, but this year I couldn’t really be bothered. Decided to keep it quiet. Avoid the hassle. So that was it.
Except. Fred exists. Or @FrogCroakley as you may know him. He says lots of funny things on Twitter. He’s a very funny man. And I smiled to myself when the next day he continued his tirade of birthday songs, even though it wasn’t my birthday any more! It was just Wednesday! What is he like, I thought. Then we found out what he was like.
He tweeted more songs on the Thursday, introducing “200 emaciated clowns” and a deep sense of foreboding. Over the next few days a distinct and oddly compelling tone emerged: “a rusted, umanned zeppelin drops another load of confetti over the lifeless city in honour of @daniel_barker ‘s birthday.” And he kept going. On day six I checked to see what had appeared as I settled into a daily ritual and read about myself taking “a weary gulp from [my] chalice of leopard blood.” Every tweet still containing my Twitter handle, each one an elegant little tribute to my hubris, as a starkly well-realised villain took shape in a place where I had been.
And he kept going. 72 days in, he is still going. In that time the Daniel Barker in his story has developed into a vicious yet fragile tyrant, destroying worlds and dispensing death with a celebratory casualness on an increasingly remarkable cosmic scale. Jelly, skype, mutants and various types of animal blood have become dazzling motifs. Elements of my life, my Twitter, have been affectionately crow-barred in and crow-barred into weird little shapes. Imagery that would cause J G Ballard to wake in a cold sweat has tripped merrily across my notifications. Clowns have taken a new hold on my inner life. I have had to google an inordinate number of words.
Understandably, some of the other inventive minds festering in twitter have joined in with this bizarre world, keen to be part of the spiralling madness. By Day 7 people were adding songs, embellishing the world, cheering this absurd doom-minstrel on. Then people started doing art. My face appeared in Soviet-era style posters, I was drawn atop a lonely castle in a birthday hat. Pictures were harvested from my facebook page, and strangers started wishing my happy birthday. (This remains a daily occurrence). Someone recorded a song. There was a fake radio broadcast. And then it started to get silly.
A little over a month after my (actual, official, “real”) birthday a nice chap called Alan from Buzzfeed got in touch with us. He asked us about what was going on and wrote this.
Here’s my follower count from around that time, courtesy of Twitter analytics.
So about a quarter of my followers on Twitter are now birthday presents. That’s not just Buzzfeed’s fault though – a good chunk are a result of Dara Ó Briain deciding to tweet about it. He even wished me happy birthday (as did various slightly famous people, and a deluge of strangers from Texas, Australia, Spain, Qatar…. I lost track). I’ve been wished happy more times in the past two months than in the entirety of my life before by a factor of I don’t know what. I have had just enough birthdays, now, to be approaching the end of what is possible for a human lifespan…
People ask me how I feel about it, occasionally. Sure, it’s bewildering. It is one of the weirder things in my life so far. I’ll even admit it’s been slightly irritating, when I haven’t really been in a birthday mood. (Whatever I tweet about – it doesn’t matter: birthday wishes). Sometimes I wonder how best to react. Do I play the part Fred has created, tell people I’m going to execute them and demand cake? Or is it funnier to be politely baffled? Would it be funnier if it were about someone else? It feels wrong to receive so much attention for someone else’s creation – I’ve done nothing interesting at all. And I worry what I will do on my birthday next year…. But mostly it’s marvellous to be part of something ridiculous, unexpected and joyous. It’s been so much fun watching it all unfold and sharing in everyone’s incredulity as the story itself gets ever more preposterous and the story around the story follows suit. I’ve encountered lots of lovely people, laughed and marvelled at what they’ve created, and had a bloody lovely birthdays.
And so, ultimately, this post is a thank you to Fred. His imagination is a horrifying, dazzling place to find yourself trapped in. His writing is a roiling pit of finely-crafted nonsense that drags you in and beats you up a bit, but in a fiercely friendly way. He’s written over 10,000 words of this saga now. Sometimes he writes in people’s suggestions, sometimes he echoes writers he likes. You can see the Frank Herbert influence in some distinctly Baron Harkonnenesque moments. There are scenes which are extremely silly yet cut through with melancholy that feel very Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The endless cycle of murder, animal cruelty, genocide and intergalactic war is suffused with gentle charm, in a way that shouldn’t be possible. The obscurity of some of the zoological references make you feel like Will Self got trapped in the Natural History Museum for a month with a boat’s-worth of vodka. A while ago I described the prose as like something Hemingway would write if you dug him up, fed him a load of ketamine and forced him onto Celebrity Big Brother. I stand by that except I think Hemingway would have included more fucking. I’m deeply grateful Fred has kept my alter ego so sexless, given he is a man who also writes Ikea-themed erotica. But as far as I know he’s not written anything so sprawlingly absurd, so grippingly idiotic, so majestically horrible, so apocalyptically preposterous, as The Birthday Saga which he never intended to write.
And he’s still going. Because we’ve realised the only way to actually stop this is to hold an actual proper fake birthday party. (Organised by some very talented and very silly people.) With me playing Daniel Barker. Which is a rather daunting prospect, to be honest. I’m got no idea how to play such a preposterous, terrifying, maniacal, villain. I’m just me. I’m worried if I try and play up to it I’ll ruin it, and that if I don’t I’ll spoil the fun. It’s an odd feeling, finding yourself woefully miscast in a live action role-play of your own life set in space. But that’s the beautiful thing about all of this. It’s too late for me to do anything about it. It will just happen and be glorious.