Its is not often that you see one of the country’s top opinion-formers picking his nose. As I rounded the corner opposite the pub, I was greeted by the sight of Ebenezer, the celebrated blogger, raising his stubby finger towards his nostril. As it entered the nose, he gave his whole hand an expert twist, as if he were operating a corkscrew. He grimaced as something was levered loose, which he pulled out and began rolling between his thumb and his forefinger.
Meanwhile, his other hand was perched over the keyboard of his laptop, his fingers furiously typing.
His eyes were distracted from the screen as I approached, which put an end to his trowelling. He let his non-keyboard hand flop down below his thigh, and I percieved him flick something out onto the pavement by his tiny table. Then he stood up, and offered the hand in greeting.
I may have paused for a spit-second before I shook it, but I don’t think he noticed.
Ebenezer sighed in mock exasperation. “At last!”
I smiled, and protested. “Not my fault, I left the flat an hour ago. They’re working on the Northern line so I had to get a bus.”
He played along. “Well, you should have known. There’s an app for that, yeah?” He waved his nose-picking hand at the metal chair opposite his, and sat down.
There was half a free-sheet newspaper splayed across the seat. Upside down, the new Prime Minister’s gurning face looked back at me. I picked it up and chucked it onto the ground, somewhere near where the bogey had probably landed.
Then I sat down and placed my iPhone carefully on the table. Ebenezer rolled his eyes at me. “What are you drinking?” he said. I could see he had a half-finished pint of some kind of dark ale on the go, leaned up against his laptop.
“I’ll probably just have a coffee for the moment,” I said. I stood up with the idea of ordering, but a waitress had clocked me and was already striding over. She was bursting out of a tight white shirt and had one of those black ties with a huge knot sitting over the centre of her chest.
When I ordered myself a decaf latte, Ebenezer let out an audible snort, and shook his head. The girl bit her lip to suppress a smile, then disappeared inside.
“That knot must have been, like, a quadruple windsor or something” he said when she was out of view.
I decided to change the subject. “What are you working on?”
“Just a blog. But not for the main blog, though. Just my blog. Its about Dave.”
I nodded solemnly. Dave was dead.
“Yeah, I’ve been meaning to write something too. He was one of the first blogs I read when I started. Loads have people have been doing it. Its a good tribute I reckon.”
Dave Carswell was an old-school socialist, trapped in the second decade of the twenty-first century. He had worked in social care sector, but not front-line, and had been active in the unions for many years. He had also been a councillor too, in somewhere like Lewisham, but I think that had been a pretty short-lived experience. Whenever he wrote about that kind of local politics, his words would drip with condescension.
I just knew him as an Angry Old Blogger. He was good for a laugh if you desired some good old fashioned anti-Tory prejudice, the kind of craic you could really only find on the sites of the older guys. Whenever the younger generation attempted the same sort of stuff, it felt a bit false, as if they were desperate to live-up to some retro-ideal. But when Dave mentioned Mrs Thatcher and the milk, you knew it was authentic. His was a very real and very verbose passion.
“So, did you know him well then?” I asked. “I saw him at a couple of the meet-ups, but I knew him mostly from the blogs.”
Ebenezer shrugged. “Its not really an obituary” he said. “More of a review of his last few posts and tweets.”
I understood. Dave Carswell had scored a couple of big hits during the election campaign. “That’s great,” I said. “You could talk about the #LiberalDemoCrap hashtag, that was him. And that review of the first debate where he compared Brown to Michael Foot, that was awesome. Did you read that one?”
“Yeah, the first couple of thousand words, but…” Ebenezer’s voice trailed off for a moment, as if someone had pulled the plug on his inner motor. I could see he was choosing carefully what to say next.
“It’s more about the run-up to his death. There was something not quite right about it.”
“You mean, it wasn’t a heart attack?”
He shook his head. “No no, it was definitely a heart attack. But its more…”
I cut him off in mid-sentence. “Hey look, if you’re going to write something about burn-out, about him blogging too much, its already been done. One of the obituaries was all about that, I re-tweeted it this morning.”
It was true. Dave had definitely blogged too much in those final days. He had fisked dozens of Cameron’s speeches, and written lengthy ripostes to most of the Telegraph’s front pages. He had played every spoof poster photoshopping game, and would forward links from elsewhere quite relentlessly. I was ashamed to admit it, but I had actually stopped following him on twitter about 10 days before polling, because he had been clogging my stream with RTs. He had dedicated resources to this election that only the unemployed or the retired could spare, though I was never clear whether Dave actually fell into either of these categories, or whether he was just self-employed.
“Well that’s part of it, yeah,” said Ebenezer. He totally wiped himself out. The amount he was doing, staring at all those screens all day, it was bound to do some damage eventually.”
I was astonished at Ebenezer’s complete lack of self-awareness of his own life-style. He had about six computers set-up in his flat. And a man who posted exegesis on sock-puppetry in local government at 3am had no business casting aspersions over people like Dave, who at least kept to blogging inside normal social hours, 8am to midnight.
But I bit my tongue, for it seemed he was about to say something interesting.
“The thing is, he died at the wrong time.”
I was quick to score a cheap point. “No disrespect or anything, but to die on the first day of this new government may not be the worst thing to happen.”
Ebenezer ignored my attempt at humour. Instead, he messed about with his laptop for a moment. I looked beyond him and noticed the ‘free wi-fi’ logo on the glass pane of the pub door, below the Mastercard symbol. With a maestro like flourish, he clicked the laptop for a final time, and then spun it around to face me. It was Dave’s twitter page.
“Have a look at that!” said Ebenezer, triumphantly.
I was lost. “Its Dave’s tweets, right?”
“Right, but look at the last one.”
I read it aloud off the screen. It was just a short tweet about the new Prime Minister’s and the political fudge that had finally earned him his invitation to the Palace.
“Why so special?” I asked. “I tweeted the same thing. We all did, probably.”
“Yes. But this tweet was posted after Dave died.”
Bent forward in my chair and looked at Ebenezer. What game was he playing?
Eventually I thought of something to say. “Seriously dude, that’s bullshit. You don’t even know when he died.”
Ebenezer snapped shut the lid of his laptop, hard. It made a loud clap, that could have been a crack, and I winced.
“But I do! I do!” he whispered. “I have a contact in the police, who told me that Dave died around 3am on Friday morning.”
I leant back in my chair in disgust. “Get. To. Fuck. You. Twat. You don’t have any contacts in the Met…”
“Yes I do actually” said Ebenezer, suddenly no more than a schoolboy. “There’s this guy, right. He runs a forum where they review giant glass dildos and foreskin clamps and shit like that. Anyway, I traced his IP address back to a policestation in Brent. And but so now he does stuff for me. Nothing major or anything, he just confirms official reports that aren’t public yet. It gives me an edge.”
“What on earth were you doing tracing back IPs from a dildo site?” This revelation made me genuinely angry, because usually Ebenezer was militantly in favour of Internet privacy.
He blanked the question.
“So Dave had his heart attack at 3am, the police surgeon said.” He looked at me for acknowledgement, and I nodded my assent, conceding the point.
“And that figures, because it was at about 3am that it became clear who was going to get the most seats. After the results came in from Southampton and the recount up in Kettering, we could see which way the farts were blowing.”
I smiled. “So Dave had a heart attack because of the election result?”
“Right. He’d invested so much time working against it, he must have been livid. Pushed him over the edge.” His voice was almost breaking up.
I joined the dots that Ebenezer had sketched out for me, and asked the question he wanted me to ask. “So how did he send a tweet at 2pm? Someone must have hacked into his account, right?”
Ebenezer gave me a wry smile, as if to say, now who’s bullshitting. Why on earth would someone spend so much effort hacking into a twitter account, just to post something asinine about the election.
“No one hacked the account” he said, as if in conclusion.
I put my hands over my face and forced a muffled scream through them. “You cannot seriously be thinking what I think your thinking.”
He flipped open the laptop, and woke the screen from sleep. Dave’s tweets flickered back onto the screen. His nose picking finger pressed up against the LCD. “Look at the time stamp of the last tweet.”
I read off the screen. “2:05pm. Yes, I know, after Dave died, so you say.”
“Yes. After Dave died. But before our new Prime Minister announced his coalition. He didn’t make the announcement until at least a quarter to three. I know because I tweeted it when it happened, and Dave had already beaten us to it. I remember thinking it was odd because he never had any inside information before.”
I was speechless. Irritated at Ebenezer behaving like a hypocrite, annoyed that he was wishing ghosts into twitter.
“So that’s the gist of my obituary,” he said. “A guy obsessed with politics right up until the grave… and beyond!” He made a butterfly with his hands and fluttered it towards my face. I pushed him away.
“Seriously man, that’s really cruel. He had a wife, didn’t he?”
“Yeah, but still. Thousands of people read your blog every day. Its a really shitty thing to do.”
The mention of his blog statistics seemed to rip Ebenezer back into reality. He sheepishly slumped forward on his bulky frame, losing a couple of inches of height.
Just then, the waitress returned with my coffee. I thanked her, and she smiled. I didn’t smile back, and Ebenezer was much less interested in the knot in her tie than he had been before. She shuffled off.
The chime of a birdsong broke the silence. I was glad of new messages, so I leant forward and picked up my iPhone, to see what was new. It was a slight surprise to see that my screen was blank. The noise had not come from my phone.
Ebenezer nodded towards the floor. A little brown bird was hopping over the discarded free-sheet, twittering away.
I avoided Ebenezer’s gaze and reached for my coffee, and we sat drinking in silence, waiting for something new to happen.