For breakfast this morning, I had four custard doughnuts. While I was having them, I read the paper, which included various items about how the world was going to shit. And one of the main reasons the world was going to shit was of course the internet, and primarily, social media: it was, as ever, destroying nuance, coarsening political discourse, making children unhappy, and spreading fake news. But today, I saw the upside.
To understand where I’m going with this, you need to be aware of a very, very important trend on said social media, which is: my breakfasts. For the first part of this year, I was on tour, and realised something about touring, which is that the problem is not so much the exhaustion, or the ennui, or, as Janis Joplin would have it, making love to 25,000 people and then going home alone: it’s not having the Full English breakfast.
Every hotel in the UK may offer continental or bircher berries with hemp yoghurt, but obviously, to misquote our beloved PM, breakfast means breakfast. Breakfast means sausage, bacon, egg, beans, toast, and various extras. Or, at least, it does if you’re like me, and it’s on offer. So I tweeted about this, with a photo. And next thing I know, hundreds of people were tweeting me about my breakfast: I revealed a huge OCD fault-line in the British public, as people fretted like mad about the eggs touching beans, or sausages being too small, or tomatoes being burnt, or hash browns being an abomination, or the lack of black pudding being another abomination. The precise architecture of the Full English turns out to be a major talking point for many.
‘In among the swine, there are always pearls. There are heroes in the seaweed’
This went on throughout my tour and did my health no good at all: I got to the stage where even I wasn’t sure I wanted a fried breakfast, but felt that my Twitter followers would be disappointed if today, there was no picture. And obviously, because I am a man of extreme authenticity, I couldn’t take the picture, and then go and have some muesli. About six months in, I may have broken all existing cholesterol records.
Anyway, I’m not on tour anymore. So now I can have whatever I like for breakfast. And obviously, wanting to get back to a nutritious diet, I chose four custard doughnuts. They were from a local Spar, and were called Funtime Custard Doughnuts. They cost £1.39. It occurred to me, as I looked at the empty bag, that I have a responsibility to my cyber-audience. So I tweeted a photo of the bag, and posted: ‘I know some of you have missed my breakfast photos. So this was today. Four of them. Ok, looks a little basic but I warmed them in the microwave and dipped them in coffee like I was Simone De Beauvoir.’
Within five minutes, I’d had about 400 responses. One of which was from a man called Pete Warner, who said: ‘Funtime Custard Doughnuts is what I’m going to call my testicles from now on.’ Which really made me laugh.
And this is my point. This is the upside. Yes, social media is kind of destroying the world; yes, it’s full of trolls and racists and hate-mongers and liars and narcissists; yes, we’re all badly addicted to it. But in response to almost everything I post, someone – and not normally just one person – says something that makes me laugh (and sometimes also, think). In among the swine, there are always pearls. There are heroes in the seaweed.
Consider the lilies, Jesus said, as a mantra, a consolation, of something to think about that might put you in a better place when the world gets too much. But I’m not sure, frankly, that the lilies do the business any more. So let me replace that saying. Next time you get depressed thinking about how technology has screwed everything up, consider Pete Warner’s Funtime Custard Doughnuts: and laugh.
David Baddiel is a writer, author broadcaster and comedian