Some Thoughts on Writing @CatBinLady.

Posted on September 3, 2010

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In late August, a middle-aged Coventry woman had a moment of madness and popped a friendly tabby into a wheelie bin, presumably expecting that it would go on to wear a waistcoat and form a gang replicating the exploits of Sergeant Bilko. The cat was discovered after it had spent fifteen hours failing to come up with a single money-making scheme, and is thankfully back in the loving arms of its owners.

Unfortunately for the woman responsible, the cat’s owners had taken the unusual step of having a closed circuit television camera trained on their bin. Presumably the footage was originally going to be saved for alternative viewing to Ultimate Big Brother, but in the event it provided clear images of the incident.

The owners decided to try and find out who the mysterious woman was by using the power of social media, understandably keen that she should be told not to do it again. The short video became a global sensation, and the bank employee was identified. Within two days there were FaceBook pages calling for her death.

Snowball upon hearing the original news item.

Hello. I’m Rich Neville and I write the Twitter feed @CatBinLady. I’ve never been in the boy band 5ive, and I am not the Stig. I have a cat named Snowball, and I’m deeply fond of him. I am not affiliated to the RSPCA, although I hope my link has gained them one or two donations. I left a long-term job in computing at the start of the year because I wanted to write funny things. Oh, and also because they asked me to.

If you enjoy the feed but don’t want to risk your enjoyment being killed by its brief analysis here, please feel free not to read on; I intend to continue having fun with the character for a while yet. Maybe have a look at some of the other bits and pieces on my blog though. Maybe go hog-wild and subscribe. Maybe there’ll be some Harpurger-exclusive CatBinLady tales among future posts. Stranger things have happened.

What the Coventry bank employee did was stupid and thoughtless, but it quite patently does not occasion a lynch mob or the ruining of her life. So, on Wednesday 25th August I decided to try and lighten the mood with a spoof Twitter account, having seen that the name was remarkably still available (about twenty accounts for the cat have emerged). I didn’t want to use the bank employee’s name and selected a suitably blurry avatar, as opposed to the clear photos that were already available online. You will notice that I continue not to use her name in this piece – her fate should be left purely in the hands of the RSPCA officers investigating, and her anonymity returned as quickly as possible.

Likeness unintentional.

I have several rules for @CatBinLady; the chief amongst them is that the feed will never feature animal cruelty, or any reference to cats or bins, or arch references to the original event. The whole avenue is a) too easy and b) not funny. The adventures of @CatBinLady focus on a fictitious character who experiences the kind of peculiar impulses we all have, but who sometimes acts on them. She has a conscience, albeit sometimes a little slow, and she has moments of clarity. She is also partial to a practical joke – mischievous rather than vindictive. All of this enables her in essence to be a one-woman sit-com, which is very useful for the shorthand of tweeting; a dilemma can be established in very few characters.

Oh, one more rule; she will always only follow @KanyeWest. It’s an in-joke, and satisfyingly lots of people seem to get it. My regular account (@RichNeville) is another matter – probably like most people, I tend to follow people with entertaining feeds and/or people who are engaging to chat with, but not so many that I can’t read the stream. Twitter’s an awful time thief, but I enjoy it, damnit, and the people I follow and who follow me back currently are by and large a privilege to “know”.

Some trending.

The @CatBinLady account was sent into the world with three tweets and a single retweet from my regular account. I gave it two further RTs of different, later tweets, one on the Wednesday and one on the Thursday morning, and that was the sum total of my hyping efforts. It was my first effort at a character feed, and although I was pretty happy with my first day’s establishing work, I didn’t expect it to garner more followers than my main account. I thought it would probably stay more or less within my primary circle of tweeps.

On the Thursday the account went viral and the mentions column was ablaze with people telling each other to follow. I began to receive messages telling me the account was trending in various cities around the globe, that it was the third most retweeted account on Twitter, and for a fair period of time the “followfriday” charting people were provisionally assigning it the global number one ranking. It finished in third place – first in English-speaking accounts, though. Utterly incredible and 100% unprompted. Thank you to everyone who has said nice things about the account, it’s been unbelievable. When hundreds upon hundreds of people are taking the time to tell you things you’ve written have made them cry, or in one case vomit, with laughter, it’s a truly fantastic feeling. Something I’ll never forget.

This actually happened.

The account was referenced as early as the Thursday by Time Magazine and the L.A. Times websites. On Friday one of the tweets was in The Independent. On Saturday there was a small yet inaccurate article in The Sun. On Saturday evening the mentions column lit up with news that the account was being talked about and read from on Channel 4 News (along with the very funny and inventive @Chilean_Miner, who is doing excellent work raising funds for some brave people in an extraordinary situation). I watched that surreal event on C4+1. On Sunday morning India Knight tweeted the account to say she’d written about me in her column in The Sunday Times, and very nice things she said too. I only fleetingly suspected that the Times columnists had been briefed to gradually talk about everyone in Britain to entice them behind their paywall.

The media seems for the most part to have moved on now. Meanwhile, as I write this, CatBinLady is back in the global top 10 for “followfriday” recommendations for a second week; it’ll surely drop lower before the rankings close, but a massive thank you to everyone who’s pimped her out again this week, the thousands who’ve RTed this tiny set of tweets, and indeed to everyone else just for sticking with it past the initial viral wave! To all of you I promise a) more fun with compulsive acts and their consequences and b) no more wordy, rambling blog links interrupting the CatBinLady feed.

Nighty night,

Rich

PS I now invite biblical-magnitude floods of offers of paid writing work to keep me in the style to which I have become accustomed. 

 

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