Saturday, 9 November 2013


47's university has the curious quality of having quite a large online presence in the form of various IRC rooms. Lots of UK universities block IRC, but if there's a large enough geek presence, I assume some form of chat room would start up. Just not on the university's own webspace - I'm not sure a domain ending would be too friendly to people trying to join using mIRC.

I've probably lost some of you here. I'm going somewhere with this, promise.

I went to university the year after 47, and to a different one in a very different bit of the country. Having seen 47 participating so actively in his university's IRC community that he put a computer in the kitchen, I was anticipating doing the same at my university, using my university's IRC chat rooms.

Except there weren't any. And, believe me, I looked. I actually went to quite a big university - one of the largest in the country - and yet our web presence was relatively small (although, in recent times, their Twitter activity is astronomical!). I even looked on other IRC networks to see if there was a chatroom there focused on the uni. There wasn't. Even then, I was aware that IRC was becoming a deprecated medium, but I thought we'd at least have some uber-geeks around...

In my second year, I decided to have another go and did some more digging. In the end, I managed to unearth a gold mine, of sorts... an actual IRC server hosted by the university itself! A server, indeed, ending in - created, so said a website, by a project once hosted by the university's English department and then abandoned the year before I joined. So, in effect, a ghost IRC server. With an active bot. Exciting, eh? (Well, I thought it was exciting.)

I immediately created a room and knocked up a small Java applet, pimped the address on the university's LiveJournal, and waited.

For a while, there wasn't anything. Eventually, while I was idling idly on the idle channel, a beep alerted me to something I hadn't expected - activity. A girl I didn't know from the ICT department had entered the channel. We chatted for a while and seemed to click. In the end, she seemed to hang around the room more than I did, and when the occasional drifter came along, we handled conversations well enough between us.

Then this happened.

It was a lazy afternoon. SM, my friend and, by this time, de facto co-op, was set to "away". I was working on an essay (or playing Superfrog, I forget which) when mIRC beeped, and in came someone I didn't recognise with an odd nickname. She, it turned out, did agriculture (something I had no idea our university did) and was primarily looking to fix somebody up with a single friend of hers. Essentially, she was a human agriculturist masquerading as The person she fixated on first was both single and available... me.

"What sort of music are you into?" she demanded, without preamble.
"I like all kinds," I said, truthfully, "but I suppose my favourite kind of music is alternative."
"Oh, I've got a friend who's into alternative music. You should meet her."
"Well, lots of people are, but okay. Anyway, tell me about you?"
"How many tattoos have you got?"
"I... don't have any tattoos."
"I don't have any of those either."
"Well, you're probably not my friend's type. Do you want to talk to her anyway?"
"Okay, I'll come back here later! I'll bring her too! Bye!"

At which point she disconnected. I was slightly shaken and confused by this whole encounter. Bright and breezy she may have been, but maybe too much so for me. I related this tale to SM later in the day, and she had the reaction that I had expected... lots of confused emoticons mostly consisting of =/ and >_>.

Of course, I never ended up talking to this girl's single friend, who I doubted actually existed, but the girl herself (whose name I also forget) kept coming back to the room, mostly in order to regale me with stories of her own course and how majestic her boyfriend was. She even created a website at one point: something that looked a little like a personal home page from 1993 with lurid pink text in Comic Sans MS and the lyrics to the Frosties advert substituting "u" for "you". Still, you had to admire her pluck.

And then this happened... via MSN this time.

"I think you have a crush on ME!!!!!!!!!!"
"I've never even met you," I blinked. "How could I have a crush on you?"
"You tell me!"
"Haven't you got a long-term boyfriend?"
"Not any more!"
"When did that happen?"

"Ages ago! It says so on my MySpace!"
"You haven't mentioned it in the chatroom before..."
"I'm not going to say it in the chatroom! You never know who might be listening!"
"Who else? Nobody really uses the chatroom!"

"Whatever. Anyway, do you want to talk to my single friend?"

At which point she signed off, my answer half-composed on the inactive window in front of me. I never heard from her again.

But at least I have it on good authority that she ended up dissecting a horse's leg.

It's the little things in life.

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