A funny thing happened on the way to the photocopier: Rhodri Marsden's Twitter followers share cringeworthy work screw-ups


That most esteemed resource for matters pertaining to etiquette, Debrett's, advises people who encounter the British to "downplay your attributes and resort wherever possible to understatement". You will surely win our affection and admiration by successfully suppressing your confident swagger and any sign of high self-esteem.

But we don't just draw the line at sheepish modesty, hell no. Our muted fondness for self-deprecation can extend to joyous celebration of our own glorious failures, whether that's a skewed pride in such historical debacles as Dunkirk or the Charge of the Light Brigade, or recounting a recent story of your failure to fix a lavatory cistern that ends with you unconscious on the lino in a pool of water tinged with the icy blue of a flush freshener.

This, according to Debrett's, and contrary to what the rest of the world might think, is behaviour that anthropological research has found to be sexually attractive. I am sporadically useless; feel my sensual power.

This is the only reason I can think of for the unbridled enthusiasm with which people can post heartfelt confessions of personal failure on Twitter. It happened on Tuesday. I remembered an incident from my twenties when I worked for a number of eastern European music promoters, with primary responsibility for logistics. We had to transport drum'n' bass star Goldie from London to Sofia, Bulgaria – a task which has been made relatively simple thanks to the wonders of aeronautics. But I ballsed up this straightforward operation by sending him in a cab to Heathrow when his flight was leaving from Gatwick.

It was a bad day, and a bad memory. But because (according to Debrett's) of my need to appear sexually attractive, I tweeted about it. Now, that may well turn out to be a poor decision when my writing career crashes and burns and I attempt a triumphant return to the world of tour management, but what I lost in future vocational opportunities I gained in short-term laughs.

"I once lost an entire South Korean youth orchestra," replied @MargoJMilne, in a bold and attractive display of massive uselessness. She was not alone. @agladheight described the panic-stricken moment at the Rural Payments agency when 5,000 cattle were sent to the wrong end of the country by mistake. @GinBroguesHats, meanwhile, "Got a summer job in construction knocking houses down. 20 minutes later had hit self in the face with a sledgehammer."

The tales of ineptitude came thick and fast, whether it was @RoyMcCarthy's graphic description of taking a bend too quickly on the North Circular and emptying a pallet of Bacardi Breezers across the road, or @AllDesignPrint's tale of emailing a client an image of a monkey riding a dog chasing a goat rather than the funeral order of service they were expecting. "I once mistakenly removed someone's right to get to the front door of the house they owned," confessed legal whizz-kid @Beakmoo, while @freethestone's eagerness to do his job conscientiously had the opposite effect: "First job, first week. Blockbuster. I refused to let a 'strange man' into the shop before opening time. He was the regional manager."

Patterns of blundering behaviour became quickly apparent. Numerical ineptitude is rife; @jimsyjampots explained how, on the first day of working as a cashier, she put the wrong code in for a voucher, giving the customer £3bn of credit, while @ben_patio "ordered 100 copies of 100 drawings instead of 1 copy. Watched in horror as 10,000 drawings were delivered to my desk in big boxes".

Tales involving unhappy celebrities being dragged into the misery felt particularly triumphant, whether it was @TheAzzo's failure to tell an angry Phil Collins that his 9am phone interview was cancelled ("he got up early") or @ironbalsmcginty picking up a confused Billy Connolly at the crack of dawn and mistakenly taking him to an empty set on the wrong day.

Failure to master technology was common; @shoutsatcows described how he sent out 10,000 "how to use our system" leaflets which proudly had a screenshot saying "logged in as Testy McF***Nuts", while @DeLes's story of leaving Skype running on a projector laptop, "allowing a friend in the UK to yell 'hiya' to 190 delegates at UN negotiations in Nairobi", made me give thanks for being human and punch the air with glee. These kind of things are clearly happening all over the world every day; most of the time they're hastily covered up in order to save face, but here on Twitter, we're admitting it. Go us.

Wrong directions: one tweeter confessed to sending 5,000 cattle to the opposite end of the country (Getty Images) Wrong directions: one tweeter confessed to sending 5,000 cattle to the opposite end of the country (Getty Images)
I had a feeling that such stories might be drawn out of an initially hesitant but thereafter increasingly confident Twitterverse. There has been previous in this regard. I have been sent stories of bad school assemblies ("Three of us were told we could leave the school choir without repercussions, only to be paraded at assembly as traitors. We were nine"); job interviews ("I was asked my biggest weakness, I told them it was a 'vague but common feeling of melancholy'"); Valentine's Day experiences ("Dumped by boyfriend, friends got me drunk, ended the night slow-dancing with a tramp in a Chicken Cottage in Oxford"); Christmases ("I got a space hopper and my brother was so jealous he stabbed it with a penknife"); and, pre-eminently, bad dates ("Met a bloke for lunch. He told me he didn't like what I was wearing and said I should go home and change").

The 140-character limit presented by Twitter tends to distil anecdotes down to their most concentrated essence; stripped of extraneous detail they become wonderful haikus, all punchline and no preamble. You wonder whether a statutory limit of 140 characters should be imposed upon all anecdotes, online and off. Sure, some of the stories will inevitably end up posing more questions than they answer ("My sister-in-law got the wrong visas for six directors of Warburgs investment bank and they spent the night in a Mexican jail" – thanks @robbingham), but somehow I think it's better that way.

When these kind of things happen on Twitter, it feels like a couple of hours of the best phone-in radio show imaginable. But this idea of Twitter as a force for temporary good runs slightly contrary to the way it's often depicted. If your life is sufficiently rich in experience and meaning to keep you away from Twitter, and your only knowledge of it is the stuff that gets reported in the media, it would be hard to believe that it is anything other than a cauldron of self-serving dross kept at a rolling boil by narcissists, bullies and hyperventilating One Direction fans.

It certainly is that. It is also populated by flouncers, by conclusion jumpers, the exceptionally needy, the loud and the deeply confused (five social-media subsets of which I'm a regular member). It is a minefield strewn with unsatisfactory puns, manufactured outrage, risible royal parody accounts (substituting "one is" for "I am" does not a sustainable joke make), corporate embarrassment and people who repeatedly say that they "need coffee". Oh, and failed Apprentice contestant Katie Hopkins. As writer Greg Stekelman said in his final tweet before departing for the relative safety of Facebook: "Twitter is no place for a human being."

Yes, Twitter has the capacity to be awful. It continually poses a nagging question to its users: how to avoid as much of the infuriating stuff as possible while still deriving some of its undeniable benefits – and there are many, believe it or not. It is a rich resource. It brings information to journalists, readers to writers, cash to fund-raisers, attention to celebrities, viewers to video-makers and a certain amount of diversion and amusement for everyone.

But striking that balance as a user by following, unfollowing, filtering and blocking to a point where you can dip into Twitter without immediately wanting to hurl your laptop into a pond – that gets more difficult as the service grows. My relentlessly retweeting stories of job screw-ups into people's timelines all day on Tuesday will have proved to be a massive irritant for those who don't share Debrett's view that these anecdotal nuggets wield seductive power. But they do. "I inadvertently forwarded an email chain to our biggest customer with the words 'more from that mad woman' in it" recounted @HellingtonBoot – and if you're not feeling gently aroused right now, well, you've failed a primary test of British citizenship.

scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi

Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Actors front row from left, Jared Leto, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres, Bradley Cooper, Peter Nyongío Jr., and, second row, from left, Channing Tatum, Julia Roberts, Kevin Spacey, Brad Pitt, Lupita Nyongío and Angelina Jolie as they pose for a
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Life and Style

As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”

Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    C#.NET VB6 Developer (Software Developer, Software Engineer)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C#.NET VB6 Developer (Software Developer, Softwa...

    SQL Developer (TSQL, SSRS, SSAS) Fund Manager - London

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer (TSQL, S...

    Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, Angular.JS)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, An...

    Front-End UI/UX Developer (HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Ang

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End UI/U...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition