Brian Viner: The message-board clique is not for me

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The Independent Online

One shouldn't name-drop, I know, but as the Duke of Edinburgh said to me just eight months ago, the secret of a happy marriage is not to have the same interests. "It's one thing not to argue about," said Prince Philip, after I had asked him whether he shares the Queen's love of horse-racing, and he had answered, rather bluntly, in the negative.

I hesitate to draw too many parallels between my own marriage and the Duke's, but it's certainly true that my wife Jane and I, as well as having plenty of mutual enthusiasms, are able to nurture one or two personal passions almost entirely, and probably healthily, devoid of spousal input or indeed interest. To elaborate, she's not remotely into football, and couldn't even begin to converse on the subject of Gareth Bale's left foot, while I'm not remotely into The Archers, and emphatically not the man to talk to about Jolene's tumultuous passage through bereavement. I don't even know who died.

Curiously, however, we have recently found a point at which Jane's love for all things Ambridge, and mine for football and in particular Everton FC, collide. She has started visiting the BBC's Discuss The Archers message board, and has found it a weird experience, to which I can relate entirely as a consequence of my own regular visits to the unofficial Everton website, Toffeeweb.

Some of the fans who frequent the Discuss The Archers message board are, it seems, quite obsessively proprietorial, not merely about the venerable drama serial, but even about the message board itself. A messaging newcomer ventured a few weeks ago how strange it is that there are no diabetics in Ambridge. You might think, as I do, that to raise this apparent oversight is much stranger than the oversight itself, but the point is that she, or he, was instantly pounced on by one of the message board regulars, who condescendingly explained that he, or she, would be better off airing this kind of thing in another Archers forum, The Bull Upstairs.

Some Toffeeweb regulars are just as snotty towards newcomers, and moreover have pet names for certain players, just as the Discuss The Archers enthusiasts do for some characters. Everton's South African midfielder Steven Pienaar is "Peanuts", for example, and there is a palpable sense that dropping these nicknames confirms you as a worshipper, while avoiding them makes you not quite devout enough. Similarly, on Discuss The Archers, Lizzie is "Lizard" or even "Lizard Breath", and Jenny is "JD" or "Jenny-Darling". Jane was torn, on posting messages herself, between using these names and feeling as if she was striving too hard for acceptance, and not using them and feeling like an interloper.

In defence of a time-consuming and not hugely productive habit, I can at least say that the objects of my interest are real, but otherwise the niceties of messaging seem exactly the same, and I imagine are replicated on other sites, whatever the subject. It would appear that a funny thing happened on the way to the internet forum: old-fashioned cliquishness.

How about libraries in honour of our prime ministers?

Groundbreaking is a word not often used in its literal sense. It more usually means something original, innovative, visionary. But in the context of George W Bush, nobody's idea of a visionary, groundbreaking means exactly that, breaking the ground, in his case to mark the start of the construction of the George W Bush presidential library. The long-awaited groundbreaking ceremony, delayed to coincide with the publication of his much-publicised memoirs, is to take place next week at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

Presidential libraries, I can tell you, began with Herbert Hoover in the 1930s and exist as an archive relating to a particular presidency. I first came across the phenomenon when I lived in Atlanta, Georgia, in the mid-1980s, and there was a right hoo-hah concerning the location and cost of Jimmy Carter's library.

At the time I wasn't sure what a presidential library was; did it mean a place where Carter could borrow, say, the latest Harold Robbins without being disturbed? But now that I do know I think it's an excellent tradition, and one we should implement here. A Harold Wilson Library in his old constituency of Huyton, for instance, could both revitalise a down-at-heel neighbourhood, and stimulate an exciting architectural competition. Obviously, a giant pipe would be the ideal design. But sadly it won't happen, because we don't venerate our former leaders nearly as much as the Americans do theirs. On second thoughts, maybe it's better that way.

Raise a glass to a great escape artist

Tomorrow I'll be clinking a glass in memory of Pat Reid MBE MC, to mark the centenary of his birth. Reid was one of the few prisoners of war to complete a successful escape from Colditz Castle, and was played by John Mills in the 1955 film The Colditz Story, which was based on Reid's book of the same name. He was also an adviser on the 1970s television series Colditz, which had a profound effect on me and others of my generation, not least the brilliant actor and director David Morrissey.

It was an episode of Colditz, the one in which a PoW pretended to be mad in the hope of being repatriated, but in doing so went mad for real, that made Morrissey resolve to become an actor. Anyway, Reid died in 1990, but in all kinds of ways, his story lives on.

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