I AM harbouring a terrible secret. In my idler moments, one of the things I most enjoy doing is Googling people I once knew to see what they’re doing now.
The ability to do this is one of the best things about the internet because it’s fascinating, provoking all sorts of emotions, some warm-hearted but many of them quite nasty, including jealousy, envy and smugness.
My searches have uncovered old schoolfriends whose names I had nearly forgotten, only to be helped by a useful photograph on my secondary school’s alumni website identifying everyone in my year, and, even more intriguingly, ex-boyfriends.
To my surprise, I have discovered that by the age of 15 the coolest kids at school had already had their 15 minutes of fame and it was never going to last, probably because what made them cool at school was shallow trivia.
For example, the most popular girl in my year was the one whose coolness was entirely dependent on the fact that her hair resembled that of Kim Wilde’s in the video for Kids In America. She became a secretary.
By contrast, one of the most nerdy girls in my year, tall and studious with glasses and short, boring hair that looked nothing like Kim Wilde’s, became an investigative reporter for The Sunday Times and co-wrote a highly regarded book on Osama Bin Laden.
One of the most popular boys at my school, whose father was chairman of our city’s football club and drove his son to school in a Rolls-Royce, and who also happened to be very cute, hence his popularity, now has a very solid job as a sales and marketing director for a company selling optical products. Having had the biggest crush on him as a 14-year-old, I imagined a slightly more glamorous and exciting future for him, which sits oddly with a recent Linkedin picture of him as stolid, middle-aged and nearly bald.
And one of the quieter boys, a sweet lad who I dated for a short while and then ended working with in a newsroom for a year or so soon after we left school, now owns his own sports media company, one of the largest in the country.
There was also the boy with non-conventional looks and a huge personality, with a wit and articulacy way beyond his years. I would have expected him to have utilised his charm and erudition for something like politics or television, something outgoing and public. The public deserved to benefit from his quick brain as a man. However, it is computers that benefited: he’s now in IT.
By far the most intriguing has been tracking ex-boyfriends. Bearing in mind that all of those relationships ended acrimoniously, it has grated somewhat that many have gone on to great success. Yet I am pleased for them, even if it’s only through gritted teeth.
Two of them are published authors. The first is now an acknowledged expert on wildlife and has published a number of books. As I remember him partying a lot, carousing until the early hours and getting very drunk when we were going out, it’s now quite surprising to see an author photo of him on the internet gazing benignly into the countryside with a pair of binoculars round his neck.
The second was a hard-drinking hard-nosed news reporter who once worked for The Sun and has just published a book of…poetry. I don’t know why this surprised me as he was obsessed with poetry during our relationship, but since then he has become a university academic and has also campaigned for the release of members of the Russian feminist activists Pussy Riot.
Another two of my exes were photographers. One has completely faded from view while another shoots impossibly gorgeous images of luxury cars such as Lexus, Jaguar and Cadillac in glamorous locations such as Milan and the USA.
Hunting down people from my past in their present has become one of my favourite wastes of time, and it can become slightly addictive because you find lots of people with the same name, which leads you to google images and profiles to make sure you’ve found the right one. Often it can take me ages to work out whether that porky middle-aged person really is the same person I sat next to in French in the third form. Yet I have not found it depressing, like I found school reunions, where you actually get to see them in person, decades later. There, you have to hide the disappointed or envious surprise through politeness, but Googling privately means you can gasp to your heart’s content.
The only depressing thing is imagining any of them googling me (that’s if they can remember my name) and realising I am now very much one of those porky middle-aged people.
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