The social media platform Twitter is often referred to by its resentfully enthralled victims as “the hellsite”. Heavy Twitter users come to find the exigencies of tweeting a constant drag on life, thought and – especially – literary productivity. All this is worsened by the simplistic, binary habits that hurl unwary twitterers into repetitive, interconnected, desolatingly predictable “culture wars”.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Expanses of Twitter’s sometimes eerie territory remain good-humoured refuges, full of fresh thoughtfulness, unexpected intellectual nourishment, genuinely amusing repartee and, on occasion, morale boosting realisations. Here follows a guide to the medium at its generous, various best, told through ten accounts that deserve your loyal e-fealty.
Ever wondered what Albert Camus would make of that land of lost content, your local Pret A Manger? – Minoo Dinshaw
Dr Francis Young @DrFrancisYoung (10.7K followers)
Dr Young claims to convert between the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches, approximately eight times a day. His knowledge of medieval and early modern Latin, Lithuanian language, literature and indigenous religion and of the meaning and practice of magic in any given historical time or place, along with pretty much anything else, might as well be regarded, in tweeting terms, as omniscient.
Marianne Williamson @MarWilliamson (2.7 million followers)
Marianne Williamson – an American author on “evolved Christianity” who disclaims the title of “spiritual leader” with some difficulty – abandoned the battle to win the democratic Presidential candidacy and take on Donald Trump. Nonetheless, her tweets provide the perfect antidote to the present POTUS’s malignly powerful Twitter eyrie, diagnosing the USA’s fatal flaw in its materialist hunger.
Constantine I @CryforByzantium (12.5 K followers)
The history of the Byzantine Empire, tweeted by its Emperors. Followers have recently witnessed the agonising drama of Constantinople’s final, definitive capture by the Turks in 1453. With a new cycle unexpectedly commenced, they can trace the saga from the time of Constantine the Great himself, the first (mostly) Christian Emperor, quite as ruthlessly decisive as his greatest pagan predecessors.
Pret L’Etranger @PretEtranger (11.3 K followers)
Ever wondered what Albert Camus would make of that land of lost content, your local Pret? No? Strangely, that doesn’t matter. Acquaintance with Camus’ writing is not required in order to recognise and appreciate the nihilistic jollity and paradoxical beauty, of every Briton’s favourite nemesis – the self-absorbed French intellectual – confronting the blandest eateries that our metropolis has to throw at him.
Cromwell Museum @MuseumCromwell (5,328 followers)
The Cromwell Museum, Huntingdon, deserves a much larger Twitter following than it has so far mustered: it offers sprightlier tweets than any other museum in Britain. Both Oliver Cromwell the man and his complicated times can seem forbidding to those lay enthusiasts weaned on a diet of milk-and-water Tudors. The Cromwell Museum transcends the potential gulf of public mystification through its relaxed, non-partisan, informative style.
Petronella Wyatt @PetronellaWyatt (2,701 followers)
This is unmistakably the real “Petsy” – wildly inimitable, electrically provocative, weirdly under-read. Devoted fans of Wyatt’s sadly long-defunct “Single Life” Spectator column will find much to cherish here. But don’t expect a consistent line on the government of the day. Described by (the increasingly Corbynite) Peter Oborne as contributing “an elegant presence sadly lacking on Twitter”, Wyatt may be left-of-field rather than right-on but she is very seldom predictable – and never tribal.
Marianne Williamson’s tweets provide the perfect antidote to Trump’s malignly powerful Twitter eyrie, diagnosing the USA’s fatal flaw in its materialist hunger. – Minoo Dinshaw
Sappho Bot @sapphobot (47.1 K followers)
For those feeling drained of emotion or imagination by overexposure to the screen, Sappho, best-loved and most intriguing of the Greek lyric poets, is on hand. This robot account automatically posts excerpts from Sappho’s canon, mainly (though not exclusively) translated by Anne Carson, complete with ellipses indicating fragments, thus preserving the proper sense of irrecoverable genius.
Friendless Churches @friendschurches (14.6 K followers)
This is the Twitter account of Friends of Friendless Churches, a charity which has rescued twenty-six churches or chapels in England and twenty-five in Wales. Its feed combines detailed and captivating photographs of empty, often semi-ruinous church buildings with their frequently eventful potted histories.
Larry the Cat @Number10cat (386.1 K followers)
This account purports to come from the paw of Larry, Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office since 2010, when the then-Prime Minister David Cameron appointed him to his exalted present role. After Boris Johnson introduced a puppy to Number 10, Dilyn, the pair produced some entertaining back and forth exchanges, but Larry’s sardonic opinion of his housemates has always ensured his greater popularity as a political analyst.
Elizabeth Windsor @Queen_UK (1.5 million followers; follows no one).
With a less plausible claimed authorship even than Larry’s, “Elizabeth Windsor” expresses pithy truths from the reigning Queen of the United Kingdom, depicted as a haughty, astringent, and ultimately rather republican commentator. While this role may be exactly what Elizabeth II has triumphed by avoiding at all costs, her avatar here is of interest as an example of the desires and witticisms projected onto the monarch by her subjects.
Minoo Dinshaw is a writer, historian and contributor to the Catholic Herald. He is the author of Outlandish Knight: The Byzantine Life of Steven Runciman.
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