July 21st, 2009


Barry Greaves (1977 - 2009): the unsung twitterer

It is with great sadness that we report the death of Barry Greaves, the author of the satirical Twitter feed Twit Opera.

Greaves (32, unemployed) lived with his parents at Newfield Drive, off Selby Road in Garforth, Leeds.

"We noticed something was amiss at about six o'clock on Friday evening," Mary Greaves (58), Barry's mother, told Echo reporters.

"He hadn't taken in his lunch. I always leave it outside his door on a tray. Barry likes -- liked -- his privacy."

"Aye, he wasn't banging around like he usually does up there," echoed Barry's father Greg Greaves (62, retired). "I went over to the computer to see if he'd updated Twit Opera that day, and he hadn't. That's when we realised something was very wrong."

Since April, Barry -- a graduate of Leeds University's Engineering department -- has been writing a daily micro-parody of Click Opera, the blog of Scottish artist Momus. He became a master of Twitter's unique capacity to boil complex, interesting things down to 140 characters or less and make them look trivial and superficial.

"Twit Opera became the focus of Barry's day," Mary told reporters, "especially after he lost his job at the car wash."

"Barry tended to be restless and edgy until Momus posted. He'd reload the Click Opera homepage over and over murmuring 'Come on, come on, post, you bastard!' His day's work couldn't really start until Momus published something, you see. When the blog went up, he'd spend a couple of hours just thinking about how to make it look small, silly and self-serving. He'd compile lists of the most withering summaries he could come up with and read them aloud in different voices and accents, dressed up in front of the mirror."

"After he'd polished five or six of the most vicious summaries, Barry would take the momentous decision on which one to finally tweet. He'd do that by tossing coins or invoking spirits using his ouija board. Then he went live before his audience on Twitter. At that point there'd be a couple of minutes of euphoria -- we'd hear him punching the wall, calling out 'Gotcha!', and opening the door a few inches to take in his food."

"Then the whole process would start again."

Emergency crew were called to the scene when Greaves failed to answer prolonged and persistent knocking by his parents at his bedroom door on Friday evening. They found Greaves stretched out on his bed, dressed as the poet Chatterton. Medical staff quickly determined that his feed was tweeting feebly and his RSS was flat-lining. He was rushed to St Benedicts Parish Centre, but ceased to twitter in the ambulance. No amount of reloading could revive him.

"The thing you have to realise about Barry," said his mother Mary, "is that no matter how much he may have seemed to be slagging it off, he really loved Click Opera. He didn't intend to hurt or disparage Momus in any way."

"In fact, deep down Barry aspired to be Momus. He took everything he said to heart. For instance, when Momus declared oblong-shaped glasses had been superseded in 'a spectacles paradigm shift', Barry was devastated. He burst into the living room that day, threw his 1990s-style 'designer' spectacles -- the ones he'd worn at uni -- down on the carpet, and stamped on them repeatedly, uttering gruff shouts as he smashed them to smithereens. The next thing we knew, he had a pair of retro Raybans. He wore them when he was sleeping."

"He even had his room papered in wood-effect wallpaper to make it look like the background behind Momus's LiveJournal. Click Opera was his whole world."

"Aye," echoed Greg Greaves, "he started dressing in packing blankets and wearing them daft plastic Birkenstocks with no socks. Then he demanded to know where the greatest concentrations of Turkish guest workers were to be found in the greater Leeds area. I told him I didn't think there were any. Once I caught him looking -- with one eye covered -- at pictures of naked pregnant Japanese lasses in a dirty book. I told him 'You're just turning into a shorter version of that tosser Momus, you are!' He didn't like that one bit. He didn't like it when you said he was short, or made fun of Momus. That was his job."

Mary interrupted: "The last week was very hard on him, very hard. Momus ran a poll which revealed that most people disagreed with Barry's big theme that Click Opera was too personal to be interesting. The final straw was discovering that 30% of Click Opera readers thought that Momus wrote Twit Opera himself. Barry was crushed. Even an anonymous twitterer needs some kind of recognition, you know."

"That's why we've decided to make all this public now in the Leeds Echo, and give you the pictures to print. It's what Barry -- God rest his feed -- would have wanted."

Reprinted from the Leeds Echo, July 20th 2009