It was with trepidation that I approached my first Brum Bloggers social event. It’s one thing following people on Social Media, but meeting them in real life? Very scary. If there’s one thing I’m not good at (actually, there are many things…) its walking into a room full of people I don’t know and announcing my arrival (“Hi everyone, let the party commence, A Brummie Home and Abroad is in the building”…) But at the same time, this was my opportunity to spend some time with other people who find a) Birmingham and b) blogging about Birmingham as interesting as I do. And there was gin involved. And tapas. What’s the worse that can happen?
Tonight’s event has been arranged by the two lovely ladies who manage the Brum Bloggers community. Ting (of The Ting Thing) and Laura (of Full to the Brum) are stars of the Birmingham blogging scene – but also thoroughly nice people who promise me a warm welcome. The location? The Gin Vault, a newish gin and tapas bar that has quietly opened on Canalside beneath Broad Street’s O Bar, in what used to be O Bar’s downstairs room in fact. The premise is that we “Tweet to Eat” – we promote the socks off the venue and we get tapas. Social media currency if you like.
I send lots of tweets and FB messages during the day confirming my attendance at the event. This is so I do actually have to turn up. I can’t back out now. I’m “on the list”. Even as I park my car in the Mailbox car park, I’m wondering if I can get away with just walking past the venue, looping round and going home where I can send my apologies and hide behind my online persona. But without thinking I find myself at the door of the Gin Vault, confidently confirming to the lady on the door that yes, I am here for the private event. And then I’m inside. I scribble my name on a very small sticker. I then scribble my blog name on another sticker. As a second thought, I scribble my Twitter name on a third sticker. I look like I am very cheaply customising my black sweater.
The beauty of these events is that you can cling onto your phone for dear life as some sort of crutch. The half a dozen people or so that have arrived before me are all busy taking photos, tweeting or trying to connect to the Wi-Fi. No-one looks at me strangely, points at me or asks me what I’m doing there. So I do the same as everyone else and whip out my phone, snapping a few photos of the interior. I am a terrible photographer. I hope my enthusiasm comes across even if quality doesn’t.
I introduce myself to the lovely Ting, and thank her profusely for letting me in to the inner sanctum. I introduce myself to the also lovely Laura, who very kindly connects me to the Wi-Fi when she finds me frantically punching letters and numbers into my phone with no luck. I can now Tweet and tell everyone that is here that I am here. (“Hi everyone, let the party commence, A Brummie Home and Abroad is in the building”…).
There is a queue building at the bar, and I may or may not have pushed in with all the excitement. However this leads me into conversation with the lovely Cheekimummy (see, everyone’s lovely!), aka Sinead. Just finding one person that I can chat to easily makes me feel a little less anxious. Our blogs are on totally different topics, but we can chat about our own passions and the challenges of building a brand and a following, and it’s nice to know that there are others out there who are as bewildered about the whole networking thing as I am. We also have a lot in common, including photography-loving other halves that take much better photos than we do. We propose setting them up on some sort of photography blind date.
I’m keen not to monopolise Sinead though, in case she marks me out as being some sort of stalker so I hang around the fringes of other groups, making small talk, bumping into people with my unnecessarily big bag (I’ve brought a notebook with me…seriously what am I, a throwback from the non-digital age?) And all the while clinging on to my phone and its link to the outside world. Although most of the outside world I am tweeting at and to are right here in the same room. I like and reply to Tweets of people who are standing right next to me. It’s an easier way to connect for those that suffer mild social anxiety. You reply to someone online, and then they look round to see who is replying, and you give a little smile and a wave.
And then the food comes out, and everyone gathers round with their phones. I’m someone who always feels a bit funny photographing food, even if I were presented with a wonderful food sculpture of Michelangelo’s David. But I gamely take some terrible shots anyway. My blurry photos don’t do the food justice. There are chicken skewers, and prawns, and chorizo (oooh, a huge pot of chorizo), and chilli cheese bites, and calamari, and meatballs. Everything looks, smells and tastes wonderful. I eat my body weight in calamari, and elbow people out of the way to get to the meatballs.
As I’m driving tonight, there’s no way I can sample the 32 gins on offer, or make my way through the interesting looking cocktail menu. The wonderful bar staff very kindly rustle me up a mocktail of my choice. In fact, they give me the freedom to choose what I would like in this concoction, and all I can come up with is “ummmm… something with cranberry?” They immediately set to work making me a personalised mocktail which I christen “something with cranberry”. In fact, it looks a bit like a tequila sunrise so I can drift around pretending I’m drinking something lethally alcoholic.
I hover around more fringes and eat more calamari. I worry that people are peeling off into groups, and the anxiety rears its ugly head again when I’m reluctant to join a conversation in case they are whispering about important blogging secrets which I am not party to. I am ridiculous. I have been friendly, I have made small talk, I have connected with a number of people that I have never spoken to before. I do not have to speak to everyone in the room. Next time I will make the effort to talk to at least three more new people. Small steps.
And then I get talking to the lovely Sally of Sallyakins.com, who is heading back to the same car park as me shortly. And even in a quick 10 minute conversation I realise that my social anxiety is not strange, it’s normal. Creating a confident online persona is not unusual, it’s how most people express themselves when they find it difficult to be themselves in person with strangers. I also find out that the blogging scene in Shropshire is almost non-existent. More of the people in the room are similar to me than I think. Even those that all seem to know each other, once walked into a room and wandered how the hell to start a conversation with a bunch of strangers.
And so, I escaped unscathed. I approach all new things with the philosophy “nothing’s forever”. If I’d hated it, and no-one had talked to me, and everyone had laughed at my bestickered sweater, I could have left. I wasn’t being held hostage. But that was worst case scenario. Best case scenario – based on my anxiety of meeting new people – was to come away:
Best case scenario? Achieved. And I discovered a great new place to drink gin.
Thank you to everyone at The Gin Vault for hosting a wonderful evening, and to Laura and Ting for organising a great event.
Thanks for reading!! 😀