Ian McMillan: A survey that only maps out the lies of land...

The results of the wide-ranging survey I set up asking people where and how they read this column are now in, and the results certainly surprised and shocked me, and I think they might surprise and shock you too. The reason I funded the survey was that, as a writer, I’m always curious as to how my content gets consumed, if you’ll pardon the jargon, and I wanted to get a clearer picture of who my readers actually are.

It turns out that you are spirited and free-thinking beings, which is only to be expected, of course. There were a few oddities, though. A number of respondents said that they read the column “over somebody else’s shoulder on the bus” which makes me think that they should go out and buy a paper, although one of the people surveyed said they did buy the paper but that they liked “the feeling of being slightly naughty by reading a paper they hadn’t bought”. Well, as they say at the liquorice factory, it takes all sorts.

A surprisingly high percentage of people said that they read the column in the bath, and one person said they read it in the shower, although they also said that they never got to the end which isn’t that surprising.

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Other interesting locations included on horseback; in a hammock; whilst Hoovering the front room with one hand and reading the column with the other; in Lancashire; on the back of a motorbike; up a tree; in the queue at the chip shop; in a lighthouse; on an uninhabited island (although this last one can’t be true, can it? Can it?).

The other fascinating aspect was the sub-section that dealt with their reactions to it. There’s a lot of nudging, apparently. Dozens said that they would turn to their wife or husband or a complete stranger and nudge them and say, “Look what he’s written now!” or “I can’t believe he’s written this!” or “Do you think he makes it all up?” As well as nudging, there was jabbing, tapping, pointing and tickling, although whether this was directly related to the contents of the column is a matter of dispute.

Several people cut the column out to save till later, some cut it out and stick it in a scrapbook to save till later, and one person claimed to cut it out, frame it, put it on the mantelpiece and read it a week after publication. Incidentally, this was the same person who said they read the column in the shower and the same person who tickled people to attract their attention to tell them about a particularly well-crafted sentence, and the same person who bought a copy of the paper and still read somebody else’s over their shoulder on the bus. I’ve just checked and this was also the one who insisted they read the column on an uninhabited island.

I’m beginning to smell a rat. I think I’ve been had. I paid a lot of money (in Barnsley terms) for this survey and I think somebody is having me on. I think the people at the survey have just written the answers themselves. Some of the answers, I’ve realised, are totally stupid. Whoever heard of anybody reading this column in Lancashire? I want my money back!