It started one quiet Friday afternoon. A modest hole appeared in a road in Ryde. The council cordoned off the street whilst engineers inspected it. It wasn’t an unusual occurrence in itself. Then the Isle of Wight County Press website published a short article informing motorists of the event -with a photograph of the offending hole.
This article caused a flutter on the internet, which became a stir, and then a wave of interest around the world. It was probably Ryde resident and Twitter user @MintyMat who pushed it over the edge from local news non-story to instant meme, as he generated a flurry of waggish tweets ridiculing the minuscule scale of the hole:
There will be a 1 minute silence at 1630 for those affected by the Cross Street Hole.
Ryde Town Council to meet tonight. Possibility of permanent memorial to families affected by Cross Street Hole.
Don't know if panic buying has hit Newport yet. Ryde's shelves are empty.
As the afternoon wore on other Twitter users were first puzzled, then got the joke, and began to spread the word. Twitter is an international medium, and New Yorker Kengriffith45 picked up the tale and ran with it, encouraging his bemused followers to “send just $1 each to help in the Cross Street Hole Relief effort”.
The story grew and grew, as tends to happen with the internet. Twitter users following the #CSH hash-tag were either entertained or mystified by dozens of tweets from those who were joining in with the fun, or trying to work out what was going on. Was there really a huge hole in Ryde? Why did the picture look so tiny? By the Friday evening, as people got home from work, the Isle of Wight and its hole were entertaining Twitter users all across the country and beyond. Viz Comic tweeted about the Cross Street Hole to 22,000 followers, and Cross Street had gone viral.
A new picture appeared on Twitter – showing the hole surrounded by candles and concerned members of the public, with the caption “People gathering at the #CSH vigil earlier tonight. Please remember Cross Street this weekend!” Somebody with a certain amount of Photoshop ability had obviously been at work. There was no candlelit vigil – in fact by that time in the real world the council had covered the hole with protective plates, so you couldn’t see it. Still, the internet bandwagon rolled on – the photo causing even more puzzlement to credulous twitter followers.
By the next day, things were going from satirical to farcical – there were photographs of toys posed clambering on the protective barriers at Cross Street. And early the next week, when the council promptly filled the hole in and repaired the road, Twitter responded with even more ironic calls to commemorate the ‘Cross Street Hole Disaster’.
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum Fill in the hole, let the mourners come. (Tweeted by @MintyMat)
Cross Street looked better with the hole in it to be fair (Tweeted by @tobes1)
What a story. I loved watching it unfold, and how the entirely fictional ‘Cross Street Hole Disaster’ was crafted by witty commentators from its unlikely beginnings in a commonplace traffic report. The Island (and in this case, its worldwide audience) has some very quick wits at its disposal, and a number of the finest were deployed for this jape. It was an exercise in real-time, crowd-sourced collaborative fiction, and it made me laugh.