The long read: It used to be just a word now it is a way of life. But is it time to get off the banter bus?
Its the most fucking ridiculous story, isnt it? We went to watch fucking dolphins, and we ended up in fucking Syria. Last summer in the Mediterranean party resort of Ayia Napa, Lewis Ellis was working as a club rep. I mean, it was fucking 8am, he told an Australian website soon afterwards, and the last fucking club had closed, and we thought, We can still go dolphin watching. Well blag our way on to a fucking boat and go dolphin watching.
But when the boat sailed so far that Cyprus disappeared from view, Ellis explained, they started to worry. Why are we so far from land? they asked the crew. Were fucking miles away and weve got no fucking wifi. Something, Ellis said, had been lost in translation; his exuberant season as a shepherd for the resorts party pilgrims had gone terribly awry. The crew wasnt taking them to watch dolphins: they were going to a Russian naval base in the city of Tartus, on Syrias Mediterranean coast. Yeah, it is a little ridiculous.
It was, nonetheless, a story that had legs. Hungover lads boat trip boob lands them in Syria, wahey-ed the Mirror; British holidaymakers board party boat in Ayia Napa and end up in war-torn SYRIA, guffawed the Express. If you saw these headlines at the time, you may dimly remember the rest. A stubborn trawler captain, chugging doggedly onwards to Tartus, where he turfed the friends out upon landing; interrogation at the hands of Russian intelligence officers; mutual hilarity as the Russians realised what had happened; and, after a hot meal, a quick tour of the area, and a good nights sleep, spots on the next fishing vessel headed back to Cyprus. It was never made clear why the captain had let them on the boat in the first place, but whatever. Everyone lapped it up.
Reflecting on the whole thing five months later, Ellis, a 26-year-old with a business degree and a marketing masters, couldnt totally wrap his head around it. I think I found 35 stories about us, he told me. I read about myself in the Hawaiian Express, do you know what I mean? (Notwithstanding that there doesnt appear to be any such newspaper, yes, I definitely do.)
What made it really weird to see the media pile in with such unstinting enthusiasm was that the story was total cobblers. I could not believe how gullible they were, Ellis said, a top note of glee still in his voice. We were just having a laugh! It was banter!
Lads: this is the age of banter. Its long been somewhat about the banter, but over the last few years, it has come to seem that its all about the banter an unabashedly bumptious attitude that took up a position on the outskirts of the culture in the early 90s and has been larging its way towards the centre ever since. There are hundreds of banter groups on Facebook, from Banter Britain (no memes insinuating child abuse/dead babies!!!) to Wanker Banter 18+ (Have a laugh and keep it sick) to the Premier League Banter Page (The only rule: keep it banter). You can buy an I banter mug on Amazon for 9, or an Archbishop of Banterbury T-shirt for 9.99.
There are now four branches of a restaurant called Scoff & Banter. When things were going badly at Chelsea FC under Jos Mourinho, it was reported the team had banned all banter in an attempt to focus their minds, and that terminology appeared in the newspapers, as if you would know exactly what it meant. Someone has created a banter map of London using a keyword search on the flatshare website SpareRoom, showing exactly where people are looking for a roommate with good banter (Clapham tends to feature prominently). When a 26-year-old man from Leeds posed for a selfie with a bemused aeroplane hijacker, Vice declared it the high-water mark of banter.