Will's Web Watch: "I'm so, so sorry..."

The internet awakens our need to apologise...

The internet awakens our need to apologise...

Anybody who doubts I'm a man of (albeit limited) culture may be interested to know I spent much of last Saturday night attending an evening of discussion with Jay Rayner, food critic of The Observer and Anthony Bourdain, executive-chef and gastro-author extraordinaire.

For me Bourdain was the major draw, a man so passionate and eloquently engaging about his subject matter that quite frankly he could be reading a list of ingredients and it would still be engrossing, but it was Rayner, a public-school-styled self-publicist with just the right level of overblown self-importance to make a suitably offensive critic, while not being altogether uncharming, who pointed me in the direction of the subject for this latest column.

Rayner, like many a columnist before him, is also a novelist. His latest book is entitled The Apologist in the UK, or the more 'easy-access' Eating Crow for the US audience. In the book the main character - a food critic (where do they get their inspiration) - sets about apologising to everybody he has ever offended... understandably it's a long book.

To publicise this latest launch Rayner set up a website encouraging people to confess their sins and make public whatever apology they felt needed airing.

He admitted he expected some passing interest, a few apologies here and there - perhaps the usual friends and family traffic that any aspiring webmaster can count on, but confessed on Saturday evening that he had been blown away by the 100,000-plus visitors to the site and the approximately 2,000 unique apologies.

Clearly Rayner had not counted on people's need to confess. By far the most common on the site fall into the 'Apologies to lovers' section.

"I'm sorry for breaking your heart, making you cry, not for still loving you but for loving you unwisely," wrote one.

Another poster wrote: "You were my best friend and my soul mate. I never meant to say all those things on the phone that upset you so much that you haven't talked to me in over eight years. I wish that I could have taken it back instead of being stubborn. I miss you and always will."

Many of the apologies hint to interesting stories in their own right... the voyeur in all of us must surely want to find out more.

Arcticsea wrote: "I think we really were in love on the sea and on the road south. I was far too young to appreciate your rare beauty. I'm sorry I bolted and I'm sorry we can never be together again because now I am married to another man who is also rare and clever and a friend. Still I'm sorry but I'd melt if I saw you again."

Others are a little more straight-to-the-point, but possibly no less sincere for their brevity. "I would like to apologise to my past relationships for being difficult and being a jerk," wrote one.

Of course many of the apologies fall outside the kind of confession that might reaffirm dented faith in humanity. Some wouldn't be out of place on Jerry Springer, with posters seizing upon the anonymity afforded by the internet just to get things off their chest: "I will never tell you, but I feel the need to confess. I know you think that we've been happily married for many years now, but if it wasn't for your sister I would have left you years ago. One night, when you were away working, you organised your sister to keep me company. It was a cold and miserable evening. We lit the fireplace, poured ourselves a couple of drinks, and snuggled under a blanket to watch TV..."

Trust me it goes on - but I'll leave it there. I'm sure you can find it for yourself if you really want to read on.

And then there are those who seem to confuse the need to apologise with the need to really rub somebody's nose in it, such as this offering from 'Mikey': "Sorry Lea-lea, But I found this Swedish back-packer and she is the bee's knees. Blonde, big smile and ooooooh so hot in bed. She even does that thing you said you would never do!" (The mind boggles: What could it be that she'll "do" that his ex wouldn't? The ironing? Meet his parents? Let him smoke in the lounge? Let him eat toast in bed? It could be anything.)

Now there's a man who needs to work on his apologies a little more. Still nice that he used her little pet-name. She probably appreciated that.

Other sections on the site include Apologies to family, friends, employers, teachers and strangers, such as the apology to the software giants: "Sorry for downloading all that illegal software. It's just so easy to do and so very appealing. Maybe if software wasn't so damned expensive I would buy it."

One of my favourites in the strangers section was this to a member of check-in staff on Virgin Airways who perhaps showed a little too much faith in human nature.

"Sorry to the guy at check-in, it was a plain-faced lie. The reason I had to bring my return flight forward to the UK was because I had done all my money. But I had to tell you it was to return because of a death in the family otherwise you would have given me a $100 surcharge."

In truth you could spend hours on there reading the dark working of people's minds, their sordid confessions and bizarre outpourings of self doubt and loathing. But if you do find yourself losing important hours don't blame me - and don't expect an apology.