Now, where was I? Ah, yes. About fourteen years old, with newly-installed (dial-up) internet and an almost constant erection, masturbating like I had a deathwish. Ah, the good old days. It doesn't even seem that long ago. To quote Leonardo Dicaprio's character in The Basketball Diaries, “time flies when you're young and jerking off.”
And I thought I had the system dialled! I would look up porn, save it to (floppy, remember) disk, then have a 'session' when everyone was out. It seemed like nothing could go wrong. I knew about the History folder and would always be careful to delete all incriminating entries after every search. How could I know, though, about the file that would eventually be my downfall? Welcome, everybody, Temporary Internet Files.
Kids these days know all about this file. Or, more likely, they are able to use a browser with an 'incognito' option which does not record your secret (usually porn-based) web activity. These browsers are clearly made with porn in mind, just as king-size Rizla are obviously made for smoking weed. We all know, but we all pretend not to.
But in my day, lad, Google didn't exist. Bill gates had the whole internet sewn up and everyone ran Windows Internet Explorer. Long-since ditched (for being shit), this was the only choice available to us 'trail-blazers,' and no such anonymous searching setting was included. Still, though, those with even a rudimentary knowledge of computers knew about the existence of Temporary Internet Files and took care to make sure the file remained porn-free.
Well, not this kid. I was learning as I went along. I had a nagging fear that everything was getting logged somewhere, but for some reason did not think to have a little explore through the registry. My father, on the other hand, was somewhat more curious. And that's where he found, one Saturday, a log of all the filth I had been viewing over the months since the internet had arrived. My secret was out, laid-bare. And then he told my mum.
I remember when he came out to the garden to confront me. “Someone's been looking up porn on the computer,” he said, as if it could have been anyone but me. I froze.
“Really?” I sheepishly replied, as if he would believe my attempt at innocence.
“Yeah there's all these addresses like 'porn city' in the Temporary Internet Files. (THE WHAT NOW!?) Is this a case of 'Father I cannot tell a lie'?”*
* Apocryphal quote from George Washington, founding father of the USA, about the time he chopped down his father's favourite cherry tree for a laugh. To this day, one of my own father's favourite sayings.
“Yes,” I replied simply. I could have died of embarrassment. And anger! I was so angry with myself for letting myself get caught. And in all the shame and mortification of this immediate confrontation, I forgot to ask him not to tell my mum. Too bloody late. My father is almost congenitally incapable of keeping a secret anyway, so she almost definitely would have found out. Still, I felt after, I could have asked him not to say anything.
My mum's reaction was even worse. All she kept saying was, “my little boy!” over and over again in the 'I'm not angry just disappointed' voice. I was so ashamed.* I just wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out. I disappeared to my room and stayed there, as if, by not looking at the concern on their faces, I could evade the disappointment it conveyed.
* Could be that all the shame I attach to porn (and my usage thereof) could spring almost entirely from this one traumatic episode from my childhood. Just a thought.
And then the darnedest thing happened: we didn't discuss it. I'm not sure we ever spoke of it again. Not directly, anyway. It was occasionally alluded to, but we never 'talked it out.' My family are so classically English that we almost never discuss(ed) our feelings. My father is a master of changing the subject if he finds it uncomfortable and my mother a mistress of denial. They say 'never underestimate the power of denial' and 'they' are absolutely right.
If my parents didn't like something me and my sister were doing (like quite obviously smoking throughout most of our teens), they would just pretend it wasn't happening. This would go to absurd lengths like my mum finding my sister's smokes in the bathroom (where she had forgotten them) and putting them in her room but never mentioning it. In classic 'hanging on in quiet desperation,' if they didn't like it and they didn't have to confront it directly, they just pretended it didn't exist.
I'm not blaming them. They are from a generation of people who put up, shut up and got on with it. They had no time for talking about feelings. And I know it can be scary confronting things your children are doing which you don't understand or find frightening. I can quite understand (now) why this went undiscussed. But I still think I should have got a bollocking.
Or a banning from the computer or a grounding or something. But nothing came (no pun intended). We all just pretended it hadn't happened and carried on, except now I had become a master of my own; a master of covering my porn-based internet tracks. From thenceforth I was meticulous. No less porn was viewed, of course (don't be silly), but now no trace was left. Not one single address or cookie; from the desktop to the innermost directories, no porn would ever be found again.*
* This probably had the knock-on effect of teaching me a great deal about computers. Just don't let me hear me say porn never taught me nothing.
Now that I think about it, this could indeed have been the turning point. The point when I realised that I should feel ashamed and when I knew I had to keep it all a secret. It could be that this experience – as with the criminalisation of drugs – drove me 'underground' to a place from which I would not emerge for years to come.