There was a time back in the early 80s that home computing, as it was called back then, totally took over my life. I am not saying that this was unusual, it was far from it. In fact for a while I was almost normal. For the first five or so years of the 1980s there was a veritable explosion in the micro electronics industry, and I was caught up in it. A young teenager, crying out for something new. An adventure into the unknown. Strangely enough my home computer very satisfactorily filled this void as I became obsessed with anything to do with the ZX Spectrum 48 K.
For a while back then, I dedicated all of my time to learning the ins and outs of computers, from game playing to writing my own programs. I hate to say it, but I guess I became a computer geek. Gone were the days of throwing sticks at trees to rid them of their conkers. Gone were the days spent patrolling the golf course in my Wellington boots, jumping in the golf pond to retrieve wayward balls. Gone were the long summer evening strolls wandering along the disused railway lines with my mates, scouring the bushes for pornographic magazines. I even gave up on my endless wanderings through the woods, alongside the river bank and down by the caves, constantly on the hunt for my Holy Grail - that I should stumble upon a porn shoot and be invited to join in. (Ok, that was kind of weird).
During this period of my life I became friends with a whole new bunch of geeky kids. Kids who were more excited at finding a weather sodden copy of Computer Weekly in a bush than a well thumbed copy of Razzle. Whilst most of the lads in our class were trying to animate girls libidos, my new mates and I were busy trying to animate block graphics. And we were probably happier for it, as it turned out.
It was one of my new computer mates who introduced me to Barry. We were walking to town one day, when he turned around to me and said "You should meet my mate Barry, he's a whizz with computers and he can copy any game ever made". And those were the five magic words, "copy any game ever made". Hard for me to believe it now, but accumulation was the nature of the beast back in those days. The more games that you possessed, the more respect from your geeky peers you won. Barry sounded like just the sort of person that could elevate me up the binary ladder to become King of the Geeks.
It was evident from the exterior of Barry's house, that this was a family of little wealth and little enthusiasm for gardening. The grass in the front garden of their council owned property was so unkept that curtains were not necessary to keep the house private. The window and door frames were so rotten, that you had be careful where you knocked for fear of either the glass falling into the living room or your fist going through the door. When we did eventually find a safe place to knock, we stood back for what seemed like an age, until Barry presented himself at the entrance.
Like the exterior of the house, Barry's exterior was also tattered. His greasy black hair making me feel instantly itchy and his nicotine stained finger tips making me feel happy that I had never indulged in the habit. His black woollen jumper, which looked like it had never been changed in years, had some very suspicious stains on it and his glasses were held together by tape. As first impressions went, they didn't come much worse than this.
I never have had a strong stomach. Let's re-phrase that. I have always had an absurdly weak stomach. Even to this day, if a bin wagon (garbage truck) drives past me in the street, I have to nip down the nearest side street to purge my guts. The smell that hit me when Barry opened the front door sent my stomach into instant convulsions. Only the greatest of resolve stopped me from throwing up all over him, there and then.
"Yeah", he said with little enthusiasm in his voice.
"This is Andy" my mate told him.
"Yeah, what you do you want?" he enquired.
"Can we come in and see your computer games", asked my mate.
"S'pose so", Barry replied, as he walked into the house and up the stairs.
By the time I reach the top of the stairs I know that my time at Barry's house is going to be a struggle. The stench of cigarette smoke hangs heavy in the air making our ascent of the short staircase feel more like the ascent of a small moutain. I have to waft my arms around in an exaggerated fashion to enable me to see where I am going. Once on the landing Barry makes a sharp right turn and enters a room. With trepidation, I follow him at close quarters and immediately wish that I hadn't. Fifteen years later when travelling around Honduras, I am to stay in a room in Tegucigapla that makes this room look like a palace, but for now Barry's bedroom takes the prize as the dirtiest sleeping quarters that I have ever encountered.
The walls of the room are etched in years of browny yellow tobacco stains and the disgusting smell of sweat permeates the air. Around the room, are littered, dinner plates half full of food. Some of them have been there so long that they are covered in a layer of green fur. An ash tray sits on a chair, literally brimming with old cigarette butts, and behind it, a waste paper bin over spilling with yet more cigarette butts. Barry offers us both a seat on the bed, where I tentatively perch myself whilst trying to rid my mind of any thoughts. A task that is only made possible by focussing on a Pink Floyd "the wall" poster which looks like it is new and is therefore the only clean thing in the room.
Barry spends the next few hours playing computer games, whilst I watch and play mind games with myself in an attempt to pretend that I am not actually there. In my head, I am in a happy place, a place where rooms are cleaned, cigarettes are banned and unneaten food is disposed of directly. When it comes time to leave, I can't exit the house fast enough. I bid farewell to my mate, run off around the corner and wretch up my guts, before running home for a shower.
With the benefit of hindsight, I am unsure why I ever returned to Barry's house. One can only assume that my addiction to computer games overruled any sensible decision that I may make. But return there I did, time and time again, until .......... well you'll find out in a minute.
Every single time I go there is as bad as the last. I never acclimatise. One thing is for sure though, I never go there feeling hungry, thirsty or in need of the toilet. Given the hygiene levels of Barry's room, I am petrified to see the other rooms, god forbid that I ever need to use the toilet. And despite his mum's insistence that she makes me a cup of tea every time I go around, I always manage to dispose of it out of the bedroom window when nobody is looking.
Then one day, I make the mistake of going around there on a Friday evening. I mean, really! how was I to know that Friday evening was his parents porn night?
As Barry lets me in through the front door, I swear that I hear sex noises coming from the living room. He notices the expression upon my countenance and tells me in a totally matter of fact manner, that Friday is his parents porn night. This comes as a great surprise to me, for many reasons, but two reasons stand out in particular.
1. Is it not kind of weird that the kid knows about his own parents porn night?
2. His dad is blind. I shit you not, his dad has zero vision.
Once again Barry taps into my train of thought and furnishes me with the information that I require, to solve the second half of this mystery.
"You're probably wondering how a blind person watches porn aren't you?" (Phew, well it least he realises that this is weird).
"Mum describes it to him", he continues without giving me a chance to answer.
"No way, you've got to be kidding right?", I exclaim, unable to contain my shock.
This discussion goes on for the next ten minutes. Barry keeps trying to change the subject, but I just can't. It's all too weird for words. I keep bringing it back to his parents weird porn habit. I honestly believe that he is taking the piss. So much so that he eventually orders me to follow him down the stairs, so that we can listen to what's going on in the living room.
We sit perched behind the door, and lo and behold, I witness with my very ears, the sound of a blind man having porn described to him by his wife in a strong Lancashire accent.
"Can yer see her fanny?" his dad enquires.
"Yeah he's just about to shove his knob up it" his mum replies. Her voice filled more with a sense of duty than desire.
It goes on like this for some time and I have to grab my sides to stop myself from laughing. We go back upstairs before he reaches his climax, but my own satisfaction for the weird, has been well and truly fulfilled.
But, it doesn't end there. His mum decides that tonight is going to be the night that she not only offers me a cup of tea, but a pie as well. To make matters worse, she decides to sit in the bedroom chatting to us. Thereby forcing me to eat the pie and drink the tea. Maybe her hormones have been affected by the Friday night porn session, I think to myself. What if she's after some teenage action? This thought both repulses me and excites me at the same time. Or maybe she is disgusted by her own actions and can't face her husband- yes that must be it. But let me tell you this, every single mouthful of that pie was torture and swilling it down with the cup of tea had even less appeal.
As if things could get any worse, his mum decides to sit and watch me eat. I swear that she is on to me and is doing it on purpose. Maybe, after years of describing porn to a blind man, she has total contempt for the male species, I think to myself . She is watching my every bite, her head going up and down in unison with my jaw chomps. And I'm trying not to think about it. Once again I'm thinking happy thoughts, my grandma's Yorkshire pudding, my sisters cheese cake, my mum's pavlova - please god, let thoughts of this pie, exit my mind. But, I can't finish it. The inside of my mouth goes salty, my eyes start to stream and my stomach is churning. I can't take it any more, I have to puke. I lunge for the bedroom door and bolt through it in record speed, in direction of the dreaded toilet
I've never really thought about a blind man's bathroom habits before. Obviously he's going to have trouble hitting the bowl but I'd never really given it much thought. I mean, you don't do you?
My fear of this room was based solely on the fact that the rest of the house was filthy. Do you remember that toilet in the movie Trainspotting? The one in the betting shop where Renton loses his suppository and dives into the bowl to retrieve it. Remember how filthy the place was? Like Scotland's dirtiest toilet. Yeah, well that toilet was clean compared to this one. Years of piss spraying against the walls have left their mark and is that a turd on the floor? Oh Christ, I think it is. I've got to get out of this house.
Like a man possessed by a malignant pie, I charge down the stairs and attempt to make my exit through the front door. But it's locked "shit" "fuck", "bastard" - it's locked. So, I charge through the living room, where Barry's dad is still listening to porn. He looks up as I whistle passed him, probably in the hope that his narrator has returned. But I am out, and through the kitchen before he can ask me for any assistance. Fortunately the back door is slightly ajar. leading me to kick at it with my right foot, which immediately goes through the rotten wood. I don't care. All I need is fresh air.
Once outside, I summon up every remaining bit of energy to sprint away from the house. I just want to get away from this hellish dwelling. My mouth, which is by now full of sick is puffed out like a blowfish waiting to emit its poison, and that's exactly what I do. As I reach the motorway bridge, I projectile vomit my pie and tea, straight over the edge onto the traffic below. And then I run, harder than I've ever run before and call me shallow, but I never return.