I was asked to housesit for some friends not so long ago. They were renting a Georgian townhouse in the centre of Newcastle and I was free and agreed. I like the opportunity to live in someone else's house - I am naturally nosy and enjoy the chance for a good rifle through the possessions of others. I am pretty shameless about this and would probably do it to anyone - even if I looked them in the eye and swore to them in advance that I would not touch a thing. I didn't feel too much guilt about having a bit of a look in the couple's cupboards - we had never really been what I would regard as 'close'.
There wasn't really much to be found in the house. They had only moved in a few months earlier and had chosen to leave a lot of unpacked stuff in the cellar - which had sadly allowed itself to flood. I do draw the line at rummaging through other people's damp stuff. I couldn't figure out the password on their computer - I tried birthdays, his nickname for her, her nickname for him, the cat's name ('Fanny'), all were joyless - so, no chance of knowing what his/her/their taste was in web-porn.
I swallowed my disappointment, donned his dressing gown and parked myself in front of the television. There was no evidence of any filth on video or DVD - only a large collection of comedy and a small collection of 'Family Gatherings' on VHS. The comedy was the stuff to be found in most young professional households - 'The Office', various Peter Kays. There was also some older stuff - the kind of thing that middle class blokes do seem to cling to: 'Black Adder', 'Red Dwarf' etc. I sat and wondered if this couple still actually watched this older comedy. More importantly, did they still genuinely laugh at it? Did they know key lines and compete with each other to recite them verbatim? I considered this possibility, thought of Ben Elton and Richard Curtis (and 'Love, Actually') and decided to pass on 'Black Adder'.
I read the blurb on the newer comedy - all of which I'd seen - and really couldn't be bothered with it either. 'Family Gatherings' it was then. If I couldn't piece together a true picture of what these 'friends' were really like from their computer and didn't feel the urge to paw damp storage boxes, I could learn something from them in a family context.
The gatherings were all of Jeremy's family. Family members seemed very much enthralled by their own importance. By the looks of it they were very inclined to mark any minor event with a celebratory meal and a post-prandial oration (usually by Jeremy's father). I happened to know that Jeremy's father was into his second marriage, to a French woman. Amy had voiced to me her sadness that her in-laws spoke French at the dinner table and festooned their mantel-piece with framed pictures of Jeremy's ex-girlfriend. The father certainly looked pompous enough on the video I was watching. I could see the shrine to Jeremy's ex as a celebratory speech was made on the occasion of some junior family member's success in her 'A' Levels. The results were recited in detail - by subject and grade. The camera alternated between Jeremy's father and the poor girl in question. She was hiding behind a hand, desperately trying to hide her embarrassment and her braces. Jeremy's father continued regardlessly until his progress was halted by a sudden snowstorm on the screen. I lingered for a while and felt slightly mesmerised by the fuzzy screen and the crackling sound of static electricity. I resolved to watch something else and rose to my feet. I was then surprised by the sudden return of an image to the screen. The blurred picture began to clear and showed Jeremy standing in a doorway - being filmed by someone inside the room. Nothing strange in that - apart from the fact that he was exposing himself and seemed to be looking for the approval/admiration of the camera-person.
Jeremy then approached the camera - his wagging penis drifting in and out of focus as he did so. The camera then switched to his face and an expression of immense pride in the achievement jutting from his flies.
'Come closer' came a feminine whisper from behind the camera.
The camera then panned down again to groin level. Jeremy's penis suddenly came into sharp focus and dinked the camera lens. It was in such close up that it seemed to be about to enter the room. The camera picked up the sound of one of the filmmakers tutting. Jeremy took command of the camera and, as positions were adjusted, the sofa and various Ikea products flashed across the screen. I was then troubled by the possibility of seeing Amy nude - she had confided in me and to carry on watching would seem like a kind of betrayal.
I carried on watching. I was surprised to see that the female in the home movie was actually Jeremy's ex-girlfriend, Anna. I had to do a double-take and get close to the screen - as Anna and Amy looked so alike that they could have been sisters. This eased my sense of betrayal and I returned to the sofa. The couple tried to have sex in various positions. Anna made appreciative gasps and Jeremy grunted and offered occasional words of encouragement to his partner, such as 'Yes, take it!' and 'Who's your daddy!' In the absence of a tripod, however, the production values were pretty low. Anna began to criticise Jeremy for his inability to maintain his rhythm and film steadily at the same time. Jeremy was distracted by this criticism and his enthusiasm visibly waned.
As the screen once again became snowy, I began to wonder why the tape was so accessible. It was, after all, a film of Jeremy and his ex-girlfriend on a shelf in the home of Jeremy and his present wife. The tape seemed casually filed - among the comedy tapes. (It took several days for me to track down Jeremy's cache of professionally produced pornography - in a storage box with the camping gear in the garage). I wondered if they watched the video together and if so, why? Perhaps he left it around as a reminder to her that he was a still a young buck who could walk out and romp with other women at any time.
I bumped into Jeremy recently, as we approached the bar of a city pub at exactly the same time. We had a polite, inane chat about nothing in particular. I briefly contemplated confessing to having watched the video. That feeling passed as he told me that he and Amy had divorced. I feigned surprise and commiseration. He then wound up the conversation and we shook hands. I noticed that he was being beckoned back to a table by a new girlfriend. Jeremy smiled and curled his fingers around their drinks and crisps on the bar. He returned to his table and to a girlfriend who looked so remarkably like Anna and Amy that all three could have been sisters.