It was a bright Sunday afternoon and I was harmlessly at my desk, minding my own business, when from the other end of the house I heard the screech of a thousand cats being boiled alive in oil. ‘Why did he do it? WHY??’ a female teenage voice wailed, half plaintive, half accusing, all righteous fury. It was my daughter’s — and evidently I’d been rumbled.
So why exactly had the poor girl’s embarrassing father chosen to film a naked video of himself and then post it up on YouTube for the entire world to see? Well the main one, fairly obviously, was as a satirical response to Victoria Bateman, the Cambridge professor who has been protesting against Brexit over the past few weeks by using the novel method of getting her kit off on TV and the internet.
Like Dr Bateman, I scrawled BREXIT in black ink across my chest. Unlike her, I did leave at least a teeny bit to the imagination: I covered my wedding tackle with an enormous dangling sock. Partly this was for puerile comedic purposes; partly to avoid being censored; but mainly because filming outdoors in February is not conducive to the most flattering portrait of a chap’s rude bits.
With luck, my video would make me the latest viral internet sensation. Millions would love me for the devil-may-care japester I am. Also, thanks to some intensive sessions at the gym recently, I’m looking quite hench for a balding, middle-aged man. So this video, it occurred to me, might provide a useful corrective to that awful picture doing the rounds of me in my swimming trunks, taken when I was seriously ill but didn’t realise how ill, looking like a hideous image from the liberation of Belsen.
What I tried to avoid thinking about were any negative consequences. I suspect that this is a characteristic I share with a lot of males. We’re very good at thinking how great it would be if we got the chance to sleep with Scarlett Johansson; we’re not so good at considering the potential fallout should our wives or girlfriends ever find out.
I must have had an inkling, though, because after I’d put the video up I do remember becoming more than usually shifty and awkward with the Fawn. Obviously I had to tell her, as an act of damage limitation before someone else drew her attention to it. But when?
The problem is, I realised, there’s never a good time to tell your wife that you’ve posted a nudie video of yourself on the internet. There comes a point when you just have to bite the bullet. So I did, in the steam room at the health club, where I figured she might be a bit more relaxed.
‘I’ve done something naughty which is going to make you quite cross,’ I began. Then I paused to give her time to imagine lots of worse things, so that she’d end up being more relieved than angry. Still, she didn’t take it well. ‘Why?’ she asked.
Well I’ve given you the main reasons above — vanity, irresponsibility, a craving for publicity — but I didn’t think these would pass muster. Luckily I had a trick up my sleeve: ‘Michael Gove made me do it.’
Besides being a pretty handy excuse, it also had the advantage of being more or less true. ‘You know what you should do…?’ Gove had suggested a few days before. Possibly he was being mischievous, as Gove so often is. Or even slyly vengeful, as a result of some rude words I’d written recently about his environmental policies. Whatever, when a cabinet minister in Her Majesty’s government urges you to make a nude video, the effect can be quite emboldening.
After the video was up I waited, trepidatiously, for the public reaction. To my relief, there wasn’t much. Yes, I know my original intention was to go viral. When it comes down to it, though, you’d much rather achieve mass public recognition for a brilliant book you’d written, or a great documentary you’d helmed, than you would for being a naked pillock with a long sock hanging between his legs.
Nervously, I read the comments on YouTube. Most were favourable — some congratulating me on being a lad, some enjoying the Red Hot Chili Peppers sock-on–willy reference, some saying how much they enjoyed the birdsong in the background. ‘We’re going to be OK,’ I told the Fawn.
What I’d quite reckoned without, though, was the wrath of my children. I’d sort of hoped, somehow, that they wouldn’t get to hear about my video. But how likely is that with creatures who spend their entire existence online? It was Boy who betrayed me. He didn’t like the video, considering it undignified and unhelpful to his own image. Rather than tell me so to my face, though, he simply texted his sister and let her do his dirty work for him.
That explosion — as described at the beginning — was all he could have hoped for and more. In vain did I plead that taking the video down would make it look like I had something to hide. But Girl was having none of it: she insisted I kill it instantly.
God, teenage children are a bloody nuisance if you’re a writer whose natural mode is the confessional. The reason they enjoy all the advantages they do — the celebrities they meet, the cachet of having a semi-famous father, etc — is that you’re good, really, really good, at revealing yourself, warts and all, in public. But the moment you try to do what you’ve spent pretty much your whole career doing, they censor you like they wish you were a boring banker, not a playful journalist who refuses to grow up.
Well, sorry kids. Dad’s not a banker — tough titty. That’s why you’re getting written about here…