Monday, 9 April 2012

MMC - Extra Portions 5

Let's look at the stats. The period where I talked about Comics International were the highest viewed pages during the entire year long run of the book; yet, surprisingly garnered very few comments - I might have comment approval turned on, but I only received one comment that I didn't run and that was right at the beginning, long before I talked about Dez, CI and that strange semi-celebrity period during the 1990s.

During the late 1990s, Dez Skinn discovered strategy games and through the medium of Age of Empires you got to see just what made the man tick. He is/was a relentless competitor, probably born out of his disinterest and self-confessed uselessness at sports. If there was another way to win, he would pursue it with vigour. As a businessman, he might not have been in Sir Alan Sugar or Steve Jobs's league, but he knew how to survive comfortably and he knew how to be ruthless to protect his life. This isn't a bad thing. Sometimes you have to be hard to be fair - as our incumbent government keep harping on about - but Dez wasn't just ruthless in business, he was also ruthless in play and just about everywhere else he could be.

I learned very quickly that beating him at pool during our lunchtime pub sessions was something I only did if I wanted to spend the afternoon doing the magazine equivalent of cleaning toilets. Don't get me wrong, he knew his way around a pool table; he just wasn't a patch on me. I remember the one time we ever played snooker; I started to deliberately miss shots because he was so woefully inept at it and was growing more and more angry at his inability to beat me. Obviously, this lesson was not one I'd learned well enough by the time we went to San Diego and thrashing him on American pool tables was just enough to turn him into psycho-boss. Watch Kevin Spacey in Swimming With Sharks if you want a watered down version of what it's like to work for a complete and utter bastard.

But Dez's new found 90s love of Age of Empires was something that caused quite a few ructions; especially at the time just before I got 'fired'. I was pretty much rubbish at the game and this was perfect for Dez. It was something he could relentlessly grind me into the floor with and the fact that I had to play it kind of made his almost orgasmic joy greater. When I stopped going down so often, I knew that deadline weekends would have to include at least three hours at the end of being crushed by his hordes of armies - whether I liked it or not. But once I'd been sacked, Dez needed some new whipping boy and Mike Conroy had absolutely zero interest in any computer game and had the strategical nous of a dead vole. So, part of me actually believes there was the Age of Empires reason why Dez began reintroducing me to the magazine's hierarchy. He knew that I was stupid enough to play him.

However, when I returned, properly, to the fold, it was under my conditions, despite what he believed, and we never played AoE again. It was around this time that he started to invite people round to the house in Finchley. There had always been a steady stream of visitors at the office; we got about 5 a week, which might seem little, but was actually a great sense of relief, because Dez loved playing the host, even on deadline and it took a little of the heat off a day. Some of these visitors were AoE friends; others just long standing comics friends and it was after one of these comics friends came over that possibly the most controversial thing during my time at CI happened. One I've never talked about publicly, because for many years I hated myself about not doing something about it. Now, with hindsight and events in recent months I am unbelievably glad that I didn't say anything, because I might have implicated an innocent man in something truly horrific.

Not the mention the fact that of everything I've written about, I can get corroborating statements to confirm that it happened; with this thing I didn't and ended up being complicit in a crime. So, legally, this is the dodgiest ground we've ventured near...

I got in one Monday morning; Dez had thrown the key down and told me to get on with things; he'd had a late night and wouldn't be down for a while. So I let myself in, made a coffee, rolled a spliff and sat down at my computer station, which was still on...

My PC was often used by networked AoE players, so finding it on was not an unusual thing. What I would normally do was just open an application and start getting on with stuff. There was always copy typing to do; classified ads to input and just stuff. This being the 90s, there wasn't ever the huge need to be on line all the time - we had a ISDN connection, because we embraced attachments like no other - but when my monitor cleared, whoever had been on the computer had left themselves in Internet Explorer and for some strange reason, I looked at the browsing history. I don't know why; it's not something I normally did; but this was back in the days of Windows 3.1 and 95 and both Dez and I were pretty much DOS masters, so we often did things you would never contemplate doing with modern PCs.

The URLs displayed all looked pretty sordid, but some of them looked very sordid. Clicking on one I was taken to a page that made me cough up my smoke and inhale my coffee. Abhorred by what I'd seen, I came out of it and sat there with a massive dilemma. I looked at the Temp folder in Windows and there were at least another 40 obscene images all cached there. I did something really stupid. I deleted all the pictures. Deleted the browsing history. Deleted any evidence (or so I believed) that could incriminate Dez in any way. Then my conscious started to work at me. Was my boss a paedophile?

When Dez came down to the office a few hours later, he said the two things that years later would make me relieved I never said or did anything. He told me that he hadn't gone to bed until 4am; he had been working with Rob Barrow on a Camden Mart advert; had crashed and left Rob to let himself out. This meant, at the time, that either both of them were looking or one might have looked after the other had gone - too many variables.

The incident very much disappeared from my mind for a couple of years, but one day when things were getting really tough for Mike Conroy and I, I told my replacement news editor about the web pages. his reaction was as shocked and incredulous as mine had been, but suddenly we now both had a minuscule doubt in our minds about the Stan Lee of British comics...

I've told a number of people about this over the years; most of them dislike Dez with a passion and have berated me for not saying anything. Then last year, Rob Barrow was found guilty of possessing more than 1million indecent images of child pornography. The same Rob Barrow who had sat up working on an ad with Dez until the wee hours of the morning and then had stayed to finish up some things after Dez went to bed. This must have been manna from heaven for a paedophile; given carte blanche on a PC with little or no comeback.

There had been rumblings about Rob's sexuality/preference/interests for years, but none of his closest friends believed any of them. As one said to me about Rob's penchant for young boys helping him at marts was that no one batters an eyelid at youth workers and none of the kids who worked for Rob during the 80s and 90s ever looked like they didn't want to be there - but I suppose that's part of the MO for perverts and paedos. I had even pooh-poohed a suggestion from a friend that Rob was a kiddie-fiddler; it just didn't seem logical or possible. But the facts are there now and deep down I wish I'd said something to Dez at the time. But, what would I have done if he had said or done anything that would have implicated himself or made me doubt the veracity of his comments? I was too much of a coward to say anything, but equally I was also selfish - something like this could have destroyed the magazine and possibly implicated me in the whole sordid business...

I'd like to think this was just 'one of those things', but for the last 12 years I have worked with children and adolescents; I've never been acutely aware of the shit that kids have to suffer at the hands of freaks and perverts. I dislike myself for not saying anything at the time; I hate myself that 15 years down the line the person probably responsible for the filth finally was caught and punished, because it should have happened a damned sight sooner. But, I'm also quite pleased that for once, in a period of my life where knee-jerk reactions were common that I had the patience to try and find out if Dez was really even more evil than I had believed. I'd be a liar if I said I didn't check browser history again after that, but apart from the occasional bit of conventional porn, I never found anything I maybe wouldn't have looked at myself.

As for Age of Empires... well, about 2005, when I first discovered the joys of torrents and illegal downloads, I got a version of the game and played it for about two hours. I hated it as much then as I had the first time around and the first time I have thought of it again was when I sat down to write this. Hopefully it will be the last.

Next time: After spending hours writing MMC: Extra Portions 4, I discovered that I really am so far out of the loop that I'm making a mockery of myself, so next time might be the last time...

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