I was doing some research online the other day into how long it would take a healthy teenager to starve to death (for a future D.I. Paolo Storey novel, I hasten to add – no teenagers were harmed in the production of this post).
While surfing the web on the subject, I was appalled at the auto fill options that came up, showing the weird (and frightening) things people search the internet for. I found myself praying that they were all, like me, simply researching for a novel, or maybe for a thesis on crime.
I then had to find out how long it would take to starve the same poor teenager if he had also been subjected to physical abuse. (I know, I’m a horrible person!) The auto fill suggestions that came up for that particular search will give me nightmares for weeks to come. There are some seriously depraved minds out there!
But these searches made me stop and think about other things I’ve needed to find out for my novels. If I had to put my computer in for repairs, what would the repairman make of my web history?
I’ve researched child abuse and people trafficking, not to mention the extensive searches I’ve done on how to kill people and get away with it. My internet history reads like an encyclopaedia of depravity. I have looked into building secret dungeons, what torture instruments are freely available, how to kill with bare hands, what degree of torture people can survive, and how to soundproof rooms.
What if the aforementioned repairman decided I was a menace to society and reported me to the local police? I live in Spain. My Spanish is coming along, but how on earth would I convince the officers of my innocence when the only things I can say in Spanish and be certain of being understood are: “Where is the nearest train station?” and “I would like to book a table for two people for this evening.”
Deciding I should clean up my computer before being hauled off to prison, I ran an online search to find a programme that would eradicate all traces of my browsing history. Needless to say, I once again got side-tracked by the auto fill options that came up. In no time at all, I was on forums devoted to making sure the police couldn’t retrieve data that had been wiped.
Did you know that, even after reformatting, the police have wunderkinds who can reassemble your browsing history from the tiny, weeny, itsy-bitsy fragments left behind? No, neither did I, but by the time I found out, I was beyond fear of being unable to explain my actions in English, never mind in Spanish, and had moved into full-blown paranoia. Not only did I have the history of all those dreadful searches, but I had now added to my possible crimes by showing that I had searched for ways to cover up the earlier online activity.
In a panic, I called my daughter and explained to her my concerns and what I intended to do to make sure I stayed out of a Spanish gaol. “The best thing,” I said, “is to buy a new computer and keep this one just for online searches. That way, when it breaks down, I can just take a hammer to it and scatter the fragments in the local tip.”
I’d expected at the very least a murmur of approval for what I thought was a brilliant plan, but only silence greeted my words. After a short pause, I heard her laughing and then, ignoring me completely, she called out to her partner, “You’ll never guess what my looney mother has come up with this time!”
After she’d related my sad tale to Karl, she came back on the line. “I’m so pleased you use a pen name,” she said. “I won’t have to tell anyone the madwoman locked away in prison is anything to do with me. Don’t worry, Mum, I’ll send you a cake with a file in it. I’m quite sure, with your vivid imagination, you’ll find a way to break free.”
Hmm, good point. Turning to the computer, I typed: escaping from a Spanish prison
A version of this post previously appeared in my Writing Magazine column (as Lorraine Mace): Notes from the Margin