As I had more time and got more internet savvy, I ventured further. Although I am happily single, I often wanted a bit of company, although my little dog had a hearty appetite for our 'Dine in for Two's', he wasn't much of conversationalist. The best he could manage at the end of a meal was ''ere, wasn't one of those puddings supposed to be mine?'. He only really had two subjects, food and walkies as in 'I'm sure the chicken's done, go take a look, come on, I'll show you where it is or I've been watching it for 2 hours', and 'here's my lead, get your arse off that sofa, that raging storm outside will be great fun'.
For me the social side of the internet was phenomenal. Then, as now, I was blown away by the fact that I could talk to anyone about any subject I wanted. I started with baby steps. I like books, so I looked for book chats. Unfortunately, I didn't find a Bloomsbury Group deconstructing Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, I found a hot and heavy group from the 40s/50s discussing Stephensen's Rocket with some randy stragglers from Pub Chat.
My breakthrough came with the Celebrity Big Brother chat room, if I had thought the message boards a trifle brusque, the chat rooms were ferocious! It was the year Michael Barrymore and George Galloway were in the Big Brother house, so there were ding dongs all round. I couldn't understand how people could become so emotionally involved in a program on the telly, to the point where they were calling the police and their lawyers. Then, as now, I found it most of it highly amusing, but I could also see the dark and sinister side.
I will not tell a lie, all that fighting down in the mud and the blood and beer gave me a buzz! It was like a more genteel version of Fight Club (maybe not so genteel), where I knew sure as eggs is eggs I could always find someone else in the mood to go ten rounds. To be honest, that is probably one of things I miss most about my ex, he was always ready, willing and able to partake in a verbal or physical spar. A rowdy game of Trivial Pursuit could often end in police being called and a Restraining Order (a sparrow HAS got 3 toes you eejit!). We would have been great on Jeremy Kyle!
But I jest, most of the people I encountered in the forums were much like myself. People looking for a bit of company and a good giggle and it appalled me watching those I liked and who's views I wanted to hear more of, being driven away by gangs of marauding malcontents who's mission it was to stop debate and all or any signs of joviality. Ever since I was a little kid, I have stood up to bullies. Not only could I stand up for myself, I could stand up for others too. I could talk the hind legs off a donkey and when all else failed, I could punch as good as any boy!
The more the gangs tried to drive people away, the more I dug my heels in. One of the pluses of losing everything, is that you literally have nothing left to lose! I can kind of see why George Orwell traded his posh suit with a tramp and headed to London and Paris. Having nothing can be incredibly liberating, it makes you wonder why you fought so hard to hang onto stuff in the first place.
Unfortunately many people see spending hours on the internet talking to strangers as kind of weird and sad, and they have to pretend that they don't do it. It implies that you have no life and nothing better to do. These ideas are ridiculous of course, chatting on the internet is no different to chatting over the garden fence, but a zillion times better. You can actually choose who you speak to, tell them your name, or not, and move swiftly on if you get bored. Millions of people who would otherwise be alone and isolated can now connect with others who share their interests, rather than their nearest and dearest who are probably telling them to give it a rest. We should be enjoying it, rather than covering it up.
For the first time in history we are not restricted to selecting our life partners from neighbours' offspring or the chance meeting of soulful eyes across a dance floor. I am a confirmed singleton (no one will have me, lol), but for those who's mojo's are still active, they no longer have to make do with the nice but dim or the slutty professional wife looking for more sparkly rings for her toes.
But back to the strange world of the forums. In 2007 specialist forums sprung up everywhere, it was before Facebook completely took over. My encounter with the CBB board, had left me somewhat shellshocked and I had avoided social media for a while. However, the Madeleine case had sparked my interest, and AOL were directing those wishing to discuss the case towards the Europe Board. The main commentators on the case posted on the Mirror readers comments. Most were very aggressive and had little time for newbies, they were firmly entrenched. Other National newspapers had similar comment boards - but all were closed down at the end of 2007/beginning of 2008.
The most prominent board that sprung out of the 'Nationals' was The Three Arguidos. I joined, but I rarely attempted to post. Even then they took themselves far too seriously. I stuck with the Europe Board because no-one was in charge, even though takeovers were threatened daily, lol, and no-one could censor me! Any sane person would have run for the hills, but I got a weird sort of buzz out of it. I'd go to bed thinking 'ah, so, it's a fight you want!' lol. I didn't want to get into any sort of actual fisticuffs with them I hasten to add, I just wanted to hand out the occasional clip round the ear, or a complete body slam if my opponent was a fascist. My profile was Cristobell, Marxist, Feminist, so I was asking for it really, the lol, came later.
No doubt my critics will make much of my 'sick' need for conflict. The Freudians might say I need to relive my childhood trauma over and over so I can make things right. I am still fighting the same injustices I saw then as I see now, and I still can't shut up about them. The people I stood up to were the bullies, people who believed their chosen path in life real or imagined, should be the same for everyone else.
Some were pure evil, they latched onto and logged sensitive issues that would bring the most pain to their targets. Disability, loneliness, depression, drugs, alcohol, all the things we should have been talking about, were strictly taboo. I have always been honest about my own bipolar, I prefer to challenge the piss takers head on than hide away from them.
I first ventured onto the AOL Europe Board in September 2007. It had been running for several months, and sides had been taken! The McCanns had never been out of the news and my poor ill mum and I were following the case. I kept wondering why the parents were lying and making light of the distance between the apartment and the tapas bar. And why they showed no signs of guilt. It niggled me.
The AOL boards were a phenomenon. completely unmonitored, uncensored and on occasion a complete free for all. Antis posting with Pros, and the ratio was about 50:50. A good friend of mine, a psychiatrist, took a look there one day and asked if I was completely insane. I'm afraid I had to say yes! I was completely addicted. It was my first port of call every morning and every break time! Even the most trivial of arguments were blown completely out of proportion. I met people I would never encounter or socialise with in the real world, and the opportunity to tell those who's views I found obnoxious and narrow minded, exactly what I thought of them. Albeit, I tried to do it in the nicest possible way.
I have never been afraid of the trolls in a physical sense, they are a bit like vampires, they can only suck on your blood if you allow them in. When I shut my laptop, they all go back to their underground coffins. I give them as little or as much of my time as I choose.
Bizarrely those of us on the Aol boards became 'friends' of sorts. The lines remained firmly divided between anti and pro, but the bitching often turned into uproarious exchanges of banter that led to much hilarity. Hundreds came and went, but there were 20 or 30 of us who posted (bickered) regularly and we were all equally hooked, not just to the McCann case but to arguing with each other. And of course after 5 years we had to become more creative with our insults!
Some of them were I fear, criminally insane. Especially, the fanatically right wing who thought the muslims were to blame for everything. Those who worshipped the Drs. McCann, were just weird. They lived fantasy lives in cuckoo land acting out their Perry Mason moments, where they prove beyond reasonable doubt that the butler did it with the candlestick in the pantry.
I don't have any regrets for the years I wasted on the Europe boards. They gave me an insight into human behaviour I could never have found anywhere else. Mostly, I remember the laughter, and I remember having access to a friendly ear any time of the day or night. As an insomniac, manic depressive and regular caller to the Samaritans, it became a lifeline for me, depending on who was online, I good have a good giggle, a cosy heart to heart, an in depth debate or a full blown street fight.
The Europe Board, that became Penny Stocks, then Ya Gotta Laugh, was the wild West of the internet. There were no monitors, regulators or admin. It was a free for all, no-one could be banned and no-one could take charge, but it found it's own, albeit very low, level. The potty mouths and the name callers got little attention unless they could say something substantial, and of course, they couldn't. Cloning was a regular occurrence and I had dozens; Cristohell, Cristobella, just about every variation of Cristobell you could imagine, lol. Many of my enemies have been around for a very long time, and I am still laughing.
I don't know if the McCanns kept their 'big gun' monitors for the 3 Arguidos and the organised groups that emerged out of the closure of the Mirror comments, but it seemed that way. I'm guessing AOL (America OnLine) was beyond the control of Clarence, so they ignored it. The eejits trying to bring Law and Order to AOL, were mostly uniform fantasists acting out their dreams of a Fourth Reich. When AOL finally closed their chatrooms, I found my way to the Jill Havern forum and that was when things took a much darker turn, but I will save it for another day.
For myself, I have no desire to join any more forums, I find it laborious trying to write with a censorship sword hanging over me. It is impossible to please all the people all the time, and writing shouldn't be like that. I have no problem whatsoever with people disagreeing with me. And they have as much freedom as I have to write whatever they want in response. I don't claim to be right, God forbid, I am always open to different opinions, I welcome different perspectives. Those miffed that I won't published their comments, simply need to cut out the personal abuse and put forward some valid points. There is no need to be rude.
In the case of Madeleine McCann, I would love to be wrong, but I haven't yet heard a single argument that persuades that I am, or that there is even room for doubt. And bizarrely, all that threatening, stalking and name calling hasn't changed my mind either.