Go ape over blocked sites

1st March 2013 at 00:00

"There's A reason we block these sites, you know." The speaker was Cheryl, an IT rozzer with the eyesight of an eagle and the moral compass of the Taliban.

"It's not for me," I said, "but one of my students. The search in question was blocked because the search terms included the word 'breast'."

"And your complaint is?"

"She was doing a research project. On cancer. Can't you adjust the software to accommodate legitimate enquiry?"

"Look," Cheryl said, "you let one apparently innocent query through and you open the floodgates to every porn-crazed pervert in the college."

I like to think she was talking about the students. Personally, I won't even open my Hotmail account at work for fear of some dodgy spam leaping out of the screen at me.

And don't I have every reason to be cautious? Feeling I had been well and truly "Cherylled", I went online in search of a nice clean joke to start my afternoon class on a humorous note. For a moment the screen went blank. Then "Access denied" flashed into view, followed by the more ominous "This attempt has been logged. Category: Jokes and Games".

Ho hum. Who says Big Brother retired back in 1984? But I still had 10 minutes of my break left. Time for some innocuous recreation: the BBC website. I clicked on one of those "most watched" videos of the zoological kind.

It was about baboons. Apparently they can read. Or rather, after a huge amount of effort, one of them has been taught to recognise a few words, which may not be quite the same thing. I tried a second baboon video. This one was about the social life of the troop. At a certain time of the year, it said, the females come on heat, but will only mate with males who have been of assistance to them when they weren't on heat. "What you might call the 'doing the washing up dividend'," my cynical colleague observed.

In the background, David Attenborough's voice-over continued to chronicle their love life. Then the camera moved in for a close-up. Having passed the "loading the dishwasher" test, one priapic male called Gerald was about to claim his reward. It all happened so quickly. One minute he was eyeing up his intended's distinctive orange rear, the next he was going at it hammer and tongs.

As fast as I could, I clicked the cancel button. But too late. Because at this point the screen chose to seize up - with Gerald caught in mid rumba. "So what are you watching now?" came a voice from behind me.

I turned, but I didn't need to. I recognised Cheryl's tones only too well. "I just thought I'd stop by and see how you were getting on with your search problems," she said.

"Just some little nature thing on the BBC," I replied. At this point I realised that the video wasn't frozen. It was buffering. Helplessly I watched - we watched - as the screen came back to life. Gerald really was getting payback for all those clean dishes.

Cheryl looked at me. I looked at the floor. "Not really what I was expecting," I mumbled.

"You are scraping the bottom of the barrel, aren't you?" she snapped. "Couldn't you wait 'til you got home? Yes, there's a reason we block these sites. And from where I'm standing, I'd say I was looking at him."

Stephen Jones is a lecturer in an FE college in London.

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