Between 1997 and 1999, near the start of my 6-year MSN phase, between Different Class and my late Our Price purchase of This is Hardcore, pasty and with NHS glasses, I spent my nights in a chatroom called Virtual Poohsticks. I waited for my parents to go to bed in their separate rooms, took a towel across the landing, and wrapped it around the 56K modem. I wondered if it would ever catch fire and logged on.

Virtual Poohsticks was peak a/s/l, heavy on ellipses; 19/f/melbourne … 27/m/frome … 15/m/manchester. The screen was #009966; forest green, washy and indeterminate. I sat up till 4am figuring out what kinds of febrile teenaged masculinity were acceptable, what I could wear, what was plausible. I wrote my posts in #ff0066; using neon pink made it feel like I was attending an ongoing swampy, musty party in drag. There was license in it.

One summer’s nights, I had public cybersex there, cribbing furiously and incompetently from Iain Banks (“Complicity”). I mixed Banks’s S&M with tender and over-specific navigations of unknown underwear. I never thought of lurkers, but it didn’t really matter. The performance was for myself. Later, someone told me with unthinking gentleness, you were so sweet … such a gentleman.

Claude Willan lives in New Jersey.