Wednesday, 25 June 2008

On the Game

It struck me the other day how certain phrases in the English language can mean two entirely different things and potentially lead to horrendously embarrassing situations.

I got talking to a woman I met in a bar recently who one could describe as, for want of a better word, ‘glamorous’. She asked me what sort of things I am into and I replied that I still enjoyed a bit of role-playing which I’d dabbled with quite frequently at school, but didn’t have much time for these days.

I noticed her face light up at this point, and she seemed intrigued to know more about my starting so young and how I’d found my first time. I told her that the first character I ever played was an heroic monk with a magical staff, and that I outlasted all my acquaintances who all perished at the hands of the gamesmaster. When she asked if my parents approved, I told her that they would’ve preferred me to spend more time on my exam revision rather than shooting along dark tunnels waving my staff at anything that moved.

She was curious to find out why there had been no girls in my group. I told her that it was mainly because I’d had an all-boy private education and, at the time, girls to me were about as fantastical as the treasure we were all seeking in the depths of the gamesmaster’s dungeon. The woman took a sip of her drink and, leaning towards me sensuously, asked if I’d like to cast a spell on her with my magic staff because she had some treasure worth finding, and called me ‘big boy’.

I said that I hadn’t realised she was also into Dungeons & Dragons, and it was only when I noticed her confused expression that I suddenly realised she was touting for business and had been referring to role-playing games of a very different kind. I felt my face go white and apologised profusely, explaining that I was talking about the tabletop kind of role-playing. She just shrugged and said that, in her experience, it didn’t matter where you did it as it all amounted to the same thing.

I left the bar pronto, and on my way back to the station found myself recalling another tabletop game we all used to play called Wargames which involves fighting imaginary battles using a set of rules and metal soldiers. A boy in my House came up to me one day and asked if I’d be interested in joining the school’s Wargames Society. I’d never heard of it at the time, and when I asked him what it was he said that a bunch of them would get together in a classroom every Tuesday afternoon and ‘beat the shit out of each other.’

Naturally, I declined the offer.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Spaced Out

I have always been puzzled at why humans seemingly have an obsession with sitting in the most inconvenient of places when one is trying to work, especially when there are plenty of other more suitable places available. It can be anywhere – a quiet café, a library with thousands of study tables, or a deserted hotel lounge bar on a Sunday.

I recently took advantage of some downtime at the nearby ExCeL exhibition centre and headed for the bar at the Novotel hotel which I hoped would be free of exhibition goers. I was pleased to find that it was completely deserted, offering a perfect writing environment with none of the usual distractions. I ordered my food at the bar and settled onto a sofa next to the window with its panoramic views over the Royal Victoria Dock.

As I was about to start writing, I heard a commotion from the nearby reception area. Soon enough, a group of middle-aged people appeared at the bar, dressed as though they were on their way to an international golf tournament in the customary vibrant sporting attire.

After recalling that no sport events had been scheduled at ExCeL, I realised that they were, in fact, a group of American tourists. As they looked around for somewhere to sit, completely spoilt for choice, I noticed to my horror that they had targeted the area where I was sitting, with its inviting (and empty!) sofa and armchairs. I hoped they might take a detour at the last moment. But no. Of all the sofas that were in the bar, they had to sit opposite mine – apparently because it was a “cool position” with a “rad view of the lake”.

Any writing aspirations I had for the afternoon totally dispersed as I was now completely surrounded by this multi-coloured group. The American sitting next to me in a purple astronaut outfit asked how I was doing. I lied and said that I was doing very well thank you. He then saw the laptop and asked me what it was for. I lied again and said that I was writing a Hollywood blockbuster. This caused a whole raft of excitable reactions from the astronaut’s friends, and he asked me if I’d ever heard of a writer called William Shakespeare.

To return a certain degree of courtesy, I asked the Americans where their golf tournament was being held. They said they had come to England on a “culture vacation” where they planned to visit William Shakespeare’s house in Stratford, and did I know where they could catch the Jubilee Line.

I debated whether to inform them that they were 120 miles off course and the Stratford they were looking for was on the banks of the Avon in Warwickshire and not in East London. But I thought it would be more productive for them (and amusing for me) to discover the wonders of the Olympic Park building site instead.

I didn’t feel guilty. For all I know they could be coming to the London Olympics in 2012 – so I’ll have done them a favour by giving them directions four years earlier.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Scone to Dust

To some, the invention of the microwave is a blessing. To others, like myself, it can be, and very often is, one of the worst inventions in recent history. There is a trend in modern-day society to zap everything, whether it be a processed ready-meal from cold, or one’s hot coffee which has gone cold (usually because one is trying to work out how to zap one’s ready-meal in the microwave).

It is a bad habit which has extended far beyond the boundaries of the domestic abode and is now running rife in the ever-expanding café culture of Britain where no food item is safe.

Last weekend, I awoke with an unusual urge to write. As many of you know, writing at home is now a fairly impossible task for me, so I took the Docklands Light Railway into the City and eventually found a quiet café (with an available window seat!) somewhere down The Strand.

Feeling rather peckish, I decided to accompany my iced latte with a scone and jam. Not the best thing to consume when one is on a diet, but it was an improvement over my usual choice of chocolate fudge cake, crisps and a shortbread biscuit. I indicated the best-looking scone I could see behind the glass to the barista, a European girl with limited language skills, and she placed it out of view behind the counter whilst she crushed the ice for my latte.

It was only when I sat at my table that I realised exactly why she had place my beloved fruity scone out of view. As I picked it up, I noticed it was warm and soggy! There is nothing worse than a warm and soggy scone, and when I cut into it with my knife it completely disintegrated into a pile of soggy crumbs (the scone, not the knife). Naturally, I went back to complain. The barista looked at me strangely, but took my soggy crumbs and went to get me a new, fully intact scone.

It was at this point that I was distracted by a call on my mobile phone from Pink who was wondering why I’d left her at home and was convinced that I cared “more about that bloody laptop” than I did her. This was a bad thing to happen because when I returned to my seat and cut into my new scone it disintegrated just like the first one, having also been zapped by the trigger-happy barista whilst I was reassuring Pink that I was not having an affair with a dual-core processor.

By now I had lost any incentive to write. So I just sat in my seat making funny pictures out of the remnants of my soggy scone, ignoring the strange looks from other customers who were all tucking into soggy paninis.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Style Trial

One prides oneself in the knowledge that one has a certain sense of fashion. To be slightly more accurate, one has no sense of fashion whatsoever. The only sense of fashion one has is watching episodes of Project Catwalk (and its American sister Project Runway) in the vain hope of an education, but this only seems to make the problem ten times worse.

I do not understand why someone would wear a dress made out of chocolate bar wrappers. Nor do I understand why it is necessary for a fashion guru to recreate the Eiffel Tower on somebody’s head in order to inspire people to buy a pair of designer gloves which do not actually feature in the fashion show itself or have anything to do with France. But I digress.

As a writer – struggling or otherwise – it is important to look the part. Recently, I concluded that if I look like a proper writer then I shall surely feel like a proper writer and actually get round to doing some proper writing. Thus, I decided to buy some new jeans. I have yet to acknowledge Pink’s advice on numerous occasions that I must never, ever go clothes shopping alone (this is for my own good, apparently). So, as a compromise, I pre-arranged with myself that I would take fashion advice from the nearest sales assistant in the Marble Arch branch of Next.

Everything was going according to plan until I entered the shop and found the jeans, and realised how something once so simple is now more like rocket science. I was faced with hundreds of pairs of jeans, all labelled with peculiar names such as straight cut, boot cut, biker fit, guest fit or tapered leg. By process of elimination, I decided that I did not want biker fit as I was not a Hell’s Angel, boot cut as I never wear boots or guest fit because I did not want to share my jeans with anyone.

So that left me with straight cut or tapered leg. The tapered leg seemed to suit me, even if it did take me half an hour to pull them on, and I decided to go the whole way and try on a new, rather masculine jacket as well, and some trendy shoes. I looked at myself in the mirror and felt that I could be looking at Jack Bauer out of 24. I was so proud of myself. But I remembered the personal policy I’d made and, strictly as a formality, found a young sales assistant for an opinion.

I put on my best model pose and with a big grin, raised eyebrow, and one hand on my hip asked him what he thought. He looked me up and down for quite a long time and rubbed his chin in that way plumbers do when they’re about to rip you off. “It doesn’t really work,” he said. “Which bit?” I asked, ready to launch into a constructive conversation about fashionable combinations. The sales assistant paused, looked me up and down again, and then said, “All of it.”

The smile on my face dropped and I asked him if I’d look better with the Eiffel Tower on my head, but he just looked at me blankly. Project Catwalk has a lot to answer for!