Tuesday, June 29, 2004


Dropped into a godawful Internet café to check mail, read blogs and find out if the world had ended in the last few days. Our radio is internet streamed, we don’t have a TV and I’m not in the habit of buying newspapers when I’ve always been able to get my news free and NOW on the ‘net. There could have, quite literally, been a nuclear strike on Sunday and I wouldn’t be any the wiser.

So anyway, here I am with students, backpackers and random others in a den that has an incomprehensible smell for a room filled only with computers and carpet. The possible explanations are as disturbing as they are intriguing, but that’s not the point of this post.

Thought I would recount what’s happened since Thursday…photos will be posted when our connection is back up, so you’ll have to use imagination till then.

Thursday…ahhhh Thursday. I rarely torture Matthew, not being one to hog the bathroom, try on endless outfits before going out or choosing mind-numbingly insipid girlfriends. There is one thing, however, that I do indulge in much to his chagrin – my love of IKEA.

It goes beyond the fact that nary a ye-olde-worlde floral print can be seen in the joint or that there’s so much lovely wood and glass. It’s the ingenious layout of the store, the way that good design is very cheaply mass produced and the happiness (for nomads like us) of furniture that flat packs. I have to touch everything (I’m quite kinaesthetic), sit on every chair, fondle every rug, inspect every doodad, consider every lounge room setup. I have to play with the toys in the kids area. I have to don the big rug with lifesized moosehead and sneak up on M cowering in a corner muttering about a day he’ll never get back.

We spent 11 hours and a silly amount of money at IKEA. We were tired, but it was a good tired. Good for me because I’d had my fix, good for him because he knew the insanity was over for another 6-12 months.

Thursday night yielded barely an hour of sleep and lots of taping up boxes and figuring out what was ours and what was the landlords.

Friday was taken up with umpteen runs between our two flats, hauling heavy boxes, light boxes, awkward boxes, bits and pieces of furniture and other things manufactured (I'm sure) for the sole purpose of being completely unmanoueverable during a move.

The day was capped off with an utterly mad rush to the car rental company to return our Vauxhall ‘Whatever’ before the late return fine kicked in. £20 to hire the damn thing for two days, but bring it back a minute late and you’re hit with a £75 fine. To fully understand the pain, convert that into your US dollars.

So it was 5 minutes to drop off time and we were stuck in the perma-jam London traffic at London Bridge, literally within sniffing distance of the returns area. In a moment of Van-Schwartz-Chan-Damme inspired heroics, I leapt out of the car and ran down the street clutching the papers to plead for amnesty or at least distract the attendants with a top that may have been cut a little on the lowish side. Unfortunately, I had forgotten that I was wearing jeans that (due to my newfound love of running) were now a couple of sizes too big. Papers in one hand, jeans yanked up with the other, hair doing what hair does after 48 hours without an encounter with a brush or any liquid-taming-device, I must have made quite a sight running down the street in a chic office area. The traffic broke soon after I leapt out of the car (no roll as I hit the ground, though, they don’t seem to clean the streets here and I didn’t feel like picking up someone’s beer bottle with my left shoulder) and M made it to the rental place the same time I did – bang on deadline. So very action movie, don’t you think? Made me want to find the nearest nice backdrop, exchange a very corny line with M and end the whole thing with a passionate smooch whilst the name of the guy who stirred creamer into the coffee for the crew scrolled up in front of us.

Waking up at Stupid o’Clock the next morning we did what any sane couple would do after a couple of pretty strenuous days – paintball. This was our first game and was held at a fantastic course that had many different scenarios to go through during the day.

What became apparent over the course of the day was that this game really brought out true personalities. I was quite pleased with the way I played and definitely saw the impact of changes I’d made over the last few years. Where I used to be a perfectionist and be petrified of failure, hanging back from action until everything was aligned perfectly – I’m now much more of a ‘Do what you can with what you’ve got.’ person. In other words, just start and don’t stop until you’ve come up against a real barrier rather than hang back because of barriers you imagine will be there.

So as the day wore on, I found myself not just staying in the game to the end (not being shot) but actually being the person at the front of the push forward. It was really shaping up to be a fantastic (if utterly physically demanding) day.

I found my martial arts, strength training and running all actually being very handy. I rolled between haystacks, making myself too fast a target to pick off. I wasn’t afraid to literally slither on my belly for hundreds of metres across some pretty harsh terrain (stinging nettles, holly bushes, thorny little shrubs and stones everywhere), hiding in knee high grass and behind mounds of junk made of sharp rocks, rotting wood and once again covered in stinging nettle.* Training taught me to just ignore pain when necessary and do what needed to be done. I got to see it in a very practical situation and it really did work.

The one thing that put a dampener on the whole day was the team we were playing against. Many of them had played paintball on previous occasions where we only had one seasoned player amongst us. The natural expectation, therefore, was that they would whip our pallid little asses.

Two games in and we had won both. Oopsie. I don’t think we were supposed to do that.

For the rest of the day, they played so dirty that even the marshals became incredulous at their behaviour – openly asking them if they had cheated.

The icing on the cake came in the last few minutes of the last game. It was an urban course and there was a dummy that each team had to try and land into the other team’s base.

I suddenly noticed that everyone around me was yelling and looked up to see that two members of their team had the dummy and were shielding themselves behind a car not two metres from our base.

Throwing pretty much all caution to the wind, I ran out and around the car, double tapped them both (very neatly in the chest, one must add) and took shelter by leaning against a truck right next to them. By the rules of the game, they should have put a hand up and walked away as ‘dead men’. They put a hand up each…then one of them gave me the most menacing look imaginable and shot me at point blank range – once in the neck and once in the chin.

And here’s where another aspect of my personality came out. Rather unexpected, actually.

I opened my mouth and, in one sentence and at the top of my voice, cast doubt on his parentage, insinuated unheard of sexual acts between him, a goat and his mother, assumed his disfavour with a well-known deity and (in no uncertain terms) stated my belief that he may not be the sharpest crayon in the pack. I think the marshal blushed.

The game ended quite soon after that and the marshal (who saw the whole thing, standing on a mound a couple of metres back) tried to mediate by saying that it was ‘only a game’, although making clear that I had hit the guy well before he hit me. You tend to notice when you’re hit in paintball – it hurts like the offspring of an unsavoury female – so he couldn’t exactly say that he didn’t notice the fact that he had been shot. Twice.

Anyhow, reflecting on this Saturday afternoon whilst applying calamine lotion to every exposed and be-nettled bit of skin, I realised why I was so angry about the incident and incensed by the marshal saying ‘It’s just a game’.

It had been the culmination of a day of cheating and dirty tactics by the other team. We had each paid around £70 to participate – no paltry amount. We also committed everything to the activity. The goals were real, the wins and defeats a reflection of the day’s exertions. This wasn’t just a game, it was an activity and an experience made no less real by the fact that we were shooting little globs of paint at each other.

At the end of the day, I walked away having tried something new and being damn proud of my performance. I had pushed myself mentally and physically, conquered fear and pain and been unscrupulously honest the whole time. I know I can’t say the same for the other team and I hope they look back on Saturday with some measure of shame.

If paintball brings out the ‘true’ self, then one day the people on the other team will find that you don’t always win by being a pragmatist. You won’t always get away with it.

* Interesting point – the same group of adults who engaged in a dangerous, physically demanding sport where there was the serious possibility of twisting or breaking limbs or losing an eyeball through lack of care would then have to head off into a world where they were treated as helpless children by the government who believed them to be too stupid to take risks and understand or bear the consequences of their actions.

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