(I toyed with writing this post in the style of a military report, then decided that would over-militarise what is ultimately a game of grown-up laser tag in which all players are cosplaying as Stormtroopers)
I woke up at six in the morning, fresh from a two-hour sleep, and roused my blue-haired buddy who’d been sleeping on my floor because there was no way they could get into London for six, living outside the capital. I did a blood test, recording the first of the day’s many high blood sugars, and plodded to meet two other friends, the fuzzy red-headed shape and her mate who were the protagonists of this post. Because this whole paintball thing was a bit of a birthday celebration (despite it taking place on the 13th, and my birthday being on the 25th because time!) they got me a card and a Mass Effect art book because my friends are better than yours. The four of us, displaying what I now realised to be the most vibrantly diverse collection of hair colours I’d ever been a part of, then headed to Euston station.
There, in queuing up at Sainsbury’s to buy lunch for the day, we bumped into most of the rest of our party: the president of the Karate Society, my dodgeballing mate with blond hair, another dodgeballer with undyed hair, and the first two of approximately seventeen thousand English students who’d be in attendance. These two got me an inexplicably yet adorably pirate-themed card, again because my friends are the best friends. Then, we met the rest of the group at the place we actually agreed to meet, picking up another three english students (one of which was the partner of the red-headed shape and was immortalised in this legendary post) and an American Football buddy, and proceeded to Upminster.
Upminster, for those unaware, is twinned with the southern Kuala Lumpurian district of Bandar Tun Razak, and requires a train, tube, trek, bus, couple of DLR stops, hitchhike, three-legged race, turbo duel and donkey ride to reach. This baffled one of my friends who had vowed never to venture past the comforts of Soho. I then became the day’s designated adult by giving everyone health and safety waivers to sign on the train, in which they had to put me as the group’s organiser, presumably so I could pick them up and buy them a Happy Meal if they fell over and grazed their knees at any point during the day.
Once we reached Delta Force Upminster, the fear began to grow; we passed by stony-faced men who gave us body armour and camouflaged overalls from bottomless wheelie bins of the stuff, and settled down at a picnic bench next to some plain steel lockers, gravel underfoot and what we could only hope to have been a fake anti-aircraft gun. It was now that I realised that exposing English students to the world outside the pages of an Austen novel could have been done without such a threat of being shot by large men doped up on testosterone. This idea amused me.
Dressed like socialist Stormtroopers, without our helmets and standard-issue overalls, we sat through a safety briefing, had our team colour – black – taped on our arms, and headed into the first game, in which we had to defend a VIP – me, because I was unluckily conceived nine months ago – from enemy fire. We failed, and then couldn’t get me to the other team’s end of the field in the second game, so we drew that one.
The next game was a disaster for me personally; I’d excitedly bought some grenades because I’m a violent individual, and the compact, village-like surroundings of the second field would have been perfect to use them on. But I was killed almost instantly in both rounds; the second time it was as I ran to take control of the advantageously-positioned tower, and I realised the high standard of our opponents – three shooters were trained on the steps of the tower as they, unable to take it themselves, decided that no-one on our team could be offered such an advantage. They then shat on this rather professional image they had created for themselves by cheating like bitches throughout the day, refusing to go out when hit with a relentlessness that resembles those battles in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess where you’re a wolf and have to kill all the twilight monsters at once, because if you don’t the felled enemies would inexplicably be resurrected and you’d throw your controller at the screen and declare ‘HAX!’ Sadly, this method of problem-solving doesn’t work as well when you’re faced with large men aiming guns at your face.
We lost our fifth and sixth rounds too, failing to place an explosive charge into the enemy base, and then failing to defend our own base the second time as we put all our players in the wrong building, in a collective tactical decision that makes the entirety of the First World War look like the most sophisticated and nuanced implementation of Sin Tzu’s The Art of War in history. We then broke for lunch – I didn’t eat because I was high again – and a few of my friends went home, largely to spend the next six ours covering their arms with makeup to cover the bullet-marks ahead of that evening’s English Society ball (and I wish to God that I was exaggerating the time there). But they gave me a cake, so all was quickly forgiven.
With our force depleted, we headed to a Speedball field; Speedball tends to be a faster, more direct game than the situational, sprawling Woodsball that’s played in forests, and I always hated Speedball as a kid as a result. But this was different; the game was less random, with hits and misses coming from competent play, rather than blindly firing into a bush and hitting someone, and while I’m not actually that good at paintball, it was nice to see the effects of the things I was trying to do. Sadly, one such involvement was to hit my friend and team-mate in the chest with a smoke bomb after hideously underthrowing it (I tried to lob it over his head and into the enemy lines), which flushed him out of cover and got him immediately killed. The smoke bomb worked, just on the wrong player. But I did manage to be our team’s last player standing in one of these games, and we had the enemy down to their last player too, so I was really happy with how this one went.
Buoyed with this runaway success, my mates who had given me the pirate card quit while they were ahead and buggered off home. They then missed our greatest victory, the successful defence of a skull from an enemy onslaught; the other team argued with the marshalls that the placement of the skull rendered the game unfair, but they’d ben cheating all day so the marshall told them to piss off. But then, things changed as we switched sides, us now the attackers with finite lives and the others the defenders with infinite lives.
When we defended, we hung around the skull, sticking to cover and playing conservatively. But the opposition used a kamikaze approach, charging blindly at our lines, knowing that if they got a random hit on one of us before they were inevitably shot down, both teams would lose a player, but their players we allowed to enter the game after they’d been ‘killed’. As a result, we lost within about a minute, and I was flanked after five seconds, and received what can only be described as a ‘frak-ton’ of paintballs directly to my crotch, because as they moved to my side I instinctively spun to face them, and left my balls exposed.
I must stress, at this point, that ‘balls’ is technically inaccurate; I was struck on the cock itself, with shots that hit the tip parallel to the shaft and sent the most unimaginable shockwaves of pain through my entire body, in scenes that probably give Ramsay from Game of Thrones an equally unimaginably painful erection. I then did perhaps the least dignified thing I’ve ever done, and curled into the foetal position and screamed for about two minutes as the marshall desperately tried to pull me to my feet and off the battlefield, making noises that also would have aroused Ramsay. As I limped to the sideline to concerned looks from my friends and sympathetic pats on the shoulder from passing male strangers, I realised that I was definitely never going to be Commander Shepard.
Things then got worse; in the first of the final games I froze up under fire, and walked out, petrified. When I was in the game I wasn’t staying in cover to avoid being eliminated from the game, but out of a sudden post-crotch-smashing phobia of paintballs. Now further shorthanded, my teammates bravely finished the last two games, losing both of them, and returned to base, exhausted.
The reason that this post is so obscenely long and detailed is because of the importance of this day to me and I want to remember it. I made the point to a few of my friends on the day that this time last year I’d have had trouble finding enough people for a five-a-side team, and now there are enough people in my life who care about me that I can put together a small, if admittedly rather untalented, team of soldiers. The best thing about this year, beyond the sports I’ve done, bands I’ve seen and things I’ve written, has been the slow accumulation of people who care about and am interested in me, with a breadth and depth that I hadn’t experienced in my eighteen years previously.
It’s the most comforting feeling in the world to be able to say that genuinely, people give a shit about me.