It is absolutely freezing. I’m shaking. The duvet lies beneath us, used for extra cushioning instead of warmth as it was intended. I nudge her until she half-wakes up, roll her off the duvet and throw it over us. I fall back asleep.
It is the middle of the day and I have finally started to process that this is not where I thought it was, that I am in a different apartment block from the one where I started my night, and that I have absolutely no idea where this apartment block is. I have found the bathroom, a truly exceptional bit of detective work, well done Ric, you’ll make captain in a year, but whose bathroom it is remains an unanswered question.
I lie as still as I can so as not to wake her. I remember the look, the pose, the mouths jamming together awkwardly and with little to no grace, my hand being pushed further down and underneath attire. I remember the drinks and the music and the insistence that she was going to get high and that I was going to get high because she’d feel bad about getting high alone. I do not remember what time we went back there, if we had kissed before we got back, how we negotiated the option of kissing or whether any discussion happened at all. My gut tells me there were no words, there was just a bed, a lot of alcohol, and a base instinct that informed the decision. Not my style. Odd. Must’ve said something.
Later she’ll message me to apologise for her actions, as seems to be a pattern with those who take me home, but I have never worked out why. I’ll forget to tell her it’s OK, that I had a good time, that I had wanted to kiss her for so long, that I had wanted this whole thing to happen for months but never had the courage to do anything, would never presume myself to be worthy of her time. I will instead concede that I was very drunk, and then try to be funny but come across as sarcastic and unimpressed. She will not respond.
The hangover kicks hard, but I’m warm and cosy and have been hungover since the day before anyway, so it’s not so bad. I’m supposed to be on a train, but evidently I’m not.
I really need to get on that train.
The train is overcrowded, the seats are all taken, the standees are already drinking. Match day. I stand by the door, hurting, broken, tired. The train lets on more passengers. The tannoy apologises for the inconvenience, signal failures, didn’t expect so many people to be on the train, blah blah blah. The woman next to me seems to be amused at my evident unease of being entombed by bodies. I glare back. She’s cute, but I can’t be bothered making aimless smiles. I reach into my bag as we pull up to another station, twenty minutes out, and pull out my Vita. A game or two of OlliOlli to remind myself of the controls and why I enjoy it. It is near impossible to play, but somehow I manage.
I’m finally spat out into the vast expanse of Manchester Picadilly, and instantly forget how to get to the Trafford Centre. I quick-march out of the station and onto the street, covered in rubbish and homeless people and hipsters. Vague memories of a time long ago, where I caught a bus to surprise my then-girlfriend for her birthday party, come rushing back. Centre of town. Huge number of bus stops. I race over and see a wall of busses headed where I need to go. £4.50. I fall up the stairs as I climb to the top deck. No one seems to mind the half-drunk manic laugh I emit.
Match day. The streets are crawling with scarves and police, cars bearing flags, hometown pride I suppose but then I don’t know. Beer cans are thrown around with wild abandon. The bus stops and waits. Gotta stick to timetables.
Three youths dominate the backseats of the bus, either stoned or drunk or just idiots. They lean and laze with no regard for signage asking them to Please Not Put Their Feet On The Seats, tapping into phones or making inane comments to one another. I look to the front of the bus and pray I see the deaf couple I saw so long ago, signing to one another side-by-side. I’m alone. A wave of sickness runs through.
The bus moves.
Slowly, oh so slowly, we escape Manchester and head to the city limits, where the buildings sprawl and the traffic grinds to a halt. The Trafford Centre looms nearby, and I hop off the bus because it is clearly not heading where I need to be. I weave through stalled traffic and across a car park into EventCity. I wander into an expo about health. My hair is currently too long and I’m wearing a hoodie that I haven’t taken off for three days and I haven’t showered in as many and I’m getting ill and my head aches. It raises suspicion. I leave.
EventCity is not a city, as I had hoped. It is not MediaCity, another place I seem to find myself lost in more often than any regular person should. EventCity is just one big aircraft hangar, waiting to be filled with posters and signs and mass crowds of people. It is grey and dark and highlighted with strange spots of purple that hurt to look at. Three young men in bizarre anime costumes walk past, nearly colliding with an overweight couple wearing his-and-hers Avengers hoodies, and I realise I might actually be on the right track. I trapse across a stretch of grass, ignoring the path. My shoes are already destroyed. There’s no way anyone will believe I’m a journalist.
There is no queue to get in. Three people protect the entry way, or so I assume, since there’s an abject lack of signage. I wander over.
“Hi,” I offer, “I think I have a press pass or something here?”
The older woman at the desk looks up, slightly confused. She looks across a young girl who seems strikingly familiar to me somehow and over at a man sat twiddling his thumbs idly.
“You’re dealing with press passes, right?”
The man looks up, then at me, then at the woman, then at me.
“Oh! Yes. Yes I am, come over here. What name is it?”
I give him my name and he scans the list. I’m not hard to find.
“Yes, yes, good. Right. The problem is we don’t actually have any wristbands left because we had an unprecedented demand, so what I’ll do is…”
He takes the email that I hastily printed off using someone else’s university login details, already five drinks down and planning on many more, and scribbles some words and a signature on it.
“Here. If anyone asks, just show them that, it should get you in all weekend.”
I think to myself that I doubt I’ll be here longer than an hour, let alone all weekend. I say out loud a thank you, a farewell, glance back at the familiar girl (it would later transpire that she’s someone I tweet on occasion but she totally didn’t click who I was and I was way too hungover to start asking questions) and head in. No one checks my credentials. No one will check me on the way out either. I probably could’ve just walked straight in.
I barely acknowledge the pop-up game shop on my left as I walk in. I set off straight ahead in search of playable games. I want to find OlliOlli 2, the stand for Futureworks (a Manchester based college/univeristy that offers courses in game development which another Twitter friend attends or attended I can’t remember) and the Team17 stand. I find the Team17 stand, but it’s criminally underpopulated. I shuffle along. A Street Fighter IV tournament plays on a big screen. I wander away. A screen with 32 people playing a game simultaneously greets me. The 32 people are sat on fold-out chairs, looking confused and slightly bored. I move on.
The cosplay drawing competition is starting up. I snap a photo on my phone. A woman stands awkwardly with another woman who is dressed in a gold costume that apparently won a competition or something. The woman with a microphone asks how long it took to make. The woman in the outfit seems stunned by the question and spends a good minute pondering when, then settles on “since July”. You’ve got fifteen minutes to draw her. Go. I leave.
Pinball machines everywhere. Flashing lights and people crowded around single machines. TILT. TILT. MULTIBALL. I stand at one end, line up a shot, hit the button on my screen, and carry on.
It’s dark down here. Arcade machines in a circle. My head hurts. I can’t see a damn thing. A kid walks away from an endless racer that looks weirdly familiar, so I step in and take over his go. I crash a lot. I move on.
Light gun games. A Crazy Taxi machine. Point Blank 2. Sniper Scope. Where is Time Crisis? A PS2 hooked up to an old CRT screen has it running endlessly, but the cabinet is sadly missing. In the distance, a group of friends play Rock Band 3 with the controllers that have ALL the buttons. I turn a corner and a Wreck-It Ralph machine lies in wait. I’m definitely sober. Someone plays it and fails miserably. I take a picture of the cabinets, turn heel, walk away.
Two people play Timesplitters on the same screen but don’t know what they’re doing. The Wario game for GameCube sits, unplayed. The Joker is beating Harley Quinn at GoldenEye and four guys dressed as PayDay 2 characters walk down one aisle while another gang of PayDay 2 guys walk down the opposite aisle. I briefly consider stalking them and waiting for them to meet, to see if they’ll fake a fight or take photos together. My stomach growls. I decide against it.
I find some indie games to play, sit down, play. The designers stand around awkwardly behind me, clearly hoping I won’t ask any questions. I don’t. I consider taking a picture, but don’t want to negotiate having to ask them a question. I leave.
I play an iOS game where the designers are almost too friendly, too intrusive, they ask me to enter a competition and how can they not see that all I want to do is curl up and die until my next opportunity comes to drink my liver to breaking point. A camera crew sets up behind us all. They ask one of the devs about the game. He gives a ten word speech and the crew pack up. I leave.
I play a game and I break it on purpose to draw some attention to myself. I ask the person who fixes the game about the game. They offer nothing extra than what I have played but tell me I got the highest score of the day. I smile and leave.
There is nothing for me here. I glare at couples and grumble to myself, and try not to think about the numerous people I could’ve brought with me if they would’ve allowed it. I look at the merch and recoil at the prices. I briefly consider buying an old Game Boy and a Game Boy Camera for no other reason than because I think it would be cool. Wisely, I have not brought any money with me.
I wander and wander and nothing happens, and there’s the guy who made Tempest and he has too much hair, and I speak to no one, and oh look it’s Judge Dredd, and finally after two hours I realise I have to leave and get to a gig, and that traffic will be an absolute nightmare. I walk out. There is nothing for me here.
The queue for the bus is huge. Traffc is at a complete standstill. Horns blare. A car moves. The bus is coming, but even from this distance it’s evident that I’m not getting on it. I sit down on the floor. An Italian couple behind me express surprise. I don’t care. I take out my book, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, and begin reading. It starts with a girl moving to college and being too scared to leave her room. I flashback. I hurt.
“Oh! That’s a really good book.”
The girl in front has stopped talking to her friend and turned to look down at me, a snivelling mess in a ratty black hoodie with a hole in the armpit, a t-shirt with Mary Berry’s face on underneath, a scratched-to-shit pair of jeans and my trusty pair of destroyed fake Converse, and is smiling at my choice in literature. I smile back.
“Oh good. I picked it up with a bunch of stuff by John Green, and I needed to get another book for the 2 for £7 deal at Tesco, and I saw the title and thought ‘yeah this looks trashy enough’.”
She is apparently less than interested in my explanation but somehow manages to keep going.
“The good kind of trashy though!”
I laugh and agree, and she turns to her friend and begins to explain the entire plot. I didn’t bring by headphones. I try not to listen. I’m tempted to shout about spoilers in a jokey fashion, but I’m too antsy to flirt and I’ll never see her again, we’ll never survive this bus journey anyway, and who needs me breathing down their neck making idle chatter about an event I didn’t enjoy for an hour on a cramped-as-fuck bus.
The bus pulls up, let’s on everyone up to the girls in front. I sit back down. A bus rolls past, full. Another bus comes by. We’ve been here half an hour. It has started to rain. The bus rolls further on than the head of the queue, so the people midway through jump on first. I end up stood right next to the stairs, the same stairs I fell up earlier, praying I don’t slip and fall and collapse into the three people stood on the stairs as the bus crawls through the traffic.
I look out the window behind me and watch as a couple in matching cosplay, Doctor Who and the TARDIS, are left by the road due to an overcrowded bus. I guffaw loudly. What a stupid fucking costume.
The gig ends up being one of the best I play. Later I will hit on girls on Tinder in the vain hope that they will let me crash on their floor or maybe in their bed, I’m not picky. It doesn’t work.