The Grapes of Bath

I have steered clear from talking about the condition of the gent’s bathrooms at university (aside from that one hastily deleted rant post you didn’t see) because, frankly, it isn’t right to talk about these things in polite company. Unless it throws me into a seething rage, I shall never talk about toilets and other people’s ability (or inability, as it were) to use them.

Showers, on the other hand, are fair game.

After the incident we shall forever know as the Past(a|or) Shower, I thought that we may never be able to delight in another food based shenanigan in the showers. People will have learned from that mistake, I thought, and we will all have grown up and moved on.

And then I found a grape stalk on the bench of the shower I was intending on using, and I realised how very wrong I was.

It would appear that someone, and I have no idea who, was so famished and yet in need of a good scrub that they felt it was a fantastic idea to kill two birds with one stone and consume grapes whilst getting clean. This may not be the case; they might have been partaking in some kind of ritual to allow them to continue to exist in a society, or, who knows, they may have been backed into the shower and repeatedly pelted with grapes, before being told to eat them all with a cold shower running. I don’t know.

Whatever had occured, this person had clearly forgotten to remove their debris from the shower bench. It’s not exactly the weirdest thing one can find in a shower; again, I refer back to the Past(a|or) Shower incident, which I’m sure your mind will be able to dream up some image of without my help. But it was grape stalks nontheless, and they annoyed me slightly.

Of course, I then found a grape in the plughole, slightly crushed, soaked in water and in desperate need of some kind of rescue. I decided that I didn’t fancy stepping on a grape during a nice, hot, refreshing shower, and so mused it down into the plug.

So the real point of this part of my blog is this: please don’t eat grapes in the shower. And if you do, be a good fellow, clean up after yourself, would you?

Advertisements

The Sugarhouse is Awe-Inspiring and Awful Pt.3

The Sugarhouse (Exterior)

We said goodbye to the bouncer on our way out, and once again I was thrown back into the cold. I still felt quite sober; I could walk in a straight line, I was keeping up conversation, and I was able to revert to a completely straight face and stop laughing at the banter that was going on between two friends. But as we rounded the corner into a dark alley that led to our ultimate objective, it all came rushing to my head.

The first thing you’ll see at the Sugarhouse is the queue. I have heard nothing but negative things about the damn place, and yet here was everyone, waiting eagerly to get in and get dancing. A couple of guys were hanging by a wall on the opposite for unknown reasons. Suddenly I didn’t want to be here anymore. The place looked cold and uninviting, and I felt completely out of place with the young student crowd. I don’t drink and I don’t dance. What the fuck was I doing here?

We joined the back of the queue and it was then that I realised I was actually drunk. I started to talk in a more animated fashion with my companions. I did out of character motions to stay warm, namely jumping up and down on the spot. I felt happy and excited all of a sudden, and the realisation that I was stood down an alleyway in what looked like an old industrial estate disappeared from my thoughts.

We got chatting to two girls in front of us who went to a different uni. It was purely harmless chatter; I myself have a girlfriend, Matt was apparently lusting after another woman, and my compadre is an overly romantic type with ridiculous notions on relationships. Although, it quickly became apparent why they were not interested in us.

“Are you guys gay?” one of the girl’s asked.

Great. For the second time in one night, I had been called gay, and this time by someone of the opposite sex. How did I look gay? My curly brown hair was reaching length of an absurd amount, and I was clothed in a shirt, t-shirt, jeans and trainers. I wasn’t being camp, even jokingly. Why did everyone think I was gay?

“Cos I mean,” carried on the girl, “he looks pretty straight,” pointing at Matt, “him I’m not so sure,” pointing at my friend, “and him… yeah, he looks gay.” The finger was quite firmly in my face.

I couldn’t wait to get inside.

Matt laughed at the assumptions. “It’s cos you’re in your flasher jacket!” he cried, motioning towards my friend.

“Nonsense!” I joined in, “it’s not long enough to do flashing in. It’s definitely more of a peadophile jacket if anything.”

We laughed. The girls smiled politely and turned away for a moment, before turning back and returning to their homosexual agenda.

“Are you honestly not attracted to guys?” they asked of me.

“Well I mean, I like Gerard Butler, he’s pretty fit.” I replied, honestly.

The girls giggled at my answer and once more proclaimed that I was batting for the other team. I was crushed, but thankfully a rather good looking blonde behind me tapped me on the shoulder.

“It’s not gay to think that.” She said with a small smile on her face.

I thanked her. The night was swinging back in my favour.

It was around this time that the two guys stood by the opposite wall decided they would break into a fight, and I watched as bouncers poured on them like a sack of bricks, as the crowd cheered them on and berated the fighters. The police arrived rapidly, and a great roar of admiration rose up. It was a little strange to be cheering on a man shoving another man against a wall and handcuffing him, but it felt appropriate.

Our bloodlust satiated and the bouncers back at the door, the queue finally lurched forwards. We were in.

The Sugarhouse (Interior)

After the cold of the outside, the small cloakroom featured a welcome amount of warmth, although an unwelcome amount of money required spending to get in there. Certainly, £3 isn’t exactly a huge sum, but when you’re as stingy as myself, every penny feels like a horrible loss.

I got my wrist stamped and stepped through the double doors to discover that what I’d heard was true: the Sugarhouse is a horrible place. The floors are mostly carpeted, the lighting is dreadful, the music is poor, and the whole place feels dingy and run down. I felt like I was in a community centre at someone’s 18th birthday; everyone was drunk and stupid, there was a rodeo bull thing in a corner where idiot girls desperately tried not to hurl up what they’d just swallowed, and the bar was jammed.

But the atmosphere… everyone was enjoying themselves. The people there had no worries or cares, they didn’t mind that they were being fools in public, and the quality of the music was of no consequence. They simply had themselves, their friends, and a beat to dance to. Everyone was happy and friendly, and there was not a single person who wasn’t having a good time.

The happy ethos swept into me and I was suddenly caught up in it all. I could feel a huge grin on my face and all my woes dissipated. I couldn’t give a fuck about anything, I just wanted to get a drink and enjoy myself. We left the room that was blaring out the recent pop music and moved into what was being called an “indie” night: basically anything that had guitars and acoustic drums. They were playing a song I liked, so I started dancing along like a tool. We headed to the bar and my friend bought me a Carlsberg; I took to it immediately. My well-founded distaste for beer and lager was apparently gone, it was simply a drink in my hand that required finishing at some point.

We found ourselves a spot on the dancefloor and proceeded to dance in a fashion I’m not usually accustomed to. I was a mess of arms and legs flying out in wild directions as rock tracks that I knew and loved poured out into the room, and a cheer of happiness arose whenever the song changed to something else, whether it was better or worse.

It’s around this point that I decided to text myself at an even greater rate, so excited was I that I wanted to remember absolutely everything. I will now delve through these texts and find a few choice moments to talk about, rather than regale you with all the songs I danced to.

“Getting shoved out of the way more times than at the flower show”

Old women in flower show trade tents are vicious; so is some of the male crowd at the Sugarhouse. On more than one occasion I was thrown to one side as a group decided that I was an obstacle in their path, rather than, say, going around me. I didn’t care.  I was too busy dancing.

“Just got hugged by my friend”

This is the man who rejects hugs from me with an unprecedented force, literally tossing me to one side if I so much as sidle up next to him. Clearly the devil’s drink is a much better concoction than I first thought.

“Found 25p on the floor – jackpot”

While dancing like a mad man, I spotted something silver and shiny on the floor. Just next to a dancing girl was a 20p piece, waiting to be picked up. I took my chance and stamped my foot down on top of it, but caught the girls toes as I did so. I looked up and tried to shout an apology, but she wasn’t interested and walked away. I shrugged to myself and grabbed the coin, before spotting a 5p piece further along the way. I felt like I’d won the lottery.

“Abandoned”

At one point, my friend spotted a girl he knew from one his subjects. Drunk and lonely, he chased after her to try and find her, but to no avail. Ten minutes later he tried again. I was drink-less, and so suggested that we go to the bar after his second attempt failed. While waiting to be served, he ran off for a third time.

“Fuck him”, I thought, and ordered my drink. Ingeniously, I decided not to shout my order into the poor ear of the server, and instead write the following text:

“Smirnoff ice, please :)”

I showed this to her and she smiled at the idea. A man tapped me on the shoulder and shouted something about me being a genius. I felt happy with my great idea, and drank my Smirnoff Ice with glee. But then I realised that my friend had not returned, so I found myself propped up against a block near the bar, wandering what to do with myself. The happiness within me was dying down, and I was beginning to wonder what the hell I was doing here.

“I need to get out of here”

My friend and Matt decided to leave, but my drunken body shouted to them that I would stay with some friends I had met from my floor. They left, and I stayed to dance. But I instantly regretted the decision. I only really knew one person in this group, and seldom spoken to the others. I felt like a fraud, like I was just trying to fit in by being happy and dancing. My body continued to dance, but my mind tutted and shook it’s head at me.

“This isn’t me,” I thought, “this is not what I do.”

We stayed for only a little longer, as, thankfully, everyone else was flagging too. It was quarter to three when we piled onto the bus.

I used the ride back to reflect on my night out. It had been an experience, but I’m not sure if I’d want to repeat it too often. While the happy-go-lucky atmosphere of the Sugarhouse was appealing when drunk, and the Friary was generally just a nice place to be (aside from some of the patrons), I felt that if I indulged in these too often they would just become routine, rather than the nice break from the norm I had experienced.

But I had done it. I was living the student dream. I was drunk, on a bus, surrounded by drunken fools talking loudly to one another, heading back to my multi-storey car park I called home, bigging myself up to the girl next to me. This was what I came to uni for.

Right?

The Sugarhouse Is Awe-Inspiring And Awful Pt.2

The Friary

We took a quick detour to a cash machine when my comrade realised that he didn’t want to be buying me drinks all night and I realised I’d just had a cheque clear for £10 that I would no longer be using for it’s original purpose. I tried to balance out the maths in my head, but what with the startling turn of events in tonight’s ceremony, I felt it wasn’t pertinent. Instead, my goal was to now get very, very drunk.

The Friary is a converted church. Where once pews were placed in rows leading to an altar, random assortments of comfortable looking chairs and sofas were littered about the place, leading to an alcove with a jukebox and a pool table. The bar took up the entire length of the right wall. It had a coffee machine that looked quite drastically out of place next to the piles of liquor, but was inevitably there for the lunchtime clientle who liked to delude themselves into thinking that they’re hip by hanging out in a goth place during the lunch hour.

We met my companion’s friend at a table by the door. Introductions were dealt with swiftly; Matt, this is Ric, Ric, Matt, hey, hey.

“I’ve already had eight Jagerbombs and four pints,” Matt boldly claimed with a totally straight face, “and by the way, I love your t-shirt.”

I smiled at the compliment and decided he seemed alright. He looked like a typical rocker, but the more I spoke to him, the more hipster he became. His talk often worked it’s way to band’s “first album’s” being the best, a topic of conversation I found hilarious.

“He’s only nice because he’s drunk,” assured my companion, “the rest of time he’s a complete dick.”

“He seems like a nice guy to me, you shouldn’t be so hard on him.”

“Like I said, he’s drunk. You’ve never met him sober.”

I conceded on that point, and we headed to the bar. My companion threw himself into the heavy drinking with a fervour I had not witnessed before; -two- double JD’s and a pint of Stella. I, on the other hand, was feeling less up to the idea of hard drinking, and settled for my usual poison of a Malibu and Coke. My companion and his friend sneered and called me a woman; I shrugged. It was early, and I was still reeling from my compadre’s piece of bad news.

On the way to find seats, I felt fingers suddenly run through my hair. My gaze turned onto a girl who was probably around my age, hand firmly in my thick mess of curls, gazing at them in drunken fascination.

“I love your curls.” She said, still dumbstruck by the clumps of dead cells between her inebriated fingers.

“Thank you.” I replied meekly.

“Where did you get them?” I stopped to consider this question, and she clarified. “Or did you have them from birth?”

“From birth, yes.”

It was too early in the night to be having this conversation with a total stranger. I’d only been in the place for ten minutes and here I was, being accosted by a drunk girl whose eyes were as glazed as I was terrified of the coming events.

“I am proud of your curls.”

“Thank you.”

“Go forth, curly haired boy.”

“I shall.”

I left quickly and found my friends. I retold the story in a little less detail. Matt didn’t seem too impressed.

“Was she hot?”

“A six point five, maybe.”

He tutted. I drank. I was already getting a bad feeling about tonight, like I would soon be sucked into a vortex of stupid, booze fuelled behaivour that I was not accustomed to, and that I’d be unable to cope with it and simply freak out instead of rolling with it. I kept quiet while my companion and his friend talked of women and houses.

It was at this point I decided to make notes on my goings on using my phone, saving texts as drafts, just in case the night spiralled out of control and I would be unable to recall what happened the next morning. I filled in brief entries for the film and Mint, and finished my woman’s drink.

It was around this time that my companion raised his eyebrows slightly and dug into his pocket for his phone. He found it, opened the new message, and read the contents.

“What the FUCK!”

That grabbed my attention. I turned to him and he relayed what the message said in a loud, very annoyed tone.

“For my house for next year I have to pay a full term’s rent in advance BEFORE my student loan comes through! I’m being asked to take out an overdraft of £1200! How the fuck am I going to do that?! I haven’t even managed to open my new fucking bank account yet!”

My companion has been having trouble with banks lately; his credit card details were stolen, so he shut down his account and switched banks. The problem here being that his new bank is giving him grief, not letting him open a new account. Oh, and a credit card, which he has maxed out, and has no means of paying back.

Matt attempted to console him, but he was having none of it. His tirade continued in much the same way until I suggested he needed more alcohol. We headed to the bar.

“I’m gonna buy you a drink,” I said, “it’s the least I can do after the night you’re having.”

“Certainly not.” He replied, almost disgusted by the mere suggestion of some kind of charity.

“No, I insist.”

“Well in that case I’ll have another double JD, and I’ll buy my own beer.”

We stood waiting at the bar for some time. The staff ran up and down, serving those further down the bar, but giving nothing more than a cursory glance towards us. We chatted some more about his predicament and the fact we weren’t getting served. After ten minutes of waiting, I spotted a space further down the bar and slotted in.

My companion changed his mind about his drink and handed me the cash for it, meaning to leave. I glared at him until he decided to stick around.

“You can buy you’re own damn drink, I’m just getting you the JD.”

He tutted but agreed.

Suddenly, the figure of a man appeared in the corner of my eye. I chose to ignore it, thinking that he would be with friends and was probably taking no notice of me. Then, without warning, a warmth descended upon my cheek. My companion looked on, clearly amused. I assumed the man was kissing me. Fine, I told myself, a drunk man kissing me on the cheek is just part of a night out, surely?

The man moved on to my friend, who politely shoved him away.

“Sorry lads,” the man said, booze floating out of his mouth and into my nostrils, “tell you what, I’ll get the next round in.”

I smiled at this prospect, thankful for someone to take the hit instead of my wallet. But he instead took to questioning mine and my friends sexuality.

“See, I reckon you’re a closet maybe,” he proclaimed to my friend.

“I can assure you I’m not,” replied my friend, smiling, as if he knew what was coming.

The man turned to me. “Him, on the other hand, I reckon he’s openly gay.”

My ‘friend’ laughed. “It’s yet to be decided.”

I took offence to this, and made some gesture as to imply that perhaps my comrade wasn’t exactly being supportive of me not wanting to allow this nice gentleman to kiss me anymore.

The nice gentleman, however, took this as a completely different cue.

Suddenly the warmth was back, but this time I realised I was not being kissed, but licked. His tongue worked his way around my cheek, and I could feel my unshaved face begin to moisten heavily.

I panicked, unsure what to do. I felt if I chose a violent approach, I may incur some sort of fight that I would inevitably lose. I instead chose to reason with the man.

“Listen,” I said, “I appreciate the gesture, but I actually have a girlfriend.”

His tongue pressed on, and I felt it move closer towards my mouth. My facial hair was now slick with saliva.

I carried on in vain. “And, well, we’ve been dating for nearly two years now and I love her very much!”

The slimy vessel attached to the man’s mouth edged closer to my lips, increasing the area of damp across my face and my panic levels to dangerous levels. I finally snapped.

“AND WILL YOU PLEASE STOP LICKING ME!”

He stepped back, as if he had been pulled out of some kind of trance, then glared at me. He left, but not before muttering something that sounded a lot like “tease”.

My companion was nearly on the floor, crying with laughter. I, on the other hand, gripped the bar tightly. I was absolutely infuriated. How can a man simply go up to another man and lick them continuously for an extended period of time and deem that normal? Why didn’t he listen to my protests? How could he possibly have thought I was gay? I have nothing against homosexuals, but as a straight man who has never been found attractive by the gay community before, it was a shock to the system. The man didn’t even look like he might swing that way.

Matt appeared out of nowhere with a worried look on his face.

“I saw the whole thing on the way back from the toilet,” he explained, while my companion continued to wet himself with laughter, “I figured I should come over and find out what the fuck just happened.”

I explained, and he tried to laugh it off. “Don’t worry, I get licked all the time. You get used to it.”

I didn’t want to get used to it. Suddenly the attitude for hard drinking came flooding back, and I upped the ante. When the staff finally saw fit to serve us, I ordered a double JD for myself as well as my companion. My prior experience with Mr. Daniels had proven four small amounts get me drunk, so I figured a double was a good place to start. I supped it down quickly and it barely even burned my throat as it went down. This was a bad sign; usually the taste of whiskey makes me regret drinking it before it’s even hit my throat. Tonight, I didn’t even flinch.

We returned to our seats, Matt now with a pint of Carling and my companion struggling to hold onto his alcoholic ginger beer due to the laughter spasms he kept experiencing. At least he was having fun.

“Why didn’t you just shove him away and tell him to fuck off?” he asked loudly, through tears of laughter.

I shouted my reply, my voice on the edge of screaming with fury. “Because I don’t know how to deal with drunken fucking idiots licking my fucking face because I don’t fucking lick peoples faces because I’m a DECENT HUMAN FUCKING BEING!”

I was embarrased, freaked out and pissed off. I used my friend’s current outburst of happiness to steal a swig of his ginger beer; it was OK, nothing special, and didn’t taste of alcohol. Matt asked if I liked Carling and I said no, then took a swig of his drink too. What is often called a golden nectar wormed its way down my throat and sent me into spasms of shock at the disgusting taste, which I repeated once it hit my stomach.

“Yeah,” said Matt, knowingly, “it tastes like shit but it’ll get you fucked up pretty quick.”

I took another swig. That sounded like my kind of drink.

At around midnight we decided it was time to move on. We took a quick detour to the toilets. The cubicle I took had taken some punishment; urine lined the entire rim and most of the floor, although some of this was being soaked up by the toilet roll left haphazardly on the floor. I shrugged and did my business. I couldn’t give a fuck anymore.

The Sugarhouse Is Awe-Inspiring And Awful Pt.1

The Cinema

It was only as the bus began to leave our home state of the University that I revealed to my companion, a man slightly taller than me (although that isn’t much of a task) who used to be a lot more respectable than he now claims, that my original plan for this evening was to witness the adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Rum Diary” while quite drunk. He knew of the film plan, of course, but I felt he would miss the point of seeing it whilst inebriated, given he hadn’t a clue who the late Mr Thompson was. I was about to explain about Gonzo journalism, Fear and Loathing, and all the rest of it, but instead our conversation turned, as it often does, to women.

“You see,” I said, “you need to stop pussy-footing around and just go for it. Women respect men who take the initiative.”

“But Richard,” he protested, “I’m going to be living with her next year! I don’t want awkwardness between us!”

“Exactly why you need to go now! The awkwardness will clear up in no time after your inevtiable messy break-up and further descent into drunken stupor.”

He had no retort for this; he acknowledged his alcoholism and had no experience of relationships to call upon.

A commotion started near at the front of the bus as we pulled into town; a Greek man claiming that it would be quicker for him and his friends to vacate the bus at the present stop, rather than wait to get into town.

“Trust me, I’ve done this loads of times!” he cried upon deaf ears. I looked at my companion and we shared a knowing look, the one that implies that the man at the front hadn’t a clue as to what he was shouting about.

“You know nothing!” I shouted back. “Now sit down and shut up, I’m trying to inform my friend here why his life is so screwed up.”

The man glared, but obeyed. The bus pulled up again in the centre of town, and we all left together. My companion made a vaguely racist remark about the Greeks, but his accent sounded more Irish than anything.

“A friend of mine might be coming out tonight,” my friend informed me, “but I think he’s with Labour Society tonight.”

Ah, yes. After the cinema had finished displaying some moving pictures for our viewing pleasure, I had, somehow, agreed to go out on the town with my companion and some of his friends. I agreed purely because I was out anyway, and I prefer to avoid getting buses by myself where possible. Either way, I felt that, after six weeks of student living, it was time to fully immersive myself in the life I was told I would enjoy so much. I had already informed my companion of my two conditions for abandoning my usual routine of video games and Facebook in favour of “clubbing”:

  1. I may leave at any point, should I grow bored, annoyed, or generally stop enjoying myself.
  2. Due to my lack of money, he would be buying me drinks.

He frowned at the last point, but agreed anyway.

The queue for the ticket desk is always an interesting one at cinemas. It offers an opportunity to take wild assumptions at people based on their clothing, company and the small snippet of personality you pick up from listening in on their conversations, all in the context of what film you think they’re seeing. I gathered no one would be interested in “The Rum Diary”, and I was right; by my maths, at least half the people in the queue were there for “Immortals 3D”.

We found our seats in a quarter full cinema screen. Apparently the guy at the ticket desk had a very different idea of what the middle of the cinema is, as our seats were one row in front of the back. Still, we had aisle seats, so at least some form of “middle” had been understood in our communication.

It was here I began to feel very out of place. I estimated that of the, by my best guess, forty people in the screen, ten people knew that Hunter S. Thompson wrote the book the film was based on, although perhaps five of them would know him and his other works, and that two people had read the book. This was including myself.

My estimates seemed to ring true. A number of girls arrived, clearly heart set on seeing Johnny Depp in a film because they find him attractive, while the rest of the audience was male students who heard it was a film about drinking, oh, and Johnny Depp was in it. I nestled deep into my chair and sighed.

The film rolled, but I couldn’t watch it. Not because of the quality; the film was nothing like the book, but was an interesting product in its own right. No, I was distracted by the shining light of a man on his Blackberry throughout the entire film. I sneered at him, but unfortunately my facial expression couldn’t pierce through his skull hard enough to make him stop. I searched through my pockets and found my bus ticket for the ride in, and settled on throwing that at him instead. So engrossed was he that he totally ignored the small scrap of paper bouncing off his head.

“Hey,” I whispered at my companion, who was currently enjoying views of San Juan with a small smile on his face, “do you still have your bus ticket?”

He did, but not for long. This one went sailing directly into the Blackberry screen itself; the man holding it looked round, confused and angry, but the lights were low and he didn’t see my smug smile.

The film began to talk about the American Dream, and I groaned and covered my eyes. Thompson didn’t talk about the American Dream in “The Rum Diary”, that came later. Somehow this film had become a celebration of Thomspon’s life in the context of his first book, not a discussion of growing old, becoming who you want to be and the pitfalls involved with doing so, as the source material did so well. I remembered that the screenwriter had writer’s block while writing the script; it made me dream of “Adaptation” and wish that I could be watching that instead.

By the time the true narrative was forced onto the screen, I was ready to leave. Thankfully the story was a short one, with a bittersweet ending and a final, meaningless salute to Thompson before the credits rolled.

“I don’t get it.” exclaimed a girl a few rows down.

I rolled my eyes. “What is there to get?” I replied, “It was a film where a bunch of people get drunk and do stupid things, with a vague storyline tacked on the end that altered Depp’s character so far from the source material it was embarrasing.”

The girl stared back blankly. I pressed on. “Hell, the only thing that distinguishes this film from most modern teen comedies is that Depp’s pretending to be a thirty-year old than a twenty year-old and that it’s set in the sixties. Replace San Juan with an American high-school and Depp with an unknown actor and you’d have a summer blockbuster!”

I felt a tug on my arm as my companion tried to drag me away. I gave slightly, but maintained my argument. “You want real cinema? 50/50 opens next week! The Descendants looks excellent! They too have what appears to be non-linear storylines! Bet you wouldn’t understand those!”

I left, bitter and seething. My comrade found this highly amusing. I told him to fuck off.

Mint

The cold air outside slapped me in the face and wrapped itself around me. I instantly regretted not bringing a coat as I shivered. My companion looked glum. He’d recieved a text during the film that bore bad tidings, and wouldn’t tell me what the message had said, merely smiled darkly and said “we’re doing heavy drinking tonight”.

Our destination was just across the street from the cinema, a small cocktail bar named Mint. To tie in with the name, the lighting was a soft green that bathed the room with a garish glaze and made the already inebriated customers look somehow even worse for wear. I noticed canvasses on the walls with the name of the bar planted on top of cheap pop art, and I realised I’d seen that very same ridiculous pop art shtick elsewhere: the fliers for the place that got shoved into my hands by bored students on my main path to lectures.

I heard my companion order two drinks, but didn’t catch the name.

“I don’t like being ordered a drink when I don’t even know what I’m getting.” I protested.

“Trust me,” he replied, “you’ll like it.”

“I especially don’t like it when people tell me I’ll like something.”

He smiled back and repeated that I would like it. I waited nervously; what godforsaken concoction could be made in a dire establishment such as this? The walls were plain white and the music was too quiet, so I could hear the drunken shoutings of every other patron as they planned their next move on their epic night out. There seating was too communal for my liking, promoting meeting new people and engaging in benal conversations with them, a skill I’ve never been particularly good at when sober.

The drink was mixed before my eyes, and I give it a whirl. It tasted of M&Ms. My tastebuds jumped for joy and my eyes widened with excitement; M&Ms in a cocktail? A cocktail I didn’t have to pay for? The night was looking up.

We moved to some high seats with a higher piece of wood for drink resting and discussed the movie. My companion explained that he enjoyed it, and I argued my case for it not being a great film, but eventually I had to ask again.

“I need to know why we’re doing heavy drinking tonight. I can’t just throw myself into it without a good reason.”

He finished his drink in a few quick schlucks on the straw, and then said seven words that made me stand still for a few minutes, staring straight at him, muttering “shit” every now and then, before quickly finishing my drink and suggesting we move to our next location.

In total I think we spent around ten minutes in Mint. If it weren’t for the cocktail, it would’ve been around five minutes too long.

Battlefield 3 Singleplayer Review

NOTE: As the title suggests, this is purely a review of the singleplayer. I haven’t touched the multiplayer yet.

As a hipster (wow, good one, why not say you’re a feminist next) I often find myself looking at AAA titles with a little bit of disgust. Pah! I say, how can a game worth £40 be made when even better games are made by less people and cost less money? (I am also a cheap man, which makes me slightly less hipster, given my dislike for purchasing expensive things ironically). Still, I’m also a hypocrit, and thoroughly enjoy playing modern shooters, despite their tendency to appeal more to the multiplayer side of things. And the government gave me a shit load of money to pretend to study English Language at university, so it was only natural that I’d eventually buy Battlefield 3.

BF3, as it will be known henceforth, comes on two discs. On the first, you have multiplayer, co-op and “HD Content” which is 1.5GBs (!) worth of textures to make the game look slightly prettier. But where’s my singleplayer? Oh, that’s tucked away at the back on disc two, since, well, who plays singleplayer shooters anymore? (Actually to be fair Bulletstorm is a testament to the fact that people don’t play singleplayer shooters.) Naturally, being a loner (I am many things, all of them negative) I threw the first disc to one side and shoved in the singleplayer campaign.

And just in case you’re already sick of this “review”, I’ll come right out and say it: it’s a damn good campaign.

If I was feeling lazy, I’d boil down the story to “blah blah blah Russians”, but let’s at least -try- and be professional here. To be fair, the story is basically what I described. You play Seargent Blackburn (which makes me laugh cos Blackburn isn’t far from me, and I reckon DICE thought it sounded like a really hard name, but it’s actually just a hole) who’s been arrested by some vicious looking office dudes who ask him lots of questions and, a la Black, he tells them the tale of the day he found some nukes through a series of flashbacks. You get to switch around with characters, playing as a Russian agent twice, as well as a tank commander and co-pilot in a jet in one of the coolest missions ever.

The story isn’t exactly original, but it’s functional and interesting enough to keep you playing. And once you get through the “oo-rah” bullshit, it is possible to care about some of the characters in game, until the game kills them off with nothing more than a brief sadface. Like I said, not great, but it’ll do.

Gameplay-wise, you’re playing a shooter. The differences between Modern Warfare and Battlefield are only noticeable in the online modes, so it’s relatively easy to compare them in the singleplayer, where you’re effectively playing the same game. You run from room to room, shooting enemies with a variety of big guns, small guns and high explosives. Simple

The gunplay is actually really fun, and the levels are well-designed enough so that you can properly flank enemies (one of the later levels in a villa is a prime example of how to make a damn good battleground) instead of just ducking and covering when your health gets low from a full-frontal assault. There’s also enough guns on show to cater for everyone, and you don’t get bogged down with the lengthy names describing what attachments you get with your new toy like you would in CoD, just grab your gun and roll with it.

There are also some fantastic vehicle levels, which is a sentence you won’t see often. The jet level is breathtakingly beautiful and, even on my tiny 15″ monitor, it’s possible to get drawn into the tension and excitement of taking off, landing, and dogfighting. It loses steam a little when you switch to firing at the ground, but up until then it’s tense, exciting battles between jets that you will remember for days after.

The tank levels aren’t quite as stunning but are still barrels of fun, with enough variety so that it doesn’t just become a boring battle of tanks vs tanks for half an hour. All in all, the variety on offer in the singleplayer is great, and is plentiful so that you never know what’s going to get thrown at you next.

I do have one issue. The friendly AI. Enemy AI is all well and good here; they take cover, the flank, they don’t provide so much of a challenge that you’ll be screaming blue murder as they mow you down yet again. But the friendlies get in the way of your bullets and grenades so often, you’ll be game over-ing because of accidentally shooting them than because of being shot yourself. Why couldn’t DICE be bothered to design friendlies that don’t run blindly into grenades thrown by you?

Now, as a 360 gamer (here he goes again…) I’ve learnt to accept that people with high-end PC’s will always get all high and mighty and elitist when it comes to graphics in video games and about how much better the same game looks on their console. And because of this, I’m more than happy to ignore reviewers proclaiming that the graphics not being as good as the PC version indicates that 360 gamers are getting a raw deal. Fuck that. Battlefield 3 is stunning in scope and realisation, the design being every bit as good as the finished product. Yes, the textures do look occasionally crummy and yes, if there wasn’t hardware limitations then it might look even better. But as a standalone product, with no comparison to another console, Battlefield 3 is gorgeous.

War-torn streets of Middle Eastern countries have been done to death, and BF3 delivers them in a similar style, even going as far as to repeat one level, but in reverse and at night (isn’t that a racing game’s idea of a new map?) But once you get out of central Iran, the Frostbite 2 engine starts kicking out glorious vistas, lush, grassy enviroments, a desert that stretches as far as the eye can see, and more. Modern day Paris is fantastic, and the office buildings and central streets contrast perfectly with the battlefield of the Middle East. DICE should be proud of their achievement here.

Except, of course, when the enemies start getting stuck in the walls, run down a set of stairs and magically appear at the top again, and so on. The number of graphical glitches churned out is boderline ridiculous, and really should have been sorted out before release (I haven’t connected to the Internet yet while playing BF3 so I don’t know if there is a patch yet, though I assume there has been and this issue is (slightly) resolved).

A note on the 1.5GB HD texture install: when I started playing initially, I ignored the HD textures, as I wanted to get right into it (also a mate was over and it was getting dark). The graphics without HD-ness are still good, great even, but you may as well install them. There was a moment where a detonator for a bomb was nothing more than a grey box with two non-descript wires sticking out of it, but other than that you can still play the game and not want to gouge your eyes out.

The sound is, as always, superb. The soundtrack, when there, is the bassy, almost dubstep sounds we heard in the trailers, but instead of being garish and horrible it blends well with the modern setting and technological look of everything. The sound effects are absolutely amazing – the shouts of your fellow soldiers mixed with distant gunfire and explosions surround you in a way that make you feel like you’re actually there in the battle (a cliche, sure, but an accurate one). It’s this level of detail that makes the game worth buying for the sound design alone.

All in all, the singleplayer campaign of BF3 is immersive and fun, with plenty of variation. But there’s just not enough of it to justify a purchase purely for the singleplayer. It almost feels like EA went the other way round and tacked on a singleplayer to a multiplayer game. If you’re a big singleplayer gamer, you’re probably best staying away and getting something more focused towards you, like Bulletstorm (a highly underrated game that deserves a lot more attention than it got). But if you’ve got cash to burn and you’re a fan of the series, this is a singleplayer experience you’ll remember for a long time after it’s over.

A Quick Thing About Video Games Since I Want To Be A Games Journalist And Should Write About Them More

How does one distinguish oneself as a writer these days?

Since I’m surrounded by the fuckers on a daily basis (doing an English degree does have that unfortunate side effect) I know that it takes more than a pointless hat, an addiction to whisk(e)y, sitting in lectures about irrelevant literature and going around telling people about the edgy dark comedy about an Irish transvestite priest found murdered you’ve written (I am not making this up, someone once told me about the script they’d written with that outline).

You need to know more about writing than how you’re going to describe someone walking in the rain (overheard from a conversation outside a Linguistics seminar by two Creative Writing students: “yeah I was thinking he could like, be walking in the rain, kinda moody like, ya know?” (the other guy started taking notes)).

And I know it takes persistence. Lots of persistence. To quote the movie ‘Dedication’, “this industry is 99% persistence and 1% talent” (about children’s cartoonists, but still). And, to quote my own personal coined phrase, you have to write through a lot of shit before you get to the good stuff.

Persistence is, like a lot of potentially good writers, where I fall flat. Oh, and I’m terrible at thinking up starts and endings. But mostly it’s the persistence thing. As you may have noticed from the gap between blog posts (damnit Ric I told you not to mention that, now you sound like every other blogger on the Internet).

Self-motivation has never been one of my strong suits (hence the massive stash of oh God I am not making that joke my parents might read this), and attending university has shown me that rather well. Clearly this is a character flaw that needs correcting soon, before it becomes my major downfall.

As well as that, I often have trouble coming up with new ideas. Being given free reign to write whatever shit I like for Gaming Lives is great, but equally (and I like to think we all have this problem sometimes) I find myself, more often than that, staring at a blank Word page thinking “buhh” as I try and come up with an interesting article idea about gaming in the modern age. Of course, when I do get that flash of brilliance, it’s a beautiful feeling; I just wish it wouldn’t take so damn long to hit me.

I have about four unfinished articles cluttering up my desktop, and have started and deleted many more. Why? Why can I not go back to them, finish them off, take an objective look at what I have written, and then decide whether or not it’s a massive pile of crap or not? I guess it’s because in the heat of the writing, the moment I lose focus on my piece, or realise my argument has spun off in the wrong direction, or just begin to wonder if my idea was really that great after all, I instantly think it’s awful and close the program. There is no “oh I’ll come back to it later” or “I’ll finish it and see how I feel in the morning”. It’s either great, or it isn’t.

In some ways this is a good thing. If I started writing stuff I wasn’t happy with and posted it anyway, then that would make me an awful journalist. Looking back on some of the reviews and previews I did for Swearing At Video Games, I realise what a mistake I was making by allowing myself to do that. I was under no time constraints; the editor stopped giving a shit after about my fifth review, and so did I. Why couldn’t I just have used the time to better sort out my ideas? Clean up some of the writing, make it a little tidier for the reader? Stop using lazy openings?

Honestly, it only struck me that I had an issue with my writing when I applied to be a reviewer for Gaming Lives, and Lorna, one of the editors (who is amazing and does brilliant work and, thinking about it, is the person who opened my eyes to my bad writing habits and helped me improve), read my last review for Swearing At Video Games as the example piece I had submitted. She said she liked it, but my opening was awful, my closing wasn’t great, and it didn’t really go into enough detail. I should have realised that I should have written a new review specific for GL. That was a stupid move on my behalf.

Then I went off, wrote a new review the same day I recieved my criticism, posted it here and got the gig.

So maybe my issue isn’t that I am a bad writer. Maybe it is my lack of persistence and my laziness. If I just kept at it, writing about everything I am doing in a blog, making my relatively dull existence more interesting, maybe then I could start to improve and happily call myself a writer.

Until then I still think I’m just a lucky idiot with a keyboard.

Anyway, I promised video games, so now we will talk about those instead.

I haven’t been playing a lot of games lately. Not because I have lots of work to do (hell, that’s never stopped me before), but mostly because I like the idea that at any minute someone will knock on my door, I’ll drop everything, and then shenanigans will happen. Which they do, particularly when I’m in the middle of a game. (Another worry I have is that I could be spending precious time talking to my girlfriend, but that’s always been there.)

Now, I’m quite happy to hit pause and run. But equally I prefer to settle in for a good couple of hours and decide for myself when I will stop. It’s an interesting dilemma, and one that I usually ignore and just refresh Facebook instead.

But that’s not to say I haven’t been playing any games at all.

Any of you who know me will have seen my preview of Defenders of Ardania on GL (and if you haven’t seen it then you’ll undoubtedly have seen links to it on Facebook and Twitter). That was written during uni time, and was actually probably the hardest preview/review I’ve ever had to write, and one that took me the longest of any article I’ve ever attempted. I won’t go into the reasons why (that would be unprofessional), but you should definitely go read it, oh, say, here.

During a Steam Midweek Madness sale I went crazy and picked up the Back To The Future: The Game collection for a pretty damn good price (cannot recall the price at this moment, but trust me, it was good). I’d played the first episode for free previously, and enjoyed it’s good story and nice graphics (although I’m -dreadful- at point ‘n’ clicks), so I figured I’d like the rest of the series.

I’ve since played through the second episode and began the third, and I have to say, I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I also think I’m starting to improve at adventure games, as I find myself less drawn to using the hint function (except at some points, where the game is obvious in what you need to do but less so in how to do it). The story is progressing well, better than any other movie-based game I’ve ever played (and they had movies to base themselves on, this is an original script), and the voice acting is consistently great throughout. I would heartily reccommend it to anyone who asked, although maybe not at the usual £18 asking price.

I also picked up Deus Ex: Human Revolution, about two months too late and for a fraction of the original cost. I’m actually really enjoying it; my only previous experience with Deus Ex is the second game which everyone hated, so I guess I might be missing out on the first game being amazing or something, but as a game on it’s own, DE:HR is a pretty solid title. It’s never too hard that it’s frustrating (so far, on the easiest difficulty) and never too easy that I won’t have to re-do a section ten times to make sure no one spots me. Gameplay is fun (haven’t fired a gun since the opening sequence though) and I like the dialogue bits.

My main problem is how it advertises itself. The game presents choice in bucketloads, and then rewards you greatly for adopting a stealthy, up-close-and-personal method. Knocked someone out instead of killing them? Bonus XP. Did it up close? Bonus XP. Made it through an area without being seen? Bonus XP and an achievement the first time you do it. There’s an achievement for finish the game with no alarms and no deaths (although it says “at your hand” so I’m not sure if hacking a turret counts yet).

So it’s a stealth game. Hell, it’s a -good- stealth game at that. Why not embrace the fact it’s a stealth game? Oh, cos it’s also an RPG, yeah. Can’t have a stealth RPG, that would just mean putting your points into one thing and not allowing the player to choose their own path. You know what? Fuck the RPG elements. Throw out the levelling up, or re-work it. Keep the inventory, I like inventories. But don’t tell me I can do a shit load of stuff and punish me when I do something you’d prefer me not to.

What’s next? Battlefield 3 waits, unopened, and will remain so until Deus Ex is finished. Possibly even until Christmas, when I get a bigger monitor and proceed to kick myself for waiting so long and being able to get it at a fraction of the cost even I paid for it (£30 for a brand new, awesome 360 game? Fuck yes!). My 2100 points card is en route, so I may find myself using multiple runs of Resi 4 HD to fill my time. That and, uh, socialising.

Hm. Well I said this would be a quick thing but it’s taken about three hours to write, so I think I may well just end it here. Keep on keeping on, and cheer the fuck up.