Friday, 27 May 2011

Bloody Brilliant Britain: Summer Music Festivals

British Summertime is upon us. ASDA stores nationwide are stocking up on charcoal briquettes and '3 for 1' meat selections, the suburban contingent are scraping 12 month old burger residue from their BBQ racks, and pubs up and down the country are chiseling bird shit off their outdoor tables.

Summer is also the time that music lovers across the nation congregate together in huge fields to listen to their favourite artists and dress up like escaped mental patients.

I'm talking of course, about the great British Summer music festival:

As I have had the distinct privilege of attending several of these defining British events over the last ten years, I will attempt to provide you, the reader, with a guide to a festival weekend.
  1. Choosing a Festival
  2. Getting there
  3. Camping
  4. Festival Goers
  5. The Weather
  6. Food and Drink
  7. The Dreaded Toilets
  8. Navigation and Communication Tactics
  9. Campsite Shenanigens
  10. Going Home

Step 1 - Choosing the festival that's right for you

Some people go to festivals because of the line-up of musical artists, some go to experience the very distinctive atmosphere that a festival provides, while some are merely curious and wish to dip their toes into the proverbial waters.

Festival organisers are very conscious of the variety of factors that motivate people to attend, so each major UK summer music festival is quite different from the next.

There has been a real explosion in the number of festivals that occur during the summer months, the following is a list of 5 of the major ones:

1) Glastonbury
2) Reading & Leeds (Carling Festival)
3) V-Festival
4) Download
5) Isle of Wight

There are literally dozens, if not hundreds of other festivals. Sometimes they are small independent festivals that offer a more intimate festival experience. Many of these are well set up and some have reasonably 'big' names on the musical front, but what they lack of course is the overwhelming size and human-variety that you would associate with one of the major UK music festivals

Step 2 - Getting there

In short, getting to a major music festival is a right nightmare. When 50'000+ people are all trying to get to the same place, you know there's going to be trouble.

Travelling by car is a good idea in principle - squeeze all your camping gear into the boot, cram a few mates in the back and off you go. However, upon nearing the festival campsite the queuing is usually horrendous and can last for hours.

Also, most car parks are literally miles from the campsites (In the case of the Reading Festival - a boat ride away). Such distances mean that carrying all your heavy gear from a car to a festival campsite is one of the most arduous tasks that a festival goer will experience. This unavoidable labour is commonly known as 'the lug'.

Travelling by public transport is also possible - although as festivals generally take place in rural settings, it is not always that easy. Fortunately, the bigger festivals usually operate shuttle-buses to ferry revellers from nearby transport hubs into the festival grounds. Often (but not always), these shuttle buses are allowed to park a bit nearer the main campsites, thus reducing the dreaded 'lug' mentioned above.

Step 3 - Camping

Accommodation at music festivals is not exactly what you might describe as luxurious. There are no en-suite showers, no daily housekeeping services and you will almost certainly never find a mint on your pillow (having a pillow in the first place would be luxury enough).

Instead, your home for the duration of the festival is likely to be a small, cramped, garishly coloured tent. Not only will it be your main place of rest during the festival, it is your first line in protection against the uncompromising bitch that is Mother Nature.

Tents come in all shapes and sizes, from flimsy little 1/2 man domes through to monstrous, multi-compartment 'mansion-tents'.

In my opinion, the perfect festival tent is a 3 man, mid height dome tent with a canopy to protect the entrance.

This sort of tent (as modelled above in true catalogue style by my good friend Nick) is big enough for a couple of people and their belongings. You should always subtract 1 from whatever the recommended personage limit is - i.e. assume that a 3 man can only comfortably fit 2 people. A tent of this size will be relatively lightweight, and therefore less of a burden during 'the lug'.

Selecting an appropriate spot for festival camping is of crucial importance. Quite simply, a lack of planning in this regard can lead to outright disaster.

Fear not though, as I have three simple rules to aid this selection process:

1) Where possible, always camp on higher ground. In the event of torrential rain, people camping at the bottom of hills or in low basin-like fields will get flooded out.

2) For the love of God, don't camp anywhere too near a toilet block! We'll cover toilets in more detail later, but needless to say that camping near portaloos is only advisable for people with no sense of smell.

3) Don't camp near thoroughfares. Drunken revellers have a habit of tripping over guide ropes and crashing through tents. Camping near any sort of public walkway makes this potential occurrence a near certainty.

Of course, you should always aim to get to a festival early in order to ensure that you are able to observe these three rules. Latecomers to festivals will usually find that their camping options are limited to a ditch next to a leaky portaloo near the busiest thoroughfare on the campsite.

If there is a group of you camping together, you should attempt to arrange your tents in a ring like structure with little proximity between tents on the perimeter, but enough space in the middle of the ring to allow you to sit around a nice fire. It is quite useful to adorn your campsite with something recognisable to you, so that you are able to find your campsite amongst the masses of tents that are present at a major music festival. A great big flag with a phrase close to your heart, such as 'we luv tits/cock', would be sufficient:

Step 4 - The hardy festival goer

There is a spectrum describing festival goers known as the (fg) scale. At one end is the 'wreck-head' (fg1):

At the other, is the 'bear-gryllian' (fg10).

For wreckheads, most of what I have wrote in this blog need not apply. They simply turn up to a festival, make a half-cocked attempt at pitching a tent before fucking off on a multi-day mega-bender. The chances of them finding their campsite or ever seeing their belongings again are slim.

On the other hand, the Bear-Gryllian is the crack-commando of festival goers. They have a utensil for every occasion, can pitch a tent so perfectly that it would withstand Hurricane Katrina.

Whether you realise it or not, you will be somewhere on this spectrum. I would consider myself to be somewhere between an fg6-7. This is on account of being a bit more considered in my approach to festivaling (this post should give that away!), but always failing to remember a few key items and not being the most able fire-lighter.

What is true though, is that those at either end of the fg scale will enjoy the festival in their own particular way.

Step 5 - The weather

A wise man once said, "there's no such thing as the wrong sort of weather, just the wrong sort of clothing". Barring extreme weather events that are seriously able to "fuck yo' shit up", this is largely very true.

Providing that you are adequately prepared, it really shouldn't matter too much what the weather is doing:

Saying this though, there is definitely such a thing as perfect festival weather, which i believe is as follows:

  • 18-25 degrees C
  • A slight breeze
  • Sunny with ever so slightly cloudy skies to provide the odd moment of shade
  • 10-15 degrees C
  • Clear starry skies (perfect for zoned out cosmic gazing - I once saw a UFO at a festival - no shit!)
If you get these conditions at a festival, consider yourself very fortunate, for as you know UK weather is nothing if not unpredictable.

Very hot, sunny weather at a festival is problematic due to the fact that most of us Brits are pasty bastards and get 2nd degree burns from being in direct sunlight for more than 30 seconds. In addition, hot and sunny weather mixed with alcohol leads to elevated levels of drunkenness and doubles the subsequent effect of hangovers.

On the other hand, wet weather can be really miserable. Fields become sloshy, near impassable mudbaths and everything you own is permanently soggy.

For just such variations in weather, I have a list of the top festival essentials that will help you cope with these adverse weather conditions:

Wet Weather:

Wellies - the 4x4 of outdoor footwear. Stride through deep puddles as your friend searches desperately for their missing flip-flop.

Waterproof trousers - As your pal frustratedly peels denim from sodden flesh, bask in the glory of 'bone dry' legs.

Poncho - Your own mobile tent. Laugh outwardly as the rain bounces off your water repellent shell.

Hot Weather:

Wide brimmed hat - Live in the luxury of your own shadow.

Factor 3'000'000 sunscreen (Only necessary for pasty buggers like me) - Don't leave yourself looking like a well done lobster, apply a thick coat of white gunk to all exposed body parts.

Bottle of Water - keep a handy vile of Earth-pop on you at all times to alleviate the effects of 'spinning-head' and 'wobbly-legs'.

Step 6 - Food and Drink

Contrary to popular opinion, good quality food and drink are available in abundance at music festivals. From simple burger vans to organic vegetarian alternatives to aromatic Chinese food stalls, there is a wealth of top notch nosh about. Unfortunately, it's all bloody expensive.

You see, rather than competing with each other on price as would the case in any normal goods and services market, the crafty vendors get together in 'Godfather' like fashion with the festival bosses to agree on set prices that are over and above what you might find out in the wider world. Pure extortion.


You can, of course, bring your own food, but the hassle of carrying in the supplies coupled with the inconvenience of needing to return to your campsite every time you want to eat makes it rather impractical. It's best if you budget to spend a few quid and begrudgingly pay the high prices. At least you'll won't have to live on pot noodles and soup all weekend!

Alcoholic beverages are similarly expensive too, which is why so many choose to add to the pain of 'the lug' and bring their own. With this in mind, it's advisable to become a drinker of spirits during a festival weekend, as a few bottles of tipple along with a customary mixer, will keep you rosy cheeked and heavy of wallet.

If you're beer drinker like me, you'll just have to put up with 'humping' a crate to you campsite. I do still recommend sampling the odd draft beer though, at whatever cost, as I have quite unexpectedly stumbled upon some excellent pints while at festivals. In particular, the Carling served at Reading a few years back was 10 times better than any other Carling I have ever sampled elsewhere. Strange but true.

Step 7 - The Dreaded Toilets

So, you've helped yourself to one of Mr Wing's Chow Mein & Chips combo boxes, necked 5 pints of ale and are starting to feel a stirring in your belly. Suddenly, an involuntary fart heralds the news that you are soon going to need to 'drop the kids off at the pool'. But where do you go? What do you do? FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WHAT DO I DO??!!

Calm down. It's going to be alright. Shit happens (mind the pun). Follow my instructions and you'll get through this:

First off, make sure you have some loo roll. You are not at the Hilton and there is no guarantee that you will be able to find any should you need it. Also, as you may be stepping into a confined area that has been previously used for defecation, you should also consider using an odour nullifier, such as a can of deoderant, or a smell reducer, such as a surgical mask or a menthol rub for your nose.

At a festival you may occasionally find fairly 'upmarket' temporary toilet blocks, with decent lavatories and even hand wash basins - unfortunately though, they are few and far between! What you'll usually be dealing with is the cramped, poorly lit plastic chamber known as the portaloo:

As portaloos at festivals are usually only emptied on a daily basis, for the majority of the time, they are filled with the waste product of hundreds of individuals. As such they all stink.

Some are far worse than others though. You can generally grade a portaloo between 1-5:

GRADE1 - Not bad. Clean surfaces, slight pong, bog roll still available.

GRADE 2 - Still clean. Even more repellent odour, no bog roll.

GRADE 3 - Very smelly, noticable clumps of faecal matter inside toilet bowl. No bog roll.

GRADE 4 - Eye wateringly pongy, piss all over seat, shit starting to block toilet drain.

GRADE 5 - Vomit inducing odour, shit on the floor, piss everywhere. Suspicious looking brown handprints on walls.

These are the usual grades of portaloo. You should make a mental note of these, and if you enter a 3 or above, feel no shame in leaving it post-haste.

However, there is one more grade of portaloo not on the standard list. If you are unfortunate enough to happen upon one of these, you have my deepest sympathies. I did once, and feel lucky to be here to tell the tale:

GRADE X - Satanic rituals were conducted in this place and formed an opening to the bowels of hell itself.

Two words describe the only GRADE X that I ever saw; nappies & blood.

Step 8 - Navigation and Comms tactics

If you're attending a festival with a load of mates, the chances that you will all want to stick together and do the same thing is unlikely. Due to the wide variety of entertainment available, you will no doubt find that your group splinters as individuals disappear off to go and watch different things.

The trouble with this is that finding your friends in an ocean of people is not the easiest thing to do. Despite recent technological advancements, mobile communication is often useless. This is mainly because:

1) Mobile networks are at breaking point and signal is often not available
2) Text messages take literally hours to receive
3) Even if you do manage to get 'on the blower', chances are that you won't be able to hear a thing anyway.

As a result of these problems, should you want to re-group, you will have to stick to a more traditional method. I call it GPRS - General pisshead recognition system.

General Pisshead Recognition System (GPRS)

Distinctive clothing (DC) + Recognisable Rendevous Point (RRP) = 90% Regroup success.

Wearing something that can be readily recognised by your peers is not a new concept. Soldiers have been doing it since forever. Unfortunately, brightly coloured garments alone won't always do the trick as festivals are awash an ocean of brightly coloured individuals.

Something more striking is required.As it can be hard to see through dense crowds, any distinctive item worn from the chest downwards may be hidden from view. As such, headwear works best.

Perhaps the best example of GPRS (DC) I have ever seen at a festival was sported by some friends of mine from the west country. Their adornments of choice were large straw hats with giant (possibly albatross) feathers poking out of the top. The beacon-esque nature of these hats meant that should you wander within a hundred feet of the individual, you would instantly recognise them. Job done.

DC is not quite enough though as it still demands a degree of proximity to the subject. The second element of GRPS must also be employed, 'Recognisable rendevous point' (RRP).

Suitable RRP cannot be determined by the usual linguistics of convening. Saying "I'll meet you by the main stage" is about as useful as agreeing to meet someone near a pine tree in the New Forest.

Instead, you need to agree on a small, named location. Stage areas and tents don't really work so you'll need to be more creative. It may seem obvious, but don't choose anywhere near toilet blocks or fences as you'll be stood sniffing freshly expelled urine for the duration of your wait.

Providing that you all know where it is, something like ' near Dave's Donut Stand' would be a good location. If it is in the proximity of a music stage, all the better as you can chill out and listen to some tunage as you wait for your friends to re-appear.

This is where DC comes back into play, as despite picking a good location, with so many people about it can still be hard to spot your friends. A tufty eagle feather or giant alien head will aid this task immensely (yes it's him again:)

Even with effective GPRS employed, success is never a 100% certainty due to the weird and wonderful paths that a day at a festival may present to you. So don't stress, grab a donut from Dave's stand and be on your way. An agreed RRP means you can always come back later to see whether anyone you know has turned up.

Step 9 - Campsite shenanigens

Other than FG1 Wreckheads, for most the time will come to return to the campsite to chill out and grab a few hours kip before starting a new festival day.

Upon returning to your campsite, one of the first tasks that must be undertaken is the construction of a good fire. Sadly, I'm no expert in this area, but my friend has written a recent blog post on this very subject, so i'll point you in that direction for some fire building guidance from a qualified(ish) expert:

'Talking a good game - Man vs Fire'

With your fire constructed, pull up a pew, crack open a can of warm lager, sit back and enjoy the warming glow.

Fires tend to have an uncanny knack of hypnotising people and this will often lead to a discussion about why exactly this is the case. My own explanation is that it is a reaction so primal that it dates back to the first time a human-being lit a fire. Namely, that the group of people who first lit a fire were so overawed by their creation that they were stunned into silence and their reaction has been passed down instinctively through the generations.

Once a fire has been built, there are two tasks required to maintain it that are usually passed around a group without dispute. Prodding and chucking.

A 'prodder' will have a handy stick to stoke the fire and a 'chucker' will periodically throw more fuel (i.e. bits of wood, cardboard etc) on the fire as required. Neither task is particularly labour intensive, but both are of crucial importance in prolonging the life of the fire.

A particularly good fire has the habit of attracting festival goers to your campsite like to moths to a flame. As a result, you will usually get one or two random visitors during the course of an evening. Fortunately, 99.9% of festival goers are decent sorts and merely wish to bask in the warmth of your crackling hearth and regail you with the tales of their respective days. Always embrace these passers by with open arms, as you may want the favour to be returned some day.

As the flames recede and the cold night air returns to envelop you, you may choose to retire to your tent and grab a brief few hours of shut-eye. However, unless you passout due to exhaustion or over-consumption of alcohol, you will be serenaded to sleep by a cacophony of sound very much akin to that of a rainforest.

You see, much like a rainforest, a festival campsite is occupied by all manner of creatures attempting to communicate over vast distances. Birds (as in the feathered variety) solve this problem by using a specific pitch of sound that is recognisable to others of their own species and indeed, so do festivalgoers.

The creatures of the festival jungle have their own unique cries and calls. For instance, at almost every festival i've been to, I have heard the cry of the "I am Spartacus" guy, which is always met with the customary response "NO! I am Spartacus!". As this reverberates around the campsite, 'Spartacus' is usually replaced with other more obscure references such as:

"I am Moira Stewart"
"I am the one armed man"
"I am Captain Horatio Hornblower"
"I am unable to use my legs"

Being at a music festival encourages many people also opt to take their own instruments, so you can usually enjoy a few impromptu musical recitals as you doze off. Although, as my friend James once proved, people will only tolerate so much before they express their distaste. His solo rendition of the 'Little Shop of Horrors' score proved so unpopular that he was told to keep the noise down by neighbouring campers- a request that I have never previously encountered whilst at a music festival.

The end is nigh....

So you've seen a bonanza of fantastic music, you've experienced the unique vibe of festival life, you've filled your mind and soul with an air of eccentricity found nowhere else....and you've probably gotten quite intoxicated along the way. Unfortunately it's now time to bid goodbye to your makeshift society and head back to the grey doldrums of normal, everyday life.

Leaving a festival can be a complicated, often frustrating and for some a heartbreaking experience. One of my favourite festival experiences happened at the Reading Festival in 2005, when upon leaving, I found myself having to console a young FG1 wreckhead who was massively distraught at the prospect of having to leave. He said that he hadn't slept in days but had had the time of his life and didn't think he could cope with life back in the real world. He had clearly been ingested by the festival gods who were now in the process of spitting him back out again. In classic good Samaritan fashion, I put my arm around him and told him it'd be alright, and that he'd be back amongst his kin for another tour of duty in a year's time. As he staggered off into the distance I can remember thinking that it would probably all be a fading blur of music and fire for him in a few days time, as he sat down to an evening meal with his parents and discussed his future employment options. Still, he would be back to rediscover his true 'wreckhead' self one day.

The knack of leaving a festival in the least frustrating fashion is either to leave absurdly early or extremely late. Either way, you will likely avoid the massive crowds and traffic jams that are commonplace when leaving at the normal times. Most festivals end on the Sunday night, with revellers packing up and going home on mass between about 10am - 1pm on the Monday. Naturally these are the times to avoid.

Leaving Early

Leaving early is a rather stange experience. It is best achieved, not by shooting off as soon as the final guitar string is plucked, but instead, at sometime between 5am-8am on the Monday morning. At this time, the campsite is largely tranquil and peaceful. Those not passed out in their tents are usually found wondering around talking to themselves, or sitting and staring into space, contemplating the wonders of the cosmos.

As such, for those motivated enough, leaving at this time is a crowd free and largely straightforward task.

Leaving late

Apart from being routinely hassled by stewards who want you to "get offe thar land", leaving a festival late can be quite handy as you are likely to miss the queues, you can have a nice chill whilst others are stressing and more importantly, it gives you ample time to indulge in the art of looting.

You see, at the end of any festival, the rules of taking another person's property are turned on their head and pillaging becoming rife. It's not so much that stealing is suddenly allowed, it's just that many people decide to abandon their stuff so as not to have to carry it back home with them. An odd concept I admit, but for some the benefit of an easy 'lug' home outweighs the benefit of them retaining their belongings.

So with the owners having left their camping goods at the mercy of the elements, the looter can begin their work.

The three most common items that you will find are as follows:
  • Tents
  • Camping Chairs
  • Beer
I've found everything from hiking boots to giant inflatable rubber mallets and strings of sausages (not fit for consumption i might add) in my time. Even if you don't take anything, it's worth a having a good rumage, as it appeals to our subsistence level roots.

The return to Normality....

As your homestead nears, take a moment to reflect on the good times you've had and vow to take on board the teachings of your festival days:

Mine are usually:

- Life is full of variety - so make the most of it.
- Most people are generally 'good eggs', so park the xenophobia.
- Good community spirit is well underrated.
- A good bed is a privilege, and shouldn't be taken for granted.
- A hot bath is a truly joyous thing.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Beer Wars: Operation Pork Scratching - The aftermath

At 0100 hours local time on Saturday 21st May 2011, the black operation, codename 'Operation Pork Scratching' ended in total victory.

"Viva la alcoholism!"

Locals and troops alike celebrated as Prime Minister Cameron himself hailed the operation as a total success.

In a speech similar to that of the late Winston Churchill, the cherry faced PM stated;

"Never in the history of afternoon sessions was so much drank by so many in so few hours"

Mission Recap

The Mission Objective:

In a gruelling, near 5 mile route into the heart of darkness that is Compton and Finchfield, troops must navigate the wilds of the west-side pubs and make it back into the centre of Wolverhampton in one piece (and of course, neck loads of ale on route). Victory conditions are as previous - remain standing by the end of the campaign and make it to the exfiltration point. Failure is not an option.

The route:

Click on the image for the high resolution viewfinder:

Mission Log

Following the successful completion of Operation Pork Scratching, the MOD released the following timeline of events to the general media.

n.b. For information, The 'Beer Sniper', as referenced in the mission log below, refers to the stealthy enemy that stalks all beer war soldiers and threatens to eliminate them from the war-zone unexpectedly.

20/05/2011 1330hrs GMT

Bravo company (Cpt Cartwright & Cpt Mcfarland) convene at Allied Camp Chequerfield. Alpha Squadron, led by Cpt Bladon (aka the blade) proceed to the insertion point on foot from Allied Camp Bladon.

Bravo company face extreme difficulty in attempt to rendevous with Alpha squadron due to mechanical failures experienced by an ABC Countdown humvee. After unsuccessful attempts by the vehicle operator/useless cabbie at re-starting the choking machine, Cpts Mcfarland and Cartwright attempt an experimental pushstart on Stubbs Road. Largely due to the superhuman strength of Cpt Cartwright, and despite the obvious physical deficiencies of Cpt Mcfarland, the attempt is successful and the convoy continues on to its primary destination.

20/05/2011 1345hrs GMT

Alpha squadron faces potentially mission threatening circumstances at the insertion point. Checkpoint 1, 'Bird in Hand' is closed till 1500hrs!

Suspicious activity by unknown locals in the adjacent car port leads Alpha squadron to suspect terrorist-like activity is afoot. Acting quickly, Cpt Bladon contacts Cpt Mcfarland to confirm re-route to the secondary objective point - the Royal Oak. Evading the dodgy locals, Alpha squad makes a successful retreat.

20/05/2011 1400hrs GMT

Alpha Squadron and Bravo Company make initial contact at Checkpoint 2 - 'The Royal Oak'. Tactical engagement of the amber nectar begins.


Beer: Excellent selection of real ale. Blinding pint!

Pissers: Not attended

Conversation Highlights: "Does half a viagra give you half an erection?"

Locals-watch: Suspicious but compromising. Presence of bartender with Brother Caedfael hairstyle noted.

20/05/2011 14:25hrs GMT

Accidental removal of beer glasses from premises invokes the wrath of the locals. Beer glasses returned. Hasty retreat ensues.

20/05/2011 14:30hrs GMT

Troops march to Checkpoint 3 - The Swan. No reported sights of the Beer Sniper - potentially too early for such an ambush.


Beer: Absolute top quality ale - campaign highlight. First boondoggle skirmish.

Pissers: Straight out of 'Life on Mars'. Rank

Conversation Highlights: How offensive is the term 'Donkey raping shit eater' to those in earshot?

Locals-watch: Seemingly hostile. Bar poster stating "fit in or fuck off" is prominent.

20/05/2011 15:00hrs GMT

Short hike to adjacent checkpoint 4 - The Oddfellows. Cpt Mcfarland begins to experiences his first symptoms of bladder weakness. Emergency pissstop upon entry to checkpoint 4 is necessary. A scheduled ration stop is aborted as the food looks pricey and 'well shit'.


Beer: More Boondoggle - but tastes like filth. Chain pubs suck arse at doing good beer - FACT.

Pissers: Elegant. Top notch hand-dryers and good quality urinal cakes.

Conversation Highlights: Cpt Hargreaves' adventures in Iraq.

Locals: Highstreet retail merchant-esque staff and random pub diners. Distinctly nonthreatening.

20/05/2011 15:30 GMT (possibly)

More squad members follow Cpt Mcfarland's lead and succumb to early bladder deficiencies - although Cpt Mcfarland exceeds all piss-per-pub records with 3 individual trips in checkpoint 4 (honestly, considering his size, he must have a bladder the size of an apricot).

Levels of merriment are decidedly increasing. A cameo appearance from legendary beer-wars soldier Sgt Chris 'take it like a boss' Watabiki is met with a chorus of cheering.

Checkpoint 5 is only accessible via a steep climb, which serves to heighten the wobbliness of certain squad members.


Beer: Better than checkpoint 4 but still lacking the quality of earlier beverages..

Pissers: Operating at a humidity comparable to the Burmese jungle. No need to use the pisser at all, as all bodily liquids have evaporated before you've even got to the urinal.

Conversation Highlights: Muted due to extensive quizzo playing and the arrival of rations.

Local-watch: Staffed by young females who are oddly unamused by beer driven bravado and cheeky semi-drunken banter. All punters scarper, suggesting our presence is starting to have a negative effect on our surrounding environment. 'Hearts and minds' campaign seemingly failing.

20/05/2011 Late afternoon(ish) GMT....

Fully fed and watered, troops march on to checkpoint 6 - 'The Chestnut'. This area was considered to be a possible early beer sniper ambush point - no confirmed sightings were made though. Upon entry, an elderly lady, is being comforted by sympathetic locals in the corner. She appears to have forgotten who she is and where she is from. The true human cost of the horrors of beer-war are evident in this doddering biddy.

Concerns now increase for the stricken Cpt Mcfarland, who can barely make the hikes between checkpoints without needing to nip off to find a suitable location to evacuate his bladder.

Checkpoint 6 marks the location of the first leg of the epic pool table tournament between Cpts Cartwright and Hickens. 3 wins to Cartwright ensures an early lead.


Beer: All starting to taste the same.

Pissers: Memories starting to fade.

Conversation Highlights: Cpt Hickens - "Could I be done for manslaughter if I accidentally hit the beerwar-ravaged pensioner in the noggin with a miscued pool ball?"

Local-watch: The care being paid to the confused pensioner suggests a socialist ideology at work.

20/05/2011 Christ knows GMT

Having passed the mission mid point and now moderately intoxicated, troops embark on the longest checkpoint to checkpoint trek. A sudden course-correction is agreed and checkpoint 7 - 'The Bradmore Arms' is bypassed - this eliminates further danger of an appearance from the beer sniper. The squadron moves directly to checkpoint 8 'The Chindit Arms'.

20/05/2011 Later than before

Marked as a potential hot spot due to the lack of available tactical reconnaissance information, troops are pleased to discover that the Chindit is actually NOT a western saloon occupied by cattle rustlers and no-good bandits. A well kept pool table allows for the 2nd leg of the Cartwright/Hickens contest. Despite an early comeback, Cartwright wins the overall series 4-2.


Beer: Necked.

Pissers: Could have pissed in the sink for all I know.

Conversation Highlights: Paul's 'Willy Thorne-esque' commentary of the final pool match.

Local-watch: Initially suspicious, but troop contact made with an old acquaintance of Cpt Cartwright settles the locals down.

32/07/2011 Friday(ish) GMT

Mission end in sight. Approach to Ho-Chi Minh/Wolverhampton City Centre commences. First outlying checkpoint - 'The Combermere Arms'

Sourcing a pack of playing cards, Cpt Hargreaves attempts to teach the game of Bridge to the troops. This endeavour is ultimately unsuccessful as the campaign has served to degrade the cognitive abilities of the soldiers.


Beer: Combermere beer top notch as always.

Pissers: Outdoor. Urinal - Check. Cubicle - Check. Sink - Check. Tree growing through the middle of the bogs - Check.

Conversation Highlight:

Cpt Cartwright: "If I play this hand do I win then?"
Cpt Hargreaves: "For the third time - No!"

Locals: Sympathetic to war ravaged Allied Beer Soldiers.

Sunny Evening-time GMT

First troop casualties. Cpt Sandhu and Cpt Hickens are both allowed medical evac from missus units.

Remaining squad members struggle on final checkpoint 10. Cpt Mcfarland, having temporarily recovered from perpetual bladder weakness is charged with retrieving the new recruit Private Stoten from Wolverhampton Air Base/Train Station.

A bit later....

Remaining troops arrive at the final checkpoint - 'The Clarendon Arms'


Beer: Liquid

Pissers: Blurry

Conversation Highlight: Singing 'Roxanne' in high pitched voices with complete strangers in small beer garden.

Locals: drunken crooners

Dark now GMT

All Operation Pork Scratching checkpoints successfully conquered. Troops move on to the debrief point 'the Giffard'.

At this point further intel is interrupted due to possible EMP use, chemical terrorism and/or excessive alcohol consumption. Only brief extracts of the remaining events are available:

1) Cpt Bladon sitting on a gothic throne
7) Cpt Stoten arrives
3) Someone takes a photograph
9) Cpt Bladon sitting on a gothic throne
4) We briefly move to an unrecorded checkpoint - The Hogshead.
4) Cpt Bladon sitting on a gothic throne
4) Cpt Dutton reveals long lost brother
5) Cpt Bladon attempts psychological coercion of local females.
23) Cpt Cartwright talks to someone he knows but doesn't remember who.
1) and Cpt Bladon sitting on a gothic throne:

On a final note, we are sad to inform you, that upon reaching the Checkpoint 11 mission debrief point (for the 2nd time), the Beer Sniper finally emerged and shot Cpt Cartwright, causing him to keel over and become semi-conscious.

He is said to be in a critical but stable condition. Our thoughts are with his toilet.

Mission Statistics

Number of Checkpoints conquered: 9 + 1 additional
Total Military Personnel: 8
Casualties incurred prior to debrief point: 2
Beer Sniper Victims: 1

Recommendations have been made to the top brass to honour our gallant heroes as follows:

For distinguishing themselves in the art of talking absolute, prolonged bullshit:

  • Cpt Richard Bladon - Victoria Cross
  • Cpt Steven Cartwright - Victoria Cross
  • Cpt Baz Sandhu - Victoria Cross
  • Cpt Paul Dutton - Victoria Cross

For exceeding his record in the honourable field of 'most pisses per pub':
  • Cpt James Mcfarland - George Cross
For being the only soldier actually wearing combat fatigues:

  • Cpt Richard Bladon - George Cross (& GQ Men's beer-crawl fashion award)

For mastering the arcane skills of fruit machines

  • Cpt Paul Dutton - Purple heart/Cherry/Lemon

For maintaining decorum in the face of losing a pool series:

  • Cpt James Hickens - Elizabeth Cross

For services for the noble art of teaching Bridge to pissheads:
  • Cpt Karl Hargreaves - Distinguished Service Order

----------END OF LOG ----------

Till the next mission - keep fighting the good fight!

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Gaming for the uninitiated

I'll start with a question.

Which of the following people are computer gamers?

Answer: All of the above.

Yes, that's right, all of the above - Although I'm sure you initially thought it was Person A.

Person A in fact, is Tyson and he likes to murder prostitutes and steal their money on Grand Theft Auto IV. Person B, Barbara, prefers to stab unsuspecting people in the back before riddling their still writhing corpses with machine gun fire on Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Finally, Person C, Timothy, likes to create outrageously fabulous costumes for sackboy on Little Big Planet.

That's right people - gaming has gone mainstream. No longer is it the last respite of the damned, bespectacled, pale skinned and nerdy. No, it has now invaded the lives of just about every person in the developed world.

Only recently, I overheard a conversation between two elderly(ish) ladies during which the phrase 'Dead Space 2' was mentioned several times. Stunned and intrigued, my ears perked up to intercept the fact that one of the ladies was buying an x-box game of this name for her grandson and was imparting some rudimentary knowledge of the subject to her acquaintance.

For the uninitiated, Dead Space 2 is what is known as a 'survival horror story' game. In the game, you assume the role of a chap trying to escape from a zombie infested space station.
In essence, survival horror story games of this type are much akin to fairground ghost trains in that you follow a predetermined 'track' whilst repeatedly being accosted by all manner of illuminous plastic monsters and minimum wage carnies with nothing better to do than terrify already frightened children.

My point is that recently, games have crossed the void into the popular consciousness. Unfortunately though, for people who are trying to decipher this arcane world of noobs, spawn-rapers, XP whores and spammers, it can be a daunting journey.

So, for those of you wishing to dip your toes into these virtual waters, the following should give you a well rounded induction into the world of 'gaming'.

So what is Gaming then?

'Gaming' as a standalone term, is the description of the hobby/pass time of playing computer/video games. In this sense, Gaming does not refer to the enjoyment of scrabble, cluedo, trivial pursuit or indeed any other non computer based entertainment form. Nor should it be confused with anything to do with hunting Deer, Pheasants or Grouse.

The term 'Gamer' is a reference used to describe those people who actively participate in the playing of computer games.

More recently, there has been an influx of people who claim to be gamers, but have in actual fact merely been duped by the marketing machine and have bought into the new phenomenon of 'family gaming'. Family Gaming is usually achieved by means of a device that requires the player to perform complex bodily motions to accomplish goals. Such games are usually played in the company of others and often lead to much hilarity all round.

For most people wishing to get a taste of playing computer games, 'family gaming' is probably the best thing to start with. Unfortunately, barring the odd exception, the games available are usually fairly basic and repetitive. The exertion factorinvolved in family gaming can also lead to real life physical injury or structural damage - which really defeats the purpose of gaming in the first place!

True gaming is somewhat different. For a start, no level of physical exertion is required whatsoever. A gamer need only pivot their fingers and thumbs in order to achieve the full gaming experience.

The games themselves are usually more complex and require a larger investment of time and emotion from the gamer. People have literally changed into snarling, feverish mutants in the pursuit of success in some of the more involved 'true' games.

Got it! So where do I start?

In order to participate in the hobby of 'gaming', you will require a game playing device - known more commonly as a computer games console. You can also use a regular computer (PC) to enjoy gaming, but to be honest, for a beginner, this would be like Stephen Hawking attempting to ascend Mount Everest with little more than a penknife and a cigarette lighter for climbing gear.

Upon attempting to acquire a game playing device, spotty teenagers in high street computer games retail shops will often try to confuse you with complex jargon.

Ignore their otherworldly lingo and know that there are only two devices you would require in order to begin your gaming odyssey.

1) Microsoft X-Box 360 (xbox)

2) Sony Playstation 3 (ps3)

Now, I could bang on here about the pros and cons of each device, but it's been done to death (x-box vs PS3). All that needs saying is that both are pretty similar and the only really important difference is that some games available for one device are not available for the other.

If cost is important to you, the x-box is a bit cheaper but as you end up having to buy loads of additional shit for it, in the end both devices probably work out around the same price all in.

What about the Wii you might be asking?

Nintedo Wii

Well, the Wii is one of the aforementioned 'family gaming' devices. The makers of the Wii (Nintendo) have proven pedigree in the world of gaming, but they know as well as I do that the Wii is just an almighty cash cow and has provided a way for them to approach previously untapped areas of the potential gamer market, such as grandparents, uncles and mother-in-laws.

Both Sony and Microsoft have copied this innovation and designed devices that replicate the family gaming experience on their respective gaming devices, but they will both be fully aware that this merely a diversion from the business of true gaming.

Too many games!

So now that you have purchased either a PS3 or an x-box, what do you do? Well, you buy a game for it.

There are literally thousands of games out there, the majority of which are utter shite. There are however, also some real gems that should appeal to many people. You will be told, again from spotty teenage shop retailers about many different types of games that exist It is true, just like in books, films and music, there are many genres. However there are only really 4 types of games:
  1. 'Tell me a story' games
  2. 'Beat the game' games
  3. 'Beat the crap out of other people' games
  4. 'Build stuff' games

1. 'Tell me a story' Games

'Tell me a story' games are exactly what they 'say on the tin'. Just like books, good 'tell me a story' games are few and far between, but if you find a good one you get hooked.

The very best 'tell me a story' games are arguably some of the finest games ever made and although often quite short, are often cinematically on par with some of the great screen blockbusters.

'Tell me a story' games as are well structured and have a beginning, a middle and an end. You generally adopt the role of one or more protagonists - and will experience some amount of character development/character arc during the course of the game. They are littered with dramatic interludes between action based set pieces - again, very similar to books and films.

If the classic Dickens novel, Oliver Twist was a 'tell me a story' game rather than a book, you would probably take the role of young Oliver and be required to pickpocket unsuspecting people on the streets of London in order to increase your THIEVING BASTARD ability and thus progress through the story.

'Tell me a story' games have benefited from advancements in technology more than the other game types, as they are now able to look and feel more realistic than ever before. Although, like most things, the very best 'tell me a story' games are truly timeless.

In my opinion the three best 'tell me a story' games of all time are as follows:

3) Red Dead Redemption (2010)

A relatively new addition to the gaming world (2010), Red Dead Redemption is a truly brilliant game.

You adopt the role of a cowboy in the old west who has reformed from his previously wicked ways. Throughout the game you must indulge in a variety of wild-west style tasks, such as cattle herding, gun fighting and horse rustling.

The main arc of the story involves you tracking down and killing members of your old gang, who double crossed you and left you for dead.

HIGHLIGHT: Using the 'dead eye' aiming system to slow time and pepper a pesky coyote with rifle bullets, before dismounting your horse to skin the felled beast.

2) Metal Gear Solid series (1998-2009)

There are several Metal Gear Solid games, so i'll group them as one. The plot of the series is too convoluted to fully describe to here - suffice to say it's quite epic. You are placed in the shoes of a crack-commando super soldier who must attempt to avert a variety of catatrophes such as, but not exclusively, nuclear war, giant robots and armies of genetically enhanced clones...oooooh!

The game requires you to be a sneaky motherfucker and complete your objectives whilst remaining unnoticed. To aid you in your subterfuge, you are given a set of very handy espionage tools and an arsenal of high-tech weaponery.

HIGHLIGHT: Being spotted and chased by a sentry guard only to evade detection by hiding underneath a cardboard box.

1) Final Fantasy VII (1997)

There have been quite a few final fantasy games before and after no7, but needless to say, Final Fantasy 7 is the greatest of them all. The story is epic on a near unparellelled level. Your protagonist, Cloud, begins his career as a low level freedom fighter, but by the end of the game, our hero is striving to save the planet from giant comets, city sized monsters and a very scary Japanese looking dude with a giant sword (ooh err).

Like any great novel, it's got the classic mix of heroes, villians, a twist of romance and some daring escapades. There is even an unexpected death of one of the game's main characters to really pull at the gamer's heartstrings.

It's a bit of an oldie now, being released back in 1997, but it's sheer scale still helps it stand out as the greatest 'tell me a story' game ever made.

HIGHLIGHT: The fabled death scene which leaves you distraught and demanding justice!

Other notable titles: Grand Theft Auto 4, God of War, Uncharted, Gears of War, Resident Evil, Castlevania, Fallout 3, The Elder Scrolls, Half Life 2, Legend of Zelda, Dead Space.

2. 'Beat the game' Games

'Beat the game' games were some of the first games invented. There will sometimes be a tenuous storyline to support the game, but it is never necessary - and rarely qualifies them to be classed in the category of 'story games'. Unfortunately, they are also a dying breed, as improvements in technology and the advent of online gaming has given presidence to the other types of games I describe.

They are usually single player games that require the gamer to strive to reach the highest level they possibly can and/or to complete the game in its entirety, be it through solving problems, completing repetitive objectives or defeating enemies. The catch is that the better you perform as a gamer, the more difficult the puzzles/objectives/enemies become.

Some 'beat the game' games are actually infinite in length. This may sound ironic, but these sorts of games are usually so incredibly addictive that it doesn't really matter to the gamer anyway.

'Beat the game' games are also pretty much timeless. They do not tend to suffer from the ravages of age as they were not necessarily designed to beat the cutting edge of technology, rather to be at the cutting edge of addictiveness. And addictive they are.

Despite being the rarer type these days, top notch 'Beat the game' games inspire an almost religious level of dedication from their followers - with some of the earliest incarnations still being played by the masses today. To get a real sense of this almost surreal dedication, watch the greatest video game documentary ever made - The King of Kong.

On with the list.....

3) Pacman (1980)

A candidate for the trippiest game in history, Pacman is the classic tale of a floating yellow mouth that embarks on a quest to eat fruit whilst avoiding ghosts. Pacman has been drawing crowds for 30 years with it's simple cat and mouse maze based gameplay.

HIGHLIGHT: Eating a cherry and giving those damn ghosts what for. "Have that you supernatural bastards!"

2) Tetris (1989)

Russian dance music is combined with a mind numbingly addictive block building puzzle to create a modern classic. In typical 'beat the game' game style, it gets harder and harder as you continue to play it - reflected beautifully by the ever increasing tempo of one of the most memorable music tracks in the history of gaming.

HIGHLIGHT: Finding the perfect space for that nuisance L shaped block and clearing 3 lines in one shot. Magic.

1) Donkey Kong (1981)

The original love triangle between a plumber, a princess and a massive ape. The rules are simple, use the plumber's olympian agility to repeatedly traverse wobbly platforms whilst avoiding barrels that are being chucked at you by a pesky primate.

HIGHLIGHT: Getting hold of the mallet and smashing the shit out of those deadly barrels.

Other notable titles: Super Mario Bros, Pong, Sonic the Hedgehog, Gauntlet, Asteroids, Space Invaders, Braid, Doom.

3. 'Beat the crap out of other people' games

These games are all about competition. 'Beat the crap out of other people' games will often have elements of 'tell me a story' games and of 'beat the game' games, but ultimately there is only one purpose for playing them. Get good at it and wallop the fuck out of your mates/random Americans.

It is the mark of an avid gamer to have at least one game where they possess the skills necessary to crush any opposition facing them. In the early days, such opposition was sought in communal gaming arcades . I am just about old enough to remember when this was the case.

In my hometown of Wolverhampton, legend tells of an old 'Street Fighter II' machine that was situated in a chip shop on Broad Street.

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Youngsters would turn up on a daily basis to challenge the resident champion - a young mixed race chap with the reactions of steroid ridden mongoose. People came from far and wide to vye for his prestigious title of 'champion of the chip shop'. I heard that he remained unbeaten until the day the machine was removed. Where is he now? Who knows. I'd like to think that he might be using his powers for good elsewhere in the world - fighting the righteous battle and all that. Truth is, he's probably the same chap that keeps asking me for spare change when i stumble out of the local hostelry - still he had his moment in the sun.

With the advent of home gaming, came the opportunity for regular challenges against known opposition - i.e. your mates. Impromptu ranking systems would form, winner stays on challenges were standard and trash talking was rife. As the generations have passed, the games have changed, but one thing remains constant, the sheer delight of watching your fellow man crumble in defeat.

I have participated in competitive gaming matches during my student days, where bets were made on the outcome and near riots broke out amongst drunken students as a result of dodgy goings-on. Another story for another day perhaps.....

'Beat the crap out of other people' games have entered a new phase in recent years with the introduction of online gaming. The main drawback of course, is that you can no longer witness the decimation of your opponents first hand, but the clear advantage is that an entire world of competion has opened up, and those wishing to can now test their metal against the world's best gamers. Those with the inclination and the time to practice can become living room based world beaters. I find no shame (well not much) in admitting that I reached dizzying heights in becoming the 87th best player in the world at Burnout Paradise several years ago - a feat which in ancient times would surely have seen me showered with gold and other riches.

The list please maestro.....

3) Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (often known as COD) has become a global phenomenon. I'm convinced that it is a ploy by the US government to militarise children and thus keep the war machine stocked with potential cannon fodder for its war of (on?) terror. Whatever it roots, COD has utilised the development of online gaming to produce possibly the most competitive online gaming battles the world has ever seen.

The premise is simple, you choose a set of weapons, start a game and shoot the crap out of anything that moves. When the dust clears, the person who has killed the most opponents is victorious. Its strength is also in its Class-A powers of addiction. In short, players need to keep playing continuously in order to win better weapons and earn medals that signify their superiority over their fellow gamers.

HIGHLIGHT: Killing several people in a row and receiving the temporary use of an attack helicopter with which you can rain down a volley of death on your foes. Grrrr! Aggression!

2) Pro Evolution Soccer series (2001-PRESENT)

The Pro Evolution Soccer series (a.k.a PES, a.k.a, Pro-Evo, a.k.a I.S.S) were the greatest ever computer simulation football games. In recent years the Pro-Evo series has 'gone off the boil', mainly due to better competitor games and its failure to properly adapt to online gaming. In its heyday though, it was unrivalled as a 'beat the crap out of other people' game. It took the flowing, counter-attacking style of real football and zapped it into video game format.

Pro-Evo was a game you played with your mates after a few beers. Fuelled by the confidence of alcohol you were empowered with the skill of Diego Maradona, the vision of Johann Cruyff and the striking prowess of Gabriel Batistuta. Victory was sweet, defeat was crushing and revenge was definitely a dish best served cold.

HIGHLIGHT: Pulling off a perfectly timed marseille roulette on your opponent, before running on and hammering in a 30 yard wonder strike. Priceless.

1) Street Fighter II: the World Warrior (1991)

The original king of the 'beat em ups', Street Fighter II marked the true dawn of hardcore competitive gaming. Given the use of eight virtual combatants from every corner of the globe, you engaged in a best of 3 rounds punch up. Memorising a vast swathe of 'special moves' and executing perfectly timing combinations of punches, kicks and jumps, you were required to pummel your opponent until their energy bar was depleted.

Street Fighter II only narrowly pre-dated good quality, widely purchased home gaming systems when it first arrived, so in a way it also marked the swansong of old fashioned communal arcade gaming.

It's timeless roster of characters has lived on in the many sequels that followed.

Repeatedly using the same move to win (this is known as spamming) until such a point as your opponent throws their controller down in anger and accuses you of cheating.

Other notable titles: Mario Kart, Mortal Kombat, WWE Smackdown, Gran Turismo, Wipeout, HALO, Tiger Woods Golf, Virtua Tennis, EA Figh-tnight, Tekken, Virtua Fighter, Soul Calibur, UFC Unleashed, Counterstrike, Battlefield.

4) Build Stuff Games

'Build stuff' games are a fairly niche form of gaming designed expressly for creative types, control freaks and meglomaniacs.

They generally involve detailed design and management elements, be it in the form of creating and managing a league winning football team, commanding a military campaign, developing a fictional hospital or even designing an entire world.

Build stuff games are best played on an actual computer rather than a computer games console, mainly due to the extensive point and click requirements that lend themselves more efficiently to mouse and keyboard control. But as I said earlier, the novice gamer would struggle to traverse the complexities of PC based gaming, so it might be advisable to use a console all the same.

In essence, they are often quite similar to 'beat the game' games, but the fundamental difference is that with a 'build stuff' game, the requisite skills are creativity, planning and strategic thinking rather than lightning quick reactions and top notch hand eye coordination. For this reason they can truly be described as the thinking person's game type.

Here's some of the best:

3) Little Big Planet (2009)

Little Big Planet is the most suitable game for Art and Design Students. The veneer of this game is a simple run and jump between platforms game, such as Sonic the Hedgehog or Super Mario Bros. But this belies an deep an multilayered core dedicated to design freedom. Using the toolset, you can quite literally plan and create an entire game full of different styled chracters, backgrounds, playing surfaces and obstacles. As a recent game that utilises online play, you are then able to share your creations with the wider population.

HIGHLIGHT: The introduction by Stephen Fry.

2) Sid Meier's Civilisation series (1991-PRESENT)

This is exactly as described. Create a civilsation, feed it, shelter it, grow it, help it discover new technology and then go and wage war on your neighbours, plunder their natural resources and subject their population to abject poverty and/or slavery. Nothing like the real world at all....

HIGHLIGHT: Using the in game cheat, arming your civilisation with stealth bombers and nuclear submarines and attacking your neighbouring civilisatons before the poor buggers have even learned how to irrigate their land properly. Again, nothing like the real world at all.....

1) Championship Manager/Football Manager Series (1992-PRESENT)

Championship manager (now known as football manager) has quite literally ruined prosperous relationships and lost people their actual jobs. Again, the premise is simple - manage a football team. As the years have gone by, the micro-management tasks that the gamer must master has reached almost life like proportions.

Not only do you make signings, select your squad, and recruit your staff, you can now indulge in all manner and range of other tasks. Running a youth academy, developing a training programme and attending presss conferences are all now part and parcel of achieving success with your chosen team.

I genuinely think that gamers who have mastered the art of Championship Manager would be wholly able to suceed in a top flight managerial post in the Barclays Premier League.

HIGHLIGHT: Taking non league Rushden & Diamonds to the European Cup Final, and winning it in the 90th minute with a strike from the 24 year old Venuzuelan striker who you signed for a pittance when you were in league 2 and who is also now the world's most valuable player.

Other notable titles: Theme Park, SIM City, Command and Conquer, Age of Empires, Premier Manager, Theme Hospital, Populous.

Thus concludes our odyssey of all things 'gaming'. If you were a layman upon reading this, I hope you now feel better equipped to go forth into the gaming world with confidence and bravado.

But finally, a word of warning. If and when you do take your first tentative steps into the world of computer gaming, you should always remember that from across the vastness of cyberspace he waits for you, lurking in the shadows like a coiled cobra. He is the Lord of the Gamers - and he will beat you. Fear his mighty power.