The scene: Newbury race course grandstands. A vast but temporary network of power and cabling. Four huge floors each with 400 gaming desks, split across two buildings - plus a central 'live finals arena' with spectator seating and trade stands. Thousands in prize money. If it didn't exist, you wouldn't think to invent it.
4am, 4am, 2am for Friday, Saturday, Sunday - so not quite 'Insomnia', the event title. Take it easy: we were never going to last as long as the hordes of rampaging teenagers. Rampaging in the Unreal Tournament sense.
In a different timeline these valiant young men would be out fighting for their country. Using not dissimilar skills. But our generation doesn't have wars like that. So we sit in front of the biggest screen we can afford and pretend. For fun.
Newbury took care of us with it's canalside pubs and warm weather. Rained in London apparently. While I fried eggs on a fold-up barbeque in the sunshine.
You see what you need is a waterproof, heat-conductive container. Fortunately for me, Lockett was given a 'Things to make' book one Summer age 6 and has been practising ever since constructing just such things. In my case from tin foil. Andy - don't doubt it - is handy.
After an epic 'pub quiz' in the live finals arena, Doherty entered the 'boat race' (and lost). While others streamed the new Dr Who from iPlayer, Lockett and me completed Co-op Portal 2, a new, funny and genuinely innovative game featuring Stephen Merchant as an uncertain robot that guides your two robots around a futuristic testing facility.
Every now and again a cheer would go up from somewhere in the room, some objective reached, some achievement accomplished. Or someone would at random initiate a game of 'butt scratcher', inviting a reply of the same, or comedy rhyming variant, which must be shouted at maximum volume - and no less. This game came into it's own around 2am when beer finally dominated energy drinks. MARGARET THATCHER.
And as a team of four in the frenetic battle to see how long you last in 'Left for Dead 2', we lasted 12 long, Zombie-shootin' minutes. The winners got to 144 minutes.
Our minutes were higher quality, I like to think. And to be fair, those guys were probably some of the world's best gamers, high on caffeine, running hardware so expensive it ought to be measured in mosquito nets for ethiopians, or how many nurses' jobs could be safeguarded instead, or how much of Kate Middleton's dress you could get for it. You're right, probably not much.
And now homeward bound, tent packed away, cowboy hat in tow. Leaving a thousand beer cans to recycle, ten thousand energy drink cans, some grass to sort out for the horses. Back on a train, Reading to Paddington, then a couple circuits of Regents Park on the cycle home. Good game.
As one T-shirt on Easter Sunday put it, 'Happy Zombie Jesus Day'.
|Wizzo and man|
|The site at Newbury|
|Evening at the campsite|
|Daytime at the campsite|
|Doherty (in background) in the Boat Race|
|One of the main gaming floors|
|Panorama of the stage at the Live Finals Arena|
|Our team at the Pub Quiz|