I’ve just returned from a non-voluntary whistle-stop-tour of the North East. And, y’know what, it was basically fine but I think I’m going to have to accept I’ve become a spoiled, namby-pamby southerner in the intervening years. I was cold, literally all the time and not just in a ‘gosh this is bracing’ sense but in ‘I need to be taken inside or I will wilt like a snowdrop in a blizzard’ kind of way. I didn’t get into a fight once. Not once. And I have grown so accustomed to having hot and cold running internet wherever I go that I was thrown into abject panic to discover that it’s kind of optional up there.
For the first couple of days, we had a family event so we ended up staying in this enormous haunted castle, which was sort of amusing and bewildering all at once. The sort of place where you could legitimately get lost on your way to breakfast and murdered on your way to dinner. It was so totally the place for an Agatha Christie, we essentially spent two days speculating about who was the most likely victim and the most likely murderer. Also I’m an absolutely committed snooper-arounder. I see a door, you may be damn sure I’ll be trying to get through to it. I see a low wall and I’ll be climbing over it. It gets me into all sorts of trouble, and stranded in some truly bizarre places, but I’ve never quite managed to stop doing it. So, there I was, trying to open mysterious sea chests, fiddling with locked doors, disappearing up and down twisty little staircases of doom, with poor H trailing after me, going “Don’t go in there, that’s where the body is!”
We did not find a body.
Or get murdered.
Though I did spend quite a lot of time in a library near a candlestick.
And after that it was a couple of days in Nowhereville, being the tiny little time-forgotten seaside town I’ve spent too much of my life. It is, however, strangely nice to go back there now I know I have the option of leaving. We did, however, make it into Newcastle on the bank holiday Monday, so I could catch up with some old friends and H could wander around doing whatever H does. Sooner, rather later, we washed up in the local geekstore and ended up spending ludicrous amounts of cash.
There was loads of GoT merchandise sloshing about and they had scarves for all the major houses (Stark, Lannister, Baratheon, the other dudes). It pains me to admit it, but I was very tempted. I mean, it might have just been because I’d been freezing my bollocks off all weekend and therefore latched onto the concept of ‘scarf’ but, I don’t know, they were so ridiculously uncool I half-thought they might have come full circle. Or possibly I’d have just looked stupid. Always a dangerous line to tread.
Speaking of incredibly uncool, we invested in our very own copy of Risk: Legacy. It’s, uh, Risk except without some of Risk’s more painful mechanics (like the fact it usually takes about 6 hours to finish a damn game, by which time even the most fanatical invader of Poland probably just wants to go home) and the rules adapt and change with every session you play (up to 15 games, I think, whereupon it’s set) – hence the Legacy thing. I’ve leaned over games in the past and it looks, frankly, fucking awesome. If you like that sort of thing which, yes, yes, I do.
I don’t know how it happened but somewhere down the line, between being a sophisticated young gentleman and the doofus I am now, I really got into board games. It’s a combination of aesthetics, I think, since most modern board games are things of absolute beauty, playfulness (I just like games) and socialness (I like having something to do with friends). Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of languorous, idle conversation and alcohol, but sometimes it’s just nice to sit around killing dragons, exploring haunted houses, being pirates or whatever. I’m probably showing my age here but when I was growing up, board games were long hours of tedium on Boxing Day afternoon – nowadays they’re imaginative and clever and exciting. And I realise I may have just committed myself to playing at least 15 games of Risk but, y’know something, I’m okay with that. My, err, friends may not be – but that’s their problem.
On a complete whim we also grabbed the tie-in boardgame for the awfsome (awful/awesome) Starz TV series of Spartacus: Blood & Sand (or Blood & Sandals as we’ve always called it because, lol). This thing was only £25 (nothing in board game terms, when something like Descent can put you back closer to £70) and I’d randomly heard it was brilliant. We played it that evening and, imagine my shock, when it turned out to be brilliant.
You play competing Gladiator schools and the game goes in three phases, intrigue, trading and arena battles, so it’s like you get three games in one but rather than that feeling incoherent it just feels amazingly like you’re in an episode of Spartacus: Blood & Sandals. And it is the most fun in fucking world. I ended up playing the House of Batiatus (that’s Lucy Lawless and John Hannah, from the TV show) because nobody else wanted them. They have a fairly weak starting position (lots of gladiators, bugger all else) and within about two turns I was basically acting like John Hannah, doing anything to raise money, desperately trying to get my gladiators into the games, whoring out my slaves and stooping to all manner of base treacheries. It is a game, by the way, that encourages base treacheries.
I lost. I lost hard. H, playing with underhanded charm as Solonius, romped right home. But I believe I acquitted myself well, and brought honour to the House of Batiatus. And, by honour, I mean lied, cheated, stole and backstabbed my way to a lone, shining victory. What happened was this: my Dad, playing the rich fucker Tulius, had managed to buy the gladiator known as The Shadow of Death from under our noses, which meant the rest of us were basically screwed and climbing over each other like rats in a bilge trying to avoid having to send any of our gladiators to certain decapitation in the arena. But then I managed to get hold of an intrigue that would let me get a gladiator sent home from combat due to, basically, ‘administrative error’. So I spent all my meagre funds on bidding for the right to host the games, set up a match between The Shadow of Death and some random Syrian I found in a gutter somewhere (a pathetically uneven conflict, my Dad was very happy to accept). Cue administrative error, T S of D buggers off home and my Dad has to urgently substitute someone else from his Ludus. He has no-one else, so he sends forth … a cook, with a no combat skills. Needless to say, my Syrian pwns the shit out of him and since I am host of the games, I am in a position to add further injury to, err, injury by thumbs-downing and having the cook summarily executed to the roars and jeers of the crowd.
Yes, I may have lost but, reader, it was GLORIOUS.
I was just kind of delighted that the game not only allows but encourages shenanigans like that. One of my base level tests for if a game is good basically revolves around how much it makes you feel like the thing you’re supposed to be. This TOTALLY made me like a Dominus.
So much so that we came home and I immediately bought the entire box set of the Starz Spartacus series. I am so suggestible. I do enjoy the hell out of it though. I mean, it’s terrible. It’s really really bad. But also: SO GOOD. Unbelievably gratuitous and sexed up to the nines, but it’s so childishly excited by itself, and every pair of tits and blood spatter it gets to throw joyously across the camera, that I find myself completely charmed. Also it feels weirdly transgressive (though it shouldn’t) to find a show that is as objectifying of men’s bodies as it is of women’s.
Sometimes I think I’m probably just in it for the gleaming thews.
There are a LOT of thews in this show.
Also John Hannah is amazing (though sadly only in two series, since everyone in has a life expectancy of about 2 seconds). And Lucy Lawless is Lucy Lawless. I think she must be immortal or something. She must be … what mid-forties by now? And she’s still one of the most strikingly beautiful women I think I have ever seen.
And if this wasn’t all exciting enough (travel, murders, gladiators!), Jane was kind enough to let me share some thoughts on romance over at Dear Author and the response from the community has been overwhelmingly lovely. I have a ‘to read’ list considerably longer my arm (and I have long arms), a metric fucktonne of new blogs to read and Twitter feeds to follow and I’m just generally as warm-fuzzy as can be.
And and and (yes there’s more) Glitterland has its own page over at Riptide which is, uh, uh, wibble. I don’t quite know how to parse this yet (my initial reaction was to have a stiff drink) because it feels scarily like it might be … um … real. And when something has existed primarily in your own head for its entire life it’s weirdly terrifying to think of it out there in the world. But I guess there’s nothing I can do at this stage except wave it farewell and make sure it’s carrying a clean handkerchief.