Saturday, 15 September 2012
The Lazerzone Incident
The boys are nervous, keyed up. It's going to be a shitstorm, they know that. But this is what they've trained for. They've thought about nothing else for days. They feel the comforting heft of their weapons, shift and wriggle under the body armour. I'm with them. And I'm armed and body-armoured too, but I'm not really one of them. I'm a newbie, a rookie, new to the soldier's life. likely to hold them up, slow them down. A liability who could cost lives. But I'm determined not to let the squad down.
We see our opponents and I want to laugh, even as my heart sinks...
I should reassure you here. I'm not embedded on a mission with Our Boys in Helmud. I'm actually with Our Boys in Huddersfield. I'm at Lazerzone for my youngest's ninth birthday party. I'm just about tolerated in his team of eight eager little commandos and we've just watched the health and safety talk presented by a Saturday Kid so bored or hungover or doped up, that I kept thinking he was going to nod out before he reached the bit about what to do if the fire alarm sound...
Oh yes, our opponents. They troop in to the pre-battle holding area and they are eight little boys, as nervously excited as our lads are. They are even accompanied by an old codger - the equivalent of me. No doubt he is also dad of the birthday boy, tolerated more than properly included in the platoon. I catch his eye, we both do resigned little shrugs.
Because there is one difference between his squad and mine. They are all Asian. And my kid's team? They all look like Stormtroopers, they could hardly be more Aryan. Pale-eyed blondes the lot of them. Except for Herbie who is a red-head.
So the enemy here could be pint-sized Pathans. Trainee Taliban. And the old guy with them in white fully turbanned up with an impressive beard.
I'm not entirely comfortable with the notion of waging War against Asians. Even in fun. I had Iraqi lodgers during the first Gulf War and that was hard as night after night we all watched planes take off to hurl fire and metal onto their family and friends. And ever since we've seen too many pictures of dead babies, houses turned to rubble, kids with bandaged stumps. Bodies blown apart in Karachi, Kabul, London. It's all been too horrible and this game in Huddersfield suddenly feels kinda grotesque.
Maybe all war games are grotesque. Maybe we should stop our boys doing it. Then again I grew up killing hundreds of imaginary Germans on a daily basis. and once me and my cousin Kevin spent a whole week re-enacting the fall of Saigon. I once played the Confederates when we had the American civil war taking place in the fields behind my house in Curlew Crescent.. And yet I love Germany and the Germans now (and not just because they've been buying my book). I'd be keen to go to Viet Nam. And I have no urge to buy myself a couple of slaves.
And yet this impending battle in Huddersfield lazerzone does make me a little queasy. And this feeling is not in any way dispelled by going into the battle arena itself.
It is a church.
Yep. The interior designer of Laserzone has decided that these wargames should take place in a replica church complete with pulpit, font and stained glass window. What we are about to enact here is a heated skirmish from a 21st century version of the Crusades.
And what you want to know is whether I do, in fact, join in. Of course I do. The boys on both sides are oblivious to the resonances of the set up. White or brown, they are all just little boys having fun pretending to shoot people, the way little boys have done for generations. And in any case the guy with the turban shoots me in the back within a minute of the battle commencing. He doesn't seem to agonise over the politics of lazerquest quite as much as I do.
I get into the game so much that I launch a solo assault on the enemy stronghold Colonel H Jones, only to picked off by a self-assured young brave who says. 'Goodbye, old man.' before firing the fatal shot. It's a cool line, one I applaud even as I make the decision to hunt him down in the next game.
And tomorrow our wee man is ten and we're going back to Lazerzone for his tenth birthday. Can't wait to see who our opponents are this time. The children of bankers maybe. Prep school kids. That would be much better. My boy's little gang though, they won't care. They'll zap whoever you stick in front of them. And they'll do it anywhere. Church. kindergarten. shopping Mall. School. University. And I don't think many of them will grow up to be mass murderers or war criminals.