The Big Issue : Edition 487
THE BIG ISSUE 26 JUNE – 9 JULY 2015 21 ILLUSTRATIONBYJONATHANWOODCOCK;iSTOCK for a man perched atop a cardboard- and-gaffer-tape turret. He let us in, but Pink Cloak waited outside – she’d be killed if she entered. We were greeted by a knot of Vikings screaming, “Other worlders!” There was a roar. It could have signified either approval or disgust. It was hard to tell. I found myself scouring my bag for a peace offering. Why didn’t they do pocket-sized sacrificial lambs? We were bundled towards a stern, dark-haired man in gold chainmail and a black velvet tunic. My friend and I fought a sudden urge to bow. “Welcome to The North camp,” he said, before staring at us. We began to stammer that we were just spectators having a look around. His face crinkled into a grin. “Ah, so what brings you girls out here?” We were history majors. “Oh, cool! What type of history?” He then spent an enthusiastic five minutes asking us what we studied, what we liked and pointing out relevant historical quirks in uniforms. He had that flattering way of speaking; seemingly interested in whatever we said. Half way through, a sentry ran up to tell him that White camp was advancing. It turned out that The North had been under siege the whole time. And yet he’d patiently listened to us rabbit on about Tudor history. The rumour went around that White camp had brought a battering ram. Our guide looked concerned. “I’ll show you the back way out. We don’t want you getting trampled.” My friend gripped my hand. My stomach was jumping. We pelted for the trees he’d pointed out. “Hope to see you guys again!” he called, before he was swallowed by the stampede. They were just as friendly in the next camp, Dragoncorp. Once again, a sentry opened the gate (exclaiming: “Are those normal people?), and before us sprawled an enormous canvas tent. It was stacked with velvet cushions, low hanging lamps and ornate weapons. Out front was a spitting open fire. We had to wash our hands in the magical water (a bowl with floating LED lights) and accept an offering from the chest (a chocolate button) before we stepped in. Inside was a maroon silken cave full of animal skins and sprawling knights. It looked like a cross between a harem and an enormous crimson grape. Turns out the Dragoncorp band had made the whole thing themselves in about six weeks. A muscly man emerged from the back of the tent. He was about to spit-roast a pig. We must have looked appalled, because he then explained he was a chef, who had been listening to the ABC one afternoon and heard a piece on Swordcraft. He’d decided it sounded fantastic and soon joined up. We looked sceptical. Could you just... join? Were they friendly? Of course, he insisted. People were warm, welcoming and passionate. It wasn’t any more cliquey or weird than any other sports group. The chef’s ocker drawl and practical way of speaking were so down- to-earth we believed him. We said goodbye and made our way over to the Elves. They were miserable as sin, having just lost their flag. We were about to leave when a gorgeous blond Elf in skin-tight tunic bounced up to us. “Stop! We’ll take the pretty ones!” he said, gesturing to my friend and me. When he heard we were spectators he cried, “But you must join us! The Elves are for the good-looking larpers!” He threw a green velvet tunic over my neck and put a sword in my hand. “Fight me!” I felt a pulse in my stomach. Was it my inner 10-year-old aspiring pirate reawakening? Was it a surprising twinge of attraction to a man dressed in tights and velvet? Or was it fear that I was about to get my arse kicked? Whatever. I was going to fight. I poked him with the sword. He batted it off kindly. “Try this sword!” He threw me another. “And hold it like this!” He flicked it around. “Come on! Try! Oh...she’s good!” It was infectious. I felt myself begin to bounce with excitement. Another larper, who was half bumblebee, half jester, threw my friend a longbow, stuck out his bum and demanded she shoot him. She was laughing too hard to hold the bow. Eventually, breathless, exhausted and having tried out every weapon they could find, they let us go. “Bring them back!” the Elf cried as we staggered off. My friend turned to me as we left. “Dude, we have to do this.” I nodded. Oh God. It was incredible. Of course, the day had touches of weirdness. There was one middle- aged man, robed in real fur, wearing a crown and sitting in the middle of a long bench surrounded by lackeys. Was he compensating for something? Occasionally, when you asked people how their colleagues reacted to their larping, you felt a ripple of defensiveness. Others would laugh – but a little too hard. Some sprawled too confidently and talked too loudly. You could sense the chip-on-the-shoulder that comes from being that kid who never felt accepted... But the majority weren’t like that. Most people were overwhelmingly... normal. They might have been painted blue and wearing a fake tiger-skin rug, but they were also accountants, cops, chefs, husbands, wives, parents and mates, just hanging out. And all of them happily claimed the title ‘super nerd’. I realised they were much cooler, better people than me. They were completely at ease with their hobby. They knew and accepted that they liked doing something a little different. They weren’t channelling internal shame and snobbery into derision. They were just having a good time. by Verity Johnston » Verity Johnson is a writer, speaker and part-time hypochondriac. She is a columnist for The New Zealand Herald and tweets at @thebumblevee.