Great Balls of Pain

Posted by | October 25, 2005 | Uncategorized | 5 Comments

“Would the birthday group please stay behind – the rest of you can go off and get changed.”
The words hit my ears like a juggernaut. We – Michelle, Lucy, Simon H, Jac, Shaun, Nick and I – had been fighting it out in the paintball battlefield somewhere in Horsley for the best part of five hours. Earlier in the month, Michelle had had the brainwave while trying to think of a birthday present for me, and knew that I’d loved paintballing when I’d been before. We’d arrived on time that morning – well, nearly. Jac had had “a hell of a night” and managed to arrive still drunk, still with most of the clothes he had on the night before and “unable to remember much before Junction 11 of the M25”. Still, it provided amusement for the rest of the group, if not for any policemen reading this…

We gathered at a random table inside the complex, and set about getting ready with “ninja suits” (a glorified boiler suit), face masks and paintballs. Lucy had not been sure about the idea at all for the last few weeks, but persuaded by Simon H that if if paintball came her way he was “right behind her”, she came along. However, it seemed that things weren’t going her way – first they gave her a ninja suit that was too short, and then one that flapped around her ankles, which would make paintball-avoidance near impossible.
Jac, on the other hand, was swaying. The alcohol was clearly taking its toll, and he sat, head in hands, gently praying that the day would end. Shunta was as eager as a large beaver – eager, it appeared, to shoot me to smithereens. As if to confirm this, he presented me with a white t-shirt (size: XL). On the front he had printed a large bullseye with my head in the middle, while on the back was a helpful message to anyone in doubt about the reason for the outing. The message on the back, dear readers, was clear: “SHOOT ME, ITS MY BIRTHDAY!” Cowering in the bushes would be pointless, a fact that plainly pleased the whole group. Especially Shaun, who spent the rest of the day trying to persuade the organisers that I should be dealt some punishment for my birthday. I hid the t-shirt under my other layers, and pretended to forget about it. False hope, I surmised.
Nick, however, was feeling a little more sympathetic. Not only did he join my team – therefore allowing me one less person shooting at me – but he steered clear of the goading. Secretly, however, I imagine he was barely able to wait until he spied me on the field, unprepared for friendly fire.
And then there was the wonderful Michelle. This was her first time on the paintball field, which was plain when she asked “do the paintballs hurt?” Oooh, you just wait, I thought.
So there we were, the motley crew. I, frankly, was nervous.
We entered the “war zone” fifteen minutes later, and within five minutes my already damaged back was giving me jip. As was my right thigh, which had been shot unceremoniously by Simon H, for a bit of fun. It was just the start of the pain.
There were eight games played – I sat out two of them due to back issues (physically, not journalistically). During the gap in our play, we watched another game being played just the other side of our netting. We felt, as Jac observed, “like generals overseeing a battle”, as Nick shouted the opposition’s whereabouts to one of the teams, thereby single-handedly fixing the result of the game. It was immense fun. AS was the discovery of Simon H’s “interesting” photos of Lucy on his mobile phone. But finally we all decided we’d pile in for the last game involving flags, gaining hold of several chalet-style houses and general mayhem. I was made to put the t-shirt on over the top of my layers. Things were not looking good. I hid behind a large log and started trying to shoot the hell out of Simon H. He was just out of range, in a hut, and as he started taunting me by waving enthusiastically through the hail of bullets, I was struck off-guard on my left flank. I was out of the game – but as I wandered back to the “safe zone”, the mystery shooter struck me again. And again. I ran for my life and managed to get the zone with just three new areas of pain. Jac later revealed that he was the culprit.
However, this was nothing. The end of the games arrived and I congratulated myself on getting to the end without too much damage. Until, of course we get to the beginning of this story. “”Would the birthday group please stay behind,” the marshall said and my eyes, hidden behind my mask, widened in horror. Everyone else, of course, laughed. After trying to pretend I had no ammunition when I actually had plenty – and being foiled when everyone donated some of their rounds to me – I had no option but to be a good sport. I was called to the front. “This guy has a birthday”, he announced. Everyone in the group – and there must have been twenty of them – wished me Happy Birthday in a classic moment of faux-civility. Then, it fell deathly silent. The muddy calm before the paint-based storm. “And what do we do to people on their birthdays? We shoot them! So, I’m going to give him five seconds to run away…”
I didn’t hear the rest of the sentence. I had bolted like a rabbit at a greyhound track. Life went into slow-motion as I tried to figure out the best route to escape. Then, then… the first bullet sounded.
I don’t know how many of you have been paintballing. It sounds fairly innocent. The truth, however, is anything but. People who’ve never been and have heard the stories can’t imagine why anyone would go – while those that have been can’t wait to go again. The basic premise is this. Globs of paint are encased in hardened plastic, and shot out of guns at 120mph. When they hit a moving target, they are just the right consistency to burst, leaving a large paint stain and marking that person as “out”. It also stings. That is, of course, if the target is lucky. If he or she isn’t cavorting with Lady Luck, the ball hits and doesn’t burst – causing far more pain and much louder yelping. It is compulsory to come home with large bruises on your body from the few paintballs that managed to strike home. Put simply, its painful. Nobody in their right minds would go there on their birthday week.
Which was precisely what I was thinking as I bore left, in behind one of the huts. I was gasping for breath as the hail of paintballs began to pick up steam. I raced around the perimeter of the zone, trying and failing to avoid flying balls. It was no use. Just when I thought I could take no more, suddenly the game was over to the tune of Simon H, Jac, Nick and Shaun whooping with joy.
I struggled to make it back to camp. My back was the main talking point around the hundred or so people coming up to commiserate as I revealed the growing red welts. I was the new celebrity about town, but at a princely cost.
And that, really, was that. After having a couple of groupies coming over to thank me for making their day, we went home – via the nearest pub for a drink and a debriefing discussion. And as much as it pains me to say it, thanks to everyone. It was a great day – although my chiropractor might disagree…

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