You Shouldn't Have

Continuing my memoirs of my strange days as a games tester, I bring to you good reasons not to tell anyone that it's your birthday.

This draft excerpt was originally posted on my blog but you can read the final version, along with plenty more in the Pizza Whores book available for Kindle on Amazon.

The relationship between birthdays and pain is well documented. 

As a kid I once tried to pull rank at my birthday party, and failed hard as dolomite. My parents had taken me and my little friends to the nearby woods to play. Everyone decided they wanted to play Block 1-2-3, and I didn’t, because the game is a complete bowl of cock; it’s a version of Hide & Seek that allows the person who is “it”, the seeker, to feel like a loser not once, but twice.


It was my birthday and everyone was acting like it was a democracy, and I didn’t think that was right, I thought it should be a Jonocracy. So I attempted to use the ancient kingly tactic of throwing a tantrum. My father saved my dignity by quelling my paddy before I really got up to speed by simply mocking “it’s my party, and I’ll cry if a want to.” So I gave in, and sucked it up. A lesson on of my future colleagues obviously hadn’t learned and one certainly had. 

Block 1-2-3 begins with everyone deciding upon the eponymous “block”. This is normally a skinny vertical thing like a tree or a lamppost, but anything that dogs cock their leg next to will do, so long as it’s not too big. The seeker then turns their face to this, closes their eyes and proceeds to count to 99 while all their so-called friends run away and hide from them. 

So, it was MY birthday, and everyone else has decided we play Block 1-2-3, and to rub salt into the wound I have somehow ended up as the seeker. After some time I finish the fun, but predictable, part of counting to a hundred and then I’m out looking for my birthday party guests. 

Fairly quickly I found one, and that was when Block 1-2-3 revealed the sting in its tail, like a scorpion, which are also bastards. Upon finding a hider I had to run back to the block, get there first and shout “Block 1-2-3” to capture them. If they get to the block first then their call brings everyone out of their hiding places. When nature laid down my chassis it didn’t focus on speed, that’s for sure. And, if I’m honest, I’m not even sure I really understood the rules of the game, I’m still not sure I understand the rules of the game, as it was played round our way. So the hider runs hell for leather back towards the block, gets there first and shouts “Block 1-2-3”, everyone else emerges from their hiding places and charges back to the block, I’m overwhelmed and fail to catch any of them. Which means I’m on again. 

Play with the scorpion Jon. I don’t wanna play with the scorpion. Go on, it’ll be fun. Bah. 

Apparently, the company I was at had a long tradition of making the birthday boy wish for such a gentle side to their yearly me day. So when one of my fellow fledgling testers ticked past the year counter he was pounced on. We were all sat there quietly getting on with some work when one of the producers appeared with his stumpy side kick and whipped us all into a frenzy of blood baying. He appeared with packing tape and beheld it to the rest of the tribe, like the ape at the start of 2001 presenting his newly discovered weapon, and we followed him into an insane act of subjugation, like dastardly little monkeys. 

I believe the plan was standard, although not necessarily written in the company handbook – the birthday boy would be bound with tape, immobilising him completely, he could then be strapped to an office chair to afford easy movement to destinations as yet undecided. As I have already noted, resistance is frowned upon in birthday land and this tester made the cardinal sin of believing it was his duty to put up the best fight he could. This futile act just made us enjoy the act of suppressing him all the more. There’s little to recommend the human species in these situations. 

If I’m honest this all seemed fairly tame compared to my own journey through a classic birthday ritual when growing up – the bumps. The bumps start off as gentle when very young but becomes an attempt at spinal injury as boys become teenagers. For those unaccustomed to the birthday bumps, they work like this: 

The person celebrating their birthday is grabbed by the people they invited to their birthday party and has fed with a wide variety of sweet foods and drinks. They are then held by each arm and each leg and lifted into the air. In the First Epoch of the Bumps, when you’re little, this is all very mild. The other kids are both puny and disorganised, meaning that they barely get you off the ground, especially if you’re like me, and a little tubby. If the other kids could organise themselves better and all lift at the same time then they’d do it better, but little kids have no discipline, all they’d have to do is count to 3 and lift at the same time, but they can’t even do that. Shsssh. So the bumpee is lifted slightly off the ground and dropped back down to the ground once for every year of their age. 

Even if these kids could get their act together and loft their victim higher they still wouldn’t suffer the primary source of pain suffered in the Second Epoch of the Bumps, that being the agony of arching. By the time kids sort themselves out into an organised bumping unit the bumpee is starting to lose some of that freakish flexibility that can cause an adult to wince at just the sight of a little kid sitting on the floor. You know the way of sitting, the one where the upper legs point forward and the knees are bent as far as they will go, pointing the lower leg backwards. But then, not doing what adults would do, which is have the lower leg under the upper leg, instead the legs are fanned out to the side. That makes me feel all twisted just thinking about it. So, as the bumpee is hoisted from the floor they pass the feeble barely off the ground mark and continue up, and up. All the time they’re still being held by their arms and legs, and it’s only this hold that arrests their upward motion. At the zenith the bumpee is arched, their arms being dragged back like a bow. This is often the first time a child will notice the onset of age, as they no longer feel like Stretch Armstrong and instead feel like more like a Decepticon toy trying to transform. Never will they forget the feeling that their shoulders are about to pop out of their sockets. In fact, they won’t be allowed to forget, because they have to feel it every birthday for years to come. 

With the Third Epoch of the Bumps comes the peak. The shoulder popping can be resisted with pure strength. But this resistance just adds power to the final trick. For the first two epochs the count takes place at the height of the flight. In the third epoch it occurs when you touch down. I say “touch”, but what I mean is “smack”. At the top you rail against fear of the arch, muscles tensing protectively, and when the spring is loaded to the point where everyone’s sure that a foley artist could start cracking branches for the dub track, your friends reverse the angle of attack and team up with gravity to haul you back to the earth. And WHAP! you’re dashed into the ground. “One” everyone cheers. The only tactic to prevent a life injecting money directly into the wallets of chiropractors is to twist at the moment of impact, and sacrifice the ribs instead. 

Obviously, there’s a point when you get older where you either genuinely resent your birthday or you pretend to resent your birthday to fit in with your peers. There are probably ache’s and pains without the bumps, which you won’t be getting anyway, because your friends are too frightened they’ll put their backs out. But the real pain is mental. 

But none of us had reached that stage in the game yet. 

The stage we were at was practicing simple forms of humiliation through physical immobilisation and accentuated feelings of helplessness. 

Anyone who’s ever seen the episode of The Office (the British version, not the US version) may have seen an episode where it’s Tim’s (Martin Freeman) birthday. As well as the usual members of the cast Brent (Ricky Gervais) brings along his best mate Finchy (Ralph Ineson). Towards the end of the episode Tim somehow has his shoe torn from his foot and has it chucked over a building by Finchy, all the while Brent is cackling with delight. If you’ve seen that you’ll have some idea of the scene. The duo that instigated the incident weren’t that far removed from Brent and his boisterous hero Finchy. The rest of us? We were a multiplicity of Gareths. 

But what a fight our Tim put up, writhing and snapping his body and limbs into all kinds of angles, trying to slither from out grasp, or simply break our faces. But we were in force and like Steve Irwin and his team we could counter all his actions by sheer weight of numbers and the ancient art of sitting him. It wasn’t so much “shock and awe”, it was “tape and more... er... tape”. The legs are the leading dominoes in the cascade of human vulnerability, once these massive kicking machines are down, or in this case lashed together it’s game over man, game over. With the legs lashed the rest falls faster than an AT-AT. 

Tape then tethered the poor guy to an office chair and that’s when we really started pushing him around. We then took him outside into the grey day, trundled him up the road and dumped him in the entrance to another company’s car park and walked away. Sometime later he returned. I assume someone from the other company came out and cut him free before a car came around the corner too tight to the kerb and smashed his knee caps off. 

Given the fact that we’d all swooped in like flying monkeys at the command at the Wicked Witch Of The West, acting like automaton agents of instant Schadenfreude, the last thing any savvy human being would do would be to goad the mob. One of the testers was far too innocent, or cheeky, probably a bit of both. To my jaw dropping astonishment he stated flatly that he would “never let us do anything like that to him on his birthday.” 

He was right, it didn’t happen to him on his birthday, instead it happened right there and then; he was picked up and wedged arse first in a bin. And that was just to prove a point. 

Then something altogether different happened on his birthday. 

At the time of the old bin trick the lad was but seventeen and upon his next birthday he would be a man, he would be eighteen, when all kinds of mishaps can befall a gent, although nothing happened to me when I turned eighteen, mostly because my birthday was right in the middle of everyone’s exams and all anyone wanted to do was have a quiet pint. 

But when this young whippersnapper’s 18th birthday rolled around there was our very own Finchy and Brent lying in wait, and once again we were all ready with our crazy eyes and sunken faces for our many headed Gareth role. For some unknown reason this brave youth decided that the best place to be on his biggest birthday was at work. He’d seen what happened to those that ventured into the company offices on such day, where to cross the threshold would result in a thresh, and ultimately a hold, but he came anyway. 

He must have been wearing a poncho that day, and spurs, and chaps, if only in his head, because he was like the bravest cowboy that ever lived when he walked into work that day. 

With the 18th birthday being the day that a boy becomes a man it was somehow decided that tape and humiliation weren’t appropriate, just the humiliation would be needed. It was also viewed that the activity should be something that everyone could enjoy, not just a select few of guards following orders. And so a stripper was dutifully booked for lunch time. We all knew this, except the birthday boy, and we wrestled to keep our glee secret. 

And the strangest piece of luck made the anticipation doubly joyful when the tester made a remark about how much he’d enjoy licking maple syrup off a woman’s body. Quickly someone was dispatched to fetch a bottle of maple syrup so that the lad’s fantasy could come true in the salubrious surroundings of the company smoking room – I bet that wasn’t part of the scenario in his mind’s eye. 

The stripper arrived and the seediness set in. Nobody looks good in a grey room lit by strip lighting, not even a stripper. Her friend, protector and clothes wrangler stood in a corner and operated a tape deck which played appropriate stripper music. Naturally, the whole event was for the birthday boy and she focussed on him so intently that the rest of us barely had to fear being embroiled in her feather boa, which would have struck most of us terminally uncomfortable with raptures of embarrassment. 

We gazed and laughed and laughed and gazed as she peeled away her clothes and he looked extremely embarrassed but surprisingly dignified. You see, that’s the problem with having a stripper before a good solid five pints of beer, the subject is essentially too petrified to do anything other than glow red. I suspect that the stripper didn’t see his lack of an octopus impression as a problem though. 

But there was the secret maple syrup element, and when this appeared he was forced to interact with her, licking it from her thigh. For some reason he didn’t look like he was enjoying his fantasy all that much, when push came to shove. For the finale our tester was then made to remove the stripper’s knickers, with his teeth! I bet he didn’t think his mouth would get such a work out when he awoke that morning. He winced as the pants pulled away and looked visibly traumatized by the experience. She took the money and ran. 

Not long after that it was my 21st birthday. Do you think I: 

a) Told everyone it was my birthday and came to work? 

b) Told nobody it was my birthday, took the day off and made sure I was 200 miles away. 

Yes, I chose b, I’m no cowboy.

This draft excerpt was originally posted on my blog but you can read the final version, along with plenty more in the Pizza Whores book available for Kindle on Amazon. 


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