Sunday, February 24, 2013

#4. The dicecrawl

A problem with this top-x format that I've settled on is that it under-represents longer periods of general, low-level fun; it's the singles rather than the album chart. For instance, snowboarding in Yamagata has never made any of these lists, despite being an activity that has brought me countless hours of enjoyment. So I hope my UK friends and family will understand this bug/feature, and not feel too affronted by the low showing of my festive trip home. Furthermore, I have to pick I single day (I don't make the rules! Wait...), so I'm going with...

4. Edinburgh dicecrawl, January
Right, this is going to require some backstory. Back in the final year of my undergrad degree, I was out drinking with a couple of mates (Adam and Aidan, as I recall). For reasons that are lost to history, I had a dice in my pocket. (I know the singular is "die", just as I know "data" is actually the plural of "datum". I don't care.) We had the idea that we should mix things up my letting the dice decide where we would drink next: odd we turn left, even right; odd we skip this bar, even we go in, and so on. It would be like The Dice Man, but hopefully with less rape and murder, we reasoned. And so the dicecrawl was born. Over my postgrad career it became a semi-regular event, and it grew both in terms of participation and complexity. At its zenith/nadir, we had about a dozen crawlers ordering dice-dictated drinks from a 6x6 table, with provision for boarding buses if the dice commanded it.

When I was back in my old stomping ground over New Year, we decided to have a crawl for old times' sake. Being a rather improvised affair, we would scale things back, with a fairly simple rule set and a crew of just five hardened dicecrawl veterans. Well, four plus Graham. We met for lunch in a Thai restaurant in Newington and hashed out the details over satay sticks and pad thai. Now, perhaps the most vociferous champion of the crawl is Danny, who has a PhD in maths. The problem with letting someone like him be in charge is that he is unable to resist the temptation to add sub-games, bonus tables, and meta-rules (rules that allow the rules to change) until the whole thing becomes impossible to follow when stone cold sober, never mind at pub number eight. He succeeded in getting into the rules a soft drinks submenu, a pub snacks submenu, and - most surprisingly of all - a rule about having to buy things from any bakeries that we passed, before we wrested the jotter away from him. The last one actually only came into play once (bakeries don't tend to stay open very late into the evening), and resulted in us sharing some tasty millionaire's shortbread.

We set out. The dice initially took us south, directly away from the city centre but towards where most of us had lived for much of the latter half of the of 00s. The first port of call was our old haunt The Old Bell. Thankfully, the dice turned us around and we were headed back into town after that. One of the things I like about the dicecrawl is the friendly arguments that inevitably ensue about when it is acceptable to overrule the dice, e.g. if one is heading for a rough council estate or a pub-barren residential wasteland (or simply walking around in circles). I tend to play things pretty much by the book, and for that reason we found ourselves pointlessly bouncing around the Meadows and the swanky new Quartermile development for about half an hour as the sun went down.

Thankfully the six-sided gods smiled on us then, and took us into the pub motherlode of the Grassmarket. Actually, coming down the Vennel, with the Castle in front of us looking imposing and majestic in the moonlight, is probably the most memorable image of my whole trip home. We spent quite some time there, losing founder-member Adam (insert whip noise and under-the-thumb gesture) but picking up Northern Irish mentalist Joy. Another nice feature of a randomised pub crawl is the element of jeopardy that comes from the chance of having to enter a rough pub that a bunch of middle class ponces like ourselves would never normally dream of going to, and having to order something weird like two lagers, a port, a Smirnoff Ice, and a tea. No dicecrawl is complete without this experience, and it came in the shape of "Andersons" on Lothian Road. We huddled awkwardly around a large cask (we were literally and figuratively over a barrel), and drank up as quickly as we could while everyone stared at us. We ended the night drunkenly playing a kind of charades/articulate/pictionary hybrid and eating chili flavour Nobby's Nuts (which I contend are the most delicious and addictive foodstuff commercially available in the UK) in the Merlin of Morningside, the dice having taken us on a pleasing U-shaped soujourn in and out of town. I can't think of a better way to spend a January day in Edinburgh.

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