Two Weeks in Europe
Sunday 29 July, Part 2: The Surprise Party
In 2009 I joined a pair of podcasters in the UK, Mike Chinn and Stu Fowler, to create a show about video games. We called ourselves the Veteran Gamers, since we'd been addicted all our lives. Every week for nearly a decade we've chatted online for hours, sharing the ups and downs of our lives along the way.
Stu and Chinny have met up many times (along with other members of the little community around our show) for gaming exhibitions, parties, and social events. But as the lone American, stranded overseas, I've never had the chance.
Chinny recruited a dozen folks from the VG crew to a spot in Manchester called Dukes 92 (this is a fortunate coincidence, since my online username is Duke Skath, and many folks call me Duke). He convinced Stu to bring his wife Kay (who was in on the plot) and daughter Millie to meet Chinny and his fiancée Tahara for dinner. Stu didn't know about the crowd of friends waiting there, and he believed that I was visiting my family in Florida.
We arrived in Manchester at 10 AM, then waited for an hour in the hotel restaurant for the room. Finally we could wait no more, so we headed out.
I arrived to see a crowd of people I've only ever met online. Meeting Chinny for the first time was magic; he doesn't do sappy, but he had a big goofy grin on his face and it was just great. I finally got to meet Tahara (who years back provided a shot of my book in the London Underground) and all the other folks: Robin (Bongo), Phil (Philthee), Mark (Markanix), Antonio (GHRocker), Susan (SLH), Richard (BigBadDaddy), Kyle (Adamski), Jason (StepJay), Pete (the other Chinny; Mike's brother), and Robin (VerbalRob). They gave us gifts — Donald Trump toilet paper, Skyrim pins, teas and cakes — and bought us drinks and we had a glorious time.
We got word from Stu's wife that they were a few minutes away. We scampered out back near the dustbins and waited for them to settle in. The other folks went in first, to let Stu think it was just a little surprise meetup. Then Bongo (who flew in from Northern Ireland) went in, to raise the stakes. Diane and I waited outside for another minute.
I was nervous and excited and quivering with anticipation. It was a moment unlike any other. I ran inside and shouted "LEEEEEEEEROY JENKINS". Stu took a minute to realize what was going on, and then gave us the look I had been dreaming about for months. He was stunned, amazed, overjoyed. Everybody had cameras trained on him, so we saved the moment from a dozen angles. Chinny even made a video. (The Moment is at 4:55.)
All the sneaking and planning and hiding was totally worth it. Finally, after 10 years, we took a group photo of all the VeteranGamers hosts in one place. We had dinner which featured black pudding, cheese & onion pie, prawns, sea bass (which Diane pronounced "base" by accident), and big thick log-sized chips (french fries).
Eventually some of the crew had to head out, so we took a group photo. The smaller team shot the breeze for another hour or so, and then we had to go, too. We said our goodbyes and walked back to the hotel. It was one of the five best days of my life.
We were staying, apparently, in "Manchester's Gay VIllage". So we stopped by a park featuring a memorial to Alan Turing, who was instrumental in cracking Nazi codes during WW2 but also prosecuted after the war for his homosexual identity. He died in 1952 at the age of 41, probably from suicidal poisoning. The park also has a memorial to transgendered people who have been killed or took their own lives. It was a sobering end to a remarkable day.