Slice of Life

May 2017

Killian Jones

Hello there. This month's missive comes to you direct from the crowded sands of Portobello Beach, where I am currently wrestling deadlines whilst on the constant look out for opportunistic young families from West Lothian who circle like buzzards, ready to exploit any signs of weakness to depose me from the prime piece of beachfront real estate where I've staked my claim. It's a tricky business, and with the mercury edging ever closer to twenty degrees centigrade, a sure sign that summer is finally on the approach.

It is a beginning, to be sure. Of near constant sunshine and a few months reprieve from beanie hats and long johns. But for some, it can also be an ending. For the not-insubstantial student population of Edinburgh, it marks the end of a gruelling exam period before they disappear back to the loving clutches of their childhood bedrooms for the summer. And for one Emma Swan, it presents the opportunity to mix with her co-workers at a succession of events designed to farewell the academic year.

Which brings us to our latest guide to making friends as a stranger in a strange land: Exploit your working relationships.

Now, since I have carelessly revealed Emma's place of work to you previously, I should stipulate that I have, in fact, sought approval from the relevant people to tell this little tale. There were forms, signed in triplicate. It's all very above board. Names have been changed and obscured to protect innocent and guilty alike. Mostly.

Alright, now we've gotten the obligatory legal nonsense out of the way, let us return to the event at hand, in fair Lugton Bogs, where we lay our scene. A rather unattractive name for the sight of perhaps Edinburgh's premier laser tag facility, set amongst a small thicket of trees just beyond the city bypass.

Indeed, in their infinite wisdom, the heads of the School of Classics, Archaeology and History thought there would be no better way to unify their department, than to let them face off against their colleagues from the School of Social and Political Science. In the woods. With lasers.

And in the spirit of scientific inquiry, I was reluctantly brought along.

Now, in theory, laser tag is marginally less dangerous than its more colourful cousin, paintball. After all, no one is copping a pellet to the face. And there is little need to dress in unflattering human-sized condoms to protect one's clothing from paint splatters. But those who would consider it a harmless kind of team-building exercise, have clearly never seen Emma Swan at work in faded fatigues, clutching a fake rifle.

She is, in short, a force to be reckoned with.

Over the course of two hours, I saw this woman decimate her competition, capture and hold flags, and evade enemy snipers like some sort of lithe blonde ninja. The running group certainly seemed to be paying dividends.

By the end, there remained only a single obstacle in her path, a fellow on the opposing team I later discovered had actual combat experience. We'll call him… Grant.

Now I'm sure a lesser man would be troubled by the woodland prowess of this upstart American, but when the two hours wound to a close and the game was declared a draw, I witnessed something truly remarkable. A genial smile at the hands of our stubborn heroine. A handshake that spoke of mutual respect. And most tellingly of all, a drinks invitation to follow.

A fine lesson to all of us, I'm sure, in not tempering one's abilities to appear more likeable to the group. To be exceptional is no bad thing. And if we are lucky enough to find someone who appreciates us for our talents, even in the most unlikely of circumstances, so much the better.

And for the rest of us, the less remarkable? The ones whose disabilities might mean they aren't terribly suited to the handling of small arms, plastic or otherwise? Well, I've heard there is graciousness in defeat. And that's not such a terrible quality in itself.