Road to Perdition

Abigail Simpson as a nun in a LARP

I don’t know where to begin this story. I could begin in media res, with a familiar yet disturbingly alien landscape trundling past a window. I could begin with the provocatively dramatic image of a nun aiming a revolver at a sheriff. I could begin before the beginning, with a little girl arriving in a strange, new place, being comforted with the promise of a kitten. Or with me being told that my beloved childhood pet must now be killed to protect my parents’ carpets.

I won’t begin with my boyfriend finding a lump on my breast.

This is a lot, so I’ll begin with what happened on Sunday, 1st May, 2016. My parents were visiting my boyfriend and I in Hamilton. It was a lovely day, so we all went for a walk around Hamilton Lake. Tim and I were very excited about a larp we’d be attending the next weekend, a western played over eight hours. We were each in the process of putting together a costume: he a sheriff; me a nun. (Explaining to non-larpers why we needed a cowboy hat and a wimple proved rather amusing.)

Abigail Simpson as a nun in a LARP

NUN SELFIE!

During the walk, I asked my mum, just casually, how the cats were. Her refusal to answer was enough. Fighting back tears, I demanded to know. Crookshanks, the kitten I’d got soon after immigrating to New Zealand nearly fifteen years previously, had started pissing on the carpet. You know it’s the end when cats start doing that. So I hastily packed a bag and returned to my parents’ house to say goodbye.

My parents live in Tauranga, but that’s not where we lived when we first arrived in New Zealand. Back then, we lived in a town called Waiuku. Coincidentally, Waiuku was where the larp would be taking place. (Well, at a place just up the peninsula from Waiuku, somewhere my family always went for picnics: Awhitu.) I hadn’t been back to Waiuku in ten years.

Sheriff

Tim

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Tim couldn’t come with me to parents’ house, as he had to work and was in the process of fixing a beat-up, old car he’d just purchased. We needed the car to get to the larp. So I had to face saying goodbye to Crookshanks without him. It was quite an upsetting few days. I returned to Hamilton the night before the larp. That was when Tim found the lump.

You know what it’s like. Googling the symptoms. Most breast lumps aren’t deadly. That doesn’t stop me shaking and crying. I’m so scared. Tim’s mum died of cancer last year.

I’ve got a doctor’s appointment tomorrow morning.

So the night before the larp I barely slept. I was too anxious. I’m the sort of person who gets anxious very easily. I have, in the past, literally cried over spilt milk.

Not just cried. Had a full-on panic attack.

I wrote quite a therapeutic article about my experiences with anxiety and depression a while ago, and a piece about how it relates to the existential crisis of the immigrant child, so I won’t go on about it here. But if that’s what I’m like with things that I have no real reason to get anxious over, imagine what I’m like now.

Which is why the timing of the larp couldn’t have been better.

The thing about larping is you’re spending a few hours pretending to be someone else. You get all caught up in their story and immersed in the drama going on around you. There really is no better way of distracting yourself from anxiety.

So the larp. It’s called The Train Will Whistle One Last Time. It begins with all the characters – cowboys, Mexicans, Indians and various other western types – boarding a train to a town called Perdition. For some, it’s returning to a place they’d rather not go back to.

Waiuku Train Mural

From a mural in Waiuku

In real life, I was returning to Waiuku – a place I never thought I’d go back to. It was nice enough when my family first moved there, but by the end I was fairly glad to escape. I was bullied rather badly there. I had some great friends too, but it was a small town in which one could easily feel trapped. It’s one of those towns outsiders make fun of.

As Tim and I approached the town in the newly-repaired car, the sight of the fields and trees trundling past the window made me feel odd. I kind of remembered them. I had this uncomfortable feeling that we shouldn’t be driving this way. No good would come of it.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Waiuku… has changed.

Waiuku

Was this always there?

It’s gotten a lot prettier in the last ten years. Seriously. It looks like it might actually be worth visiting now. (And if you do, you can camp overnight in the library car park for free with a self-contained campervan rental.)

One of the oldest pubs in New Zealand, The Kentish Hotel, was a dingy, seedy-seeming establishment with sticky carpets and no real character when we lived there. Now it’s dead nice. This is the ceiling in the dining room.

Waiuku The Kentish

(It’s an old map of New Zealand!)

History is apparently Waiuku’s main focus now. It has some old (for New Zealand) buildings, including a colonial jail and schoolroom. They’re down by the water, where there’s a new walkway. Of course, the buildings were there when I was, but there weren’t quite so many signs proudly proclaiming Waiuku to be this wonderful, historical town.

Waiuku1

See?

The depressing, gravel-and-broken-glass-strewn car park where I once tripped and split my lip now has plant life and a boardwalk around it. Small improvements like that make a lot of difference to a place.

But I was happy to find the weather stone unchanged.

Waiuku Weather Stone

(Read the sign!)

So it turned out that returning to Waiuku was not at all like returning to Perdition. I won’t go into details about the larp to avoid spoilers, but I will say that it was possibly the best larp I’ve ever played. And I got to point a revolver at Tim! I didn’t end up “killing” anyone in the game, but at one point one of the other players ran back to the train shouting, “The mad Mexican’s shot the sheriff and the deputy!”

All in all, a great weekend.

Except I just thought about the lump again.


UPDATE: It’s just a cyst! A stupid, harmless cyst. I don’t even have to do anything about it!

🙂

Thank you to all the people who messaged me/commented with kind thoughts. Hearing about all the women (and men) who’d been through the same thing was greatly comforting, especially hearing that the vast majority of those lumps and bumps were benign!


 

Nerds of New Zealand Unite for Armageddon

For me, Armageddon is an annual certainty. (I’m talking about the sci-fi/fantasy/anime/comic/gaming/cosplay convention, not the actual end of the world.) I usually go to the Auckland Armageddon, but I live in Hamilton now, and I’ve just experienced my first ‘Hamigeddon’.

The Hamilton Armageddon is, of course, a lot smaller than the Auckland Armageddon. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. It turned out to be my best Armageddon yet!

When we got there, I was shocked at the sheer length of the entry line. I mean you don’t expect Hamilton to have so many people, let alone so many nerds. It was with some trepidation that we trekked to the end of the queue. That trepidation was only increased by the presence of a Dalek screeching:

dalek1

“It. Is. Three. Hours. To. The. Head. Of. The. Line!”

Thankfully, the Dalek was lying for comic effect. The line moved very quickly and it only took us fifteen minutes to get in.

Fifteen minutes and one jeer from a passing car full of Muggles with backward baseball caps. Apparently they didn’t like our costumes, many of which were quite excellent.

Once we were in, I immediately appreciated one difference from the Auckland Armageddon: I could move! I could actually get to each of the stalls without battling through a mass of sweaty bodies in anime costumes. I immediately set about sifting through the mountains of nerdy novelty items – what treasures would I find this year?

I always spend more than I should at Armageddon. After all, does anyone really need light-up lightsaber chopsticks or a Firefly/Serenity ‘leaf on the wind’ necklace?

Well, apparently, I do. My favourite mementos of this Armageddon, however, weren’t the Pikachu T-shirt, or the Game of Thrones dragon cuddly, or even the ornamental Sting heavily discounted because of its slightly damaged hilt. This year, my favourite Armageddon mementos were memories.

Me feeling a bit too much like Joffrey...

That’s me aiming a crossbow and feeling a little too much like Joffrey…

I had a great time shooting cushioned crossbow bolts at a heavily armoured Viking. I had an even greater time duelling my boyfriend in a combat ring with various LARP-safe weapons. After fighting each other, we went up against an experienced warrior: two on one.

“Unfair advantage,” a spectator observed. “Unfair for them, I mean.”

Indeed it was. We got pummelled.

Other activities on offer at this year’s Hamigeddon included lasertag, League of Legends, a cosplay parade, a Magic the Gathering tournament and a ‘Dinosaur vs. Zombie Alley’, which was kinda lame. I mean the zombie actors were quite good, but I didn’t see them fighting any dinosaurs.

Attribution: Gage Skidmore

John Rhys-Davies / Attribution: Gage Skidmore

For me, the absolute best part of this Armageddon was the John Rhys-Davies panel. Before he was Gimli in The Lord of the Rings, I mostly knew John Rhys-Davies for the Indiana Jones movies. In person, he was wonderful. He didn’t just sit there with the mike and answer awkward questions; he paced the stage and actively engaged with the audience. He gave both funny and intelligent answers, and he wasn’t above doing the ‘dwarf tossing’ line. He’s currently in New Zealand filming for the new epic fantasy series based on Terry Brooks’ Shannara, in which he plays an elf KING – take that, Orlando Bloom! (His words.)

Manu Bennett was fairly awesome too, going off on long, yet ultimately rewarding stories. He’s in Shannara as well, and he said he was stoked to be back in New Zealand.

mountain-310155_640Graham McTavish, or Dwalin from The Hobbit, said something particularly nice about New Zealand. It’s like one of those fantasy islands you draw as kid, an island that has everything you could possibly want on it. J.M. Barrie created Neverland to be like that. New Zealand is Neverland: adventure is never far away.

The funniest panel was with Martin Klebba, (the short guy in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies,) and Adam Brown, (Ori in the Hobbit movies, currently filming for the new Pirates of the Caribbean with Martin Klebba. I know – like we need ANOTHER Pirates of the Caribbean film! I got the impression that when Martin joked about it being just a paycheck at this stage, he wasn’t actually joking.)

clipart-orc-warrior-256x256-7ae3Many of Martin’s answers had Adam comically facepalming in despair. Like when he told a hall full of nerds that he’d never watched The Lord of the Rings, or Star Trek, or Doctor Who, or, in fact, anything represented at the convention, (except Pirates of the Caribbean.) He actually refuses to watch The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit on principle, and has a considerable amount of beef with Peter Jackson for not casting real little people as dwarves or hobbits.

You can kinda see his point, as there must be so few roles come up for little people that actually have a character beyond ‘little person’. There aren’t enough Tyrion Lannisters out there!

So, yeah, the 2015 Hamigeddon made for a very enjoyable weekend. I’ll definitely be going again next year. Hopefully, there’ll be some more interesting people coming – I’m still dreaming of the day New Zealand gets David Tennant or Nathan Fillion.

Interview with the Larper: Having a Larp in New Zealand

What Hobbiton’s Like

My review of New Zealand’s own vampire comedy, What We Do in the Shadows

Nerds of New Zealand Unite!

Nerds of New Zealand Unite!

Interview with the Larper: Having a LARP in New Zealand

Abigail SImpson in a Medieval Costume

A few weeks ago, I attended something quite wonderful called Chimera.

Over the course of a weekend, I was an evil inventor’s leather-clad henchwoman, a mage fighting goblins in a forest, a bee with socialist leanings, an imprisoned rightful heir to the throne of England, a steampunk suffragette and, most memorably, the unfortunate wife of the Robin Hood baddy, Prince John.

Chimera is New Zealand’s largest LARP convention, LARPing being Live Action Role-Playing, (as opposed to table-top role-playing – think Dungeons and Dragons, but with the players hitting each other with foam swords instead of rolling twenty-sided dice.) It’s like being in a play, but with no audience and no script. It’s like the games you acted out as a kid, but with an adult understanding of fairness and story structure.

Larping in New ZealandAt this point, some of you will be thinking ‘that’s awesome’ and some of you, no doubt, will be thinking ‘oh, grow up’ or ‘get a life’ – and to the latter I say that the people who engage in LARPing are both grownup and have lives. They’re just not afraid of having fun.

LARPing is a fantastic way to meet new people that have the potential to be life-long friends. Yes, it’s often hard to remember their real names, but in-between the swordplay and the intrigue and, in my case, the escaping to France, genuine connections are forged. This got me thinking: attending a LARP would be a great idea for someone who was on holiday in New Zealand.

‘But,’ some of you will be thinking, ‘how are you supposed to put together costumes while on holiday?’ Well let me tell you that larpers are kind and generous people – I have yet to meet a single larper who is unkind while out of character – and most of the hardcore larpers would be more than happy to lend out costumes. Or, you know, you could spend a lot of money and hire a costume.

While I was at Chimera, I met someone who was only in New Zealand for a holiday. He was lent items of costume and a sleeping bag by fellow larpers. In fact, he won one of the prizes for costuming! His name is Andreas and – guess what? – he agreed to let me interview him. My first blog interview! So I’ll let Andreas tell you about the awesomeness that is LARPing in New Zealand…

Interview with the Larper

Where are you from?

Germany.

How long have you been travelling?

For one month until I reached New Zealand, but my whole trip is three months.

What made you want to come to New Zealand?

The many stories of my friends about the beautiful nature and landscape.

What do you like about New Zealand?

The people, the nature, the weather, the food, the fact that places are rather close to each other and the welcoming spirit, helpfulness and hospitality of the people.

How did you end up attending Chimera?

I was looking for any LARP events happening during the time frame that I had for coming to New Zealand and found it by searching online. I thought it was a great idea to start my stay in NZ with an event like this, so I could meet nice people, make friends and experience the local LARPing culture.

Did you enjoy the weekend?

Yes, I enjoyed it a lot. People were so welcoming and helpful. Also LARPing culture in NZ is different than in Germany and it was very fascinating to experience that. Especially the fact that now I have so many new friends in NZ is wonderful.

Had you ever done any LARPing before?

I have been LARPing for seventeen years now, doing it since I was sixteen years old. Over the years my motivation to do LARP shifted though. Currently the motivation is to experience different roles and see life from different perspectives and play around with it.

Would you recommend LARPing to others travelling to New Zealand?

Definitely. It doesn’t matter if you’ve done LARPing before or not, it is a good way to meet people – having an intense experience and afterwards having a talk, a laugh and a drink together really creates a bond. It also can help if you are normally a shy person, who is not used to approaching people, to get out of yourself as you are in a ‘safe environment’ to express yourself.

Some people might say you are revealing your weaknesses, but you are not, as you are in your character at that point. It is a unique experience that one will never forget. As people who travel to NZ want to get out of their normal ‘shell’, these unique experiences are what they are seeking and in this case it is a social, theatrical experience.

Do you want to come back to New Zealand?

Definitely, although feeling like a ‘cash cow’ (being milked of my money) at certain tourist attractions, I made so many friends during my stay, especially attending Chimera, I want to meet these lovely people again. If you are a social person like me, it is the people and experiences that make you come back, not just the place itself. It is sad that Chimera does not happen during the loveliest season of NZ weather, but even then I would love to come back.

Anything else?

I believe that having a personal experience bonding you to a place and people is worth a lot more than just seeing a place. Having tourists come once to NZ spending a lot of money in the country might be good short-term-wise, but in the long run you would like to have people coming back again and again spending their money in the country and telling their friends that they should go too.

If there hadn’t been Chimera during my stay in NZ and all the friends I made there, I would not be coming back to NZ as I already ‘have been there, seen it all’. Also making friends there made me not hurry during my stay. I tried to see as much as possible, but in a pace that I could enjoy everything – (I only had two and a half weeks.) Since I knew that I would be coming back eventually to see my friends, I knew that I will have time to see all the other wonders NZ has to offer.

End of Interview with the Larper

Wow – best interviewee I could have hoped for, right? Thank you again so much, Andreas.

So there you go: attending a LARP is something you should consider while you travel around New Zealand. As Andreas said, bonding with the people in a place is worth a lot more than just seeing a place. Plus, LARPing is AWESOME.

Fighter_Mage_Silhouette_by_qhudspeth