My Brother Comes to Visit
October ended up being a busy month, to say nothing of my job and my studies. After meeting up with my old friends on the 9th and checking out the Nero exhibit on the 16th, I entertained my brother for a day in Kingston on the 23rd. Readers of my earlier post explaining my decision to come to KU will remember that Frank was instrumental in that process. Put simply, I wouldn’t be doing a Master’s at all if it wasn’t for him. Frank is fully invested in my success here in London, perhaps more so than myself, and he was keen to see my set up.
Unfortunately, both of my roommates were unwell that week (just regular flu, not Rona), so he was able to meet them from a safe distance but not spend any real time getting to know them. After dropping his things in my room, as well a carrot cake our mom had sent with him, we set off toward campus. I showed him the cafeteria where the baristas already know my habits so well they begin making my order (medium iced cappuccino) as soon as I come through the door, as well as the Town House- which had just that month won the 2021 Stirling Prize (the best new building this year). Frank was under orders from our parents to get a picture of me, which you can see below. I actually don’t hate it, simply because it’s a good time capsule. By which I mean, this is about as typical a representation of me from my time at KU as you can get- I always wear this leather jacket I bought in the Wisconsin Dells circa 2015 and I always get the same iced coffee from the cafeteria. The only thing it’s missing is my trusty backpack.
We then wandered over to the market square and got some Vietnamese street food for lunch, taking it over to the other side of the Thames and eating by the river. We walked and talked around Hampton Court for a while, stopping briefly for an Old Fashioned at the White Hart, before heading over to see Dune at the local Odeon. It was my first time seeing a movie in IMAX and I’m so glad I experienced it that way. Dune was amazing. I knew it would be great, but it somehow exceeded even my high expectations. Denis Villeneuve is an absolute genius and I was so happy that the novel was finally getting the adaptation it deserved. Afterwards we discussed the film at a nearby Italian restaurant called Stone Pizza. I feel like Frank and I have our own private brand of humor that we only engage in when we’re together, and I found myself in genuine hysterics throughout the meal. We kept saying things to the tune of the female vocal riff from the Dune soundtrack and daring each other to place our orders that way.
The Rise of The Oven Enthusiasts
Frank left the next morning and my busy October continued with the formation of what would turn out to be one of the best things that happened to me this semester: our pub quiz team. The friends I’d made in the first week, with whom I’d spent the majority of my time so far, discovered that a pub in Surbiton called The Victoria held a quiz every Wednesday evening. It was on the 27th of October that we checked it out for the first time, not really knowing what to expect and not at all confident of our chances. Usually when I’m with this group there’s a lot more of us, but on this particular occasion, we numbered only four in total.
The pub itself was nice. There was plenty of space, which in the age of Rona is always appreciated, it was nicely-decorated in a warm, homely style, and it wasn’t very loud. The host, a colorful young gentleman by the name of Karl, gave us our sheet and told us to come up with a team name. For a few seconds we all looked at each other. Then it came to us, as stark as an ocean liner breaking out of the morning fog: The Oven Enthusiasts. Earlier that same day, a member of our group (who couldn’t himself make it to the quiz that night) had asked us in our Whatsapp group chat to send pictures of our ovens. The reason for this was that the markers beside the dials on his oven had faded away, and he wanted to know how far to turn the dials. We then realized that we all had different ovens, despite living in the same halls of residence. We laughed at all the pictures of ovens in our chat and remarked “Anyone looking at this without the proper context would think we’re a bunch of oven enthusiasts,” presumably the same way you get communities of people that form over an inexplicable love of other functional things like trains or stamps. Naturally the name didn’t mean anything to anyone outside our little circle, but it just felt right. That’s the thing about names: they don’t have to make sense or be especially clever in order to be good. They just have to be catchy. And the more we said it, the more it cemented itself in our hearts.
Between rounds, my friend started drawing an official logo for our team: an oven inside a heart, pierced by a horizontal fork that spelled O and E either side. Given that Halloween was only a few days away, all the questions were themed around it, including a fun round on mythological creatures that we did particularly well in (featuring answers such as Banshee, Will o’ the Wisp, Baba Yaga, and Wendigo). There was a picture round where we were given a sheet displaying 6 horror movie villains that we had to name, as well as a music round, which was composed mainly of songs the host considered “spooky” in some way. Last came The Wipeout Round, which I think is the pièce de résistance of The Victoria pub quiz. There are six questions, and you need to get them all correct to get any points, meaning you either get zero or six. The swing that comes with getting all six points can make all the difference as to which team wins, and bring you back if you’re trailing. On top of that, the last letter of each answer is the same as the first letter of the next answer, which I think makes it a lot of fun. For example, if you miss a couple initially, as we did, you can sorta reverse-engineer it on the basis of the other answers.
The round went as follows:
1. What is the name of 1897 Bram Stoker novel?
2. What is the name of the town where Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered six members of his family on Ocean Avenue?
3. What is the name of the 80’s horror hostess known as Mistress of the Dark?
4. What is the word for the supernatural appearance of a dead person?
5. What is the name of the 1922 German Expressionist horror film that had a profound influence on the genre?
6. What is the name of the 2019 horror movie directed by Jordan Peele?
We got answers 1 and 2 easy enough, but once we missed 3, we figured that we had fucked it. But as I said, due to the “daisy-chain” structure of the answers, if you’re quick you can reverse-engineer the ones you missed. We just had to think of them before Karl instructed us to swap our sheets with the next table for marking. Question 6 was easy, so we worked backwards from there. Once we were certain of 4 and 5, we returned to the one that had caused us the most trouble: 3. Karl was calling for all the tables to swap their answer sheets and we were resigned to just writing anything that would begin with E and end with A, since The Wipeout Round is all or nothing.
At what seemed like the last possible moment, a member of our team said “Elvira”. I wasn’t familiar with the name, so I wasn’t hugely confident in its success. Given the situation, I assumed it was chosen just because it fit the daisy chain. We swapped sheets with the adjacent table and Karl began reading out the answers. When he got to Question 3, I could feel all four of us tense up around the table.
As soon as the word left Karl’s lips, I felt myself shaking. My teammates and I stared at one another in stunned silence. Karl continued with the rest of the answers and sure enough, we had gotten all six correct.
All of a sudden, we started to imagine that we might win this thing. The Wipeout Round is such an adrenaline rush. Each table handed Karl their sheets and we commenced waiting. When Karl finally started to read out the results, we listened with baited breath and our bodies grew tense once more. Third place…second place…
“And in first place, with 51 points, we have tonight’s winners: The Oven Enthusiasts!”
My teammates and I roared in triumph like we had just won the Champions League final. Red-faced and pounding our chests like silverback gorillas.
“Fucking get in there!”
I couldn’t remember the last time I was this pumped up. The Victoria erupted in applause. Nearby tables congratulated us on our performance. We couldn’t believe it. We had won the pub quiz on our first attempt, after coming here on a whim. Our prize was a fifty quid bar tab, which we decided to use right away for some celebratory cocktails. The tab was enough to get us a cocktail each and a shot of something I can’t remember. I got a Pina Colada, another teammate got a Cosmopolitan, and the other two opted for Moscow Mules. I tried to articulate the rush of excitement I felt. Winning something feels so rare in life. It always seems to happen to someone else. It didn’t matter that it was just a pub quiz, and not something as prestigious as a Nobel or whatever, the taste was just as sweet. I think the thrill of actually winning something is universal. It’s a special feeling that you should cherish while it lasts.
“You know what…it’s not even about the drinks…” I said.
“I mean, it is a little bit about the drinks,” my friend replied, sipping his Moscow Mule.
I kept trying to put the feeling into words. Before we left, we all agreed that we would be back the next week. The story of The Oven Enthusiasts was just beginning…
Baby’s First Halloween
October concluded with my first ever time dressing up for Halloween at the age of 29. I’ve never really been attracted by the idea of Halloween. Usually, I spend it locked away in my room feeling irritated at the constant knocks on our front door. So I associate it with my own bitter resentment at everyone else’s fun. This year however, my heart thawed a little when my roommates discussed the three of us celebrating it together. I was anxious to spend more time with them outside the confines of our flat, and the idea of doing something new fitted in well with my overarching mission statement for the life I was trying to build in London.
I think one of the things that really swayed me was the fact that someone else came up with my costume for me, which gave me the confidence I could pull it off. My roommate Minako was adamant that I would make a good Luigi, and her insistence on this, coupled with the fact that Luigi is my favorite Super Mario character, got me excited to actually wear the costume. Minako grew up in Tokyo, so I figured she was an authority on the subject. Minako herself went as a vampire and our other roommate Suryakanti went as a witch. I knew before we left that I would stand out, given that I’m tall, the costume was a bright green, and Luigi is such an iconic character. In order to help manage this problem, I decided that I would get black-out drunk.
My plan was decisively torpedoed however when we learned that the predrinks gathering we were set to attend got cancelled. Suryakanti and I were therefore going to meet Minako and her friends in town. So at around 10:30pm, she and I got a Bolt to the local Pryzm, both of us 100% sober. I felt better seeing everyone else in their costumes. Almost as soon as my feet touched down on the sidewalk, I started to get comments from random passers by. Chief among them seemed to be “Where’s Mario?” which was amusing at first but started to grow stale after the billionth time. I think the fact that everyone was dressed up for Halloween made the night a lot more social. Strangers interacted more than they would on a typical night out, commenting on each other’s costumes. It was different to every other time I’ve gone clubbing, where people tend to stick in groups and regard each other with either suspicion or arousal.
The bouncer that patted me down upon entry said, “Where are your coins?” and I thought he was asking if I had any coins on me that hadn’t gone through the metal detector. Then I realized it was a Super Mario reference and laughed, snapping my fingers at him. Suryakanti and I toured the various dance floors looking for anyone we recognized. By this point in the semester, I was fully used to dancing while sober so I just got to work, trying to incorporate Luigi’s personality into my expressions and mannerisms throughout the evening. As I did my thing, I forgot about the various worries that had been bouncing around my head beforehand: that some mad lad would steal my hat, that I’d somehow get impaled by one of the safety pins Suryakanti had lent me, or the possibility of people looking down and noticing that this skintight onesie left little to the imagination. I just felt the music, and the inexplicable confidence that the costume gave me. I remembered the words of my friend from York in the very first week of the semester “Just cut some shapes”. That was the mantra. Do that and everything will work out alright.
Suryakanti and I left the club to try and locate Minako, a detour that saw me approached by various people on the street regarding my costume, including one particularly aggressive girl that demanded I jump for some reason. We eventually found our lost roommate in a nearby Weatherspoons, judging from her communiques that she and her friends had either rendered themselves outrageously drunk or just as outrageously festive. My guess was both. On the way in, the lads in the smoking area were like “WAHEYY IT’S LUIGI AHAHA!” and by that point I’d really lost all my enthusiasm to respond in kind. They howled with laughter, motioning for everyone to get a good look at me. “WAHEY!” someone bellowed again. I just smiled and walked inside. There we found Minako and three of her friends from her UX Design course.
One of them happened to be Italian, and she took it upon herself to give me some phrases to say in her language. At the other end of the table, the girls got overexcited and started pouring fake blood over each other’s faces, necks, and chests. Seeing that I was the only one yet to be subjected to this treatment, Minako bent over me with a mischievous smile and started pouring the fake blood. It streamed over my face and costume, giving it a suddenly sinister connotation. The cheerful Italian girl next to me then instructed me to say “Ho ucciso Mario”.
“What’s it mean?”
“I killed Mario.”
We really were a macabre cabal that night. The girls cackled with glee as we stepped onto the dark street outside. In preparation for the evening, I’d thrown away the fake moustache that came with the Luigi costume and shaved off my beard. The result was a rather bushy 70’s pornstache, but now all of a sudden it had a dark red tinge from the fake blood, as though Luigi had been trapped with Mario in a remote cabin in the Sierra Nevada during a blizzard and finally lost it. Which, upon reflection, is a game I’d totally buy if Nintendo had the balls for an edgy, subversive reinterpretation of their brand.
We decided to go back into Pryzm. The same bouncer that had admitted me hours earlier gave me a confused look.
“Christ, what happened to you?”
“Ho ucciso Mario.”
Inside we continued dancing into the night. All in all, it was a fun evening, not something I would normally do, and a fitting end for a busy Halloween week here in Kingston.