david f burrows
music for video games
DFB_blgThis blog post was written for the Disposable Heroes blog site

Each time Evilized Games' Ben Aprigliano unveils his latest idea it always quickly develops into an exhilarating rollercoaster ride of creativity and comedy. The pace at which it builds is truly impressive, and it always grows and develops beyond recognition in even just the comparatively short time I get to work on the project.
An ever-present feature of Evilized productions is a penchant for pitting tragic characters against seemingly insurmountable circumstances; trapping hapless protagonists in some grossly diabolic environment with a series of either deadly foes or devilish machines – frequently both – to avoid and evade.
In Disposable Heroes you have the same set of ingredients but - in my personal opinion - this is the man's finest work to date. It's got everything you would expect from an Evilized Games title; it's powerful, it's high-octane, stylish, bold and confident yet wonky and bizarre, full of charm and imagination and - of course - laced with cheeky, irreverent humour.
OMG_pitchfork_demonsI always enjoy playing the games Ben makes – even in their early forms – but in the case of Disposable Heroes I was absolutely, completely, utterly hooked, and indeed remain so to this day. With its addictive gameplay and delightful characters in a charming, stick-man cartoon world, I think this one has the potential to be very popular.
So, eulogy over, how do we tend to get going from the perspective of the music? After the initial discussions about a project, my first (ideal) step in working with any developer is always to play through the game, to immerse myself in the world they have created, to get the feel for what’s going on. That's not always possible of course but in this instance it certainly helped to align the aural experience with the on-screen action.
Garden 1280
The characters in a game really help set the scene from a music perspective, and the characters in Disposable Heroes - the good guys and the bad guys - are fabulous. Of course, these guys think they’re the greatest however ambition in this case sadly falls far short of ability, and the whole 'village idiot' thing really helped in deciding on the style and tone of the music.
Whether it’s the Orc, who is perpetually desperate to help but ultimately utterly useless; The Gladiator, who wants everyone to think he is both mighty and courageous, whereas in fact his bombastic bravado conceals a crippling cowardice that will result in him always putting himself behind his comrades when there’s a battle on; The Wizard, who expends far too much time and energy berating the others for their lack of knowledge of scientific formulae, or the Princess who believes herself to be above being seen with any of the rest of them, their ‘perception of self’ for me doesn’t quite reflect reality, and it was this kind of fantastical feeling I wanted to convey with the main theme and interludes.
Mine 1280When trying to find the sound for Heroes it was clear from an early stage that we were looking at something along the lines of 'Robin Hood –Prince of Thieves', only drawn in Crayola.
That’s why you’ve got this pantomime, mock heroic approach. It’s got to be larger than life but also a little but wayward and silly, and the theme tune is a good example of what I was trying to achieve.
Ot is certainly fair to say that the characters and the environment have helped - even encouraged - the music to be rumbunctious yet awkward, bold yet relentlessly sticky-outy.
To my mind it represents the swashbuckling nature in which the Heroes throw themselves senselessly into the diabolic challenges that confront them.
From the opening market scene to the castle and beyond, I was happy with how it was all beginning to take shape, content with how the theme music partnered with the on-screen action.
Indeed, the theme music seemed to work so well with the adventure that I thought the job was mostly done however as the game grew beyond all initial scope, with more levels and concepts added, including a series of mini-games, it became clear that the list of tracks would need to increase significantly too, to keep things fresh and suitably entertaining. Indeed, what was originally set to be a fairly straightforward three or four track job has since developed into what is now a 10 tune soundtrack.
Aside from that of course, frequently in games, a shift in the music - even if only at a subconscious level - signifies the extent of progress in the game, so the soundtrack needs to be as deep and layered as the game itself.
Working with Ben on the voice parts was pretty fun too, from writing the dialogue to finding the right actors. What it does mean is that we've now got a whole load of things in there that are designed to add to the characters' personalities, the overall humour of the game and particularly the 2 player experience. You can read more about the process of doing the voice parts here.
A wonderful feature of Disposable Heroes is the minigames that you find, a break from the top-down style of the core levels, each of which pits you against new challenges; from the collapsing castle to a trebuchet assault.
I certainly was of the opinion that the minigames should have their own themes, so that’s what they’ve got, and they were a lot of fun to make. There’s one to match each of the five minigames that you encounter amidst the 70 or so main levels.
From the tentative, awkward steps of 'Eine Kleine Knight Music' which accompanies the part where a section of the castle is collapsing, to time travel to Planet Earth in the year 1995, from the falling tune right through to the drama of the trebuchet level towards the end, I’ve aimed to reflect the identity of each mini level in musical form.
Time-travel 1280
This is where knowing the game inside out (and, wherever possible, the workings of the mind of its creator) helps in knowing how far you can push things. For example, some might have opted to pay homage to medieval themes but having made the buccaneering Disposable Heroes theme, I was keen to play around with some musical styles – the level where you travel to 1995 was a no-brainer (a bit like the Heroes themselves you could say…) and gave me an opportunity to revisit the music of my 'youth', but for some reason the first time I ever saw the minecart chase I knew it had to have a hillbilly bluegrass tune. That was quite a challenge to make, given that I neither own nor play the banjo (it’s one of those instruments that digital audio never seems quite to be able to replicate in as authentic a manner as I would like), but I think I got away with it.
The game launches in Early Access on 1 October so there's a little more to do yet but it's an exciting time - I hope you enjoy the game and I hope that the soundtrack provides a fitting accompaniment to the wacky world of the Disposable Heroes.
You can find David Burrows on Twitter @davidfburrows
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In which I get all Von Trapp on your ass to explain ‘The Devil’s Interval’

'Le Songe de Tartini' ('Tartini's Dream') by Louis-Léopold Boilly
One of the most fun things about writing music for games is the variety. I’m sure I’ve dribbled on aplenty about how entrancing I find the work game developers do in the way that they create entire worlds for players to navigate and interact with, but the sheer miscellany of said worlds presented me by the various developers with whom I have worked intrigues me just as much.
Indeed, over the course of the past five years I’ve written music for games in which you are lost on weird and far-flung planets in Sticky Nicky; taking on the mantle of a pickle-throwing conquistador in Pickle Frenzy, escaping post-apocalyptic city scenes in Paradigm Shift, transporting power from the future in GunMonkeys, and slotting shapes into place in a geometric wonderland in Division Cell.

In fact, the only constant is one of my own usage; a musical device of which – it must be said by accident rather than design – I have become extremely fond: the ‘augmented fourth’, or ‘Devil’s Interval’. I don’t wish to be all ‘music-nerd’ (at least not overtly) yet here I cannot avoid a little techno-babble. I will try and skip through this bit with the minimum use of ‘lingo,’ and instead invite you to do the song from The Sound of Music. You know the one, ‘Doe, a Deer…’? I have had to write it like that because obviously ‘a doe’ is the correct name for a lady deer but in line with the ‘solfège,’ (the ‘Do,’ the ‘Re’ and the ‘Mi’ that feature in the music education method used to teach pitch and sight singing), it would need to be written as ‘Do a Deer’ which might, once posted on the internet, lead to me receiving ‘interest’ from the RSPCA.)

Oh, cripes, the point… I was busy getting all 'Von Trapp' on your asses… So whether at work, internet café or in a darkened room at home, you’re all singing, right?

Piano keyboard showing the 'solfège' note names
Do(e),’ a deer, a female deer,
Re,’ a drop of golden sun,
Mi,’ a name, I call myself,
Fa’ a long, long way to go,
So(l)’ a needle pulling thread…

And you can stop there. Cos what we’re after in order to complete our quest for The Devil’s Interval is the space between the ‘Do,’ and a note in between ‘Fa’ and ‘So’. Sing them. SING THEM.

‘Do’ to ‘Fa’… then ‘Do’ to ‘So’… then ‘Do’ to the note in between ‘Fa’ and ‘So’…
If you can find that, and you’re not more perplexed than all those scientists just before they located the Higgs Boson, then you’re doing well, and can award yourself 1 x Gold Star.
Anyway, back to some musical theory. As I was taught it (having never been part of a family of singing Austrians), ‘Do’ is the solfège name for the ‘tonic’ (i.e. the first note of any given scale) and the notes of that (major) scale progress up through various nerdy names (supertonic, mediant) to the fourth note or ‘subdominant’ (read ‘Fa’ in the above example) and then the dominant (‘So’), the technical name for which is the dominant (before going on to submediant (‘La,’ in Von Trapp world) and leading note (‘Ti’) ahead of the next instance of the tonic.
Good. The intervals created between the tonic (‘Do’) and the subdominant (‘Fa’) create what’s known as a ‘perfect fourth,’ and that between the tonic and (So) is a ‘perfect fifth,’ the use of both of which tend to sound all medieval trumpet fanfare-y cos that’s mainly all that trumpets and horns without modern valves were able to do, hence why Michael Kamen put lots of them at the start of his theme for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and stuff like that. Therefore when you ‘bloat’ the interval between 1 and 4, it becomes an ‘augmented fourth,’ and at this point the more astute (and still awake) of you will agree that also as a wizened 1 to 5 it is also known as a ‘diminished fifth’. In essence it is the same thing (however I am certain that pedants will be at pains to stress that that strictly speaking it depends from which direction it is approached). It also comes under the heading ‘tri-tone’ as it is three full tones (no semitones) up from the tonic note. But enough science. Either way, it is THE DEVIL’S INTERVAL and whilst (we understand) that it was Actually Banned in Olden Times by churchy types (on pain of excommunication, or 'death by hot pokers' or something), it ultimately became a popular ‘device’ frequently employed from the Romantic era onwards to denote diabolic evil and chaos. Franz Liszt used it to signify Hell in his Dante Sonata, and I’m fairly sure there’s an example in Richard Wagner's Götterdämmerung somewhere, too. Maybe less scarily you can find it in ‘Maria’ from West Side Story, although I never met her and she might just have been awful. It also pops up in the the ‘Back to the Future’ theme (more as part of the tri-tone as a result of the chord progression than a 'menacing' interval). Which is pretty cool ‘cos not only is Back to the Future ace but if there isn’t something other-worldly about time travel then we must be doing it wrong.

I gather from the internet that the subject of this musical anecdote was first been designated as a 'dangerous' interval by a bloke called Guido of Arezzo, a leading music theorist of the Medieval era widely regarded as the inventor of modern musical notation. It was old Guido's work that is believed to have led to the first instance of the phrase 'Diabolus in Musica' – 'the devil in music'. Like I said, as it has turned out, whether personal preference or due to the subject matter of the games for which I have written, the Devil’s Interval has wormed its satanic way into quite a few of my tunes. And I’m not sure I have the paperwork for the sale of my soul…

I hope you can hear the sense of looming menace it invokes, whether actively, aggressively malevolent or passively haunting, there’s something not right about it, and it tugs at the edges of your psyche, rolling and incessant.

I guess it became known as ‘The Devil’s Interval’ because it was all ‘senestre’… for people in 'the olden times’ there was nowhere to put it; no way of quantifying it, it had no place in the conventional, sensible music of the age. Which is very possibly why I like it so much.

Maybe try it on your Auntie some time.


GunMonkeys: Because You Know I’m Better

Magma Monsters: theme from Magma Monsters

Fangus the Were-Baby: Fangus the Were-Baby

Last weekend I took a hike to Tobacco Dock in east London for EGX Rezzed, to check out the games on show and meet with developers. Among the offerings I particularly wanted to look at was Fireproof Games’ BAFTA winning puzzler The Room, Team17’s Penarium (a game whose progress I’ve been following with great interest over the past year), plus the rather fine-looking platformer Poncho from Rising Star.

The weekend was also an opportunity to see in the flesh in the metal the magnificent dystopian mech-epic shooter Beyond Flesh & Blood, currently in development by Manchester-based studio Pixelbomb. That’s certainly one to watch; it looked fabulous even before I learned of the new version they’re putting together in UE4, which makes for an even more scintillating experience. 

I met Eduardo, in from Valajallajadueeddjjjjaos some place in Spain, who introduced me to his concept game that takes board gaming between friends to a new, digital level. And then as you may have seen I got walloped AROUND THE HEAD by cosplay star of the show Barbara-Ian, which was a little uncomfortable, but which admittedly looks great in slo-mo. 
In the end it was all OK because I seemed to re-spawn in the bar, where I managed to entrap Mr Dan Marshall of Size Five Games for an ale and a natter ahead of his talk on The Swindle. Which was suitably ‘brillo’, naturally, showcasing the forthcoming steampunk crime caper in glorious technicolour, explaining some of the game’s mechanics – and offering the chance to hear snippets of Toby Evans’ fab soundtrack.

The bruises inflicted by the swing of Barbara-Ian’s mighty weapon may only just be fading but I'm already looking forward to the next EGX event in Birmingham at the end of September.

Last week I was also featured in Waitrose magazine, which was great as while I don’t get any money off fruit and veg or anything like that it is super exposure and I’ve had some lovely comments back as a result. Even though I am doing some kind of funny 'constipated face' thing…

What then is next on the agenda? Well over the past month or so I’ve been lucky enough to work on music for three games, two of which are released this month. Scott Mitchell’s Magma Monsters (iOS & Android) hit the App Store on Thursday, bringing a colourful labyrinthine world to smartphone screens via the incredible work of Adam Foreman, with whom I worked on GunMonkeys. His character art is just ace, please go check out his portfolio at a4man.com, download Magma Monsters here for iOS for free and get bashing those nasties!

Then there’s Not Without My Donuts, a wacky cartoon caper in which you have to pluck sweet treats while evading the clutches of an armada of creepy crawlies. The soundtrack for this was exceptionally fun to do, and the game will be out on the 27th I believe.

I also did a track for videogame reviewer Krames, particularly pleased with this one.

Next up for me is another project for Evilized Games – this one a dark survival thriller for which the soundtrack is swirling and menacing; a project about which I will try and write more in due course. 

Please do check out my 'back catalogue' and get in touch if you’d like to talk about a soundtrack for your game. Especially if you’re making a space game…
Delighted to be able to write to let you know that, courtesy of that lovely chap Jordan Carroll (AKA Angry Cube Development), and following a wonderfully busy 2014, my website has now been updated and refreshed, kicking things off for 2015.

We've (well, he's) cleverly linked the site in to this blog; a blog that I started a few years ago when I harboured ambitions of furthering myself as A Proper Writer, which as you can see, ultimately came to naught, despite my *hugely entertaining* tales of being beaten at football, being beaten at Monopoly, and being beaten by Southern Trains' interesting take on the 'rail timetable'.

This is actually good as it turns out, as it leaves more time a) to time travel back to the mid-Nineties (via the N64 I unearthed in a drawer at home), and also b) to write music for all you fabulous, talented game developers out there. It's continually inspiring to see the projects that are being worked on, I always look forward to #screenshotsaturday on Twitter with great anticipation.

Please check out the latest samples that I've posted in the 'music' section, featuring of some of the things I worked on in 2014. Hard to pick a favourite but highlights include scoring the brilliant animated short 'Fangus the Were-baby', made by Judith Johnston, Adam Foreman and Nicola Welbourne, and being asked to create theme music for a number of game reviewers.

The start of this year sees me looking forward to working on further projects with Evilized and other colleagues – three of which are currently underway – angling (naturally) for more exciting game projects later in the year as well as developing the theme and TV incidental music angle and even some fancy corporate ident work.

I'm also going to redouble my efforts to tap out a semi-regular blog on subjects at least loosely related to music in general, and game music in particular.

Cheers and best wishes to all of you for your projects and endeavours in 2015.

Not mine.  All not mine...
I did something I’ve not done for a while at the weekend.  Not even at recent Christmases.  I played a board game.  It wasn’t planned, certainly not given the wealth of activities available to us in the digital age.  In fact I was forced to go 'old-school' following a convoluted mix-up involving a games console and a dopey brother.

Outside it was raining comme vache qu’il pisse and yet I needed to entertain The Boy somehow.  I had been through the entire back catalogue of “Dad’s Interesting Facts Vol. 1” including "Notable Things About Newts" and "How Bridges Are Built", and having been beaten twice already that morning at FIFA 11, had nothing left in the tank with which to amuse a ten year old.

‘We could play Monopoly?' he ventured.

'Bless you, sweet child' I thought,' looking upon him as might a Victorian parent ‘and your glorious innocent naivety.  We shall indeed seize this fine opportunity to enjoy this traditional electricity-free pastime and – more to the point - I shall enjoy asserting my ultimate superiority and male dominance as I tutor you in arts as only one with years of painful experience can.  Prepare to learn!'

I was hoping this to be my chance to school The Boy in everything from basic arithmetic to macro economics and fiscal stability, alongside the need for a sharp business acumen and unsentimental killer instinct.  In short, I saw this as the moment to equip him with everything he could need to survive in a merciless and unforgiving world. 

‘I’ll be the boat,’ I insisted, certain in the belief that I would dock around two hours later in the promised land of milk, honey and a great fat wad of toy cash, content that I had instilled in The Boy a truly valuable lesson – one that he would carry with him throughout his days, and maybe even relay to his own children in years to come.

Yet things did not turn out quite as I had envisaged.  Five minutes in and he had all of the ‘prestige’ sites in his portfolio.  Shortly after this, Pall Mall, Vine Street and Piccadilly Circus fell under his domain, the respective cards nestling next to his growing collection of £100 notes.  Somehow, I had only Pentonville Road and a fiver.  Five more minutes and the phone rang.  It was the Queen, asking The Boy if she could borrow ‘a ton’.  Back on the board, I threw a double four and took an unwanted trip to Covent Garden.

The Boy surveys his empire
‘That’ll be £720, please...' he sniffed, nonchalantly as he passed the £5,000 in capital mark.  Reluctantly, I coughed up as his pile of £500 notes sat there grinning at me.

By this time he owned most of the properties and the utilities, together with all of the stations, which of course stung me for £200 each time I landed on them.  And boy, did I land on them.  Not only this, but I must have ‘Advanced to Mayfair’ four times in as many circuits, the money from my dwindling coffers serving only to bolster his housing empire with each lap of the board.

The Boy traversed everything from mild amusement to wild euphoria as he reached each successive triumph and realised he was establishing an unassailable lead before a measured sense of calm arose, with him safe in the knowledge that he had his poor old Dad whipped.

After that, he decided to name his high denomination bank notes, and feigned hurt when he had to part with 'Angus', 'Michael' and Geoffrey' on the rare occasion that he picked up a hotel maintenance Chance card.

Of course good fortune played a part. He seemed to have more birthdays, enjoyed more ‘bank errors in his favour’ and won more crosswords and beauty competitions than I thought possible, but he also seems to have a natural knack for throwing just the right number of doubles. Perhaps he has the luck gene that has sadly evaded me, and for this I should surely be happy – and perhaps paradoxically consider myself lucky.

At this thought, I chuckled whimsically as I mused on life's well-documented propensity to imitate art. Or Waddington Games, at least.  But my patience was running thin.  I was sure I used to like Monopoly.  But now I was also out of cigarettes. This was a bad time to be losing - and losing so heavily - to my progeny.

A sorry state of affairs...
As the statistical chance of not landing on one of his properties diminished, and my metal boat tossed on the tempestuous seas of financial fortune, a little bit of me died inside. The Boy even took pride in loading up the less-than salubrious Old Kent Road (and its shabby counterpart Whitechapel) with hotels.  I've never been so pleased to be visiting jail in all my days, if only for the brief respite it offered from his incessant rent demands.
A broad and defiantly smug smile broke across his cherubic face as it became clear that the game was won. Despite my genuinely best efforts it seemed that The Boy now owned 75% of the available properties as well as the jail, the bank and a surprisingly large portion of my soul in some kind of devious and cruel credit default swap scheme that he had devised in order to prolong my pain.

'You don't even have £320,' he said gleefully, referring to the very 'cheapest' of his property empire, as he pocketed another £50, this time from 'sale of stock'.

'I don't even have £20', I grimaced, as I veered perilously near to his shiny new hotel complex at Pall Mall. Why are rich people such utter gits?

On the next circuit I avoided Park Lane, Mayfair (and the brown ones) by the skin of my impoverished teeth. I was a mouse, being toyed with by something that a mere eleven years ago was one of my sperms.

He took a picture of his very own Fort Knox.  ‘Shall we put it on video?’ he offered, cheerily.

‘No, we bloody well shall not’, I snapped, fearing my humiliation at the hands of a ten year old going viral would be more than I could take.

When I landed on his hotel at Whitehall he started recreating an Apprentice trailer at me. ‘You're fired’, he repeated, over and over again. Christ, I've bred a mini Alan Sugar. 'Sod off,' I retorted cleverly, as I mortgaged everything I had to pay his £750 bill.  My little metal boat was upturned, my esteem sunk.

Fittingly perhaps, it was all over when a throw of the dice took me to Mayfair, and a £2000 bill proved more than the value of everything I had.  Sweet blessed deliverance from a financial Stalin who despite his tender years had managed to manacle me to the system in a way that those who actually have manacled me to the actual system would have been proud.

To be honest I don't know what the moral is.  Aside from ‘never a borrower nor a lender be,’ perhaps it’s a warning to beware the potential pitfalls of attempting to live your life vicariously through that of your offspring, attempting to correct all the mistakes you've ever made for fear of being well and truly hoisted by your own petard.  If there's a lesson here at all, then perhaps it’s not to give lessons unless you truly know the textbook.

Or perhaps just don't be the boat...

Why not let the train take the strain, eh?!

To Southern Railway
Via the web

Dear Sir or Madam,

I write having reached the point of abject exasperation with attempting to use the Southern Railway service to get to work anywhere near on time.

Despite possessing more than a passing knowledge of the quirks and vagaries of the British rail infrastructure left by decades of mismanagement and under-investment, I am left wondering how it is actually possible to run a service so far removed from its published timetable.  Travelling between Clapham Junction and Redhill I cannot recall a single day over the past six months on which at least one leg of the journey has managed to depart on time.  This is quite an achievement and one surely worthy of recognition. 

For your benefit I have attached a video showing one such recent trip.  Although the section of film I have sent to you runs for a mere minute (to facilitate sending via email), I can assure you that much of last Friday's 09.19 from East Croydon was spent at this truly mind-boggling speed, apart of course from the time that was spent stationary. 

Delightful flora and fauna to be seen
I am delighted to be able to report that this was not wasted time, as I was able to carry out an in-depth study of the track side ecosystem which appears to include a great variety of plants, birds, butterflies and other insects and I was pleased to note the unmistakable signs of fox habitation as I worry about where they go when they are not foraging in bins.

Obviously, with a considerable amount of time to think, I have started to consider the possible implications, and my mind has turned to investigating the possibilities of using your service for the purposes of time travel.  One of Albert Einstein's greatest insights was realising that time is relative, meaning that it speeds up or slows down depending on how fast one thing is moving relative to something else.  He hypothesised that as we approach the speed of light, time would appear to slow down for us from the perspective of someone who (in relation to us) is not moving.  In 1971, scientists used atomic clocks to test the notion of what is referred to as 'motion time dilation'.  One clock was set up on the ground, while another was sent around the world on a jet traveling at 600mph (to put this into some perspective this is around 600 times the average speed of one of your trains).  At the start, both clocks showed exactly the same time, however when the clock flown around the world returned to the spot where the other clock was, the clock on the jet was behind the one on the ground by a few billionths of a second, demonstrating the motion time dilation theory.

I have come to ask myself whether the reverse is also true, meaning that on a Southern train - travelling close to whatever the opposite of the speed of light is - time would in fact speed up for me and upon arrival at my destination my watch would instead be ahead of that of a man who had been waiting on the platform?  Indeed, perhaps your trains can demonstrate genuine scientific merit, confounding the accepted definition of 'slow' to find a new speed in between 'slow' and 'stop' without reversing the Earth's polarity and sending the entirety of existence spinning into a paradox.  More tests are needed but I feel I could be on to something. 

It is not just physics I think about during what I like to call the morning "mush hour", there is - mercifully - time for a burst of economics too.  As I am currently working as a contractor paid by the hour, some may find it interesting to note that it takes me only four mornings on your trains to lose the same amount that I spend each week on travelling on them.  I would walk (as the video shows in many instances this could be a quicker mode of travel), however I fear I would be at risk of spending roughly the same amount on shoes and replacement soles, leaving me ultimately no better off, and possibly too weak with exhaustion once at work to be able to carry out my tasks in a satisfactory manner.  

Why good day to you, Gringo..!
It is not all negative; I must admit that I do like your comical South American travelling superhero character who invites me and my fellow passengers to "Go Loco", and sometimes like to imagine him eating nachos and shouting 'Eh Gringo' jovially at me across the platform (whilst I wait for one of your delayed trains), but I feel I must question the wisdom of a company whose primary function is public transportation using a figurehead inspired by a culture where a considerable portion of the working day is spent asleep.

I note with great interest from your web site that you have recently introduced 'regenerative braking', an innovative and commendable system which transfers electricity back into the rail system, allowing other trains to draw on that energy for power.  Given that your trains seem to spend much of their time braking you will surely soon have a surfeit and could perhaps consider selling some of it back to the National Grid to boost revenue?  Alternatively, I have recently invested in a domestic electric fan heater which, although effective during the cold winter months, does appear from my latest utility bill to be rather "high-drain" apparatus, so would also be interested myself if some is going spare.  I do not mind that it is second-hand.

I could mention continual overcrowding, pigeon infestations, surly staff (including utterly pointless rail support officers who obviously really wanted to be armed police but presumably scored poorly in the aptitude test) a considerable number of trains that smell of wee and all the other things my season ticket cash goes towards but I must now steel myself for the next loathsome journey.  On the plus side I have become something of an expert on the points and signalling configuration at East Croydon, and can recite many of the platform announcements by heart. 


David Burrows

It seems fancy boots do not help...

At least once in every man's life, there comes a time when the delicate facade of assumed invincibility is flattened by a steam train of depressing yet frankly inevitable events.

Take football.  Now I know that there are many men out there who have no interest in the game, and even I have to agree with the adage that it is 'a gentleman's game, played by hooligans'. But I love it.  Not in the same way that some at this weekend's five-a-side tournament love it - the ones who would clearly jump at the chance to mud-wrestle a bear just to turn out in their team's colours.  Those who pay to have their team's crest tattooed on their ball-sack.  Those who would emit a colourful tapestry of Anglo-Saxon abuse at their own blubbing offspring for failing to halt the run of the opposition Number 8.

a typically gangling foray into the opposition half ends in disappointment
But yes, it is my game.  The one for me.  I like rugby, very much so, but unfortunately a frame more suited to lying in a black plastic tray with all the other minty Matchmakers tends to fare poorly when ranged against fifteen mobile brick coal bunkers.

As we prepared for the first match, the nerves began to take hold. It is of course an overstatement, but it felt like we were going into battle, like those lining up against us actually wanted to kill us.  I should point out that this kind of thing is not my bag.  I do understand that sport is legalised warfare, and an overwhelming desire to win at all costs is an essential element of the overall sporting mentality, but it's a mentality that I simply don't possess.  I'd be a crap sperm.  I was really rather more keen on having a quick natter up top ahead of a leisurely contest between gentlemen, and I had no notion of the powerful, multi-faceted football-based spanking that lay in store.

How they let me in the team at all remains a mystery to me.  Once sprightly and fleet of foot with at least a modicum of ability on the ball, I suppose I would admit relatively readily that my game nowadays is based more on periods of rest punctuated by short bursts of activty. In hindsight it was a recipe for slaughter.

To give our team some credit it may have been more a fitness thing than an actual ability thing, but I was out of breath within half a minute and weeping after five.  The pace was like nothing I had encountered for years, and I was soon on my knees, literally and psychologically.  Spluttering and wheezing like a beached turbot, I attempted to clatter my way through the crowd to get even near the ball.  It was of course in vain as we conceded the first goal - all five of us watching like the proverbial headlamp-lit rabbit as the ball flew past us into the back of the net.

I wanted to yell something to a team-mate, something constructive, something rousing - something sporty - but when I opened my mouth nothing came out except for some dribble and the few rubber pellets that I hadn't already ingested from hitting the Astroturf.

As the end to our opening clash approached we were numerous goals down, with no reply. I started to realise why the Romans made four into five with a diagonal cross - it was decisive and damning in its simplicity.  After a suspected infringement I queried the referee as to why he had not spotted the offence but his almost apologetic response was that he had been 'too busy writing the score down'.  Damnation indeed. But in the next game I spotted my opportunity. Our second set of opponents had a comparatively elderly man lurking in defence.  At first I thought he might just have been lost, but soon decided that it was too much of a coincidence that he was wearing the same t-shirt as the rest, and anyway, the nearest Tesco was well over three miles away.  

'Aha', I thought, 'if anyone is ripe for the taking then it is the gentle-looking grey haired fellow over there.  I shall simply stand near him and seize my moment'.  

It was all coming together.  My moment of redemption.  My Spain to his Trinidad and Tobago.  My kettle to his ant.  Like a leopard stalking prey, I had carefully and cunningly selected the weakest of the bunch, and would surely triumph according to Darwinian logic.  Yet to my shame even he was too strong, and no sooner had I hatched my plan than he embarked upon a devilish run and turn of which a ballerina would have been proud, duly making me look like a grass-roller and making the score look rather a lot like 6-0.  Or something... I had lost count by then, and certainly did not possess the requisite energy to offer him a jovial 'good effort, granddad' by way of a riposte.

It was getting worse.  It now felt like my knees had gone absent without leave, and as I've never been one for taking football chatter seriously, no amount of 'pass, Dave', 'run, Dave', 'in the "mix", Dave' was ever going to cut any mustard, even had I been in possession of a full complement of physical faculties - let alone the ball.  I seriously considered lying down to hide, or attempting to camouflage myself as a goal-post.

The pensioner came up to me on the final whistle to offer the obligatory and largely false congratulations on a 'good game' but as he extended a wrinkled hand I could see the superior sneer driven by primal self-satisfaction lurking in his presbyopic eyes. He'd told me during our gentleman's banter before the contest that his lot 'hardly ever played together' where as I recalled cheerily proffering the futile detail that we 'play every week'.  Git.

Left trailing in the wake of a pensioner

With legs like jelly and a body possessing all the strength of a wet banana skin, I felt I simply could not continue. The mind was willing - indeed, the mind still retained visions of walking out to the adulation of massed ranks cheering at Wembley - but alas all the indications from the body were that a stadium appearance was more likely to be getting locked in after a drunken prank with a traffic cone, a jar of Nutella and a pair of underpants.

It's clear - competitive football for me will from now on be confined to shouting at other people.  I've always asked myself why it is that those who make it in professional football get there - and as I nurse my aching limbs and sore spine it is painfully clear that they are only to be congratulated on their dedication, with fitness having a substantial part to play.  An obvious point perhaps, but I hadn't previously realised quite to what extent this is a defining factor.  After this weekend's exertions I shall certainly think before casting aspirtions on someone pertaining to them being a 'talent-free knob-jockey' (or sentiments to that effect) for not living up to the high expectations we place on those who play for the teams we follow.  I've had a sip of competitive football - albeit at a level far below anything that makes it to our TV screens, and it was hard to swallow.  I kept going until the inevitable knock out came - and was proud of myself even for that miniscule victory in the face of adversity - but ritual humiliation by sport at the hands of... well, everybody - is not really the way I want to go. Bring on the Laz-e-Boy and the remote control...
David F Burrows
Composes music for videogames. Dabbles in topiary. Frequently mistaken for Doctor Who.