Dances with Buckaroo

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Computer tennis

There are three lessons in life that I just can't seem to learn

Lesson one:

If I go all the way back to the car with a gnawing suspicion that I have left the headlights switched on, the headlights will not be switched on. The same goes for the cooker. The last time I went away from home I had a crisis of confidence on the way to the train station and trundled my heavy case all the way back to my flat, where I inevitably shared the lift with someone who got out two floors before mine and, inexplicably, thanked me. No problem! I wanted to call with a cheery salute, mind how you go, sir! I don't drive the lift, it works itself, and yet people who get out before me always say thank you, as if I am personally responsible for delivering them safely home. I suppose it's quite touching really, a very British thing to do. But pointless of course.

Lesson two:

There is always – and I mean always – a desert spoon in the sink whenever I turn on the the tap. The spoon will sharply deflect the jet of water and send it shooting in my direction, soaking the front of my shirt and trousers. This will usually happen just as I am about to go out for the evening, in which case the spoon will be coated in coffee grinds or tomato sauce or frequently both. Such is life. Well my life anyway.

Lesson three:

I will grow bored and frustrated to the point of tears of rage within minutes of installing any video game on my computer. This has happened so many times I can't begin to tell you, and yet every now and then I seem to completely forget that I was and still am completely baffled by the most low-tech of games. Why I should even entertain the idea that I might immerse myself in a complex fantasy role-play game or one requiring a high level of dexterity when I am barely able to get my head around Buckaroo is a question for another day. It is enough to know that, from time to time, I feel like playing a game, and when I do nothing will stop me from trying.

So I bought and installed a war game based around the Vietnam conflict. I liked the look of the graphics – dark, steamy, menacing atmosphere awash with monsoon rain drumming noisily on dense foliage – and at under a fiver it was cheaper and potentially less violent and more challenging than the latest Andy McNab novel. I didn't bother reading the instructions or the taking part in all the many different training exercises. I was simply too eager to get in there and start maiming people. In that respect it was remarkably similar to my years as a novice driver, but anyway, you know what comes next. I knew what was coming next, and, as I have already said, I knew it before I even bought the game.

It was the controls that got me. In the old days you had up/down and left/right buttons and a button to unleash hell – unless it was Pong you were playing, in which case you could dispense with the latter. There was really no unleashing hell in Pong. However, modern games have modern functions, and consequently controlling my little soldier was marginally less involving than learning to write English all over again. Instead of advancing stealthily along a path through the jungle, my little man decided – apparently of his own free will – that the best way to sneak up on the enemy was to plunge into the undergrowth and run, arms and legs jerking in a preposterous manner more reminiscent of Basil Fawlty than a highly trained US Marine, head-first into a tree.

After some minutes stabbing at random keys I managed to get him to turn around. Unfortunately I also managed to get him to drop his machine gun in favour of what can really best be described as a modest vegetable peeler. It was no surprise that such a kafuffle alerted the enemy to my presence. One can almost imagine the urgent conversation in their camp:

'Did you hear that sound, Duong?'

'Was it the sound of a spider's web bending against the moist breath of a jungle cat, Dheng? If so, it could well be the ghostly soldier we all fear.'

'No, it sounded more like someone crashing into a big tree with his arms and legs flapping around.'

'Ah, well it's that other geezer then, the one they call Dances With Buckaroo. Let us go drop the 'Zidane' on him.'

To which, two enemy soldiers appeared out of the jungle and began to pump bullets into my body. My unfathomable response was to turn around again and begin slashing uselessly at the tree with my vegetable peeler. Perhaps I was trying to reduce them into a state of inactive hilarity, I don't know. At that point I remembered seeing an onscreen hint about calling for back-up troops, and this I promptly did. Through sheer luck I managed to strike the correct key, for sure enough a muscular GI appeared reassuringly at my side and prepared to open fire on the enemy. As bad luck would have it, though, at that very moment my little soldier mysteriously spun away from the tree and sliced his comrade's head off. Moments later I was mercifully killed by the enemy.

'There!' said soldier Duong as he emptied the last of his bullets into my writhing form. 'That'll teach you!'

Alas, I fear it will not.


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