In Between Days

I wrote this in July while extremely drunk on a plane thinking it was about videogames. Sober, it turns out it was actually about growing older and feeling alone. So that’s nice.

If I were smart, I’d have done the most basic research and discovered before the flight had taken off that ‘Meals and Refreshments Have to be Paid For’. Staring at ten and a half hours in a pressurised can, surrounded by children bursting with rude life, I take to drink early and hard. This flight will bring me to Vancouver, where I’ll catch another flight to Nevada. I’ve ordered the chicken meal to accompany my glass of wine, mainly as a courtesy to the social order.

The small girl next to me is playing Minecraft on a tablet that I suspect would be out of my price range. It’s humbling. I played Minecraft in its beta release many many years ago. You had to sign up, you had to have a computer. This girl has been given things I took pains to uncover.

A family holds a symposium in row 23, animatedly passing blame for some oversight. Maybe they didn’t check the meals beforehand either. A man to my right plays Civilisation on a tablet. All the other passengers appear to have tablets. Did I miss out on a stage of culture? I need more wine.

Today, Pokemon Go was released in the UK. They released it while I was at the airport and couldn’t download it, this game that I’ve been waiting for my entire life. I remember when the first Pokemon game came out in the UK in 1998. I played it with my schoolfriends to the exclusion of everything else. Now Pokemon Go allows people to catch Pokemon out in the real world. These kids don’t know. The time and effort, the thought and passion we put into this back in what I feel forced to call ‘my day’. Is it not my day any more?

The chicken meal was good. Was it nine Canadian dollars good? I have no idea — I don’t know what their money means. The sign that says ‘Toilet’ is illuminated. Does that mean the toilet is occupied or vacant? This aeroplane is full of signs I’m subject to but can’t interpret.

More families form congregations, around single seats, around whole rows. I guess this is what you get when you fly somewhere on a Thursday afternoon. It’s not so bad. Seeing full families makes me slightly happy in the last year, where it used to make me slightly annoyed before. Thoughts of family come to me every once in a while these days, unbidden. If ‘these days’ aren’t ‘my days’ any more, maybe I’m meant to pass them on.

I am drunk, attended by the most cheerful of accomplices in the air stewardess. In my haze, I think she likes me. She should like me. After all, I’m spending money. Good for me, and good for her.

This is only the second time I’ve travelled west of the UK, and this will be the farthest west I’ve ever been. It’s a categorically different experience. Travelling east, time compresses, you see a strobe of day and night. There’s the sense of the liquidity of time and space. But flying west, time expands. I’ll be trapped in this Thursday afternoon for the whole flight, and will have lived more days than the calendar allotted me by the time I touch down.

There was a time when I would bring videogames with me everywhere. My Gameboy as a child, later my Gameboy Advance, then Gameboy Micro, then Nintendo DS, then Nintendo DS Lite, then intermittently my Nintendo 3DS. I am studiously well prepared for the outdoors. Nowadays, whenever I go anywhere my backpack contains at the very least a toothbrush, umbrella, spare socks, a spare pen, proof of address, hair gel, a phone charger, a book, emergency cash, my library cards, my climbing wall cards, and painkillers. No videogames any more, and I’m moved to wonder why. When did painkillers start coming quicker to mind than videogames?

The mother of the kid on my left doesn’t know what Minecraft is. “Is it like computer Lego? It’s all blocks, right?” She watches her daughter play, but the look of the thing doesn’t make sense for her. She can’t interpret the signs. I explain as best I can. I’m glad to be useful, despite my state of extreme refreshment. She accepts it though: despite not understanding the videogames her daughter plays, she accepts that they do have some value, opaque to her, but nonetheless real.

When I was a kid, videogames were roundly disparaged by my parents’ generation. In their minds, they were an obstacle to education and truly inhabiting the world, making connections. This kid next to me is encouraged in videogames by her mother. She can’t interpret the visual signs, the child can’t give verbal signs to the meaning. Whatever connection I’ve made here was directly through games, proving my parents exactly wrong. I don’t carry them in a backpack but I still carry them within me. Glazed, I feel deeply that this all means something. I guess alcohol and altitude can create connections too.

I’m looking forward to playing Pokemon Go when I get back to London. If you weren’t there from the beginning, you might not know that this is what Pokemon was always about. Trading and battling Pokemon in the first game got people playing together. Then the Pokéwalker device in later games: a pedometer you could download a Pokemon to and level up as you walked. Event-specific Pokemon that you had to go to places in the real world to receive. The games themselves are about going out, meeting people and exploring the environment around you. Inhabiting the world. I’m very excited, it’s the fulfilment of Pokemon’s 20-year old promise to us. The kids don’t know, the parents don’t know, but my people know. Where does one person’s day end and another’s begin anyway? Why is it still Thursday?

The aeroplane is quiet. The families have dispersed, back to their tablets, playing games and watching movies by themselves. I’m the only passenger without a tablet, and probably the only passenger this drunk.

The stewardess has asked me, smiling, if I need anything else. Maybe I have what I need. Alcohol and altitude. The things carried within. A life in between days. Maybe I’ll be ok.