Last Saturday was the big paintball day. Sarah, Sverra and I drove up Friday evening. Scotty & Gus were supposed to be joining us, but had pulled out during the week. Rob was insistent on driving up there on the morning, which seemed to me a bad idea, but, he did. He also drove back immediately afterwards, although that wasn’t as difficult; so did we, in the end.

Anyway, back to the beginning… I picked up Sverra and Sarah from Sarah’s place. And Bruiser, Sarah’s dog, which goes everywhere with her. Why the dog couldn’t be away from her for two nights but the cats could remains a mystery to me… she apparently left the cats only a large pile of dry food, rather than have someone feed them. They only eat dry food, she insists. They don’t seem to be any worse for wear for it at the moment, with nice shiny coats still, but that may just be because they’re young still; the effects of dry food seemed to become progressively more pronounced on Yoda and Porsha as they grew older.

I wasn’t too enthralled with bringing the dog, but on the other hand it would be silly to take two cars for just three people, especially given Sarah’s car sounds like it’s contemplating unceremonious failure every time it starts. Sarah promised the dog would be well behaved. I figured we’d put him in the very back and it wouldn’t be much of a problem. Of course, I hadn’t counted on the amount of stuff Sarah wanted to pack.

I had figured I would just get pub meals or whatever in Echuca for the two nights we were planning to be there; I figured at the very least I’d be too tired to want to cook for myself Saturday night. Sarah had other ideas, bringing many bags of food – granted largely chocolate, which I’m all for :) – and also a rather large Eski. She also insisted on bringing the dog’s bean bag, which took up nearly as much room as all the other luggage put together. I think that was quite unnecessary. Sverra by way of comparison had just a single hiking bag, tightly packed and very heavy, but relatively small. I, similarly, had packed relatively little, although I did bring a chair which was somewhat unwieldy, and could have taken out some of the crap from the back of the car first – I doubt I’m going to really desperately need the old air filter, for example.

We did get everything packed in eventually, although it was overflowing onto the back seat, and Sverra got to nurse a pillow and some other small bags all the way up. Sarah had suggested taking her Ford sedan, the rationale behind which I cannot fathom; no way we would have fit everything into that, not even close. Not with the dog. Without the dog, absolutely no problem; we would have all fit happily into her Laser. Rob and his three friends came up in some little Toyota hatchback thing. Granted they didn’t have camping gear, but they all had backpacks with spare clothes and whatnot in them, and they looked far more spacious than we did.

But, onwards. The drive from Mt. Eliza’s to Sarah’s was a joke. I think I managed to get green at maybe two lights. I also got stuck behind turning cars, trucks, busses, you name it… I missed an entire cycle of the lights at least twice because of retards blocking the road. Instead of taking half an hour, it took over an hour. I wasn’t too happy by the time I got to Sarah’s. From there onwards wasn’t too bad, however… while my luck with the lights didn’t improve much, there was less traffic and most of what there was seemed to be vaguely aware of the road rules. We went by my place, which was an unfortunate detour, but I needed to drop off some extra junk that was wasting space, and pick up a pillow and my boots. I nearly forgot to grab my boots, which would have been a disaster given the conditions we played in. I did forget, however, to grab my beanie and neck warmer. I wanted them mainly for protection, not warmth, and in any case they weren’t needed for protection, and I wasn’t actually cold most of the time we were playing.

Once we got through the traffic in the area and onto the Ring road, it was smooth sailing virtually the entire way. We went up the Hume to the B75, and then all the way to Echuca from there. I missed the first turn off because it snuck up on me and I was in the wrong lane, but we took the next one and didn’t seem to lose much, if any, time. The drive from my place to Echuca city centre was a tad over 216km, and took more or less three hours, including a ten minute break part way. The dog annoyed me a bit, being boisterous and sticking his cold, wet nose in my ear periodically, but was relatively well behaved. Sarah’s insistence that he was controllable seemed quite laughable after the trip – he very rarely does what he’s told, and is really too big for Sarah to properly control. It draws parallels in my mind with Bobo and her dog Coke, which is similarly out of control and not disciplined.

Anyway, we did make it there without any real problems. Once at Echuca we went shopping, and from there headed to the campground. Now, Sarah had said it was about 15 minutes out of Echuca. That might be a reasonable statement for dry, daylight conditions when you know the roads; raining at night, having never been there before, it was less than accurate. The camp ground was in fact about 30km out of Echuca, which is only 15 minutes if you’re doing 120km/h the entire way; the last 5km or so of which are a corrugated dirt road, much of it very windy and – given the rain – muddy and full of large puddles. While I drove reasonably quickly along there, I’m just not Ducky. Given it was dark too, and Sarah had very little idea how far the turn off was off the B400, it was pretty slow going.

When we did arrive, we quickly got about setting up Sverra and Sarah’s tents. Well, that is to say, Sverra set his tent up by himself – a little one man thing – in about two minutes tops, while the three of us took a good 20 minutes to setup Sarah’s, which was a relatively large two-person tent (it’s probably called a three person tent, but it’s smaller than my dad’s three person tent, which actually does fit three people). Since I had elected to sleep in the car, for better or worse, I was all set from the outset. I had expected the dog to be in the back, with all my luggage on the back seats. Since this wasn’t the case, I had to rearrange everything in the car to clear out the back, which was a little slow and tedious in the rain. But then blowing up the double air mattress in the back took all of about seven seconds using Sarah’s air pump, and then that was it.

Sverra cooked us hamburgers for dinner, with egg and tomato and lettuce and whatnot. They were really nice. We had decided while shopping to cook, since Sverra and Sarah didn’t seem much interested in a pub meal, although they both said they wouldn’t mind waiting around while I ate there. Yeah, right.

By the time we’d cleaned everything up and were ready for bed, it was some time just after midnight. The owners of the campground came down while we were cooking dinner and brought us a pre-made fire, which was really nice, although since we went to bed straight away was ultimately just left to burn itself out.

Sleeping in the car was surprisingly comfortable. I had been expecting it to be large enough, but cold. On the contrary, it turns out it’s not quite long enough for me, and with the wheel arches at the back not really that wide, but it was toasty warm. I had the back windows open just a tiny bit, so there was a cool breeze drifting through, but in my sleeping bag and I was quite snug. It took me a while to get to sleep, though, with the anticipation of paintball the next morning. It wasn’t helped by Sarah’s occasional scolding of the dog and rustling about, but soon enough morning arrived.

It rained most of the night, I think, and was quite windy. At one point I woke up and the wind was buffeting the car quite strongly – apparently Sverra and Sarah took a real beating in their tents; Sverra’s had it’s inner and outer layers squished together, which resulted – given neither layer is actually waterproof – in him getting a bit damp. Sarah was presumably better off, having such a large tent all to herself, although she complained that she was very cold all night. But then, she’s always cold, so that’s unsurprising.

I woke up at 6:30. I figured it would take an hour to have breakfast, get everything rearranged in the car, and have a shower. The others didn’t see any reason to rush. Sverra was up at about 7, and Sarah I had to wake up myself some time later. Sverra cooked breakfast, or at least tried – sandwiches with boiled eggs on the side – but on the gas BBQ he just couldn’t boil the water to cook the eggs, so they ended up getting thrown out. It was rather windy, so it wasn’t too surprising that the BBQ wasn’t up to the task.

I had Coco Pops anyway, that had been left in my glove box from skiing the week before. Unfortunately they didn’t seem to age very well there… that or long life milk is a lot less tasteful than I recall. I ended up throwing the last of them out; they were actually making me feel like throwing up. Of course, I was feeling that already from lack of sleep – if I’m cranky early in the morning, it’s often because I’m only a few queasy thoughts away from puking.

As I expected, the others weren’t ready in time, and we had to throw breakfast into a bag and dash off before we had a chance to eat it. In daylight it was faster getting back to Echuca – I think it took about half an hour to get to the Murray bridge. From there it was supposed to be 15 minutes to paintball, but that of course wasn’t in the conditions we had. The main road wasn’t too bad, and we went along that at a fair kip, but once we reached the turn off, trouble ensued. It was a dirt road, and a spectacularly slippery one with all the rain. Even though I was doing no more than 30km/h, we were still fishtailing and sliding sideways. The road was wide and there wasn’t going to be any damage more serious than a bruised ego should we have slid off it, but luckily we didn’t, and – eventually – made it to the paintball place. We arrived shortly before 9 – so my assumption that it would take an hour to get there was pretty accurate, despite Sarah’s poo-pooing of it – just as everyone else was starting to get geared up. Rob arrived only a few moments later. So pretty good timing, really. We signed in, got all organised, and geared up.

Gearing up consisted of overalls and the hasty purchase of a cup. I decided not to wear my dad’s bike armour that I’d brought, mainly because getting it out of the car and equipping it would have held up proceedings, although I did go with the gloves. As it turns out, it was a good decision; the conditions would have made the armour very uncomfortable, and I didn’t get shot anywhere near the areas it covers anyway.

The briefing was pretty straightforward – a description of the rules, a bit of a plea to everyone not to shoot at close range, including photos of potential results, and some safety stuff. We then headed through, bought extra ammo, and got our faceguards and guns. Since we had two cancellations they gave me the initial 100 rounds each of those players had paid for, although no further refund or credit was offered (so Gus & Scotty will get $22 back, not the full $29 deposit; but they were told right from the start that they probably wouldn’t get anything back at all should they cancel, so I think they’ll be pleased). I bought an extra 200 rounds to take my total up to 500, figuring that was a reasonable amount for a full day’s paintball. I didn’t plan on getting too trigger happy. Unfortunately the conditions didn’t facilitate conservation of ammo – the rain and wind (albeit relatively slight) plus the inherent inaccuracy of the guns meant that most rounds curved off into the ground only a few metres in front of you, or off into the sky never to be seen again.

The headgear they provide covers your whole face and wraps around to include your ears (thankfully!). Unfortunately though, the cheap and nasty stuff they give to players (as opposed to the refs, whom had brand spanky new shiny headgear) is hard plastic only over the nose and sides; the mouth guard is just a wimpy rubber bit. The first mask I was given had a giant hole in the front, making it completely useless at protecting my mouth and jaw. I asked for another one, quite politely, and they happily provide another one – although it too had a hole in it, albeit smaller than the previous one. The vast majority of the masks seemed to – most of them had the front tied together with plastic packing cords.

Once we were all geared up we went outside to the shooting range, where we waited while the last few stragglers came through. Waiting there, at the shooting range, made a few people nervous. I had a bit of a brain fart where, upon thinking that the gun had no ammo and thus wouldn’t shoot, I tested the trigger. Of course, I had also pumped it once when I got it just for the feel of it, so it did fire. Nothing in the chamber, of course, but the compressed gas is expelled just the same. Luckily the little rubber stopper in the end didn’t fly out, and it didn’t attract too much attention. While I was the first to try it, a few others did over the course of the briefing – one managing to fire the rubber stopper out into the shooting range, while the ref was discussing gun safety. Everyone laughed rather a bit at that.

I should note that our group was a good fifty or sixty strong; I was hoping we’d be split up into smaller groups when playing, but unfortunately no such luck.

There was also spent ammo, unsplattered, everywhere. Thousands of rounds, just everywhere you looked. I was still concerned over how hard the rounds were – several people had described them as solid like marbles, which was a bit scary – so I picked one up off the ground and gently squeezed it. As it turns out, the marble analogy is a vicious lie – they’re really rather soft. So soft in fact, that the one I was holding burst open and squirted all over Sverra. I was both shocked and amused – my first thought was that I would be in rather a spot of trouble if the refs saw what happened. After a few moments without cries of anger, I was able to appreciate the humour. Sverra, too, had a laugh about it, so all was good.

Once the refs had explained how the guns worked, we were all given some time on the shooting range to get used to them. I should note that we were given pump-action guns, not semi-automatics as we had originally been promised. The pump-action guns have a manual feed, the pump, which is prone to problems – pump too quickly and you can burst or jam the round, too slowly and more than one round falls into the chamber, which is both wasteful and again can result in burst rounds in the barrel and jamming. I really should have questioned that at that point, as it really was the harbinger of things to come, but since we all appeared to have the same guns, I figured fair’s fair. Anyway, I wasn’t too perturbed anyway; being able to fire faster would probably just be more expensive, I figure.

After that, we headed out to play. We ended up playing six games, which I’ll try to go through in some sort of consistent order.

The first game was in a relatively small and featureless field – about 10 metres wide by 40 long, at a guess – with stacks of large hay bails in it for cover. The two teams started at either end, and the objective was simply to shoot everyone on the opposite team. Easy. Rob and his friends had worked it out so they were on our team, while Sverra had been initially placed on the other team, and was happy to stay there. I’m never too keen about playing against friends when there’s plenty of suitable strangers about to shoot instead, but probably just because I don’t need them crowing over shooting me later on. :)

I don’t think there was a particular imbalance in terms of actual skill between the teams, but the opposing team was most definitely more aggressive – they immediately moved up the field and had us pinned at our end in no time. I spent quite a lot of ammo in that game, getting used to the gun and whatnot. I quickly realised that the day was going to be rather more expensive than I’d planned; paintball guns are reasonably accurate at short distance – five to ten metres – and can even produce useful results at up to maybe 30 metres, but beyond that it’s really just a waste of time trying. That’s in dry, still conditions. In our conditions – drizzle and a light, gusty wind – you might as well have divided all those numbers by three or four; many many rounds spun off into the ground or the air within only five metres or so. Some flew straight but crooked from the barrel, so they very accurately hit trees off to the side. And yet, every now and again a shot would fly virtually dead straight. That was probably more frustrating than if they’d just been consistently bad; that knowledge that there was a hope of accuracy.

Anyway, I had my first brush with a paintball within about thirty seconds in that first game, when I left my leg sticking out from cover, and someone taking pot shots from the far end of the field managed to glance off my shin. That smartened me up a bit.

Not long into the game someone tried to advance down the opposite side, and I took a shot at them. Now, there were a lot of people shooting that direction, so it can be hard to be sure, but that brief moment after I fired, a satisfying yellow splat appeared dead-smack centre on the guy’s chest. I’m pretty sure that was mine; it was one of those brief moments when conditions allowed for straight flight of the ball.

After that though, it went downhill. We were slowly but steadily losing people – lots with shots to the knees or shins when they accidentally broke cover – and the opposing team didn’t seem to be taking nearly as many casualties. I wasn’t willing to waste any more ammo engaged in a pointless back and forth between hay bails, so I decided to try and make a break for the flank. Bad decision, as it turns out. While I was only in the open for a few seconds, someone managed to hit me right on the ear. That was quite a shock. It didn’t feel like that hard of an impact, but my whole head was suddenly ringing, and for a few seconds that was all I could hear. My ear really smarted, and I lost my balance for a moment. I quickly raised my gun to signal I was out and hurried off the field.

That was a bit of a shock. That had really hurt, and as my first encounter with a paintball set my expectations for future encounters. I suddenly wasn’t quite so game to go sprinting across the field, making daring flanking moves. Or moving at all. I really wanted to take my mask off and check my ear, but of course, the idea of being accidentally hit again without protective gear quenched that impulse. After standing on the side for a while watching the remainder of my team get surrounded and beaten down, I met up with Rob and had him check my ear. The first thing he said (or it might have been Sverra, actually) was something like “Holy crap that looks bad!”, which of course is exactly what one wants to hear at such times. As it turns out, they were mistaking paint (yellow, by the way) with blood. Gah! There was of course nothing really wrong with my ear – a bit of paint in it, and a little sore for the next few hours, but no lasting injury. It was just paint that I could feel in my ear; I was getting worried that it was blood or something. But aside from those few seconds of ringing initially, my hearing was fine, so I doubted I’d really done anything.

Anyway, the first game was reasonably fun, but had been a pretty easy victory for our opponents. I wasn’t too put out though; it was just one game, and now we knew what we were dealing with, what the guns were capable of, and that we had to really push forward, not try to play it safe and defend.

For the next game we moved to another course, again hay bails, although this one had a big fort-like defensive structure at one end. The refs told our team to go down the other, but that was a bit ambiguous – there was no clear “other end”. And the other team quickly setup all the way across one side of the course, not limiting themselves to the corner with the fort bit, which gave us very little room to move. But things seemed a bit more even in that game, initially at least. I was happily wasting ammo in the back and forth – making a few close calls both against the enemy and myself, but not actually hitting anyone that I saw. Then, I ran out of ammo and my gun seized up – not jammed, just seized up, so I couldn’t load a round. I tried to free the mechanism myself, but after a good minute or so had no luck. Not wanting to be caught in close quarters without a working gun, I resigned myself from the game. Just as I was about to hand the gun to the ref, it magically fixed itself. Damn. Seizing up like that would become a common feature of my gun throughout the rest of the morning, which was very frustrating. Although luckily in all the subsequent cases I was more patient and was able to get the gun working again without having to resign from the games.

Once our team had lost a few players, a few of the opposing team decided to make a break for it around the side. However, they did so on the side that had all the dead players standing by watching, which meant that anyone firing at them was most likely to hit the bystanders. Those still left on our team refused to do so, and were quickly shot as a result. It’s hard to fault the opposing team for this – if we be nice and presume they didn’t use this intentionally, then in all respects it was a good flanking move. What was clearly a gross breach of both rules and sportsmanship was what happened when they got around behind our team. I think it was Tom that copped the brunt of it – one of them shot him. He immediately raised his hands above his head to show he was out. The three opposing players then continued to shoot him several more times. Very, very poor sportsmanship. While it was one of only a few such displays, it made us just a little cross.

The next game we played the same field roles reversed. I immediately moved to the far side, just as the other players had done, but again they too were trying to capture more than their fair share of the field from the outset, and so I couldn’t get across as far as they had to start with. There were a few others with me, but they were quickly picked off or otherwise disappeared. I was getting increasingly frustrated with the gun – I was having absolutely no luck with accuracy in this third game, or the one before, and was feeling quite resigned to defeat as a result. This resulted in me being a bit slack – I turned around to try and look for a route back to the main defense, since I was stuck out by myself, and as a result got shot from behind – in the butt, in fact – by none other than Sverra. And as it turns out, he just may have been a bit closer than six metres, by his own concession. Although it really didn’t hurt at all – I felt it, sure, but my first thought was “oh bloody hell” and disappointment. Luckily, we were playing two-lives on that field, so all I had to do was walk back to the fort – where I’d been heading anyway – and then was able to return to the game. I joined the remainder of our team on the defences. The other side was getting very game by this point – moving about outside of cover and so forth – but the luck with the gun just did not change; I wasted dozens of rounds and had so many near hits, but not a single one even glanced off an opponent.

I was just sitting down out of sight – since we were flanked on both sides and were getting terrible cross-fire, making it very difficult to actually return fire – when suddenly someone appeared right at the end of my gun, leaning over the hay barricade. They shouted surrender, and I paused for a moment… I had a much better angle on them than they did on me; I could have shot them immediately with absolute certainty, but then they were so close that I was hesitant to do so – I’m still not even sure if the rules permitted me to, or whether I too had to offer them surrender first. Probably not, but in any case… I was just thinking to myself “yeah, I can take this guy”, when I heard shouts of “Surrender!” from multiple people behind me. I knew then that it was hopeless – there were at least three people with a clear angle on my back (although there were other people on my team behind me), so I surrendered. As did the rest of my team.

Rob complained later that he was still off fighting somewhere when suddenly our whole team surrendered. I’m not sure where he could have been – we were completely surrounded. How he didn’t get caught in the surrender I don’t know. Unless he means that he wanted to fight on anyway. I was a lot more game now that I’d been hit a second time and found it to be painless, but I wasn’t entirely feeling the hero yet.

It was rather disappointing to surrender; if I could do it again I would have fought to the death, so to speak, but I had enjoyed that game a lot more than the first two. While we had still lost, getting shot in the butt by Sverra made me laugh, and I’d liked the brief sense of teamwork as we’d struggled to defend our last bastion of hope.

For the next game the refs seemed to have a particular field in mind, but when we got there it was nearly all underwater. It looked like a relatively good field – some little mounds with fallen trees on them provided good cover, and a raised position. But we would really have needed canoes to get between them. So while we were standing around there, the refs noticed the other side of the road. There was nothing really there – just lots of thin eucalyptus trees. The refs called it “The Unnamed Field”, saying it had never been played on since it was more or less just the left overs between other fields. But it was actually quite big – much more so than any other field we played on. And there was no sign of spent ammo in it, so maybe it was indeed unplayed. At first the ref suggested a free for all, given there was no cover thicker than your arm, but there was a resounding awkward silence at that suggestion.

Then someone yelled out that the refs should play. The younger one was game for that, until I yelled out “Everyone get the yellow guy!”, reminding how bloody obvious he was in his fluoro yellow raincoat. But he still seemed interested, so Sverra offered him his gun, saying he just wanted to see the ref get shot. Given the distinct feeling that the crowd was unifying under the theme of “get the ref!”, the ref became a little more uneasy. He then asked how much ammo was in the gun, and Sverra replied to the effect of very little, which drew cheers from the crowd of players. But I think that was enough to deter the ref… the head ref then indicated it would a normal team game, starting from two ends, but with an objective – he would place a towel in the middle, which each team had to capture and then take to the other team’s end to win. People liked that idea, so we set out.

The other team were sent to the other end of the field, while we remained more or less where we were. I was talking with Rob and Co. while we were waiting. When I looked up, I couldn’t see the other team at all. Oh oh. Our goggles were fogged up and covered in dirt and raindrops, so you couldn’t see much at all. Rob had elected to lead a flanking move down the left hand side with a few others, which I joined. I figured most people would be focused on the objective and moving up the middle, giving us a good opportunity to flank them. It worked out spectacularly well. A few of the opposition had a similar idea to us, and we met them in the centre of the field, off to the side. We quickly got rid of them, though, and picked off a few people in the centre who were unaware of our flanking.

There were a lot of close calls against me in that game. I saw many, many paintballs fly past my head. In fact, at one point one hit me dead smack in the middle of my torso, just above my stomach. I was certain I was dead, and was just about to raise my gun to show defeat, when I looked down and couldn’t see anything. I had Rob check me out and he too couldn’t see any paint, so it appeared I had no so much dodged a bullet as blocked it with my immense six pack. Yes, that must be it. :)

It was then that we encountered one guy who just couldn’t take a hint. Rob was taking him on, while I took pot shots at the enemy in the middle. Rob shot him at least twice, but the damn guy wouldn’t quit. In fact, he shot Rob in the mouth (after he’d already been shot twice by Rob), which Rob was not pleased about. Rob was yelling “You’re dead! You’ve been shot!”, but the guy was either oblivious or blatantly ignoring the fact. Thinking Rob was out, and not wanting to get into a semantic argument in the heat of battle, I returned fire on the guy. I think it was my first shot that hit him – dead smack in the middle of the top of his head. That gave him some pause – he gave up after that one. I imagine it smarted just a little.

Rob and I then moved in to crush the remaining enemy. We came around the side, and were presented with the perfect opportunity – about seven enemy players in various modes of crouching or lying down, firing down the centre of the field, completely oblivious to us off to the 3 o’clock. They certainly became aware when we fired at them – I think we picked off three or four of them in only a few moments, and the rest then panicked and tried to withdraw, but when they stood up were quickly picked off by our centre attackers. A few moments later the whistle blew. There were still a couple of stragglers left on the enemy team, but maybe four at best. I was hoping desperately that they hadn’t somehow snuck the towel past and scored a victory… no one seemed to actually know for sure who had won, but the consensus seemed to be that it was us.

I’ll digress for a moment to describe Sverra’s experience in that game, as he retold it later. He had figured that, given that the apparent absence of any real cover, everyone would move forward cautiously – not charge forward like our team did. So, he endeavoured to sprint to the towel and capture it, bringing it back to his line. He gave his gun to another player, and when the whistle blew was off like a flash. Unfortunately for him, the refs had misjudged the centre of the field, and the towel was decidedly closer to our end than his. He made it to the towel and actually grabbed it, but as soon as he turned around was pelted with shots. A valiant effort – one I considered myself, too – but an ill-fated one. As I had ultimately figured, the enemy would focus on the objective, which is nearly always a bad choice; my many years of playing CTF in FPS’ has demonstrated that trying to dutifully perform your tasks is never as successful as the standard kill-everything strategy.

But I was glad that Sverra got shot, lots. Revenge. :)

So I really liked that game – we’d had a strategy, it had paid off, we’d each gotten a bunch of kills, and we’d finally broken our losing streak. Our team was emboldened. And the trees had provided a surprisingly effective cover – the paintballs explode at the slightest touch of a twig, leaf or similar. Many times I thought I had a clear shot through the trees, only to see my paintballs repeatedly explode in apparently clear space.

For the next and last two games we played on the western field. It has a bunch of walls and fake buildings in two lines down either side of the street, with a kind of barn thing at the end. We played the Hostage game type on this field – one of the refs was the hostage in the barn, and the other team had to get to him and tag him. That is, touch him, not shoot him – the refs reiterated that many times. It’s like they didn’t trust us or something. :)

I hadn’t realised initially, but behind the buildings and the barn there was actually a large area, also part of the field, which had some pretty good cover in it – hay bails, dirt piles, drums, and a pile of sleepers. So I thought we’d be fighting in the buildings themselves. Also unknown to us was that the ref had told the other team they weren’t allowed forward of the barn. So all they could really do was hole up in and around the barn bit, which didn’t give them all that many options. But a few of their team did take up positions in the area further back, and one of them in particular was very effective at pinning us down at the last building, keeping us from flanking the barn.

I didn’t do much in that game, really. As soon as I tried to load my gun it had jammed, with a round stuck half way into the chamber from the feed, but the ref was able to clear that up quickly enough, and I was back in – luckily since the ref was standing down our end of the field, and the other team were pinned defending, I didn’t have to resign to have my gun fixed.

I did find a really good spot, for better weather, which was the join between one of the buildings and a big brick wall, with a slight gap inbetween – enough to stick a barrel through, but not much else. I took a few shots from there, but just didn’t have the accuracy – I was probably aiming around 10 metres, which was a waste of time.

That game eventually ended in a stalemate; the refs called it off when it became apparent that nobody was going to gain ground in a timely fashion. It also seemed there was some suspicious behaviour in the opposing team – the refs made it very clear that they felt people had been shot but weren’t coming off the field. Only three of the opposing players admitted to being shot, which seems very unlikely.

Anyway, for the next game we reversed roles. Except this time the refs let us, as the defenders, move up to the buildings – but not past them. Rob had learnt well from the previous game the importance of capturing the side of the field, so he led himself and three others over there right at the start to secure it. I stayed behind the barn – but not in it – to cover the blue building on the opposite side of the road, and prevent flanking. I also figured we might get overrun, in which case I could prop myself up on the window with good cover but lots of good angles, and try to save the day. As it turns out that wasn’t entirely necessary, although the little bit of saving that did happen wasn’t by me anyway, sadly.

The enemy advanced slowly through the buildings, and we were soon in the familiar stand off of the previous game. Rob and co were very effective at preventing their movement up that side. Although three of them moved up to the blue building and were slowly picked off – probably by cross fire from the other side of the road. I took a lot of shots at the blue building, but didn’t hit anyone that I saw. Nonetheless, I drew a surprising amount of fire, and kept them hiding in the building. For quite some time, too. This second game on this field went on for a lot longer than the previous. I think, though, that this is because our defenders were picked off a lot faster than the defenders in the previous game – by the end there was maybe ten people left on our team total, compared with nearly the entire enemy team surviving (albeit suspiciously) in the previous game.

At one point, when only Luke was left down the side, guarding the flank, two guys from the opposition made a charge against him. He immediately started backing up, and I fired rapidly at them as they ran past. I had a pretty clear shot at them, but at 90 degrees had a relatively small profile to aim at, and ultimately hit nothing. But I did get a few close shots – one in particular must have gone right under the guy’s nose, which I’m sure he noticed. I was just thinking that it was all over – they were behind us now, and would surely surround and defeat us, when Luke turned around and in mere moments – possibly consecutive shots – took out both attackers. I was very impressed; I’d had no success at all, while Luke made it look so easy.

It was about that time that I ran out of ammo. And I had no more on me. I had two options – charge forward and try to force surrenders from people in close quarters, or hang back in a sniping position and try to hold people back with the threat of attack. Because of course unless the balls fly right past you, you don’t see them – all you see and hear is the smoke from the barrel and the sound of the compressed air being released, which looks and sounds the same regardless of whether you’re actually firing anything.

I wanted to best Sverra at his own game by forcing some nice close-quarter surrenders, but then I thought – I don’t have any ammo. If even one person calls my bluff, that’s it, I’m out. And at close range, too. I wasn’t brave enough, ultimately. Instead I thought I’d go keep Luke company, and congratulate him on his job well done. So that I did, and settled down surprisingly comfortably behind the pile of wood and sleepers. I kept careful aim at the enemy, and every now and again fired a couple of shots in a burst – I was hoping they’d think I was sniping, conserving ammo, but not afraid to let go if they broke cover. It worked perfectly – I attracted their attention and a lot of their fire, but over that distance – at least 15 metres – they had no real hope of hitting me. The three in the blue building were stuck there as a result. The ref called the game not that long after, and I caught up with the enemies whom I’d been pretending to fire at. I told them that I hadn’t had any ammo the whole time, and they were both amused and embarrassed. :)

It was then that the refs split us up into two groups – one of half-dayers who were now to finish up, and another of full-dayers who would now be having lunch and then coming out again. So we walked back to have lunch, while the half-dayers had a big free for all in the western field to get rid of their ammo.

Lunch was rather anti-climatic, although well accepted and quite good, for what it was; just sausages and burgers in bread. But I was very hungry, having had only (half, as it turns out) a mug of Coco Pops for breakfast.

Unfortunately, just as we were finishing lunch the ref came in and told us that he’d made a mistake, that apparently we weren’t meant to have lunch. We weren’t sure what was going on, exactly… but in any case he led us outside. We didn’t know if we were going out again – he simply said we weren’t meant to have lunch – or not. As it turns out, not; he led us back into the gear room to return all our stuff. None of us were very happy when we realised this – in the end we had the management and half the employees standing around just inside the door, while we stood just outside – still in all our gear – and Sverra argued with the manager. She really wasn’t very nice. Everyone else there had been really great – a little country bumpkin in the case of the younger ref – but certainly nice, humoured and well meaning. The management put that in very sharp contrast. She claimed that as of three weeks before, they no longer did full days, only half days, and no longer provided lunch.

We made no progress there, so we ended up returning all our stuff, and returned our unspent ammo for a refund. Their loss, really; we’d already had lunch, so the free lunch (which we’d paid for, anyway) was already lost from them; I don’t see how it would have harmed them to have us keep playing and rack up an even larger bill on ammo. But no, they were pretty adamant that we’d overstayed our welcome.

Their claim is that the deal we’d signed up and paid for months ago, run by Ministry of Paintball, was no longer valid as of three weeks ago. There are a few problems with that. First and foremost, we bought tickets for something, and they should honour those tickets. That or give us a full refund. But it’s a bit late for that when we’re already there. I booked two weeks ago, and no one mentioned any changes then. They specifically said we’d be playing from 8:30am to 3:00pm, including lunch. And when not one but two [different] people rang me last Friday morning to just double-check the booking, neither mentioned any changes. One was Olivia, from Ministry of Paintball, while the other was a Beth or a Pam or something like that; presumably not from Ministry of Paintball – I originally assumed they must have been, and there must have been some miscommunication in the office resulting in two checks – but perhaps the second was from Semoz Paintball (the actual place).

Anyway, that they also accepted our tickets – that had on them the statements about lunch, semi-automatic guns and whatnot – right at the start without a word. So there were many times when they could have told us about the changes, and they didn’t? Sounds very very fishy to me.

Talking about it later, we came to the conclusion that at this three-weeks-ago time they mentioned, they must have changed management. It certainly seemed like the employees weren’t on the same wavelength as the management; why did the refs divide us up into half-dayers and full-dayers if they haven’t been doing full days for three weeks? Why was there a lunch waiting for us if they don’t do lunch anymore?

There were other signs too, like the fact that lunch was so simple and bare when last time Sarah went they’d had three types of salad, all sorts of meat, and whatnot. Certainly smells of something odd.

Perhaps it’s even more insidious – maybe they just wanted us out for some reason. It reminded me a bit of the time we went go-karting, years ago, and the management had tried to cover up the fact that they were short-changing us by cutting our time short by claiming we were destroying their go-karts (which was an absolutely crock of shit) and that we had to leave. In that case they’d been completely pleasant the whole time, until we were getting ready to leave and I realised we’d only played for 27 minutes or so instead of the 45 we were meant to; they’d cut our race times down to 10 minutes from the promised 15. Only when we pointed that out did they suddenly become defensive and angry.

So anyway… I don’t think I’ll go back there in a particular hurry, but I’m certainly big on paintball itself. Luckily there are plenty of other places around – one in Carrum Downs in fact, I believe – so we don’t have to do any more tedious road trips with smelly dogs and whatnot.

Since our day’s events had been cut short, and we were thus not that tired – I’d been taking it easy so as to make it through the whole day – the three of us agreed that we might as well head home right then, rather than stay another night camping in the rain and wind. And so we did. It took us a few hours to get everything packed up and ready, and then we headed off. The trip back was pretty cruisy for the most part – not too much rain, a bit of fog in patches but only a few, and so forth. We made it back to Sarah’s place in pretty good time. All in all we covered just over 600 km during the trip (starting from my place in Preston; the roundtrip from Sarah’s is thus about 625 km or similar). Of course, only about 450 km of that was here to Echuca – the rest was the three trips to or from the camp site and whatnot.

I made special effort to tire the dog out before we left by throwing his ball for him, although his repeated act of lying and rolling in big puddles was infuriating. He did sleep most of the way back, and with Sarah’s blanket across the back seat didn’t seem to get much mud or water on anything. The car reeks of wet dog now, which I expected, but it’s relatively clean – dog hair everywhere, of course, but not all that much mud or dirt. I’ll have to give it a vacuum this week, but no biggy.

So, all in all still a good time, even for the dog and the nasty management. As I said, I’m sure to go again, but probably not back there in Moama. No need to go through that crap again with the management there. I worry now about Adele & Michael, who’ve been organising a big paintball weekend there for a while now… hopefully Sarah’s already spoken with Adele and informed her of the trouble we had. It’d be a shame if they had to change their plans, though.

Also, if you’re wondering why I haven’t finished writing about the snow, consider that this single entry on paintball took just under four hours to write. So give me a break if I’m not churning out the volumes. :)

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