I am guilty of prejudice; of making snap judgements based on a momentary acquaintance.
Last week Clay, the chubby hamster, was milling around the entrance to Blather’s museum. I am used to my fellow island residents wandering around in a peculiarly aimless fashion, but this time Clay had a small white cloud floating above his head. This had never happened before. He was also hanging his head in a decidedly dejected manner. I rushed over for a chinwag. Clay informed me he was thinking of moving away from My Haven. I was given the choice to ask him why? ‘I don’t think I’m welcome here; I don’t think anybody likes me’ was his reply. ‘Oh, poor Clay!’ I inwardly exclaimed from my permanently reclined position on the couch, where I waste huge chunks of quarantine playing Animal Crossing. I was immediately overwhelmed by a feeling of guilt.
‘Clay, Clay!’ I wanted to screech at him. ‘I sympathise. I know about low self-esteem, about caring too much about what others think.’ Clay continued with, ‘Shall I move away?’ in what I imagine to be his timid and plaintive hamster’ish voice. I was given the choice to ask him to stay or to tell him to bugger off. ‘You must stay!’ I bawled at my Switch, a small menopausal tear in my eye, and Clay reacted with Animal Crossing’s version of Joy.
My absolutely serious question here (now that my mind is completely addled and can no longer distinguish between gaming reality and actual reality) is, could the Nintendo coding ninjas have possibly known that, just a few days before, I had badmouthed Clay via the blog that no one reads and had decided to teach me a virtual lesson? No, it can’t be so. But then…..
Moose, whom I had so maligned blog-wise, gave me 1300 bells in return for a dodgy bit of crap I took round his house. ‘Oh Moose,’ I sighed, ‘you lovely but irritating squirt, you shouldn’t have!’ Moose accompanied the giving of his hard-earned bells with the sentiment that it’s because I’ve been so generous towards him. Oh, the guilt. The feeling of hypocrisy. If I was hell-bent on improving Moose’s hovel before, then I’m now doubling those efforts and have put hedges up around his home, planted a few pansies and placed a crappy log stool in his garden (that I didn’t want and had shoved in storage.) It’s as though Nintendo has been reading my mind. You must stop treating your neighbours with snobbery and disdain and accept all their annoying characteristics. As in life, as in the game.
I’m learning my lessons but very slowly. I’ve been concentrating on doing up my own house, to satisfy my inherent streak of domesticity, but now realise that, for the purposes of game play, I should be ‘doing up’ residents’ dwellings as well as the surrounding landscape. It all feels like a mammoth task and one the aged me is not quite up to.
I’ve also realised that I should be making much more stuff via DIY, as I’d completely stopped all that palava in favour of catching fish etc (I now have a fishing jacket, oh the slightly mad joy.) So yesterday I rushed around collecting wood, to make a bonfire and four log stools, and placed them all on the beach. And then spent a good 30 seconds (which is my limit when it comes to pretending that my alter ego is ‘real’) sitting on one of the stools gazing at the lovely bonfire in the setting sun. My fervent wish is that I might, one day, find my fellow residents sitting around the fire that I built.
I now have an Animal Crossing nickname. It’s not ideal but it’s all I could come up with when the annoying little toerag absolutely lovely little Moose kept accosting me with his nicknames for my character. ‘Hi,’ he’d squeak, ‘my nickname for you is goalie, what do you think?’ ‘Do I look as though I’m remotely into football,’ I’d wanted to reply (but we are given limited responses) sitting here in my frilly dress (acquired from my newly opened clothes shop on My Haven) and a yellow pansy in my hair? Moose came up with a couple more dire nicknames before giving me the chance to create my own. I found this extraordinarily difficult since, at my age, I don’t do nicknames and the game only allowed me so many letters.
Although Animal Crossing is cartoon’ish; although it is an itzy bitzy world upon my small Switch screen, the attention to detail those coding whizzes have incorporated into the game is astonishing. I can light my bonfire and then extinguish it (for my own ludicrous safety reasons, as I don’t want to be responsible for burning my island down.) Similarly, I have a candle chez moi, which I blow out every evening to ensure my house doesn’t burn down and take ‘me’ with it.
Every clock in the game shows the real time. The wind got up yesterday afternoon in my neck of the woods, and the wind got up on My Haven. My cartoon moon follows the phases of the real moon, and my cartoon moon is so beautiful. There was a meteor shower on My Haven a couple of evenings ago. I had been instructed to look up at the sky by a pink owl, on several occasions, but had never seen anything. Then the meteor shower appeared and shooting stars cascaded down from the sky and my alter ego made a wish on every one. The following day star fragments littered my beach.
Back in my tiny house, I decided to ‘try out’ all the objects I’ve so far gathered, to see if they actually worked, as did the bonfire. And, oh the frabjous joy. I can pull my curtains! My blinds in the bedroom go down and then up! My slatted kitchen blind works! I had to move a lot of furniture around, for the umpteenth time, to be able to open and close everything, thus spoiling my perfect design plans, but who cares, when you can actually close your cartoon curtains!
The ghost on the hill gave me a pop-up toaster for running round, yet again, in a manic fashion to collect its spirit pieces. And the toaster works! And my coffee grinder grinds! And my washing machine turns on (I tried placing clothes in it but nothing doing.) My happiness is complete.
I now have a nightgown, after sleeping in my undies and an eye mask every night. My one gripe is I have to lie on top of the bed, instead of being able to get in it – but I must remember that none of this is real, even if spending time on My Haven is becoming preferable to spending time in a Covid world.
Talking of alternate realities. I finished Stephen King’s The Institute in three days, reading sporadically but at what felt like lightening speed. If you’re a King fan, you’ll know the addictive nature of his writing. I generally begin every King book at a fairly leisurely pace. I’m never a fan of the constant smattering of the F word. I note the violence, but in that strangely comforting Kingsian way he has, almost as though you’re reading a grown-up fairy tale. And then (as always) a few chapters in, and something happens. I can’t stop reading. But it’s not normal reading. I read at such a pace that the words barely have time to enter my brain and son no.2’s Kindle couldn’t keep up. And all the while, part of me is aware of the madness within many of King’s horror/fantasy plots; the absolute suspension of disbelief required of us, his constant readers, but there’s something that draws me to King’s manner of storytelling, when the real world is similarly going to pot.
The Institute is good. That King is still this able, at 72, proves that age is always just a number.