In the darkness, I sat down on my haunches, assumed the pose of a rabbit and began to hop. It felt good. I was free; alive.
‘What are you doing, Raider?’ said a voice in the gloom, as torchlight fell upon me.
‘Being a bunny,’ I said, caught in the headlights.
‘Why?’ said another voice. It was Dirty South, who seemed to be sitting beneath a lampshade at a drop leaf occasional table, drinking a pint of ale.
‘The wardrobe told me to do it,’ I said.
It was 2.30 in the afternoon and I was stone cold sober.
Actually, that’s not true, I was on my third pint, now I think about it. We were upstairs in the Four Thieves pub in Clapham Junction (née Battersea) locked in an escape room – an ‘immersive experience’ akin to Crystal Maze – with no one but Gabriel, our games mistress, to guide us. And even then we could only call upon her thrice.
‘What happens if we call on you a fourth time?’ we’d asked her.
‘There is no fourth time,’ she’d replied, ominously.
We were playing Lady Chastity’s Reserve, one of several games now devised and run by Handmade Mysteries in London (and beyond). The principle is simple – you get locked in a room and have one hour to solve puzzles in order to win a prize and, as we saw it, escape to the pub. The execution, however, was more difficult, especially when it was us doing it. If we hadn’t smartly recruited some younger minds to assist in our afternoon folly, I fear Dirty South and I might still be in there, ‘SEND BEER!’ scrawled on the walls in blood and, probably, semen.
You see, a little while ago an email arrived in our inbox offering us a chance to sample an escape room, gratis. We had discussed it at a Deserter editorial meeting in a corner of Brockwell Park.
‘I don’t know. Sounds a bit like hard work,’ said Dirty South, waving a bottle of Buckfast. ‘When I go to the pub I like to be able to get to the bar whenever I want.’
‘Fair,’ I said. ‘But on the other hand, it is completely pointless, which we’re all for.’
Hmm, tricky. I fired up the Handmade website and when we saw the strapline ‘Let’s get silly’ our minds were made up. For if there is anything better than a game, it’s surely a silly game.
There are many reasons we humans like to play games: The challenge, the sense of achievement, the joint enterprise, the social interaction, the momentary respite from real life… And, of course, the winning. There is not a lot of winning for most of us, as we hurtle toward decline and death via red bills and the daily commute, but slotting in the long piece down the side in Tetris reminds us that we are, every now and again, fucking brilliant. And, you know, you may hate your job or your partner, but look, you found the Master Sword. You’ve done something with your life.
And in Lady Chastity’s Reserve the prize is the eponymous wine, locked away in a hidden vault. So, you’re not just winning, you’re winning booze, which really concentrates the mind of the freeloader.
We arrived early at the Four Thieves in order to get a couple in before our time slot, in case we weren’t allowed to take pints in (we were).
‘Where do we go for the escape room?’ I asked the barman.
‘You will know when it is time,’ he replied. ‘A goth will appear at the end of the bar.’
And sure enough, as we returned from the pretty yard an hour later, there at the end of the bar was Gabriel, a buxom young woman in a Venetian-style eye mask and a full length burgundy playsuit.
‘Follow me, boys,’ she whispered, seductively, curling a finger at us.
‘Just need a quick slash,’ said Dirty South, breaking the spell somewhat.
Upstairs, Gabriel led us through the vast games room and the door to her lair, which she locked behind us before running through some house rules.
‘Remove not the wooden crates in each corner,’ she incanted, ‘for behind them lurks danger. A danger that we call… plug sockets. And we wouldn’t want you sticking your fingers in them. Or anything else.’
And with that, she handed out some torches and was gone. There is something quite thrilling about being left in a strange room, with some mates, a pint, and no idea what is going on. Anything, you feel, could happen.
‘I wonder if we can skin up?’ said Dirts.
But before we knew it, with fellow internees Cyclo and Pompey doing most of the heavy lifting, we were embroiled in a mysterious and occasionally startling tale of love, death and wild aphrodisia. I think. Anyway, for a wondrous hour we supped and pondered, jumped and fretted.
Thrice we called upon Gabriel, and thrice she coaxed us in the right direction. Without her help we would have surely failed, but with the vino finally released we emerged from our room to discover that we had finished with just one second to spare. Or perhaps Gabriel took pity on us and extended the clock a little. We didn’t ask because winners don’t need to ask.
On returning to the bar we procured four wine glasses and toasted our success. The Reserve wasn’t bad, though to be fair completing an escape room is not an inexpensive way to come by a bottle of wine, especially a shared one. Let’s face it, sharing a bottle of wine between four is almost worse than having no wine at all.
Before long we were back on the ale. I went for the Ripper, a session IPA on keg brewed in-house by Laine, the owners of the pub.
I asked my fellow adventurer’s what had been their best and worst bits of the escape room.
‘Pompey moved my pint and I couldn’t find it for a bit,’ said Dirty South. ‘That was a worry. And so was that thing that jumped out at me. I’m glad I’d already had a wazz.’
‘I think finding the secret room was my favourite bit,’ said Cyclo.
‘There was a secret room?’ said the Dirty One.
‘What was your favourite bit, Raider?’ said Pompey.
‘Discovering my inner rabbit,’ I said, taking a sip of my pint.
‘How’s the session IPA?’ he asked.
‘Same as me,’ I said. ‘Hoppy.’
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