When you’re sixteen and apathetic, not a lot happens. It’s 2009, and Zog is in the bath, shooting a water gun at Bionicles.
Completely uninterested in school and socialising, I was probably what you’d call a “weird kid”. Though I didn’t really have any enemies, I had more lizards than friends, spent my school days making ballistic and/or bladed weapons out of dismantled stationery (which I would hide in my blazer and tie… lol) and, though never causing trouble, I pathologically refused to do anything I’d been told to do, even if it was in my own interests. For this reason, despite getting As in everything I was constantly in detention for not doing homework. My “revision schedule” consisted of fast-forwarding BBC Bitesize tapes to the end (So my dad thought I’d watched them) then loading up Halo 3 Matchmaking: a Cheeto-munching, unkept, beetles at the bedside Rebel Without a Cause.
All I was interested in at school was going home to my dog, my frog and my lizards and doing what I wanted to do. I skipped school to go to Germany on a shopping trip for exotic giant beetles, stayed up every night until 4am playing video games in bed and dropped behind on every leg of the school’s compulsory inter-house cross country race to walk and talk about first-generation 4chan memes with my friend, singlehandedly causing Porter House to lose.
(He incidentally went on to be the guy to introduce DS flashcarts to the English-speaking world and lose Nintendo millions upon millions. LOL)
Teachers either loved me or hated me. My biology teacher; a kind and hulking 65-year-old Kawasaki Ninja-riding naturalist; let me sleep in lessons all the way through A-level, saying I was “the best and most intuitive scientist he’d taught in 35 years”, and “the education system fails me”, so I took that as a license to be lazy. Because of this my chemistry teacher; a droll and monotone man; a grimacing man of bald head, sweat patches and novelty ties, a man from a Dilbert-inflected nightmare, couldn’t stand me. One day he caught me shirking off, discussing Palestinian children’s TV, and yelled in drone in front of the whole class: “Nolan! Being useless again! You’ll never amount to anything!”. I stood up, replied “At least I’ll never be a chemistry teacher”, walked out (in my mind like a badass, in reality more like a dumbass) and never went to another of his lessons again, ending up with a D but my pride intact. In retaliation he set my predicted grade to a U, in a deliberate effort to ruin my university application, because apparently it would’ve been a “waste of time” and I’d be “better off not going”. I will neither confirm nor deny allegations that I got around this by doing a literal Ferris Bueller and hacking into UCAS to change my predicted grades to all As in order to score an interview, banking on acing it into an unconditional offer and pulling it off, but as it stands I am Daniel Nolan, MSc, and the glove didn’t fit.
Thanks to a childhood full of (deliberately) “not fitting in” and stupid people trying to bully me for being different, I didn’t listen to anything negative or challenging anyone said about me. After a certain amount of “Ha ha! Nature boy!”s, you stop caring about the ignorant, and sometimes the kind. My (lovely) English teacher gave me her copy of The Catcher in the Rye and told me she thought I’d “get” it. I read it, loved it and got so scared she’d read my mind I told her I hated it. Stupid, stupid, funny but stupid. The problem is, if you act like that and get defensive, you become obsessed with being “different”, you lose the capacity to deal with real, constructive criticism, and that happened with me . I thought, I’m not a “normie”, the “normies” aren’t on my level, “normies” like football and reality TV, “normies” talk shallow chitchat, they’re unoriginal, they’re below me, therefore anything they want is something I don’t want. It’s the kind of logic that makes perfect sense if you’re 16: when you’re too young to see it’s a gateway drug to wrapping yourself in a blanket and frogposting.
So it probably comes as no surprise that, as a teenage geek with a love of animals and a severely misplaced sense of pride in being “different”, I was really into shiny hunting. I caught hundreds of shinies. If you could chain it with the Poké Radar, I had it in shiny. Everything I used had to be “legit”, “interesting”, and most importantly it had to be shiny. Didn’t care if it wasn’t as strong as it could be, only if that it was at least passable and shiny. I unironically used a terrible Rash-natured Shuckle in Smogon OU, because it was shiny. I even made it Rash on simulators, I was that proud of my stupid shiny Shuckle I’d caught whilst secretly playing on my brother’s GBA SP in bed at night. I thought I was an absolute pro at Pokémon, so when I saw an advertisement for the first UK Nationals in London (on a Bionicle forum!), I was immediately hyped for what I assumed would be an easy win.
But I was too scared to go on my own. So I started training one of my best friends, Andy (aka Shoe) in how to play competitive Pokémon, despite personifying the Dunning-Kruger effect. Along with some of my other best friends, including Kyle, Jack (The real source of the notorious 2012 toilet sign controversy), Will (Now Hearthstone pro “modernleper”) and Greg (Whose off-hand joke unintentionally caused an infamous UK VGC player to cry, walk away and quit the game) I’d met Andy through the CBBC show BAMZOOKi, which was about a creating robot animals named “zooks” and having them compete against each other. I (As “Sarracenia”) and Andy (As “THEMAGNIFICENTSHOE”) had a unique partnership in that game, he being the best engineer of zooks and me as the most famous at making them look good. Generally Andy would make a strong but homely zook and I’d turn it into a glowing red dragon, kinda like “Pimp My Zook”. He’d make a fast, tubular zook; I’d turn it into a one-eyed penis in a top hat and name it “AlphaKenny1”. I’d make a static block decorated with the “troll face”, he’d hack the zook kit so it broke the world records in everything. We topped all of the online leaderboards with both of those, and it was beautiful. I did the same thing with Greg when he was commissioned to build a house zook for the TV series, turning a black and white cylinder into a “Penguin with the eyes of Konata off Lucky Star” named Penguinchan. It ended up being disqualified from the show because it would’ve humiliated the poor kids competing.
(Sadly missing images of these ones due to Majhost being taken down by the FBI, apparently for hosting “pizza” [yikes], so here’s some others)
Typical high-end zook design by some soppy Modest Mouse-loving melt
One of my beauties (those stick legs span around like windmills. impressive)
Andy put the rest of us to shame by reverse-engineering the whole program and manually coding in his own challenges with C++ (We were all 13/14 at the time)
Anyway, obviously, given the fact that Andy was over 9000 times more logical than me in the era of “over 9000” being relevant, he was considerably better than me within a month. I kept playing him and losing but in my opinion it didn’t count because my team was cooler and shiny. Despite practising extensively on NetBattle Supremacy (lol throwback), and losing a lot because my Gravity Rain Dusknoir, Exploding Gengar, Exploding Qwilfish and Aqua Tail Kabutops team was obviously shite. I didn’t learn a thing from testing, and never changed my line-up even slightly. Literally I would lose a game and think “Well that doesn’t count, because Metagross is my team’s weakness”. I was worse at adapting than a floppy disk with dementia. So that is what I brought to Nationals.
I was very lucky in having a supportive dad who didn’t mind taking me to London, and a mildly-interested brother who’d packed a laughably bad team centred around Parasect, which I’d assured him was really good. Andy’s hail-room team was, in comparison, absolutely rock-solid. He coasted straight into the final and a paid trip to Worlds in San Diego, coming second after bringing Camerupt into the match because I told him it was “the play”. Yes, that happened even back then. Myself, I made an undeserved Top 16. My brother, he made a child cry. But none of that part was important, and it is well-documented in my video of questionable quality.
The Pokémon scene back in 2009 was, in complete honesty, a Chupa Chups convention. Everybody sucked, with no exceptions. It was a clueless, idyllic time; a competitive Garden of Eden, but with less women. (I kid, there were about 3). I will always remember UK Nationals 2009 not for the Pokémon, but for the fact it was when I first met one of my best friends and chose a direction my life was headed in. I’d been inspired: Andy strolled into a free trip to San Diego, where he came back with such fabled tales as trading his Aipom to “Pokémon Hitler”, meeting Marriland, fighting tough battles against Huy Ha, Mike Suleski and “pro Japanese guys”. Those, and a cool hat™.
Guess which one?!?! Funny though, actually saw him on an ad in Tokyo the other year
Andy had walked into success so easily, and shown me up for an idiot. For the first time in my life, I noticed that actually, I wasn’t very good at something I’d considered myself great at: my shiny hunting, deep knowledge of Pokémon species, their origins, battle tower sets, it all meant nothing. I’d had this self-image of being a unique and special competitive Pokémon master and instantly it’d been shattered. Andy cheekily (and knowing full well the truth of it, the beautiful bastard) joked it was because he was a “main character” and I was “Pokémon Weevil Underwood”, the smarmy, bespactacled, unjustifiably cocky, cheating bug-lover from Yu-Gi-Oh, and oh my God. Fffffffff- he was right. I couldn’t get it out of my head: after all my arrogance and poking fun at people I thought were less intelligent or interesting than me, I’d noticed I’d been really stupid: I had honestly been Pokémon Weevil Underwood.
And with that, things began to change. “Not being Pokémon Weevil Underwood” became my #1 aim in life, and I set straight to it. Thanks, Andy. And thanks for the cool hat™.
Next time’s a controversial one: conspiracies, pee-soaked blankets and daddies on the coast of Ula’Ula Island in 2010… and the fat kid gets w o k e