Rock, Paper, Scissors

Eight hours into Rob’s stag, which had

started strong with a pub crawl up

the Bermondsey beer mile

and was now beginning to sag

at a Wetherspoon’s near Tower Bridge,

a match of rock, paper, scissors

was breaking out to pick between

the following two options

for what would happen next:


1: We go to Katzenjammers

authentic German bierkeller

under London Bridge, where we would

listen to an oompah band, eat sauerkraut,

drink litre steins of Paulaner Dunkel

and be held in the basement

by police for our own protection

as terrorists attacked the door outside,

see bloody victims hurry down

the stairs to shelter in the bar,

watch paramedics treat

slash wounds to the throat and

stab wounds to the stomach, and

slash and stab wounds

to the throat and stomach and

hear a woman sob and hyperventilate

because of what she couldn’t


bring herself to tell us she had seen

up on street level

and take cover under

the traditional wooden benches

when armed officers burst in

with automatic weapons

yelling, ‘Down, Get down! GET. DOWN.’


or 2:We go to a strip club.


The game began, Emmett and Matt

competing. So it’s ‘One, two, three, Go’

and play on Go. One, two, three, Go.

Both guys threw down scissors first.

One, two, three, Go.

Both changed tack dramatically

and went for paper –

all bets were off.

One, two, three, Go.

They cast their final shapes.

Emmett, for the bier bar,

stuck fatefully with paper

while Matt, solidly in favour

of the strip club,

chose rock and lost.

The decision had been made


and I dwell on it for bathos, mainly,

and because the world is made of games

of rock, paper, scissors like this one.


Not only in the sense that every flip

or arbitrary choice has disproportionately

huge and permanent results

but in the sense that every gesture,

either of victory or defeat,

aggression or surrender,

depends for its meaning on another.


Put it this way: a photograph

of Matt’s third and losing move,

viewed in isolation, appears

to show a man raising his fist in anger,

about to throw a punch. Only those who know

which game of signs he’s playing at

will read the hand as rock.

And even rock means nothing

without further context:

in rock, paper, scissors, rock

is capable of meaning strength

or weakness or indifference

depending on the sign

selected to contest it.


We called an Uber to take us to London Bridge.

from Rock, Paper, Scissors (Picador, 2019), copyright © Richard Osmond 2019, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

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