It feels like another lifetime. Before I surrendered my intellectual curiosity to the comfortable garden of a smartphone with a marketplace. A time when I would use a command line without a tide of panic lapping at my guts. A time when I was curious about my stuff.
I'd heard that my Xbox could be turned into nothing less than a miracle machine. The promise of arcade and 16-bit console emulation in my living room seemed impossibly brilliant, so I looked in the local paper's classified ads. I wasn't working in the games industry at the time, and none of my friends really played games, so I didn't really have the in-roads to more reputable criminals.
I phoned a man. He told me to meet him the next day at a crossroads in Maida Vale, hand over my Xbox, and wait for half an hour while he soldered chips into my possession. Saying this now, it seems odd. Slightly unrealistic. There's not a chance in hell I'd do this with my 360. But at this point in my life, I was more of a PC gamer, because I liked rummaging around in folders. I liked seeing if I could swap sound files of a wolf snarling in Tomb Raider with a recording of me saying "Stop right there Lara Croft or so help me I'll woof your face off"".
The Xbox and its comically oversized controllers had been pretty much dormant, so I took a risk: I had an ugly black box to lose, and a world of free 1980s arcade games to gain. All illegal, remember. I cannot condone this. But I can diplomatically empathise with you.
The old Xbox was bigger than any of my backpacks, so I dropped it into three bags for life, and got on the tube to Maida Vale.
Getting off at a new stop is normally exciting - not when you're about to meet a strange man to break the law together. A five minute, self-conscious walk and a two-minute wait later, I'd handed my Xbox to a stranger. Taking solace from the fact he seemed nice, I waited.
What goes through your mind when you're stood, leaning on a railing, for thirty minutes?
1. If I was doing this in Summer it wouldn't be dark now.
2. I wonder if people think I'm a drug dealer? I wish I'd brought some Oxo cubes.
3. I bet all the houses are full of policemen who know what I'm doing
4. I can't believe I actually think this man will come back
5. Oh s**t, I left Silent Hill 4 in the tray
6. What is the most nonchalant way to stand by a crossroads?
7. Can you actually look nonchalant while trying to look nonchalant, or is it like when someone asks you which way you fold your arms, and suddenly neither way feels right?
8. I want my Xbox back now I'm bored
9. How long should I wait before I actually give up? I mean how long would just be delusional?
10. Why are those girls screaming at each other?
A girl on my side of the crossroad had come out of the off licence, and been spotted by two other girls, walking around the opposite corner. The two girls had alcopops in their hands. One was a docile beta type, sullen but supportive - and the other was screaming at the girl on my corner. I honestly couldn't tell what was going on - but if the talkative one of the two girls was to be believed, my girl was an awful person. She's slept with a man of some sort, and was - according to reports I couldn't help but hear - a massive slag.
The girl screamed back. It wasn't like proper fights on TV. There was no sympathetic party that I could root for. They were both full-on shrieking hellcats. But I needed to believe one person was right. So I just rooted for the one that was closest to me by default. You can imagine my disappointment when my team got a smashed bottle jammed into her face.