Monday, November 23, 2009

Strictly Come Darting: It was a juvenile escape from home. As soon as we were old enough to walk into a pub, neighbourhood friend, John Westacott and I were in there with a pint and a fag, playing darts. It was just a pub game like shove ha'penny, dominoes, cribbage or whist; nothing like the big money extravaganza it has become on ITV4 last week and over the weekend. And it was double-in, double-out in our day as well, so if nerves struck, the other player could have finished without you even starting, thus giving what was termed 'a whitewash.' Now, they play 501 straight in; double-out only.
Often, during the week for practice or on a Friday evening for the league game, The Upton Hotel darts team took over the board. Regardless of any maths skills at school, this was the place where your addition, subtraction, and multiplication skills would either stand or fall. All good dart players mentally scored their own game, and the chalker was expected to get it right on the blackboard. (These days they use an electronic board, as the kids don't seem to learn their multiplication tables, because they've got a calculator!) And as we were little more than onlookers, we would be expected to chalk the scores during those practice sessions, in the hope that we might play the winner. Of course, the team players always watched us chalk, and if we were deemed quick and accurate enough, we also chalked the Friday league games; and then gradually, as team member's were on holiday or dropped out for one reason or another, John and I were invited to join the team.
Pubs were proper pubs then, all they sold was ploughman's lunch and local beer, and in some of the country pubs, a chap would walk in with dung still on his wellies and play his game. In our league we played The St. Peter's Finger, The Baker's Arms, The Sandford Hotel, (the first time we played women in a team, and they thrashed us!), The Silent Woman, The Lord Nelson at Wareham, The Lulworth Arms at Lulworth Cove; etc.
Another school chum, Tony Parker, aka 'Cheshire;' because he always had a grin like the Cheshire Cat, had the habit of being a humourous but annoying character in general, never mind to the member's of the team. At one venue before play he had been particularly irritating, so the team en-masse held him against the juke-box whilst two of the member's inserted pickled gherkins, which were part of the spread each home team pub would provide for the players, into his nostrils and ears, which shut him up for a while.
But darts is a very psychological game, and just as we see on those TV games, if a player gets a high score it rattles his opponent's confidence, and his darts go into stupid, previously unvisited beds; like 1, 3, 5 and 7; despite the fact the player is aiming for treble 19 or 20. And although he will be superceeded one day, the only player who doesn't seem to let that psychological play affect him is 14 times world champion, Phil Taylor.
It was great fun, and quite a confidence builder, and a nice way to spend a Friday evening. Now, it is rare to find a dart board in a pub as they have all been turned into money-making gastro's, and another charming facet of English country life has died out.