by Pete Doubleday
Ever get the feeling you’ve been here before? Well, I did, but then I live in this city, goddamnit. A certain proprietary terror grips my bowels when I consider the hordes of gibbering filth about to descend on it for the purpose of dipsomaniacal destruction; what of, doesn’t matter, as long as it’s close to hand, and if in the nature of things this makes it likely to be themselves, then no one else is going to worry much. I can’t call down the wrath of God on these people; the Bible has nothing for the sins of Gamble. But then, the Bible wasn’t one of His better works.
And anyway, the Con wasn’t like that much. Early winter is, of course, the time of year when we all gather together to play that game of games, the lifeblood of our Hobby, a game of surpassing skill and concentration. I refer, of course, to darts. In 1981 this splendid pastime came under the aegis of P. Birks, and as an uninvited newshound I aimed to be in on the squalor from the start. To this end I began Friday evening by looking around for a really flaky team with which I might identify. Birks’s own Hired Killers, who could all hit a single whiskey from 30 yards, were no good; what I need came to me in the form of the NMR! Team, who had technique the other teams could never hope to match. They were artistically awful, and it was love at first flight. I first realised this when I saw Brian Creese heave his first arrows of the weekend. Now, being of an arithmetic mien (ho, ho), I figured that, ignoring doubles and other complications, three darts at random should score on average 311/2 points, provided they all stuck in the board. This was not something that fazed Brian. Indeed, had he reversed the shafts and thrown flight first, the dart would still have buried itself to a depth of three inches: the dartboard never stood a chance. As he eyed the board keenly through his Trotsky glasses, I licked my lips – partly in anticipation, but more to take the foul taste of Tartan away. He drew his sturdy yeoman’s arm back, and
“One” Could happen to anyone; aiming for the triple twenty of course.
“Three” Although hitting the two is more difficult to explain.
“Five” Yes, a mere 251/2 points under average, and if they could keep this up they were obviously the team for me.
Sadly, the flair wore off as the actual competition approached; Ken Bain, Brian Dolton and Mike Lean were able to reach the level of the merely mediocre. They were, however, a superb backing group for Brian; whenever he took the floor, they emulated his throwing action in a sort of pixillated chorus line. This said action was, to say the least, peculiar; I may perhaps compare it to an arithitic praying mantis with terminal DTs trying desperately to work off a hangover (I think I’ve overdone the simile there, but what the hell, if you ask for it medium rare you end up with blood all down your shirt). But I digress from the bar, which is where it was at that evening.
The rest of that evening I spent in studious avoidance of the Birks crowd who were quite clearly limbering up to wallow in a weekend of deeply meaningful mania. In Nye’s elegant phrase, they were “getting wrecked”. Indeed, by the following afternoon the likes of Gamble were complete write-offs, quite an achievement in a hotel that offered a coruscating selection of abysmal beers at prices so high that it would have taken a stiff overdraft merely to reach the status of liability insurance. But this was not the following afternoon; and consequently Nye was totally coherent as he rapped on the tale of how he and Birks had made the whole train journey from London sitting gratis in a First Class compartment with the lights out all the way – so shattering the couple opposite with talk of drugs and Lessing (no, I didn’t see the connection either) that those good people never said a word to each other. This simple but heart-warming yarn was embroided even as I heard it retold in the far distance, nearer to the bar. Nye was obviously practising to be an old salt: by now a moving blur of a mouth on casters, he was so laid back that he was in danger of mellowing into a coma. But this was not to be; no, the comas had to wait for the Poker game on Saturday night. For now, the amphetamines flowed like asprin.
I, on the other hand, got so much sleep that night that I had to shatter four inches of caryotid to get to the Con by cycle in time to catch the Diplomacy Tournament. I tied my bike to what looked like convenient railings and moseyed on in to the Angus with my eyes steaming.
Unlike other editors I shall not bore you to death with accounts of my Diplomacy games. Curiously I played fellow editors in both. Indeed, the first was most noticeable for the whinging of Wilman, who greeted me after each season with “Of course, if you’d only done what I told you…” It also featured an attractively homicidal start from all concerned, which at least kept the GMs entertained: perhaps some thought should be given to this problem for the next tournament. Lastly, it reminded me of the cardinal rule of FtF: the nicest person does best. Here, it was David Dilling, who gained a gift alliance from Mike Chaplin’s Turkey simply by being genuinely hurt at the way we were all treating him. Unfortunately, David was also in my second game, and I still feel that my bloodthirsty antics in the first were a contributory factor to his part in the ludicrous E/F/G cartel which controlled the match. The only other player to get a look in, not unsurprisingly, was Turkey – Peter Northcott; mind you, though absurd for a real game, the cartel worked well under the rules that made each player compete against those playing his country on the other boards, with a cut-off at A07. The E/F/G cartel was consequently popular at several other boards, like bidding No Trumps at Pairs only sillier. But sod winning, it made the exercise rather boring, surely even for the lucky trio. But what am I doing, talking of Diplomacy in a magazine of this quality?
Back where the action is, we find Chris Tringham on his knees on the floor. There are three possible explanations for this. Perhaps he has dropped a contact lens; a very attractive girl I met at a party once claims to liven up parties she finds dull by standing in the middle of the floor and shrieking “My God, I’ve lost a contact lens!”, so that the next ten minutes features a scrimmage of drunken bodies looking for the non-existent thing. With Chris this is admittedly, not likely. More so is that he has suddenly realised that cigarette smoke and other pollutants tend to rise, has given up the struggle to breathe at head height altogether and resorted to the purer, oxygen rich air at ankle level. Unfortunately, the least plausible of all explanations wins by a nose: Chris is trying to staple an unwrapped bog-roll to the floor. This is apparently to serve as a marker for the darts, and in the event proved much the most challenging part of the contest, for no one in their right minds would have bet against the mighty GH team. Not satisfied with this, Birks went on to enforce rules which made each team play two matches of best of three legs, 501 up. As the first two teams battled grimly on to the double one, I was blissfully unaware of what this meant in terms of duration. This was soon to become apparent, since the NMR! Team were to play the last two matches before the final. Not only this, but, fortified by the fact that I had drunk his lager by mistake, Ken managed to hit the winning double in the second leg of the last match. By this time even a supremely sarcastic chalker, like “Kermit” Woodhouse was beginning to sound desperate; and as we staggered off for dinner at 8.45, the aggrieved wail of Birks followed us, demanding that one of the losing team chalk the final as was apparently set out in the rules. Rules by Birks. No fool he; as the nominal head of the GH giants he was unlikely to suffer this chore.
Therefore I was left with nothing really to do except to contemplate the similarity between Gamble and a Hollywood script: namely, that neither would ever resort to “on screen” urination. The loo was several hundred feet away, but I am certain that Colin never once left for it: certain, because Gamble when drunk is something of a presence. He is, in fact, a superbly amusing clown – when he’s nowhere near you. Unfortunately, in close proximity he is rather menacing; I escaped with minor criticism of my reserved aristo nature, and there were no results to match the charge of tension that swept through the room as he lurched towards Keith Harvey, but nevertheless he was not easy to get on with. And returning to the urine question, I can only assume that he is a more highly evolved form of life, and that he his able to fill the whole of his body as far as his head. Apart from this, he was the life and soul of something which was otherwise winding down like the Tory economy.
It was while musing along these lines that I suddenly began to wonder what had become of my bike. A cursory inspection of the local railings did not answer this pressing problem, which I carried with me to a meal in an Indian restaurant which deserved more than the muted Bairstow treatment which it received. A tense night in Which Creese found a Space Invaders machine which kept wiping him out vindictively every few seconds while he persisted in muttering “I’ll get the hang of this yet!” It was in this period that people started to introduce themselves with “Hi, I liked your zine”, only to be brusquely sent away with “Well, why don’t you subscribe, then?” It isn’t easy [producing a monthly liability. I eventually located my bike still tethered in a deserted street just outside the Gaumont, Brum’s answer to the Leicester Square area; this says something for the honesty of Birmingham people, but rather more for the condition of my bike. And so I pedalled off into the sunrise, as appropriately an end as any for a Con which everyone I know of enjoyed immensely and which augurs well for next year.
Reprinted from The Thing on the Mat No.3 (December 1981)