Long long ago, when I was rather younger than I am now, I learned how to hoie quoits at a target of a stubby post that barely stood proud of the soft squishy clé-ay pit in which it was ensconced. The effort back then seemed so unique that I was entranced. It was also an excuse to smoke a little cigar or two, to forestall midgie attention.
I’d been recruited to play for the King’s Head team (I think I might have been second alternate, to begin with) but I moved up the ranks and eventually won a round or two in the league. Proud day, but when I began to clutch (I’m not sure how to describe it: your fingers for some reason don’t want to let go of the quoit at the right moment, and you end up hoieing the thing high in the air, or else not letting go at all and bashing yourself on the head!) . . . when I began to clutch, I had to drop out for fear of causimg a forfeit for the team. But not before I realised that there’s a magic moment when the beer and the adrenaline combine to create a perfection of hand-eye coordination that’s actually sublime.
I built myself my own clay quoits pitch then, up on the fellside of Sparty Lea, and bought a couple pairs of steel quoits from somewhere in the Team Valley. Barrowed river bank clay from the burn up to the house and fashioned a little wood surround about each pit. Got Howard Pringle at Station Garage to weld me a couple of pins onto a bottom square of steel, and started practising. But I think I gave up on that after Julie, the gamekeeper’s wife, in her marigolds beat me hollow up at the Allenheads Inn! My quoits pits and pins were subsumed in an extension of the parking space, and the quoits themselves hung on a convenient gate support to remind me every time I pass them by. Maybe someday again I’ll build a regulation pitch up here.
So this piece is about the various pub leagues around these parts, which include the indoor pursuits of darts and pool. Unfortunately, I’ve never experienced much of an epiphany at pool, though I tried and tried during university years on the dorm’s table. But I did have a darts moment, one only, at a community centre in Highgate, London, again after a beer, when I closed out the match with a perfect bullseye. No, nobody else could believe it either, after the form I’d exhibited up to that point.
So I can understand, a glimmer of an understanding anyway, what goes into these games of skill that are bolstered with liquid refreshment. The neat thing, to my mind, about the pub leagues is that when visiting teams tour the pubs for the matches, a supper is almost always laid on for the participants. A little food goes nicely with the beer, doesn’t it? So everybody profits from the exercise.
I think, could be wrong, but I think every pub in this patch has their own dartboard, pool table and quoits pitch. Well, casting my mind over the various premises, at least two out of three activities in each pub, and ummm, not the Crown in Catton anymore, not yet again anyway.
The pub leagues fill a gap, probably a gap in the social sphere that men (it’s mostly men, but never exclusively) can enjoy together, with a bit (usually a lot) of banter and good-natured consideration of the things in life that matter.