On his day, Germany’s Jan Jacobowitz is unstoppable. As are Belgian Frédéric Collignon, Englishman Phil Harrison, Lin Yuan-chun from Taiwan, Trevor Gallienne of Guernsey, Alaskan Jimmy Baker, Lithuanian Kestutis Tarnauskas, Ted Hankey from England, and Willie Wandress & Jerry Ritemeyer, aka The Ringlords. And let’s not forget the might of The Laughing Fish in Ishfield.
These names might mean nothing to you in the immediacy but they are in fact at the pinnacle of their chosen event. They are ALL current world champions and their expertise lies at the very heart of Britain’s national pastime: the pub. As their names appear, they each reign in the worlds of backgammon, table football, 8-ball pool, 9-ball billiards, bar billiards, dominoes, arm wrestling, darts, quoits and Toad-in-the-Hole.
You may have previously encountered a few of the above. Equally, you may be thinking “What the hell is Toad in the Hole if it’s not a delicious sausage-based snack?" Toad in the Hole is played by throwing brass discs at a hole in the top of a wooden box sat against a wall. Its popularity is concentrated mainly in East Sussex where the only known league still survives.
Similarly rare and provincial are the cricket-like Bat and Trap of Kent and the coconut shy, Aunt Sally, primarily found in Oxfordshire. The latter was probably introduced to Oxon when Charles I relocated his entire retinue to the area during the Civil War in 1642. Although the contemporary version simply requires players to knock a ball from a plinth, the original was likely to have been much bloodier: a chicken, a rope, some sticks and a cruel demise.
Question: ever joined a girter and danced around a flonker? Were you flonked with the dwyle for a wanton, marter or ripple? If not, did they get swadged? If so you were probably somewhere in Sussex or Suffolk partaking in a bit of Dwyle Flonking. There are no winners or losers in Dwyle Flonking, only drunkards. Basically, two teams attempt to flick a beer-soaked rag onto one another’s bodies. Breaks in play occur for the purposes of pint necking.
Yet another regional recreation is the ring-over-a-pin throwing game of Quoits. Played in the North East and in some parts of Scotland and Wales it dates back as far as 1388 and is much like horseshoe pitching. Similarly, Ringing the Bull, almost exclusive to Nottinghamshire, is based around the action of hooking a metal ring onto a target (bull’s horn) positioned on a wall. Both these games show parallels with games that were played by the Romans.
Other games you might like to try:
- the table skittle game, Devil Among the Tailors;
- the human skittle game, Conga Cuddling;
- or the two-player game, Rhubarb Thrashing, in which blindfolded contestants stand in empty dustbins and smack one another about the head with handfuls of rhubarb.
Some games stand the test of time, some clearly do not. The 17th-century card game, Cribbage, is still going strong throughout the British Isles. Backgammon, which was originally brought to England by the Crusaders in the 11th century, is likewise. It wasn’t until the 20th century that table games made a prolific appearance - firstly, bar billiards from Belgium and then pool following the popularity of Paul Newman’s 1961 movie, The Hustler.
In the 1970s video games and slot machines appeared. In the 90s it was the quiz, both in machine and team formats. In the noughties the smoking ban came along, leading to a premium on table space and profits generated from food rather than booze.
Pubs are beginning to disappear - 27 per week according to The British Beer and Pub Association - and our main interests now lie with the gods of Sky and ESPN (the goddess Setanta having now been dispatched). Also, one glaringly obvious aspect most ye olde social games hold in common is the opportunity for mishap. There are countless health and safety possibilities linked with people throwing objects in confined spaces whilst under the influence. A combination of all of these factors has ensured dwindling participation in said games.
Darts could well be the exception. Six million people in the UK still regularly play darts, making it one of our most contested sports and the one we’re most vehemently bent on keeping: the Save Our Darts campaign, overseen by online bookmakers Blue Square, “aims to have another 10,000 dart boards in pubs by 2017". According to their studies, pub-goers today prefer adventurous food, extensive beer and wine lists, comfy sofas and good music instead of darts. And the campaign is boasting royal blessings. Even Prince Charles once stepped up to the oche with darts in hand, claiming, "I'm doing my best to keep the darts tradition going."
Check out Fluid London’s Guide to the Best Pubs & Bars with Games in London.
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