For those who don't know, Aunt Sally is a bit like a coconut shy: there's a ball balancing on a spike and you throw sticks at it in an effort to knock it off. People play this competitively. I'm sure you can see the point. (If you do, please let me tell me what it is!)
So, last night there was a fundraiser for the local am-dram group, although other than the raffle, I'm not sure they raised much money and it struck me more as an excuse to go to the pub. The focal point of the evening, for those not actively propping up the bar, was the Aunt Sally. The village has a team that competes with other pubs in the area so 'professional' players either weren't allowed to play or had to play with their wrong hands. In addition to a couple of those, there were around 20 people who wanted to try their luck at throwing a stick. I'm sure a dog would provide the same sort of fun with more exercise, but perhaps that was the point. The OH has got in rather with a number of the members of the am-dram group, so our Sunday consisted of world cup rugby in the morning, the football that had been recorded in the afternoon and then the trip to the pub 'to support the Village Players' in the evening. I'm beginning to know a few of them too, so I agreed to join him. I nearly had to use my first aid skills.
Initially, it was mostly enjoyable. Basil, our Front of House coordinator extraordinaire, and Celia from the post office, were referees. This involved standing either side of the spike so that they could tell whether the ball had been knocked off by the stick itself, or by the stick making the spike wobble, which doesn't count. It struck me even before we started that they were both in rather a dangerous position but by the time we got there, several pints of beer had already been consumed and no-one seemed terribly worried. The first four couples threw their six sticks each and scored a massive three between them. This was quite a surprise unless you knew, as I did, that the first four people had been to some sort of local beer festival for lunch and, cycling back, had returned only just in time for the setting up of the Aunt Sally. They had done well to throw their sticks in the right direction at all, egged on by an amused audience.
Next up was Annie, playing opposite 'Farmer Bob', who lives the other side of the pub. He's not really a farmer, but he has some ducks and can regularly be heard complaining about the lack of government support for 'us small farmers'. Other than that, he's a lovely chap, always buys lots of raffle tickets at village events and probably provides half the prizes too. I think he used to work in the city because I can't see how half a dozen ducks can support his raffle habit!
Anyway, Annie went first and her first stick fell rather short of the mark. Bob was just stepping up to the Sally equivalent of the oche when a mock-sympathetic voice could be heard from near the bar. "Oh, bad luck, Annie. Perhaps you'll do better with the next one."
Annie flushed and hunched over her sticks, turning her back on the speaker, who turned out to be none other than Fiona. However, it seemed that no-one else realised she was being spiteful; they all thought it was a genuinely sympathetic comment. Anyway, Annie was clearly fuming about the comment as her next stick was thrown with considerably more force - she was probably imagining Fiona's head on the spike in front of her. Celia dodged slightly, which was just as well, but Annie wasn't bothered. Away went the next stick, thrown underarm as per the rules and sailing over the fence into Bob's garden, at which point there was a sound of breaking glass.
"My greenhouse!" Bob was aghast. "You stupid bloody woman, that's my greenhouse you've hit!"
Normally, Annie would probably have cowered and apologised, but the combination of a glass or two of beer and the antagonism of Fiona had created a village version of Tank Girl. "You shouldn't keep your greenhouse so close to the Aunt Sally then, should you?!" she retorted.
"It's not near the fence, it's the other side of my pond! You're only supposed to be aiming at the dolly, not sending the bloody sticks into orbit!"
I know, I know, an excessive use of exclamation marks, but really, both of them were definitely exclaiming. Before things got completely out of hand, however, Basil dispatched someone round to check on Bob's greenhouse and Celia had a quiet word with Annie and Bob, trying to restore order. The report back said that only one pane had been broken and it was quite a small one. Bob still fumed quietly but since it was obviously an accident (despite being provoked by Fiona) there wasn't much he could do about it. He and Annie finished their round (Bob won) and the game moved on.
Sharon and Matthew went next. They're a lovely couple but a bit earnest about Doing Good Things in the village, quite apart from the fact that despite being married for over five years, they are somewhat soppy about each other in public. Don't get me wrong, it's wonderful that they still clearly love each other, but it can become a little nauseating. It's not quite as bad as Lavender Brown's 'Won-Won' in the Harry Potter movie, but it's not far short. Matthew was most apologetic for beating Sharon and went on to compliment her throwing style, but Basil told them to move out of the way for the next couple or we'd be here until Doomsday.
There were a few more pairs until the final one, largely on account of their late arrival, which was Delyth and a friend who is staying with her from Belgium. You may find this hard to believe, but his name is Hercule and he is the spitting image of David Suchet's Poirot. Maybe not quite as portly, but the moustache is identical and he has even mastered the art of walking as though he is clenching a 1 euro coin between his buttocks. Having said that, he seemed a very pleasant chap and clearly had an eye for sticks, dollies and spikes, because when he wasn't buying rounds for the rest of us and chatting sociably if with a strong accent, he was winning each further level of the Aunt Sally. Delyth's husband Nigel looked mildly green at the bar while Hercule continued to wow us with his anecdotes and generosity. Eventually, he reached the final, to be played against Matthew.
Hercule took his throws very seriously. The crowd had to be quiet as he allowed the stick to settle in his hand, dropped his arm back in a practice throw a couple of times and then launched the missile at the dolly. Six throws scored him four points. "Not bad for a foreigner," Basil commented. He didn't mean it like that, he meant someone from outside the village.
But Hercule didn't realise that. "We're all in the EU now," he told Basil, most severely, and continued to lecture him on EU equal rights as Matthew stood at the oche and started to get ready to throw. Basil tried to move Hercule out of the way so that he could referee properly but just as Matthew was about to throw his first stick, Hercule shoved Basil back again to carry on making his point. Matthew tried to pull his throw back but all he succeeded in doing was changing its trajectory. His stick sailed up into the air and then straight down onto Sharon's head, since she wasn't really aware of what was going on and didn't duck quite as quickly as those around her.
Matthew was mortified, Basil was furious and Hercule was self-righteous. "It wasn't me who threw the stick!" was his sole retort when criticised by the assembled group. Fortunately, Sharon made a good recovery after being administered to with an ice-pack and a large gin, but she sat down a long way from Matthew and was rather quiet for the final, which started again once everyone had calmed down. Matthew is normally quite good at this, but clobbering his wife with his stick had clearly unnerved him and Hercule beat him easily. There was some muttering about a re-match but then Hercule made it better by buying everyone in the pub a drink in celebration of his win, a gesture that cheered a lot of people up.
I see in the news that Winkleigh Village has received a top family-friendly rating. The report doesn't mention our village. I can't think why not.