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14.5.09

Darts in Newcastle



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Because of our time in the mine, we are sweaty, stinking, thirsty, and black with filth, so we are able to blend in with the locals easily.  However, in the first pub we visit, because of Juan’s stupidity, we quickly attract unwanted attention.  Pushing our way through the grubby crowd of customers, on our way to the bar, to buy some of Newcastle’s famous ale, Juan blunders into some young men playing a game of darts; Juan asks them which dart game they are playing, ‘Oxo’, ‘Round the Clock’, ‘Darts Shove Ha’penny’, ‘Darts Cricket’, or ‘Shanghai? 

The men have never heard of any of these games and tell Juan they are playing 501, so called because the first person who scores five hundred and one points is the winner.  Juan says the game sounds stupidly easy, and he is surprised when the men take offence and challenge him to a match.  Juan explains that he cannot actually play the game, but, if he just keeps hitting the bull’s eye, he would only have to throw ten or eleven darts to win.  The men say nobody can hit the bull’s eye every time and, anyway, the winner has to score exactly five hundred and points.  Juan says that these rules are stupid, but I point out that he only has to throw nine darts to win, as long as he scores an average of fifty-five point six points with each dart, which is easy, so Juan agrees to a game.  Unfortunately, by the time he has thrown seven darts, he is helplessly muddled and doesn’t know whether to aim for a triple eighteen and a double twenty, or a triple twenty and a double nineteen.  He loses the game, shouts that the rules are stupid, and demands another match.  The men seem happy to have another game, especially as Juan bets everyone in sight that, if can work out the maths; he will score 501 points with nine darts.  Cheryl says she’s thirsty and bored with watching darts, so we fight our way through the filthy throng to the bar. 

I order ale for everyone and Cheryl asks for bottles of Vintage Aberlour, Oban, Glencadam, and Strathisla Special Reserve.  The landlord says he doesn’t have any of those malts so, disappointed, Cheryl offers to buy all the whisky he has, arguing that what you lose in quality it is possible to make up in quantity.  The landlord wants to see our money before he agrees to sell us all his whisky.  Cheryl says that this is typical of the distrustful northerner.  Through the crowd, I can hear Juan shouting, and tell Cheryl to pay the landlord quickly, so we can get back and calm things down at the dartboard.  Cheryl says she doesn’t have any money.  I look in my bag but I can’t find any English coins or notes.  

Digging out three sacred kola nuts and two royal cowrie shells, I offer them to the landlord instead of money.  I am surprised when he gets irritated and shouts at us to leave his pub.  I explain that, with these nuts and shells, he would be fabulous wealthy in Ghana, but Cheryl asks the landlord if he would take gold instead of money, I always keep an ingot or two, for these occasions, and when he asks to see the gold, I drag out a large bar of gold and place it on the bar.

An astonished silence quelled the babble of the rabble in the pub and only the sound was of Juan, yelling for whisky, to calm his nerves, and screaming that scoring an average of fifty-five point six per dart is too complicated for a human to do.  The barman grabs the gold and runs out of the back door, shouting that we can have whatever we want.  Cheryl and some other customers dive behind the bar and hand out ale and whisky to everyone in the pub.  Everybody seems very happy with the arrangement and there is a lot of cheering and general bonhomie all round.

Cheryl and I, hearing Juan screeching with anger, return to the dartboard where we find him waving darts around and screaming that a triple seventeen and a double eighteen wasn’t going to work and the game was for morons.  Juan always claims that malt makes his aim better as, seeing double, the target is twice as big.  Looking at the scores, I realise that Juan is not only mathematically confused but also handicapped by lack of malt.  The only whisky available from the bar is a degraded, blended, slop, not fit for swine, so I pass Juan a flask of Duff’s Defiance Founder’s Reserve and follow that up with a flask of the Macallan and a glass boot, full of Vintage Auchentoshan.  

After finishing the Auchentoshan, Juan declares that he feels much better, throws back a couple of pints of Newcastle Brown Ale, for good measure and, loudly betting large amounts of money that he can score five hundred and one points with nine darts, he stumbles around in circles, singing ‘Hi, Canny Man, Hoy A Ha’penny Oo’ at the top of his voice.  Cheryl, who was the overall winner at the Buchanhaven Darts Festival for three years in a row, decides to help Juan but, just before she can tell him what numbers to aim at, a man standing behind her, pinches her bum and said something remarkably impolite.

Cheryl is very good natured and friendly, for a woman from Buchanhaven, but she takes unkindly to being assaulted by a stranger. She is slightly handicapped as her hands are full tumblers of whisky and pints of Newcastle Brown Ale, but her kneeing and kicking techniques are very effective and she doesn’t spill a drop. Looking down at the groaning, injured, man, I tell Cheryl that he needs medical attention but, probably, Juan was the only doctor in the house and, looking at Juan, bellowing and reeling around in circles, knocking over chairs, bouncing off tables and chucking darts in all directions, we decide not to ask for his assistance.  We kick the injured man under a table and forget about him.  Cheryl shouts at Juan to, at least, face the dartboard before throwing a dart.  Juan swivels around until Cheryl shouts at him to stop, because the board is, more or less, in front of him.  I tell him to hold the dart with his hand, rather than balancing it on his nose, then, when he has done this, Cheryl has to tell him to turn it around so the pointed bit faces the dartboard.  Juan swaying from side to side, shouts that the dart is too small, and complains that the feathers are tickling his hand, and he can’t hold it properly. 

This is such a pathetic excuse that everyone starts to laugh at Juan, but Cheryl looks worried, as Juan doesn’t like being laughed at, and, sensing a brawl coming on, we shout encouragement to Juan, check our weapons, and settle down to fortify ourselves by drinking blended malt which, as it tastes vile, we wash down with pint after pint of Newcastle Brown Ale, the ale also tastes disgusting and, to get rid of the taste, we drink more whisky, which requires more ale; after a short time, Cheryl says she is fed up with watching Juan trying to throw a dart and yells at him to aim for the bull’s eye and throw the thing.  Juan leans forwards and peers at the wall beside the dartboard; Cheryl looks alarmed but I explain that, by now, Juan will be seeing double so all he has to do is aim between the two boards.  Cheryl looks doubtful but I assure her that it will be perfectly okay; however, after looking at the wall for a long time, Juan starts to gyrate.  I tell Cheryl that, to Juan, the dartboard probably appears to be spinning, so he is spinning in the other direction, to counteract the effect.  Cheryl says that watching Juan trying to play darts is very irritating.  I remind her that Juan is a very irritating person. Some time later Juan is bunny hopping in circles, loosening his knees for the match, he claims, then he starts doing cartwheels and back flips, smashing into the furniture and bouncing off the walls, bawling that he needs to limber up.  I tell Cheryl that a lot of the men, who are waiting to win their money, are getting agitated and, unless Juan throws a dart soon, there will be trouble.  

We decide that, although we are chawningly behind schedule, we are in the beautiful city of Newcastle, and it would be silly not to visit more of their wonderful drinking establishments.  Cheryl shouts to Juan that we will meet him later.  He replies by screeching the Highland war cry and hurling darts into the ceiling, this indicates good spirit so, wishing Juan the best of luck and offering toast after toast to all our new friends, we tumble out of the door, link arms and, singing ‘The Neibors Doon Belaa’ and ‘The Lambton Worm’ at the top of our voices, we stagger down the street, looking for another pub, as fast as we possibly can.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary