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Games in the Selborne Arms

A. Double leg hold. B. Chancery back heel. C. Side chancery. D. Cross buttock and waist hold. E. Near leg hold and arm lock. F. Waist lock secured from rear and breaking hold. G. Ready to secure fall with waist hold secured from front. H. Fall imminent from waist lock. J. Leg hold and inside back-heel. K. Half Nelson and further leg hold. L. Referee’s hold. M. Full Nelson. N. Three-quarter Nelson. O. Quarter Nelson. P. Half Nelson.

Relaxing in the Selborne Arms, Juan suggests we play some traditional pub games, such as having a taich tulzie. George asks what this is and I tell him it’s an indoor scuffle, normally using dirks or ballock daggers for weapons. George looks horrified and says that he definitely doesn’t want to have anything to do with such a thing. Juan can’t understand what the problem is, but the landlord tells us that the traditional English pub fight doesn’t require knives or daggers, in fact, he adds, it doesn’t involve fighting at all. What happens, he explains, is that one man chooses another man at random and says, “‘Ere, wot you looking at?” This signals the start of the match. The other man then says something to the effect that he’s looking at an idiot, or, alternatively, says something terrible about the person’s mother or wife. Then the first man says “Step outside, I’m going to rip your head off.” Both men then make their way to the door but, before they can get outside, they are held back by their friends who say, “Leave him alone, he’s not worth it!” Both protagonists are then escorted back to the bar where they are made to shake hands and share a drink, then they share another drink, and they keep on drinking until, hopelessly inebriated, they fall into each other’s arms, crying, and swearing eternal friendship. This doesn’t sound very interesting so I suggest a bout of wrestling, or a boxing match.

Romain says that boxing is barbaric and dangerous. I tell him that he shouldn’t worry because modern boxers just dance around, tapping each other with soft, sponge-like, gloves which stops anyone getting hurt, and wrestling is simply a matter of performing a series of predetermined moves, very much like classical ballet, but noisier, less skilful and not as painful. Juan says we should have an arm-wrestling match, where the worst thing that can happen is a broken arm, which shouldn’t bother anyone, but George says that, as an artist, he needs his arms, Roly agrees, but, waving George’s painting of a pied wagtail, he says that, considering that George imbued the bird with as much movement and life as a lump of lead, George may as well paint with his knees, George, in reply, shoves Roly’s picture of a sun-bittern in front of us, shouting that Roly isn’t in a position to criticise art, as he couldn’t even be bothered to colour the bird, and drawing a colourless sun-bittern is like painting a rainbow without colours, it’s just lazy and stupid. Roly yells that a sun-bittern isn’t lazy or stupid, it’s an active, intelligent, bird, and he picks up a tube of blue paint and squirts it into George’s face, George grabs a bottle of stout and pours it over Roly, Roly kicks George in the stomach, George charges at Roly and, shouting and biting and rolling around, the two great artists do their best to beat each other into pulp. Juan and I cheer them on, but Albert says we should play something cerebral, Juan doesn’t know what he means; Albert says he means something involving the head rather than the arms, so Juan headbutts Albert in the face, knocking him across the room where, crashing against a table, he collapses in a heap.

When Albert regains consciousness, and, after we’ve cleaned the blood off his face, Albert complains that his nose is broken and claims that, if Juan had struck him any harder, he could have pushed his nose-bone up into his brain and killed him. I tell Albert that headbutting is traditional Highland pub game, and remind him that humans don’t have nose-bones, so he couldn’t possibly have come to any harm. Albert starts to argue that, of course we have nose bones, then, realising that he’s wrong, he lapses into a sulky silence. To cheer Albert up, the landlord brings out a chessboard and Albert challenges Juan to a match. Albert is internationally recognised as a genius and Juan is generally considered to be a complete idiot, so, as far as George, Roly and Romain are concerned, the outcome of the game isn’t in doubt, and they start betting that Albert will beat Juan easily. I put my money on Juan. Looking at Juan, staggering around the Selborne Arms, bouncing off the walls, slopping beer in all directions and singing a wild Highland battle song, George says I must be mad to think the can beat Albert at chess, a game of pure logic and intelligence, which Juan conspicuously lacks, and they raise the stakes. I am reluctant to take their money, but find it hard to turn down their challenge, so, rather than betting for money, I ask that, if Juan wins, they pay me with a painting. George says that he’ll give me a painting of a great crested grebe; I say that that’s great but Roly says that it’s not a fair offer, as George’s paintings are worthless rubbish. And the two artists start fighting again.

Albert puts the chess board on the table, sets up the pieces, and asks Juan if he wants to play white or black, Juan staggers over to the table, says “white”, casually flicks a white pawn forward two spaces, then goes to the bar, to order more drinks and something to eat. Albert pushes a black pawn forward, I call Juan to the table, he returns, carrying a pint of ale in one hand and a plate of Scottish smoked salmon in the other, he barely glances at the board, but bends over and flicks another white pawn with his elbow, spilling ale all over the board as he does so, then he sits down on the floor and tucks into the salmon. Albert moves one of his knights. Juan, sitting on the floor, can’t see the board and says that he’s eating and can’t be bothered to stand up to make his move, and asks Albert to make a move for him. Albert says this is against the rules; Juan has to move the pieces himself. Juan, disgruntled, flicks a piece of salmon toward the table where it strikes a white pawn and moves it one square forward.

Everyone is amazed at Juan’s throw, but I know that Juan is a fantastic shot, so I’m not surprised. Albert, disconcerted, moves another piece, Juan, barely looking up, throws another piece of salmon, moving another pawn. The game continues like this, with Juan moving his pieces by slinging bits of salmon at the board, reluctantly getting up to move a knight now and then, and to get another glass of ale. After ten moves, Juan gets to his feet, lurches to the table, glances at the board, carelessly pushes a bishop a few spaces and declares, “Mate in thirteen.” Albert, irritated, says that Juan can’t possibly know that’s he’s going to win thirteen moves in advance, but the next time Juan moves a piece he says “Mate in eleven.” Albert says it’s impossible to know who is going to win, eleven moves before the end of the game, there are too many variations to take into account, however, when Juan moves again he declares, “Mate in nine” with such authority that Albert looks worried and spends hours looking at the board; by the time he makes his next move Juan has downed eight or nine more pints of ale, and can barely stand. He stumbles towards the board, knocks his queen sideways a couple of spaces, and slumps to the floor, mumbling, “Mate in seven.”

By this time, I’m bored witless with the stupid game and, because the Selborne Arms doesn’t have a licence to sell spirits, I volunteer to go to collect some Vintage Aultmore, Tullibardine, Glen Scotia, and Blair Athol Founder’s Reserve from aunt Humperdink’s cellars. Stepping outside the pub, I notice a group of people and an airship. This is a wonderful sight as, although we are faizingly behind schedule, now I can tell Juan, Romain, George, Albert and Roly that, finally, we can be on our way and, yelling with excitement, I rush back into the Selborne Arms, as fast as I possibly can.

Professor Humperdink’s Diary