The thing everyone likes about skills is they get better over time. Refining and smoothing your talents to become a master of your craft, to put novices and the young to shame and possibly even pick up an award or two. ‘Honing’ they call it, which sounds a bit like an Australian having a wank.
But sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. Form is temporary, but even class is fickle. And as I turned over my card to reveal a three of clubs, the realisation dawned.
I’m fucking rubbish. The Golden Age of Chris is over.
I’m not talking about anything important here. I can still just about match an oil rigger Guinness for Guinness. I can still string words together and make the government pay me for it, though that’s thrown into some doubt when I question a millennial’s use of the word ‘learnings’, because they know best.
But something that’s flown under the radar about me is that I’ve always been surprisingly good at pub games. Anything you could conceivably play in the Dog & Duck, there’s a bloody good chance I have a winning record at it. Darts, dominoes, pool, cards, billiards, skittles and making people jump bursting crisp packets: at one point or another I have been champion at them all.
Add to that board games, especially Monopoly, though for some reason never Scrabble, though we all know that’s false modesty don’t we? Accusations that I get thrashed by the mother in law every Christmas simply will not stand up in court, you bastards. I have a sterling record at moving plastic around coloured cardboard and if you don’t think that’s a skill to be lauded your radar’s off and you should stick to moving fruit around your smartphone you pleb.
My crowning moment came about five years ago. My poor mate had to contend with a man at the absolute peak of his powers as I trounced him at snooker, pool, darts and drinking in a single afternoon. Not even the massive dog weaving between my legs in the Golden Lion could thwart my aim as the arrows rained truly into doubles, trebles, bulls. Trophies were held aloft, fables were born. Sorry Steve.
But a couple of months ago the unthinkable happened: I lost at Monopoly. A few weeks later I lost the same game to my younger brother, a horrendous passing of the torch. A nephew beat me at snooker; not a pub game admittedly, but galling nevertheless. These events are unprecedented. And staring at that three of clubs, knowing I’d lost yet another game of Shithead to a woman lately calling herself ‘Finchley Monopoly Champion’, I realised the jig was well and truly up.
I’m just useless at all this now. The darts will be pinging off the wire and the dominoes will never line up again. So far I’m holding my own at pool, but the first time I see the black tumble in off my second shot of a game I’ll know it’s time to pack my pole and piss off. I’ll have to just concentrate on the drinking, which is a shame.
I’ve probably brought this on myself. Earlier this year I coughed up for my very own custom-made Monopoly board in what turns out to have been an act of towering hubris. The properties are my favourite London pubs – the game is retitled ‘Drinkupoly’ no less. And as I’m forced to mortgage the Devonshire Arms as my opponent stacks up the pink 500s, the irony is not lost on me that two of the four kebab shops on the board – the stations – have permanently closed during the pandemic.
It can’t be lack of practice given nobody else has been able to put the hours in at the cribbage board any more than me over the last couple of years. It can only be age. In a miserable foretelling I actually somehow beat my old man at spoof recently, a game I’ve literally never seen him lose. Might as well start measuring him up for his pine overcoat now if even I can best him, given my recent record.
I’m not much of a bad loser thank Christ, but I would say that wouldn’t I? I’ve hardly lost over the years. My medium-term future could involve snapped cues, darts through windows and Community Chest on fire. Ageing is no fun but I honestly thought I’d retain these talents until I’m scattered. Am I to join the rest of you gormless fools serving only as fodder for a younger, fresher generation of slightly inebriated tabletop fanatics?
Bugger that, I’m doubling down. There must be classes to take, tutors to pay, self-study guides to devour. If you can teach a bloke to cook or crochet surely you can explain to him when for fuck’s sake don’t play both the aces at the same time or she’ll play her eight and you’ll be 5-2 down you absolute mug.
So don’t count me out just yet. Swiftly to eBay for a bar skittles table to waste my precious time spinning like a shit indoor swingball. There’s a dartboard in the shed, out that comes and if I practice that outside all winter I’ll be banging bullseyes before my fingers fall off.
Time to polish my tiny top hat.