Christmas Teaser

A while ago I was moved to bemusement, sarcasm and derision regarding the meaningless language used in an advertisement for a senior post in the Metropolitan Police. I thought it would be a one off, as once you’ve goggled at the imbecility of the unholy spawn of HR and advertising speak, is there anywhere else to go? In this case however it appears there is and I am happy to make an exception and return to the concept that perhaps job adverts should convey some idea of what the job is. It is perhaps a coincidence that it occurs in another part of the ‘Justice’ system recruitment process, or perhaps key stakeholder account personnel are particularly heavily infected in this area of advertising copy.

I am not now nor have I ever been a ‘Key Accounts Lead’

Having got that confession off my chest I will attempt to reclaim some legitimacy for my response to the job advert for the Law Society, reproduced below.

I speak English as my native tongue, I studied law, have an LL.B. and have worked with legal documentation at various times and have a moderate degree of intelligence. I should be able to work out what a job advert is saying. Shouldn’t I?

This however leaves me scratching my head, open mouthed. Frankly this is the sort of thing I write as a joke to point out the execrable silliness on marketing and management speak.

Anyone using the words ‘stakeholder engagement strategy’ without a large emoji to show they are taking the mick should be avoided like the plague. I give you the advert.

Prizes may be awarded for anyone who can tell me what it means.

‘The Role

The Law Society is the membership body for the legal profession. Our members are at the heart of what we do and we’re committed to providing ongoing support, training and events to assist them in their careers.

The Key Accounts Lead is a new role and will be responsible for leading a team to successfully develop and implement the stakeholder engagement strategy and plan for maximising engagement with and satisfaction of strategically key membership accounts.

The successful candidate will lead and develop cross-organisational stakeholder engagement with key membership accounts in collaboration with colleagues. This will include managing the relationships with strategically key accounts, and leading, influencing and working in partnership with them and senior colleagues to develop and enhance the Law Society’s member offer

What we’re looking for

Any successful applicant will need experience of working in a law firm, in-house or similar professional environment.

The candidate will need proven experience of improving client engagement and satisfaction across a broad and diverse membership to deliver increased member satisfaction.

This role is responsible for engaging with a large segmented professional audience within a complex governance membership organisation. The successful candidate must be able to foster and influence relationships at a senior level and demonstrate the ability to develop and deliver client focused solutions through multiple complex projects.

Comfort with a senior stakeholder audience as well as excellent written and verbal communication skills in order to communicate at all levels within the legal profession will put candidates ahead in the selection process. This role comes with responsibility for managing a small team and developing cross team working, hence experience of such is essential.’

Well that can take the place of those Christmas Quizzes one gets on other sites. Remember its only a bit of fun and nobody except the senior stakeholder audience will be affected by the outcome.

Merry Christmas everyone.

APRÉS MOI…LE WHAT?

I have a guilty secret.

It’s a kind of addiction.

I gave the game away in a recent post here, but I think I may have gotten away with it too,  if it hadn’t been for those pesky kids

Which kids?

Those on University Challenge.

I have been watching UC and attempting to compete with the contestants since its inception in 1962. Given I was seven at the time, you might have thought that this was a forlorn hope. I was however a precocious little person. Although I doubt my memories of each week being in with a shout at the gong which ends each episode in those early years, I had been attentive enough to my father’s readings to me of Norse and Greek mythology, Roman history and basic science, to get one or two answers each episode. The canon of academic knowledge seemed narrower then.

Which is why contemporary questioning has exposed some lacunae in my knowledge base, and led to this confession.

My interest in a TV programme which asked questions with definitive right or wrong answers based on a well bounded sphere of academic, cultural and political knowledge played right into the strengths of my ASD brain. Read these works, study these equations follow the news in reputable papers and all the knowledge worth knowing was available and could be remembered.

Not only that but I could test and compare myself with the contestants.

I answered the questions where I could, but early on I began a quite strange, now I look back on it with more insight than I then possessed, habit. I would count the answers I got correct, but they only counted if I said them out loud before anyone on the two competing teams or the host, Bamber Gascoigne initially, now Jeremy Paxman, announced them.

I considered for a while the idea of marking myself in terms of the show’s  marking schema; with ten points for a starter question and five for a follow up bonus, to see, presumably, if I alone could have defeated the accumulated brainpower of St.John’s College Oxford or Durham University or Manchester. I am still tempted, but I drew a line. Somewhere a warning note regarding the dangers of stepping over the line of casual enthusiasm into obsession, sounded. Some may say it sounded a little too late.

I was distraught when he show disappeared from ITV in the 80s. But it had sown the seeds of a slight quiz mania. I was already part of the Pub Quiz boom in that period and played for a team in a local league and joined peripatetic quizzers looking for fresh challenges and cash in the tough semi pro world of quizzes for cash. I’m joking of course, it wasn’t bare knuckle boxing, but sometimes the distinction blurred. There were bans on some itinerant teams who showed up to local pubs running cash prize quizzes and some people could and did get quite shirty about the presence of (mostly mythical) quiz hustlers in competitions.

When UCt returned in 1994 I was elated.

So why has the current iteration of UC brought me to this confession?

Well I still watch, and I still count my scores in terms of questions answered. Okay, so far so weird I know. The thing that has concerned me is that my number of questions answered correctly before the students can, or before Paxman can put them out of their misery should they not know the answer, is declining.

In the first round games I have been still okay. I scored 31 in one round this series and I was regularly in the high twenties and convinced the old brain was still ticking along. The subsequent rounds I believe get harder, at least they do for me, but this week I was reduced to 16. I’m not saying I’m grabbing the mess Webley yet, but I am wondering where we put it.

On a seriously anal note I had a deeper think about the reasons.

Obvious answer: they were asking questions I didn’t know the answer to. (I know where prepositions go, I’m embracing the vernacular) But why? The answers thing, not the vernacular.

In some cases even this is not true. I have noticed that although I know the answer, my recall is too slow to beat the 19 to 20 something brains. The number of times I have been tempted to ‘cheat’ and count the answer if I knew it but couldn’t spit it out fast enough is increasing dramatically. Thoughts of normal age related impairment reassure me a little, but don’t waft away the various dementia concerns that start to gather in the darker moments.

But a less threatening answer also raises its head. I just don’t keep up enough with the changes to the modern academic and cultural canon. An average awareness of Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi, Wagner no longer suffices to cover questions on serious music, and don’t even start me on contemporary music – is it music? (Oh Guy! ‘Modern beat combos’ anyone?) Similarly Titian, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, van Gogh, don’t appear as much while Banksy, Emin and Hirst will only get you so far. As for the proliferation of subatomic particles in common circulation since 1962…

I realised many years ago that to attain the Renaissance ideal of knowing everything had become less likely to put it mildly, but I still tried. To what purpose I was never sure, save emulating my father who was my internet. But not only has the canon grown exponentially it appears the relevance of the earlier iterations has declined or in some cases disappeared altogether.

This isn’t always a bad thing. The removal of sub Galtonian justifications for crude eugenics is hard to shed a tear for. Likewise, for different reasons, some of the earlier explanations of life, the universe and everything that preceded scientific method. Although I note neo-Lamarkism is very popular among the epigenticist class.

So there it is.

I am an inveterate consumer of, and participant in quizzes (whether pub or TV). Preferably not involving too much ephemeral popular culture. But one who is slipping down the rankings as failing brainpower, interest in keeping up and an expanding world knowledge base conspire to reduce me to what must surely be single digit scores at the hands of Paxman et al.

Barbarism and dissolution await, I embrace them.

GET ON THE TRAIN

I can’t remember how long it is since I watched Billy Liar. It was sold to me as a must watch by a school friend sometime in the early seventies. I may have watched it again in the late seventies depending whether it was repeated on BBC2. That was the only channel (out of three available in Britain) that would have bothered repeating something which passed for an arty, niche piece in the world dominated by the likes of James Bond, The Great Escape and similar blockbuster style films that made it on to BBC1 and ITV.

Be that as it may, if people mentioned it in conversation since then (not a frequent occurrence, but more often than you would think for a black and white British film about someone who daydreams a whole country but doesn’t leave home), I would smile in recognition, but there would be an uneasy feeling, squirming away at the back of my mind.

Then I read a piece in the Guardian some time ago that made me remember where my uneasy feelings about it came from. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/nov/10/billy-liar-my-most-over-rated-film

If you haven’t watched it and don’t want to know the ending – spoiler coming along – look away NOW!

Billy has his chance to leave and doesn’t take it. More foolishly he has the opportunity to leave the North of England head for London to try and make his future, with Julie Christie.

He gets off the train and ‘misses’ it, marching back home to failure with his imaginary army trudging behind and Julie Christie on the way to London.

It is a paean of praise to lost opportunity.

I remember being very afraid that Billy was me. I played wargames with toy soldiers (still do) so ‘imaginary army’? Check. Dead end northern town existence? Check. Dreamer with pretensions of writing? Check. The only thing I was missing was Julie Christie – maybe that was the problem.

To be fair, I like and liked Macclesfield, not such a terrible existence. But I found a way out, having had a kick up the backside from reading, a few years on from seeing the film, the sequel: ‘Billy Liar on the Moon’. Still in the town, now a council official, he breaks a corruption scandal. But he is stuck there making the best fist he can of a bad job.

So I left.

So why drag all this up now? Well I have unfulfilled ambitions and I was looking online for something else entirely and came across this review again and almost immediately afterwards on the name of someone I used to work with. He worked in another organisation and I thought he was a good bloke, but a bit fly. Vey fly it seems as he is now a big wheel in the privatised bit of the world we used to inhabit for the Public Sector. Looking at his business social media led me to another couple of names I know, both of whom I worked with and thought were okay but frankly nothing that special and certainly no better than me at what we did.

I took another path and now I wonder if I missed a train somewhere?

The Julie Christie reference didn’t help either, because although I am happily married with two lovely children, I remembered a huge missed signal from someone I was madly in love with at the time. The combination of being head over heels and ASD made me miss a rather large hint and opportunity. I am squirming with embarrassment as I write this that I didn’t see it at the time.

Of course my life might have been very different or very much the same, we never know where the untravelled road might have led us. I’m very happy with my family and although remembering that incident makes me cringe, I wouldn’t not have my family. But realising I definitely cocked up recognising an opportunity in one field of life has made me wonder what else I might have missed in fields I would have liked to have gone differently?

A medical friend who dealt with many injured soldiers in recovery and rehabilitation used to say ‘we start from where we are, not where we would like to be’. Wise words. So whatever I may have missed the thing to remember is don’t miss things now, don’t dwell on what might have been.

I’ll get on the next train.

MEDITATION ON A LOST YEAR AND A NEW CROSSROADS

There’s been a lot going on in the world over the last nine months, despite the narrow parochial view from a small town in a corner of Wales in varying states of quarantine. As much as Wales has big cities, (Cardiff? Swansea? Newport?) where I live is most decidedly not imbued with a big city perspective. So the closure of one of the local supermarkets, last trading day Sunday 6 December, has been the big, and miserable, news of the last few months. The other has been the remodelling of the crossroads at the centre of the village finally finished, sort of. What was supposed to be a three month job was strung out with Covid and its response into nine. It still hasn’t got all the promised bells and whistles and frankly at the moment looks like the biggest waste of money on a cosmetic effort since the rage for trout pout lips some years ago.

The USA has had an election. Result not quite confirmed. You have an election to elect people who have an election that happens six weeks later? Probably worked in the nineteenth century before modern transport and communication systems, but now? Six weeks? And then another month to move the furniture for the new guy?

Of course that has all been exacerbated by the present incumbent’s approach to elections and news. I guess the combination of Donald Trump and a system that means the nation has got used to ‘mainstream’ media outlets being the ones to ‘call’ the election, was asking for interesting times if it didn’t go spectacularly in his favour.

Most commentators seem to believe it is all over bar the shouting and that Joe Biden is President-Elect, and will take up residence in the White House. President Trump is still tweeting ‘we will WIN!’ and saying he will vacate the White House if the Electoral College votes for Biden on 14 December. Am I the only one wondering what that means? I’ve heard of ‘faithless electors’ where College electors don’t follow their state’s popular vote but apparently (and I am no expert on US Constitutional Law, so don’t quote me) it is also open to State legislatures to appoint College Electors who will vote against the popular vote if that legislature is convinced the original ballot was flawed in some way. The Electors would not then be ‘faithless’ and laws constraining their voting (in some states only) that automatically invalidate ‘faithless’ votes, would not apply. The Donald may still have a technical route to that second term.

With me so far?

I can see why the demise of Waitrose here is the main point of discussion round here.

China appears to have shrugged of Covid-19 like a bad dream the rest of us are still enduring. Do we believe that? Is smoke and mirrors really the cure for SARS-CoV-2? Or a draconian social control that would make Winston Smith’s ‘1984’ look like an Ecstasy fuelled Rave? Facial recognition and re-education camps, fight Covid, Uighurs and Democracy?

Hong-Kong had its flirtation with post British colonial democracy prematurely trashed (see above) and the Brits use some really harsh words. Being in hock to the largest manufacturing economy in the world (which is doing the trashing) doesn’t help truth justice and the mother of Parliaments as it is about to crash out of the lee of the EU of course.

All the usual wars rage in the Middle East/Horn of Africa, different names, same people dying.

Covid of course is still with us, though vaccines appear to be on the way. Let’s hope they are not the false dawn so many other promises turned out to be in 2020. And can we please not give equal air time to ‘anti-vaxxers’ in a spirit of ‘balance’? Andrew Wakefield and his cronies did enough damage 20 years ago without more of his insanity flooding the airways and newsprint. It’s bad enough his corrupt stupidity will be perpetuated through social media and unregulated websites without giving this idiocy access to the validation of mainstream channels.

Having got that off my chest I can look forward to my isolated winter festivals of Hanukkah Christmas and Saturnalia (sorry Diwali, you have already happened) with a light heart. Can’t I?

Happy Winterval.

VOICE

With a snarl Ramirez cut the last line and the boat smacked into the waves. It was only by a miracle that Jarvis and I were not thrown into the heaving green waters. Even Ramirez’s two companions had to hold on for dear life.

‘Take the oars damn you!’ he cursed, ‘Or we’ll be beam on and the next roller will have us over.’

Miller and Nairut scrambled for the oars as we rocked and plunged…

‘It’ll never sell you know.’

They got the blades into the rowlocks and began to…

‘Who said that?’

‘Nobody said anything, you were in descriptive mode.’

‘That’s right I was…no. You, who are you?’

Nothing.

They got the blades [is that the right word? Can’t use “oars” again, can I? Oh I don’t know, if it’s the right word, use it twice and use it three times to show them you meant it. I think Will Self said that.]

‘He says a lot of things.’

‘I know he’s good isn’t he?’

‘If you like that sort of thing. But that’s what I mean, a ripping yarn at sea isn’t what people buy now is it? It’s not what he writes.

They got the oars into the rowlocks and began to heave on them, turning the bow of the boat into the swell.

‘Help them, if you want to live!’

Jarvis and I let go our death grip on the hull and scrambled

[did I say scrambled earlier? Bugger yes. Think of another word.]

What would Will Self do?

‘Sod Will Self. There’s no point being an iconoclast if you use that iconoclasm to make new, iconoclastic rules a straitjacket is there?’

Jarvis and I let go our death grip [is that a cliche? It is isn’t it? Change it? Maybe later.] on the hull and made a grab for the other two oars [told you to say it three times} and…

Sticking with the iconoclasts new clothes then are we?’

‘Look, who said that?’

‘No-one, it’s not a quote.’

‘I KNOW! Who the hell is that voice?’

Nothing.

…and began heaving on them to save all our lives, murderers, thieves and honest men alike, all in the same boat.

‘That’s a cliche.’

‘It’s a knowing nod in a post modern acknowledgement to a past era of literary form.’

‘Pastiche is it then?

‘More an hommage.’

‘You say that when you’re taking the mickey.’

‘Do I?’

‘You know you do. Are you taking short cuts?

‘I’m establishing a mood, an atmosphere, using phrases and style familiar to readers of a certain genre of book to ground it in certain well travelled lines of expectation…’

‘And then you’re going to subvert them?

‘Possibly. You have a problem with that?’

‘Another cliche.’

‘Will you stop that!?’

Our small vessel nosed bow first into the waves now and Ramirez grinned, the knife still clutched in his hand. ‘We’ll make sailors of you yet boys!’ he laughed. [laughed? Should it be something less friendly? Such as?]

‘How about “cackled”?

‘And that’s not a cliche?’

‘Well I thought if you’ve given up I’d embrace the zeitgeist.

‘Given up?’

‘Well is this for real?

‘I don’t know. Are you?’

‘You tell me mate. You’re the one writing me.

SAD LOSS

I heard at the beginning of the week that Ray Edwards has died from an infection acquired in hospital having been admitted with Covid.

It is unlikely that you will know Ray, and your life will have been the poorer for that. He wasn’t a great literary genius or a famous politician or a celebrity. He was simply a great human being.

I knew Ray through a Writers group and through helping proof read his autobiography ‘Lucky Me!’.(available here)

It was a privilege to know Ray and to help him in however small a way to realise one of his dreams; setting his life story down on paper. He wrote sensitively about his childhood and his family which held one of those secrets that could, perhaps should, have come from the pages of a novel rather than the beginning chapter of an amusing kind and sensitive man.

Whatever difficulties life threw at him, and he had his share and more, he overcame them and bought a smile to the faces of those around him. He turned this gift of compassion and human understanding to counselling work after his engineering career was over.

He used his experiences, growing up near Caerphilly, in the RAF and as an engineer with British Airways, and his natural interest in people to fuel a burst of writing enthusiasm which entertained, amused and entranced those who heard and read his stories. It is a great sadness that he has gone before he could have developed more fully the promise he showed.

He leaves his wife, Rosemary to whom I offer my deepest condolences at her loss and to whom I offer my thanks for loaning him to us at Writers every week.

He will be deeply missed.

THOUGHTS ON SHOOT OUT…

Shoot Out At The Red Horse Bowling Club is now online in one block should anyone wish to read it through without the bother of clicking through the instalments. It is available in the ‘Writing’ tab on the menu bar or by clicking here.

I had the idea for that story years ago, started writing it about three years back and had to force myself to finish it. It was odd because I knew the ending from the off. Or thought I did.

It is not that usual that I know the ending of a story when I start it. I don’t mean that I have absolutely no idea of where the thing is going. I usually have a rough idea of where the protagonist/s are heading. I don’t usually have a fully fledged story arc in mind though.

I often start with a situation, a character or characters and an idea of their trajectory to resolve the predicament they are in or about to find themselves in. Occasionally I just let them run and they end up somewhere else entirely. Sometimes I want to end up in a particular place so I’ll plot a little more strictly and have been known to resort to mind maps and spread sheets.

In this case I started with a situation and the ending. But it didn’t work when I got there. I changed bits of the plot. I changed the ending and had to go back and re write developments to fit. I hated those bits so rewrote them. Then I went for a ‘genre’ voice. Then I lost it. I tried a rewrite with the voice all the way to the end. It felt very mannered so I rewrote the twee pieces ended with a half way house. Rarely a good place to be. I put another scene in to try and work the transition of voices and it became even more overlong than it is now. c5,750 words is a long short story these days apparently. I had to cut it back a fair bit to get it to c5,750.

In the end I decided it had had enough indignities inflicted on its creakingly flimsy frame of whimsy. And, rather obviously, I published it here warts and all. Is it what I expected when I started? No. Is it the same story? In essence I suppose yes it is. I wanted a bigger ending, and had one for a while, but that seemed too far fetched. So here we are. I have a horrible feeling it is both overworked and under edited at the same time. I have been so close to it for so long that I lack even a pretence at objectivity.

SHOOT OUT AT THE RED HORSE BOWLING CLUB (5)

‘And now in best Miss World tradition,’ Carol’s fingers curled into fists. ‘We will announce the winners in reverse order.’

The background noise dropped away.

‘In third place, with a sound knowledge of tropical birds and the albums of Anthrax and Slayer but a poor showing on organic chemistry, we have our very own Jack of All Trades.’ There were whistles and jeers and I felt the eyes of various tables boring in at us. The captain went up to receive the third place trophy and mementoes.

‘And now, in what was a very tight finish between two excellent teams, we come to the runners up.’

He paused. I felt the sweat trickle down my spine.

‘Second place goes to a team with a broad spectrum of knowledge save musical theatre… Red Horse Crown Princes!’

Ronald walked up with a face like thunder and took the prizes offered.

We looked at each other. That must mean…

‘And in first place we have a team confirming their elite league status, our knowledgeable guests from… The Rugby Club.’

I’ve heard deeper silences because I’ve attended military remembrance services. Those silences are solemn, contemplative and respectful. The silence in the Red Horse Bowling Club had another quality.

The MC still had his hands raised in acclaim and a fixed smile. He realised he’d missed the mood.

Everyone stared at our table and everyone on our table stared at me.

You know you have to say something, just to make sure the Marshal and the Judge can see you didn’t draw first, but I knew where this was going to end.

My chair clunked against the table as I rose to my feet.

‘Thank you, thank you everyone.’ That confused them and bought me a moment before the silence burst. ‘We’ve had a lovely time this evening and we’d like to thank everyone involved in organising this quiz, but as we said, we came for that enjoyment and to support the charitable work of the Club. So rather than have any misunderstanding, we said earlier we weren’t in the competition so we congratulate Red Horse Crown Princes on their well deserved victory.’

I sat down, Ronald, Ivor and their supporters glared. The MC had a hurried conversation with Jeff and the quizmaster before announcing.

‘That’s very gracious, but we have been able to see from up here that the young lady has not been involved in any answers and you have won fair and square. The Red Horse respects the spirit of quizzing and we would be honoured if you would collect your prizes.’

He smiled and his hand ushered me forward to the top table.

There was nowhere to go. I looked at the team and Carol.

They raised eyebrows and shrugged.

I rose and walked to the front.

There were a few boos now.

‘I’m not having any of that.’ The MC snapped into the mike.

I received the large, repurposed bowls championship trophy, four bowling bags with the sponsor’s logo, four jacks and four bowling mats. I immediately donated the latter two items to the club as none of us bowled and it seemed like a conciliatory gesture. There was some clapping, but the muttering outgrew it.

I thanked everyone again and walked back to our table.

The MC began a roundup of the evening but before he got beyond ‘And now ladies and gentlemen a reminder that…’ Ivor and someone who I presumed was closely related, judging by his looks and hat, but who had been better nourished as a child marched over to us. Ivor spoke.

‘That trophy should be ours. Coming here with five players. What’s the game?’

‘You tell ’em Ivor!’

‘Cheats.’

I stood up.

‘Now look. We don’t want any trouble. We came for a fun night out and we’re going now.’

‘Are you now? Nick our trophy and then sod off ?’

‘Nobody “nicked” anything.’

‘Now gentlemen, let’s not have any unpleasantness. We don’t want to ruin a lovely evening do we?’ the MC’s voice called out over the PA system.

‘We haven’t had a lovely evening thanks to them!’ Ronald shouted, joining in the growing numbers behind Ivor and his large friend.

‘Could save it though.’ Ivor’s clone said. ‘What position do you play love?’ he asked with a leer. ‘Hoo…’

Carol was on her feet before he could finish the word.

‘I wouldn’t, even if you were paying.’ She said.

He sniggered and Ivor took a step forward.

She went for her pocket.

I was hoping she wasn’t going to do what I thought she was going to do, but she did.

Next second an open wallet was in Ivor’s startled face. ‘Hold it right there! She said.

Now in many circumstances the appearance of a Manchester Police warrant card would have given most people at least pause for thought before continuing in their nefarious activities.

In the Red Horse however it wasn’t pouring oil on troubled waters but petrol on a smouldering fire.

Ivor’s large companion leaned forward.

‘That’s Manchester police. You don’t have any jurisdiction here.’ He said and made a grab for her.

I hit him as sweetly on the chin as anyone I had ever punched on a pitch and he went down in a most satisfying heap. There was a gasp around the room.

Ivor spluttered.

‘About time someone did that.’ Someone on a nearby table said.

Ivor spun around.

‘Was that you Ernie Outhwaite?’

‘Aye! What of it? I’m sick of you and your idiot brother with your stupid hats.’

Ivor, already apoplectic at the quiz result lunged for Mr Outhwaite. Someone grabbed his arm before he could grasp his tormentor, but Ronald rabbit punched the man who had intervened.

The rugby club was already half way to the door. It opened and the doorman entered. The room had already passed beyond being aware of his presence. He looked at the three committee men at the front of the room and the MC nodded at him. He waded into the room. Tables, chairs, drinks, and quizzing paraphernalia were already flying about the place and now people joined the debris as he progressed towards the centre of the fracas. He grabbed Ivor and Mr Outhwaite and held them apart, one in each ham like hand. The rest of the room calmed down.

The MC looked at us and pressed the button on the mike.

‘And a last round of applause for our guests this evening, The Rugby Club!’ There was an enthusiastic burst of clapping from at least half the room from which I gathered my opinion of Ivor’s dress sense was widely shared.

We risked a wave and opened the door.

‘Same time next year lads?’

The End

SHOOT OUT AT THE RED HORSE BOWLING CLUB (4)

The room went quiet. I couldn’t really see the problem. She’d let them all have a go and waited until the last call to throw her hat in the ring. But I crossed my fingers she was going to be wrong.

‘Well, if it isn’t our guest.’ The halibut smile touched the MC’s mouth again and he looked at Carol with interest. ‘Do you have a name you’d like to try?’

‘I do. My grandfather would never forgive me if I didn’t know this.’

The MC’s brow furrowed.

‘Why?’

‘Because his dad was Bernard Kelly’ Carol paused for effect, ‘winner of the Waterloo in 1953 and 1954.’

‘Bloody hell.’

Some saw the funny side, some, realising they had the descendant of Crown Green royalty in the room, applauded and cheered. Ivor and Ronald began a speculative barrage of “Ringer”, “Cheats”, taken up by others who felt their sacred knowledge of the Crown Green game was being stolen by this female Prometheus.

Jeff and the MC tried to calm things down before anything more than insults were thrown. There was as much invective flowing now between various tables as there was towards us.

I was judging the best route to the door when Jeff disappeared and returned with the huge man who had been taking the money at the door. He loomed over the MC and looked round the room. Even the Homburg wearing Ivor was quiet.

‘Is there a problem?’

The silence was absolute. The MC resumed with a smile, a genuine one this time as far as one could tell.

 ‘Thank you ladies and gentleman. I can confirm that “Bernard Kelly” is the correct answer, and I’d like to extend a warm Red Horse welcome to such a lovely representative of a legendary family.’ There was a ripple of clapping. Ronald opened his mouth a couple of times, but his sense of injustice withered in the looming presence behind the MC.

Carol sashayed up to the front and collected her coasters and the MC’s handshake was long and genuine. Mr Kelly’s fame trumped everything in his eyes. Carol didn’t showboat this time and there was spontaneous applause. The doorman’s eyes swept the room one last time as Carol returned to our table, and satisfied he was no longer required, went back to mind the entrance.

‘Well, we are honoured to have the great granddaughter of one of the greats of Crown Green bowling in our midst.’ The MC announced. He took a breath to recover from his brush, however remote, with fame before continuing. ‘Now, on to the last two rounds and I’d like to remind you all that the last round is a double pointer. The questions are harder but the reward so much greater.’

The Rugby Club looked at each other. This wasn’t quizzing according to Hoyle, but it was the Red Horse’s quiz. League rules didn’t apply if they didn’t want them to. The Red Horse was always a maverick outfit. There wasn’t any judge to run to on this side of town. We’d known that when we crossed the river.

First there was a music round and that might have soothed the savage breast, but the combination of thrash metal, swing and gospel rock was not conducive to that end. The temperature rose. We were not clued up on the works of Metallica, Tommy Dorsey or Cliff Richard but surprisingly, some of the Red Horse teams were. The gap narrowed. We weren’t playing for the prize. We were playing for honour and I had a sneaking suspicion we might have forfeited that in most people’s eyes some time ago. I knew Carol wasn’t answering any of our questions but I wondered how I’d have felt if Ronald or Ivor’s teams had pulled the same stroke. Not that there was a stroke being pulled, but I suddenly saw how it might look. Losing might be the honourable thing to do.

‘Drink?’

I pulled myself back to the present.

‘Er, no thanks. Keep a clear head and stuff.’ I said.

‘Good thinking.’ Said Steve. ‘Double points next round, we don’t want to let them in at the death.’

‘I wish you hadn’t said “death”‘ Paul said, looking over his shoulder.

‘Nothing to worry about now.’ Steve replied.

‘Not with our get of gaol card.’ John nodded at Carol.

‘They wouldn’t touch the granddaughter of Brian Kelly.’

‘Bernard, and he was my great granddad.’ Carol corrected.

‘I’m not sure how far that amnesty extends.’ I said.

‘Right, ladies and gentlemen, with the scores poised in a very interesting position, we move into the final round, and with double points up for grabs, things can change very quickly.’ He swept the room with his grin. ‘Are we all ready?’

‘Get on with it!’

‘Then I’ll begin.’

The questions were harder, but as well as being an average inside centre at the weekend, John was a pretty mean industrial chemist by day. We knocked over the questions on the Haber process, carbon ring geometry and blast furnace components without breaking stride. Naming German goal scorers in the 1966 World Cup Final proved more of a challenge. Helmut Haller was no problem but we had to go via the German author of “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” to dig up Wolfgang Weber’s name. The rest were somewhere in between but we were confident we had knocked all of the questions over the boundary. Then I remembered perhaps we should be trying to lose. I was still dithering about whether to change some answers as the sheet was collected.

To keep people busy while the serious business of marking and adding went on at the top tables, there was a ‘just for fun’ picture round, but beyond a few ‘Who the **** is that’ mutterings over lesser known movie stars and Bishop Abel Muzorewa, it excited little interest. The frantic calculations by the teams believing themselves to be still in contention were interrupted in fairly short order by the MC.

‘Ladies and gentlemen.’ He called us to order.

He wasn’t going to surrender his power easily and he strung proceeding out as best he could. He thanked the waitresses, the bar staff, the organisers, question setters, markers and “of course all of you wonderful teams” for making the evening possible and the raising of so much money for charitable causes, although they remained unnamed. There was a grumbling in the throng.

He was a committee man, and he stuck to his guns, making amusing, to someone at least, comments about various well known characters from the club and their performance on the green and in the quiz. Eventually he got to the meat of the event.

SHOOT OUT AT THE RED HORSE BOWLING CLUB (3)

We pored over the pictures and the lads mumbled a few complaints about not getting the trophy and I suggested they could stand up and reverse the decision if they liked. The swell of noise around us was still divided between ‘bastards’, ‘cheats’, ‘pompous twat’, we could beat ‘em anyway’ and ‘leave ‘em alone’, ‘that was nice’ and  ‘doesn’t he speak posh?’ I wasn’t sure if the latter comment were a positive or a negative. It was the Red Horse, but I’d give them the benefit of the doubt.

We handed our picture sheet in and talked amongst ourselves.

‘Does this mean we can play properly now?’  Paul asked.

‘What do you mean; “properly”? Have you been holding back?’

‘Little bit.’ Paul said.

I looked at John and Steve. They nodded.

‘Bloody hell.’ was all I could manage.

‘I thought you were supposed to be rugby players?’ Carol said.

We looked at each other, at the assembled multitude in the Red Horse club room and then back at her. Steve opened his mouth. Before he could make a sound Carol spoke again.

‘And if you say “It’s the Red Horse” I’m going to tell them you’re all gay.’

It was the 1980s and thank goodness no longer illegal to like your own gender, but the Red Horse clientele would move out of the 1880s in their own good time.

‘Okay then.’ Steve said, ‘But I hope you can run as fast as you can talk.’

The MC switched his mike on again, repeating the electronic howling of earlier and brought proceedings to order.

‘While the lovely ladies…’ Carol’s eyes got even flintier than they had been when issuing her threat to us, ‘…are moving amongst you for orders before the second half, we’ll have the first of our spot prizes. These are questions for individuals to answer so anyone in the room except for staff can answer, so that includes our delightful guests,’ he inclined his head towards Carol. ‘I shall ask the question and anyone who knows the answer put their hand up. Jeff will select the person who put their hand up first and if correct they will win the spot prize. If the answer is wrong Jeff will indicate the second person and so on until we get the correct answer.’

‘Point of order.’

‘Yes Ronald?’

‘Aren’t spot competitions restricted to paying members of teams in the main competition?’

‘We’ve checked during the interval Ronald and it doesn’t say so in the rules.’

‘I would have thought…’

‘Three committee members have decided it’s open to anyone except staff.’

‘Well I think…’

‘It’s a committee decision Ronald. Bring it up at a committee meeting if you want.’ He turned to the paper in his hand. ‘Now then, this prize is a lovely tankard engraved with the Red Horse motif and our motto “Crown of Strength”. Now if you are all ready the question is: Who wrote the tune for the song “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” in the film and show “Cabaret”?’

There was a lot of blank stares and then a couple of hands shot up. Jeff selected one.

‘Christopher Isherwood?’

‘Incorrect. Jeff, next one please.’

‘Adolf Hitler.’

‘No.’

‘Stephen Sondheim.’

‘An imaginative try Ronald.’

‘Frank?’ Jeff said, selecting the last remaining hand.

‘Bob Fosse.’

‘Sorry Frank a creditable effort but he was the Director.’

Jeff and the MC exchanged glances.

‘Anyone else?

The Rugby Club was out. Songbooks of musical theatre were not our forte. And then I saw Carol’s face. She was smirking, and her hand climbed into the air. Jeff saw it but did a very convincing act of looking to the far wall as if seeing another hand raised, somewhere, anywhere.

All eyes except Jeff’s were on Carol. Eventually even Jeff couldn’t pretend he hadn’t seen the rock solid hand in front of his face. ‘Er, the young lady here’ he said pointing somewhat redundantly to the lone hand aloft in the room.

‘John Kander and Fred Ebb wrote the song.’ She informed him, ‘But it was Ebb who wrote the music.’

The MC’s eyebrows lifted and he pasted a broad smile on his face.

‘Why, that is spot on young lady! Many people think it was an original Nazi song from the Third Reich but it was specially written for the stage show. Well done. Would you like to come and collect your tankard?’

Carol stepped up. The room had that heavy silent feel to it, like the atmosphere before a thunderstorm. She shook hands with Jeff and the MC, picked up the tankard, held it aloft and beamed at the room. A rumble went around the place. A storm was coming.

We admired the tankard and prepared for the first round proper of the second half.

The talk at half time and Carol’s individual win broke any reserve we might have had about playing to win. We got full marks on the first two rounds and dropped one in the third on the value of Pi to six decimal places because we couldn’t decide whether the last digit should be two or if, as were truncating it and the next value was six it should be three. We went the wrong way.

The half time altercations must have inspired some of the opposition as well because we had not broken away from the pack completely. Two other teams, Jack of All Trades and Red Horse Crown Princes were keeping pace with us and muttering still about numbers.

There was another spot prize. I was hoping the question for the “beautiful set of Red Horse Coasters” would be more in keeping with the assembled Red Horse knowledge base and would restore some bonhomie. The MC’s smile was even wider than normal as he opened the envelope with the question in it.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, one for the aficionados I think. Ready?’ There was a chorus of ‘get on with it’ and he began.

‘Only three men have won the Waterloo more than once, who was the first to achieve that notable accolade?’

We were safe. The Waterloo was a crown green bowling competition held in Blackpool at the Waterloo Hotel each year, and that was as far as my knowledge went. I was pretty sure that made me the top wrangler on bowling in our team. Carol’s face was a mask and I couldn’t tell what, if anything she might know about double victors of the supreme championship in Crown Green Bowls. Then I remembered her grandfather; a keen bowler and member of a club that regularly sent players up to Blackpool. There was not a flicker on her face, no movement of her limbs.

There were other hands up all over the room already though. We’d be safe this time. Someone would get this right.

‘Brian Duncan’.

‘Sorry Frank. He has won it twice but he wasn’t the first.’

‘He’ll win it again this year an’ all.’

‘That’s as maybe, but he wasn’t the first. Yes, Ronald.’

‘Dennis Mercer.’

‘No. Perhaps he should have, perhaps he will, but he hasn’t yet.’

Another flurry of answers scattered names of past winners into the room, but none was the name of the elusive first double winner. The MC still had a smile on his face, but it had outstayed its welcome, like a week old halibut on a fishmonger’s slab.

‘Come on ladies and gentlemen, time’s ticking. I’m amazed no-one knows this great man. Winning the Waterloo twice should make him a legend.’

‘Well he weren’t from round here.’

Laughter ran round the room, mingled with mutterings about the difficulty of the questions.

‘Get on with it man.’

‘Thank you ladies and gentlemen for your comments.’ The smile vanished. I had a feeling that might have been his pet question. ‘We’ll reserve the coasters for another time then, unless there are any other answers…’ he waved a couple of hands away, ‘…from people who haven’t yet had a go.’

Carol face broke into a smile, ‘Well I need something to go under the tankard don’t I?’ she said, and raised her hand.