SHOOT OUT AT THE RED HORSE BOWLING CLUB

It was a mean place on the wrong side of town. It had been a pub bowling club, but the town shut the Red Horse Pub. So the bowlers moved out. They settled on a plot next to the cemetery. House prices couldn’t fall and the locals couldn’t protest about the new neighbours.

The challenge came in the fall of the year.

We weren’t bowlers, rink or Crown Green, we were rugby players. We read the note twice. They didn’t want us for our high quality rucking or spin passes. They wanted to take us down. We were Quiz League, Division A, winners. They thought leagues were for sissies. They wanted a mass face off. All teams, four players each, one night, winner take all.

Steve, John, Paul and I looked at each other. It wasn’t the way we played, but we wouldn’t back down. We were men in the man’s world of quiz leagues. We had to look ourselves in the mirror each morning. We couldn’t do that if we ran, just because it was the Red Horse gang.

The Monday before the showdown I knew I had to tell my fiancée. It was only right. I rang her.

‘On Thursday?’

‘I have to Carol. There are some things a man can’t back down from, and who’s going to answer the literature questions if I’m not there? Steve!? Hah!’

‘But that’s the only night I can see you this week.’

‘I know darling, but I have to do this.’

‘Well, couldn’t I come along?’

‘To the Red Horse!’

‘It’s only the bowling club, the pub shut years ago.’

‘But it’s four man teams and…’

‘Man?’

‘Well I suppose ‘person’, but we’ve got four, and a reserve…’

‘Not Mac?’

‘Well, he’s keen and …’

‘He can’t find his way to the bar on his own.’

‘That’s because he’s mean, not because he’s stupid.’ I thought about this for a second, ‘But admittedly he’s not first choice.’

‘Couldn’t I just tag along for a drink and be with you afterwards?’

***

‘It’s no place for a woman. It’s the Red horse.’ Steve said when I asked about Carol coming.

‘I know but…’

‘Quiz night’s like lad’s night isn’t it? Paul offered.

‘I know, but I just thought it would be easier for me to play in the league games if I let her come this once.’

‘You’re going to be buggering off again though aren’t you? You won’t have to play them twice a season, home and…’ John swallowed hard, ‘at their place, next season and every season after that.’

I decided I was going to make a stand. ‘Well, it’s me with Carol, or Mac on his own.’

‘Shit.’

                                                                        ***

We parked on the road. A long way back down the road. The walls of the Red Horse Bowling Club glowered in the evening light. There are some things a man has to do. Doesn’t mean he wants to do them. The slam of the car door broke my reverie.

‘Are we going in or what?’ Carol asked.

With each step my keys beat the jingling, jangling rhythm of our march to destiny. I pulled the invitation from my pocket and re-read the invitation one last time. ‘Entry £6 per team. Quality prizes. Four players only per team. Proceeds in the aid of charity.’ Red Horse events were always in the aid of charity. Nobody ever asked which one.

We waited.

‘Should we maybe go in?’

I shook my head. ‘We said we’d meet outside.’

‘Why?’

‘Safety in numbers.’

‘You what?’

‘There are stories.’

‘It’s a bowling club.’

I looked her in the eye and then let my gaze swing to the green and gold sign hanging on the side of the building. “Red Horse Bowling Club. Greenall Whitley.”

‘It’s the Red Horse Bowling Club.’ I told her.

Five minutes later the others arrived.

‘Registered yet?’ Steve asked me, then added ‘Evening love’ to Carol. At least I thought it was that way round.

I shook my head.  ‘We said we’d wait for all of us. Safety in numbers.’

‘Don’t be daft.’ Paul said, stopping at the double doors. ‘After you.’

A large, surly man who clearly knew his finger from his thumb peg and could spot the borrow on a green at fifty paces sat in the lobby. He was behind a desk. Like him it had seen better days. This could get ugly fast.

‘You’re…?’

‘Rugby club.’

He looked up. ‘Oh aye. We’ve been expecting you.’

‘I should hope, so we registered a fortnight ago.’

He looked more closely at us.

‘Who are your named players? There should only be four of you.’ I explained about Carol.

‘She can’t compete or confer.’

‘I’ll sit at the bar.’ she offered.

‘Can’t. No room. We’ve waitress service taking drink orders and bringing them to tables. And the quizmaster will be up there as well with his adjudicators. Quizzing isn’t a spectator sport’ He turned to a tall lanky man behind him. ‘What do you think Jeff?’

‘Aye. It’ll be all right I suppose.’ He fixed her with a steel rimmed spectacled eye and flashed an erratically toothed grin at her. ‘It’s a man’s game, quizzing. She won’t be any help anyway.’

I steered Carol away as quickly as I could. There were times for what she wanted to do to him, and it wasn’t that time. Yet.  We walked across the lobby and pushed open the swing doors.

The roar of over a hundred people met us like a wall. The small clubhouse main room was packed solid, people shouting greetings, jokes, challenges and threats as they settled down in their teams to do battle on mixed trivia and themed novelty question rounds, while staff prepared to serve drinks, ask questions and mark papers. They saw us enter. A silence spread from table to table across the room.

We were the holders of the league division ‘A’ title.

We nodded at the assembled quizzers, hopeful, doomed to fail, and took table Number One.

We sorted out our pens, drinks and snacks.

The murmuring started up again.

A large man in a stained suit and open necked shirt leaned across from table 12.

‘You can only have four in a team you know lads.’

‘She’s with me. She’s not competing.’ I stared him down.

‘All right, you don’t have to pick a fight.’ Paul said.

‘It’s the only thing they understand Paul. Blink, look away, show them you’re scared, and all hell will break loose.’

‘Have you been drinking coffee again?’ Carol asked. ‘You know it doesn’t agree with you in the evening.’

The master of ceremonies tapped the microphone and an electronic howl swept over the room.

‘I’ll take that as a yes, it is working!’ he chuckled. It was about to kick off.

At a table behind us, a man rose. He was a tall hombre, 6’ 3” if he was an inch. His hat added another six inches. It was a homburg. Dude had to be mean to wear a homburg this side of town.

‘Excuse me Mr MC. I just want to clarify the position of this team…’ he pointed at us, ‘…they appear to have an extra player.’

The MC looked across at us. He turned to the cadaverous character from the door, Jeff, who had followed us in. There was an exchange of words before he turned back and uncovered the mike.

‘It’s okay Ivor, the Rugby Club…,’ A murmur rippled through the crowd, ‘…have brought a spectator. There isn’t room for her elsewhere but she won’t be answering questions.’

Ivor looked at the MC, then at us, then back at the MC. He nodded and sat down.

‘Bloody hell.’ murmured Paul. ‘You were right, this doesn’t feel good.’

The MC resumed his spiel.

There were ten rounds and a picture round and a music round on top of that. There would be an intermission at half way. At the end of each round drinks orders for the bar would be taken by the waitresses passing amongst us.

He wished us all good luck and handed the mike over to the quizmaster.

Round one was an ice breaker. Politics. They did things differently at the Red Horse. He started the questions.

‘Who the hell came after MacDonald?’ Paul said.

‘Which time?’ Steve asked.

‘What do you mean?’ said John.

‘He had two terms as PM.’ Steve replied before I could say anything.

‘Oh.’

‘Doesn’t matter.’ I said. ‘It was Baldwin both times. It’s a trick question. MacDonald was PM in 1924 and 1929 to 1935 and both times Baldwin was PM before and after him.’ I nodded to Steve. ‘Write it down. Classic quiz trick. They’re trying to spoof us.’

Carol raised an eyebrow as we stumbled over Bohemian Queens in the European History section, cudgelled our brains about nematode worms in biology and struggled with whether the formula for the square root of -1 was E to the IxPi or not. The answer papers were collected and taken to the markers after each round. While the quizmaster asked the next round of questions the markers ticked and crossed and discussed the papers in front of them. While the next round of papers was being collected at the end of the round, Jeff scribbled the scores of the top five teams in the preceding round up on a whiteboard near the bar.

We weren’t making any friends. At the end of round two the results of round one were displayed on the whiteboard. We were equal first. A wave of murmuring swept the room. After round three the murmurs became an angry buzzing. We had gone out to a clear lead. After round four, the buzzing was accompanied by people standing and peering at the edges of the room. There were smoke signals in the hills. There was finger waving and pencil jabbing.

The picture round arrived. Last round before the half time break. The sheet of photographs landed on our table and a small, precise, bank teller of a man, rose to his feet and peered at the officials, trying to catch their eye over the seated crowd.

‘Excuse me Mr Question master. Excuse me. As we are going into the break, I’d like to raise a point of order. I can’t see how it can be fair to have one team, and one team only’ he looked at us, ‘of five, competing in what is after all a serious prize competition for four man teams.’

‘Person.’ Carol said loudly.

‘See!’ chimed in the homburg, ‘she is talking.’

‘Ivor, I think she was questioning Ronald’s lack of feminist credentials.’ the MC said, leaning in to take the microphone. If he was trying to lighten the mood, he failed; there was no answering chuckle from the assembly.

‘As agreed, by three committee members, we have extended our hospitality to accommodate the Rugby Club…’ there were boos from a couple of tables…’now now. As I said, our HOSPITALITY, so that they may look after one of their young lady followers.’ Carol glared.

‘They can do that in the car park after…’ came from somewhere near table 20 at the back. Carol began to stand. I put a hand on her arm and shook my head. The others looked at me. I rose.

I looked at the MC. The MC looked right back at me. We nodded.

I made quietening motions with my arms. I swept the room and the faces watching us and my eyes settled on the score board. We could still lose this if we worked at it but I felt a long line of Rugby Club quizzers of old at my shoulder. You can’t put fake answers down and walk in the club next Saturday. They didn’t do that. You can’t do that. You have to do it right. If you know The Picture of Dorian Gray was Wilde’s novel about a picture growing old in the attic you have to say so, even if Mac thought it was a play. Whatever happens. You have to do it right. Even if it means not walking in the club next Saturday.

My eyes went round the room one more time and landed on the homburg.

 ‘We came to play a charity quiz. We want to win but we aren’t going to cheat.’ I said staring at him ‘We’re very happy to be here in the spirit this evening was intended for.’ I just prayed none of the lads would smirk at this point. ‘So we’re going to play. As a foursome.’ The homburg started to open his mouth. I carried on. ‘But we won’t be playing for the prizes or the trophy. All we want is the fun of the competition and to help the Red Horse Bowling Club continue its proud tradition of fund raising for charity.’

I smiled at the MC and sat down. There was a silence and then someone clapped. The room took it up. We weren’t going to be lynched. Probably. Not yet.

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.

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.

‘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?’