Good news. It seems that the centuries-old tradition of being forced to pop down to the local for a pint and a game of arrows with your mates is coming to an end.
A survey of regular pubgoers last week found that only 10% had played darts in the past year, compared with 41% five years ago. Better still, four out of 10 men in their twenties had never played in their lives and a similar number had no idea what a bullseye is worth.
I loathe darts. You settle down with your mates for a bit of a chat and a few drinks and then one of them suggests a game. Why? Why do I want to spend my time in the pub, standing up, doing maths?
Darts is a game for people who can’t make conversation, or who are so bored by seeing the same faces night after interminable night that they have to do something apart from talk.
We’re told that Henry VIII was a keen darts player and I can understand that. Because he didn’t have a PlayStation and he needed something to take his mind off an alarming collection of sores that were multiplying in his underpants, I can believe that throwing some shortened spears at the bottom of a beer barrel might in some way be deemed entertaining.
When syphilis became less popular, I can still see how darts might have flourished. You’d come out of t’factory with t’lads and there was no point going home because the bog was at the bottom of t’garden and half your children had rickets. So you may as well go to t’pub.
But now, anyone who can’t think of what to say to their friends while in a pub can spend their time texting other friends who aren’t there. Even that is better than bloody darts.
Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m not very good at it. My ability to hit the treble 20 is governed not by hand-eye coordination but by the laws of averages and probability. Mostly, I fail to hit the board at all, or the dart bounces back and pierces my shoe. And then I’m expected to stand there, with my foot nailed to the floor, trying through a fog of pain to deduct 17 from 263.
Some people call this a sport. Rubbish. A sport is something that requires specialist clothing whereas all you need to play professional darts is a loud shirt that you don’t tuck into your trousers, a stomach the size of Staffordshire and an idiotic nickname.
They’re all called “the Viking” or “the Viper” or “the Assassin” when in fact they should all be called “the fat bastard who hates his wife and kids so much he’d rather spend his evenings throwing arrows into a bit of bristle with his fat and disgusting friends”.
Show me somebody who likes playing darts and I’ll show you a social misfit with so much worrying imagery on his hard drive that if it were ever discovered, the courts would lock him away for a thousand years.
That’s why I’m glad to see it’s dying out and that pubs are replacing their oches with abstract art and bits of furniture from Conran. But you know what? I won’t really be happy until the pub itself has gone.
People, normally those who have their own arrows and can get breaks of 50 or more in snooker, lament the passing of what they call “the rural drinking pub”. They paint a picture of traditional England with low ceilings, horse brasses, a fire and people from the village gathered around to swap stories over a pint of handmade beer.
“Mmmm” you might think. But the reality is that you have to stand up, the beer’s got twigs in it, the landlord is a psychopath, you can’t hear what anybody is saying, the fire’s too hot, you can’t stand at the corner of the bar because “that’s where Jack stands and he’ll be in in a minute” and if you inadvertently spill someone’s drink you’ll be invited into the car park to do pugilism. Oh, and the only cigarettes in the dispensing machine will be Lambert & Butlers.
Often, these rural drinking pubs serve a selection of sandwiches and pies, but for nutritional value you’d be better off eating the little blue tablets in the urinals.
Then you have city centre pubs where men go to meet girls, not realising that all girls in city centre pubs have thighs like tug boats and morals that would surprise a zoo animal. Show me a man who married a girl he met in a city centre drinking pub and I’ll show you someone who’s made to wait in the loft, playing darts, while she entertains lorry drivers in the front room.
Of course, these people would sneer at what they call gastropubs but I don’t see why. In a gastropub, nobody has their own tankard, nobody will throw a dart into the side of your head, there are no biker chicks who want to rape you, especially if you have a lorry, and there will be a chef who, sometimes at least, has a clue what to do with food.
Your darts player would poke his nose into such a place and then leave in disgust because it had arugula on the “menu” and it was playing a chillout CD.
What’s wrong with that? Moby is a better listening experience than the descant of a beeping fruit machine set to the bassline of some old bore in red corduroy trousers who’s regaling the landlord with a story from the golf course and keeps referring to Mrs Bore as “the wife”.
We shook off the culture of strikes, chilly winters and Michael Foot and now we must shake off the spectre of the pub and all that it stands for: darts, bar billiards, bores and beer with the consistency of engine oil. Mine’s a Bacardi Breezer.