Sunday 30 October 2011

Birth of Venus

In another time, long, long ago, I did a two-year tour of duty in Colonel Gaddafi's Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. A dozen young, ex-patriate Brits, half graduates, half ex-army toiled in the central Sahara Desert during the searing heat of the day and drank themselves into oblivion each and every night on a potent mix of home-brewed five-day-old 'beer', locally-procured 'flash' (a poteen-like potion) and on the odd, desperate occasion, aftershave-and-coke. (To be fair we only reverted to the aftershave when we'd run out of tape-head cleaner.)

Although The Young Ones had yet to be broadcast we did, indeed 'have a video' an enormous early Sony U-matic type, which ran tapes of only one hour in duration. This meant you needed two tapes to view a feature film. Only we didn't always get both tapes. To this day, I have no idea what happened to Mowgli after King Louie scatted him half to death*.

Limited at times to one grainy edition of Not the Nine O'clock News and an endearingly ancient Top of The Pops selection it was inevitable that at times we had to make our own entertainment. Our request for games such as Monopoly, Risk and Five-foot Blonde on a Piece of Hardboard had fallen on deaf ears, so we dredged our collective booze-riddled imagination... and came up with numerous variants on student drinking challenges such as, climb-over-the-mess-tent-between-flysheet-and-inner-while-being-beaten-with-broom-handles. Also, perch-atop-the-ridge-pole-being-pelted-with-potatoes and a perennial favourite; walk-through-the-dying-embers-of-the-barbecue-wearing-only-your-socks. What jolly larks!

And then, one day, our erstwhile leader, Mike 'Trigger' Trigg introduced us to the magnificent parlour game of Botticelli and we were hooked. For some reason this game, which relies on fair play, word-play and at least a modicum of intelligence and general knowledge became a firm favourite and kept us solidly, hilariously entertained, night after night after night. (Had the blonde-on-a-board turned up we may have reassessed our priorities, but I'm guessing we could have still played while standing in the queue.)

Since then I have endeavoured in vain, on occasion, to introduce the great game to a wider audience. The rules are simple, it requires no equipment other than a functioning brain, yet somehow just as with The Young Ones' Rik, my seeds fall on fallow ground and my efforts founder in a sea of incomprehension.

Is it the attention span of today's citizens? Is it just too Edwardian? I don't know. But it would be a shame if a younger generation were denied the simple pleasure of being amused just by our collective knowledge and imagination. Try it. You might enjoy it. Botticelli.

(*For a certain coprophiliac Mr Spoon. This is not that kind of scat.)

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