By George Dailey

Before Sky and Netflix, the Pub was the centre of village community life and the first choice as a place for entertainment. Visiting the pub was not just an opportunity to enjoy a drink or two with friendly faces but also the chance to play any number of friendly games over a pint.

Darts, cribbage, dominoes are probably the best known pub games still enjoying a degree of support because they are played indoors and occupy a corner of the bar or a couple of tables at most.

There are a couple of outdoor pub games that require a level of physical activity and those are skittles and Aunt Sally.

Skittles is still played outdoors in certain locations but now largely confined to indoor alleys housed in a few pubs and sports clubs.

I wrote about a very unusual precursor to skittles in my book Great Pubs of London which was very popular in the 18th and 19th century. The game involved rolling five pebbles down a long board into numbered holes in the ground at the other end. The game was called Bumblepuppy and it was played for money. The last board was found in the garden of The Dove in Hammersmith just before the last War.

In our first Oxfordshire pub we discovered we had inherited an Aunt Sally team. Aunt Sally was a new one to me and for those of you unfamiliar with country pursuits, is a game that involves throwing heavy sticks or clubs at a dolly (a figurine). This takes place in a ‘court’, the wooden dolly is painted white and sits atop a metal stake, known as an ‘iron’ about a metre off the ground.

Each contestant takes his turn and standing about 10 paces away, throws his six sticks at the dolly one at a time. He only scores if he hits the dolly cleanly. Hitting the metal iron stake so that the dolly falls off, scores nothing.

The game seems to provide a welcome distraction to men probably because it involves aggressively throwing something at something but as an earner for the pub was pretty disappointing. In my day women failed to embrace the history and majesty of this game and very rarely attended home games or graced away fixtures with their presence. It might have something to do with the fact that games were often played in light drizzle and matches were quite unaffected by snow and high winds, indeed these latter conditions sought after by those old hands skilled at throwing.

However certain games can provide a welcome boost to the takings. One such game that has reached international recognition is played at my brothers pub, the Blue Boar at Longworth just off the A420 west of Oxford. I refer to the innocent game of draughts. When the mood is right and the moon is new (because you have to be mad to play this game) a chequered board about 4sq ft magically arrives on a table in the bar.

Two innocent victims for they are victims albeit voluntary victims, take opposing sides across the board. Half pints of beer in two different shaped glasses are placed on the board in normal draughts configuration.

The game commences and early enthusiastic moves quickly create a situation where one party as in proper draughts, has to ‘take’ another.

The problem in this game is that this action instead of being viewed as a winning move, results in the taker having to drink the contents of the overtaken glass. It is only then, that innocent newcomers to this game realise to their horror that it is not winning that counts, but losing!

Again this is a game that clearly demonstrates how much farther women have advanced on the evolutional scale compared to us clueless males. For the moment the draughts board appears in the bar of the Blue Boar is usually the signal for local taxis to be be summoned to take any ladies present home, to await the sorrowful sight of their returning menfolk. This event affords them a little more time to reflect were it needed, on their superior intellect.