Indoor: Games people play

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The Independent Online
Raymond Briggs, 63, writer, illustrator and biographer of Father Christmas

I hate games. They bring out the worst in people. We once had a friend who was one of the quietest and gentlest people we'd ever met, despite being a journalist and a foreigner. One Christmas Day, we were playing the game called "Shoe a Little Horse" which I had learned from Big Fat Puffin Kaye Webb, the late, great chief of Puffin Books. You play by clearing the floor and placing a chair at each end of the room. These are the horses. Then two competitors are blindfolded and spun round, and each kneels in front of a chair while eight plastic cups are scattered over the floor.

The players have to grope around on their knees until they find a cup, then they hasten to the opposite chair, still on their knees, and lift one of its legs to `shoe' it with a cup. The winner is the first to get four cups on his horse's feet.

Players often cannot find the opposite chair, or any cups, and may end up by shoeing their opponent's chair by mistake. They repeatedly barge into one another, and spectators can add to the fun by quietly moving the cups and chairs.

This game is meant for children, but is much better played by overweight, middle-aged people full of Christmas dinner, wine and brandy. Our saintly friend was teetotal, yet when playing this game, he became a violent maniac and had to be physically restrained from attacking his opponent. Even allowing for his foreigner's lack of the British sense of fair play, it was still a shocking incident, and it is truly said that you will learn more about a friend in 10 minutes of playing a game with them than you will learn in 10 years of knowing them.

Raymond Briggs's `Ethel and Earnest', a strip cartoon biography of his parents, will be published in 1998. `The Snowman' will shortly be reissued in a special 20th anniversary edition.