A sporting contest awash with stimulants

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The Independent Online

For most of the year, Queen Square in Bath is a quiet Georgian square, but for just one weekend it sprouts marquees and flags, and there is the smell of cooking and wine, and revelry, and if it was the Middle Ages you would think it was for jousting or an archery contest. In modern Bath, though, you know that Bath Boules has arrived again. This is the weekend when myriad trios dress up in strange costumes and sally forth to win at boules, or, if not to win, at least to lose to old friends, or, if not that, at least to have a good time. What kind of a good time can be gauged from the fact that the whole event is organised by the major wine firm in town, Great Western Wines, and the most French restaurant in Bath, Le Beaujolais.

For most of the year, Queen Square in Bath is a quiet Georgian square, but for just one weekend it sprouts marquees and flags, and there is the smell of cooking and wine, and revelry, and if it was the Middle Ages you would think it was for jousting or an archery contest. In modern Bath, though, you know that Bath Boules has arrived again. This is the weekend when myriad trios dress up in strange costumes and sally forth to win at boules, or, if not to win, at least to lose to old friends, or, if not that, at least to have a good time. What kind of a good time can be gauged from the fact that the whole event is organised by the major wine firm in town, Great Western Wines, and the most French restaurant in Bath, Le Beaujolais.

I've been lucky enough to enter a team almost every year since it started, and this year I had two players with me who in past years have shown a fierce will to win, and a fierce disgust at losing - lovely actress Isabel Brook and almost as lovely Terry Jones, the well-known Chaucer scholar and ex-Python. We arrived early to discuss the great tactical question: when should one have the first drink of the day?

This is not so simple as it sounds. The last time the three of us played here, Isabel had persuaded us to go through till after lunch without a drink, and it had worked. Clear-headed and clean-limbed, we won match after match. It was only when we touched the deadly Chateau du Vieux Parc rosé (excellent quaffing wine from Great Western) that things began to fall to pieces. Isabel was of the opinion that it had been because we had turned to drink. Terry held to the view that it was because we hadn't turned to drink early enough.

A passing player who overheard our talk this year (I think it was Amanda of the Firehouse) said this was silly stuff; she had had her first pastis and hour ago and felt fine. We looked at our watches. It was 10.30 am. We decided to stay sober for a while.

Calling someone Amanda of the Firehouse, you may think, also sounds a touch medieval. Sir Guy of Gisborne. Robin of Locksley. Amanda of the Firehouse... But many, if not most, of the teams are from nearby restaurants, and the Firehouse Rotisserie is one of the hot spots of Bath. In Bath Boules you just know each other's first names, and their team. This is Andy of Moran's. Hi, I'm Alex of the Glass Boat. Hello, I am Nicole of the Hotel de Ville... (Hold on. There's no hotel called Hotel de Ville. That's the French for, let's think, Town Hall. Exactly, said Nicole. We are all councillors.)

Well, the non-drinking paid off, and after we had played five matches, we had won five. We were looking good. We were looking unbeatable, even if Isabel feared we might be disqualified for not touching a glass of wine. We were favourites to qualify.

And then we came up against a wine-bar team called Sub 13, and an outfit called the King's Swingers, both of whom were satisfactorily - how can I say this tactfully? - well into Happy Hour. All three members of Sub 13 were holding lager bottles as they played, and all three King's Swingers had recently been holding such an object. One man who had been playing for the King's Swingers earlier in the day was Peter Gabriel, a musician. He had already gone home. Perhaps he is not a drinking man.

"No problem," we said to each other. "They are unsober and we are not. No problem."

We lost to both of them.

"Your problem was that you should have had a drink or two before the last two games," said my wife, who had been watching closely. "Your advantage of being sober was offset by the fact that you started getting rattled by their mucking around. At the same time, the other sides had adjusted to being unsteady and were actually starting to play better. Next year, I would get a bottle of rosé for your last two games."

I never thought I would see the day when a team in any sporting event would need, more even than a coach or physio, an adviser on alcohol intake.

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