It's not the taking part, it's the winning that counts

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The Independent Online

You may have been misled by the media into believing that the great event in the West Country last weekend was the Glastonbury Festival. Not a bit of it. It was the Bath Boules fiesta.

This is an annual dazzling jamboree of sun and champagne, rosé and rain, drama and despair, skill and skulduggery, which takes place for three days in a Queen Square full of marquees and flags, and cries of triumph and dejection, and the popping of corks.

It is also the only active sporting event I take part in any more. Not just the premier sporting occasion of the year for me, then, but the dernier as well.

So, there I was on the Sunday, leading a team from the fringes of show business into the fray. My other two players were an actress and a doctor. Isabel Brook you may have seen in About a Boy. She was the girlfriend who ditches Hugh Grant near the start of the film. Dr Phil Hammond you may have seen in such dynamic TV programmes as Trust Me - I'm a Doctor. Both of them are hungrily competitive, as befits people who have either fought off the advances of Hugh Grant or seen the dark underbelly of the NHS, so I knew I could rely on them to sweat blood for the cause.

However, it isn't good enough to sweat blood or just to be very good at boules in order to win. You have to work out a winning strategy on a psychological level. For instance, one of the teams we played against was a trio of attractive women with large bosoms wearing very tight T-shirts who kept bending forward to play their boules. I am not being sexist when I say that this had clearly been planned deliberately. And on some teams it might have had a highly distracting effect. But Dr Phil has seen enough of all parts of the human anatomy not to notice it much any more, except for medical reasons. Isabel, who is pretty glamorous in her own right, seems not to be much affected by bosoms. And I lost my sex drive years ago, thank goodness, and am now impervious to all such things.

Another team we met was the family who run Funtastic, a lively toy and joke shop in Bath's covered market. They were carrying round secret weapons such as a plastic dog turd that they planned to plant on a piste at a strategic moment. They had also hired out three musketeer costumes to another team, the Kings Swingers, who looked as if they would never be able to swing a free arm, what with the big hats, curly wigs and dangling scabbards.

"That's not all," confided Mike of Funtastic to me. "I've also put itching powder in the crotch of their pantaloons. It should work when the day gets hotter."

And our secret strategy? Well, our plan was to do something that no other team was doing, and that was to keep stone-cold sober. As a doctor, Phil was very doubtful about this, but Isabel swore that if we abstained from all grape-derived drinks we would be streets ahead of other teams, and certainly we did well to start with.

Then we met the Kings Swingers, the three musketeers I mentioned. A doddle, we thought. They all seemed half-cut already.

"Meet my three comrades," said their swaying leader. "I am Optimistique, this is Pessimistique, and the other one is Shamanistique."

Or did he say "Shame-He-Missed-It"? No matter. We relaxed into the match, and took it easy, as a result of which we lost 9-5. The three put their swords together and shouted: "One for all, and all for one", and went off to the bar.

What was so galling about this was that we hardly put a foot wrong thereafter. We even managed to beat the Beaujolais Restaurant, one of the hot favourites. So how could we have lost to three piss-artists in musketeer rig?

"I've been doing some research," said Phil, reappearing from the festive crowd. "The three musketeers weren't drunk at all. It was all an act. They were actually winners last year. Do you know why they beat us? They beat us because they are good boules players."

"That's despicable," said Isabel.

After some more research, Dr Phil realised that we could still qualify for the next round if the three musketeers beat the Beaujolais in their final match. He went off to cajole them into rising to the occasion. He returned, looking crushed.

"I have bad news," he said. "The musketeers aren't feigning drunkenness any more. They really are pissed now. They'll never beat the Beaujolais. Oh well, it's been a great day anyway."

And it certainly had been. Forget Beckham. Forget Wimbledon. This is sport as it should be. Roll on next year.