Miles Kington: You can't beat Bath, boules and a bottle of wine

Somehow, even without a French player, the Firehouse Rotisserie team beat us
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The Independent Online

I have seen Peter Gabriel in the flesh twice. Once was in the 1970s, when The Times sent me to Hammersmith to review a concert of his. The other was last Sunday, when he shook my hand and said: "Hi, I'm Peter. Heads or tails ?"

I have seen Peter Gabriel in the flesh twice. Once was in the 1970s, when The Times sent me to Hammersmith to review a concert of his. The other was last Sunday, when he shook my hand and said: "Hi, I'm Peter. Heads or tails ?"

Yes, he was captain of one of the teams in last Sunday's Boules Tournament in Queen Square in Bath, and I was captain of another. I said: "Hi, I'm Miles. Heads" and then I looked deep into his eyes, and was relieved to see that he had no memory of my Times review, in which I remember speculating what a rock star like Peter Gabriel might end up doing in thirty years' time. Turning into an all-round entertainer and doing pantomime in Eastbourne, I suggested. How wrong I was. Of course, he would be playing boules in Bath.

The name of his team was the King's Swingers, and we had played against them before, though last year it had been much later in the day, in Happy Hour, and they had indeed been very happy and we had been so distracted by this that, although sober ourselves, we had gone to pieces and lost. This year they seemed different men. Was it the early time of day, 10am? Or the bar not being open yet?

"This year we are indeed different men," confirmed one of the trio to me meekly. "You see, last year Peter was not with us. This year he is here and has decreed that his team shall not drink at all. We shall just have to play as well as possible under these terrible circumstances."

This symbolises a great dilemma at the heart of human existence, and if any of the philosophers who Melvyn Bragg is asking us to vote for on Radio 4 had ever tackled the question of: "A glass of wine during boules? Yes or no?", I might consider taking an interest in philosophy, but none of them has. Actually, it is very hard to avoid a glass of something at any time during the whole Bath Boules weekend, as it is organised by the most French restaurant in town (Le Beaujolais) and our premier wine importer (Great Western Wines), so for a few days Queen Square, normally scented with bus and car exhaust, is redolent of champagne and vin rose, coffee and croissants.

Indeed, one of the next teams we played after beating the King's Swingers in a very tight finish was Champagne Joseph Perrier, a charming trio all the way from Uppingham, Rutland, and one of the rewards for beating them as well was to be offered a glass of their own fragrant product. It seemed churlish to refuse.

"Here's a warning," said John. "Watch out for the hairdressers."

I looked round in alarm.

"No, no," he said. "They're a female boules team called the Essensuals. They're all good, especially the one with big Philipino Diving Centres on her chest."

If this was a euphemism for "bosom", I hadn't encountered it before. Meanwhile we beat Jigsaw, and the Manor Farm Muckers, and then encountered the Firehouse Rotisserie, the excellent Bath eatery run (and captained at boules) by Richard Fenton. The one mistake Fenton has made is in not hiring French waiters. When it comes to Bath Boules Day, a French waiter is invaluable for any restaurant team. Not only do they know how to play the game, they are desperate to beat the English at it. Yet somehow, even without a French player, the Firehouse beat us. My team, Isabel, Elliot and I, are deeply despondent. Then we have an idea. Why don't we buy a bottle of wine!

And it works. We do not lose another game. Not even against the hairdressers, including the woman with "Philipino Diving Centres" modestly printed on her T-shirt. Not a euphemism after all, then.

Alas, we do not quite qualify from our group for the final stages, so I do not stay to see the Bath Priory Hotel emerge as final winners. But as I leave, I look back at the sun-drenched crowd, the merry chatter, the cries of despair and joy, the popping of corks, and the sound of Le Beaujolais's Jean-Pierre Auge going mad on the microphone, and I think, as I do every year, that if I were offered a choice between this and Glastonbury, 20 muddy miles away, I know which I would choose.