I am from one of those unbearable families that play games all the time. Everyone, I suspect, has friends like us and dreads spending time with them. I am thinking, for example, of the time on holiday when a convivial game of Scrabble got so heated that my father had to spell out the word "Sorry" on the board and leave it outside the offended child's bedroom door. For normal people who like to spend the limited time they get with their nearest and dearest talking to them rather than screaming about how they're definitely not allowed to do that and do they not understand the rules, a Christmas visit to the Blands must be a special kind of torture.
Last week was a case in point. The neighbours who came to my parents' place for a Boxing Day party reeled away with the dazed, fragile expressions that I imagine surviving gladiators wore after their first session at the Coliseum. They arrived at seven and we played games for an hour and a half and then we had a break for dinner, which was treated more like an inconvenient pitstop, really, and then we played games for another hour and a half. We only stopped out of a dim sense that these visitors might begin to think we were a bit weird if we carried on like this in their company.
After they went, my brother and a couple of my nephews cracked open Diplomacy, which is a game for people who think that boxing is too cuddly, chess too straightforward and Test Match cricket too short.
I pretend not to like this sort of thing and to think that getting competitive is really childish. But the truth is I can't get enough of it. And surely even those who don't share our condition can see how seasonal it is. The text message I sent my brother before our Christmas paintball session about how when it was over I was going to hang his testicles from my mantelpiece as a Christmas ornament was probably not terribly civilised, but it gave me the same warm glow that I hear others get from carol singing. Now the time of year at which this sort of thing is acceptable is nearly over and I'm left with a hollow sense of 2013 stretching before me, barren of competitive group activities. I don't know how I'm going to deal with it. I need a support group, really. The trouble is, it would probably just devolve into charades.