18 OCTOBER 1997, Page 84







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A game with the great


IN COMPETITION NO. 2004 you were invited to give an imaginary account of a sporting contest played against a famous person.

Come to think of it, I have, on a few occasions, found myself sportingly pitted against the famous. I've played table tennis with Henry Miller (he told me he preferred it out of doors, in a soft drizzle), a croquet foursome against J.B. Priestley and his wife, during which my own wife struck me with a mallet so that there was blood on Kissing- tree House lawn, and golf, of a sort, at Brighton with A.E. Ellis, the pseudony- mous author of that masterpiece of Fifties fiction, The Rack, who executed a ferocious airshot and ended up on his back, and eventually in the hands of an osteopath. As for your fantasies, they included Chamber- lain and Hitler locked on the links, Prince Rupert on the tennis court, Lloyd George in the ring, and Jeffrey Archer outgames- manshipped at the ping-pong table. The winners, printed below, take £25 each, and the bonus bottle of Isle of Jura Single Malt Scotch whisky goes to G.N. Crockford.

I could see W.G. wasn't enjoying it. It had been hard to get him to play in the charity game, especially when he learned he was to captain a Literary XI against us. Now he was 98, stuck at the bowler's end and obviously worried he would run out of partners before he scored his century. The last man, who admittedly looked no bats- man, came timidly to the wicket and flailed wild- ly at the first ball I bowled him. I then pitched one outside the leg stump. He waved his bat frantically around his head as if attacked by a swarm of bees. The more ludicrous aspects of the novel style of the batsman amused the spec- tators, but not W.G. He beckoned, glowering. The newcomer joined him timidly. 'Pray tell me, Dr Grace,' he said, 'what should I do?"Do, Mr Forster?' thundered W.G. 'Only connect, for God's sake!' (G.N. Crockford) Mailer just moved slowly around the ring all the

time, keeping his guard up, so I kicked him in the crotch. It didn't seem to hurt him: there Probably wasn't much there.

'Hey, wait a minute,' he said. 'You're not Tom Wolfe.'

'Of course I'm not,' I replied. 'I only wanted to fight you because you said You were.'

'Well, you were so drunk last night you couldn't tell the difference.'

'But you're a broad. Who are you?' 'Jeanette Winterson.'

'I can't fight a broad.'

noticed that.'

'Why did you agree to fight me?'

'Because I expected to win. I'm the best,' I said, and hit him in the solar plexus. He sat on the floor, gasping for breath. Somebody shouted, 'Contest over: technical knock-out!' Two men did a jig in the corner of the gym, laughing and crying. I looked across: it was Tom Wolfe and Gore Vidal. (Gordon Gwilliams) Housman? Remember him well. He always admired sportsmen, y'know, though he was a bit Of a rabbit himself. Once played cricket with him, for Patent Office Irregulars. Rum fellow; he spent the other lot's innings at long leg con- struing alexandrines or some such. When he came to bat, I strapped the only pad — we weren't called irregular for nothing — to his left leg and sent him out. Never told me he was a left-hand bat. First ball, Slinger Johnson hit him smack on the right shin and lamed him. Rotten luck, really. Later on, when he became famous, critics assumed he'd written 'Out I march with bat and pad' rather than pads because he was strapped for a rhyme with glad. But I knew bet- ter; he thought you only wore one. Still, it's nice to be able to say I've had an influence on English literature. (Noel Petty) We drank tea in the clubhouse. Dr Johnson was highly delighted that one sport should speak of a club in two different senses. Johnson: This is practical lexicography. Come, Bozzie, I'll have a frisk with you.... On this, he seized a cleek and a ball and strode to the first tee. Boswell: It is customary to furnish oneself with several clubs and balls. Johnson: One of each, adequately utilised, should suffice. His sight never being very strong, he fell in the Swilcan Burn, yet when he gained the green he observed proudly that he had taken but a score of strokes. Johnson: And you, sir, boast when you take seventy! Come, my garments are soaked, but we have played our round. Here was one definition on which it seemed best to leave the great lexicographer in igno- rance. (Paul Griffin)

I found the audience of giggling handmaidens and attentive eunuchs (one acting as ball-clean- er) somewhat disconcerting, but it's not every day that a mere Roman messenger — bearing good news, thank the gods! — is invited to play billiards with the Queen of Egypt. Cleopatra played a mean game (how else?) at a blistering pace, hitting her cannons with explosive force, sinking the red with the precision of a ballista. She also cheated, with outrageous push shots and surreptitious nudging of the cue ball. I said nothing. She also flirted, keeping up a steady stream of salacious double-entendres, to which billiards peculiarly lends itself. After an hour, she declared herself bored. 'What shall we do now?' she said, giving me further suggestive oeil- lades before her majestic exit. Channian nodded me in the direction of the Queen's bedchamber. What could one do? I resolved to think of the