“Diary, November 14, last Wednesday Heavens be praised I finally won at Ratbone. ”

 My Housemates had won the last 45 games between the pair, and I began to suspect this was an activity best suited to only one gender. I replayed the tape over and over again. How had I gone so right ? Seeing how my two hand rushes found home with seconds to spare, how the dice came up even (half-cocked) , over and over again, and how my declmations perfectly accommodated  the wild card from the second deck.

When I called “Ratbone!”  my housemates cheered, embraced me and treated me to Cocoa (no sugar) by the fire. To honour their affection I donned my Noel Coward Evening Robe and ruminated by the light of the fire. “Are you sure I won?...”I glanced from one to the other.“Fair and Square. You were really hot tonight.” I was so preoccupied with trying to learn from my success that my cocoa cooled and a moth flew into its reflection.

“You let me win!”
“No we didn’t. How could we?”

I confessed that Ratbone was not a game to be distorted one way or the other . “Well, I shall sleep soundly tonight.” I rescued the struggling creature before it drowned. The winner was allowed to rest while the others packed the counters, markers, and pegs back into the slide box.

Allow me a brief doubt at this point. In retrospect I remember two clear alterations to our customary ritual. The first was a smoked mirror on the mantlepiece and the other was that they had insisted I sat in the oak carver to play, a privilege never to be repeated.

When either of the Housemates were relaxed over the Christmas period, tight, supremely happy or had just received a postal order, I repeated that question, always to be denied. ”Why should we let you win at Ratbone? You know how important it is to us.” To compound my belief in my great success, I was often introduced to friends and relatives as the King of Ratbone.

It was of course only one of the games we regularly played after dinner had been cleared away during the week, but the most cerebral, the most traditional test of hand and voice requiring superhuman concentration and nerves of steel.

The more ambitious Ludics Night occurred once a month and started at eight o’clock after the pips and lasted until the Long Range Weather Forecast. We took it in turns to choose the game from the cupboard under the stairs, Weather Report, Masterpiece, Fumble and Royal Carpets. Of this, and subsequent  tribulations, more will be written