Chapter 14, “The Social Aspect”, of Darts (London, 1936), by Rupert Croft-Cooke, pp. 72-76:
In the few cases of bad manners which I have seen, strangers, visitors arriving in motor-cars, or young men of the “leisured classes” have been guilty. Sometimes this is through their natural discourtesy, but often it comes from their ignorance of the few conventions which surround the game.
Nowadays, to my personal very bitter regret, Darts as a game is becoming so universally popular that it is difficult, in the most secluded bar, to be sure that one’s game will not be interrupted by the arrival of a car and the entrance of a group of loud-talking youths, dressed with dreary conventionality in sports coats and flannel trousers, who will drink beer boisterously, and try to play darts. Or an elderly gentleman, a schoolmaster, or a clerk, whom no one would suspect of having such rakish interests, may suddenly pull out a set of brass darts, and challenge the winner.
Well—it is, I suppose, to be endured. I must remember, I am told, that these people have as much right as I to play. And so on. But I wish, how deeply and how often I wish, that they would remember that Darts is a public bar game, and not, like tennis, a recreation too often associated with pretentiousness, and played to an accompaniment of hearty interjections: “Oh, bad luck, sir!” “Jolly good shot!” “Well played, partner!” and other cries better suited to other places and other sports. And I wish, how miserably and how passionately I wish, that these same intruders would not spread themselves over the bar in attitudes of exaggerated ease, and, at the top of their voices, keep up a pseudo-varsity badinage which drowns the far more intelligent conversation of the elderly working-men whose club this bar, to all intents and purposes, is.
I wish, I must admit I wish, that these people would not come in at all. But if they must, why can’t they learn to behave themselves. Not one of the habitués, entering their sphere, would disport himself with such gross unmannerliness. Anyone who enters a strange public bar, and is accepted by the company of workers there (as all too readily strangers are accepted) should realise that he is privileged. These men come regularly, they know one another, they form a sort of club. If you, a visitor, whether you are alone or with a crowd, are allowed to join them and their game, you are not therefore entitled to arbitrate and argue.
Up till a year or so ago there was a satisfactory state of things. The public bar belonged to its “regulars” and to passing lorry drivers, chauffeurs, drovers or draymen. Now and again a few persons from the more pretentious classes who had learnt the pleasures of Darts came in for a game and were easily absorbed into that majority. There was never any question of “class”—you were a good player or a bad one, and no more. But every day the game grows more popular, and that easy state of things is no longer possible, for it has been abused. And like any aboriginal whose territory has been invaded by a more “civilised” people the original habitués are beginning to turn on their aggressors.
My sympathy is wholly with them. I have heard the self-satisfied patronage in the voice of a young suburban playing for the first time in what he would call “a country pub”. I have heard him call men who have invited him to play with them by their Christian names, and talk to them as though they were ignorant children. I have watched him mistaking the natural and almost unbreakable courtesy with which they receive him for a welcome. I have seen him inwardly preening himself on being a “good fellow,” a “good mixer,” a chap who can “get on with working men.” And I have known that he is actually outraging every canon of behaviour and irritating every player in the place.
Or, worse still, I have sat in the miserable embarrassment that one feels for the faux pas of others, while some hearty gentleman in plus-fours ushers in his wife, or his women-friends, either to watch him play darts, or—horror of horrors—to play themselves. Hot spasms go up and down my spine even now as I recall such scenes.
“You don’t mind the spit-and-sawdust?” shouts the man cheerfully to the ladies as they enter. And the ladies, with obvious determination to be “good sports” say of course they don’t.
Then the man, to the admiration of his port-sipping wife (or women-friends), loudly asks if he can “make one.” And such is the tact and good-nature of the players that—in view of his feminine companionship—one of them actually “stands down” so that the man can play. And this he proceeds to do, well or badly it does not matter, returning between throws to his wife (or women-friends) to be congratulated on his prowess and good-fellowship.
And then—but it is almost too painful to write about it—the man suggests that his wife (or women-friends) would like to play. And they would. They do. With shrill laughter they throw darts off the board, or with self-congratulation on the board. And the men who came in here with the serious purpose of playing darts see half an hour of the short and precious time allowed to them by the Government wasted with this boring foolery. And because they are incapable of being rude to women they watch this fatuous egotism with a smile, so that the women think they are being rather naughty and coquettish and successful, and presently go out flushed with port and vanity.
There are women who can play darts. They are few and their merits are usually exaggerated, but they exist. It is doubtful whether even for these it is fair to come bouncing too often into public bars. For one thing they must either, by their very presence, impose an uncomfortable restraint on the idiom of the place, or, in an attempt to remove it, become themselves grotesquely vulgar. There are times and places when a woman who really can play may be welcome, but they are rare. And it would be as well if they realised it.
On the whole then, can it be wondered that regular players are growing rather more than suspicious of the strangers who are beginning to haunt their bars? Can it be wondered that the easy acceptance of anyone who enters is changing to an attitude of caution or open resentment? I think not. But a little care, a little courtesy, and a strict adherence to the few conventions may do something towards restoring it.
[Textual notes: a comma added after “good fellow”; “cannon” corrected to “canon”.]