Saturday, 15 August 2015

Ye Royale et Enceinte Clubbe de Gowf

In the widdershins of Ank-Morpork where the old families live and the new money seeks to, there is an area on the city map, within the ring of old family piles, marked 'terra incognito' or land which does not want to be known. In a city under such stress for accommodation it is to be marveled the C.M.O.T Dibbler Estate Agency has not yet sought to sell it off for exorbitant sums for those seeking bijou residences. The fact C.M.O.T Dibbler does not have title to the land is unlikely to prevent Ank-Morpork's greatest entrepreneur from at least having a bash until the point where ancient family retainers forget about their piles, for a few hours, while negotiating with Mr Dibbler for the cessation of said land sales via the threatened use of clubs with large rusty nails hammered into them. Yet, so incognito is this terra, the idea of selling of this land has never crossed C.M.O.T Dibbler's mind which is lucky as clubs with big rusty nails in them can be terminally mind altering.

For those few in the know, the terra is not incognito; it is the last remnant of the Royal Hunt of the Kings of Ank and now home to the Royale et Enceinte Clubbe de Gowff, the home of the 'Game of Kings' and of course 'Royale' hangers on. One should immediately note it is the game of 'Kings' and as such no woman, no matter how high her breeding, is allowed to play the game or be a member of the club, known as the 'R&E'. When the R&E was first founded the ruling King of the day was made honorary president of the club for life. Given this is Ank-Morpork, successor honorary presidents did not last very long as the Rules Committee Chairman was the hereditary title held by the Master of the Guild of Assassins. The Master came down very hard on members who cheated or broke the rules in any other way in accordance with the Guild of Assassins rules. It is claimed that more Kings were assassinated for trying to nobble the R&E Handicap Committee, by threat or bribery, seeking a few more shots on their handicap; than for any other reason.

One ex-Queen bravely sent a velum of complaint to the R&E Secretary regarding the fatal handling of her late husband by the R&E Rules Committee, suggesting that regicide was out with the R&E's competence, excessive and if she had her way heads would roll, in fact the Royal Axe-man was putting a final edge on the blade as she dictated this very epistle. The Honorary Secretary, Mr Slant, pointed out that rule number one of the R&E's Rule Book stated that in all or any dispute or resolution of same the R&E Rules Committee decision was always final and was binding on all members, including Honery Presidents who talked loudly and beat servants to death with a 'mashie' when fellow gowffers were preparing to putt which was just not done. Thus, as this was purely an internal R&E disciplinary matter it was outwith the King's Law. 

(A warning: the smarter among you may now have become aware of the spelling error in the Quirmian wording of the R&E's name. The last smart arse who pointed this out to the club committee found themselves unconscious and on the way to the Four Ecks continent without a pregnant pause; R&E Rule number one applies.)

The bottom line was to become a member of the R&E you had to have a registered coat of arms at least 100 years old to be an associate member, for full membership you needed to go back a minimum of five generations. If you passed this hurdle you had to be proposed by five full members and pay a non returnable joining fee of $AM 10,000 then $AM 10,000 per anum - though special annual membership rates were given to members of 'old families' who had fallen on hard times. 'Sang est Toute le Monde' being the R&E's motto. The membership committee initially had problems with Lord Vetinary's appointment, him being an outsider, as Honery President but the Club Secretary made clear in his four hundred years both alive and dead the ruler of Ank-Morpork was always invited to fill the post, it was a matter of tradition, what else was the R&E but an upholder of tradition. He had already discussed the appointment with Drumknott to sound out the Patrician's position and the sound which echoed back was he would be pleased to be a non-playing Honery President.

There were mutterings from more modern members that they should approach Commander Vimes, given he was now the head of a proud and well established old family, since his marriage to Sybil. Lord Underwood undertook to invite Commander Vimes to apply for full membership but reported back that Commander Vimes had better things to do with his time than hit a 'mousey' around with some stupidly named bats while paying a blind fortune for the privilege and already had enough problems protecting his back from the nest of vipers who inhabited the R&E clubhouse, as it was. The Club Secretary noted this response in the membership committee minutes as a 'Not yet'. After all, who would turn down an offer of membership to Ank-Morpork's most exclusive men's club?

There are numerous claims as to the origins of the game of gowff but research by the University of Ank-Morpork, via their thinking engine, indicates the game came into the Disc World when the Nac-MacFeagles were thrown out of Fairy Land for one too many brawls and breaches of the peace against the 'honest' citizens of the Fairy Queen. As far as the Nac-MacFeagle were concerned this was the best thing that had ever happened to them as this new Alba was bounteously filled with 'mony an muckle ships', the nectar which was 'Granny's Ships Liniment' and "Onywie yon Fairy Quin wis a richt cleppit oot aud hag wha wis jist fit fir a guid doin' o'er. Scunnert aud bat thit she wis."

According to the Nac-MacFeagle bards the story of the game of gowff has much to do with the way the Nac-MacFeagle Clans decision to settle their differences with a minimum of Nac-MacFeagle fatalities and destructive impact on the surrounding countryside in their new Alba where clan battles had brought famine, destruction and bankruptcy to the big job farms, towns and villages within a twenty mile radius.

The first attempt to find a more peaceable resolution to Nac-MacFeagle conflict was by the introduction of the game of Shintaigh. This game was played by one hundred on each side and the aim was to get the decapitated head of a selected member of the opposition, also know as the header, into your own goal which was a set of standing stones with a lintel, by use of a shin bone from a rabbit - also known as a 'camman' as in "Camman, gies yon heid a guid clout, ye scunner." A bard playing the mouse pipes from a neutral clan was referee and each of the Clan Chief's ran the line to decided whether the header was in the goal or not and aid the Bard on decisions such as offside and fouls. This of course lead to many a dispute amongst the players and the Chiefs as to what actually constituted offside, just what was a foul - for instance did it constitute the loss of a limb or a deliberate fatality, what a biased 'scunner' the Bard was and routinely resulted in the battles which the game had been devised to prevent erupting, erupting as the distinction between players and supporters rapidly turned into an all out brawl with supporters attacking their own players as well as the opposition. While reducing the degree of famine and destruction on local big job communities to a ten mile radius, was clearly an improvement but not the success the Nac-MacFeagle Chiefs and Bards had hoped for.

The Bards returned to their research of the histories and traditions of the Nac-MacFeagle and deep in the past they came across stories of single combat between chiefs supported by their 'cawdies' who provided the Chief with advice as to the best weapons to use against their opponent as well as the shortest line in to land the fatal blow or defend from attack. These cawdies ended up as famous as their chiefs in the old tales and as important in giving advice to the Chief,
as the Clan Bard, prior to battle. In battle their tales of bravery and cunning were legion. The problem was how to introduce non fatal single combat?

The answer came from watching young Nac-MacFeagles who were training to be Shintaigh players. During practice they used stuffed mouse heads, 'mouseys', and rabbit holes for goals. The bards combined the idea of the cawdie with different weapons and the junior version of shintaigh's mousey and in doing so they devised 'gowff' and the basic system of rules which developed into the game now played by the R&E in Ank-Morpork.

In Nac-MacFeagle culture eighteen is the proper number of bouts or teech in a single combat between chiefs in the most severe of conflicts. So eighteen was deemed to be the right number of  teegh  that should be played in gowff. From each teech it was decided the winner would be the chief who put the mousey in the hole with the least blows by the hawthorn clubs of differing weight provided. The bards at first could not decide whether these teech should be long, short or in between, so as a compromise they decided there would be a mixture of teech decided by the home cawdie and bard laid out over an area of ground near the local Clan's home. To ensure spectators stayed off the teech there would be defined areas of fair way which were only for the use of the competing chiefs and their cawdies and on which no fights, invasion by supporters or other disturbance were allowed at risk of forfeit of that teech to the victim's score.

Each Bard and chief went back to their clans, appointed cawdies and set about laying out their gowff course with teech to trip up and destroy their opposition. The cawdies then adapted the different clubs to better hit the mousey over different distances and gave each club a name, the biggest became a mashie then there were niblicks, spoons, wedgies and pitters which were used last of all to 'pit the mousey in the hole'.  Chiefs found they enjoyed the game and to help with their practice for future single combatgowfff matches began to invite other senior clan members to play. Soon the young Nac-Macfeagles want a go at gowff as well so shorter teechs were set up and around the hole was improved to make the pitting area truer and greener.

The game became so popular that many disputes between Nac-MacFeagles both within and outside a clan which had previously only been resolved by fighting were now resolved over the gowff. It was only a matter of time before gowff became so important to the Nac-MacFeagle they started to have Clan Oban Championships where any Nac-MacFeagle attested by a Bard and accompanied by a cawdie could play at another Clan's course in competition. This lead to what was called 'The Oban Championship' at which all the clan champions and Chiefs could show their mettle to be the Nac-MacFeagle champion of champions, was to be contested once a year and rotated around the Clans' courses and the winner was awarded the 'Clarty Mug'. The effect of 'The Oban Championship' was to once again reduce the big job countryside to famine, bankruptcy and destruction for twenty miles around as the Nac-MacFeagle gowff supporters descended like the cloud of locusts they were. To give time for the big jobs farms villages and towns to recover from staging 'The Oban Championship' the chiefs decided to only hold it every five years which gave the big jobs enough time to forget and their economies to recover before 'The Oban Championship' next rolled into town. 

One of Ank-Morpork's kings had lead an army to suppress the Nac-MacFeagle during 'The Oban Championship' near Sto Lat but become enamoured by the game instead and as part of the post conflict negotiations had the Nac-MacFeagle set up a gowff course in his hunting forest near Ank and teach him and his nobles to play the game. A small clan of Nac-Macfeagles set themselves up at the King's course in Ank to act as cawdies and still provide the same service to the R&E to the present day, kept in as many 'ships' and as much 'Granny's Ship Liniment or Jim Bearhuggers as they wish.

This was not a problem until the Cawdie Clan of Ank-Morpork discovered it was their turn to host 'The Oban Championship'.

All characters are the property of 'Discworld' and the estate of Terry Pratchett and are used here in tribute to one of the greatest English Language satirists since Johnathon Swift. The ideas are the author's own and were sent as a proposal to Mr Pratchett's agent for a future 'Discworld' book in 2010, prior to the announcement of Mr Pratchett's terrible and sadly fatal illness.

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