Parlour gaming since 1872.
This is not something I thought of doing until I did it. I was struck, as I sat motionless in my study, a crackling fire raging in front of my leather chair, teak pipe and mahogany slippers, by how there does not exist a comprehensive Top 5 list of my favourite five games of all time prior to the year 1890. I sought to rectify this immediately for Man's benefit. It is not a duty I take on lightly.

I will take the time to note here that this is not a complete list as some would see fit. I exclude those games considered coarse or uncouth, of such a standard as schoolboys and philistines consider a thrilling spectacle amongst all the bedlam that froths from their consideration. That withstanding, I will say now that I immediately dismissed such 'games' as Tiddlywinks (and all variations thereof), with all its erratic flicking and buffoon-pleasing larks.

So, on with the list:

An activity not for the faint of heart, or faint of vocabulary, The Minister's Cat is a game often enjoyed by a party of both gentlemen and their wives. In my experience, however, it is really only a game best played purely amongst one's male associates in order to avoid embarrassment for the ladies, were they to be eliminated all too quickly as their inept cogitations become apparent. I would, in addition, advise against playing this game in the presence of any actual ministers, as I discovered one evening as I sat across from the Rev. James Arby, who, lightly dozing after four large glasses of brandy, periodically awoke to give deafening protestations about how his cat was nothing like how his neighbours were describing.

Some times it's impossible not to resist the lure of spectacle. Snap Dragon supplies spade-fulls of it; dimmed light, a phantom bowl of flames from which are plucked searing fruits. Best enjoyed in small doses, and with proper precautions: I'll never hear the end of it from my Aunt Beatrice how I let cousin Felicia, ripe with tipple, tip her top and take a sip, as fire nipped her left nipple and ran azig up her wig. On the other hand, it did inspire my youngest, Frederick, to compose that little ditty just there after he was hurriedly ushered to bed while Uncle Harold flapped a table-cloth at the flaming Felicia.

I will confess that, despite enjoying this game a great deal, I have never been very good at it. It's no coincidence that it is a game most often played 'on the road', as it were, within the limited confines of a stagecoach, where I am mostly occupied with letting my fool of a cavalier driver know how irresponsible it is to take corners at over nine miles an hour.

My greatest success, and one win, was, as it happens, playing against Bennett himself, in his later years. We had a chance meeting at a club and, after lengthy conversation, decided to take a trip to Drury Lane to see a production of The School for Scandal, which was lucky for him as it turned out he was in it. His memory, blighted by the years and the bottle of laudanum he was in the midst of draining, was not only failing at recalling appointments. I bested him easily on his own record, with the score of zero to negative eight, as he kept confusing himself with Henry Compton and railing against "that damned fool Bennett" and, instead, decided to encourage the driver to give his horses a dose of the laudanum.

And so we reach the penultimate entry in our definitive list. A list to end all lists. A list to end all wars. Wars concerning the best five games before 1890. Blind Man's Bluff is a hard core entry here. Not only does it involve excusable, plausible physical contact with ladies, but also requires steadfast determination and shins of granite to avoid severe bruising at the hands of furniture such as piano stools, fire irons and servants.

My dear friend, Dr. Bill Wilson, blames such a clatter with a stationary maidservant during an overly-raucous game for the unfortunate events that followed nine months later, and though I, with my full heart, accept and believe his explanation, the Lady Wilson was irrationally implacable.

The simple choices are often the best. I remember charades from my old army days; one particularly memorable occasion saw Maj. Charles "Charles" Hook making the motion for 'play' as we camped on a hillside the day before the Battle of Aliwal. He started his elaborate gesticulations, as is the custom, to the sound of his audience good-naturedly bellowing out suggestions. We were all so enthralled by his performance that none noticed a Sikh infantryman stumble onto our encampment from the brush right behind Charles until he'd run the unfortunate man through with his sword. Such is the nature of this game that it wasn't until after a half a dozen cries of "Julius Caesar!" rang out as the Major tumbled and lay gagging unceremoniously on the floor for several moments that the thought occurred that maybe the shrieking foreigner standing over poor Major wasn't his manservant assisting him at all.

Charades is compelling and sociable, even helping people laugh when faced with the grim spectre of death. An enjoyable game, in good times and in bad, for the youthful and the aged alike.

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