As a Doctor of Philosophy with a PhD in the Social History of Darts, writes Patrick Chaplin, it was a strange experience to read David Nobbs’ latest novel, Cupid’s Dart. It’s about a Doctor of Philosophy who knows nothing about darts until he meets a darts groupie.
It wasn’t about me, but somehow I felt as though I knew the central character, Alan Calcutt; his small room at Oxford University mirroring my own room at home where I have spent thousands of hours secreted away from the world with my head in numerous works of academia. I also knew that I had at sometime in the past met Ange Bedwell, the Essex girl who had apparently slept with all the top names in darts, including ‘Ton’s Thomas’ and ‘Shanghai Sorensen – the Dancing Dane.’
A chance meeting on a train from Stoke-on-Trent to Euston brings Alan and Ange, two unlikely bedfellows (and bedfellows they eventually become) together. Instead of spurning each other, as one might expect an Oxford don might spurn an Essex girl or indeed vice versa, the two seize the day and forge a most unusually and original relationship.
Ange lives for the day, she lives for darts and only ever reads books with red covers, yet her association with Alan unintentionally turns her into a philosopher of the free spirit. Ange wonders if birds are ever frightened of heights and observes that all the corners of classical buildings in Oxford seem to have something stuck on top of them. In return, Ange takes Alan to the Happy Valley Country Club where he experiences the atmosphere of a major darts tournament. Totally against his own personal expectations and completely out of character, Alan finds himself enjoying the darts; even standing up and screaming when 180 is scored.
Alan, still a virgin at 55, does not remain so for too long as Ange eventually, but not immediately, introduces him to the joys of sex. But even before this, Alan has fallen in love with this plain-speaking, affectionate young woman who, unfortunately for Alan, wants no commitment at all. Suitably bewildered, Alan goes to Prague to a philosophy conference and, again for the first time in his life, gets wrecked.
Contrary to expectations, Ange is more the teacher than the Don, and it is Ange whose life is least affected by their relationship which predictably is doomed to failure from the start. The problem Alan has is letting go. The way he deals with this is something David Nobbs handles with in a wise and sympathetic way.
David Nobbs is one of Britain’s greatest comedy writers, best known for writing The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, but Cupid’s Dart (his seventh novel) is the first to touch on the sport of darts. David has clearly researched his subject (both darts and Essex girls) and come up with a fascinating and extremely funny look at two apparent polar opposites – the world of academia and the world of darts. He shows that, given the opportunity, those opposites have a lot to teach each other, especially about life and love.
Appropriately published on St. Valentine’s Day by William Heinemann, Cupid’s Dart is available from all good bookshops and online, priced at £17.99.
© 2007 Patrick Chaplin