THE DARTS MATCH by Lucinda E Clarke
Richard’s team needed 80 to win the game and the 1979 Benghazi Ex-patriot Annual Darts Tournament. He stood fingering his darts, rolling them round in his fingers, eyes fixed on the board. He needed two into the 20 and a double top. The room was silent, over 50 people not daring to breathe. He flexed his right arm, raised his hand and then dropped the darts on the tiled floor as loud hammering and banging on the double metal gates to the house accompanied by an unseen hand leaning on the bell shattered the calm.
My ex put down his beer, raced along the corridor and out of the front door. He turned the key, eased open one gate a fraction and peered outside. There on the pavement stood a whole crowd of Libyan men, screaming and shouting. They wanted to join the party.
Sorry, it was for close friends only, he told them and slammed the gate a microsecond before one of the boisterous mob managed to get a foot inside.
Their angry shouts could be heard down the street. “We know you have drink in there. We know you are breaking the law. We go now to get the police and they will arrest you.” Their voices died away as they moved down the street, leaving the party-goers, now gathered in the garden, in a state of panic.
It was all true of course. Everyone had been drinking. For this party we’d brewed 60 litres of beer, plus wine and an assortment of spirits to offer our guests. We were not unique, all the Ex-patriots brewed beer, in large, black plastic dustbins, from a yeast ‘mash’ donated by friends, mixed with water, sugar and tins of Biomalt sold at the local chemist.
We also made wine, by treading grapes in more plastic dustbins and every summer my legs were bright pink for days. The raw grape juice was bottled with sugar and left to ferment.
Sake was also popular, ferment rice, lemons, sugar and bottle. Tia Maria was concocted from cooking chocolate mixed with raw alcohol, and on one occasion I made a delightful Cointreau by suspending an orange threaded on string over the methanol, both sealed inside a kilner jar. I also remember the crème de cacao, this time it was coffee mixed with moonshine. You could make a wide variety of liqueurs from cake flavourings.
It was common knowledge that the overseas personnel were not going to stay ‘dry’ for two years or more, and the laboratory technicians at one of the major petroleum companies had gone so far as to write the Blue Flame handbook to explain how to make alcohol safely – several people had gone blind by ‘doing it wrong.’
Back to the frozen tableau in the garden: It’s amazing how quickly people sober up when threatened with a Libyan jail sentence, or worse. We could expect the Morality Police to arrive at any moment.
It took a couple of seconds for the party-goers to spring into action. We all rushed back into the house.
It was disheartening to watch the tops whipped off the remaining 40 litres of beer being poured into sinks and baths, the quantity we brewed up on a weekly basis. But it was worse to watch my liqueurs disappearing into the Benghazi plumbing system. All those hours of hard work literally down the drain.
Bottles were scoured with hot water, dustbins were emptied and scrubbed then filled with toys artfully labelled. I prayed that my children would not wander through demanding to know why their precious possessions were now destined for the local orphanage.
Things were going well, until we remember the still.
I’d been very angry the day my ex brought it home and assembled it in the pantry. It consisted of a number of large metal cans, connected with pipes, which held rows of marbles. I can’t remember now how it worked, but water and other ingredients were poured in at the top, heat applied and the liquid steamed and filtered down through the glass balls. It dribbled out the other end as pure methanol, which you needed to cut at least 3 times with water to prevent acute alcohol poisoning.
This massive steel structure stood at least 3 feet high and unlike the bottles and dustbins, there was absolutely no way of disguising what it was.
A crowd gathered round to discuss the problem and the only solution they could think of was to bury it in the back garden.
We didn’t really have ‘proper’ gardens around our houses: no lawns and flowerbeds – water was much too precious – so our friends trooped outside to excavate the bare, baked earth, armed with two spades and an assortment of spoons and ladles.
In no time they were hot, sweaty and exhausted, as oh so slowly, the hole got bigger. Those with no digging implements began to wrench the metal structure apart into smaller pieces. The still was buried as the mourners saluted, and the loose earth was piled over it hiding it from view.
We sat and waited in our now alcohol-free home. The trophy stood forlorn on the mantlepiece and the prize bottles of Cointreau and Creme de Menthe gone forever. All thoughts of scoring ‘20s’ and a ‘double top’ with the winning three darts stuck in our pig-bristle dartboard lay forgotten.
The men never returned. The police never came.
Life went back to normal. The following day we laid down another brew and reverted to buying our pure alcohol in re-cycled Johnny Walker bottles from the Polish people on the other side of town.
And the still? I expect it’s ‘still’ there, the metal now rusted in its hastily-dug grave.
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