Last week, The Telegraph published an article proclaiming a new-found interest in Eton Fives (a monstrously complicated game involving angles, gloves, and peripheral vision) from state schools. Never before has a sport so exclusive, been so downwardly mobile. For some, it is a victory for social mobility, but for others, the idea is completely farcical…
The Importance of Being Eton
Act One – Scene One
The Headmaster’s office. Oak panelling throughout. On the walls, a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II hangs alongside a framed poster of Joanna Lumley. The Headmaster sits at his desk, a lit cigar smouldering in his left hand. The door knocks, and a small man enters with a briefcase. The Headmaster does not rise to greet him, but reclines further into his wingback, leather armchair.
Headmaster: Is it just me, Jones, or have you spent so long in hibernation, that even the most resilient skin pigment cells have finally fled to the hills. You look like somebody shot your mother, ate your horse, and didn’t even offer you the last biscuit.
Jones: Um, ah… I, well, Headmaster, the thing is that, actually, I’m here to talk about the, er, sporting ‘issue’…
Headmaster: (interrupting) … Believe me Jones, if I had known that flesh would decompose that quickly, I would never have recommended it to the archery squad.
Jones: (pause) Erm (pause) no, I think we may be at crossed purposes. Actually I’m here to talk about Fives.
The Headmaster visibly reacts at the mention of Fives. He straightens his back, and no longer appears relaxed
Ah. You’ve heard already. I’ve got the article here, Sir, (gestures to briefcase) but it doesn’t make pretty reading. Er, actually, Sir, it makes for rather ugly reading. It paints the sport as ‘inclusive’ and ‘popular’ with… Er, with… ‘normal people’.
Jones hands over the briefcase, and withdraws as far away from the desk as possible
I understand that since the game began, Eton has strived to convolute the rules, include specialist equipment, and ensure that the court-space is virtually irreproducible to stop even the thought of spontaneous ‘knock-abouts’, but we can’t stop this. One state school has built courts. With government money. It’s unthinkable…
Headmaster: No. I understand. Thank you, Jones. I feel this may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. We’ve already had a stream of complaints; only this morning Monsieur and Madame Moët were in correspondence with the Keeper of Blames.
Jones: (startled) The Moëts?! As in Moët?
Headmaster: (becoming increasingly irate) Of course, what did you expect? There’s an economic crisis, we can’t afford to be choosy with our clientele! The place is slowly being over-run by foreign socialites and the avaricious nouveau-riche; the admissions office had to let go of one of their full time Heritage Researchers, so the calibre of student has somewhat diminished…
Jones: (interrupting) Excuse me?
Headmaster: …Not that we don’t consider a Baronetcy to be a part of the peerage; but it is…
he exhales and the room is filled with smoke
… lacking… It’s ghastly. Sometimes I feel like taking the register is doing a stock take at Selfridges. It’s just embarrassing having to write about the prowess of A. Krispy-Kreme as Wicket Keeper of the 1st XI!
The Headmaster begins to pace back and forth, as Jones retreats further into the corner. As he delivers the lines of his speech, the pitch reaches a crescendo
It’s all new money these days! It’s all Alka-von-pissing-Selzter! It’s the son of the man who invented Tubigrip! The inventor of Tubigrip! No one is the Earl of Tubigrip! There is no such title as the Baron of Bosch! Not even a Viscount of Versace! I mean for HEAVEN’S SAKE!
He stops pacing. The final lines are more melancholy
And now Fives. Once a pillar of our society. Thrown to the dogs…
Jones: So, er, Sir… What is it, exactly, that, ah, you think we should do?
Headmaster: There’s nothing for it. We shall have to rebrand. Tell Hagrid to replace the signs outside the courts. (with an air of valiance) We shall keep playing; and we shall keep winning. But there will be no Eton Fives. From now on there will only be…
(pauses. Then with an air of mischief)
Jones: Yes, Sir,
Headmaster: Tell Hagrid to build another oddly-angled wall inside one of the courts. I do believe the debut of Eton Sixes will takes place during games tomorrow…