The Lost Game Of Piladex

Fashions in games wax and wane and, frankly, with the benefit of hindsight, you wonder what all the fuss was about. A classic example is Piladex which was as much a household name in its heyday, the 1890s and the early 20th century, as Scrabble is today. It even benefited from royal patronage, Princess, later to become Queen, Alexandra bought it for her household in 1898.

Retailing at just one shilling, Piladex came in a red box with an illustration of people of all ages enjoying what it had to offer. The lid announced that it was “a new game for winter or summer” and assured any would-be purchaser that it was “amusing” and “exciting”. It could even be played indoors or outside. So, what was it all about?

The clue was given in the game’s subtitle – Hand Ball. Although the box was accompanied by a set of rules which filled two columns of tightly packed print, it was simplicity itself and therein probably lay some of its charm. As few as two could play, but there was no upper restriction. To ensure fairness, it was probably advisable to have an even number of players in each team.

Members of one team would stand opposite their opponents, the two sets of foes divided by a net, in reality a piece of string strung tightly across two sticks, which was placed in the middle of a table or on a lawn. The Piladex, which had to be inflated, was little more than a balloon, banana shaped, and the object of the exercise was to hit the balloon over the net in such a way as to force your opponents to either miss it or in returning it, fail to clear the net. The first team to force their opponents to fail to clear the net ten times were the winners. In essence, it was an early form of volleyball or table tennis.

Participants were promised “the jolliest fun” as doubtless it did. What probably cemented its appeal to Victorians was that it was a boisterous, energetic game which both sexes could play, and was not restricted to any particular age group. For those with an amorous eye there was even the possibility of coming into physical contact with your heart throb, accidentally, of course.

The game was the brainchild of Harry Owen Roberts, who wanted something that would burn up some energy amongst the youngsters at a club he attended at a Gloucester church. It proved popular and Roberts, encouraged, patented it in 1890 and started to sell it via mail order, making the sets on his kitchen table with his brother. Piladex caught the attention of Thomas Ordish of London, who offered to wholesale the game for him. The rub was that Harry and his brother, John, still had to make the games. There was nothing for it but to create their own company, Glevum Games, which they did in 1894 and it went on to employ 700 people in their hometown of Gloucester.

Despite having a patent on the game, Harry found that an American manufacturer was selling his game as Pillow Dex and doing rather nicely out of it. Harry never saw a penny from the American sales but his invention enabled him to extend the range of games his company manufactured. Eventually, though, Piladex’s bubble burst and the game sank into obscurity. Glevum Games was eventually sold in 1954 to Chad Valley Toys and the factory closed for good in 1956.

What a shame.   

Curse Of The Week

Fans of classic detective fiction will know that the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Maigret and Father Brown regularly leave the culprits whose dastardly deeds they have covered to suffer the consequences of natural justice rather than throw them into the strong arms of the law. The weight of a guilty conscience can be more unbearable than a slap on the wrist or a stretch inside.

A Canadian woman, back in 2005, decided to help herself to some souvenirs from Pompeii that are not available in tourist shops, namely two white mosaic tiles, two pieces of an amphora and a piece of ceramic. It may have seemed a good if irresponsible wheeze at the time, but the woman, who goes by the name of Nicole, has had fifteen years to rue her spot of opportunism.

Since her trip to Pompeii, Nicole has been dogged by bad luck, suffering a double mastectomy after two separate diagnoses of breast cancer and financial difficulties. After some reflection, Nicole has put her run of bad luck to a curse that has followed her since her bout of Pompeian larceny.

In a desperate attempt to break the spell, she has sent the objects packing back to the Archaeological Park of Pompeii with a letter of profuse apology.

I wonder if it will do the trick.

Sweet Of The Week

I never got on with liquorice as a child. Perhaps it was as well, f this story from the New England Journal of Medicine is anything to go by.

A 54-year-old construction worker from Massachusetts was so enamoured with black liquorice that he would at least a bag of the stuff each day. Unfortunately, while he was having his lunch, in a fast-food outlet natch, he collapsed and eventually died in hospital.

The cause of death, specialists concluded, was down to the presence of the compound glycyrrhizin in the sweet which causes potassium levels to plummet, lead to abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, and congestive heart failure. Even eating as little as two ounces of black liquorice a day for at least two weeks, if you are over 40-years of age, can leave you with irregular rhythms or arrythmia.

The man had recently switched from red to black liquorice, the former being less injurious to your health.

A warning to us all.

Cantering Through Cant (4)

The judicial system in the 18th century was not as strait-laced as it is today. Francis Grose, in his A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785) reveals this curious little insight into life at the King’s Bench. The brace tavern, he defines, as “a room in the South East corner of the King’s Bench, where for the convenience of prisoners residing thereabouts, beer purchased at the tap-house was retailed at a halfpenny per pot advance. It was kept by two brothers of the name Partridge, and thence called the Brace”.

Grose provides a synonym for freckles, bran-faced. He notes “he was christened by a baker, he carries the bran in his face”. Brandy-faced, though, is “red-faced, as if from drinking brandy”.

Gin O’Clock (110)

Do you like lemon? Until the ginaissance got fully underway, a slice of lemon was the most popular form of garnish to dress a gin and tonic with. Nowadays, if you order a “fancy” G&T in a bar, it is likely to be presented to you with a wider range of garnish, especially co-ordinated, at least so they say, to compliment the flavours of the gin of you choice. Call me a philistine, but it is an unnecessary addition to the drink and can distract from the underlying taste of the gin. I prefer mine just with a decent tonic and a bit of ice, not too much as that dilutes the gin too.

If you are looking for a hit of lemon in your gin without having to go to the trouble of slicing the fruit up, then Malfy Gin con limone may just be right up your strada. The clue, of course, is in the name. Welcome to lemon overload. I have reviewed their grapefruit offering already but the lemon gin is the original and, still, the Vergnano family’s signature offering. The use two types of lemon, Sicilian and ones grown on the Amalfi Coast. The latter are renowned for their aromatic qualities and have more oil glands than other varieties. To reduce the high oil content in the spirit and to eliminate the possibility of louching, after distillation the spirit is chill filtered.

Malfy continue the local theme with a base spirit made from Italian wheat and junipers grown in Tuscany. Grapefruit and orange are also included in the mix. Distilled at Torino Distillati distillery it has an ABV of 41%, strong enough to make its presence known but not too strong that it spoils an evening’s drinking.

The bottle is striking in an understated sort of way. With a squat and cylindrical body leading to a short neck and a wide wooden top with a pale blue artificial stopper, it uses the circular shape of lemons to good effect in its design. The labelling is a mix of lemon yellow for the edging and the name of the gin with a vibrantly pale blue background. The colour combination is aesthetically pleasing. At the rear of the bottle there is a description of the product in white, but the typeface is too small for my rheumy eyes to decipher with ease. Alas, other than lemon there is no indication what has gone into the mix.

So, what is it like?

On removing the stopper, the sensation was overwhelmingly one of lemon, but more subtler aromas started to make their presence known, a more bitter orangey smell and just a hint of the juniper. In the mouth the crystal-clear spirit was incredibly lemony, a crispy, zesty sensation as though the rind had been freshly squeezed just for your drink. The lemon, though, does not get it all its own way. There are hints of juniper and liquorice to give it a more rounded gin taste and while the aftertaste is predominantly one of lemon, there is detectable some elements of spice and pepper.

It can only be described as a heavily lemon-led gin, but, interestingly, once I moved from tasting it neat to adding a tonic, the lemon dial seemed to go down a notch or two and the other elements were given more room to breathe. It made for a refreshing and interesting drink, a contemporary, flavoured gin that, if you like lemon, will be hard to top. Perhaps it is the quintessential summer gin.

Until the next time, cheers!

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