I love it. I have always thought the pub game called "Aunt Sally" was the least identified and most offensive continuing recreational tradition amongst the English-speaking peoples and, but except for maybe the Queen having a go, Mr. Cameron's
attack on a defenseless image of an elderly lady playing of the game this weekend was about as classic an example as one might imagine of the game's intersect of innocence and villainy:
After being handed his first half pint of beer, a 4.4 per cent proof tipple called Big Lamp Summer Hill Stout, Mr Cameron joked: “This is quite potent stuff.” But that did not stop him from buying another half, a Tring Special Effects beer. Mr Cameron then had a game of Aunt Sally, where players use six sticks to try to knock a wooden doll from a plinth. He felled it at the last attempt.
Here's the thing. As I understand it, these sorts of throwing games go back centuries. Bowling is a rolling game and skittles is a lobbing game. And before the clever got the idea to lob a ball, they just made a game up by chucking a stick at something - often another stick or sticks standing on end. So, how do you make chucking one stick at another stick more laddish when, you know, it's 1673 and video games, personal hygiene, "I'm Too Sexy" and human rights are centuries off? You pretend the stick you are aiming for is an old lady - perhaps even a witch! - named called Aunt Sally.
The world most indispensable web site, The Online Guide to Traditional Games has a lot of information on Aunt Sally including one theory that it is a descendant of the perhaps... well, certainly if one was the rooster... more offensive pub game of "throwing at cocks" in which male poultry were stoned to rounds of ales, laughter and applause. Timothy Finn's indispensable book, Pub Games of England, traces a form of the game back to the 1300's. Finn states at page 82 that the game suffered a downturn at the end of the Tudor period: "[t]he chief competition to the game came from other forms of skittles and bowls, most of which could claim at least some of the sophistication that Aunt Sally so obviously lacked." An active league still plays in Oxford.
If I were to review the available visual record of this weekend's events, Barry Clack's photo above from the now suddenly defunct New of the World (at 168 years an institution a fraction of the age of Aunt Sally) only tells half the story, showing Cameron about to throw. He does not show the object of his implicit (even if utterly culturally buried and personally unrecognized) morality play of misogynistic wrath. He does capture, however, something of the heft of the sticks old Aunt Sally faced for the recreation of others. I note in the Online Guide's images, a gent in 1911 was allowed to wail away at her overhand. We may well be developing better manners about these things.