Back in my house, typing away on the laptop, trying (and usually failing) to wean myself off Candy Crush, it's hard to believe that less than twelve hours ago, I played a leg of darts against Deta Hedman, the world no.1 in the ladies game.
In truth, I had two opponents: Deta... and arguably the toughest opponent of all, me.
Thirty years ago, I was a reasonable player, getting a first experience of testing myself against some of the best local—and even county—players. I might not have won every time, but I could certainly hold my own, until one day, totally out of the blue, my hand and arm started shaking when I went to throw...
The descent was fast, embarrassing to this day, and within a short period of time, the trusty 29g darts were safely locked away in a drawer.
I owe last night's opportunity to Glen Durrant, England international and one of the absolute top players in the BDO. Back in January, Glen agreed to meet, and play against me, as part of my fiftieth birthday charity challenge. We had never met before, and he had no reason to be so supportive, but that evening at North Ormesby WMC, I played darts in public for the first time in a quarter of a century—and three short months later, something approaching one hundred people were going to see me put myself to a very real test.
Glen said some very kind words as he announced my game, but his advice about the number of vodkas needed to calm the nerves was well short of the mark!
I have to say that Deta was lovely. She knew a bit about the background to my challenge and my appearance on the oche (which, incidentally, I tripped over three times during practice...), and both she and Glen couldn't have been more encouraging. His final piece of advice was brilliant: "Don't tut!"
There's a part of me that remembers how I used to be able to play, and during my games against Glen, any dart that sailed into the one or five, was invariably met by some muttered swear word... or tut... that I hadn't realised Glen had heard!
Anyway, back to Whale Hill Social Club, and I was all too well aware that I was relying on my left arm to do as it was being told, and make the first dart travel from my hand, to the board, and land somewhere near the twenty. I can't express just how nervous I was, but the first three darts all landed in the twenty, and for those briefest of moments, I was actually leading the best women's darts player in the world!
But more importantly, I was taking the first steps at proving something to myself, something that I'm pretty sure I would not have considered even attempting, had it not been for Glen's backing.
As I returned to my chair, there were handshakes and kind words from people I'd never met before, which meant such a lot. Playing Deta was a brilliant experience, an absolute privilege... but last night, I also challenged myself and didn't fail—and believe me, that feels great!
I've now got four months before I face Glen at Boro Boys. I've got a lot of practicing to do, because I desperately want to give a better account of myself, but hopefully there's also enough time for me to work out just how many vodkas it actually takes to feel properly relaxed... without crossing the line and breaking into song when I get on stage!
I'll keep you informed...