Scrabble tie decided on a P

Wherever there are competitive sports you will find be people who take themselves too seriously. Beyond that, there are fruitcakes who live their lives to the letter of the law

If, as Charles de Gaulle ruefully said, it is impossible to govern a country that has 265 kinds of cheese, how much more intractable can it be to preside over a nation comprising several thousand different friutcakes.

The thought is prompted by events at the Burstin Hotel, Folkestone, one December night five years ago. Part of the building was occupied by the participants of a Scrabble tournament. Not a game, mind, but something much grander, more intense and purposeful – a tournament. That day saw several citizens engaged, heads bent and brows furrowed, in an effort to form interlocking words over 225 square boards.

In another part of the hotel there was a convention of cowboys and cowgirls. Or rather people dressed up as cowboys and cowgirls, for reasons we can but surmise. Presumably, dotted across the country, in city and hamlet, town and village, there are cowboy and cowgirl lodges – places where people who dress up as the inhabitants of the American Wild West of the last century gather together to exchange views. And, from time to time, annually perhaps, they convene in Folkstone to compare leather trousers and broad-brimmed hats.

What else was going on in the hotel that day I can only guess. Was there a conference of garden gnome admirers? Or a gathering of lingerie illuminators? Or one of over-eighties goat fanciers? We shall never know. But we do know what happened when Michael Goldman, a Scrabble player, was impeded by cowboys and cowgirls on his way to the toilet. Officials started the clock before his return, he lost five minutes, his opponent ran up a quick lead with the word “scanners”, and the game was lost.

Goldman, being a bona fide fruitcake of the first order, did not shake his saddened head and reflect upon the fickle hand of providence. Nor did he shrug a shoulder and observe that worse things happen at sea than are ever dealt on the Scrabble board. No, he sued. He took his case all the way to the Central London County Court and sought 5,000 in aggravated damages and 200 in prize money from officials of the Association of Premier Scrabble Players. (Is there, I wonder, a League of Exemplary Cowboys and Cowgirls?)

The case lasted five days, involved 46 pages of pleadings, 51 pages of witness statements and more than 200 pages of documentation. The proceedings concluded with a token award of 90 damages to Goldman, who stepped from the court into an outside crowd of bitterly resentful members of the Scrabble fraternity, many weeping bitter tears.

Goldman learnt that he is to be banned from future tournaments and will find himself ostracised wherever good men and women congregate to admire an interlocking coupling including the letter “Z”. At 62 years of age, it is perhaps too late for him to become a cowboy.

As for the rest of us, we may console ourselves with the thought that although Goldman is plainly a very silly man, quite lacking a proper sense of proportion, the hobby to which he is addicted is harmless – except, like everything else in this world, when it comes into contact with lawyers.

There are others in this nation of loopy neurotics whose obsessions are at best a nuisance and at worst dangerous. Maybe it was with that in mind that John Major added organised team games in schools to his stable of hobby horses, a ramshackle

building that already houses such odd creatures as the Citizen’s Charter, “motorway cone hot line”, Department of Heritage, “classless society” and the sadly deceased gelding, “Back to Basics”.

“I want to put sport back at the heart of weekly life in every school,” declares the Prime Minister. “To re-establish sport as one of the great pillars of education alongside the academic, the vocational, and the moral.”

A nation of healthy, disciplined players of organised games would, indeed, be more congenial to govern than one comprising the listless, drugged and television- addled products of our education system. But Major is yet again whistling in the dark. The members of today’s teaching profession are too fat, lazy and stupid to undertake instruction in sport.

The best we can hope for is that more young people become harmless, crackpot Scrabble contestants and Gene Autrey impersonators, and fewer become crazed animal rights activists. Every day brings fresh hope from the world of genetics.

With a startling frequency, the geneticists step forward to announce they have isolated yet another gene. Their collection now includes the bits of DNA that predispose an individual to become a homosexual, a murderer, a shoplifter, a dyslexic and, or – a very exciting development this – a smoker.

These discoveries have far reaching moral implications. It will become possible to examine the genes of couples contemplating parenthood and predict, with some certainty, that their offspring will be, say, homicidal. It will then be up to them and – one fears, eventually the State – to decide whether or not to proceed with a pregnancy.

But there is a positive side. For it cannot be long before the scientists isolate the gene that produces single-issue fanatics. Who then could resist the opportunity to abort the next generation of anti-alcohol, anti-tobacco, anti-fat monomaniacs? Who knows, it might be possible to spot a genetic predisposition to political correctness and nip it in the womb.

A society that could purge itself of thought police, busybodies, neoprohibitionists, food Leninists and New Puritans, leaving a land fit for Scrabble players and cowgirls, would be foolish to pass up the chance.

And what responsible, public-spirited couple could upon learning that they were genetically harbouring a future lawyer possibly proceed to parturition?

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here