John Daly: 'Giving thanks for old-style board games'
We didn't really want to take up the Thanksgiving invitation, but there wasn't any easy way out of it. Thursday is a school night, we moaned, practically the middle of the week, and besides, there were two Christmas parties on Friday and Saturday we were already booked in for. Still, the Americans were new neighbours and Thanksgiving is kinda their St Patrick's Day - we had to go.
The first adverse portent was the time - who goes to dinner at 6pm, for heaven's sake? It's downright uncivilised. Then there's the eggnog, a strange brew smothered in cream, a more suitable potation for a colicky child than a stiff sundowner for parched adults. In fairness, though, Charlene did do the table proud with a pterodactyl-sized turkey and enough trimmings to feed the entire Dallas Cowboys - who, coincidentally, were playing live on Hank's giant 75-inch TV screen.
Against the odds, it turned out to be a grand evening with plenty of laughs and nary a mention of Trump or Dáil copiers to spoil the vibe. We never saw the trouble coming until it was on top of us. Moving to the living room, we nursed our merlots in front of a crackling stove, happy we'd be home for 10. Then Charlene popped the question: "Anybody fancy a Ticket To Ride before we call it a night?"
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Our panic-stricken eyes locked in silent terror - what in the name of high holy Hugh Hefner have we got ourselves into here? They don't look like they're into that kind of thing.
Crikey, we didn't even have to toss our car keys in a crystal bowl. Spluttering a spooked retort that tomorrow was an early start, and that the big meal wouldn't really sit well with any contorted exertions, we inched hopefully toward the freedom of the front door.
"It's OK if you're new to it, we'll take it slow and easy," said Hank, with a leery grin. Gosh no, not at all, we chimed, it's just that we didn't come prepared for this kind of caper, awfully sorry, not even a frilly grundie or leather thingie between us.
Suddenly the atmosphere was stifling with expectation. And with that, in marches Charlene and plonks down the Ticket To Ride board game - all based around trains. Talk about getting off on the wrong track - we drained our glasses in relief and nodded with manic gratitude for refills.
As well as illustrating just how easy it is to pick up an entirely wrong message, the evening also confirmed the enduring popularity of the humble board game. Both Hank and Charlene have serious multinational tech careers, yet still like nothing better than the old-fashioned drama of seeing where a dice roll will take them on the board game of life. Turns out they had a kitchen cupboard full of them - Carcassonne, Settlers Of Catan, Pandemic, El Grande and The Reckoners. In spite of electronic monsters like Call Of Duty and Grand Theft Auto, the humble board game continues to hold its own even in our ubiquitous plug-in world.
The old reliables like Monopoly, Pictionary, Risk and even Snakes And Ladders continue to sell well - particularly around Christmas. Sales jumped during the recent recession, a cheap way of getting friends together, rolling the dice, and letting competitive instincts blossom on the board. All good, sociable fun.
Black deals from dark side
If you managed to resist mauling the plastic during Black Friday, there's still a chance to give it a decent thrashing in today's Cyber Monday. Even the 'Dark Web' - that largely criminal sector of the internet not indexed by search engines - has apparently been offering discounts on drugs, guns, counterfeit money and bogus credit cards. Honestly, you couldn't make this stuff up.