At this special time of year, I usually curl up in front of the fireplace at my Exmoor farmhouse and crack open a nice bottle of Bordeaux.
But I had one of the best nights of my life sinking four-pint tankards in the company of elves, dinosaurs and Vikings.
No, I didn’t lose my marbles.
I was at the World Darts Championship at Ally Pally in South London – an event that has all the drama of a Spanish bullfight. . . without the tragedy at the end.
As soon as I entered the arena, I could feel an electrical energy emanating from the crowd.
The fans stood in tight ranks, jumped up and cheered – holding up signs with the famous “180”.
Huge beer mugs groaned on trestles.
I was there with 3,000 die-hard darts fans on Thursday, the first night, the early heats.
An unabashed throwback to the 1970s, there were dancing girls on stage, singing, raucous vocals and dressing up.
My first business order? Of course I went to the bar and ordered a pint.
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It was a surreal scene as I saw fighter pilots, dogs, jockeys, choirboys and all sorts of cartoon characters refilling their four-pint jugs.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything in the dress-up box at home – but I took a colorful Mohawk wig with me.
This is a tribute to current world champion Peter Wright, a Scottish player named Snakebite who played that night.
I asked some in the fan zone why they are there.
Francesca Hobson, 34, a sales manager from South West London, said: “I’m happy to come – but not to see darts, just to relax.
“You know in rugby how everyone cheers like crazy when they score a try? Well, darts is like that, but you’re going crazy every minute.”
“Loose” is not a term I had heard before.
Tom Webb, 28, from Upminster, East London, and dressed as a dartboard, made the appeal.
He said: “I haven’t had a chance to watch darts yet but we plan to get drunk.”
And so to the darts.
As I walked back into the arena, pint in hand, I was greeted by a chant of Christmas-clad boys.
“Stanley, Stanley, wave to us.”
I was more than happy to oblige and was thrilled to have my own darts chant.
The players entered the arena like boxers to their signature music.
There was something gladiatorial about the spectacle.
Except if this were really like the Colosseum in ancient Rome, players would throw arrows at each other.
The word “arena” comes from Latin and means sand.
They needed sand to mop up the blood. No blood that night, just beer.
I tried to focus on the game itself.
It’s not just the physical agility you need or the amazing hand-eye coordination.
It’s also the sheer mathematical brilliance that allows you to calculate, at the speed of light, the quickest and most effective route from 501 to zero – and ending up on the obligatory double.
Nothing prepared me for the amazing spectacle at Ally Pally.
The players have exceptional precision. Every 180th was greeted with thunderous cheers from the fans.
But the biggest cheer didn’t seem to have anything to do with the darts.
At one point a man got up and downed his pint in one gulp – while the crowd chanted, “Another beer! One more beer!”
As The Sun’s wildlife correspondent, I was tracking tigers in India – but that was definitely my wildest assignment.
One of the dancers, Sophie Lambert, 29, from Portsmouth, explained that the spectacle is about so much more than sport.
She said: “Of all sports, darts is simply the most fun for us dancers – the atmosphere is amazing.
“The crowd goes wild, you can tell everyone is having a fantastic time. I could teach you some of our moves.”
Growing up in Exmoor in the 1950s, the dartboard was a central part of rural life in the local pubs.
Of course you had to watch out for ricochets if you stood too close to the board, otherwise you would literally get it on your neck.
But these pub games were rarely seen by more than a handful of viewers.
At Ally Pally’s the 85,000 tickets for the PDC World Darts Championship were sold out, 75,000 of them within 48 hours.
The popularity of darts as a fun, alcoholic night out has done wonders for the sport.
The top prize has gone from £60,000 in 2005 to £500,000 today.
But I understand why it’s so popular – darts are real entertainment.
Freight worker Charlotte Wheatley, 28, from Basildon, Essex, dressed as Scooby-Doo’s Daphne, joked: “You see a lot of crazy sights in darts – but I didn’t think I’d see the former Prime Minister’s father.
“Is Matt Hancock around here too?”
And Zach Morgan, 44, a derivatives broker from Surrey disguised as one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, said: “There aren’t many British legends here tonight but we’ve found one – Stanley.”
There seemed to be people from all classes.
Working class, middle class and upper class – I met someone who went to school with one of my grandchildren.
At its core, darts is about people coming together to have fun.
If you’ve never made a pilgrimage to the spiritual home of darts, then dress smartly, grab a mug of beer and prepare to enter the arena.
https://www.the-sun.com/sport/6940367/world-darts-championship-stanley-johnson/ I tracked tigers in India but going to the World Darts Championship was the wildest thing I’ve ever done says Stanley Johnson