Cards in a hat was another instance of his extreme skill. I don't think he actually invented this game, for it is mentioned in an early Wodehouse, but he certainly developed it from a casual time-waster into a serious branch of athletics, and many is the time I have seen him demonstrate the art at a children's party and get more than 35 out of 52 into a standard topper at 10 feet. Once I passed by the window of his study and saw him sitting there, with his craggy eyebrows knitted in fierce concentration, intently practicing alone.
It all put considerable strain on my aunt, and the marriage foundered. Uncle Alec married a second time and installed his bride, Eva, in a large country house north of Edinburgh at which there was great scope for game-playing. It was Eva who immediately designed and oversaw the construction of a golf course around the house: no mere question of clock golf, but an 18-hole pitch-and-putt affair with a standard scratch score of 54, its own handicaps, an annual medal competition and some unusual local rules about the gravel driveways, the impenetrable rhododendrons at the back of almost every green, what happened at the short 16th if your ball lodged in the roof of the game larder, and children ("A player whose ball is moved by a child shall be entitled to replace it without penalty.... The penalty to be suffered by the child shall be at the discretion of the player").
In the basement of the house was a billiard room, adapted from what had been the servants' hall, and the equipment gave Uncle Alec endless scope for invention. Finding that the correct striking of the bail with a cue was not easy, he worked out a way of playing a form of cricket, using two balls as the wicket ("the space between them to be 2.0625 inches or exactly the diameter of one ball") and he even made a sort of gauge, a piece of wood with two holes in it, for checking on this. He had 10 fielders, which were other balls set around the table, and one (human) bowler, who trundled a slow ball from the other end, always with the object of striking the wicket and defeating the batsman, who wielded a cue in the small space between the wickets. The whole thing was immensely complicated.
Once, in more recent times, when Uncle Alec was driving me to the Edinburgh airport at the end of a visit, he asked me: "D'you know this one?"
"You take the registration letters of the car in front of you, and you have to make the shortest word you can containing all three letters in that order, but not necessarily consecutively. Eva thought it out last week."
"Oh, I see. Not necessarily consecutively. I'll tell you what, Uncle Alec, I'm rather sleepy. Why don't you play by yourself?"
"No—it's quite easy. Look—there's a KHV. What can you make of that?"
"Not allowed proper names. Doesn't count. What about spoKesHaVe?" Uncle Alec said.