Queen’s Gambit

We just completed watching the popular Netflix miniseries Queen’s Gambit, the fictional story of a female chess prodigy Beth Harmon, based on a novel by Walter Tevis.

The story is well told, in such a way as to make it interesting to non-chessplayers. As an ex-chessplayer, to county standard, I can say that it does get over quite well the reality of playing chess at the time – the fictional period is round about the time I was regularly playing chess. You really get the feel of the excitement of playing the games, but without need to understand precisely what is going on at the board. Indeed, the chessplayer cannot easily tell what is happening. But the drama is excellent.

It does give an idea of the misogyny that was prevalent in the game at the time, which reflected the wider society. Boys just did not believe that girls could really play chess as well. Although in the USSR things were different. Women’s world champion Nona Gaprindashvili was a very strong player, as I discovered when drawing with her in a simultaneous diplay in Cambridge in the 1960s.

This is also a deep psychological story, of how Beth copes with a deep trauma from childhood and how this affects her chess and relationships, again well done.

When she goes to Moscow (funnily enough around the time when I was involved in a real chess trip to Moscow), the film also only hints at the extreme measures taken by the USSR to ensure its hegemony at chess. The shenanigins of the matches between Bobby Fisher and Boris Spassky and between Anatoly Karpov and Victor Korchnoi are notorious. She would have needed seconds along with her to survive.

And finally, when she has beat a Russian opponent, he hugs her – a modern sexism for effect in the film, but no, it would not have happened then.

Still, it’s a great story. I give it 5/5.

Featured image is from Netflix publicity.

What is it all about?

“I woke up early morning with this strange feeling.
I got up, walked over to the window, opened the curtains,
and looked out over the streets of Rochdale.
The sun was coming up over the hills, the sky ablaze with colour.
I was sort of entranced.
I thought: ‘What is it all about?’
Ah……
Then I thought ‘It’s got bugger all to do with me!’
and I went back to bed.”

That’s my memory of a joke told in a gig by Lancashire comedian Mike Harding in the late 1970s or early 80s. It came to mind as I pondered on such things, as you do, while gardening – indeed as I have done from time to time since childhood.

It struck me that, even harder than imagining how the universe came about, which is guaranteed to give you brainache, is what it could have been like ‘before’, ie before space and time began in our universe, before the ‘big bang’.

How could the universe not exist? Methinks the answer does not lie in the realm of rational discourse.

Featured image shows sunrise over Failsworth, Oldham
courtesy of Martin Butler, via Wikimedia Commons

Beautiful

If you read my post on goodness, truth and beauty, you will know that I attach great importance to these three fundamental values. Not surprising then, that I was delighted to have the recent opportunity to go to the show ‘Beautiful’ at the Aldwych Theatre, London.

The West End does these blockbuster shows superbly, and it was indeed a beautiful experience – superb set and production, a well told story, evocative music and singing.

It tells the story of Carole King, the precocious 1960s songwriter (with then husband Gerry Goffin), who became a world class singer in her own right with publication of the album Tapestry in 1971. It is quite amazing how many pop songs have had Carole King involved in their writing.

This provides a nostalgic, informative and entertaining evening that most will enjoy.

This 2-minute video tells the story of Carole King’s unscheduled appearance at the London opening night of ‘Beautiful’ – good for King addicts.

Featured image part of the pre-show set of ‘Beautiful’ at the Aldwych Theatre, London