Bittersweet chess

I used to play club and county chess regularly every season from autumn to spring, with a break at summer. It’s so long ago that I had forgotten what it was like, until I just came across this poem, written for my own pleasure and insight, and then hidden away in a filing cabinet for nearly 40 years.

As summer fades away, thoughts return
to pastimes of many a winter’s day.
Has enthusiasm been rekindled
by the long break away,
or will the waned passion of the spring
remain spent?

What magic makes this game so fair?

Pure thought concentrated on an inner world
safely enclosed in a wall of rules
An escape from reality?

Emotional excitement, the dread anticipation,
the tension of time trouble, the thrill of winning.
An outlet for passion?

The long drawn out playing for a team,
week after week, in League and Cup.
The belonging, the glory?

The pleasure of good moves, the unexpected sacrifice,
a well played realisation of advantage.
Aesthetically satisfying?

The horror of mistakes, the letdown of losing,
repetition of patterns in game after game.
A vehicle for self discovery?

The meeting of old anatagonists, the five minute game,
discussion of chess politics, analysis with friends.
The social side?

The long drawn-out struggle, as both players
take issue, advantage swinging from side to side.
The thrill of battle?

The tiredness, energy spent, stale moves, no ideas,
loss of excitement, no motivation in game after game.
The negative side?

Enough of this introspection.
A new season’s dawning.
Let’s leap forth again to the battle,
Renewed and invigorated. Insane?

Featured image is from the World Championship match Euwe-Alekhine, 1935, via Wikimedia Commons.


We were in the car park by Southport’s Marine Drive having lunch. Out of the dunes at the back of the parking area came several youngsters carrying what looked like a couple of canoes or surf boards. Not thinking much of it, we carried on eating. A few minutes later their two tiny cars drove away, and we realised there was no trailer, no roof rack, the boards had somehow gone into the cars. Now that was a mystery.

Lunch over, we went for a walk with the dog over the said dunes to see the Marine Lake. On the lake were a couple of similar boards, with people standing on them and apparently punting or paddling. A friendly local, who turned out to be their mother, was standing by the waterside, so we asked her what these things were – paddleboards. Apparently they fold down for storage but you pump them up to make the boards, which are then driven/steered from a standing position by a long paddle.

The slowly declining sun provided a super backdrop for a photograph or two.

southport paddle boards

According to our informant, the Marine Lake is a popular venue for paddleboarding. She had tried it on the sea, but got seasick!

Internet research shows that paddleboards have been around for a few years and are a rapidly growing trend. It looks fun. We should keep up!


Croquet at Wells

How typically English (in the bucolic imagination) to play croquet on the lawns of the Bishop’s Palace with Well Cathedral in the background. The players are all dressed up in whites for the occasion, watched by the hoi polloi at the nearby tea shop.

croquet player.jpgA couple of games are in progress, all women apart from one man, who from time to time rests on his mallet while the women enjoy discussing the tactics of their next move, or maybe their next shopping trip.

The game appears to be played in a ‘gentlemanly’ spirit, with handshakes all round at the end. There is none of the aggression I recall from young men playing opportunistic games of croquet many years ago.

Sport as it should be!

Monster Jam

Monster Jam is one of the purported great ‘experiences’ Houston has to offer, so I duly accompanied grandchild, friend and a couple of parents to experience it. The venue was the very arena where the superbowl was held a week ago.

First we had to be prepared and take ear plugs and ear defenders (both). The vehicles involved have very noisy engines.Read More »

Superbowl 51

In a previous post a year ago, I relayed my first real experience of American Football with the 2016 Superbowl. Now we had the chance to experience this year’s in company with a group of Americans at a superbowl party. There was lots of food and drink, friendliness, and hollering at the TVs that were on in most rooms. Some supported New England Patriots and some Atlanta Falcons.

The men were all deeply into the game and the beer, some women also, but some were just there for the social event. The one thing everyone seemed to agree on was that they were all sick of politics and wanted to forget about it.Read More »

Driven grouse shooting

Further to my post on the inglorious twelfth, I note that the petition to ban driven grouse shooting is to be presented to MPs on Tuesday 18 October at 2.15pm. MPs will hear from Mark Avery, the petition creator, and representatives from the RSPB, the Moorland Association and the Countryside Alliance.

Driven grouse shooting is a particularly obnoxious case of the gratuitous shooting of wildlife for ‘sport’, where the grouse are actually ‘driven’ by beaters towards the waiting guns. Peculiar to the UK, this ‘sport’ depends on intensive habitat management tailored to the raising of this one particular bird, reducing the natural habitat and said to increase the risk of floods and greenhouse gas emissions. It may be no accident that many recent floods have been in lowlands near to northern grouse moors, the sport of the rich leading to the misery of ordinary people.

Predators are eliminated in large numbers in order to protect the young grouse – foxes, stoats, and illegal killing of protected birds of prey including threatened hen harriers, eagles, buzzards… Mountain hares are killed because they carry ticks that can spread diseases to grouse.

Hen Harrier

Particularly gruesome is the use of pole traps, which will smash a bird’s legs when it lands on them. See eg raptor persection UK.

Although many of these activities are illegal, there is no effective action to curtail them. It seems the landowners and their gamekeepers can do just what they like.

You can watch the parliamentary session on Parliament TV: This appears to be a somewhat convoluted process as ‘the transcript of what is said will help inform MPs taking part in the House of Commons debate’. The parliamentary debate will be on 31st October.

Don’t hold your breath; the vested interests will be fighting hard to preserve their nasty little ‘sport’.

Featured image of landrovers in grouse shooting party by Peter Aikman,
and of hen harrier by Andreas Trepte, both via Wikimedia Commons

The usurpers

Next day, a grey heron was surveying his territory when we first looked out onto the River Dordogne over breakfast. He stood stock still, upright, as if checking out what was going on around.
Then he would begin to stalk fish, creeping like a cat after mice (featured image). Then the sudden pounce, and fish swallowed in a trice.

Later in the morning he’d gone, replaced by a couple of wading men, fly fishing. The predator who has usurped nature’s king beasts at the top of this and almost every food chain. No birds to be seen,  all driven away by the intrusion. 

Clearly, fly fishing is a skilled occupation and gets you into the heart of nature, an image spoiled for me on seeing a fag hanging from the lips of one of the fishermen. 

And they did appear to throw back any fish caught – surely a minor form of fish torture.
Late afternoon the fishermen had gone. The wagtails returned, feasting on flying insects, a flock of goldfinches swarmed into bushes and onto rocks. The heron returned and resumed fishing.

Then we were supremely privileged by a rare royal visitor. A kingfisher appeared in trees on the opposite bank, then came down to a rock within camera range. He stood still, iridescent, intent. Then a sudden flash into the water, another fish swiftly swallowed. Then back on the rock, to repeat the process. Some days you are just blessed.

In a world overrun with humans shouldn’t we be giving back more of these still semi-wild places to their natural predators, while we still can?

The great escape

Our dad used to take us to Sincil Bank to see Lincoln City play in the then Second Division of the English football league – every other Saturday afternoon at 3pm. We also sometimes went to see the Reserves on the alternate Saturdays. The biggest event that happened in that time of growing up with ‘The Imps’ was the great Escape of 1958.

It all began on a snowy day in March. Lincoln were playing Cardiff City. Already relegation was looming, and Cardiff were leading 3-0 at half-time. What a relief it was for us when the referee abandoned the game at that stage; we had another chance.

With 6 games to go, City were at the bottom of the table and relegation seemed certain. In theory they had to win all their remaining games to have a chance of staying up.

Records show that they then beat both Barnsley and Doncaster 3-1, Rotherham 2-0, and then Bristol City 4-0. We started to believe it could happen. Then a 1-0 win against Huddersfield.

On the last day it was between Lincoln and Notts County to go down with Doncaster. And it was the replayed game with Cardiff. What a game it was. We were euphoric as Cardiff were convincingly defeated 3-1 – the Imps now seemed invincible. Forwards Roy Chapman and Ron Harbertson, recently signed by magical manager Bill Anderson, were our heroes. Then the news came through that Notts County had failed to win. Lincoln had escaped!

It might have been a cup final, the crowd jumped over the low wall and rushed onto the pitch to congratulate the players. Us too.

Anything seemed possible after that.

Lincoln City FC Official Archive


1966 World Cup Final 

Can it really be 50 years since that special day when England won the world cup? For me, it was the natural culmination of a childhood where football was a dominant influence, even in provincial Lincoln. 

Those were our heroes, especially Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton. And it all came good after heart stopping drama, watched by the nation on the recently widespread television – in my case the future in-laws’ front room in Peckham.

In 1970 the dream ended, through misfortune and that magical Brazilian Pele. Another world cup and I just had to give up that strong emotional attachment to the fortunes of an increasingly frail team – it was too much.

Things were never the same again. The English league joined the charge to obscene rewards for players, and paradoxically the national team’s performances never again approached those heady heights. 

Well, did it matter? At the end of the day, it’s only a game! 

At the races

While Serena Williams was winning Wimbledon for the nth time, daughter and I were strolling through Chester. It happened to be race day. We arrived on the road by the race course and leaned against a convenient wall with a good view of the course at 2.45.

The rows of bookies’ boards showed the next race to be in twenty minutes, so we waited and took in the jolly scene. Drinking, eating junk food and chatting seemed to be the main occupations. Men wore suits, some in groups where drinking a pint of beer down in one seemed a popular activity. Some of the younger women wore skimpy attire that appeared rather inappropriate, given both the cool wind and the inelegance of the parts uncovered. This was no Ascot.

There was a certain fascination in observing the changing odds on the bookies’ boards. Eventually we placed notional bets and awaited the race. Number 6 ‘Sovereign’ seemed a good choice given the Brexit situation.

The race started somewhere invisible to us, and eventually the horses appeared in the distance at the far side of the circular course. They gradually came round the bend and then suddenly they were upon us, all effort and straining, pounding of hooves, excitement in the crowd. Yes, it was exciting! Number 6 was there in the mêlée, around fourth and seemed to be gaining.

After that ten seconds of excitement, it was suddenly all over. From our angle we couldn’t see who had won. It turned out that ‘Sovereign Debt’ came in second – the bookies’ boards had not been not wide enough for the full name. All that waiting for ten seconds of excitement!

But maybe better than my first racing experience, 52 years ago in 1964. The last ‘Lincolnshire Handicap’ was being run in Lincoln (after that it moved to Doncaster). This provided a good excuse to go to my first horse races. I wandered through the crowds soaking the slightly seedy atmosphere, had a drink and a sausage roll, placed a bet based on a ‘tip’ someone had given me – ‘Linca’ seemed appropriate. I waited around the crowded finish line, saw nothing of the race except the last second or two as a great pounding of hooves was followed by a load of horses suddenly flashing by. Who on earth had won? Well it wasn’t Linca! Arriving home I was dog sick from the sausage roll, and vowed never to go racing again.

I guess the point is showing off, drinking and gambling – and that ten seconds of excitement!

Shooting Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

Over coffee at Beans cafe, I just read a feature in the Houston Chronicle on Shooting Snipe. The writer extols the joys of walking through wetlands, seeing the snipe* flushed out, their subsequent glorious twisting flight and then the difficulty of shooting them, even when cheating using a shotgun.

As a town-dweller, this whole concept is anathema to me. I can see the joy of walking in that land open to the skies and seeing the thrill of the snipe flushed from its hiding place, the glory of that speedy, turning, twisting unpredictable flight. But why then destroy that magnificent beauty of creation?

And yet I can see why country dwellers might see things differently, coming from times when the need to survive was paramount, and the snipe might provide a valuable source of food. I guess there are still such country dwellers who maybe still need the licence to kill these wonders of creation, although surely there are easier prey than this. And is it a good idea to gradually seed all the land with what is probably lead shot?

One could certainly argue that maybe we would not miss a few of the said 2 million of them, purely numerically. But what does the willingness to destroy these beings say about our internal psyche and our connection with the natural world?

Then there is the third category, the hunters, so-called sportsmen, probably themselves city dwellers. Again I can see the joy of achieving such a connection with the natural world that you can intercept the flight of this twisting turning bird and capture it in an instant. Of course this can be done with a camera, and what joy the resulting pictures would bring.

The gunshot brings destruction of life rather than creation of image. Yes, the satisfaction will be similar – the achievement, the transient pleasure of eating the result. But was there any need, other than that to complete man’s illusory dominance over nature. And what about the wounded birds that suffer for hours…

It would be more sporting to use a sniper rifle rather than gunshot, less polluting but no less inhumane, other than in the lower ‘hit rate’.

We are in truth one with nature and when we have fully realised that we take only what we need, not what is in the grasping greed of our distorted imaginations.

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed”

Mahatma Gandhi

* The bird referred to in this article is Wilson’s snipe, described as ‘fairly common’ in America by Wikipedia.

Picture courtesy of Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren and Wikimedia Commons

What is this Superbowl?

It happened to be the night of the Superbowl final. We were staying in a hotel in Fort Worth, so I thought I’d see what all the fuss is about  – it had even been mentioned in the Republican presidential candidate debate the day before.

I found the right TV channel and there it was. Seems it’s American football, not baseball as I’d ignorantly imagined it might be.

american-footballDenver Broncos were winning 10-7 against Colorado Panthers, but the game was only halfway through. I watched for a while,  but couldn’t make head or tale of what was going on. It looked a bit like rugby, but with forward passes and tackling of players who did not have the ball. Strange.

We went out to eat. Most of the bars and restaurants had the game on multiple TV screens.  Some even had lights out – it was just you, food and the game. We went to a more civilized place and were offered a booth away from the screens, enjoying our evening repast with but the occasional glimpse of the game. The waitress said it was so quiet because everyone stays home to watch.

After meal and postprandial stroll we arrived back at the hotel to find the game still on. Then I realized why. Every few minutes the game stops, the clock stops and the ads come on. All totally geared to TV.

Denver were now clearly winning, as forecast by The Donald (Trump), and the scoring system was still as clear as mud.

It seemed that if someone made a suicidal run through a great scrimmage of players he could not repeat same for some time.  Very sensible.

Then came a moment of magic. A Denver player sidestepped an opponent, wrongfooted another, and was suddenly running free. All the opposing defenders were running to intercept his trajectory, and all the Denver players were running to intercept and stop them. Pure poetry in motion. As the runner was battered into submission, it seems he’d at least gained some ground. And he could so easily have scored (like a rugby try?) without that heroic defence.

Yes, you could easily get into this game! But there’s so much of the more tedious grind, and really, even with all the padding and head shields, it’s a dangerous game to play, is it not? Some even think it should be banned, because of the danger to the players, e.g. Dave Bry in The Guardian.

Peyton-ManningOf course, being America there has to be a hero. Step forward Peyton Manning, Broncos quarterback, winning his second superbowl title at the age of 39 – incredible to be playing such a tough game at the top level at that age.

In the end the Broncos won 24-10. I somehow missed the last 10 seconds, as the media interviews seemed to have already started.

It soon became clear that in this rather selective viewing we’d missed a lot of the fun – like Coldplay,  Beyonce, Lady Gaga and the celebs and ads. Even President Obama joined in this national event, playing a prerecorded part in Stephen Colbert’s Late Show. Perhaps I’m just missing the point of the ‘grand spectacle’.

As we checked out, the guy at the desk confirmed my suspicions – yes, he likes it as a great national spectacle and talking point – but no, he hasn’t got a clue what the rules of the game are.

If you really want to know how the game works, try this website, where the top image came from: howstuffworks

Peyton Manning clip is from Liberty Voice