Occasional Bridge Again, October 2015 to 23 January 2017

Confused again?

When I get deep enough into Ogblog there will be some patches of my playing bridge over the years.

My schooldays were my heydays for bridge; it has been a very patchy bridge career since then.

I did have a regular/occasional game for many years with a somewhat fluid group, with Andrea Dean, Marianne Tudor-Craig and me forming the core. We’d play a few times a year and not get much worse each time we played. That ground to a halt, I’m pretty sure on 25 June 2009. I can be precise about the date because I’m pretty sure it was that last time we played, at Maz’s place, that I learnt of Michael Jackson’s death on the news while driving home.

I’m not sure when the matter came up with Stephen; perhaps when we had lunch at Medlar together in March 2015.  Or perhaps when we went to the cricket and Crocker’s Folly together that June. 

Anyway, one thing led to another and I got invited to join Stephen’s impromptu, occasional Monday night gang. This seems to be even more occasional than my old troupe, or at least my invitations to play are! This gang all seem to play quite a lot of bridge and take it quite seriously, although I think they see these Monday evening gatherings as a relaxing, social game.

Unlike my old kitchen table crowd, the food and drink side is very much secondary, although there is always a bit of a high tea-type spread at half time. That set up works pretty well.

They are a very pleasant and interesting crowd, as I’d expect with Stephen’s friends. It’s a fluid group, but the core seems to comprise Stephen, Michael, Graham and Irene. The first time I played with them, 19 October 2015 at Irene’s place, all five of us were there; we played a rotating Chicago with one person sitting out each of five rounds. They like to play Standard American, but tolerated my old 1970’s school Acol for that first gig only.

So I mugged up on the Standard American stuff, but we then didn’t get a group together until March 2016, playing twice that month, 7th and 21st, both times at Michael’s house. Four of us minus Irene both times, if I remember correctly. I stuttered through the bidding that time, making only a few bloopers but playing the cards reasonably, if rustily.

Then another long interval, until a gig at Stephen’s place on 31 October 2016. No Graham and no Irene; Lindy (Stephen’s wife) making up the four. Despite not finding time to mug up again, I played a bit better that night.

The next gig was at Irene’s place on 16 January 2017, Graham wasn’t there. Just the odd blooper. Similarly at Stephen’s place the next week, 23 January, with Peter making up the four in the absence of Graham and Irene.

Unfortunately my proper blooper of the night came on the very last hand – total brain fade once I’d worked out how I could slam dunk the contract, messing it up prodigiously.

So that’s probably the end of my bridge career again for a good while, until Stephen’s memory of the trauma fades and/or until his group is desperate once again for someone to make up the numbers.

Michael, poor chap, had his motorbike stolen from the street near Stephen’s house, while we were playing on this most recent occasion. Edgy neighbourhood, Chelsea. I drove round the corner after collecting Dumbo to see (as I imagined it) Michael having his collar felt by the fuzz – until Michael explained what had happened.

The copper must have been on the beat on that street, as only two or three minutes had passed since we had said goodbye at Stephen’s door. Anyway, I was able to wait for Michael while he gave his statement and then give him a lift home.

Dumbo to the rescue

London 2012 Paralympic Games, ExCel Centre, 3 September 2012

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Volleyball was possibly the most watchable of the sports we saw

Following our three days at the Olympic games for badminton, tennis and hockey, Janie and I were well up for our Monday at the Paralympic Games a few weeks later.

I booked a day at the ExCel Centre, as we hadn’t got to see any Olympic events there and I liked the spec. for such tickets, which was basically a confirmed booking for one sport at one time, with an open ticket to see any other sport that day, on a walk-up basis, if there were seats available.

We planned to get to the ExCel via North Greenwich Tube and then the Emirates Air Line Cable Car across the Thames. This was mostly an excuse to take a quick look at the O2 (at that point neither of us had been) and to try out the cable car.

Photos of our day, including the cable car ride and the Paralympic events, are all in this Flickr album (along with photos from our day at the Olympic Park in August) – click here.

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Weightlifting isn’t really my cup of tea in either its Olympic or Paralympic form, but this was fascinating to see

When planning our day at the ExCel, Janie had marked off several sports on the schedule which she hoped to see. I suggested that we manage our expectations, as I knew the days had all sold out, so I thought that the “walk up” element might be very limited.

As it turned out, the days had clearly been sold with a view to most people moving around and watching several sports. The stewarding was of the very highest standard, so that each time we asked a steward for advice, along the lines of “we’ve already seen volleyball and are firmly booked to see boccia later, we quite fancy…what do you suggest we do next?” you’d get a sensible answer and help to find a good event to watch at that time.

Very cleverly planned and executed by the organisers and stewards respectively. The upshot was that visitors all seemed to be getting loads to see and every event had a large crowd. By that stage of that summer, believe me, the London crowds knew how to make noise and enjoy watching sport; any sport.

Boccia; in truth not very watchable but clearly very skillful
Boccia; in truth not very watchable but clearly very skillful

So, we started off with the seated volleyball, which was very exciting indeed to watch – I’d certainly volunteer to watch that again.

Then weightlifting, which frankly doesn’t float my boat in any format but was fascinating to see in its Paralympic form.

In truth, the boccia was the least watchable of the sports we saw, but it is a sport that severely disabled people can play. Or elderly people; indeed a few months later my mother proudly showed me a boccia certificate that she had won at Nightingale, although she didn’t quite remember what she had played or whether she had enjoyed playing it.

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Table tennis, or, as Boris would have it, wiff-waff

We rounded off our day with the table tennis, which was very exciting and watchable. In effect we sort-of got to see two sports in this event, as some of the matches were wheelchair while others were standing. As with lawn tennis, the wheelchair version of the game is quite different from the standing version of the game; both good to watch, just differently so. We watched the table tennis for quite a while before heading home, very satisfied indeed.

We loved this day; it is one of our favourite memories of that summer.

London 2012 Olympic Games, Women’s Hockey, Olympic Park, 6 August 2012

Strolling and snapping in the park before the hockey
Strolling and snapping in the park before the hockey

Janie and I were fortunate (or skilled) enough to get three sets of tickets in our Olympic Games application; badminton, tennis and hockey.  We were thrilled with that. Add to it a day at the Paralympic games a few weeks later and that makes four really memorable days.

Our day at the Olympic Park to see women’s hockey was our only opportunity to see the park itself, so we needed no further invitation than the suggestion in the spectator guide that we ensure we arrive at the park plenty early. We indeed wanted a good amount of time to take in the atmosphere and enjoy a whole day.

We timed our journey and arrival to be outside any rush hours (business or Olympic) but early enough for a good stroll around the park before our afternoon of hockey started (at lunchtime).

Security, the stewarding, the atmosphere around the park was all wonderful, as was widely reported at the time. We’d had great experiences at Wembley Arena (badminton) and Wimbledon (tennis) by then, so expected nothing less. But all of that character together with the sheer size and scale of the park was something to behold and remember.

We took lots of photos – this Flickr album contains the pictures from this day and those we took at the Paralympics also – click here to see more .

We still got to our seats in very good time and saw some players warming up:

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The first game we saw was China v Japan.

I recall clearly that Japan won the match 1-0, thanks to a 54th minute goal by Komazawa…

…OK, I don’t remember a thing, apart from the fact that we were thoroughly enjoying ourselves and the crowd was getting well into it. All of the results of all of the matches, together with reports, can be found through the Wikipedia entry on the tournament – click here if you are that interested.

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It was the second match, between South Korea and Belgium, that was especially memorable. Directly behind us, between the matches, had arrived a large contingent of Korean Buddhist monks. Had this been a cricket match in, say, the Eric Hollies Stand at Edgbaston, I would be talking about a bunch of beer-swilling Brummies in fancy dress, looking vaguely like monks.

But this was a sizeable posse of real Buddhist monks, with South Korean flags and prayer drums. As the game commenced they started to chant, “Dae Han Min Guk” very slowly and then beat out this phrase as five beats on their prayer drums.

Now there are several places where you can read about and see video of Korean soccer crowds making this chant rather rapidly – click here for but one (quite good) example – or alternatively try clicking here for a more percussive but less sporty outburst – but I cannot find examples anywhere of monks dispensing this chant and rhythm in a dignified, Buddhist stylee. So you’ll just have to take my word for it that the monks slow, profound version was an amazing, hypnotic sound.

I had in any case already decided to support South Korea for this match. After all, a South Korean publisher had ponied up some serious bucks for the rights to The Price of Fish – still available of course in the original Ameringlish (and now also available in all good South Korean bookshops and on-line – here). Whereas we still wait in vain for a Belgian publisher to do the right thing viz “Fish”.

So, naturally, Janie and I started joining in with the monks. Soon lots of people were joining in. Even children waving Belgian flags started joining in, only to meet reproach from their parents and then, in some cases, to ignore the reproach and continue to join in anyway. You get the idea.

I’ve no idea whether it was this extraordinary wall of sound or simply the comparative skill of the South Korean women, but our lasses won the game 3-1. The rather unfortunately named Kim Jong-eun (not to be confused with the Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea and supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim Jong-un) scored two of the goals.

We strolled a little more after the matches – we didn’t really want our day to end, but it was purposeful strolling really towards the best exit for our journey home. As was the way for just those few weeks of that summer, there was a friendly atmosphere amongst strangers on the tube home.

London 2012 Olympic Games, Badminton, Wembley Arena, 30 July 2012

This was the first of our four Olympic/Paralympic visits and it was very early in the games, so we were very excited ahead of this event. In truth, we were excited ahead of each of our visits.

Although it was an evening event, it was a Monday so we made a long weekend of it, taking the day off. We played tennis in the morning and goodness knows what we did with the rest of the day – I don’t think we faffed around most of the day planning our evening – maybe we did.

We set off good and early to be sure of avoiding the rush hour and no crush at the Arena, but we needn’t have worried about that; the journey to the event was very straightforward.

In truth, badminton is not the most watchable sport I have ever seen. There were three matches being played  simultaneously and/but we (all spectators) had a much better view of one match than the other two. This can be a bit confusing and the crowd roar from those close to another table is a bit off-putting to the spectators – goodness knows how the players concentrate – presumably they are used to it.

We saw a mixture of mens and womens, singles and doubles. All the details for the events we saw are shown on the relevant wikipedia entries – click through from the general badminton page here.

The following evening, there was a big hoo-ha about womens doubles pairs not giving of there all, which is covered in the above link and which the BBC reported here. That controversy gave us a fair bit of “we were there the night before the scandal” talking point kudos.

Badminton is a hugely skillful game and I’m glad we went to see it. But in truth, sitting indoors (it was clammy) and with several matches going on at the same time, it is not hugely compelling, so I wouldn’t do this one again.

And by gosh Wembley Arena looks tired now – it had been a while since my last visit. Better for gigs than for sports, I’d say. I planned a clever route home to avoid most of the crowds, which worked pretty well.

In retrospect, I’m glad we went to this event first, as we enjoyed it, but for sure our Olympic experience got better after this. We might have been a bit disappointed by this event had we been to Wimbledon and/or the Olympic Park first.

Race Night, Seaxe Club Evening, 22 October 2009

It took me a while to work out what my diary note for that evening, which merely reads “race night”, meant.

I didn’t remember going to any events about ethnic politics at that time.

Then I remembered a Seaxe Club evening in the St John’s Wood Church Hall, where we raised some money for the cause by betting on movie clips from old horse and dog races.

Apparently this was an age-old Seaxe Club tradition, but as far as I know it has not been done since 2009 (May 2017 is the time of writing).

Barmy Kev and Olivia were there – indeed Barmy Kev wrote a ball by ball commentary match report on the evening for MTWD: Shaggy’s Dog Story – A Night At the Races – click here.

It isn’t normally my policy to take a precautionary scrape of pieces other than my own authored ones, but I thought this one should be held locally just in case – click below only if the above link doesn’t work:

Middlesex till we die – Shaggy’s Dog Story – A Night At the Races

I really cannot add much to Barmy Kev’s piece, other than to say what a fun evening it was and what a shame it (or something similar) hasn’t been repeated.

A Day At the Races, Z/Yen at Lingfield, 9 July 2008

Mark Yeandle and Ian Harris duelling. Extracted from the Z/Yen website, photograph probably taken by Alexander Knapp

A works outing to the Lingfield races. Linda Cook’s e-mail to the team summed up the planning for the day:

Dear Racers

Happy to announce schedule for the race day on 9 July 2008:

Departing London Bridge: 11.48 – (we will leave the office at 11.00 or if you wish met at the station at 11.35, this will give us time to get tickets)

Arriving Lingfield Park: 12.39

Lunch served: 13.15-13.30

After lunch at leisure: First race: 14.10 – Last race: 17.05

Departing Lingfield Park and back to London Bridge (I have timetable for trains from 15.44, in case anyone needs to get away early.  I expect to leave on the 17.31 train arriving back at London Bridge 18.10).

Dress code: smart casual or in Mark Yeandle’s case dressing up like Rupert Bear is acceptable.

Jez and Nick, I hope you have entered the “form” onto PropheZy and come up with a list of winners for everyone.

Good luck.

Linda

As well as me and Linda, the circulation list for the day included Michael Mainelli, Mary O’Callaghan, Mark Yeandle, Nick Danev, Alexander Knapp, Jez Horne, Ben Morris, Jan-Peter Onstwedder, Rebecca Dawson and Mike Prymaka.

There are more pictures, which can be found by clicking here.

PropheZy is Z/Yen’s predictive analytics support vector machine engine, just in case anyone is reading this who doesn’t know but does wonder what PropheZy might be.

The day was summarised after the event by yours truly in the July 2008 Now and Z/Yen Newsletter thus:

Racing Events, Dear Reader, Racing Events

Z/Yen chose the wettest day of the decade for its works outing to the Lingfield Races. Mercifully Lingfield is an all-weather course, so the fun, team bonding and deep research was not interrupted. And deep research was at least partly the order of the day, as Z/Yen’s position on the relationship between gambling and financial services (see http://www.zyen.com/now-and-zyen/371-betting-on-the-future for example) is starting to generate real client work. However, the Lingfield day’s deep research mainly comprised fail-safe investment strategies such as “choosing the horse with the name I like”, “choosing the one whose jockey is wearing my favourite colours” and “choosing the one with an Irish/Aussie/Arabian owner/trainer”. Strangely, the bookies all seemed to think that these were excellent investment strategies. But joking apart, the day was a great success for all involved.

I think this might have been the occasion that Michael and I were both persuaded to take out an accumulator and were both in it right until the last race. Sadly, no cigar for me in the end but Michael did win “a Cuban cigar or twelve”. Still, that made the day exciting and is as close as I’m ever likely to get; I am hopeless at picking horses and frankly don’t much care for betting. But the day at the races is a fun day out for all manner of reasons. I do recall it being a very enjoyable and successful event for all concerned.

The photo (see top of the article) went on to be the Z/Yen caption competition that August, attracting entries from the four corners of the globe…well, including Mark’s brother Simon in Australia anyhow.

An Uneventful Day Playing Fives, 9 June 1975

Without doubt my favourite game in the early days at Alleyn’s was fives. Specifically at Alleyn’s we played Rugby Fives.

It was the only sport at which I was good enough to represent the school and no doubt that selection only came through my comparative ability with the left-hand as well as the right. Let’s not call this ambidextrous, in my case more like ambiclumsy. In any case, my doubles partner was Alan Cooke and he was good. I probably got my team berth more on the back of Alan’s skills than my own.

Still, I wasn’t bad and there are lots of references to my successes and failures throughout my diaries, especially 1974 & the first half of 1975.

But looking back today, early February 2016, I thought I should write a short piece about this simple entry I found for 9 June 1975.

Uneventful day.  Beat Eltham 11-5, 11-5 in Q-Finals.

Now in my book, John Eltham was good at sport. Really good at sport. I’m not sure John played fives much, but he was generally good at sport.

I was not good at sport. Really, really, really not good at sport. There was the occasional success, of course, not least one goalkeeping tale of derring-do that I have promised not to blog about…

…for the time being…

…until I can find the reference and/or unless the promised hush money proves not to be forthcoming…

…but my point is, looking back, I don’t see how the two sentences in the above quote could possibly be talking about the same day. Beating John Eltham at any sport made it an eventful day. Heck, just having got to the Q-Finals of any sport made it an eventful day for me.

But perhaps my young mind, turned by some fleeting success, was by then looking beyond a semi-final appearance to greater glory than that achieved. The diary is silent on fives for the rest of the term, so I can only assume that the semi final which I (presumably) lost was on the same day and that I was so disappointed that I (unusually) couldn’t even bear to write down that particular losing result.

Anyone care/dare to own up to ruining this poor kid’s day by destroying his one chance at glory in the internal fives competition? I fancy a rematch.

Postscript One

John Eltham, on seeing this posting, e-mailed me the next day to say:

You modestly left out the fact that we had at least two national Rugby Fives champions in our year ! Hodson & Stendall.

Indeed we did, John. And indeed Jumbo Jennings latterly. I’d forgotten about Neil Hodson in that context.

I have a strange feeling that it might well have been Hodson who beat me in the semis – I have always had a sense of unfinished business with him and I probably would have been too gutted to report the loss. Whereas Chris Stendall was, like Alan Cooke, an old mate from primary school; I took my (more often than not) losses against them on the chin and regularly recorded those in the diary.

Postscript Two

After writing the above line “I fancy a rematch” and posting this piece, I then knelt down to put the 1975 diary back in the box under the bed and then…felt my left hammy twinge when I got up again. Perhaps a fives rematch at the age of 53 is not such a good idea after all.

A Marathon Day Of Court Sport; Fives and Fridge Ball, 4 December 1974

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What a sporty day Wednesday 4 December 1974 must have been for me. Just in case you cannot read what the day’s entry says:

11th in chemistry.

Fives lost 15-3 to Wrightson & Weber, beat Mason & Candappa 15-7 and beat Pavasi & I Goodwin 15-3, 15-0.

Fridge ball 533.

Some of this perhaps needs explaining. “11th in chemistry” is and perhaps will remain a bit of a mystery. 11th in the year would be quite good; whereas 11th in the class more predictably mediocre in that subject. It’s not well explained in the diary; much like my answers in the chemistry test, no doubt.

No, it is the fives and the fridge ball that caught my eye for further exposition.

Four Sets Of Fives 

I have already written up a bit about fives – in a piece about a so-called uneventful day the following June – click here. But if you cannot be bothered to click, you should simply be aware that, at Alleyn’s, we played Rugby Fives and you should also be aware that Alan Cooke became my regular doubles partner, so I’m sure those doubles matches were teamed with him.

Looks as though Cookie and I warmed up as the afternoon went on; perhaps this was a breakthrough afternoon for our nascent doubles pairing. Earlier references to fives in my diary seem to be singles games.

Apologies to David Pavesi – firstly for the surprising mis-spelling of his name, as we knew each other well from primary school as well as at Alleyn’s. But also apologies to him and Ian Goodwin for the drubbing. Why we played a second set against those two after a convincing first set I really cannot imagine. Perhaps they requested another chance. Perhaps we four wanted to play some more and everyone else had disappeared.

Fridge Ball

I suppose I do need to explain the magnificent and extraordinary sport of fridge ball, just in case the reader is unfamiliar with the game.

I realise at the time of writing (2016) that fridge ball has rather a lot in common with my current passion, the ancient game of real tennis – click here for one of my pieces and links on that game. 

In short, fridge ball is to table tennis what real tennis is to modern (lawn) tennis, but instead of a medieval courtyard, which is the theatre of play for real tennis, the theatre of play for fridge ball is a modern kitchen. Fridge ball is played with a ping-pong bat and a ping-pong ball.

Sadly, there are no photographs of the 3 Woodfield Avenue, London, SW16 fridge ball court as it looked in 1974, but there is a photograph of the court from 2012, when the house was being refurbished in preparation for letting – see below.

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In front of the visible wall (to the left of the picture) stood a large 1960’s-style fridge-freezer; the surface against which the ball has to be hit. The floor surface back then was linoleum of a rather insipid hue. In the photograph you can actually see a layer of blue glue awaiting some fancy modern flooring substance, the suitability of which for fridge ball was not even tested.

The game, simply, is to hit the ball against the fridge door as many times as possible, ideally getting some interesting bouncy business off the floor and/or the jauntily angled pantry door (shown open in the photo but naturally closed for play) and/or the panel doors below the sink,and/or divider doors (just out of shot at the bottom of the photo, which at the time had helpfully unobtrusive recess slots rather than potentially rally-ruining handles).

If the ball is accidentally hit to the left of the fridge (to the kitchen entrance), the ball is out and the rally is over. If the ball is hit to the the right of the fridge (an entrance that leads to a little laundry area and side door to the house), the ball is out and the rally is over. If the ball is hit above the fridge, gawd help you because the ball will probably get stuck behind the fridge and is the devil’s own job to retrieve. Needless to say the rally is over but also, almost certainly, your enjoyment for the evening, as mum and dad take matters into their own hands to terminate the game at that juncture.

If you hit the ball hard enough for it to get some action off the back surface or the cooker, the ball is still in play but that is a dangerous tactic given the strange bounces you might get back there. Aficionados of real tennis might enjoy the idea of hitting the grill/grille – a winning shot in realers but merely part of the ongoing fun/difficulty in fridgers.

Where you can see drawers at the back of the court/right hand side of the photograph, in my day there was a recess under a surface there and a stool kept in that space.  If the ball went into that recess it was out and the rally was over, making the back of the court even more treacherous than it would be today.

A second bounce does not necessarily terminate the point, although most second bounce situations tend to lead to the ball not bouncing at all and ending up dead, which thus ends the rally.

It really is a magnificent game, full of skill and playable as an addictive solo game, not entirely unlike the pinball addiction that subsequently grabbed me for some time. Indeed given the size of our family kitchen, it worked best as a solo game.

But here’s the thing.

Fridge ball 533.

Just think about that for a moment. A 533 stroke rally. That is a remarkable score.

I think there was also a playing condition that allowed for externalities (such as mum wanting to do the washing up or dad wanting a cup of tea), such that the player could catch the ball in the non-bat hand (not scoring a stroke for the catch, btw) and then continue the rally once the interruption was over. Frankly, I can’t imagine having had the run of the kitchen for long enough to score 533 without such a playing condition. Not on a midweek evening after playing four sets of fives at school.

What a marathon sporting day.

Does anyone reading this piece remember playing fridge ball with me or similar games in their own (or other people’s) homes? I’d love to hear all about it if you did.