Battlefield

More than a few of the episodes in this A Story A Week series begin in the same fashion: I run across something in a box in the storeroom - usually while looking for something else - and there in front of me is the theme for the next story. In truth, I could do that every week I suppose, because that's just how much junk is scattered around this place!

But 'junk' is perhaps too strong a word; after all, one man's junk is another man's treasure, as we all know, and the item that I found in a box yesterday would not be tossed aside by anybody who found it, I suspect. I had actually been looking for some old harpsichord drawings (yet another story one day!) but what I found instead was a chessboard and set of pieces.

It's a board that I made myself a very long time ago. Hearing that, you can perhaps guess what it looks like - squares of alternating light and dark wood, surrounded by a contrasting border to tie it together. And you would be wrong.

The squares on this board are of course contrasting colours, not made of wood though, but glass. It's a stained glass chessboard, with the playing surface forming the top cover of a shallow box in which the pieces are stored. It looks far older than it actually is, as I attempted at the time to give it an 'antique' look - beating the wood with various objects and then staining it quite roughly. I wasn't trying to fool anybody about its age, but simply wanted a kind of funky appearance.

Add forty-odd years of natural ageing to that, and 'funky' is certain where it has ended up!

I used to be very interested in chess. Another one of those boxes upstairs holds dozens and dozens of books on chess history and techniques, although they are of course pretty much totally obsolete now, as is my own knowledge. I haven't played a game at least since moving to Japan, and probably for quite some years before that.

One of my friends at the music shop where I worked at the time - a metallurgical engineer - was also a chess nut, and he and I frequently battled it out over this board. A common pattern was for me to have dinner at their house, and his wife would then put the TV on while he and I set up the board.

He and I usually notated our games, and after each checkmate would run through the game again, doing a post-mortem, and trying to learn from the mistakes. I have no memory that one of us was particularly stronger than the other, and I think we beat each other in a pretty even pattern. We sometimes played using a chess clock (and an expensive French chess clock is also here in one of these boxes somewhere!). For those of you not familiar with the concept, a chess clock has two dials, each with a button above it. At the start of the game you set the two clocks to show the total 'time allowed' for each player. As play progresses, only one clock is ticking down the time remaining - of course the one for the player currently thinking about his move. At the moment he makes his move, he also punches his button, and this stops his clock and starts the one for the other player.

On more than one occasion we would at some point become aware of a subtle change in the room ... it was becoming gradually lighter ... It was the rising sun, letting us know that 'Guys, you're in trouble now ...'

It was shortly after I moved away from the neighbourhood that I heard that he and she had divorced. I presume their frictions ran deeper than an occasional all-night chess episode on the part of the husband, but you never know! Chess can be dangerous!

Perhaps it's better if I pack up this board again, and let it continue to sleep undisturbed!

 


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