Sunday, August 28, 2016

Chess Psychosis

I am a very mediocre chess player but that doesn’t stop me from spending hours every day recently playing chess on my computer (Microsoft  Chess Titans: the reason why I refuse to update my Windows from Windows 7) There is something here in Mali that is not conducive to reading: I read in England and in Sweden but here I find myself watching old favourite movies and TV series  on DVDs that I bring out from Europe instead. To counteract this passivity and to give myself some mental stimulation – and frankly mainly because I find it exciting- I play a lot of chess. 

My love affair with this game started when I was around twelve, thirteen: my next door neighbour and class mate Britta and I lived a brief moment in search of ‘cultural refinement’  and in our youthful view of things we  saw this state as something that could be achieved through playing chess and listening to classical music. I remember many happy afternoons at her place playing chess and listening to the Brandenburg concertos. Then soon after we discovered boys and other distractions that led us astray from this pure and virtuous road towards refinement and enlightenment.

I did not forget chess entirely  though, and when I lived in Islington in London in the eighties and  early nineties I ran a  chess club every Thursday for three years. Anybody could come and I never knew who would turn up. We did have one or two grand masters  who graced our club once or twice  but it was a light-hearted sort of chess club because alcohol was served and of course alcohol + chess do not mix. But never mind- there was plenty of laughter and there was drawing going on too and poetry- making  by anyone who had not found a partner yet: I still have three glorious ‘chess diaries’ from those happy Thursdays.  I also have my friend Biggles’ (who drew the chess problem above) wonderful chess biscuit cutters that he made for me which he presented me with when he arrived on the chess club’s first anniversary: he had made a chocolate and shortbread chess board with all the chess pieces which were to be eaten as they were taken! It goes perhaps without saying that most of my friends at this time were artists...One of them , dear Stirling, sent me a parcel as Christmas greeting one year. When I opened it I found three kings from three different Chess sets.

That was Islington. Then in the nineties I moved to Notting Hill and lo and behold: noone wanted to play chess!  (An opportunity for a study by an anthroplologist or sociologist perhaps?) So I opened my Tuesday ‘salon’ where people played all sorts of things but not normally chess.

I am just recovering from a rather nasty attack of malaria. It sounds more alarming than it is because there are remedies that are tried and trusted so no one that can afford to pay should need to be suffering for more than three of four days at the most. But there is no doubt that the first couple of days are quite rough. Keita’s old collegue Barry came and gave me injections and they lowered my fever and stopped my vomiting . But I was clearly not in a state to do anything strenuous and I needed to rest. So I started to play chess. This turned out to be a big mistake. Chess should only be played in good health, and even then it should not be overdone. I  remember when I started my chess club in Islington that I became ‘overheated’- that is I played too much . That means one gets into a neurotic state when one sees everything around one as chess pieces and one becomes a chess piece oneself. I mean that if I am walking down a corridor and someone is walking straight towards me I feel that I have to decide whether I am a bishop or a rook and therefore whether I should move out of the way diagonally or crash straight into the oncoming person, taking it. It never actually got to that point but the temptation was there and that was annoying enough.

So I played too much chess and I watched  (once more!)  too much Downton Abbey yesterday. These two past times turned out to be an unholy marriage and the  result was quite frightening in my malarial state. When I had finally had enough and decided to go to bed I could not sleep because I was suffering from chess overheating. The very annoying thing was that everything had turned into chess pieces again, just like that time in Islington. I mean that the chairs in Cousin Isabel’s drawing room had started to move like chess pieces in my mind when I closed my eyes.  When I opened them to escape this  I found that the few light sources I leave on when I sleep here alone now had also become chess pieces. There was no escaping it. I was tired so I decided to pray for peace to go to sleep but this didn’t work either; I found myself transported onto a big chess board in the sky where  I was kneeling in front of the King with all sorts of nasty looking enemy bishops and knights looking down on me ready to pounce! I suppose this King eventually did answer my prayers because I did fall asleep from utter exhaustion in the end...


Blogger jm.herraiz said...

Delicious and hilarious writing indeed, Sophie! Great!

7:53 PM  
Blogger David said...

Always a new perspective to be found here, Sophie - I remember you were a chess addict from the way the Ladbroke Grove soirees started, but had forgotten. Must get you the Russian half-hour silent Shakhmati Goryachki (Chess Fever), about a young man who sees chess patterns and figures in everything. We'll watch it when you're next here, or it may be on YouTube (or is that difficult to access in Mali)?

Anyway, hope you're recovered from the latest malarial bout. Get a full check up because I guess that could impinge on the heart condition, and the sooner you get that op the better. xx

8:32 AM  
Blogger toubab said...

Thank you José Manuel! and would LOVE to see that Russian chess fever film David- it must be about exactly what I have experienced. But it will have to wait- You Tube doesn't work in Djenné.

10:15 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth F said...

At first glance I thought the drawing was a piece from the manuscript library ... so amusing to read. get well soon!

5:01 AM  
Blogger Susan Scheid said...

I hope by now you are well again, or if not, will be very soon. Your wonderful chess story, to and including a sort of chess fever(!) remind me of my one small effort, at about the same age of 12, and for the same sort of "edification program" reasons, which ended abruptly when my chess partner, Janet, frustrated that she couldn't remember from her studying up what might be the "right" next move, threw over the chess board and sent its pieces flying across the floor. She certainly couldn't have been worried about competition from me, as I was no good at all.

5:31 PM  
Blogger toubab said...

Dankeschoen Elisabeth feeling better now- back from Siberia?
And Susan, shame to have given up on the chess! But its never too late. Will teach you when we meet one day! I guess the chess phase you describe was just before your short career as an AVON lady?

2:49 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home