(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia –May 2021)
There was a time Angry Birds was the squabble for peanuts in the feeder hanging from the washing line and Super Mario was the compliment you gave the waiter as he waltzed from table to table with his oversized pepper grinder at your favourite Italian restaurant.
Every camping holiday the Allan family had in the late 60s and early 70s was accompanied by that Scottish summer dependable – rain and lots of it. As the constant drumming of water on canvas lulled you into a near stupor, Mum would bring out the entertainment.
A pack of cards.
Rummy, Vingt-et-un, Trump (long before any insurrectionist US president) and if no-one would play with you Patience. I don’t know if these names were genuine or if we made them up but Solitaire, the game lurking behind the main screen of many an office worker’s computer, is the same deal (pun intended).
Another family outing to a cottage on the bleak east coast, where the rain off the sea was horizontal, the only saving grace was a copy of The Beatles white album and a well thumbed box of Scrabble. While George’s guitar was gently weeping we were holding back tears of desperation as my Dad, openly scoffing at our 3 and 4 word attempts, would place his 7 letter blockbuster utilising both J and X on a triple word score. He always won. He was a former English teacher, we had no dictionary and he was the self appointed adjudicator. I didn’t know there was a specific word for a Moroccan goat herder’s assistant.
Joint holidays with my cousins brought out the more mathematical puzzles like Yahtzee. 5 dice and a scorecard basically. The more cerebral Mastermind tested the code breaking skills of the potential Turing’s among us (Enigma at Bletchley Park where my Mum worked during the war and couldn’t talk about until the 90s !)
Various school chums had convoluted puzzles like Mousetrap where you built up the contraption as you went along or Operation where removing tiny objects from an electrically charged cadaver with tiny tweezers was the macabre objective.
My brother, who was in his school’s chess team, tried to introduce me to the noble game. I figured out how all the pieces moved but struggled beyond that. Bro, much to my annoyance, could stare at the board for minutes on end before making a move. A skill he perfected a decade later playing Trivial Pursuit. As fellow participants we sighed and shuffled in our seats at big brother’s slowness. He eventually picked up a card and proclaimed,
“Just to be different I’m going to tell you the answer and you have to give me the question. OK, the answer is ‘cock robin’ ”
We of course were stumped. After another lengthy delay,
“What’s that up my arse Batman ?” You had to be there !
My uncle claimed that when he took the bus to work he sat next to a gentleman and they would exchange instructions like ‘bishop to queen 4’ to which my uncle would reply ‘knight to kings 3’. On arriving at his office, he would set up a small chess set and periodically phone up his opponent, who presumably had a similar arrangement, with his next move. This was how he spent his day as a professor at one of Scotland’s most prestigious universities. That’s were your hard earned taxes went if you are to believe him !
There were always dominoes to hand in their custom made wooden box courtesy of No.2 brother’s woodwork project. In later years I never plucked up the courage to gate crash the old regulars playing at my local with all their secretive masonic tapping of tables going on.
I obtained travelling sets of both cribbage and backgammon in my later teens. One late evening in a Parisian hotel room I was playing backgammon with my girlfriend (well, what else would you be doing at that time in the city of love ?) who in her excitement mistook her rum and coke glass for the dice tumbler. Luckily she stopped herself casting the contents over the board.
Then there was the game that launched a thousand capitalists Monopoly. My game plan was to get the motor car or the Scottie dog and not suffer the indignity of the iron or the thimble before passing go and collecting ₤200.
A sailing weekend in Lochgilphead turned into a game of Risk in the boat shed as conditions outside were not navigable. This is a game of world domination which brings out the megalomaniac in anyone. I’m sure Hitler gave this the thumbs up before invading Poland.
The only domination now is from the onslaught of mindless adverts while flicking through the myriad of games apps on your mobile.
Anyone for a game of cards ?