I never managed to beat my father at draughts. Alright, I never played him that many times, although it wasn’t for the want of asking on my part. I never got to play him after I was about 10 or 11 years old, so maybe it doesn’t come as a surprise that I couldn’t beat him. That having been said, though, I was, although I say it myself, a nifty little player. I’ve never been more than a very basic chess player, but at draughts I was a bit of a star. My grandmother taught me when I was about 5 years old, and I could beat her within a day or two of learning the game. Then I progressed to every other adult in my house, and could beat all of them by the time I was 6 . Except my father. With every other person I played against I knew what they were up to within a couple of moves. Not Dad. He had this way of conjuring up dreamlike attacks which you just never saw coming until they hit you right between the eyes. But he didn’t like the game, and so I could rarely, if ever, persuade him to play it.
Scrabble was a different kettle of fish. For about two years he was mad on it. He’d beg, wheedle, insist and demand that you played him, several times a day sometimes. And the thing was that he was no good at it. He was rubbish. Years of being enslaved to penny dreadfuls with titles like “The Rustlers of Deadman’s Gulch” and the like had dulled his vocabulary. Not only that, but Scrabble can be a more tactical game than you might think, and in stark contrast to his ability at draughts, his tactical awareness in Scrabble was virtually zero. I may never have beaten him at draughts, but on the other hand, he never once beat me at Scrabble. Which was great when it started, but after a year or so, I came to long for the day when he would finally manage to do it. My father was a man of limited attention span to some extent, who went through various fads and crazes. Now, I knew that he desperately wanted to beat me once. In all likelihood if he managed to do that then he’d lose interest and move on to something else, which would mean I could go back to enjoying “The Six Million Dollar Man “ on the telly without being interrupted constantly by “ How do you spell ‘excite’ ?” and so on.
As I say, he never did manage it. Now, at this point it may occur to you to ask yourself why I didn’t just let him beat me once. Don’t think that it didn’t occur to me. If I had just once deliberately soft pedalled, left him a few easy openings, frittered away my best letters, in short, played like Dad normally played, then he could have won. It would have been a simple thing to do to make him very happy, and to get him to leave me to watch ‘Charlie’s Angels ( ah – Jaclyn Smith /Kelly Garrett) in peace. But I never did. I couldn’t. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I wanted him to beat me. I wanted to lose to him. But I couldn’t do it deliberately . I would be middling along, trying to ignore the potential 7 letter word building up on my rack in front of me, and then he would leave me an opening so inviting that I just couldn’t stop myself from destroying his hopes, time after time after time. I was irresistibly reminded of this when I used to watch “The Fast Show”. There was a character on that played by Simon Day , an ultra-competitive dad, who did things like setting up a game of cricket on a family picnic with his two pre-teen sons, then proceeding to smash their bowling all over the place, etc. etc. The only difference being that I saw myself as the father, and my dad as the resigned and disappointed child.
He eventually kicked his Scrabble habit, although as I say it took a lot longer than I’m sure it would have done had he been able to conjure up the elusive win . All of this was brought home to me last night, in the rugby club. It was my quiz, but I was having a chat with some of my usual teammates afterwards, and I updated them on the end of the winning streak. If they were amused about it they at least had the decency to hide it behind their condolences. Knowing that I have the cup final in Bridgend coming up on Monday, one of them asked,
“If you’d won on Tuesday, would you have deliberately lost the quiz you’re going to on Sunday , so that the winning streak can’t end in the cup final ? “
In all honesty, such a thought had never entered my head. And the more I thought about what she’d said, the more I began to wonder whether I am actually capable of deliberately losing a quiz . I should add that I am extremely capable of losing a quiz, and have lost plenty in my time, but none because I wasn’t actually trying to win. As regards deliberately losing, I’m not sure that I could do it. In fact I’d go so far as to say that I’m pretty certain that I couldn’t. The same instinct which kicked in every time it looked like I was giving the old man a chance at Scrabble would kick in, and I’m sure that I couldn’t bring myself to deliberately write down a wrong answer when I know the right one. I suppose it’s the same as when you hear a question asked, and you know that there’s a really tricky right answer, and you also know that the question master is bound to have the wrong answer, you write down what you think the question master is going to give as the answer, not what you know to be right.
My girls say that I’m horrible to play Monopoly with as well !