Thursday, 1 November 2001

Archive: UNCUT! 9

The Sean Marsh Chess Column


No. 9

Readers, dear readers, how faithfully (and silently) you have followed my writings since my chess column began, way back in 1985. Now, I fear my life is approaching its end. I could have as few as 50 years remaining.....

So it is time to reveal, in this first of an occasional series, some of thetruth behind a life totally immersed in chess. All of what follows is true(well, very nearly all). Only the names have been withheld to protect the guilty.

True Confessions From................

The Congress Weekend

The journey to a congress and the obtaining of accommodation are often thetwo hardest parts of the whole weekend. Either the map, or the navigator, is totally useless. On the vast majority of my expeditions, usually both. Once, a little bit astray on the way to the Cruddas Park Tyne & Wear Congress, wedecided to stop a passer-by to ask for directions. A tricky business in itself.We drove on past a tramp and stopped by a smartly dressed man in a suit. He scratched his head for a while, decided he didn’t know, and then called the tramp over....

Another time, to avoid the hassles of parking and navigating, we travelled tothe Scarborough congress by bus. Man, that quarter of a day certainly dragged.Then we had to change buses at Whitby. If the journey was going to be any longer it would have been just about time to turn around and go home again.

Scarborough journeys are prone to difficulties, due to the long distance andthe fact that the congress traditionally takes place in the winter (or very lateautumn) months. On one perilous journey, the car developed a serious faultsomewhere in the wilderness between Whitby and Scarborough, deep into the long,winding journey to nowhere. Steam billowed away from the engine like it was onits way to a Hammer Horror film set, completely engulfing an unluckymotorcyclist at one point. The car then conked out completely in the darkness ona narrow lane. It was so remote that we could find neither a Barclays Bank or a McDonalds. Now that is remote. It was so dark, it was impossible to see ahand in front of your face. Later, I doubted that there really was one there.Several modes of transport thundered past until eventually a kind soul stoppedto see what the problem was. My friend and I jumped straight in, leaving ourdriver to his fate, and issued the instruction, ‘The Corner Cafe on the North Bay. Play starts in five minutes!’ Fortunately we had found an obedient soul and we duly arrived more or less on time. Three hours later thedriver arrived. Luckily, he was a non-player.

Solo public transport journeys introduce the traveller to a very widecross-section of the Great British Public. Or at least, a wide cross-section ofthe biggest nutters you could ever hope to avoid. Standing in a queue next to adrunken Scotsman who claims you strangled his parrot 10 years ago is not theideal soother for a long bus trip and I’ve found that reading chess books at the bus stand is absolutely no deterrent. The lonely bus journey home, having lost a vital match in midwinter, is in no way made easier by the inebriated Elvis impersonators who threaten to smack people who don’t want to sing alongwith their own, highly unique, rendition of ‘Why Can’t Every Day Be Like Christmas?’ Worst of all was the glue-sniffer on the through-the-night coach back from London, with his two plastic bags full of solvent and his abusive behaviour. His idea of a night trip was evidently somewhat different toours. We were stuck with him all the way to Ferrybridge before he was introduced to the Boys in Blue.

Searching for accommodation is one problem; getting booked in is quite another.

Desperation sets in when play is due to start in a matter of minutes and still nowhere has been found. Nobody wants to take in people just for two nights, nobody wants to take in young people (this was all some time ago, ofcourse) in case of noise and trouble and nobody really wants to take in chessplayers. Chess players demand unreasonable things such as wanting breakfast 15 minutes earlier so they can get to the tournament hall by 9.00 a.m. Outrageous behaviour. They also eat all of the cornflakes and leave nearly all of their plate full of ‘Full Monty’ English breakfast. 100% grease and fat just doesn’treally set you up for a hard chess match and the less said about the baked beans the better.

I was once at a guest house where there was no plug for the bath, so I took the one off my room sink and used that. Later, a discrete sign was discovered saying that baths were extra, see them for the plug..... an extra couple of quid was stuck on my bill for this diabolical liberty.

Worst of all was the awful time during the storm. Nowhere could be found, itwas dark, we were wet and we were cold. The last chance appeared at the end of along path; we rang the bell and after what seemed an eternity, a creepy,withered old butler creaked the door open, oh-so-slowly. Holding up his candlestick, a small light played about our faces as he peared into the gloom.


‘Er - can we stay here for the night, please?’

‘You can stay there as long as you like’, he said, and closed the door again. Twit.

Go on, have a laugh. It is the festive season. Enjoy a couple of weeks’break in the chess hostilities. Take care as you roast your chestnuts by the open fire (don’t stand so close next time). And for all of you reading this at home ........ what are you doing in my house?????