In which, in a post-academic-year reverie, I decide not to look forward, and try some looking back instead. So no surprise there, then.
The end of the academic year is always a slightly odd time in Universities. All in all, it is pretty quiet. Quiet in a noise-and-people on the streets around campus way (no students). Quiet in a no-dashing-about-like-a-maniac way (no need to rush to/between lectures/ lab classes/ tutorials). And quiet in a Marie Celeste kind of way (on any given day in July a fair fraction of my work colleagues are away at a conference somewhere).
All this quiet can make for a deal of dozing introspection, as you realise you have just completed another full year of University life. The ‘milestone’ nature of this then tends, inevitably, to lead you to recall the same milestone last time around.
The snag is that this comparison invariably reveals that, even if little else has changed, you are another year older.
Combined with the feeling that the passage of time speeds up relentlessly as you get older, this can be a bit of a downer. Or, put another way, the problem with these milestones is that they can become, well, millstones milestones.
Thus it can start to go from the mere whimsical musing of:
“Gosh – is that another year gone already?”
To the slightly less pleasant:
“Oh sh*t – another year gone. How the hell did I miss that?”
This year, said feeling is stronger than usual for me. The reasons is that I am closing in rapidly on one of those ‘symbolic’ birthdays that one dreads especially as one gets on a bit – you know, those ‘end of a decade’ type ones. If you can’t already guess which one, I can reveal that I was in fact born the very same week as the current President of the United States. We were even keeping pace for a while (sort of) when he was a junior faculty member, but he has since gone on to rather greater things, while I still have the exact same job, and job title, that I had in 1992.
Anyway, perhaps there is something about reaching mid-life (said he, with what you will recognise as uncharacteristic optimism) that triggers a need to look back and ponder the ways you spent your free time earlier on. In keeping with this, some people (like my parents, and me) find it hard to throw out personal ephemera, like letters, photographs, old school reports. tickets from epic family expeditions, and so on. For instance, I still have the US ‘Green Card’ issued for me in the late 60s, complete with picture of my seven year old self. But while one keeps the things, it is hard to connect with the past they speak to. As my mother said to me recently, in connection with such boxes of memorabilia and the memories they evoke:
“I almost don’t recognise that person that I was any more”.
This desire to try and understand one’s own personal history might partly explain why I have recently reacquired some sort of interest in chess, having hitherto not played a game, or even given it a thought, since I quit the game in 1979 in my late teens. I guess it could also be the periodic need, as one gets older, to prove to oneself that one’s brain can still adapt to something new (or at least ‘new old’). About a dozen years ago I took up Spanish classes for several years, probably for the latter reason. And I always admired my work colleague who, having been a committed grind ‘n’ bind and radioisotope type biochemist, went on Sabbatical and learned how to patch clamp when he was already past his 40th birthday.
Anyway, how has this re-embrace of the past been going? Well, results so far with chess are a mixture. I can still play, a bit, so my brain has not atrophied completely. Indeed, I played my first competitive game in 30+ years the other day (time limits and everything), and even managed to win.
That’s the good news.
The not-so-good news is that, after a few casual games with players of different playing strengths down at the local chess club, I can say that I now seem to play about as well as I did when I was 13 or 14.
So is that a cause for satisfaction, or more gloom?
I’m really not sure.
But it can be said that the chess club vaguely resembles a kind of pub with chess boards.
And that can’t be all bad.
Non-chess fanatics should stop reading here.
For the Steves 1 and 2, here is my first shot at a competitive club game from last week. Minimal annotation, as I think the three of us are the only interested parties.
Notes: White gave away a pawn on move 8, but in return he got some good pressure on the a- and b-files against the Black Q-side pawns. I was trying not to advance the pawns early as I was worried about creating weak squares on b5 or b6, but ended up getting quite tied down. Even exchanges of several pairs of minor pieces didn’t free Black’s position. On move 18 I decided I had to play ..a5, rather against my will, as after 18…Qc7 19 Rb1 would threaten to capture on b6, and if 19…Rfb8 then 20 Ra6! renews the threat and ties Black up completely, with possibly Rb5 and c4 to follow.
20 Ra4?! threatens to put a R on c4, but better is almost certainly 20 Rab3 forcing 20..Rb8, and then 21 Rb5 followed by Qa4 and c4 with a total blockade of the pawns on the Q-side white squares. As played Black got in the freeing move 20…d5, but then went wrong with 22…Rc8 (22…Bc3! and if Rb4 moves then 23…a5) and REALLY wrong with the blunder 23…Qd6 (…de: has to be played first).
White’s big chance was to take on d5 on move 24. Instead, he got confused (we were both getting short of time, me slightly more than him) and blundered with both 24 Rb5 and 25 fe: (de: at least keeps the pawn, so that …Qd3 can be met by Ra3 or Rb3). The continuation White selected allowed Black’s Q in down the Q-file and also brought Black’s Bishop into the game to great effect.
The final error was 26 Bb6: ?? allowing 26…Rb6: ! If White recaptures with 27 Rb6: then …Bd4+ and mate next move, so White loses the Bishop and his position is hopeless.
J Haines (White) vs A Elliott (Black) July 2011
1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. d3 g6 5. 0-0 Bg7 6. Nc3 Nc6 7. a3 0-0 8. b4? cb: 9. ab: Nb4: 10 Be3 Nc6 11. Ra3 Bd7 12. Qb1 b6 13. Nd5 Nd5: 14. Bd5: e6 15. Bc6: Bc6: 16. Nd4 Qd7 17. Nc6: Qc6: 18. Qa2 a5 19. Rb1 Ra6 20. Ra4?! d5 21. f3? h5 22. R1b4 Rc8? 23. c4 Qd6? 24. Rb5? de: 25. fe:? Qd3: 26. Bb6:?? Rb6:! 27. Rba5: Bd4+ White resigns