Self-Isolation Day 18

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Self-Isolation Day 18

So we are in the eighteenth day of our Self-Isolation. Yesterday I added a fifth book to my group around the table: The Art of the Middle Game by Paul Keres and Alexander Kotov, translated by Harry Golombek. I have had this book since 1964 when it was first published in Penguin Books. Once upon a time, I played serious chess, was president of a chess club, and read widely about the game. But I have not played any serious, face to face chess since I came to Canada and the last games I played were in 1994, when I visited the Dominican Republic, although I did pay a couple of games in Oaxaca on my first visits there.

I dipped in and out of this book yesterday, playing sample games here and there. It was a joy to rediscover the movement of the pieces and to see how great minds viewed the chess board. Sharpe’s Riflemen are wonderful to watch on YouTube, but they cannot rival the two sixteen piece armies that wage battle on the sixty-four squares of the chess-board!

The Art of the Middle Game uses descriptional notation. This means that when the King Pawn takes two steps forwards, it moves from King two to King four. In descriptional notation, this becomes P-K4. If it is the first move of the game, by white, then it becomes 1. P-K4. If the opposition follows suit, then his move is also transcribed as P-K4. This gives us 1. P-K4   P-K4. And this is where the confusion arises: each side has a K-4, and a Q-4 and every other square is doubled up as well in a mirror image of army facing army. After such a long time away from the game, I found my concentration wavering in places and thus I had pieces on the wrong squares and had to start all over again. Very frustrating.

When I played chess in Spain, also back in the sixties, I was faced with algebraic notation, long in use on the continent of Europe. The eight ranks are lettered a-h, from left to right, and the eight files are numbered 1-8 from bottom to top, with ‘white on the right’ i.e. h-1 always white. This means that each square has a single, plotted designation and it is much easier to follow the game as there is no mirror imaging. In this fashion, 1. P-K4 would become e2 – e4 followed by e7 – e5. None of this changes the nature of the game, but it does change the speed and ease with which it is transcribed and followed.

I remember buying my first pocket chess set, in Boots the Chemist (!) when I was 9 or 10 years old. It is an old cardboard set with red and white squares and pieces. I still have it and I am using it now. The scrawl that I call my handwriting is still unmistakable, after all these years. That same day I bought Harry Golombek’s The Game of Chess, and I taught myself how to play, based on that book. I remember looking at the descriptional notation and not understanding how the system worked, even after days of memorization. Then, one morning, as Dylan Thomas, another Swansea Boy once wrote, ‘light broke where no light shone’ and as all the squares fell miraculously into place, the system of descriptional notation suddenly made sense to me. “Threshold knowledge is a term in the study of higher education used to describe core concepts — or threshold concepts — which, once understood, transform perception of a given subject, phenomenon, or experience” (Wikipedia). The discovery of the key to descriptional notation was indeed a threshold experience, as was the transition to algebraic notation. What a wonderful world we live in.

CV-19 Week 3 Day 1

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CV-19 Week 3 Day 1

So, yes, I am starting the third week of my self-imposed isolation. I am also in the first week of an imposed provincial State of Emergency. What I was doing willingly before, self-isolation, has now become law, self-isolation by edict.

It seems a minor change, but it isn’t. Whereas before I was happy not to go out, now the very prohibition makes me want to go out. Yes: I now want to be out there, wandering the now-empty streets, shopping in the now-closed stores, and visiting the newly locked and barred bars and restaurants.

This situation reminds me of the word-games we used to play as children in which you were given a word which you mustn’t use and then you discovered that you really, really wanted to use it, simply because you had been told not to. One such banned word, in my childhood, was bloody. All the grown-ups used it, but it was forbidden to the little children. Bloody hell, we thought. Or bloody nice weather, we said to friends of our own age. Then, if our parents caught us using the forbidden word, out came the carbolic soap and it was mouth wash time again. Yuck: I have never forgotten the taste and smell of that carbolic soap.

We devised schemes for getting round the prohibition. I guess children of all ages devise schemes for breaking down prohibitions. That’s why so many soldiers in WWI used to ‘break out of barracks’ as they resisted the imposition of nightly curfews with their locks and keys. “Oh we’re breaking out of barracks,” they would sing, “as we have done before.” Then came the other verses. “Take his name and take his number.” “Up before the CO.” “Forty days in prison.” Back to bread and water, as we have done before.”

So, when my mother took us to the butcher’s shop one day, we were all primed. “Look at all that bloody meat” we cried out , shrieking with laughter and rolling all over the saw-dusted floor. My mother was furious, but we were spared her wrath as the butcher, and his other customers, found it so amusing.

But CV-19 (Corona Virus \ Covidis 19) is not so funny and the punishments are much more drastic than a simple carbolic soap mouth wash session. That said, the itch to break the prohibition is so much stronger now that the law is provincially enforced and not self-imposed. That said, these are rules well worth following. Nobody wants to catch this and, much more important, nobody wants to be responsible for passing it on to somebody else, especially if that somebody else is in the target range for a serious, perhaps fatal, bout with the virus.

Funny old world, eh? And some funny old people living in it.

A Rare Visitor

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A Rare Visitor

The rare Red Plastic Flamingo drops in to visit. He isn’t seen very often, especially in cold weather, for he should be flying somewhere in the Caribbean. It is cold here: you can see the snow outside. It probably drove him in to seek refuge inside in the warm.

The Red Plastic Flamingo is a strange bird, being land bound rather than aerial. He has four legs, as you can clearly see in the photo and is capable of running at great speed, faster than the fastest greyhound. It is rare and unusual to catch them in pensive pose, as here. Usually they are just a blur of movement, a moment of madness captured briefly flashing through the yard.

Rare Bird Alert: keep your eyes open. You may find one living close to you.

Reyes

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Reyes

The Spanish Christmas comes on the Twelfth Day after our traditional Christmas: January 6, today. 32 years ago, we spent Reyes in Madrid. We arrived in time to see the Christmas Parade and what a sight that was, with the three Wise Men, los reyes magos, riding on their camels at the end of the parade. It had just snowed and the city, streets and squares, shone white.

It’s funny what we remember and how we remember it. “Mira, mira, mira!” “Look, look, look!” Then, in the distance, descending from the Puerta de Alacalá, the Three Wise Men. Behind us, a little boy screamed at his mother. “Don’t you want to see los tres reyes magos?” she asked him. “No,” he yelled. “I don’t believe in the three wise men. I want to go home and watch soccer on the telly!”

I wore a white sweater that evening. When I got back to the hotel, I discovered that every inch of sweater that had emerged from beneath my coat was now grey. Even the air was filthy and pollution lay in ambush everywhere. “Every time I cough, I get a mining souvenir,” Max Boyce used to sing. Well, after a couple of days in Madrid, I too was coughing up souvenirs, but they didn’t come from coal dust underground. They came from the very air I was breathing out in the city streets.

Later that week, we took the train out to the Casa del Campo to see those same three camels in the zoo. In the distance, the Guadarrama stood out clearly against the sky. The zoo welcomed us and we enjoyed breathing in the fresh air and seeing the animals in the wide open spaces behind the invisible bars that allowed us to view them in a more natural habitat.

Christmas / Reyes: a magic time for remembering things that seem to have vanished, yet that sneak up on you and shake you awake when you least expect it.

 

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Spooky

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Spooky

As Halloween draws near, the people at the park, Mactaquac Park, begin to spookify the countryside. Here’s the giant spider, coming to get you. It is the first in a series of spookified spookies.

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And here’s the spookified ‘what will it be”? Might be a spookified pussy dog or a spookified puppy cat. Who knows? Right now it looks more cute than wicked. Keep it that way, I say.

 

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No, they’re not here yet, but watch out for the boogies and the boogeymen. They’re not far away. And they may just be out to get you. So, when someone says ‘Trick of treat’? Be sure to say ‘treat!” You want the dog biscuit, not the Rottweiler. And don’t forget to drool and say ‘pretty please’.

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What we do know is that when autumn leaves, strange things creep in to fill our minds and take autumn’s place. It’s that creepy-crawly time, that time of night mists and strange visions, that season of mellow mists and fruitiness when things that go bump in the night suddenly do just that.

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Springle Dance

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Springle Dance

I guess the title comes from Tolkien where the Hobbits begin an energetic dance at Bilbo’s Party. Or something like that. Mine is a Fall Girl Dance. The hand on the right points to the poor misshapen heart as it moves between fall leaves and colorful dancing sprites and spirits that help it on its way. Where is it going? Who knows where the autumn leaves go once they leave the tree? The bodies fall to the ground, obviously. We rake them into dry, crisp piles and our children and grand-children dive into those leaf-piles, scattering them everywhere so we have to rake them up again. Think of them, the children, as forming leaf angels, a bit like snow angels, but, like the broken heart, a great deal more fragmented.

Try as I might with camera and photo shop, the colors are never quite what they were when I splashed them haphazardly, like September rain and wind-blown leaves, across the page. But life is like that: memories are discolored and distorted, old photos turn sepia, old folk turn white and grey and wrinkled and fragile, like withered leaves from the tree of life. And this is life, real life. We live it every day. Each dream, a flower, each moment a leaf, and every moment the only one we ever truly experience.

So savor those moments, both the good and the bad. They are yours and nobody else’s. Your like is what happens to you. Sometimes it is bitter with salt and vinegar and lemon juice. Sometimes it is toxic and poisonous. But it is yours. It is your chalice to drain as you stand in the garden, feeling betrayed. Like it or not, this is you. Then there are the dream moments: sugar and spice and everything nice. On those days, when the sun shines, it’s away with slugs and snails, and puppy-dog tails and hello hollow world, I see you for what you are and I welcome you for what you are. And yes, you can meet with triumph and disaster, and you can treat those two impostors just the same. You are more powerful than the forces around you. Centre yourself. Find yourself. Heal your broken heart as it wanders among the springle dancers sent to bring you peace and comfort.

Look for your self. Find your self. Be your self. You and your self are stronger than any woes that may beset you. Seek the light … and you will find it.