After closely observing my peers, I have concluded that when people retire their approach to life remains much the same as it did when they were earning – busy people stay busy and lazy people do rather little. During my own career I was actually too busy – some say a workaholic! My days were goal-orientated, with projects and deadlines dominating much of my behaviour and, to some extent, they still do. Now, however, most of my deadlines relate to French homework, while my projects, which are as important as ever, have become less well-defined.
Two months ago gaps began to appear in my diary and by combining the few liberated slots there was enough time for a new project. But now, project-selection involved some exclusion criteria that would take into account what my ageing mind and body could realistically manage both now and in the near future. Accordingly, I decided that the next project should not be too physical or energetic; would have to be something I could continue were I to become less mobile; should not be an activity on which others might rely; and finally, should be for me rather than for others.
I had two initial thoughts – either to re-start bell ringing or to start, anew, tap dancing. In my teens I had briefly been a member of a team of church bell ringers, but left partly because the others all seemed so ancient! By dint of my new selection criteria, these two preliminary candidates were quickly dismissed. Ultimately the front runner was chess, with painting a close second. I had greatly enjoyed GCE Art as a teenager but felt that a two-hour slot was not enough to do the project justice. It would, however, be enough for chess.
My father taught me to play when I was around six and by fourteen I was one of the top ten juniors in the county – Hertfordshire. While I played a lot in my late teens, I played rarely thereafter. But how could I find an opponent? Google showed that my only local chess club met once a week and then in the evening, which did not suit me. I considered advertising in the local paper-shop window. But that seemed a bit risky. If three people showed interest how would I chose which one? Then I hatched a plan, and one based on the fact that chess has been played in Afghanistan and Persia since the 6th century, and in both countries it remains a national sport. So, if I could find someone living close by who hailed from either country, that might do the trick.
There is a tiny café near us called ‘Le Coin de Richmond’. With its peaceful, one-up, one-down arrangement, it is one of my favourites and it happens to be owned and run by a unprepossessing, amusing and intelligent middle-aged man who was once a highways engineer from, where else, Afghanistan. Next day I went to ‘Le Coin’ for tea and negotiation.
I put it to the owner that if he played chess and was interested we could perhaps play once a week downstairs in the café during one of its calmer periods. If customers arrived he could take a break to serve them between moves. Moreover, if the scheme were successful his café might become a meeting place for other local enthusiasts.
He did play chess – when a child he was taught by his grandfather – and agreed that a game once-a-week was most acceptable. So a week later at the allotted time, I presented myself with my chessboard and pieces and began to set them up. The café was almost empty and as he sat down I asked him a question relating to business ethics. If it is the case that the customer is always right, would it be reasonable for me to ask that he always lets me win? He replied that the business argument is indeed correct, but while we were playing, I would no longer be a customer. With that clarified, we started – White Pawn to King 4.
Fahar and I have now had three games and although he seems rather better than me, our scores, so far, are equal – one game to him, one to me, and one drawn. And in all this, a question arises, can I legitimately call committing time once a week to stretching my mind and, if possible to winning a game, a project? I will persist for the moment and my new project does have one important component – playing chess once again gives me enormous pleasure.