I want to tell you a story!
Strangely enough, it’s not really about writing, but literature does play a small part at the end of the story.
I learnt to play chess at the age of 12, while attending Alton County Secondary School in Hampshire. Yes, it was many years ago! It was a fairly big school (around 1500 pupils, as I recall), and had a reasonable size chess club,. which I joined with a flourish as soon as I felt sufficiently competent and sure that I wouldn’t make a fool of myself.
I settled in well, and even played in a couple of matches against other schools. So far, so good.
Then, the teacher decided to hold a knockout tournament to find a SCHOOL CHAMPION. Have you ever been a School Champion? Imagine the kudos that would bring. Walking the corridors of education like a colossus, safe in the knowledge that you were the very best at the most cerebral of games. You were the School Champion of Chess! Yes, I wanted it.
I duly won the first couple of games, admittedly against the real losers in the club, trying not to rub their noses in it too much. It was just so easy. Then things began to get tougher. As in all knockout events, the further you go, the harder the opposition. I was coming up against the 15-year-olds, the creme de la creme of the chess world as I knew it. I had to really work hard, but I managed to fight my way to a semi-final against … the best player in the school. Oh, dear.
There was a large audience for our showdown over lunch-time, and I held my own all the way through, hoping that he would make a mistake. Was I lucky? Well, as it happens, I was! It is long in the distant past now, so I can’t remember the position, but I was able to take advantage and secure a victory that nobody (least of all, me) had expected. The final would be a doddle after this!
It had been pointed out at the beginning of the tournament that the winner would get a certificate (whoopee!), but then the teacher informed us that the finalists would each get a book, the winner to decide which one he wanted. Yes, Treasure Island was mine! After all, I couldn’t lose now, could I?
Just like one of those badly written plays on television, you can see how this is going to end, I’m sure. I lost, of course, against a boy who, over the previous months, had never ever beaten me before. I was crestfallen. Treasure Island had escaped my clutches.
Now, all these years later, resting on my desk in front of me is a book bearing a certificate which states that it was “Awarded to PHILIP CLINKER for CHESS” and signed by the Headmaster, A. H. Reeves. Yes, they’d even spelled my name wrong (I’m PHILLIP with two ells!).
And the book, I hear you ask? It is George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, a book I had never heard of and which I have never read to this day.
It may be a classic, but it holds too many sad memories for me!