Wednesday 16th November 2016.
The other night, during the chess24.com World Championship broadcast, Grand Master Eric Hansen was described on the Twitter feed as “a cross between James Bond and a bar of Toblerone”. Both Eric and Peter Svidler, commentating at the time, were suddenly convulsed – corpsing, in fact. The comment ultimately won its author a chess24.com mug signed by the two of them. It was the culmination of a series of Twitter trolls regarding the shape of Eric Hansen’s head, namely its triangularity. [Curiously, triangulation happens to be a subtle chess manoeuvre plotting zugzwang (where one’s opponent is forced to play an undesirable move).] Is it possible that chess humour is as deep and inscrutable as Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual?
The important point, I’m sure, is that Eric Hansen’s head is not remotely triangular. Otherwise, the subject-matter seems uncomfortable territory for live internet streaming. Nevertheless, by next broadcast, game 4 of the World Chess Championship, Eric Hansen has visited the hairdresser, and claims no further physical resemblance to a Toblerone chocolate bar. But I fear redeployed obliquy. I’m seeing a bourbon biscuit now. Even pickled onion flavour Monster Munch… Bertie Bassett? Via a conscience-inverting mind game swindle – a psychotropic zugzwang – have the trolling community, in me, recruited another ambassador? Do I win a signed mug?
It’s seven hours and 1.30am before a draw is agreed and Peter Svidler’s guarded, humourless exposition finally surceases. (In tone, somewhat akin to the public confession of an Orwellian thought criminal.) Eric, by the end, amidst an awkward digression, seems to offer Peter meagre solace: “You know, if you came to Canada, you’d be fine. Nothing bad would happen.” It was as much an effort to tidy up his earlier revelation that Canadians like to fight. When their teeth get punched out, Eric confided, they leave them that way – it’s a badge of honour. Canadian women find it sexy.
Berwick, the northernmost town in England, is an attractive, peaceful spot for a roam along its river, seaside and parks, its Elizabethan ramparts. Browse backstreet boutiques, superior knick-knack emporiums; beneath fading stone shells of Victorian splendour, take tea in understated opulence. Follow Lowry’s long trudge, dot-to-dotting his Berwick sketchbook in venerational footsteps. Flush the lingering taste of kipper with a midday curry.
Felt something like a Dickensian banking hall inside, chill and cavernous. Ornate, ethnic chandeliers together with a Taj Mahal wall mural erased, to some extent, the ghostly mirage of quills and ledgers, white hats and buff waistcoats. (A swift survey of the gents’ early eighties tan tilework will dispel any remaining misapprehensions.)
Generous servings of a familiar pickle repertoire ensued (chopped onions, creamy raita, lime pickle, a blushing mango chutney). Then starters of onion bhaji (great crispy balls juicing just when, somewhat under spiced), and tandoori horeen (a lean, barbecued, wee bit overcooked, venison sizzler). Main-wise, Skippy went lamb malaya, a Roberto Carlos banana shot grazing the outside of the post. My chef’s special beef green bengal, including spinach, peppers and peas, didn’t quite work, especially with its peculiar garnish of tired salad.
“We don’t encourage kippers,” our cottage owner advised handing over the Replacement lightbulb we’d requested two days ago, twitching his nose. “And no girlie things down the toilet,” he added mysteriously.
Judge ‘Gonzo’ Pickles
Fred ‘Skippy’ Pickles