Saturday 19th August 2017.
We were at one of the Manchester University campus buildings for a chess tournament, stopping at the Chancellor Hotel. The campus was pretty much deserted, just these chess ghouls wandering around looking vague. You go into the room and you shake some guys hand, usually a threadbare middle-aged type like me, and then you play a game of chess for a few hours. Often you feel pessimistic and think you would rather be somewhere else. If you thought about it though, there probably isn’t anywhere.
There was a chess celebrity Grandmaster playing in the Open, the top category – Nigel Davies. You can buy DVDs of him talking about certain chess openings, like The English, the one I play. At another tournament one time he was stood looking at this game I was going through with my opponent. He sat down and shared his thoughts. I said I’d got his DVD on the English. He said what I’d played wasn’t on his DVD.
So I played his son called Sam on the Saturday morning. I was losing for a long time and thinking about how good the sausages were at breakfast. Then suddenly, interrupting my idle woolgathering, the son of Nigel Davies offered me a draw. I grabbed his hand in earnest, because, generally speaking, you shake hands when you agree a draw with someone. In the next moment he looks at it again and sees his mistake. I think his eyes had gone dotty and the squares were all dancing in front of him. I don’t know what he told his dad. I hope he didn’t go without sausages that day as punishment.
Skippy was mixing with these same types of people as well, playing chess with some of them. One guy particularly stood out for his post-match antics. Skippy had just beaten him good with some swashbuckling moves – next thing he’s swiping his king off the board sending it flying into another game. He stormed off after that. This other game had to be set back up again. They were shaking their heads saying Skippy was lucky, in the previous round he’d swiped the whole board of pieces everywhere. It’s funny, he doesn’t actually win many games this guy. so this sort of thing must go on all the time with him.
After all this had happened we walked down the curry mile which was bustling even at tea-time. There were a lot of kebab houses, Indians and hairdressers. We walked half way up still undecided, then we re-traced our steps to Lal Qila because we wanted the place with the fewest customers in it. The waiters were all smartly dressed in black tie attire, we got a table in the window. They like to put what customers they have in the window as an advertisement. I pulled faces of bemusement and suffering to offset the advertising.
For starter I got garlic prawns which were tasty and hot, though not as hot as the onion bhajis which were reminiscent of the days of Aurangzeb when he was laid up in bed with flu. Skippy got a steamy lamb sizzler after that, and I had the lamb nihari, a little thin on flavour.
I’d heard they’d got a peephole in the ceiling of the gents – others said it was just an empty spotlight fitting. Then the first lot who said it was a peephole explained that yes it was an empty spotlight fitting, but it was still a peephole. I was keen to find out the truth. There was a hole like everybody was saying, well positioned in prime view of the urinals. I didn’t see an eyeball poking from it though, or note any other tell-tale, incriminating details, like a creaking floorboard overhead. Perhaps Peeping Tom was on one of those comfort breaks you hear about.
We liked the experience at Lal Qila, especially sat in the window peering at folk and pulling faces, plus the superior Indian food. The tables were sensibly set out too with decent consideration of diners’ personal space. We barely heard a word of other people’s drivel or the ravings of an uncontrollable child. Only my drivel and ravings. Yet I wasn’t sent to the naughty step or asked to explain myself to Sir. That’s what it means to be grown up.
Judge ‘Gonzo’ Pickles
Fred ‘Skippy’ Pickles