Sorry I haven’t updated this blog for the past couple of days. Six long chess games (plus the blitz tournament), together with taking a look at Gawain’s games and catching up with friends from across Europe, made over the past twenty years, hasn’t left much spare time. I’m on my way home now, though, so it’s time to communicate again.
And if I had been writing, it would have been about my preoccupation for the weekend, my chess games, and I’m not quite enough of a politician to imagine that the performance of a middle-aged woman in the lower half of the bottom section, even of such a celebrated and popular tournament as Bunratty, can be of enormous general appeal. So I will spare you the move-by-move analysis, and reveal only that I won one game, lost two and drew three, that I played slightly less badly than in previous years, despite (or perhaps because of) having virtually no practice over the past twelve months, and that I had a jolly good time. In a climate that has seen a sharp decline in the frequency, standard and popularity of weekend chess tournaments across the British Isles, Bunratty is a beacon of glowing effulgence, showing how, with courtesy, efficiency, generosity and great good humour, an experience can be created that is attractive to players of all standards, from beginners to strong grandmasters, giving an ideal combination of challenge and conviviality.
For me, one of the best things about Bunratty, apart from the chess and the company, is the chance to spend a couple of days thinking only about things that don’t matter: whether to recapture the bishop with a pawn or a queen, which new microbrewery’s beer to try next, whether I’m even worse at Chess960 (‘Fischer Random’) than at conventional blitz, how long the queue is for breakfast. And because the mental activity involved during a chess game is so intense, it isn’t that stultifying fog of the Christmas-New Year bubble, that leaves you lethargic and dull, but a kind of cleansing, a sort of detox of the mind. The nearest thing I can find to explaining it is that Seamus Heaney poem about driving to the end of a peninsula:
And drive back home, still with nothing to say
Except that now you will uncode all landscapes
By this: things founded clean on their own shapes,
Water and ground in their extremity.
So, I haven’t thought about politics all weekend, apart from some general debate at dinner last night, and I feel all the better for it. I wondered how long it would take to get my enthusiasm back and, as much as a test as anything else, picked up a copy of the Irish Times to read with my breakfast. Not long. On page three is a substantial article about Fergal Smith, the Green Party candidate for County Clare (where we lived before moving north) and a photo of our friend Gerben with one of his posters. Yes, I’m ready to get going again.