[English grandmaster Geoff Scorebook writes a regular column for the Streatham and Brixton blog. Geoff is well-known as a hardworking professional and a regular on the European club and tournament circuit.]
I've been on the radio! After Bobby Fischer died a local radio station asked me to come on to their morning show and talk about Bobby, being a chessplayer, that sort of thing. I was a bit disappointed that they didn't offer a fee - I don't think the woman at the other end of the phone really needed to laugh when I mentioned the word. She then said they'd pay a fee if I could get Fischer himself to appear and then laughed again, at her own joke. I nearly said that if that was her attitude they could invite Fischer on instead, but I thought better of it.
I arrived at the radio station about half an hour before the time I'd been asked, forgetting that it wasn't television and they wouldn't need time to apply makeup. I went up to reception and said I was Geoff Scorebook, here for my interview.
"Oh", said the youth at the desk, "are you the grandmaster?"
"I am", I said, wondering if he would ask me for my autograph.
"Thank God for that", he said. "The snake charmer hasn't turned up and we needed some kind of novelty act for the breakfast audience."
I wasn't sure I'd heard right and by the time I had a retort ready I was already sitting down in a room next to the studio waiting to be called. A man came through the door from the studio and shook my hand. "Mr Notebook?" he asked. "You'll be on in just a few minutes." And he asked me a few questions about what I did, had I ever played Bobby Fischer, had I met anybody famous playing chess. "I don't mean chessplayers", he said. "I mean famous people."
I couldn't really think of any - when you play chess you tend to know a lot of chessplayers - but I was trying to think if I'd met anybody famous at an opening ceremony or something when he looked at his watch and said "right, three minutes. Come in and meet Dave and we'll get going after the news."
So in I went and shook hands with a man with a microphone, who introduced himself as Dave. "I used to play chess at school", he said. "But I could never remember how the prawns move. Besides, I liked girls and girls don't like boys who play chess, do they?"
I thought he gave me a funny look but the news was on so I was concentrating more on waiting for the interview to begin than on Dave himself. But shortly it was time to start and Dave nodded at me, leaned towards the microphone and said, "welcome back to the morning show. Today, we have a very special guest in the studio: local chess grandmaster Geoff Notebook, and we're going to talk to him about Bobby Fischer, playing chess - if we can stand the excitement - and anything that you want to talk to him about. So, Geoff", he said, turning to me, "it must be really interesting being a grandmaster. What does that mean? Is it like Robbie Coltrane in the Harry Potter books?"
"Ah, no", I said. "It's just a title really."
"What", said Dave, "like Baron Notebook, something like that? Do you inherit the title, when your father dies?"
I was going to say that the only thing I inherited from my father was his debts, but instead I said no, you have to play to a high standard for a certain number of games and then you get the title. "Ah," said Dave, "like they do in sumo wrestling, where you can become an ozeki or a yokozuna?"
"Yes, a bit like that", I said hopefully, not knowing much about sumo wrestling. "So do you have to commit hari-kiri if you lose a big match?" asked Dave, to the sound of laughter from the producer. "Blimey, chess is more exciting than I thought."
This wasn't going well so I said that no, you didn't have to kill yourself, but you did need to keep up a certain standard if you wanted to support your family, and he gave me a look that seemed to mean that I was just as boring as he had expected, a look that did not change for the better when I added that we, too, had a sense of honour and would often resign if we failed in our duties. I thought that was quite funny but clearly I wasn't supposed to be doing the jokes and we moved on to a discussion about Bobby Fischer, what he was like - I didn't know him, I said - and what impact had he had on my life. I said he'd inspired me to take up chess. "Inspired?" asked Dave, and the producer inexplicably started laughing again.
So I explained how a whole generation of English juniors took up chess after seeing the Fischer-Spassky match in the paper and on television and how we had developed a lot of world-class players as a result. Dave perked up. "So are we really good at chess, now?" he asked. I said I was afraid not, most of the best players of that era had died or retired and nobody had replaced them. "So you're pretty much the best we can do now?" asked Dave. "I suppose so", I said, surprised by the flattery.
"Well", said Dave, "Let's see what the public has to say about it - if anything. Have we anybody on the line?"
"Yes, said the producer (I thought I heard Dave say "what a relief") and our first caller today is Frank."
"Hi, Frank", said Dave, "so what do you want to ask Geoff this morning? Anything you want to - check with him?"
Well, Frank turned out to be a club player and we had a nice talk about our favourite Fischer games. And I started to enjoy myself, telling people about the life of a chessplayer. Did I work hard? Well, sometimes I did and the travelling was hard, but it's pretty much all I know so I don't have much option. Had I played any big tournaments recently? Yes, I'd played at Hastings and finished just out of the prizes. Were there any good lady players? Well, Judit Polgar's a world-class player and there's many Indian and Chinese girls who look like they could reach the same level. Did I ever find chess boring? No, it might be slow sometimes but so was cricket. And so on, and despite themselves Dave and his producer seemed to get interested in what I did and what I had to say. I barely noticed that I time was almost up when Dave said "well, we've time for one more caller" and gave me a grin, which I returned.
"Who's on the line?" asked Dave, and the producer said, "it's Janey". And what does Janey want to ask Geoff?" asked Dave. "She wants to know how much a grandmaster earns", said the producer. "Ok, Janey", said Dave - "you can ask Geoff yourself!" And Janey came on the line.
Janey. My ex-wife Janey. How in God's name did she know about the show? She doesn't even live in the area. Somebody must have told her about it. I looked around for Dave like you might look for a banister before falling down the stairs. "So, Mr Scorebook", she said, "how much does a grandmaster get paid?"
She didn't say that she knew me, so I pretended not to know her either. "Well, er, Janey", I said. "It's not always a very reliable income. It depends on lots of things."
"Does it depend on how much of it they spend on drink?" she asked. "Or on women other than your wife?"
"I haven't got a wife", I retorted.
"No, you have an ex-wife", she said. "She used to be your wife. And she used to get maintenance, too."
I didn't say anything. There was nothing I could say.
"Anyway", she continued. "The next time you fancy trying to climb into the hotel room of some teenage trollop in Hastings, do try putting your maintenance cheque in the post beforehand. Or try to win some bloody money so it doesn't bounce."
"Ah", I said. Or it might have been "uh".
"Bloody chessplayers", she said. "Powerful queens and too close to their mothers. I should have listened to my mother."
And the phone went click. "Well, thankyou, Janey!" said Dave: I write "said", but he was practically cheering. "Oh, and thankyou Geoff", he added. "We all hope you're able to pay your maintenance soon. And after some ads, it'll be the news."
I got up, banged into the wall beside the door in my hurry to get out, and ran. I spent the rest of the day not answering the phone in case it was Janey. Or the newspapers.
Who'd be a grandmaster?