Saturday, February 23, 2008

Scorebook Notes VIII

[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.]

God, what a week. On the Sunday I blew a strong position in the last round in a tournament in Essex and finished just out of the prizes. Then, during the week, I had to go to my son's school for a discussion with his head teacher. Normally Janey would have gone - well of course she would, he lives with her - but she broke her leg on a ski-ing holiday - "falling out of bed with my ski instructor", according to her email - and so she couldn't go. ("Besides", the email continued, "he inherits all his faults from you anyway, so it really ought to be you who sorts them out".)

It was a long drive, halfway across the country, and I got there just as the school day was ending and all the kids were walking home or getting on their buses. I hadn't seen Terry for quite a while and a mumbled "Hi Dad" while he looked at the floor was just about as much as I got. I started to say "how's your chess getting on?" but I'd only got halfway through the sentence when he stopped looking at the floor and looked straight at me instead, and it wasn't the sort of look that encouraged me to finish.

Anyway, we went and had a chat with the head. It appeared that Terry had picked up the habit of setting light to things - the desk in the chemistry labs with a Bunsen burner, the prize-winning raffia work in the entrance hall, the kitbag belonging to the First XI, the skirt of the girl who sits next to him in English class. Or who used to sit next to him in English class.

The head made it very clear, as of course he should, that the school couldn't tolerate this any longer, and I said I would use all my influence as a father to make sure that it didn't. "I'm sure you will, Mr Scorebook" said the head, and I was pleased to see Terry nodding vigorously as he said it. In fact he kept on nodding some time after the head had finished, clearly making sure he was taking it in.

After the interview was over, the head asked Terry to wait outside for a bit while he had a chat with me. "Sorry to keep you back a few minutes, Mr Scorebook", he said after the door had closed and we had both sat down, "but we've not met before and I like to try and get to know the parents of as many pupils as possible. And Terry's never told us very much about you, though I suppose I can understand that."

I didn't understand that, but he carried on. "Anyway, in the circumstances I suppose you haven't had as much contact with Terry as you might have liked."

"Of course", I said, "what with the divorce and everything".

"Yes", he said, "that as well, I should think".

"And the travelling abroad", I added.

He looked confused, as if he had misheard what I'd said, or as if he hadn't expected it. Then he carried on. "Well, hopefully you'll be able to see him much more now, I hope. If you don't mind my asking - you are getting all the help you need?"

I did mind his asking, as it happens. "I've never asked for any help in my life", I said.

"Ah, of course not", he apologised. "I was under the impression that help was sometimes offered in these circumstances".

I had absolutely no idea what he meant, and said so. "There's no help at all for people like me", I said. "I mean I might act as a second but I've never had one."

We looked at one another. "Mr Scorebook", said the head, I have the distinct impression that one or other of us is mistaken about something. Can I ask - what do you do for a living?"

"I'm a professional chess player", I said. "A grandmaster".

"Oh", he said. "I do apologise. Clearly I had the wrong idea. You see, Mr Scorebook, that's not what Terry told us."

"Is it not?" I asked. "Why would that be?"

"Well", said the head, "I don't know without asking him. Normally the children are very proud of their fathers and like to tell everybody what they do. But sometimes, in a few instances, they don't. And they make something up instead. Which I suppose is easier to do if their father lives across the other side of the country and nobody's ever likely to hear of them."

"But why would they do that?" I asked.

"Well, ah", said the head, "sometimes they don't actually know what their father does. Sometimes, of course, they don't know their fathers at all. And sometimes, perhaps, they do know, but they find it awkward to say what he does. Or embarrassing. So they invent something for them. Something more glamorous. Or more respectable."

He stopped, and for a while neither of us said anything. Then I asked. "More respectable. All right. So what did he tell you I do? Am I a lawyer? Or a doctor? A television personality?"

"I'm afraid not", said the head. "Terry told us you were in prison."

Who'd be a grandmaster?

1 comment:

Tom Chivers said...

Aw. Reminds me that I used to hide the fact I played from chess from my school mates.