Nosher was ickle ...
When we were Kings Index
A LIFE IN THE DAY OF NIGEL SHORT
Sunday Times Magazine
December 18th, 1977
Gordon Burns talks to Nigel Short, aged 12, the boy chess champion, at his home at Atherton, near Bolton.
Nigel: I get up at half-past seven with a bit of luck. Okay, with a lot of luck. The badge on the blazer I wear for Bolton school is a cock-on-a-trumpet. It means getting up early in the morning. That’s its significance.
Mrs Short: I wake him in the morning with a kiss and a ‘rise and shine’, but he doesn’t. Rise or shine, I mean. Not like his older brother, Martin. Nigel’s very untidy. He’s so forgetful with everything. Martin went to the grammar, but because of his special chess abilities everybody told us Bolton School was the only place for Nigel. Bolton School’s one of the top schools in the North. Very Tom Brown’s Schooldays-ish.
Nigel: I get up and put my uniform on, tie and all, before I get washed. I only ever have toast and tea for breakfast, always after Martin, and then I go back and clean my teeth.
Mrs Short: That’s something we’ve tried to teach their dad, to clean his teeth after he’s eaten, not before. They’re always at him to change, aren’t you?
Mrs Short: It’s get up, say nothing and out, isn’t it, Nigel? Chip off the old block.
Nigel: It’s about five miles from here to the school, so I leave for the bus about 8 o’clock.
Mr Short: He’s too idle to move, is Nigel. Moving from one place to another is a big problem.
Mrs Short: We call him ‘Mr. Plod’.
Nigel: Used to call me. When I was little.
Mrs Short: Well, I sometimes still do. But he’s got loads of nicknames, haven’t you? There’s ‘Dylan’, because of his teeth, after the rabbit in the Magic Roundabout. And ‘Chubby’ because of his chubby chops…
Nigel: And ‘Chess-Fluff’. There used to be a kid at school they called ‘Chess-Puff’ but he’s left now so there’s nobody left to call. Bolton School’s answer to John Curry, he was. I stay to dinners, which are quite good actually. Rice and curries I like, because hardly anybody else does, which means you get seconds. Salads are the only things I’m not mad on – there’s nothing in them. They bore me. They’re cold as well.
Mrs Short: He likes anything Chinese-y or Italian-type food. He likes Greek now as well, don’t you?
Nigel: No. An’ I’m not mad on peanuts like the papers say. ‘Peanut power’. Phhh! Fans send me nuts and little boys bring bags of them to me at competitions. KP even sent a box and it cost £1.08 just to post it.
Mrs Short: It’s like the Beatles and their jelly-babies. Now we know exactly how that sort of thing happens.
Nigel: I go to the chess club at school in the lunch-hour, but mostly I just lie around. They’ve got the radiators on and lounging-type chairs and carpets down, an’ it’s better than being chucked outside.
Mrs Short: The chess room’s in the school pavilion. Very picturesque. Very sort of novelish. Very ‘Tom Brown’s …’
Nigel and Martin: We’ve had that one!
Nigel: It’s straight home at 4, unless I’ve got a match. It’s usually a fight getting on the bus, which is a special one we’re not supposed to use, but it saves you 20 minutes. First thing I do when I come in is swop (sic) my uniform for a pair of tatty jeans like these. I don’t like trousers much, they’re not comfortable, but I’m not all that bothered about clothes. I pick them, mam gets them, and I don’t care what I wear once I’ve got it. We get things out of a catalogue sometimes, and sometimes I might buy something with my winnings. I bought a mirrored coffee-table with a chess-board in it out of the £43-50 I won the other week, the first really big thing I’ve bought.
Mrs Short: Otherwise they get 35p a week each from their grandma – 30p for Jonathan, our youngest – and if they want anything from me they ask for it. I’m paying 40p a week for Wings for them at the minute, the history of aviation. And they’ve started to collect Britain’s toys, building up to playing war games. We get a top Russian chess magazine sent and British Chess and the National Geographic from a friend Nigel plays correspondence games with in America. He learned to read from chess books, because he understood the notation.
Nigel: I might look at a story in War Lord occasionally, which is a children’s comic really, or pick up a chess book, but I never read papers. I watch the news on the television. I like the violence.
Mrs Short: He’s having you on. Honestly, he’s really the most passive person really.
Nigel: I like people getting shot. Blood and everything. We’re not affected by it.
Mrs Short: No matter how much he’s had to eat, without fail, he’ll go into the biscuit tin on the way to the television.
Nigel: I like beefburgers for tea, pies, anything. Then after tea, unless I’ve got a match, it’s homework, I’ve got a little desk in my bedroom and I always get it done, but my dad’s hurrying me. Never Martin, mind, always me. I’m always finished by half-past seven and then we might play board games – Risk, Monopoly, Campaign, Totopoly – or darts in the hall cupboard. I like Abba, and occasionally we’ll listen to records in my mam’s bedroom. No, I don’t like any of this Punk. We go to church Sunday mornings, we’re Methodists, but I don’t pray at nights. I know you’re supposed to, but I haven’t prayed for a year.
When we were Kings Index