Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The man who would be mentioned

Raymond Keene, beloved of this blog, has a bit of a reputation for throwing his weight around when he's not happy. Or so some say. To be honest, it's not seemed like that to me these last few years, perhaps because Ray has mostly been happy to plough his own furrow: Simpson's, the Times, Impala,, that sort of thing.

It's like a man who believes he should be king: living a kind of exile life, surrounded by his courtiers and admirers, hardly impinging on the rest of us at all except for the occasional cross-border raid to borrow a passage of writing that isn't strictly speaking his. We know he's there, we talk about him now and then. But he doesn't really bother us.

But if this has been the age of Ray in exile, it is also the epoch of social media, which respect and recognise no borders man has made. You may find Ray cropping up on your Twitter feed, or your Facebook page. Quite unexpectedly, at least at first. And naturally, all kings-in-exile yearn to return to the kingdom they believe is rightfully theirs. They all dream of coming back, and if they get the chance, they take it. So even more unexpectedly, you may find him cropping up at your chess championship, speaking to the people he still believes are his. Whether they think so or not.

He dreams of coming back, the king acknowledged by his people. It is lonely, being an exile, and what the would-be-king demands, as much as anything, is recognition. Acknowledgement. Worse than being talked about, is not being talked about. So you can see how ill he took it, when he made his speech and nobody mentioned it. It is as if Bonnie Prince Charlie had come back - and everybody shrugged their shoulders and pretended it didn't happen. Intolerable.

So it is that over the past week or so, we've seen Old King Ray back to something like his previous form, demanding apologies on Twitter like he was ordering desserts at Simpson's. It was I, says Ray, who opened the British Championships. CJ made the ceremonial first move: but the opening of the tournament was I and I alone. Thus spake Ray. And those who failed to acknowledge the King must be made to submit to him.

Strangely, it took until 28 July, as late as the fourth round, before Ray, perhaps waking up after a long sleep, realised that people were writing about the British Championships as if he had never been there.

Even then, the campaign didn't really get going until Monday 1 August, when Ray - perhaps, by then, having recovered from Sunday lunch - realised that the Daily Telegraph chess column had failed to mention his central role in the opening ceremony. He demanded a correction. Or, more accurately, for we know that accuracy is important to Ray, he demanded a retraction. A retraction, and an apology. And a cherry on top.

(Readers still unfamiliar with Twitter may need to know that Tweets display above the one before, so that they proceed, chronologically, upwards on the screen. Usually.)

At this stage, though, it seemed more of a skirmish than a campaign, since only two days later, with Short-Adams I out of the way, Ray was claiming victory, having - according to him at least - received his apology. (Via CJ, he said, perhaps explaining why it hadn't appeared on Malcolm's Twitter or anything.)

Just in case we had missed it, he said it again the next day

and again later the same day. And then he opened up on another front. With victory due to be sealed officially the next day, with Malcolm due to publish his surrender in the Daily Telegraph, he moved his cannon to a new position and opened fire on the English Chess Federation.

(This one goes chronologically downwards. Don't ask.)

He fired once! He fired twice!

And then there was a lull, while he waited for Malcolm's official surrender. But what was this? Had Ray been double-crossed? Nothing appeared in the Telegraph on the Friday.

He complained. He insisted. He raged. (He pointed, too, at The Week In Chess - prop. Malcolm Pein - who had also failed to make it up to him for their previous earlier omission of his role.) He complained on the Saturday

and he complained again on the Sunday.

He complained, and he raged. My word, did he rage, since that weekend the CJ T-shirt controversy kicked off, to which Ray applied himself vigorously, on Twitter and in the Sunday Times. And in his rage, he found another subject for his displeasure, since one of the ECF officials - who he had decided, without communicating with them, were responsible for CJ's unhappy experience - was brave and foolish enough to risk his further displeasure by confronting him in front of his own court.

The "glass of water" Tweet very much the pick of the bunch, if you ask me, but regrettably Ray failed to see the funny side. Lara Barnes, new to Twitter as she was, had made the dreadful error of thinking that in referring to a "Laura", Ray was referring to her. Dreadful. Awful. And woe unto Lara for her mistake.

Woe be upon her. Woe.

Thrice woe.

Though for a few hours, Ray's wrath subsided, since he had in front of him an actual, tangible correction. If not an actual tangible apology.

How enthusiastic a correction it actually was - let alone how prominent - one might well wonder, since it gave the impression of having been carelessly compiled

and hence perhaps its presumably accidental resemblance to the old optical illusion that goes something like


not to mention the possibly unconvincing suggestion that Ray's presence had been overlooked due to the absence of a PA system when he spoke. (Such a system had indeed been absent, but it strikes me that Ray is one of those people who one can see, even if one cannot hear him.)

Still, emboldened by this success, Ray was keen for more, and turned his cannon back onto Lara Barnes. Boom! Her "entirely erroneous approach". Boom! Her "obvious blunder". Boom! Her "false accusation".

The smoke cleared. The firing stopped. The surrender was forthcoming, and humbly with it.

There's lovely. I'm glad Ray didn't spoil his dinner. And it was generous of him to consider the matter closed, even if it meant that Dr Harris' suggestion, that Lara's error had been of a minor nature, went unanswered. But that is how a king behaves in victory. With magnanimity.

So ended the campaign, or at least, that is how it seemed at the time of writing. How did the old king fare? By my count, he scored one apology received, another claimed and one correction of sorts on TWIC. No obvious correction, however, on the ECF or British Championship websites, though the latter did give Ray a mention. Plus, according to his claim, a forthcoming apology in Chess, which isn't out yet. Plus one in the Telegraph, which was still overdue last I heard. Then again, I don't see the Telegraph.

So Ray may be claiming more than he's actually entitled to here, not that this is an entirely unusual habit for him. Though perhaps the most important thing, for Ray, is that Malcolm, apparently, apologised. My word, did he apologise. Not only graciously but "profusely". And other people should apologise "as Malcolm Pein did". Ray was in the right. He had been there. He did it. He was acknowledged.

We'll get back to the question of apologies, and who should make them, and whether they are forthcoming as often as they might be, later on. Before we do, though, it may be time to make the obvious point, which is that there may be a reason that people chose to avoid mentioning Ray's presence at the opening ceremony, and Ray knows that as well as everybody else.

It may be because they were embarrassed at his presence. It may be that they didn't want to have him there. It may be they didn't know that he was going to be there, because nobody had told them.

Why would this be? It would be because there is a bad smell hanging around the name Ray Keene, a bad smell that has been there for an awfully long time. A bad smell which is there for a lot of reasons, all of them known to Ray Keene, and by this time known to most of the chessplaying community, if not always recognised by his acolytes on and elsewhere. (Hello, Steve. Hello, Nigel. Hello, Sean.) We know what Ray Keene is. Ray Keene knows what Ray Keene is. And that's why CJ, who appears not to know what Ray Keene is, had to invite him to Sheffield on the quiet.

Now Ray, for all his sins, can be a lot of fun, and following his Twitter account can be a lot of fun. I follow it, and I recommend it. But while it can be fun to watch Ray at work, making an unlikely claim and then backing it up with a sliver of the truth, it's not quite so much fun when he goes barging around bullying other people into apologies that they don't really owe him.

I wonder, for instance, regarding his dispute with Lara Barnes, whether Lara's real sin may have been trying to take the piss out of him. It seems to me that mistaking "Laura" for herself was about as minor a sin that one can possibly commit. It also seems to me that Lara was not obviously making false accusations, and that if anybody was making them, Ray was not necessarily their target.

Well, short-lived dispute on Twitter, nobody died, no bruises sustained, no pride much hurt, not even Ray's. So let's get back to this business of being prepared to make apologies, rather than the somewhat less gracious affair of demanding them. Another glance at Ray's admirable sentiment:

Like many admirable sentiments, it does rather beg the question of whether it's actually applied in practice, and I do confess that my memory admits to very few examples of Ray accepting that he's been in the wrong, let alone issuing, with courage, one of these admirable apologies.

I'll spare the reader the detailed list, what with life being short and blog articles being long. But just to come up with one example, when a long passage from Edward Winter turned up on, and later in the Spectator, with barely a word changed and without any note of attribution, I don't recall any apology from Ray, let alone any admission of guilt. All I recall, and I can find it here, is a highly unconvincing claim as to how this copying came about, and a suggestion that somebody else could organise a proper attribution.

Not obviously a demonstration of Ray's courageous willingness to apologise when he gets something wrong. Perhaps readers can furnish us with some better examples.

To be honest I doubt that Ray could stand up all the claims he made on Twitter about the T-shirt affair, but I leave that for the exceptionally patient reader to look into, and decide. (Quite a few things Ray says on Twitter don't entirely stand up, but that's part of the fun of following him.) Enough: I am off on holiday today. England, since you ask, which currently has bigger problems to deal with than Ray Keene. Anyway, I could probably have saved you all the trouble of reading this, simply by making this observation. Can we imagine anybody other than Ray Keene, making a speech at the British Chess Championships, and then going purposely unmentioned?

If not, why do we think this might be?

Perhaps because it's one thing to be the man who would be king. But quite another, when there are so many reasons for us to have it otherwise.

[Ray Keene index]
[Thanks to JB, Tom, Sean]


Jonathan B said...

RDK answered one of my tweets about 2am Sunday morning. If it was paper based communication I'd have it framed. #veryproud

ejh said...

I see Chess is out. Anything in it? (Anything pertinent to The Case of the Missing Ray, that is.)

Jonathan B said...

Indeed there is not. Malc Pein's editorial makes reference to the start of the tournament - "...ECF President CJ de Mooi looked very pleased with himself when he declared the event open - and rightly so" - but no reference to RDK's presence or absence.

Perhaps that's not surprising. Latest events mentioned are from round 2. A "full report" is promised for the next issue. Actually, I'm very much looking forward to seeing how CHESS and the BCM cover this year's British and what they manage to see concerning the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.


Anonymous said...

Whilst a less formal opening ceremony, or none at all, isn't unwelcome to the participants, a microphone would have helped. It was difficult to hear what was being said even from just behind the row of seats in front of top boards, never mind at the back of the hall.

The ECF website in the days before the event implied there would be an announcement about co-operation between the ECF and the UK Chess Challenge. If there was such an announcement, I must have missed it.

Anonymous said...

You can call yourself a penguin GM if you can get to level 25 of this game:
Joe S