Ian McMillan: He’d stick your King up his cardigan sleeve

I would just have finished my tea at my Auntie and Uncle Charlie’s house on North Street; in those far-off days of the mid-1960s, I was a faddy eater and my tea normally consisted of a big brimming bowl of baked beans and a slice of bread and butter, washed down with a glass of pop.

I would have finished wiping the last remnants of the bean-juice up with the bread, when Uncle Charlie would come in with the box of pieces and the board. ‘Fancy a game, then?’ he’d say, his eyes the size of one of the smaller moons of Jupiter behind his glasses, and I’d nod although really I would rather have had another bowl of beans. ‘Grand!’ Uncle Charlie would day, grinning, ‘A nice game of chest!’ He meant chess, of course, but he always called it chest.

That wasn’t the only thing he made up, either. Playing chess with Uncle Charlie was an almost impossible task because he thought that any piece could move in any direction and take any other piece at any given time. If you tried to protest he’d just say ‘A bloke at the pit told me that’s how you really play it’ and wink slowly and dramatically like a door opening and closing.

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The mythical Bloke at the Pit was Uncle Charlie’s Everyman, his Guardian Angel, his Good Luck Charm and his Encyclopaedia in the days before the internet. The Bloke at the Pit said that all rabbits were descended from the same two rabbits in a field in Pontefract. The Bloke at the Pit said that Acker Bilk was moving to the other end of Darfield. The Bloke at the Pit said that next year was a Quintuple Leap Year, with five days added on to February, to make it the longest month. If you protested that The Bloke at the Pit was made up, was a less-than-wise figment of Uncle Charlie’s imagination, he would look insulted and say, ‘I’ll tell him tha dun’t believe in him next time I see him’ and he’d shake his head and tut in disbelief. Charlie and I would set the pieces up on the board; I arranged mine in the correct way, the pawns at the front, the other pieces on the back row. Uncle Charlie piled all his pieces up on four squares in the middle. It looked like a riot, with his pieces as the rioters and mine as rows of coppers.

Charlie would start. He always started. He whipped his King forward and knocked four of my pawns flying. I moved one of my remaining pawns forward two spaces, which caused him huge and uncontrollable glee and made him put one of his rooks on top of the other and put his thumb up at me, bafflingly. One of the other things about playing chest with Uncle Charlie was that he had a repertoire of aggressively shouted commands that when deployed, according to The Bloke at the Pit, changed the rules again. So he’d shout ‘Double Up!’ and he’d have two turns. He’d bark ‘King’s Deead!’ and stick your King up his cardigan sleeve.

After a while he would get bored 
and shout ‘Visitors!’ and that 
meant that any handy objects could be incorporated into the game, so we ended with two eggs and a headscarf on the board. I think it might catch on, don’t you?

Anyone for chest?