I learned to play Bridge while at school – which may tell you something about my age and social background (or may not). I did not live anywhere terribly posh during my school days and my schooling was provided by the State. Perhaps curiously, I was taught by my chemistry teacher – which I suspect he did in his own time (Bridge certainly wasn’t on the curriculum) – or this may be entirely normal (a web search suggest this link between chemistry and contract bridge may not be entirely uncommon). I have no idea whether today’s young people are exposed to the delights of Acol and Blackwood whilst in their teens – I fear they may have superficially more exciting things to do than we had in the early 80s.
Bridge is a very cheap hobby (unless you bet on the outcome): all you need is a deck of cards, three friends (or you could use complete strangers, but this may be harder to arrange without an inappropriate degree of coercion) and a pen and paper to keep score. I played at school, at my grandfather’s and most recently on a holiday in Iceland. I do find it is becoming harder to find people who are both able and willing to play Bridge, which is a pity – or perhaps I just move in the wrong social circles.
But why is the old fool banging on about Bridge? Well, you should blame HMRC for I learned in the news today that the Courts have agreed with HMRC that Bridge is a game rather than a sport. I think I’d always known this: it is clearly a card game (like cribbage, whist or Newmarket), I am not aware of any card sports (though this may be a result of my sheltered upbringing). Confusingly, when I was forced to play sports at schools, the lessons were described in the timetable as “Games”.
One might wonder why the judiciary and excise should be bothered by this difference – well apparently sports are not subject to VAT while games are. Yes, it is the whole Jaffa Cake debacle again whereby cakes and biscuits have different VAT treatment and the courts had to decide into which camp the orangey treat should be placed. I suppose I shouldn’t blame HMRC, they merely enforce the laws of taxation – it is government that creates these laws. I find it hard to explain why successive UK governments have decided that sport and biscuits are good, but games and cakes are bad.
I suppose sport has supposed health benefits – though does also seem to generate an awful lot of injuries (everyone I know who played football in their twenties had totally wrecked their knees by their early thirties) which is not something which I would expect from playing Bridge. I suppose sport might also have benefitted from the Victorian vogue for muscular Christianity. However, I fear it does give the impression that the State is rather keener on brawn than brain and I’m not sure this is going to help us in the “Global Race” (which is apparently so important to the current government), unless this race is a rather more literal one than I had previously understood. It also seems to reinforce the school stereotype that “jocks” are more lauded than “geeks”.
The preference for biscuits over cake is unfathomable – does the state have some issue with raising agents? Was this an attempt to support British biscuits against an onslaught of imported cakes (a flood of gateaux and torte)? I suppose baking powder et al work their magic through the production of carbon dioxide, so perhaps this is an early attempt at green taxation to tackle global warming? Still, I can’t imagine that the baking of cakes is a major contributor to atmospheric CO2: even given my own consumption.
What other weird incentives is our VAT system giving to the good folk of the UK? I seem to recall there is some strange difference in treatment between hot and cold food – with cold food favoured (very much not the position taken by generations of mothers – but I suppose for much of history they were not given the vote and even now are rare in government).
Many in this country (and probably others) whinge about the European Union and its supposed legislation on the curvature of bananas and the definition of carrots as fruit (so that the Portuguese can make jam out of them). I really don’t think we need to look to Europe for such irrationality, perhaps we should focus our efforts on our own taxation system. That way we could reduce the scope of confusion and expensive court cases and rationalise the incentives we provide to our citizens. Let’s have a level playing field: whether it be of grass or green baize. Let’s have fair competition between the cake and the biscuit!