A bridge too far?

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!

St Patrick’s Day

Yesterday was, of course, St Patrick’s Day.  The weather here in South Cambs very kindly helped us feel properly Irish by being really rather wet: this drought is becoming so severe, I’m thinking of laying in a stock of gopher wood!  I haven’t started collecting animals yet, but it has crossed my mind.  I have also found myself wondering why Noah failed to collect any plants for his voyage: what was he planning to feed his herbivorous passengers when the flood water subsided?

Anyway, back to St Patrick.  Despite his associations with the Emerald Isle, the lad actually hailed from Wales (then again, as we know, almost anyone can play for Ireland).  As a result, I’m sure he was thrilled (as was I, given my ancestry) that the Welsh won the Grand Slam on his special day.  I must admit that I had no idea that Contract Bridge was so big in the Principality; do they use Blackwood, I wonder?

St Patrick is probably most famous, other than as an excuse for a drink or several, for banishing the snakes from Ireland.  However, I fear modern scholarship would hand the credit for this particular feat to the consequences of the most recent series of ice ages – though I fear beatifying the Younger Dryas might be theologically tricky (I have yet to have any success with an animated mouse).  Nonetheless, I do quite fancy the idea of raising a glass of something alcoholic – on the rocks obviously – to celebrate everything the Younger Dryas has done for us!

I did nothing particularly Irish to mark the day myself, though my lunchtime Spanish omelette did have a somewhat viridian hue given its significant spinach content (and as an added bonus, it also include a potato).  For the purposes of blogging, I must try and do better next year…

Closer to the music

I’m just returned from an evening spent in seat A12 at the West Road Concert Hall.  I’m not sure whether my seat was named in honour of a really tiny piece of paper or a really massive German automobile (or I suppose it could conceivably relate to the road to Great Yarmouth: one of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby’s less successful movies.  Did Mr Crosby have an estranged brother called Google by any chance?).

I am now wondering for what x would Ax be either a piece of paper as small as an atom or an Audi as big as the world?  I suppose I could work out the answer to the former, but it’s late and the force of apathy is strong.

Anyhow, I seem to have become distracted.  Seat A12 was so close to the Endellion String Quartet that I could have page turned for the cellist.  One of the joys of concert-going in Cambridge is that one can often be very much closer to the action than in London.  It is very much like HD television, in that you can see every wrinkle on the performers (or, given the youth of many, the lack thereof) and every scuff on their instruments (and, indeed, their shoes).

Last night, I got to be “up close and personal” with the soloist in Arutunian’s Trumpet Concerto (C6, since you ask – a modest envelope or large Citroen).  This was quite interesting as you can normally barely see the brass section, hidden as they are behind an ocean of strings.  (Is ocean the right group noun for strings?  Perhaps a pluck or bow of strings?  A cheese?).  Matt Letts, for it was he, was really very impressive (not something I’d expected to say about a trumpeter – well, unless they were an elephant).  Being close also illustrated what a physical process playing the trumpet is – I’m sure all that back pressure in the head can’t be good for you!

Talking of elephants and the trumpet reminds me of a very old joke. I used to play Bridge with an elephant (it’s a joke, so you needn’t be concerned that a pachyderm would probably struggle with the finer points of Acol or Blackwood), but every time I played an ace she used to trumpet!

Look, I never said it was good – just old – and I suppose it does rather ignore the option of No Trumps.  But hey, this is free – if you want quality, you may have to start paying!