Sunday, April 13, 2008

Saturday 12th April: A Ghostwritten Game of Go

I had expected to squeeze in a little bit of mahjong in April, but it is not to be, neither in April nor during Golden Week as the Great Spotted Hostage-To-Fortune is off on a study weekend and the Poor Little Cypriot is to be left to hold the jolly old fort and keep an eye on the Lesser Spotted Hostage-To-Fortune. The latter is not yet of an age at which the finer points of the game of mahjong are fully appreciated. Mahjong is about more than knocking down walls. 

The PLC anticipates a return to the tables on the second Friday of May, at least as things stand at the mo', things which are notable for not standing still for more than a passing day or two without drilling a hole in ones anticipations.
Poland, October 20th 1939
But if mahjong is in abeyance due to circum- stances beyond our control, the noble game of igo has resurfaced on the Saturday afternoon agenda after a long period of submersion beneath the exigencies of pedagogy, or rather the exigencies of imminent poverty caused by, among other things, playing late and poorly at mahjong on a Friday night, which then required several hours of pedagogy on a Saturday to redress. Just now, not only has Friday night mahjong been curtailed but so has Saturday afternoon teaching as the "academic" year at DEH finished a couple of weeks ago. It appears that the services of the PLC might not be needed any more, in which case the bitter cup of imminent poverty may be sweetened with a regular dose of victory over that old cove Ardle at the igo board in a certain coffee shop in Hiroshima of a Saturday afternoon. 

The hymn-writer, Cowper, put it a little differently, but the intention is similar in all essentials and proves that the sentiment of Schadenfreude is compatible with the sensibility of a good Christian:

"His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower."

It actually resembles a game of igo
Unfortunately, however, it cannot be said that Old Ardle's purposes ripen very fast at all. It takes him about an hour to unfold his next move and place a stone on the board. When he does move, he moves in a mysterious way and leaves me wondering about his performance. 
Germany, April 1945

Take last week's game in which Ardle was white and the PLC black; think of Poland circa October 20th 1939 and you shall have the situation in a nutshell. (Ardle = Poland).

This week's game had a more promising look about it at the beginning - in the sense that it actually resembled something approximating a game of igo such as you see being played by the wizened old geezers who hang around the gents bogs in Peace Park, Hiroshima. This time, Ardle was black, which meant he was Germany, but by the time we reach the last photo, i.e. about six hours after hostilities had begun, we will more quickly grasp the situation if we think "April 1945." Roosevelt has just died of boredom and the Volkssturm are strapping their Panzaerfausten to their Fahrrade.

Fortunately, I had turned up well equipped to cope with the procrastination of Old Ardle, videlicet, armed with a copy of David Mitchell's GhostwrittenDavid Mitchell, Ghostwritten link, which, I must confess, I am only now, nine years after it was first published, poking my beak into. 

And as beak-pokings go, a jolly spiffing poke of the beak it was too. Old Ardle could fiddle as much as he liked as far as I was concerned, because I was thoroughly enjoying a book I had not expected to be my cup of tea at all.

So who is this David Mitchell chap?

David Mitchell was, once upon a time, in the years of our careless bachelorhood (a frolicsome time in which any foreign bachelor in Japan worth his salt would consider himself a thoroughgoing dokushin-kisoku), David Mitchell was, I say, a fellow toiler at the chalk-face here in Hiroshima, one of an innumerable and indifferent host of foreign idlers whose conceit is to dream of writing some fascinating tome or other and breaking into the world of publishing, but who find it more convenient, or necessary, for the time being, you understand, to earn their bread "teaching" English in the sanguine expectation of something turning up. 

Incidentally, David Mitchell would never write a sentence like the previous one. His sentences, at least if we are to take the first chapter of GhostwrittenDavid Mitchell, Ghostwritten link as representative of his oeuvre, are pared down and go more like this:

  • I lay down and wept.
  • The rat in the box had died.
  • My sword I keep drawn.
  • My palms have become sundials.
  • Cars rusted in the sweltering heat.
  • I turned around and blew a raspberry.
  • I did it again.

Anyway, when news broke a few years ago that an English teacher based in Hiroshima - in Hiroshima! - had just published a book, no, not merely a book but A NOVEL no less, and one that was getting rave reviews, the reaction among many in the know about the Hiroshima scene was as incredulous as Nathaniel's when he swung around and said,

Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?

Apparently, it can.

David Hurley

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