Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Bilbo gets his

Tell (the stalker) pawns that reach the other side don't necessarily become queens.


To my late grandmother Pauline, I will forever be indebted for (amongst other things) my collection of Roger Lancelyn Green books detailing various mythologies, from Arthurian legend to the Trojan war.

One passage that particularly sticks in my mind is that of the unfortunate Greek dawn goddess, Aurora. Falling in love with a mortal man, she asked head god, Zeus, to grant him the gift of eternal life. Perversity and pedantry are hallmarks of all such wishes granted in Greek legend (think of that poor sod Midas, who would have been onto a winner had he thought to include a couple of provisos): true to form, Zeus permitted Aurora's beloved eternal life, but not eternal youth.

Of course, the situation ends up as a complete fiasco. Aurora's husband turns into a shrivelled, barmy old coot under lock and key in her palace, chattering away to himself like a grasshopper: Dawn's dirty little secret.

One reason that this passage is so prominent in my mind is my Tuesday evening Japanese teacher, nickname: Bilbo-sensei. I am convinced that in the next life he'll be coming back as one of those streams out in the countryside, that gurgle incessantly regardless of whether anyone's around listening (much better than falling trees in that respect.)

Couldn't help feeling a bit put upon today. Having made the mistake of using "China" as a discussion topic in the lesson I teach in Kozenji library (normally-genial student outs himself as drum-beating right winger), I now found myself consigned to the "listening" role as Bilbo-sensei cackled incomprehensibly to himself about the vocab list he'd brought to the lesson.

With twenty or so minutes left, BS pulled out his shougi board and asked if I fancied a game. My first attempt at shougi had been the previous week and BS, unsurprisingly, had bull-whipped me. However, given the choice between another bare-ass spanking and further monologue from sensei, I opted for the former.

Shougi is quite similar to chess, but there are a couple of key differences. One is that all of the pieces except the king get promoted if they reach the last three ranks of the board. Another is that you can bring captured enemy pieces back into play on your side.

ME: Zonbi mitai na.

BS: He---eeh?

ME: Like zombies, huh.

BS: Yes, just like zombies. How very apt.

I felt a little guilty that I hadn't used any of the intervening week to swot up on how shougi pieces move, but I figured that I could remember enough to get the game moving, at which point the home team would ride roughshod over my defences and everyone could go home happy, if none the wiser.

Five minutes later and Bilbo-sensei was being treated to a Custer's-eye view of the battlefield. To be perfectly honest, I had little idea how it had come about that I had most of my opponent's decent pieces cooling in my morgue, ready to be brought back as zombies. I showed all the hinkaku I could under the circumstances.

ME: Choushi ga warui na, sensei (Not on form today, eh?)

HE: ...

Bilbo-sensei had perhaps been a bit over-casual with his opening and must have been feeling like the cavaliers as my implacable roundheads ground out victory after victory in a war of attrition. Scandalously, with five minutes left until eight o'clock he tried to call a halt to proceedings, claiming it was the end of the lesson. I poo-pooed this, dumped a wave of zombie attackers on the board and made mincemeat of Bilbo's last stand. No more silky handkerchiefs and pederasty for you, you bunch of goddamn papists. To the winner, the spoils; the loser to the ravens.

I'm sure I'll get crushed next week, but I went home feeling more motivated about Japanese study than I have in months.


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