Chess as an erotic charge

Stephen Petty

I was supposed to be having a one-to-one with Ed about his dubious commitment to the A2 coursework. When were we going to see the sequel to page one?

The trouble was that he and I had sat down in the sixth-form study centre opposite a sumptuous girl with deep mesmerising eyes and a highly beguiling smile. She was reducing my considered analysis of the coursework situation to a mere gibber and, in any case, Ed was plainly no longer listening to me.

She was on a bright new poster, promoting chess as racy, erotic and slightly dangerous. Ed seemed to find such a claim risible but some of us know otherwise. Everyone who was ever involved at school will confirm that you begin the school chess club as a boy and you leave it a man.

Sadly, Ed and most of his contemporaries have never had the chance to experience the one place in school where a lad could learn how to handle himself. Never mind the puerile spats on the sports field or those war-games in the army cadets; all the real fights started when the chess boards came out in room 33 on a Thursday afternoon.

One chess player at my school was ceremoniously defenestrated. Another was locked in a cupboard until the caretaker heard his screams later that night. Bishops would fly across the room on a regular basis.

Such a violent backcloth helped to prepare us for match days. We were five precious-looking grammar boys and our inter-school cup matches took us to some of the toughest schools around. On one occasion we were pitted against a group of silent, grim-faced skinheads obviously being made to play chess as some ultimate form of after-school detention sanction.

Such opponents scarcely knew all the rules but would have certainly responded grievous-bodily to any technical remonstrations. As soon as the match was over, we would flee to the train station before they or their loitering friends could set light to our uniforms - there was no accompanying member of staff with us in those heady days.

But there was the dreamy romance, too. The chess club provided us with a rare excuse to meet female counterparts from the other end of town. I recall, as a 12-year old, prolonging a game against the lovely Avril for about an hour, simply so that I could bask in the heavenly perfume wafting across the board. It was certainly the most highly charged match of my life, even if she never gave the encounter a second thought.

I was assured that life was like a game of chess - in some ways, I'm quite pleased that it isn't.

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Stephen Petty

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire. 

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