NANOWRIMO day …..
A boxed game of 9 men’s Morris….complete and unused but with no instructions.
The box is beautiful, wooden, with sun faded paint, a group of children around a table with the game unpacked, assembled, complete and they too are assembled, complete, faces alight with pleasure, even joy.
Surely no box of wooden counters, no matter how well made, how retro, how satisfying to hold, to move from hand to hand, surely they cannot, must not, will not make anyone quite that happy, even these 1940s children, cosy in hand knitted cardigans, stomachs full of snook and spam and swede use to sweeten ersatz egg in ersatz cake.
Only the crockery is real, pre war, saved, wrapped in crumpled newspapers and wool, before wool became too precious, needed to be unpicked, remade, make do and mend. Plates of pink and gold, delicate as conch shells.
Still beautiful even with a slab of utility baking, food to fill gaps, nothing more and nothing less, but the plates bring a reminder of another time, another place, another type of tea, the ghost of cucumber sandwiches, crustless, so thin that they resemble filigree Of bread, lace sandwiches, food for no one who has ever counted spoons of jam, measured slices of seed cake to ensure fairness for all.
This is not good for those who go hungry.
And this game belongs to a different time, a time of less expectation, lower bars, making do when making do means far more than off cuts and darning and smiling when christmas turns into a paper back, a puffin classic, a hoarded Orange, 2 pairs of socks turned perfectly and wrapped in pale pink tissue paper, scent fighting for dominance, a bar of lavender soap and of course,the board game, but this gift is for them all, shared out,a quarter each and the phrase ” it’s for sharing, for all of you” hangs like a bauble over this Christmas morning.
The box lives in the hallway cupboard, underneath, far underneath other games, other pastimes, other ways to crawl through a wet Sunday or a bug ridden bedroom with coughs and sneezes and a weakness,an uncommon agreeable-ness allowing her to open the cupboard and arrive., laden with boxes and boards.
” Why are they called board games???”
Her children have learnt to ask
” Because they’re boring of course ”
And she smiles, feels her moment of stiff upper lip and doing our bit and not being negative slip away…..the careless talk of early 21st century life costing that image on the boxes, happy children, happy, grateful children, happy, grateful children entranced by dice and counters and little mice and the buzzy buzz of an operation going wrong.
And she wonders where she went wrong, when her children became strangers, angry, intolerant lodgers who pay no rent, but pay instead in slamming
Front doors in the dead of night
Back doors so that secret cigarettes can be smoked, if secret means in full view of the kitchen sink and then the butts pushed casually into her winter flowering jasmine
Bathroom doors, with a finality that says no one is getting in here anytime soon and of course ….bedroom doors.
A nuanced slamming here,tone is all and she has learnt to read each sign, each portent as carefully as any single handed yachtsman reads the clouds and sky,
Single handedly now, she navigates the the straits and shoals of home life, sometimes daring to map but usually settling for
“Here be dragons”.
She strokes the counters from the game, sets out the board, moves the dice and not for the first time wonders if she could simply make up her own rules, impose them on other players, win because only she really knows what’s going on.
A guaranteed victory.
She puts the game away in its proper place, underneath the chess, the draughts and the ludo box nibbled by mice in a long ago house.
Games, she thinks, games we play and the rules we set.