Posts Tagged ‘chess’

The period post Italy but pre- Finland. (Auto-biography)

June 27, 2015


The walk from Bressanone rail-station uphill to Bernard’s chalet must have been steep and long. Did I ask for a map or directions? I cannot remember. Consider that in those years suitcases on wheels were yet to be discovered nor were back-packs as progressive as they are now! Today I see young women with such towering back-packs getting from airports to taxi almost to the point of other bystanders ready to give an ovation.  Mind you, even back-packs are now on wheels as well.

I must have had a rough idea and perhaps asked a local for the address. This area was pre-dominantly German-speaking and I was fluent in that language. Bressanone, even though now Italian, used to be part of Austria and still today pre-dominantly Austrian in culture and population. The area is South Tirol.

I do remember reaching the chalet and my friend coming out greeting me. It was definitely sunny. The view was breath-taking with Bressanone nestling down in the valley and at the back of the chalet the towering Dolomites climbing forever upwards, glistening with their limestone faces. The chalet was a small and solid white washed adobe house with ornately carved gables,  window and door architraves, of which that area is famous for, and really an extension of the same architecture of  the medieval town in East Tirol of Lienz were I had spent time skiing during the winter and were I had met the girl with the beautiful eyes from Finland. It was at Lienz where I also had a ski fall and broke my glasses, as well as meeting my future wife. ( while dabbing my bleeding proboscis).

It was all such a liberating event. Liberated from the suburban ennui back in Australia with my family and Frank.  A liberation from wanting to work while wearing a suit hoping for recognition, admiration or at least something of achievement. A kind of something that young people are supposed to work towards. A career that would cement a solid future and  distinguish one from failure. All those things are not always so clearly defined but yet one grows up with as an obligation to fulfil to parents. As those early years passed by I did have a skill to earn some money and that stood me in good stead. However, the making of money is pretty boring unless compensated or alleviated  by an all encompassing and absorbing activity for  soul, spirit or psyche.

There are often moments of great significance that are recognised as such at a much later time. The meeting up with Bernard Durrant was one of those chances that on hindsight proved to be of great influence.  At the time in Italy we met for the second time. I had known Bernard in Australia. It was through him I took to chess playing and reading books and visiting State library.  He gave the advice to run your hand over the back of books at a library and pick the dustiest books! ‘They are often the best’, he said, especially in Australia! Reading in the early fifties was somewhat frowned upon. It was much healthier to play rugby or cricket, spear-tackle opponents. Libraries  visits by young men were rare.

I give you here a very short and copied biography of Bernard from a website by one of his friends.

“Already serving in the Army, Bernard was recruited by British Intelligence on the eve of the Second World War and was smuggled into Germany, but was soon discovered by the Nazis due to an inadequate cover story. Offered the choice of switching sides or death, he was posted to Alexandria, Egypt, where his brief was to spy on Allied shipping in the Mediterranean.When he arrived in Egypt, he escaped his German paymasters, and eventually made it back to the British Consul in the country.By this time he was considered tainted goods and was shipped back to Britain.

Once back on English soil he was promptly imprisoned in the Isle of Man under the Defence Regulation Section 18b, which was used by the Government to lock up more than 1,000 suspected traitors during the course of the war”. ( end of quote)

Girl with the 'Beautiful eyes' at Ankeriasjarvi, Suomi.

Girl with the’Beautiful eyes’ at Ankeriasjarvi, Suomi.

Bernard become the lifebuoy that saved me from going the normal way of career, block of own land and a house in the suburbs. I came so close to it. He got me to accept and understand that life ought to be inclusive of beauty and art. He went further and told me that life is all about exploration and finding what would give the greatest of joy and satisfaction. It all gelled and came together and I finally felt that my search for the essential would have to come through expressing what I felt strongest about. It might also relieve me from having to worry about career and job. It was so helpful that there were people like Bernard who had also travelled that same path and had found that creativity and expressing it was as much a ‘normal’ part of someone’s life as becoming a cigar smoking bank manager. Apart from all that we would continue to play chess high up the Tirol mountains.  I started to paint while Bernard already was writing poetry, some of which he managed to get published here and there. He had contacts and spoke both German and Italian which for an Englishman was somewhat unique.

Escape from Bank and National Service to Italy’s Bolzano.

June 4, 2015
Helvi in Amsterdam

Helvi in Amsterdam

The trip I took back to Holland was supposed to be permanent. While earning money was good in Australia, the jobs were not. My parents had the house built with the help of the Dutch Building society and a mortgage on ‘easy terms’. Apart from a mortgage, we also managed to get an electric frypan and a large wooden TV on splayed legs, all on easy terms. Life had settled into a routine and if the criteria of a successful migrant family was ownership of a house and white goods, we had achieved that in a remarkable short period, even if on easy terms. As the rest of the siblings grew older they too joined the workforce. Each Thursday evening was the keeping of Mum’s financial books. Our wages were produced and ledgers were ticked off. The family was prospering and it showed in our diets. Eating meat was now common and the sauce bottle wasn’t quite that much rinsed out anymore. A general relaxing of frugality was now creeping into our lives.

While the standard of living was going up the standard of my private life remained static and lukewarm.   I had saved enough and booked my trip back. I moved in with my terminal cancer suffering uncle in Amsterdam.  He was an ex-chess master and as I had picked up the game in Australia we shared many a game. He won all of them. He knew the moves and even had names for them. There was a ‘Budapest in 1933’ move or the ‘Vienna 1867 opening’. He kept on about his previous fame as a chess player while also eating huge portions of my mince meat and chilli mixture, which he thought was a magic cure for his cancer. He vested so much hope on this mince and hot chilli, it was pitiful. He blamed his ex wife for his misfortune and when that subject came up I suggested yet another game of chess, even though you would have thought he would at least give me a game in exchange for the mince-meat voodoo cure.  He never did and would thrash me merciless. I did mix the mince 50/50 with dry bread and an egg to try and bulk it out. He used to wolf it down while rubbing his shoulder in which the cancer was growing, hoping the benefit of the minced meat would shrink the cancer. The heat of the chilli is what he believed would cure him.

I had learnt some chess from a good English friend in Australia. He was a very good chess player but would always give me a handicap of a couple of pieces in order to have at least a fairly equal match. As my game improved the handicap would be reduced. After I arrived in Holland I received a letter he was back in England and was planning to rent a chalet somewhere in the Italian Dolomites to write words down.  He had put an advertisement in the Sud Deutsche Zeitung. He received a response from a German Baroness, a ‘Frau Johnson’  offering him a chalet high in the mountains at Bressanone. He planned to visit me in Holland on his way to take up this offer of the chalet.

Of course, a few weeks before while skiing in Lienz’s dolomites I had already met my future wife. Yet, it would be a few of years before our marriage. I had broken my glasses while skiing on a down-hill frosted over molten snow sheet of ice. There was no grip that my skis could hold and I just slid out of control deciding to just drop down to prevent slamming in a spruce tree. I had a bad nose bleed and broken my glasses. Fortunately I had a pair of optical sun glasses. It was while I was repairing my nose that a young woman asked me if I was alright. I said I was fine and noticed she had taken her skis off and was walking down to the place where I was staying. It was an old farm-house which in winter was let out to skiers and called Gribelehof. My father’s sister had a permanent kind of summer house at the same address.

It is still there and the same family, the Notdurfter’s are still running it. Amazing after all those years! The woman had beautiful eyes. I don’t know where I got the courage from but I said ” you have beautiful eyes.” Her answer floored me; “Yes, I know.” and calmly looked back at me as if trying to see my reaction. My response was surprise and looking nonplussed. However, there was already a feeling of liking each other. She was encouraging and even she said she was aware of her lovely eyes, there was no sense of exploiting the situation. She was really trying something out. We saw each other a few more times before we exchanged addresses and said goodbye.


But back with my uncle and my visiting English friend from Australia, a game of chess was proposed. It was a rather tense game with uncle being opposed this time to a very good player. It turned bad after an hour or so and my friend won. The uncle looked red and upset but wanted a return game. This game he lost too. My friend left to catch the train to Italy. My uncle was really upset and put the board back again with all the pieces. He remembered exactly the move that he should not have done and played it over, this time making the right move and winning. This gave me some relief. He was not easy to live with afterwards. A few weeks after I too moved to Italy and had a letter from my mother’s sister Agnes. My uncle had passed away. The mince meat-chilli mixture was of no avail.

He had lost the last game of chess as well.





A Game of Chess anyone?

February 7, 2013

A game of chess anyone?

I just knew it. Competitive sport brings out the worst. Has anyone listened to the news? Did I not advice over and over again to award losers in sport instead of the winners? This is going to be big, I mean really big. Australia and sport are one. Forget about Craig Thompson, Slipper and Obeid. That’s just confetti for a reluctant shy bride. No one is going to catch the bridal bouquet from this lot of corrupt, drug addled doped up sport junkies.

The truth has now come out, glaringly.  The minister for sport looked glum. Drugs, crime, doping, gangsters are the catch words in sport now. Woe the parent that enrolls their child in sport from now on. Soon after this evening news I went for walk.  I already noticed children near our park running away from a ball that threatened to roll towards them. Within days people will be burning balls, cricket bats, sport-commentators will be strung up from goal posts. In the dark of the night people will be jettison their boxer shorts, in kerbs you will find redolent of sweaty thighs Lycra cycle gear, knee pads and other sport paraphernalia. I noticed rugby balls sticking out of the Salvos bins. The revolution against sport has begun.

The fault is not in sport but rather in insisting that the ‘winning’ is more important than just playing it. Not everyone was as lucky as I was in choosing sport as one of those activities that should only be indulged in for the fun of it, but ditched it as soon as I heard ‘winning’. I like the fun, the pure enjoyment of kicking a ball as hard as possible or to slice through a wave feeling the water rushing by. Alas, I had trouble finding sport loving friends who did not think that winning were all important. They thought of my tennis playing weird for never knowing the score. I left the tennis club.

Of course, it was always on the cards this would happen. The insane emphasis on winning trophies and medals took away what sport is about, a healthy way of burning of energy and excess calories. I played basket ball years ago for Scarborough but resigned when the coach rebuked me for throwing a ball in the basket of the opposite team, the nerve of him trying to lesson my joy of running and leaping about trying to get the ball in a basket. Who cared which basket?

There was just no enjoyment. Of course, awarding losers might sound silly but when you think that winning only awards the one entity and the rest made out losers, there is a lot that seems to stick in my craw from a social point of view. Does that not encourage the drug and doping that is now occurring worldwide? Why anyone wants to win is also a bit dodgy when you consider that it is likely most won’t. So what if you kick the ball a bit slower or in the wrong direction. Isn’t kicking the aim? If you kick slower or swim in the opposite direction, you are a loser? Come off it. Winning above everything else in sport is insane. It creates whole armies of despondent, depressed losers. No wonder sport had been drawn into drug, crime and despair.

If you are going to award medals, what about medals for empathy, tolerance, stroking a snake, kindness, knitting socks at the railway station, feeding a hungry duck or smiling at a brave lady slowly crossing an intersection, catch a shooting star? Where are the competitions in housing refugees, a race to house the homeless or feed the flotsam of society, the mentally ill and those lost souls with the dark disturbed look sitting forlornly on the park bench? Where is the race for communal inclusiveness whereby no one will ever be allowed to die unknown, unloved, uncared, a pauper’s grave?  Where are the medals and expert coaches to lower our incarceration rates or lower our unwanted teen pregnancies and those lost knee deep in gloom and despair?


There is one sport I would exclude from being subject to my scorn and deeply felt aversion in having to win at all cost. It is a sport that includes a king, a queen, rooks, knights and castles, pawns and a lot more. It is a compulsory subject at school in some countries and is often played outdoors. Everyone can play it, even ex rugby players and gangsters. You don’t need to win but is fun if you do. Just enjoy it.

It is a game and sport called Chess.

Chess instead of Sport

March 13, 2011

Chess instead of sportPosted on March 11, 2011 by gerard oosterman


It used to be that chucking out the sport-pages together with real-estate sections of the newspapers one would avoid the most tedious part of news. Even that little treat is now being denied. Sport is front page news and no sport seems more newsworthy than the latest punch-up. How sport and punch-ups, including glassing girlfriends, running/manufacturing/ taking drugs, drink driving etc ever became mixed-up so often with sport and mainstream news is not precisely known.

But, what is known, that for decades now while watching TV during news broadcast, especially on the Commercial channels, one would get treated to lengthy footage of sport-people in suits leaving a special Court. This was often followed by sections of film where some kind of brawl or small riot had occurred while playing sport.  The odd thing was that going to Court did not do much. Day after day, the same footage and often the same sportspeople would be strolling out of court. They were mainly rather brawny and muscular looking men with enormous chins given to big scowling smirks and also, going by their monosyllabic answers to journalist questions, not appearing to be the sharpest tools in the shed. ..Or if not appearing alert, they perhaps not had the benefit of a good English teacher some years before. Was education with so much emphasis on the ‘winning’ of sport already then grooming future young people into becoming first winners, then punch throwers and boozers?

 In any case, those endless repeat footages of those players leaving Court was not unlike cheap cow boy movies showing the same chase going past the same set of rocks over and over again. And so it was allowed to continue. In fact, I suspect, the whole idea of sport discipline was clearly seen as a charade, good TV footage, and perhaps even accepted as being part of sport. Sport became the ‘punch-up’.  If it involved a Court appearance, it just spiced it all up. Almost like a good free advertisement.

With the latest batch of brawls and punch-ups, the inevitable event is then often ascribed to having been ’fuelled’ by alcohol. It is again seen as something as part and parcel of sport. By the way, it is not always just a punch-up or  glassing that is fuelled by drink, no, some driving offences by sportspeople are also involving alcohol. You definitely get the impression that sport and alcohol does add up to bad behavior including violence, driving offences and a Court appearances. Overall though, we still seem to continue making exceptions for it. If it is sport and especially if they are well known sport people, anything in sport is possible and seemingly allowed.

Anyway, of late one could be forgiven for wishing and hoping that all those sports be banned, including the’ best of the players’, because even the ‘best’ are now seen to have caught the’ punch-up’ bug.  The violent outbursts, punching in public and ‘fuelled’ by alcohol are often done at the crack of dawn. That seems to be another mystery, what are they doing at that time? Are they not on a strict kind of routine, keeping good hours, good diets, drinking butter milk eating rye bread, and eating fresh fruit?

If sport ought to equal good robust health, fitness and agility, and something for our youngsters to aspire to, then that kind of brawling sport has hopelessly lost its way. There is no way that parents can be expected to continue to accept the present sport, especially those games with the oblong ball, as being   positive and healthy  for our young and vulnerable.  

Even, the way sport has been allowed to dominate our schools ought to be questioned.  The introduction of so much competitive sport seems to encourage and fuel ‘winning’ much more than just enjoyment and fitness. In any case it hasn’t led to fitness with our obesity amongst the young getting worse. Winning at all costs might well be why so many become to accept that violence is one way of winning. If you can knock over your opponent, you are closer to a win.  Once on this slippery road, a few years later and with alcohol now firmly entrenched, voila, another future football thug is on its way.

The way out would be to make physical fitness important and ease off on this manic obsession with competitive sport. Schools are where the young are supposed to grow into caring considerate people and not into ‘winners and losers’, whereby sporting achievements are often judged way above their true worth or value. Sport in Australia might have to be looked at and perhaps seen as somewhat overrated.

I would much rather have my kids be good chess players and be fit, healthy, considered and caring above all, than turn into some sport hero who can only express himself/ herself off and on field, by assaulting, taking drugs , and booze ups.  I have yet to hear of a chess player being in Court on punch-up charges or drink driving. Let’s hope that with the recent exposure of so much sport being brought into disrepute that those experts in education will lift their game and put gymnasiums for fitness and chess competition for brains into all schools and put competitive sport on the backburner.