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Saturday, 10 November 2012

A bridge comment too far.

Nigel and Sofia were driving through the deserted country roads on their way home having spent the afternoon playing bridge at the Old Ferry country hotel. The bridge group meet there every other Thursday. The location was chosen as it was almost at the centre of the large rural catchment area from where the twenty four regular players originate. The group's meeting had broken up about forty-five minutes ago.

The threatened rain had began to fall and the sun was quickly descending over the horizon. They were later than normal as they had stayed to have a drink and a chat with Bob and Sue about arrangements for the forthcoming week-end. The route they were following was the most direct from the hotel to their home; if you can call a journey through twelve miles of twisting and turning lanes that; but they didn't like to take it in the dark.

Another vehicle on these narrow roads was a rare occurrence: they were surprised to see the old turquoise Morris Marina car pulled into the field gateway with its bonnet up. There was a man standing alongside it frantically waving at them.

“Isn't that that Paul Longman?” Sofia said as soon as they were close enough to see his face clearly.

“Yes, of all the people” replied Nigel.

They had first met Paul and Penelope Longman when they started going to the bridge group six weeks previous. It was Nigel and Sofia’s first experience of playing within a club. They had taught themselves the game from both teach yourself books, and computer programmes on their laptops. Their playing experience had been gained by using several internet bridge websites, testing their skills against both computer and anonymous human opponents. They believed they had progressed well, winning on average about half of the games played.

During the afternoon session, as is normal when playing duplicate bridge, the partnership couples moved from card table to card table playing against different opponents every three or four games. It was a new experience for Nigel and Sofia and so they were a little nervous and felt they were playing a little below their capabilities, but certainly not embarrassing themselves.

Their turn came to sit at a table with the Longmans and play four games. The first three games were played without incident. The Longmans winning the first and third games. At the start of the fourth, because of the cards he held in his hand, Nigel was taking a little more time than normal to consider his opening bid. He decided to have a look at his copy of an accepted bidding aide-mémoire before making his decision.

“If you still need to look at that you should consider whether or not your ability is up to a sufficient standard to play in this Group,” rudely interrupted Paul Longman.

“Is there any rule that says I can't consult it?” responded Nigel.

“No there is not,” replied Penelope Longman, “But we don't think anyone who plays here should need to.”

Sofia gave Nigel one of her authoritative looks saying “Leave it... make your bid.”

The game was played and the victors, Nigel and Sofia, moved on to the next table. The rest of the afternoon meeting went by without any further unpleasant incidents or comment from other players.

As they were leaving they were discussing the attitudes of the Longmans, they thought between themselves, when a gentleman walking close by to them, who they'd seen playing within the group interrupted their conversation.

“Excuse me for butting in, but I heard what you were saying, that you probably wouldn't come to the group again because of the attitudes of a specific couple. I'm almost certain who you are talking about. Other people have complained about their attitude, and they are not well thought of. Don't let them put you off,” he said.

“This is our first time here. We doubt if we'll come again if we're not welcome,” replied Sofia.

“Please come and play again; we want more members in the group; the couple you are referring to don't have a say in who can play.”

They enjoyed the second meeting as they didn't have to play against the Longmans. The third and latest meeting, from which they were driving home, had been going well until they had to play against the Longman couple for the second time. It couldn't be avoided.

Two hands had been played when Paul Longman abruptly commented:

“You're playing far too slow, can you speed up.”

“You have to be quicker, if want to play here” added his wife.

“You are right dear: standards are slipping”

The two remaining games at that table were played under an atmosphere of intimidation. The remainder of the afternoon had been spoilt for Nigel and Sofia.

Since leaving the hotel they had been discussing whether they would continue to go to the 'Old Ferry' bridge group or find another one. Just prior to them seeing the broken-down car Nigel had said: “The comments the Longmans made were unnecessarily abrasive considering it is not a high level tournament, and also normal bridge etiquette seems to have been forgotten, but it is more of an annoyance than a reason for not continuing to go.”

As they got closer to the marina and slowed down, they could see that it was looking rather shabby with large rust areas on the bodywork and the exhaust pipe at the rear was hanging down loosely appearing to be held in place by wire or something similar. The vehicle was showing its age.

They stopped their immaculate Mazda Mx-5 two seater parallel with the old Morris rust-bucket and Paul Longman approached their vehicle. Penelope Longman could be seen sitting on the rear passenger seat of her car, reading what looked like a paper, imitating a VIP waiting for her chauffeur to deal with the problem.

Nigel slowly lowered his driver's door window, so Paul Longman had longer to stand in the rain, and nonchalantly asked: “Is there a problem?”

“Am I pleased to see you, we've been stuck here for forty minutes. You're the first car to come this way. The car's packed up and I can't get it started again. On top of that my mobile phone's battery is flat so I can't call my son to come and help” replied Paul.

“Sounds like neither your car or mobile are up to a sufficient standard to do the job, especially driving on deserted roads like this,” retorted Nigel, with a degree of sarcastic satisfaction.

“Do you have a mobile phone and if so can I use it to call my son?”

“Yes I do . . . but unusually for me, I've left mine at home today.”

“What about your wife?”

“Oh, Sofia doesn't have one.”

“Dam; what am I going to do now?”

After a long pause to consider the next play of his winning hand Nigel said: “Why don't you give me your son's number? As soon as Sofia and I get home to a phone we'll call him to let him know you have a problem and where you are. It shouldn't take us too long, as long as we don't breakdown.”

Having been given the Longmans' son's telephone number Nigel and Sofia continued on their journey home: leaving Paul and Penelope Longman stranded in the deserted country lane on a dark rainy night.

“You've got your mobile with you, you used it when we were making the week-end arrangements with Bob and Sue” Sofia said after a few minutes.

“I know I have. I'll phone Longman junior from it when we get home. I mustn't drive too fast, I must be careful through these twisting and turning lanes.”

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