Bringing Chess to Visually Impaired People

The Gazette - May 2012

Edited by Rebecca Blaevoet
The views expressed in the Gazette do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the BCA, nor those of the editor.

Winter Wonderland at Windermere: Commonly known as the Chess Theme Break

As has been the age old custom, reaching right back to the far mists of time, when twitter was merely an activity restricted to birds, and facebook was another name for the family photo album, the last week of January has been inscribed in many a diary to mark the time of the great annual pilgrimage to the Lakes, when faithful followers and new converts grab their fleeces and gloves and gather together in the far flung town of Windermere to observe and celebrate the great traditional festival of Peter and Celia’s Chess Theme Break. Therefore, on 21st January 2012, fourteen chess participants, eight coaches and nine non chess playing BCA members descended upon this ancient sleepy town: armed with chess sets, clocks, and even a violin, guitar and ukulele banjo; the latter apparently associated with some ancient ritual involving variable amounts of alcoholic beverages, sundry styles and standard of singing and plenty of laughter, an ancient custom which rumour has it is performed each evening to herald in the dawning of the new day. However, before I incriminate myself and my partners in crime too much, it is only right and proper that I should centre this report around the chief reason of our gathering, namely the great art and ancient game of chess.

We arrived at the Windermere Manor Hotel on Saturday, and after having a few hours to unpack, catch up with friends, and maybe fit in a crafty half hour snooze to ease the journey worn body, we all took our places for dinner, where a high quality three course meal followed by mints and coffee would become the early evening custom. On the subject of food, an excellent substantial breakfast was also provided each morning and a sandwich and soup for lunch accompanied by a second option if preferred, all included in with the price of the week.

After breakfast on Sunday, the chess people were partnered with their respective coaches to prepare them for battle on Wednesday, an ancient custom which I will expand upon in due time. Training ensued on the afternoon of the same day , and was also provided for the morning and afternoon of Monday.

Whilst the chess people were happily engaged in coaching, the non chess people were equally happily engaged in quite a different type of coaching, that being to and from the various trips organised by the hotel. Each morning and afternoon those who were brave enough to weather the elements, ventured off to local villages and places of interest such as Brockhole, Keswick, Ambleside, Coniston Waters and Grizedale Forest to name but a few.

After dinner on Monday evening, we all assembled in the bar and grouped together into teams to have our brains further stretched by Celia’s quiz. The scores were close but Norman Andrews’ team once again took the chocolates. To my knowledge, this was Celia’s first time as Quiz mistress and I’m sure all would agree she did an excellent job with a good time had by all.

On Tuesday, the hard working coaches and their students were given a day off, where those who, after the quiz, hadn’t indulged too much in the aforementioned nightly festivities, joined their non chess playing pilgrims on a morning trip to Cartmel, where I am told they visited a monastery. After returning to the hotel for lunch, we wrapped up for an afternoon boat trip on Lake Windermere. Although I confess I didn’t quite make Cartmel, I did make the boat trip, which was accompanied by both a commentary and with on board refreshments, and for those of you who may be tempted to attend next year, I must say the coffee and brandy slipped down rather well!

After getting back to the hotel, with a couple of hours to thaw out before dinner, Tuesday evening hosted Joan’s famous soiree, where people could showcase their various talents and party pieces. As always this came with a wide variety of entertainment, including music, comedy, monologues and poetry. Once again Joan organised a great evening’s entertainment, and even after the official concert had finished, the festivities once again continued to greet the new day.

After tumbling timidly into breakfast, Wednesday for the chess people was battle day, where we would seek to employ what we had learned to gain our place in the grand final of the non graded friendly handicap tournament. All games are traditionally just one hour in duration and the various players had been divided into three categories according to strength, which would determine the proportion of the hour each player would have on their clock during each respective game. We were also divided into three groups with an all play all system. The winner of each group going through to the final, in the event of a tie, both players would go through.

Battle was hot, flags more accustomed to falling than flying! However, by Thursday three of the thirteen players who entered the tournament rose from the smoke and ashes to play in the final: those being George Phillips, Mark Hague and yours truly. Those who didn’t make the final had the option of having more coaching or going on the various trips.

However, before the grand day of the final, those of us who didn’t go off on Wednesday evening to the local ale house were entertained in the hotel bar by Dean Richards, a young singer whose smooth satin voice I thought bore a striking resemblance to Michael Buble and Sir Cliff.

Returning to the chess. The final was also an all play all with George finishing triumphant on two out of two, myself getting one point and Mark giving George a better run for his money than yours truly but eventually succumbing to the same fate as all of George’s opponents.

Thursday night was the time for the non chess players to outshine their chess companions in a quiz organised by Shery from the hotel. We once again all gathered into teams to be quizzed on the local area, and just hoped that our non chess playing team mates had been paying attention during the trips. Once again the scores were close, with the Chambers & Armstrong team this time taking the chocolates, which must have been entirely down to the sharp ears and quick minds of Pat and Barbara, as Bill and Colin were both tied up with coaching and Julie and Ollie had only just arrived that afternoon.

On Friday morning many of us went off to Grasmere to buy gingerbread and visit the ancient church of St. Oswald (the burial place of William Wordsworth), after which many of us congregated in a local coffee shop, apparently another ancient custom that is a must for all trips.

On Friday afternoon we had our brains stretched for one last time by John Toothill, a good friend of Peter Gibbs, who at grade 184, challenged twelve hardy chess stalwarts to a simultaneous. This time, however, the coaching must have been of an extra high quality, as although John’s expertise was too fine for most, Shane Hall and Michael Meaney managed to get a win and Mark Hague managed a very commendable draw. Please note, Michael Meaney’s game with John Toothill can be found in this Gazette under a separate article.

On Friday evening the Chess Theme Cup was presented to George, who now joins Steve Thacker and Geoff Patching in having his name thrice engraved. This happy ceremony was followed by a poem, both penned and performed by our own Joan Shorrock. Each year Joan produces a light-hearted poem to sum up the week, which is cleverly structured around a chosen well known Lancashire poem. Joan is hoping to put a collection of these poems onto a CD, and if my arm twisting has worked, this year’s contribution may even follow this article.

Before I list the dates for next year and the relevant contact details, I’d better list the all important results. Only thirteen contestants entered the friendly tournament, as Mary Cuthbert, still being very new to chess, chose on this occasion to stick merely to the coaching.

Friendly Handicap Tournament - Round 1

Group A

Mark Hague 3

Michael Meaney 2

Thuy Mallalieu 1

Stan Lightowler 0.

Group B

Gary Wickett 3

Lea Ryan 1.5

Shane Hall 1

Geoff Patching 0.5.

Group C

George Phillips 4

Richard Harrington 3

Jim Cuthbert 2

Abi Baker 1

Ann Casey 0.


George Phillips 2

Gary Wickett 1

Mark Hague 0.

A vote was conducted to ascertain whether for ease of travel people would prefer the Chess Theme Break to be held from Wednesday to Wednesday. However, the majority voted to stick to Saturday to Saturday as this would be better for those who are still in employment, and it was felt that as the event is in January, most people didn’t have a problem with the trains being too overcrowded. The twentieth Chess Theme Break will therefore take place during the week Saturday 19th -26th January 2013 at the price of £308 if you book by October in order to catch the 10% discount. In addition to this discount, you may also be eligible to claim £150 under the Grass Roots Scheme towards your attendance, please see the relevant article for details. If you are tempted to attend, I advise you book as early as possible as the event is very popular. The Windermere Manor Hotel can be contacted on telephone 01539 445801, please also confirm your booking with Peter and Celia Gibbs. See you there.

Post Script: Sadly, on 14th March Shane Hall’s life was tragically cut short due to ill health. Despite having to fly all the way from Dublin, Shane was a very familiar face at the Windermere Chess Theme Break and also a regular attendee at many BCA events. Although naturally a man of few words and very quiet, Shane would come alive when it came to chess or music. On the music front, with his strong baritone voice and comic sense of fun, he was one of the favourites at Joan’s famous talent shows and will be much missed. With regards to chess, his tactful aggressive style, as the above article testifies, kept his opponents on their toes. I am sure you will agree that the result of Shane’s game during the simultaneous is a wonderful testimony of his love of this great game. Unfortunately, I don’t know if the moves were recorded, otherwise it would have been lovely to publish the game in the Gazette. Shane, you will be sadly missed. Rest in peace.

Gary Wickett