Magazine article The Spectator

North, South, East and West

Magazine article The Spectator

North, South, East and West

Article excerpt

VULNERABLE IN HEARTS by Sandy Balfour Atlantic Books, £14.99, pp. 291, ISBN 1843543656 . £11.99 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Among my earliest recollections is that of wandering into my mother's bathroom and watching her, toenails incarnadine with polish like pillars above the foam, as she addressed herself sternly along the lines of: 'I should have covered the jack. Then they could never have made the contract.' Except for my brother Maurice, who played the piano, we all played bridge in the family, and we continued this in my own home, though my son came to be so much better than all of us that I refused to play with him. Impeccable kindness in criticism is especially hard to take.

I had read and enjoyed Sandy Balfour's previous book, Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8), with the subtitle, 'A Memoir of Love, Exile and Crosswords'. This book is subtitled, 'A Memoir of Fathers, Sons and Contract Bridge'. In both of them, the final subject is dominant, though with an important difference. Crossword puzzles are usually a solitary pursuit; the sanguine solver may, in difficulties, solicit help, or accept defeat rather than dependence. In Balfour's first book, the details are in the different devils responsible for setting the puzzles, with their peculiar mannerisms, tricks and skills.

Bridge is, by contrast, a social game, requiring two opposing sets of two partners.

It may even engage bystanders who, known as kibitzers, offer unsolicited advice, though not legitimately during the play. And they are not always tolerated afterwards, when their hindsight excites an exercise in superior judgment. Partnership itself provides ample opportunity for misunderstanding and recrimination, even or rather especially between those in a marital relationship.

Balfour retells the tale of the Bennett couple at Kansas City in 1929. Having retired to the kitchen while her husband attempted to make a game contract in spades, Myrtle returned to find that he had failed. She abused him as 'a bum player', he struck her, and she shot him dead. She was subsequently acquitted on a charge of murder, with a jury verdict of accidental death. At the trial, Ely Culbertson, the revered guru at the time, averred that while the contract had been overbid, it could have been made. …

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