Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

Article excerpt

By New Year's Day I'd had enough of festivities. Instead of getting out of bed, I turned over, put my face to the wall and refused all offers of food, drink and conversation. I kept this up throughout the day and into the evening, when I had to get up to go to the toilet. Asked for an explanation of such childish behaviour, I blamed the wind -- a cold, violent Mistral that had been blowing since Christmas Eve.

The cypresses were still twirling and bowing the next day. Though not yet restored enough to dance the Gay Gordons, I felt a bit more sociable, and in the evening we went out. A neighbour, Professor Brian Cox, had invited us over to his house to play the board game Escape From Colditz. He and his family have developed a passion for the game and they thought I might be a potential convert. When we arrived, the board, depicting a bird's-eye view of Colditz castle and environs, was unfolded on the dining-room table. Drinks were issued. Then we gathered around it and Professor Cox explained the rules of the game.

He once explained Einstein's theory of relativity to me in 20 minutes over a risotto and I almost -- I say almost-- grasped it. I might not have been on the same page as him come the end, but I was on the right bus to the library. The rules of Escape From Colditz, however, are much more complex than Einstein's theory of relativity and probably disprove it. Even physicist, astronomer and cosmologist Professor Brian Cox confessed that he hadn't quite yet got his head around them. But he patiently outlined them to me as far as the limits of his current research and understanding allowed. Basically, there are three escape teams of ten prisoners (coloured wooden counters) and someone has to be the Nazis (black counters). This is always Mrs Cox because she likes to be the Nazis. Whether she likes to be the Nazis in spite of her staunchly progressive outlook in real life or because of it I didn't ask. Either way, she threw herself into the role of a cold-hearted camp Kommandant, even as she passed the nibbles around.

The movements of both prisoners and guards are determined by the roll of two dice. If you throw a double you throw again. Before making a dash for it, prisoners must assemble a collection of items, such as rope, keys, wire cutters and false papers, hidden at various locations within the castle walls, and concoct a plan. …

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