Through The Scrabble Lens.
Our old mobile Scrabble Set. Thanks Jacqui !
A little title from Steve by the way. It seems that everything is about memories these days, from the story of my Birthday to now this one about Scrabble. The thing about memories which makes it kind of fun writing them down, memories are living breathing things and if you have great call back it’s amazing what you can recall from the past. They come to life once again. The brother and I have pretty good recall, which is surprising considering all the bumps and scrapes we’ve got into over the years and a fondness for a beer or two. At the moment I myself can pretty much remember back to when I was about 3 years old, to what was playing on the radio in my Grannies. Yet, the brother and I have what I like to call a second layer of memories, what came after Belfast, a rich tapestry of what was gathered from our travels. My fun is in while trying to paint the clearest picture also remembering the in-between moments. When you can do that it gives the memories a depth and compass. Maybe even a further confirmation of your beliefs and efforts. Therein, you are given a puzzle of telling an experience from the knowledge of when and how it happened and still also be thinking and talking about the now. Sometimes as a writer this is too much of a buzz to approach yet on other days like today its right up my street.
Anyway, the brother and I have just recently come back to playing Scrabble, I’ve been looking at people’s names and street signs and now I’ve come to realise more about these names. For example Rudd is nothing more than a name right? Paul Rudd the actor is a fine example, a very nice guy by the way, we met him a few years ago, but Rudd is also the name for a Fish. I just find myself checking these names and street signs out and I even caught Steve doing it the other day. Tina Fey of the hit comedy show “30 Rock” her last name Fey meaning amongst others: Whimsical and or Strange, other worldly, a strange child with a mysterious smile and Fey manner. Names of things which we just take for granted, it’s a little bit like that thought, what was a chair before we decided to call it a chair. So the story goes, when we were on the streets you’d do anything to pass the time that is besides the getting of money or food, the basics of our survival. ‘Anything’ used to be playing cards and stuff until in the mid 1990s a good person that we were staying with, in the little village of Hemyock in Devon bought us a moving on present, a travelling Scrabble game. We still have that Scrabble set after now on 15 years. We’d enjoyed nights playing Scrabble with this lady, this encounter was just another one of those strange events in our lives at the time. We’d met this woman Jackie and her friend in a little coffee shop and I do mean little coffee shop that we frequented, it was always like us to find these little places where we could duck into in the beginning of the day or as the evening was coming down, just to dull the depressions of being on the streets. In a few places on our travels staff have been extremely friendly to us, resulting in are getting free food or just being able to sit there nearly all day reading, wandering in and out at will unquestioned, even unquestioned by bosses. As we were drinking our morning ritual one of us noticed that we were being scrutinised by a couple of ladies, obviously they’d taken in that we weren’t from around there, there being Taunton, and they quickly used the excuse of asking us what we were reading to invite conversation. That was another thing about us back then, leave us alone and we could be reading anything, absorbed in it at anytime of the day or night. Straight out of the blue and to the surprise of her friend even, Jackie turns round and says to us.
“Have you guys got a place to stay?”
We’d only been in the area a short time. I don’t really know if anything or what else we might have discussed, except for the fact of having to explain the obvious. Next thing we find ourselves being invited to stay with this widowed woman and the whole experience became one like a holiday, she took us to the local country Pubs and Museums and things at such times as when we hadn’t collected our Benefits and we returned favours when we collected our money. Meals were anything we wanted out of the large freezer and Steve even cooked her and her daughter a special thank you dinner before we finally left. Little did we know though that not too much later, while once again having been housed this time by an old friend in a different location, namely the town of Uppingham but combining both experiences our street senses were going to be momentarily dulled, to the point that that little Scrabble game was going to land us in a very dangerous situation. We ended up in Oxford with the blues basically, a feeling that came from leaving all the previous company behind and being back on the now October windy streets. Mixing our thoughts we somehow had this idea of looking around the hallowed halls of the different Colleges. a bit of what we had in Harvard, but here we’d be thinking of such people as Aldous Huxley. We therefore were looking for some other kind of adventure for our big appetites but to all accounts we’d had our bit of adventure and the winter scene was no longer going accommodate any more of our wishes. In the proceeding gloomy days we were just wandering about and we’d found what seemed like a great spot to stay in out of the weather.
Just a few nights in and as the days were miserable we’d taken to coming back to our little spot earlier and spending the rest of the hours playing Scrabble, there was a little light there, while trying to figure out how we were going to move on. We were deep in a game one evening when I found somebody standing over me, saying something which I hadn’t really registered but I was soon enough able to sense an ill boding just before the punches started to rain down on me. I was stunned but not in the way that you imagine more surprised but both of our bloods were boiling.
What in hells creation would make anybody want to attack us out of the blue like that, never minding all our efforts of just good will on our travels, we’d even saved lives, we’d never been one’s in any part of our travels to think only about ourselves. When there had been a fire in Hong Kong’s Chung King Mansions on Nathan road, with our knowledge of the building yet not able to see our way out because of the thick smoke but we felt our way along the walls and walked six people out along with us. These people were obviously strangers to Chung King Mansions and without our help might well have been left wondering around the immensity that is that place. However, back in the Oxford situation Steve was quick to dive across and take this guy down by the legs but next thing his friends were round to join in. Nevertheless, we recognised later that at that point an old friend had come to visit us again and that friends name was; Down to the crunch. We suddenly found ourselves embroiled in a persistent and physical argument in which luckily one advantage we had was the fact that we were standing on a ledge, on higher ground and as long as we kept our backs to the wall and facing the problem we could kick, punch and push people of the ledge but we were trapped. And from having made an agreeable first defence of ourselves we’d stoked the fire. How close I had come to murder that night, just in the extreme thoughts of getting away, my mind was all over the place, as our defending ourselves wasn’t getting us any closer to a conclusion. When I think about it today even with the injuries we received I just can’t help having the odd nightmarish thought, on the bases of, if we had done anymore than just defended ourselves and that Irish temper was so hotted up, I have no idea what stopped me or Steve. But all our adventures to that point and our good name would have been ruined, we would have finally been sent down that life road, with the labels which everybody wanted to stick on us because we come from Northern Ireland, and they’d still like to stick those labels on us today. Yet, in as much as it was another great lesson for the brother and I, still, to note that from Northern Ireland to that moment we had been right down to the crunch many times before. Just a bit more than the fair share, it appeared sometimes, of those once in a lifetime nasty experiences. The one person who was causing the most trouble and drugged up we later thought, never knew just how close his bad habits had brought him to his own end. We’d seen our old man go berserk on a gang back in Belfast and there and then in the circumstance we found ourselves we could surely have mirrored him to deadly consequence but that just wasn’t what we were about. As much as we thanked the Universe for the length of the incident not being long enough for us to have committed what our father had bred into us and not to be standing metaphorically on top of that hill surrounded by a number of bloody bodies, victorious although in a moral ambiguity of having proved the point. The point being; you’re just not going to walk around the corner and have a go at us. No matter whom you are. But the last curse of the moment was, to have some idiot standing around the police shouting insults.
That kind of dampened the victory of just having survived and left me wondering if after all would it not have been better just to have accepted those labels. And done the business. We were carrying a well earned authority of the world around with us which had tempered us, and from which we had been tested on other numerous occasions. I’d say that our travels had been a more severe test, in the long term though, than this, but it didn’t feel like that at the time. Still, there are a lot of stupid people out there and no matter what wisdoms you gather or how well you speak of your adventures or even if you’ve encountered such situations like this before, it is still most annoying coming across such worthless types of human beings. It’s a credit to our characters I must add though, everything in that almost ten years we survived and in no other place than on the streets. And, there had been a lot of stuff to survive. It did seem like the incident went on forever but in reality the police as useless as they were, were fast on showing up and the local Hospital patched us up.
Needless to say but the little Scrabble game never got opened again, only relatively recently, after nearly 5 years of using the internet, and finally we came across online Scrabble on Facebook. This little travel set stayed on our persons for about a year after that incident until in 96 when we got our first address off the streets, then it went into a corner somewhere and for more than 10 years we forgot it was even there.
At the moment I’m playing this guy Malang who I found on Facebook, while enjoying my private area of peace and quiet to think up my moves. Irritated a little because the brother and I only have one cabled internet connection between us, so I don’t get that many games. Malang is one of those good strategist and I was very surprised when he beat me after I’d scored 134 points with the word Qawwali on a triple, putting me quite a bit ahead.
By way of interesting trivia the Great Game of Scrabble was invented in 1938 by Alfred Mosher Butts an American. Born April 1899 he created the game from an earlier game he had invented called Lexiko. This was the same as Scrabble, tiles, value system and such which Alfred had meticulously worked out by analysing cross word games from The New York Times. Although the invention came along at a time towards the end of The Great Depression when America would have needed some cheering up, sadly it wasn’t going to be until 1952 that his invention would get it’s big break. In 1948 James Brunot of Newtown Connecticut bought the rights to manufacture the Game in exchange for granting Butts a royalty on every unit sold. He was also responsible for changing the name to Scrabble. In 1949 Brunot and his family made sets in a converted former School house in Dodgington, a section of Newtown, they made 2400 sets but lost money. Yet, in 1952 unable to meet demand Brunot sold manufacturing rights to a Long Island based Company Selchow and Righter and the rest is history. Alfred Mosher Butts died on April 4th 1993 he had lived long enough to see his Game sold in the millions and even a short run T.V show on NBC. As of today the Game is sold in a 121 countries in 29 different languages, 150 million sets have been sold worldwide and sets are found in one out of every 3 American homes.