Maurice Legg
 Chapter  6 …Senior school

    Unlike John, I was not particularly good at this school. John was at or near the top of his class whilst I languished in the middle of the “ B ” form. I lived in my head and read mostly adventure stories dreaming that I was a hero from one of them. John was held up as a little genius and, in any comparison, I fared poorly. He was not only good at school work and sports but was outgoing and made friends easily especially, it seemed to me, with girls. He was going to be a school teacher: I didn’t have any idea ( people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up -as if I had a choice- and my answer I’m told was “A Gentleman” ) I imagined myself as a successful adventurer like Biggles, later Hannay of the John Buchan novels, dressed in a trench coat and a battered trilby chewing a match. Or travelling in luxury liners with my faithful batman, solving the world’s problems by force if necessary. I was the James Bond of my day.

     I never imagined being married – the films we saw in those days were romances with Nelson Eddy and Jeanette Macdonald or extravaganzas like Broadway Follies of 1930 in which the characters all sang to each other. Since I couldn’t sing that was not attainable. I could have used some sex education!

     One pivotal event for me was success in the 11+ exam and I’ve described that already. Now for the second! The new Maths teacher, when I was 13, was Mr Kinzl, a Czech refugee, who also was a distinguished Chess Grandmaster and Czech champion who’d played Alekhine, Keres and all those great players. We had a chess club at school but we were completely untutored – we knew the moves and little else. One of Mr Kinzl’s first actions was to play the 30 chess players simultaneously. He walked from board to board around the main assembly hall where we all sat as if in an exam. He made a move then went on to the next board and by the time he came back you were ready with your next move. I don’t remember too much about my game but I clearly remember that at a late stage, by which time he had beaten most of the others, I was still in there with a chance and the headmaster and most of the school staff were gathered round watching my game. Mr Kinzl made a slip, I “forked” his queen with my knight and he resigned. He was not a man who would make a deliberate error!

     The other 29 boys lost!  “Boys Own” stuff and I was someone for a few minutes. I subsequently played about 500 games with Mr Kinzl, usually simultaneously with one or two other keen players, losing 487, winning 12 because he made indifferent moves, and beating him once fairly and squarely. He said that I could become a Master if I practiced. And practice I did to the detriment of school work. I sat next to Henry Thompson and we secretly passed pieces of paper with chess moves back and forth. Henry was the second best chess player in the school but the best scholar by far. His father had died and he was brought up by his mother who couldn’t support him through university. He worked down the pit for a while then went to the OUP (Oxford University Press) He died in his forties but not before becoming B.B.C. Brain of Britain ! The waste still brings tears to my eyes.

     I intend to wring out a few lessons from my chess experiences. I asked Mr Kinzl why he didn’t let me win occasionally. He said “You’re asking me to play badly and then you’ll never learn to play well”. Chess is not a game but is above all a metaphor for life. The ancient Greeks played it. Tarrasch called his autobiography “My Struggle”. A great artist, Marcel Duchamp, of Urinal fame, changed Art for ever and then gave up painting in favour of Chess. The story goes that on his honeymoon his wife glued his chess pieces to the board so that she could get his attention. Understanding chess is to realise that the sole point of the game is to win. Preferably elegantly! Unlike most “games” there can be no excuses for losing - no team is involved, no muscles to train, no headwinds or tides, no manual skills to learn - you play in your head and that’s it. If you’re not absolutely determined to win, you lose. As Reagan said “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser”. I played very little after I left school for a variety of reasons; I didn’t have the leisure time nor good opponents in the air force and other challenges took over. But I never lost sight of the importance of winning and I never gave up on anything in life when there was any hope that I could turn the “game” around.

    Three months before the “School Certificate” exam, Mr Kinzl said to the chess players “There will be no more chess played in this school until after the exams. You will study” I think the source of the edict was the headmaster. Suddenly we had 6 Hours or so free to read school books instead of playing chess and the result was salutary. My exam results took me from 15th in the “B” form to near the top of the   “A“ form: I had distinctions in Maths and Physics, Credits in Chemistry (and also first in school), Shakespeare, English Language, and in Art which I was always good at.  These results gave me “Matriculation”) i.e. entrance into a university. In a teasing note attached to the postcard bringing the results, the headmaster asked whether I would be returning to school. This was not planned at all and there was a storm of excitement at home. As Grahame Greene has commented “There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in”.  My parents would dearly love me to go to university but John was in college already and there was some doubt about where the money to keep me on at school and then to university would come from. In those days there was little financial support and only about 3% of children went on to University unlike the 50% targeted today. But whatever the cost it was settled quite quickly that I would take that path. As Yogi Berra says “if you come to a fork in the road, take it”

Chapter 7 … Some consequences of World War 11 

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