Playing Cards As the Christmas season fast approaches, I’ve been thinking of what sort of things to look forward to at the hospice.  One is the expected visits from Luke.  Luke is currently a second year medical student, but supported the Day Hospice before his studies by being a very regular volunteer for over a year.  He still tries to come along whenever he can.

One of my memories is that of playing crib with Luke.  It wasn’t a card game with which he was familiar, but I have taught him all I know. I can hear you saying “That wouldn’t take long!” but I have played a fair bit.  I suppose my family started my interest in playing cards, and as the years went by I progressed from playing snap, patience and childhood games onto games like crib, solo whist, bridge and canasta. Certainly crib was a favourite with my parents, and that helped to prepare me for university life!  Whilst at Oxford, I played darts for a college team and we used to get away from college to play teams from some of the local pubs.  I’m talking now of venturing into romantic-sounding areas around Paradise Square, largely redeveloped these days, but then possessing a few traditional pubs where locals would play darts, crib and dominoes. It was not so bad playing darts for we could often hold our own.  However, it was a different matter with crib and dominoes where the typical age difference between ourselves and the regulars meant that we were usually lacking a vital 30 years or so of experience.  In consequence we were normally roundly trounced.  However, they were some enjoyable times.

After university, the demands of work, courting and marriage meant less opportunity for cards.  Nevertheless, I did develop Pat’s skills in crib, and we played sometimes in an evening:  after all, how else could newly-weds amuse themselves?  It meant that one Christmas period when we were visiting my parents, enjoying sitting around a cosy open fire, my father suggested that he and I should take on my mum and Pat at crib, best of three games. So we settled down to play, and much to dad’s chagrin the females won the first game.  On to game two, and blow me if mum and Pat didn’t see dad and me off with a second straight win!  This was too much for dad:  he was a typical Yorkshireman and thoroughly enjoyed games when his team was winning.  So he gathered the cards together, muttering darkly “there’s summat wrong with these cards”, and threw them on the fire!  He swore that it was all in fun, but I have always thought that it went deeper than that.

Well fortunately there are no open fires at the hospice, because Luke proved to be a very responsive pupil, and we have had some very good and close games, by no means one-sided. There is no way in which I would attempt to summarise the scoring system in crib, but in essence it is a game won by the first player or team to reach 121.  Scores are recorded by pegs in a peg board, and it will typically take quite a few hands for one side to win.  On the way there may be times when the scores are level (level pegging) before the target of 121 is reached by one side (pegging out). Of course, there are occasions when one player may be helped by a run of good hands, but generally the good fortune will balance itself out over the course of a game, and the skill lies in playing your own cards well including trying to limit your opponent’s scoring opportunities. Well, Luke and I have had some really good games, including one where we were both only one or two points from home, having alternated the lead several times on the way.  In the event, I pegged out first but it is the closest game that I can ever remember playing.

All this reminiscing stems from a rather sleepless night which I experienced recently, and it was further developed as I lay there as I went back in time to my childhood days.  My mum was a keen bridge player and met up with friends to play each week for years. In the hall, she had a plaque on the wall which said “Life ain’t a matter of holding good cards but of playing a poor hand well”.  (I think this is probably derived from something articulated by the eighteenth century French philosopher Voltaire: “Each player must accept the cards life deals him.  But once they are in hand, he alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.”)

At the time I was young enough to interpret this merely in the context of her bridge playing, but I have come to realise that it is really quite profound.  Certainly as I look around me at the folks attending the Day Hospice I realise its truth.  I guess that we could all say that life has given us a pretty poor deal, but the wonderful thing is that nobody does: they simply get stuck in and make the best of their situation.  In doing this, we are helped enormously by the love and support of all the staff and volunteers at the hospice:  what an incredible source of encouragement!

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