27 July 2015

What does a little girl want with chess?

When I was about 6, my parents and I moved back to Gants Hill in East London after having been evacuated during the war. After we returned, we began regularly visiting my maternal grandparents’ house in Forest Gate. I believe that the incident I am about to describe happened soon after our return, and that this was my uncle Harry’s first meeting with me in the new context. I had never played chess and did not know anything about it. Uncle Harry* was captain of the Essex County chess team and played in tournaments. He also played postal chess with people in other countries.

On one occasion when I visited my grandparents’ house with my mother, Uncle Harry (who lived in the house) sat down with me and started to play chess with me. It took me a little time to get the hang of the rules, and I occasionally made moves which were not permissible. Uncle Harry allowed me to correct them and continue the game. From time to time I had to ask him to remind me what moves were possible for a particular piece.

Uncle Harry told me the rules for playing in tournaments. You had a certain amount of time to think about making your next move. If you touched any of your pieces, you then had to move that piece before the end of the allotted time, or lose the game.

After some time of this, my mother came and said she was wanting to go home, so I should stop playing and come with her. Uncle Harry did not demur or suggest quickly finishing the game. I went away looking forward to playing with him again the next time I came.

When I again visited my grandparents’ house, I immediately asked Uncle Harry to play chess with me. He was unresponsive at first, so I persisted, and he finally answered in a very rebuffing way, saying ‘what do little girls want with chess?’ I had been looking forward to playing chess so much that I burst into tears.

My grandfather, trying to console me, started to offer me books from his library which might appeal to me, climbing up his library stepladder to do so. I accepted the books and thanked him, but was still crying quietly. After we left, my mother took me to visit my father at the school where he was teaching, to tell him that Uncle Harry had refused to play chess with me. I was treated by my parents as if I needed to be cheered up, to help me ‘get over it’, but neither my father nor my mother suggested getting me a chess set or a book explaining how the rules of chess worked.

Uncle Harry never played chess with me again.

It may be noted that the people involved in this incident – my parents, grandfather and Uncle Harry – all had very high IQs (over 160 at least) but appeared to be worried by the possibility of someone demonstrating an even higher IQ. In retrospect, I regard the incident as another illustration of the fact that people were usually threatened by my IQ and did not want me to have opportunity to show it.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position.
I need people to provide moral support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

* Harry Cleare, brother of Dorothy Green (née Cleare), my mother