Backgammon time machine

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June 27, 2013 by anelim

I played backgammon today, first time in years. It was like a time machine to my childhood and adolescence. Thanks, M! I don’t remember when I first learnt how to play backgammon – which in Bulgarian we call tabla – I must have been 7 or 8. I know that I learnt how to play cards earlier than that. But cards had a bad reputation in my family (by this I mean mainly for my mother), so I felt proudly rebellious, taking them out of the Rothmans box on dad’s shelf (the Rothmans box did nothing to ameliorate the bad reputation of the cards) and quietly slipping them back in after playing a few patiences or a round of ‘war’. One of my many small preteenage rebellions. Backgammon was different. It had less of the bad ‘idle’ reputation that cards got. In fact, it was a semi-intelligent game, a half-chess. After much nagging I learnt it either from my father, or from some seafarers on one of the several ships on which my father sailed in the late 1980s-early 1990s (Veliko Tarnovo, Vassil Aprilov, Verila or Sozopol). I realise that their names make no difference for you, but for me these ships are anchors in time in our family history. My childhood time didn’t have all that many exciting points on which to hang my memories, and my dad’s ships are one such important type of memory anchor. Backgammon is not an anchor, it’s rather a spotlight which makes certain other memories around its centre more visible. For example, I can bodily (I meant vividly, but I like the autocorrected version ‘bodily’) recall details surrounding a few such backgammon games which took place in the early 1990s. The small hot wooden bench in front of the ship’s platform surrounded by a motley crew of old chairs. The encouraging voices of the kibitzi (Bulgarianised Turkish for ‘idle onlookers’): kalytch! Dyushesh! Biy i byagay!The indescribable feel and homely sound of metal l constantly vibrating beneath and around you, in your insides. The slippery salty chafing green paint of the ship’s carcass. The intent face of the other player – an elderly boatswain in his 50s who in his spare time made mini models of ships (elderly? he had some white hair and I was ten). The white shorts that my mother had sown for me and the T-shirt I wore, the hot smell of salt in the air, the breeze. The acute awareness of almost precise time in relation to the daily cycle of six 4-hour workshifts (watches). These backgammon-spurred memories are like mini handles to tiny windows each allowing me access to a very small, but high-definition memory scrap – itself occasionally connected to other memories.

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