Even when the sun shone at my grandparents’ house we would put up the card table to play Mahjong with our Granny. We were evenly matched, my sister, brother and I, and, although we had no betting and played slowly and carefully, there was just as much competition as in the noisy games played in the doorways in London.
We built walls, to keep the enemy out, with beautiful bamboo tiles that clinked and slid under our fingers. Then we collected runs and sets and special favours, giving no quarter to our opponents. How I longed to pick up an intricately painted flower or the tropical bird of the one-of-characters; and how hard to disguise the disappointment when I drew another set of circles.
We played game after game, comparing scores and remembering scores from the day before, until Granny announced it was time for tea. Then we ate sticky cream buns and reviewed our strategies for tomorrow.
My dad always said I had reactions as quick as a cat’s when I was young. On rainy afternoons we would gather with our friends and play Racing Demon. For those who have never played, Racing Demon is like Solitaire played against other people at top speed. On the floor or on the table? The floor was best, it gave you more opportunity to lunge and grab.
‘Start off by counting your pack of cards, you never know if the person before you has cheated and hidden a card under the rug.’
Some packs of cards were better than others, slidey or slippery to speed the process of turning over, or with patterns of tears on the back so we soon learned the face value.
‘Get your cards ready, sit on your knees ready to lean over the circle, then … go!’
Everyone focused, watching what the others were putting down and slamming cards down in the middle.
‘Work quickly, the quicker you turn the more you’ll get out. Keep your eye on the queens, then with your king in your hand dart it under your opponent’s and shout ‘king!’ with glee.’
We played until our concentration started to wain and our knees got sore, then sprawled on the floor unpicking our wins.
The pub by our house had a games room for those underage and we would meet up with friends and have lemonade and toasted cheese sandwiches made in a new-fangled machine. The room was stark, with dingy red walls and half a dozen hard wooden chairs, but the best thing about it was the table football game.
We would crash and spin the handles and cheer and groan loudly. When we played with a partner it was even noisier, as we shouted instructions and encouraging words to each other. We all thought we were the best as we flirted and jostled and tried out our teenage emotions, until the coins ran out and we drifted away.