Saturday, 25 April 2009


I love backgammon. I have a palm pilot I theoretically use as a diary and address book but really I mostly use it to play backgammon. In the four years or so I've had my palm, I've played nearly 14,000 games, which works out to be about 10 games per day. I win three times more games than the computer does, so I think I'm pretty good at it, but playing a computer isn't the same as playing against a person, so I might not be as good as I think!

I love the feel of a decent backgammon set. My dad taught me to play when I was about 10 or so. He had a set about the size of a briefcase, leather with large pieces made of something like toughened glass, heavy in my palm and making a satisfying 'clinck' when they touched. The brown pieces were the colour of chocolate and my sister and I used to pretend they were mint slice biscuits, our favourite! When you opened the set the fragrance of the leather would drift up and I would breathe deeply, delighting in the smell.

When I went to Turkey on holiday a few years ago, I decided to go for a walk, by myself for a change! I wanted to investigate the small bazaar that was near our hotel without having to chase after my daughter. I passed by the numerous carpet shops (having already been sucked into buying something lovely but probably completely overpriced) not stopping because once you stop the shopkeeper will invite you in for tea and you will be there for hours! I admired the lamp shops with their beautiful coloured glass supported by ornate ironwork. There were jewellry shops with gold and silver and I browsed a little. There were shops selling exquisite fabrics with vivid colours and unusal motifs. I passed by a small shop selling all sorts of bits and peices, the kind that might hold some hidden treasure. I admired a glass tea set in the window and decided to have a look inside. More tea sets, small figurines, games... then I noticed a backgammon set. It was made of some heavy wood inlaid with brass. Inside, more brass and timber inlay and I was captivated. The smell of the wood, the workmanship. Just delightful. I commented to the shopkeeper how beautiful the set was, and how much I loved to play backgammon. He was very surprised, because in Turkey women don't usually play backgammon so he invited me to play a game.

He poured me some tea and we sat and played. And played. And played! Initally the games were slow and considered, as we got to know each other's styles. It was the first time in years I'd played against a real person so it was a learning curve for me. Eventually we started playing 'speed' games, where players throw the dice and move within seconds so each game may only last two or three minutes. We had such fun, calling out with excitement at a fortuitous roll or a skillful move, clapping and congratulating one another.

I lost track of the time, until I realised I was starting to feel quite hungry. I mentioned the time and said I should go, but he insisted on making me something to eat. He invited me to the upstairs part of the shop. Little alarms started ringing, but he had been so generous and we had really enjoyed playing together, I found it impossible to refuse without seeming rude so I went upstairs. He made me a modest dinner which we ate together and as I relaxed paradoxically my shoulders started to tense up. He noticed and offered a massage. More alarms, but I couldn't see how to refuse without seeming rude. He really was perfectly mannered and there was no hint of anything untoward.

He asked me to lie facedown on the couch. The alarms were really quite loud now. Then he sat on me and massaged my shoulders. I was practically deafened by the bells in my skull and I had to ask him to stop. I thought "he's a muslim man, I'm a married woman, what sort of woman must he be thinking I am! I have to go, I have to get out of here. I've had fun but this could go somewhere I don't want it to go..." I asked him to stop and he did. He wanted to know what was wrong, and I was straighforward and honest and said I know you don't mean anything by it, but I don't feel comfortable. Please excuse me, I should go. We shook hands and I thanked him for the games and dinner. I went back to the hotel, and my husband was relieved because I'd been gone nearly 4 hours. I was very apologetic and explained I'd been playing backgammon and forgotten the time.

The next day we went back to the shop and I introduced my husband. We ended up buying the backgammon set, and the shopkeeper, Ozcan, offered to have us to dinner at his home. He cooked a lovely meal, then took me to a turkish bath that night (ladies only!) and my husband to a show with belly dancers the next night. I had felt very uncomfortable at first, but soon relaxed as he proved to be a very generous, friendly man. I never told my husband about what had transpired in the shop. I'm not sure why. I think sometimes how differently the situation might have panned out and I am grateful that the afternoon was what it was. A huge amount of fun playing a game I adore.

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