From Pride to Poker


Time is a game played beautifully by children. Heraclitus 535 – c. 475 BC

Several years ago, before the pandemic took us all by storm, a motley crowd of people, some straight, some gay, some wistful and some something else, made their way through the crowded throng that is Brighton Pride. We knew each other because some of us were friends, some of us had belonged to the same church, and some of us were just there for the experience… like life itself. At the end of the walk we were all a bit wilty. The crowd gives one a lot of energy, but if one is in the parade, the noise, the dancing and the sights and sounds are a real blast to the senses.

And so afterward we sat down to lunch in our old kitchen and made merry, and discovered that irrespective of our diversity, we were all interested in each other, and this was hardly surprising. One was an interior designer, another a specialist decorator, another a musician and homeopath, another a homeopath, another a master tailor, another a documentary film maker and another an interfaith minister and writer. Total seven.

Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well. Jack London 1876-1916

And as the conversation unfolded, it turned out that one of our number, apart from a great many diverse passions, which we all had, was an enthusiastic Poker player. Now games already featured amongst some of us, who play a vicious and brilliant form of Canasta. English Canasta is a sad and sorry game, but the Italian variety is fascinating, demanding and highly addictive. I believe it’s called Samba here, and I have only met one individual outside Italy who knew this version, and she was a games aficionado. But Poker is another mindset completely, and another realm. So on that Pride day, a new arrival, on observing that the kitchen table, offered us all a chance to learn how to play… and so she did.

When luck joins the game, cleverness scores double. – Yiddish Proverb

It is extraordinary how a pack of cards (or three in the case of Italian Canasta) produce such different games that call on different parts of the brain, and test different parts of the soul. For example, we play Poker for small sums of money, sufficiently small not to make anyone feel miserable, but money nevertheless. This has been a challenge to me because my mother came from grinding poverty, and had witnessed something nasty in her childhood that gave her an aversion to games played for money. This has affected me a bit, so I needed to get over my parental prejudice. That said because poker is so different to the other games we play, I can see that this is a game where different fairies and abilities rule — like observation, deduction, calm, an eye for detail, quick thinking, slow thinking, memory, and patience, to name but a few.

And so, since that moment, some years ago, we have played Poker, all seven of us. We have played during the pandemic on Zoom cramped in our attic and various diverse places in Sussex; we have played round our kitchen table (which was the inspiration behind the game in the first place) and more recently we have played in a glamorous penthouse flat beside the sea. We play everywhere.

So what is my conclusion? That games when played in the spirit of merriment have to be a good thing, so long as they are not taken too seriously… very much like life itself.

Some wise-cracking-crackpot stand-up comedian once said: I stayed up one night playing poker with tarot cards. I got a full house and four people died.

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