Dearest Readers, I know many of you are bridge players and you're wondering about our experiences playing bridge in the UK so far.
Well, I can tell you it's pretty much the same as back home! We always have a great time if there's a bridge game involved. I've now played three times at the Oxford Duplicate Bridge Club; and then on Sunday Robin and I drove into London for a special bridge event: a commemorative Swiss Pairs game + "a sumptuous Afternoon Tea" at the Wimbledon Bridge Club. We found the players at the Wimbledon Club friendly, welcoming, and of varying bridge abilities.
On the way home, Robin educated me on the difference between "High Tea" and "Afternoon Tea." It's the latter that is fancier, and many visitors consider it a special experience while in the UK. "Afternoon Tea" at the Ritz in London costs £72 (~$88)!
I mistakenly believed "High Tea" meant something even more posh, but no - that's a term to indicate a plainer and more hearty meal, what Americans might call supper. Historically, the upper class took Afternoon Tea to tide them over until a late dinner, while the working class would have High Tea as their evening meal, eaten much earlier.
But even a bargain Afternoon Tea is a treat, and the Bridge Club apparently has a chef on staff much beloved by the players. We could see why! We played 36 deals and at the halfway point, each table received a delicious platter of finger sandwiches (egg, cheese, salmon, or chicken - no crusts); currant scones hot from the oven, served with strawberry jam and clotted cream; and a slice of cake. Of course there were many teas to choose from but as a non-tea drinker, I was happy to savor the food.
We haven't enjoyed the Oxford club quite as much. I found a great partner, an American college student here for junior year abroad. But the games have been rushed, with the Director hovering and exhorting people to play faster. In one round of the game I played with Robin, we had just finished Board 3 out of 5, and there was some confusion over how many tricks had been won by Declarer. The four of us were having a cordial discussion to reach agreement on the correct score, when the Director rushed over and harshly told us to stop talking and start playing the next hand. Now really! This Director had never seen Robin or me before - what if we had been novices? We would have left with tears in our eyes never to return. And it's so unnecessary! We ended up finishing our round with 6 or 7 minutes to spare.
There's a delicate balance in competitive bridge between serving the interests of the competition (keeping to the time limits, following the rules); vs. keeping it fun and friendly enough to appeal to players of all levels. A sensitive and sophisticated Director can do both at once. I have more to say on this matter, but will save it for another time.
Meanwhile, there is a bright light at the Oxford Bridge Club named Charlie B. Twice now he has invited me and my partner to join him and his friends for lunch at the pub and a review of the deals after the Friday morning game. Charlie is a professional player and teacher, and his "audience" enjoyed hearing his wise advice about the difficult hands. Robin and I also enjoyed a special wine-tasting and bridge game organized by Charlie last week. With any luck, I'm going to recruit him to co-teach a class with me online this winter - stay tuned! Meanwhile, we will continue to visit various bridge clubs and tournaments when we're not too busy sight-seeing. Nothing can deter us from the best game in the world!