The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix has been my source of entertainment this week. An orphan girl discovers life in an institution isn’t so mundane when she found the janitor playing chess by himself. She skips lessons and in-house movie sessions and finds every excuse to clean the blackboard dusters so that she can watch him play in the basement. During the day, she is addicted to thoughts about the game and she realises the white-and-green pills prescribed to calm the orphans’ behaviour somehow sharpens her mind to focus on chess. In bed, whilst the others are sleeping, she is looking up at the ceiling where the giant chess pieces are being moved by her mind – this is how she memorises the new moves, and searches for any flaws. Memories of my life as a young father flood my mind as I follow episodes 2 and 3. The journey my sons took in their pursuit of their passion are quite similar. The discovery of something that pulls at their hearts. An inextinguishable passion. An insatiable love, in their case, for music. Not just cello music, anything classical, and later, any music. Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, John Williams, Norah Jones, Adele even. The discovery of young talent, almost prodigious some said, is a beautiful feeling. Especially when it’s one’s own children. And then, the scary phase. What their teacher saw in them and believed to be their destiny seemed far-fetch and unimaginable. To extrapolate a young child’s passion to some irrational and ludicrous goal of national stardom was irresponsible, I felt then. It is a lot worse when there are two of them. “They are just kids!” I said. “Just let them play at their leisure, no goals, no pressure, just for fun”. “How can we be the fair and responsible parents we think we are if we dictate what their careers will be when they are only 6 years-old?” So many what-if’s. What if they lose their interest halfway? Will they have anything to fall back on? What if one does well and the other doesn’t? What if they both do well but we cannot afford either of them to pursue their dreams? What if we can only fund one but not both? What if we mortgaged our house but still come up short? What if business turns bad and we can’t afford the loan anymore? What if they are stranded midway? What if they lose interest? What if they mixed with the wrong crowd? What if they flopped and blame us for the gamble? The following year, their teacher, Mrs Yelland, enrolled them in a local Eisteddfod competition. “No! No competition!” The Mrs bellowed with a certain non-negotiable voice. “We are too busy, we work everyday. We can’t chauffeur them there and everywhere” she reasoned. Mrs Yelland, with her usual wit and alacrity, said she would do all that for them. “It will be fun for them!” she assured us. “I will buy them a cupcake at the deli”, as if that was all it would take to erase our anxiety. “What if they bomb out?” I asked myself. They don’t have to win a medal but for me it was equally imperative that they don’t permanently scar themselves from a disastrous experience. What if they break down on stage? What if they suffer a memory lapse? What if one wins and the other fails badly? Why teach them to compete with each other? What if both embarrass themselves? What if they are below par, not good at all? The best result I hoped for them was a draw for both. It did not matter about the placing. We got the next best result instead. One came first and the other second. The latter asked me for a can of gold Duplicolor paint from our auto shop on our way home. He insisted that he would spray-paint his silver medal. He was right, of course. They both deserved the gold medal. Call it a draw. Just like the story in The Queen’s Gambit, once they got the competition bug, they just kept winning. They defeated all and sundry, even those far older than them, even those in high school. Even those in uni. In their last Eisteddfod competition, they clinched the senior prize, as joint winners. The ideal result for them, finally. No, not for them. For me. Just like in the mini-series, I started a scrapbook to keep a record of their success. After that, there were lots of air travel to compete in the Young Performers’ Awards. Fondly known as the YPA, it remains the ultimate classical music competition for Australians. The national competition attracted people almost twice their age and included professionals too. One of my sons won the YPA, and soon after, the scrapbook became a drawer of media clippings and magazine write-ups which spilled over and became two drawerfuls. By the time they left for the UK, I needed a full-size travel luggage bag to keep them all. They left home at 15 to further their studies at a university in Queensland. The following year, our local university reversed their decision not to accept under-aged kids and provided them with full scholarships to entice them back. Little did the uni know that we did not need any enticements, as it was a big strain on us financially to fund their tertiary education away from home. For their postgraduate degree, they won a competition to study under a world-renowned pedagogue in the UK. That was a big deal, as the grand old master taught only 7 students a year. For both to be accepted, it meant the rest of the world could only muster 5 other students to be taught by him. Many of the what-ifs did not happen, and I am still grateful for that. Both of them managed to secure full scholarships for the majority of their time in the UK, I did not have to re-mortgage my house after all. OK, I just lied. I did take up a mortgage against the family house to fund their instruments. In those days, one stringed-instrument was as expensive as an average suburban house and a bow the price of a second-hand car. So, each of them was lugging the equivalent of a house and car on his back. Thankfully, The Mrs did not ever object to my “madness” as my mother called it. Ma, with immense exasperation, said I was out of my mind to put such a burden on myself but that was a father’s prerogative. A father’s gambit. How else could they have competed against the world’s best?
Not many world-class chess players risk their queen in opening moves. The Queen’s Gambit is similar to the Scandinavian Defense (1.e4d5) which features queen moves by Black on the second and third moves. But, instead of 1.e4d5, the Queen’s Gambit starts with 1.d4d5 followed by 2.c4 where White appears to sacrifice the c-4 pawn. But, can Black later protect its own pawn from this apparent advantage? Political manoeuvres and the deployment of strategies by our government officials to engage our allies and foe similarly require astute thinking and planning well before words are spoken and actions taken. This was not the case this week when Prime Minister Scott Morrison (aka Scomo) reacted to a mischievous tweet indulgently and without prior discussions with his cabinet team. The Brereton Report revealed war crimes committed by Australia’s SAS soldiers. 39 Afghans were killed, of whom some were tortured, and two teenagers had their throats slit. They called it blooding, the first-time killing of the enemy in a war. In this case, the murdered Afghans were used as props with enemy weapons placed on or near their bodies to depict them as killed in action. Scomo’s foolish reaction to the “repugnant” tweet by a middle-ranking Chinese official and his indignant demand for an apology from China is likened to President Xi admonishing a local Aussie city council official and demanding the nation’s apology for that private person’s behaviour. In chess parlance, Scomo made a Fool’s mate, the briefest checkmate delivered after an extraordinary blunder from a ill-disciplined bluster. After all, there is no denying the ADF personnel did commit abhorrent war crimes, and that the image tweeted was not a fake photo. Many in the media reported it as “digitally altered” but that does not mean it is not art. A piece of art that depicts a vulgar reality which then encourages analysis and in-depth discussions is good art, especially if it also resonates with the viewer and arouses emotions. There is absolutely zero chance that President Xi will reciprocate with an apology that was demanded by a very angry leader of a middle-power nation. So, why did Scomo make such an ill-advised move? Why ditch diplomacy and treat our biggest customer as our enemy?
China represents 48.8% of our exports. Why treat them like they are our enemy? China has said recently, “Treat us like your enemy and we will be your enemy”. Why did Scomo make a move that will only end in defeat? He demanded an apology, but that will not come. He demanded that Twitter takes down the tweet, but Twitter has not only ignored his demand but has not slapped a warning label on the tweet to say it is misleading or fake. He posted a lengthy message to the Chinese diaspora in Australia on WeChat but that has been removed by WeChat as they deem it to be misleading, distorting the truth and confusing the public. I suppose that is the PM’s gambit. But, his gamble spells economic disaster for his nation. Let us hope it will not also be a military disaster. See https://www.afr.com/policy/economy/china-hits-48-8pc-of-australian-exports-20200804-p55i9d