Bridge memories: Liz McGowan

The Melville was my first bridge club. I joined in 1971, seeking a safe pastime while my husband-to-be was working in London. My mother was still living in Bathgate, but she had old friends in the MacKerrows; ‘Uncle Mac ‘had been my father’s best man. They proposed me for membership. A few days later I received a formal letter of acceptance from the Secretary, Sidney Milner, together with a Calendar of events.

There was a small problem: apart from the MacKerrows I knew no-one in the club.

I had learned bridge in a casual way at home with the family, and one of my favourite books was “Why you Lose at Bridge” by SJ Simon. I suspected that this did not properly prepare me for play in a club. I found a yellow paperback called “Bridge” by Terence Reese in a second-hand bookshop, an excellent read, but not enough to fill in all the gaps in my knowledge. My only option for a game seemed to be the cut-in rubber bridge on a Wednesday evening.

I plucked up my courage, downed a stiff whisky, and set off. The cut-in rubber was dying: there were just five of us. Betsy Mack was the only other woman, and she introduced me to the formidable Jean Macnair, who promptly fixed me up for a game with Sandy Duncan. Also present were David Brayford and Donald Sutherland.

Donald hailed from Kirkcudbright. He was finishing his teacher training at Moray House. He did not lack confidence, and really enjoyed playing against strong players from whom he could learn. He invited me to play with him in the National Pairs the following week. We sat North-South at table 7 of 14, which meant we had the relay boards. Inevitably, towards the end of the evening, we played the wrong set of boards. Luckily for us, our opponents were two internationalists, Jimmy Allan and Bill Mitchell. The wrath of the TD was diverted towards them when he realised they had already played the boards at another table. Why did they not recognise them? They were not having a great session and had decided to swop seats to see if that changed their luck. I suspect that even then that sort of thing was not acceptable.

We did not qualify for the National Pairs Quarter-finals. (There was a huge entry in those days and the East District ran six 12-pair quarter-finals with two to qualify from each to a combined East/Central semi-final.) Undaunted, we entered the Westchester Trophy, the club Mixed Pairs. This was a star-studded event: Tom Culbertson, Isobel Davidson, Hugh Kelsey, Bill Mitchell, Jean Macnair, Ronald Manson and Margaret Porteous were among those playing. The first evening we walked on water. There were no hand records in those days, but I remember playing a slam in the 4-3 spade fit instead of the lower-scoring 6-5 club fit; dropping an honour bared by Hugh Kelsey to avoid an endplay – he overestimated my ability; and unblocking a doubleton honour against Isobel Davidson’s 3NT – thanks to Terence – which she assumed must be a singleton. We left the club feeling that we had done all right. The following week, round two, Donald had to travel up from home. His car broke down just outside Moffat. I dashed down to pick him up and we arrived at the last minute. Ronald Manson greeted us with a: “Well, you can’t be caught”. I thought that was odd, and we duly scored below average in week two. But Ronald was right, as was his wont. That first session must have been my highest score ever, but I never found out exactly what it was! The Westchester Trophy is the only one engraved with my maiden name.

Memory fades, so I asked Donald if he had any comments or corrections? His reply was that he remembers that I was extremely thin! (Pre-children days and I smoked a lot.) He also remembers the severe looks I gave him when I thought he had done something wrong. (Wot, me? Surely not….) He also has a memory of my making 6C with a combined 33HCP but missing the ace and king of trump. Which you might think I would remember too…but I am afraid I do not.

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