Games People Play: Dom Antony Sutch, 48, Headmaster, Downside School

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The Independent Culture
FOR MANY years, my father worked in Baghdad, where he and my mother met an American woman called Trixie-Flo. We have an expression in the family which comes from Trixie-Flo: "I sure gave him the brush-off; brother, did he lay an egg", which was her way of saying that she had been rude to somebody, or put them in their place. And I think it was she who gave my mother a wonderful ivory mah-jong set.

It was a very beautiful set, so we thought we had better learn how to play it, and I was amazed when I went to Downside as a boy of 13, to find that a couple of the monks played (sadly, Father Wulstan, the last of the mah-jong-playing monks, is ex terra vivae). I haven't played for 20 years, but in Hong Kong, where my brother lives, they bet blocks of flats of mah-jong games.

The other game I used to play was called "Queen". When I came back to England to go to school, I would always spend a few days with my maternal grandmother. We would each have a pack of cards, and it was all to do with getting your queen on top of a pile. We would make up our own rules, and play for small stakes, and I know my grandmother always let me win, which stopped me feeling homesick when I went off to school with a pocketful of halfpennies.

I suppose I have gone on to middle-class bridge, which my mother also played. Very much what we call "Sutch" bridge, which means that whenever a person is wearing glasses, you can see their hand, and you talk a great deal so that you put the opposition off.

My mother used to have hysterics, and my father refused utterly ever to play with her again after one particular game. She didn't take it seriously, but she always won.

Downside may be contacted by phone on 01761 235100 or by fax on 01761 235105

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