The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold: A plucky little winner

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The Independent Online
'HOW easy it is to be wise after the event.' This is a motto that should, in my opinion, be stamped with a steaming hot iron upon the foreheads of all those wretched armchair critics who seek to belittle the extraordinary achievement of Britain's very own Nigel Short, the little lad from Lancashire.

Nigel has, by any stretch of the imagination, played quite remarkably well - brilliantly, even - against the dread Russian Kasparov, who is now visibly wilting under the pressure. In every single game they have played, Kasparov has been outclassed time and time again, by the sheer temerity and intellectual stamina of the Battling Briton. Yet these supercilious critics will simply not acknowledge the fact, preferring to play the easy 'numbers game' and to point to the misleading final scores, so as to suggest that Kasparov is ostensibly 'winning'.

Yet one need only observe their 'Body Language' (dread expression]) to see which of the two players is the more confident. The nervy Russian sits there, crouched and tense, terrified of yet another bruising from his unforgiving opponent. Meanwhile, Nigel remains the very picture of calm, occasionally raising an eyebrow as he asks himself a question vital to the mechanics of the game ('Is the horsie the one that goes sideways?') but otherwise just sitting back and enjoying himself, allowing the swotty, earnest foreigner to sweat it out.

From the point of view of the audience in the Savoy Theatre - often well into double figures, incidentally - there is no question as to who is the rightful victor. For sheer bravura and good sportsmanship, it simply has to be Nigel, with the untrustworthy Russian trailing way behind. So why do so many armchair critics write as if witnessing an entirely different game, a game in which British pluck countsfor nothing?

As is by now widely known, I am a very close friend of Nigel and he greatly values the intellectual rigour I bring to bear on the game. O'er the past three weeks, I have been at hand to offer encouragement and advice ('whatever you do, keep off those little white squares at all costs') whenever they are needed. Recently, when the pressure has been turned up, and Nigel has seemed a little dejected, I have calmed him down, infecting fresh confidence into his veins with a number of 'Handy Hints'. For instance, at one stage his critics began ruthlessly juggling the figures in an attempt to 'prove' that Nigel had yet to win a single game. I put my arm around him and offered him my frank advice: why not see if the dread Kasparov might agree to switch to Cluedo or, my own personal favourite, 'Beggar My Neighbour', a thrilling game for two or more players involving quick wits, a good shouting voice and a lot of laughs? Though Nigel did not take my advice, he certainly felt the better for it, and the next day he lost his match with even more pluck than usual.

In my capacity as the challenger's financial adviser, I have also had the bright idea of inviting a select handful of big-name 'celebrities' along to the Savoy Theatre to inject a little glamour into the proceedings. A fortnight ago, the Princess of Wales was good enough ('Morning, Wallace') to pop her head around the door, and since then I have received firm acceptances from Major Ronald Ferguson, The Rt Hon David Mellor MP, Miss Cynthia Payne, and the immortal Reg Varney of On the Buses fame. All the above-named personages have, you will realise, vast personal followings. I calculate that when their fans get to hear of their enthusiasm, we will be on course to sell enough seats to fill the first two or even three rows, particularly if, as I have suggested, Kasparov agrees the switch to a potent mixture of Deck Quoits and Gin Rummy.

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