Sunday, March 12, 2006

(189) Finding a chess café in Spain or London

At about 8:40 on the evening of March 9th 2003 I walked into an Easynet café in London’s Strand with the primary intent of sending an e mail to offer some advice to the solicitors representing Major Charles Ingram, who stood accused of cheating on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?.

At the entrance they were selling food. The computers were in a separate place behind.
I moved into that sector and saw that the guy directly in front of me as I walked towards their computers was playing on the Internet Chess Club.
Like me, he had a travelling bag with him.
I sat down next to him and introduced myself.

Erik Martin Laborda was a thirty-one year old from Madrid now living in Hither Green. He had been working in the oil business for some months for a London firm called Shielders, having previously been based for a while in Ashford, Kent. He had travelled from Heathrow airport having just arrived back from visiting his parents in Mallorca. He had become interested in internet chess since following the chess interest of an ex-flat mate. Now he said that he had become hooked and for the past three months had been logging on whenever he could.

He was very surprised to meet a Grandmaster, and explained that he wanted to learn more about the London chess scene; clubs, cafés, teachers, etc. He had a handle on ICC; romgir, so he was one of their over 20,000 registered handles , someone paying an annual fee to access the site ad lib, and not just a guest. Guests could log on for half an hour’s free play whenever.

I said that I could provide him with information on all of the matters about which he inquired, and added that I had been a frequenter of chess cafés in London, but that I was not sure exactly where to go these days for that kind of action.
I even offered my own services as an online teacher of chess, which he accepted.

To commemorate the coincidence of our encounter I then handed him a signed copy of Coincidences.

On March 17th 2003 I gave him his first lesson; with him in London and I at a place called Punta Prima, about a kilometre from our new home in Playa Flamenca, Spain, where we had moved in July 2002.

At 4:30p.m. on March 24th 2003 I began a one hour chess lesson with Dr Antonio Palma, of Bari, Italy. I commenced it from The Mail Room, a place offering internet access by the beach at Playa Flamenca.
But at 5 p.m. they closed, so I had to conclude by walking over to a place about a kilometre away in Punta Prima; the same spot from where I had given Erik his lesson the previous week.

The inability of the Spanish telephone system to supply us with internet access, plus a lorry having recently destroyed my car, necessitated this. (On March 27th we at last got on the internet at our home.)

As I arrived in Punta Prima, circa 5:20 p.m. I recognised Al-Helil Munir Saleh ("Manu"), the former owner of the Café Mozart in London.

I had not seen him since November 1997 when we had attended the funeral of another aficianado of his chess café; Michael Knox.
He explained that in March 2002 he had bought a house in Villa Martin, about two kilometres from where I now lived, and that on March 15th 2003 he had opened a restaurant called Los Años 20s, the first building on the Punta Prima corner.
Prior to that those premises had been closed for two years.
(See the card details at the head of this Entry.)

Neither of us had any notion that the other had even been thinking about moving to Spain.

He still owned the Café Mozart but leased it out. It had changed hands several times since I had stopped going there in the mid 1990s and was now no longer the scene of chess activity.

The only chess activity that would now transpire at Los Años 20s was when I or my son played Manu there, as in this photo -
I recommenced Dr Palma’s ("nightflier") lesson, and during it Erik Laborda sent me a message. He asked about the guy who ran a London chess café, whom I had mentioned when we had met, and whether he was still running it.

I explained that a few minutes earlier I had met him again, after a gap of six years, that he was now less than a hundred metres from me and had nine days before opened a restaurant and café where something of a chess scene might well soon exist again.

The next day I gave Manu a copy of Coincidences.
A few weeks later a Spanish woman, whom he had nearly married some twenty years earlier, visited him, took a liking to the book, and departed with it.

So I gave him a second copy.

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