The Godfather: Peter Corris on playing patience
I’ve lately taken to playing patience – the one-handed card game known in the US and Canada as solitaire. With no skill at cards, this, along with Snap, is a game I can handle. But, as well as luck it does require vigilance, and for me, with poor eyesight and no peripheral vision at all, more vigilance than for most people, so it can be a challenge.*
The reason for the adoption of this diversion late-ish in life is apparent. In my retirement, unable physically to occupy myself as I have in the past (in between writing sessions) with longish walks, going to the gym and playing golf, time can hang heavy. Talking books and television help but I tire of them sometimes so being able to sit down quietly and lay out the cards is therapeutic. I can also listen to music as I do so – obviously not possible with the other sedentary pursuits.
As the names given to the game indicate, it is leisurely and solitary. Nothing infuriates a player more than having someone pass the table and suggest that the red queen can go on the black king, especially if the player has missed the move.
I played patience as a child, taught, I suppose by my mother, but scarcely at all for 50 years after that. When, for the first time, I laid out the cards in the way I remembered I found I’d forgotten some of the rules – such as the particular function of the king and other structural matters. I had to consult my daughter Ruth, an adept at the game, who straightened out a few things for me.
I learned from Wikipedia that the game was probably invented in Scandinavia or Germany. To while away time during long, dark winters, I thought. I also learned that there are many variations such as playing with two packs, as Mrs Rattery did, perfectly portrayed by Anjelica Huston in the excellent 1988 film of Evelyn Waugh’s extraordinary novel A Handful of Dust.
I play what I take to be the standard game with one pack, 28 cards laid out and with every third remaining card able to be played. The object is to finish with all cards ordered face-up from the ace down to the two (what the Americans call the deuce) arrayed in four lines in their suits. In the short time I’ve been playing I’ve yet to achieve this.
At the beginning, obviously, the chances of success go up if, say, aces appear face-up early and go down if too many of the cards are of low denomination and of the same colour. The interest lies in how a single move, the placing of a card from the deck in hand onto one of the lines, can change the whole picture and open up new opportunities.
So far, for me, all such hopes have been dashed, but I can remain involved and amused for an hour or so with something softly playing – something atmospheric, Edith Piaf maybe, or soothing, Willie Nelson singing standards. And getting up to pour a drink or make a cup of tea presents no problem. Not Cliff Hardy’s style of killing time, of course, but then, I never personally identified all that closely with him. I’m missing him though.
*I’m awaiting arrival of cards for vision-impaired people with the suits, numbers and pictures printed larger than normal. This should cut down my present problem of missing the right move at the right time.