Teaching my Grandson Three-Card Brag

Last week, we answered an urgent call to babysit, or ‘boysit’ as Jonathan used to insist on back in the 1970s. Indio, 12, was coming home from school to a dad working very late, mum having driven the older brother 200-odd miles to a fencing competition in Manchester. Instead, we looked after him until after 10. You don’t need to look after a 12-year-old all that much, basically fuel him with grub, monitor his ration of computer and TV, then off to bed.

He invited me to his room where I received a recital on his guitar, which I thought was a classical piece but apparently was a bass accompaniment or something. When he mentioned Green Day, I got animated, eager to show my credentials.

‘Green Day, I know them.’
‘Yeah, sure you know Green Day,’ he said.
‘Yes, they’re folk–punk. Or is it the other way round? They started in the 1970s.’

He corrected me on the right balance of folk and punk, but there was no doubt of the admiration in his eyes. (None of which, I must say, is engendered when I have asked him about the Beatles, which attracts a snort.) Little did he know that only a fortnight previously, I had interviewed a 22-year-old assistant curator for the museum where I work, and Green Day are the light of her life.

Having stamped a degree of authenticity on my presence in his world, I retired downstairs to my New Statesman in which, although Green Day was absent, there was a sufficiency of my own form of modernity to assure me at least of my existence.

After dinner, we three sat, ate and chatted, then he watched some TV, in my book American soap junk over-laughed every few seconds by a demented recording. Not something we could exercise control over for he is a well-behaved lad and knows what he is allowed to watch, and what not. So we left him to it, until he asked if he could play chess.

I’m rather proud that I taught both grandsons chess, when as a child I taught myself from books; I knew neither of my grandfathers. The one game we played I am afraid I won, since I’ve given up losing to the kids on purpose. Is it dishonest to provide a kindness based on a falsehood? I think of other, grown-up episodes of my life. After that we played cards, a bit of knockout whist, rummy,  innocent blackjack.

‘Have you ever played three-card brag?’ I asked.
‘No.’
‘It’s easy, how much money to you have?
His eyes widened.
‘It’s all right, you can play with your pocket money and owe me if I win.’

No, no he said and kept on saying it. I said that my Dad made me play for money. Then he rushed to the games drawer again and produced an impressively big case of gambling chips, some with 1,000 on them, which did all right. Now, Indio it’s three of a kind best hand, with three-threes tops, right down to a high card, but the thing about brag is that you can bet without looking at your cards and force your opponents to bet double your amount, and they can neither raise nor see you. He got hold of it pretty quickly especially when we both went blind and I chickened out, seeing him first. Reminded of my dissolute HND days at Stockport College, lunchtime at the Nelson; my grant provided a modicum of fun after food and rent, but sadly, at brag I rarely came out on top. And not much better in the army a couple of years previously, when all-found employment provided more dosh to lose.

Back to boysitting. It was not so much the games as the nattering, bridging the sixty-one years between us. Lovely. Soon it was his bedtime which involved his goodnight ritual, precisely at 10 o’clock. Even got a hug and a kiss.

‘Nice to see you, Indio.’
‘And you too, granddad.’

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