A Brief History of a Chess Club and Its Venues from Hell

I will start with a brief history of my club - Peterlee, which was founded on the 17th of October 1972. With five members present, A. Bell, W.Peverley, A.L.Bell, S.Storey and M.Stevens (none of whom play today)

I found the motion put forward by Mr Peverley to "accept women as members" quite amusing, It seems women's lib hadn't quite reached Neanderthal man in Peterlee! The motion was carried 3 for, 1 against and 1 abstention a "Victory" for womankind everywhere, though it was hardly a convincing result. It seems back in 72 things were run along Trade Union lines, I have an original agenda and it lists 31 'count em' points with another 27 sub points within those points!

I have been a member since 1993 and during my time at the club we have moved venue four times, I will not name these places, partly for legal, but mainly for self preservation reasons, so only those of you who have witnessed their beer stained and smoke filled delights will fully appreciate what I'm saying. For those lucky enough to have avoided these dens of 'Chessology' I will try to describe them in as much detail as you can stomach.

Turbulent toilets

A Wild West saloon accurately describes our first venue, now chess being the game that it is requires relatively quiet conditions for play, so where better to play than directly above the disco!

The toilets usually held a surprise or two you never knew what was in store, once there was a very "Beerstruck" youth having a heated debate with himself! As he leant (head first) against the cracked tiles above the urinal. Another time a guy asked me for a cigarette, I had never seen him before (or since) but I obliged as he had ‘psychiatric ward’ written all over him! You know the kind I mean, a bit stinky, shoddily dressed with crazy eyes and even crazier hair! (Ahh hair…I remember it well)

The entertainment wasn't confined to inside the building; there were many bouts of ‘pavement wrestling’ outside. I was informed that before my time at the club, one of the eight! Or so landlords had a dog which had the run of the place, and used our room to go ‘walkies’! A guy from Northampton, who was working at a local factory came to the club one night, stepped in you know what, and was never seen again! I asked what kind of dog it was, and club secretary Bill McGregor told me with his ‘arid’ sense of humour a 'Shiatsu!'

We could handle these small 'risks' because after all it was a free venue and the beer was relatively cheap. Everything was fine until the landlord popped in one evening and told us that the place was closing in a month's time, so the search was under way for a new (and more importantly free) venue.

On the move...

The next venue was again a club but the clientele were up market compared to the previous bunch, the room we had to play in was basically a cellar with seats, and a threadbare dartboard that looked like it was moulting. Instead of being above a disco, we were directly below a permanently noisy bar and entertainments lounge. Giving us the best (and worst) singers the north had to offer, if the entertainment met with the approval of the 'hard-nosed' elderly crowd they would stamp their feet and sing along.

The foot stamping always led to 'Earthquake' like conditions in our room. In the 18 months we played there two covers were eventually dislodged off the fluorescent lighting. The 'Singers' provided us with more laughs than any comedian could have ever hoped for. We would mark them out of ten, the vast majority of them scored less than five, we often wondered who told these poor misguided people that they could sing. In the words of Billy Connolly "they had voices like geese farting in the fog!"

Our 'Dungeon' also doubled as the male singers changing room, we told the club chairman the ladies would be more than welcome to get changed in our room but for some strange reason this offer was never took up! The noise was incredible, the faces of away team players when the singers booted up was great, a few were not best pleased, but us Chess-Players are in general a mild mannered and easy going bunch.

Another funny thing about this venue was the amazing way in which it went from very, very noisy to near total silence in seconds, How did this happen? Can you guess? Yes the most boring 'game' in the world "BINGO”

The King lives

The numbers sounded like they were read out by an Elvis impersonator everything seemed to end in A For example, five and three, fifty threeaaagh! Four and eight, forty eightaaagh! This guy just cracked me up! I couldn't help but laugh every time I heard him. We played there for about a year and a half until we were more or less forced out, not by shaking ceilings or dreadful singing but by something much worse "SEWAGE!!" Yes that's what I said.

It all started as a minor leak after heavy rain blocked the drains, a small wet patch appeared in the doorway of our room but it didn't really cause any problems. About a month after the first incident it happened again, only this time the following week the carpet was still wet, and stayed constantly wet. Upon entering two or three week’s later the carpet had vanished revealing the concrete floor underneath which had been painted a fetching 'blood red'

Now that the carpet had gone there was nothing to hold the water back so it turned into a little puddle that we had to step over, but it became gradually larger, week-by-week, up to a point where it took two steps to reach dry land. It all came to a head late one evening, it was about 9.30pm when our little puddle started expanding, slowly creeping along the far side of the room, the four guys sitting there quickly swapped sides, an S.O.S was sent to the barmaid and a couple regulars/alcoholics were despatched with brushes and mops, but it quickly became apparent that these primitive tools were going to be no match for our 'pond'.

Scuba chess

Half an hour had passed since it started to overflow and most of the floor was covered in water, though it was only half an inch deep so drowning wasn't a concern, the six of us sitting with our feet up in a room full of water playing chess, isn't this kind of thing only supposed to happen on television?

I wish I had my camera!

An hour had passed when a faint odour was detected, which became stronger and more pungent as the water continued to enter the room, until it was the unmistakable smell of 'Sewage' panic bells started to ring "what if this water is something else?"

Staying 'afloater'

Then someone thought they spotted a "Turd!" Well that was it! An all out evacuation was underway, never in the history of Chess have three boards, pieces and clocks been put away so quickly, I think the offending object was just a sweet wrapper, but we weren't taking any chances, the fright was sufficient enough to end the evenings play, and our stay at that venue. A week or so later we thanked the club steward for letting us use the room, and made our excuse for leaving that we weren't attracting any new members from his club

Keep on moving

Next stop on our tour was basically a kitchen, but a dry ‘sewage free’ kitchen. Although the same themes prevailed we were in a club, with music playing fairly loud, but instead of being above or under us, it was next door to us in the shape of Line Dancing, not my cup of tea, although a few weeks after the move I found myself humming along to the Mavericks. (A country music band.)

A year later and we all knew the full Mavericks repertoire, I put this down to the fact that the line dancing Teacher/Instructor played the same half a dozen records over and over again! here were many functions held at the 'kitchen' and it doubled as the buffet room, which meant were first in line for the leftovers, I have discovered food always tastes better when it’s free!

I see the light

Peterlee 'nomads’ next port of call I shall call ‘dark and dirty’ which says it all really. We spent two or three months there, and man this place was definitely not conducive to chess, the lighting was atrocious, the seats had life forms new to science living on and in them! All we needed for a night of good chess was a miner’s lamp, overalls and breathing apparatus! We moved as it was about to be refurbished, and not before time!

Onwards and upwards

 We come to our current location, which I can say is the best venue we have played in, its quiet well lit, spacious and free! My only gripe is that 80% of the time, the toilet light is turned off, and well…you know what our aim is like in perfect conditions, so it can be tricky in the dark. So who knows what the future holds for the 'Peterlee Nomads’

Who says Chess is Boring!!