On the whole I don’t play board games. Sure, I will break out the Monopoly at Christmas or play Trivial Pursuit with the kids. But that’s about it. With one exception – Scrabble. I love Scrabble. It reminds me of many happy afternoons playing the game with my mother in her declining years. Nowadays nobody plays the game. Except my friend Bob.

There are three things you need to know about Bob. Firstly, my friend Bob is an expert Scrabble player. Secondly, if you are around him for any length of time, you’ll find yourself playing Scrabble against him. Thirdly, Bob believes actions are stronger than words.

Staying at Bob’s house in Langley for a couple of days, I have learnt or, more accurately, been taught a valuable lesson. No, although you could be forgiven for thinking so, the lesson is not to avoid playing Scrabble with Bob. No, the key lesson is not to trash-talk him beforehand. 

Knowing that I would be in Canada, and aware of the aforenamed’s predilection for the board game, I pre-emptively challenged him to a match, a mano a mano. And had I left it at that, all would have been well. But I couldn’t resist a little trash talking, perhaps rather overstating my opinion that I would win.

I should’ve taken my cue from Bob’s response. Which was silence. Not a word. Even when pressed, he would only say that he was “keeping (his) powder dry“.

Now Bob and I have known each other for long enough that I should’ve read the signals. First there was the Scrabble board itself – not your regular version, where tiles slid from one letter to the next. This was larger, with walls to help align letters. Then there was the letter bag, notepad, pencils, scoreboard and so on. This was not the Scrabble board of someone who played once in a while. This was a quasi-Olympic Scrabble board.

Faced with this Colossus, I realized this would be a tough challenge. And so it proved. Within the space of a brace of moves apiece, I realized I was in trouble, holed below the waterline so to speak. My mind went blank. While I feinted with SAD, MUM and POD, Bob parried with MAXIMUM, CRANKY and  TACTFUL. Or similar. I forget. 

I’d like to suggest that it was a close fought contest, with the lead changing hands all the way down to the wire. But that would be a complete fiction. Frankly it was a bloodbath. Indeed I even think Bob was playing with me, as a cat sometimes does with a mouse, holding back to make a game of it. By the end of the game, I was reduced to hackneyed monosyllables like CAT, BUN and TOP while Bob showboated with TESTUDINARIOUS, PLENIPOTENTIARY and NEUROPSYCHOPHARMACOLOGICAL on a Triple Word score.

(Yes I know those specific words are not usable in Scrabble.  I’m just making a point. Don’t write in.)

We played in silence. The silence of friends but at the same time, the silence of people concentrating hard on possibilities. Bob‘s breathing was regular, his tremor absent, his eyes fixed on the board. Only when the coup de grace was administered, and it became apparent that the winning margin was in three figures, did he allow himself a smile. And the twinkle returned to his eyes.

It would be well within the rules of trash talking for Bob to remind me, at this juncture, of my pre-match assertion of victory. It is a measure of the man that he did not, preferring instead to let his actions speak louder than his words.

It was a lesson in humility.

Canada Diary 4: A Lesson in Humility