Mid Summer Madness
by Tim Howard

My wife and I returned one day from a quiet and snoozy (with an “sn” not a “b”!) afternoon on the beach in the South of France. As you do, our first job was to check our emails. In addition to the usual exhortations to send money to Nigeria and offload our current account to Amazon, there was an email from the Club Secretary of Meon Bridge Club, where we are both members and (very) average players. This email attached a message from the EBU asking whether Clubs would assist in an initiative to introduce bridge to a wider audience by attending a teaching course and following this through by giving lessons to potential new members. It was very easy to say “YES” because of course England, the bridge table and the course were so far away. So I did!

Later in the autumn of 2010 madness became reality as I drove across to Bourne fretting but very determined. The EBU course is excellent, as was its presenter June Booty. I left there after the week-end, not only having learned the basics of teaching and with volumes of helpful material, but also with an excess of enthusiasm and commitment. Hopefully, I made the latter clear to the Club’s Committee, and it was agreed that we would try to get a teaching course together the following January.

The first thing to do was to advertise. This was taxing at first but a few discussions with local Parish magazines were very positive, and all three of those asked were agreeable to placing an ad without charge. These ads appeared in December 2010. The first two or three weeks somewhat dampened my enthusiasm. The response was very slow, and by Xmas I was in some doubt as to whether the course would be viable.

On Monday 17 January, 16 soon to be new friends and co-bridge players came into my home leaving behind them a trail of another 17 who had unsuccessfully applied! No mod cons for us. Armed with a flipchart and a couple of whiteboards and a mishmash of our own and the Club’s cards, tables, etc. we were soon underway. For those who are interested in the finances, the Club was paid £35 per person for the 12 week ( 3 hours a week ) course, and the students gave me an extra £2 each week which covered, or rather went towards, the overheads such as printing, teas, coffees, paper and biscuits.

As you will have gathered the course was held at my house. This was both an advantage and a disadvantage. It was very good to have the students in a non-threatening, domestic environment and obviously cheaper than hiring a hall. On the other hand we “lost” a room for 12 weeks!

I have been very fortunate in my group of students. By week two they were arranging to play Minibridge together out of class. They became, and remain, not just co-bridge players but the firmest of friends, not just to each other but to me and to my wife. It goes without saying that this was immensely advantageous from the teaching viewpoint. When they had completed the first course they continued to play together during the summer and on two or three occasions I was able to join them and try to reduce the bad practices they had been learning from each other! In case any of them reads this, I am of course talking about some of the others not you!

After the summer the Club was again happy to support a further 12-week course for them and 15 students were happy to continue. This course was constructed somewhat differently, as the first six lessons took place at my home and the remaining six at the Club’s hall. These latter six were also open to members and visitors and were topic-based (e.g. Losing Trick Count and Transfers). This proved to add value for the students in a way I had not anticipated. The other attendees were to a greater or lesser extent experienced players and, by playing with the students during these lessons, were able also to assist them and give them advice.

This course finished shortly before Xmas but was rounded off in January with a duplicate session in which they played topic-based set hands. This was thoroughly enjoyed by all and, being again held at home, proved to be a non-threatening introduction to what we all hope will be a long and enjoyable future for all of them at the bridge table.

This is not the end, nor even the beginning of the end but merely the end of the beginning! As I write this I am receiving enthusiastic emails. Only yesterday this group of students and some friends and acquaintances, who they have met on the way, played their first duplicate session at what is now called the “ Meon Monday Group “. At their regular Monday sessions this group, who will be members of the main Meon club, will be playing supervised duplicate. The supervisors are members of the main Club who have kindly volunteered to assist. We all hope that several of this group will in time graduate and join the main sessions of the Club.

Also only last week I began again with a new group of 15, who again leave a waiting list trailing in their wake. I hope, and I believe, that I am as lucky again.

I think George III was mad in a different way!

Tim Howard
EBUTA Member, Meon Bridge Club