Bob Mackinnon

Rozzie and Wilma

Not long ago in a West London borough Friday evening was the time when two young couples got together for a Wives vs Husbands match which determined who in the oncoming week would be doing the wash-ups. The Husbands had worn the apron for two weeks running, when the following match took place not far from William Blake House in the home of Alfred and Meg Jones – he, a baggage expeditor at Heathrow airport, she, a brilliant story consultant for the BBC. Perhaps some will remember with fondness the popular war-time comedy series Up Periscope!? This particular match was unique in that it featured the brief participation of the Rosalind Treacher, once a well-known figure in the golden age of British bridge who had dropped out of sight three decades previous.

As our story begins, it is late in the match when the players are joined in the living room by Meg’s mother, a stranger to Peregrine Penfold, an auditor at Income Revenue. Besides having brains Meg Jones was a voluptuous blonde for whose curvaceous attractions one would be hard put to find traces on outline of the barrellous Mrs Treacher – heavy-set and grandmotherly, fully outfitted with shawl, floppy slippers, and orange tabby. A photograph of mother and daughter side-by-side at the seaside would serve admirably as a reminder to indolent dawdlers to jolly well start gathering those rosebuds while it’s still possible to bend over and touch toes.

‘Meg, Love,’ said the granddame, a cigarette dangling from her lips even as she spoke, ‘the girls is in bed, so’s maybe you can just pop up and tuck ’em in.’ Addressing the men she added politely, ‘Please excuse the interruption, Gentlemen, but you know how it is with little tykes.’

‘Quite,’ ‘Quite,’ vaguely concurred the two husbands, rising and bowing politely.

‘Peregrine, I’d like you to meet my mother, Rosalie, who’s having a short stay with us,’ said Meg pleasantly enough. ‘Mum, you remember Peg, I’m sure.’

‘Of course, Darlin’, good to see you again, and pleased to meet you, Peregrine. Call me, Rozzie,’ the pensioner wheezed, giving off the unmistakable aromas of peppermint and gin, ‘And this here is Wilma,’ she indicated, scratching behind the ear of the orange tabby she was carrying in her arms.

‘Mrw,’ greeted the tabby curtly, obviously a cat who was inclined to wait and see when it came to male visitors. Unbeknownst to the husbands their wives had been taking lessons from Rozzie on the sly when they were off to their Sunday cricket match. Unbeknownst to the wives, the previous Sunday the husbands had forgone their usual pastime to spend a few hours at the pub sharpening their bidding practices. Between them they shared a distinct aversion to soap and dry activities day after day. It had paid dividends as at half-time they had a comfortable lead under Chicago scoring.

‘Look, Mum, I did promise Joy and Myrtle their bedtime story,’ stated Meg, ‘so why don’t you take over here for me while I go up and read them Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Peregrine won’t mind, I’m sure.’

‘Delighted, do join us’, came the ready response from Penfold, unaware of the danger which lurked behind this seemingly innocent suggestion.

‘I haven’t played bridge for ever so long…but if you insist,’ said Mrs Treacher, obviously delighted to be asked to take a seat and rejoin the world at large. ‘You won’t mind will you, Puss? A bit o’ bridge, eh? You’d like that, would ya?’

‘Puurrnaow,’ replied Wilma guardedly, which in translation reads, ‘Don’t let me stop you,’ so unanimity of a begrudging sort was achieved.

‘Would you care for some tea, Mrs Treacher, we’ve just finished ours, but there may be some left in the pot?’ asked Peg. ‘Milk and sugar?’

‘Lovely,’ replied Rozzie, ‘and add a touch of sherry, would you, Dear, just to take the chill out of me feet.’

As Rozzie lit up another cigarette and blew fumes across the table, Puss jumped lightly to the floor and departed hurriedly, seeing here an opportunity answer the call of the jungle and let off some steam in the back room undisturbed. In the meantime as was his wont while others chatted inconsequentially, Peregrine allowed his mind to wander into unchartered daydreamland. Say the Jones were to put on a Christmas panto for their daughters, one could easily picture Meg as Goldilocks while their grandmother would fit admirably into the role of one of the adult bears; he himself would make a consummate Jack Frost …

‘Alfred, I don’t know if Meg told you this, but I used to play a lot of bridge in the old days before I became engaged in the fruit and vegetables trade,’ revealed the matron.

‘Meg once mentioned she had learned to play from you, but I didn’t know you were keen’ replied her son-in-law. In fact, Meg had told him very little about her mother’s past.

‘Keen as mustard, I think you could call me,’ revealed his mother-in-law as the old memories came flooding back buoyed on a stream of gin and tonic. ‘Sid, me late husband and Meg’s dad, every summer we’d go over to the Continent for a spot of holidays. There was currency restrictions in them days, so to keep us from starvation we had to win prizes or pick up some cash however we could along the way. I partnered all the great ones in those days: Cornelius, Pierre, José, Rudolf, Giorgio … all gone now.’

Sounds as if the old girl did her bit for European unity, thought Penfold, unlike Thatcher, but currency restrictions? No doubt part of the cost Britain has paid trying to save the Europeans from themselves. In response to his unspoken wish, his wife quickly reappeared with a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit. Now they could get on with it, he thought, but Rozzie was still lost in the past within her veil of blue smoke.

‘Most of all there was dear Omar, who still sends me a postcard every time he returns to Sorrento, bless ‘im. We ‘ad a brief roundayview behind the Caffe Pinocchio, I think it was called. The sky was ever so blue, very romantic. After that we went out and won the pairs’ prize and he presented me with the whole lot, gentleman that he is. And all that time poor Sid was back at the pensione in bed with his asthma.’

At long last the cards were dealt and the reminiscences ceased temporarily as Rozzie donned her horn-rimmed spectacles. Alfred had been made somewhat uneasy by these revelations. Here’s a story that could do with some editing, he thought, nonetheless, however extensive her previous experiences, his mother-in-law was probably as rusty at the bridge table as elsewhere, so, he put it to the old girl with a flawed preemptive three no trump opening bid in third seat. Here are the four hands:

A 9 6 4
A 10 9 7 6 3
10 8 5
Peregrine Alfred
Q 10 8 7 2 J 3
8 4 5
6 A K J 9 8 7 3 2
K J 9 4 2 6 3
Mrs Treacher

K 5
K Q J 2
Q 10 5 4
A Q 7


‘How strong is that?’ Mrs Treacher asked after rechecking her point count.

‘Ah, not strong actually ..err…Rozzie,’ explained Peregrine Penfold, somewhat warily, ‘normally a solid eight-card minor suit without an outside ace or king.’

‘What would four diamonds have meant?’ inquired Rozzie, then correcting herself quickly, she added, ‘Forget my question, it doesn’t matter, really, I’m bidding Four Hearts regardless.’

Peg Penfold, Peter Pan in Peregrine’s fantastical pantomime, was a quiet, slim woman, educated and professional, a hospital administrator with a penchant for neatness and accuracy. She looked at her hand and saw she had exceptionally fine support for her partner’s freely bid suit. Despite her partner’s inappropriate comments, she thought that no committee in the world could find fault with some show of life. Undercompensating greatly she bid a totally inadequate five hearts. Rozzie raised herself to six, Peg being such a mouse. Peregrine looked no further than the singleton in his partner’s solid suit. Would that all leads were so easy.

Meanwhile Wilma had since returned refreshed to seek the warmth of her mistress’s lap. Without the benefit of the electric fire, the coolness of the back room had been such that even a vigorous clawing of the furniture hadn’t compensated fully. With an almost insolent display of athleticism the tabby sprang lapward landing safely with a firm grip on Mrs. Treacher’s right thigh – an inch or so short of her previous record for the standing long jump.

‘Ouch! Wilma! You gave me such a start. Very nice, Peg, Dear, just what I expected,’ said Rozzie after Peg apologetically displayed the dummy.

‘Ruff with the ace, Dear, then a small trump,’ continued Mrs Treacher immediately, not allowing the sharp pain in her thigh disturb her concentration. The play went quickly as the Rozzie of old sprang into action: a heart to the king, a diamond ruff, a heart to the jack, a diamond ruff, a spade to the king and a diamond ruff with the trump ten, then a club to the ace into this position with the last trump to be played:

A 9
10 5
Peregrine Alfred
Q 10 J
K J 3
Mrs Treacher

Q 7


On the play of the 2 Peregrine could not afford a discard from either of the black suits without setting up an additional trick for declarer. After some futile computation he bared the K. A spade was discarded from dummy, and Rozzie exited with a low club, soon claiming her twelfth well-earned trick in the form of the queen of clubs.

‘Ooww, that was a bit o’ luck, I must say,’ said Mrs Treacher. ‘There must be a better way to play that, as I ended up having to trust your bid, Alfred. That’s always been my weakness, being too trusting of men, but the cards have always been kind for the most part. Any more of that tea, Peg? Thanks, Love, and remember just a dash of sherry. I told you gentlemen about dear Omar sendin’ me a postcard every year. We had a song – ‘Re-torn me to Sor-rent–o’, just like Gracie used to sing it. Once on short notice I was called to her villa on Capri for a game with Ian Fleming. He was not near as charmin’ as James Bond. With writers its all in their head, you know, whereas with politicians it’s just the opposite. The one thing they ‘ave in common is you can’t believe a word.’

Adroitly reading the disapproval in her husband’s countenance, Peg had hastily produced a tepid cup of tea laced with rum and quickly returned to deal the cards. As Rozzie sorted her cards she realized that, yes, time flies: it had been ages since she last held a hand like this one – maybe all of thirty-five years, on that night her team had trounced Madame Altivolans in a qualifier so badly that the chairman of selection committee got a it’s-us-or-her midnight ultimatum from a disgruntled loser. Unfortunate, for Britain could have used the likes of Mrs Treacher in the lean ’70’s.

‘Very nice tea, Peg’ she mused while taking pleasure in the sight of so many familiar yet unwrinkled faces: AQ653 KQT2 A AKQ

After Peg had passed, Alfred cleared his throat and opened with a bid of two spades. After recent exposure to the experts on BBO he had come down with a serious case of preemptive looseness.

‘Strong this time, is it?’ inquired Mrs Treacher somewhat brusquely.

‘Nooo…. weak twos actually, 6 to 10,’ replied Peregrine, referring to high card points, not the odds against its success. ‘Something of a one-suiter.’

‘Three No Trumps,’ declared Rozzie firmly. “That’s right, isn’t it, Puss? You’d bid 3NT with this lot, wouldn’t ya?’ Wilma felt it would not be in the spirit of the game for a kibitzer to offer a contrary opinion at this time. Here are the four hands in full:

J 8 7 5 3
Q 5 2
8 6 5 4 2
Peregrine Alfred
9 2 K J 10 8 7 4
A 6 9 4
J 10 8 7 K 9 6 4 3
J 10 9 7 3
Mrs Treacher

A Q 6 5 3
K Q 10 2


After Peregrine passed, Peg faced a difficult decision. Taking into account the amount of rum she had added to the tea, or, rather, how much tea she had added to the rum, Peg realized that a jump to 3NT encompassed a wide variety of hands, yet her void in spades must be worth something extra in a suit contract and considerably less in no trump. Perhaps she should bid four diamonds as a transfer to hearts, or would four diamonds be taken as, God help us, Flint? Four clubs, natural and forcing? Better. But wait – was four clubs Stayman, or ace asking? Oh dear, her instincts told her to pass, but hadn’t Rozzie just this week insisted repeatedly that the most dangerous call of all was ‘no bid’?

‘Four clubs,’ bid Peg finally maximizing her slim chances of survival in the usual way – by making the most ambiguous call.

‘What’s our standin’ in the match, Love?’ asked Mrs Treacher.

‘Oh, well, I couldn’t really say, Mrs Treacher,’ replied Peg, blushing, ‘we were trailing at half time by a thousand or more.’

‘Call me, Rozzie, Love. I’m taking that for South African Texas – Six Hearts.’ One of Rozzie’s golden rules for living had once more come into play: never bid an unforced Grand Slam in competition.

Well, so much for the hormonal theory of bridge bidding. It was left to Peregrine Penfold to find the killing lead against six hearts or reconcile himself to being up to his elbows in soapsuds for yet another week. As a tax auditor he was trained to sense inconsistencies, and there was distinct feeling in the back of his neck that he had been presented with an improbable set of circumstances. It appeared to him that declarer had the spades well tied up leaving Alfred with undisclosed honours in the minors. Very BBO of Alfred. As Peregrine himself had both minors covered, it appeared that declarer’s best hope would be to score as many tricks as possible on a crossruff. Thinking thus, he let the A and the thin dummy came down with an abject apology from a red-faced Peg.

‘Ta, Darlin’, that’s very nice, indeed. Isn’t it nice, Puss? Play low,’ commanded Rozzie smoothly, turning her thoughts to finding the best way of playing queen tripleton opposite ace tight, not a combination one finds written up in books.

Jones felt the anguish of a missed opportunity. He very much regretted his failure to gather rosebuds by doubling Peg’s nebulous four clubs, but when dummy came down with length in the suit, hope was renewed. Unfortunately his desperate signal of the 9 went unnoticed, as Penfold, unimaginative in real life situations, followed the A stolidly with a second trump taken in declarer’s hand. Wilma, like the others around the table, was too young to remember that glorious night against Madame Altivolans, but she could appreciate the rapidity with which her companion expertly finished off the play. Rozzie cashed the top clubs then ruffed a spade to dummy, ruffed a club and ruffed a spade once more to dummy and led the last club from this 5-card position:

Q 5 2
Peregrine Alfred
K J 10
J 10 8 7 K 9
Mrs Treacher

A Q 6


On the play of the last club to be ruffed in declarer’s hand Jones found himself ensnared in a crisscross ruffing positional squeeze, or something or other of that sort. (Linda Lee would be able to identify it.) I don’t know if you have ever been stripped down to your bare honour, but, Dear Reader, I can assure you it is a cold and surgical feeling, the same feeling Penfold had endured on the previous hand. After much circuitous thought, Alfred bared his •K. Rozzie unfailingly cashed the diamond ace dropping the king, cashed the ♠A and ruffed a spade to dummy in order to take the last trick with the •Q. There had been a fearful symmetry in the play of the two hands.

Just in time Meg came floating into the room with a satisfied motherly smile of relief. In her husband’s eyes, she had seldom looked more beautiful fully clothed.

‘Thank you, Peg and Gentlemen,’ said Mrs Treacher, lifting herself heavily from her chair, in the process dumping an indignant Wilma onto the Persian carpet, ‘that certainly brought back old memories. We must do it again sometime soon, previous commitments permitting.’

‘Oh, absolutely,’ replied Peregrine Penfold politely without, however, attempting to affix a date to this purely hypothetical re-encounter.

‘Puurroww,’ commented Wilma impatiently, as much as to say, ‘Thank you so much, but may we not get back to some serious Telly viewing? We might just catch the tail end of The Tigers of Sumatra. Now that would be some excitement for a change!’ She led the way out with tail held high in a fine demonstration of the grand exit.

1 Comment

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