255 regularly held little chess tournaments for all the cranks on the Leeds Chess scene, and it would be unfair not to mention the perfect marriage of Brian Foster and Peter Hall. Brian and Peter were inseparable, and wherever one of the characters went, the other was sure to be there too. You might have called it a perfect friendship, as I never once saw the two characters fall out.
Brian was a beauty of council estate creation: middle aged and weighing in at just over 20 stone, unshaven, matted hair, and a face looking like it had just emerged from a second-hand tyre yard: round, pock-marked, and bloated on account of all the alcohol and smoking it had undergone during a chess career at 136 level. He had a unique way of not talking, but not shouting either, but somehow his mouth, if you could call the yellow thing one, was always making sounds like an industrial machine: Yorkshire made, of course.
Peter, his ‘wife’ was the living contrast of Brian. Peter was diminutive, thin and ill looking, and the only manifest resemblance he had to Brian was when they sat together at a table smoking, as you could in the old days. The collective exhalations from the two would create a toxic cloud of purple, which would have instantaneously turned any Victorian Industrialist into the first Victorian Environmentalist.
Unlike his husband’s bloated features, Peter’s countenance was gaunt and cadaverous looking. A moustache, already dead and yellow with the smoke, hung over his top lip, and his eyes drooped perpetually, as if to say, ‘Is it bed time yet?’ Peter somehow never looked awake; he was always in some semi-stupor state and barely let out the merest shuffle of life. This trait was no doubt the consequence of working gruelling shifts in the factory where he sprayed ovens with toxic paints. He regularly complained of having to spend an hour in the bath washing the cancerous stuff off his body. Peter never did ‘wash all the stuff off’, though, and in the end it killed the poor sod.
Brian, the husband, lived, however, and during one eventful day at 255 we knew about how angry a middle aged council man can be when someone lifts (steals) his cigarettes.
It was summer, and we’d been playing a series of five-minute chess competitions. It was nearing the end, and people were beginning to make their excuses and leave. A few die-hard still remained when the dogs leapt up and began to bark because of a knock on the door.
Brian was puffing away on the sofa with Peter doing the same at the other side of the sofa. ‘Someone at door, Karl!’ Brian boomed.
‘See who it is, Brian. I’ve only a couple of minutes on me clock.’
Brian heaved himself out of the sofa with a fog of smoke swirling around him and lumbered his frame to the door. A minute later, he appeared again saying, ‘It’s t’ Jehovahs Witnesses. Have a to let ’em in?’
‘Do what you want,’ I answered without realising what I said and without looking up, frantically slamming the pieces down and slapping the clock in time trouble.
When I’d lost, there was Brian on the sofa with these two black-suited, young gentlemen of the faith of Jehovah, looking very frightened as the triple-headed hounds of hell were showing their sharp, white teeth at them; Brian and Peter flanked and smoked at them from either side.
‘What have you brought these in for, Brian?’ I asked, looking at them and wondering what to do.
‘A thought you might wanna ask ’em about God,’ he said, and he waved his hands.
Paul, who was a steadfast atheist, began to question the poor fellows and what followed was a barrage of questions from Paul, the Doctor and Brian, with the occasional muttering of ‘Yea,’ from Peter. I listened, but I didn’t really get involved, and eventually the questions died out, and the Jehovahs, realising their cause and intention of converting these two was futile and seeing their opportunity to escape, duly made excuse and rose, leaving Brian and Peter left on opposite ends of the sofa.
‘It’s been nice chatting to you,’ one of the well-dressed young men said before leaving.
Brian was looking for his cigarettes.
‘We hope you can think about the religion and give it some of your time.’
Brian was now frantic in the search for his cigarettes.
‘We’ll be getting off then,’ was the final word the Jehovah uttered before just about to leave.
‘The bastards have nicked me ****g cigs,’ bawled Brian. ‘Don’t let the ****s out.’
The dogs, by this time, had all jumped to their feet, and the humans were looking at Brian and the Jehovahs looking at each other.
‘You, yes, you near the door. Where’s me ****g cigs?’
‘I’m sorry, but I don’t smoke, and I’ve not seen your cigarettes.’
‘You lying bastard,’ and Brian actually went for him, nearly falling over Peter’s feet, who was still sat smoking on the sofa.
‘Whoaah, Brian. What yer doing? They won’t have your cigs,’ we all added.
‘I know these bastards, and I’m telling you they’d nick owt, and they’ve nicked me ****g cigs.’ And he lurched again for the Jehovah.
Quick thinking was needed before some outrage upon the poor Jehovahs was done by Brian, who by this time had become enraged. I grabbed hold of Brian and Paul gave support, and I think it was Stuart who got the poor lads out of 255 and away from Brian and his lost cigs.
Peter, Brian's wife, was still sat smoking on the settee, saying to his husband, ‘They must have nicked ’em, Brian. Gotter ’a been them,’ and he blew out another plume of smoke as if to conclude the issue.
A year later, on Bonfire Night when all the old settees would be fed to the Bonfire Night pyre, 255's flea bitten mess was added to the pile. It was a customary act to tear open the bottom and sides of the settee to see if any lose money had fallen down there, and, lo and behold! – there, before our eyes, were Brian's long-lost packet of cigarettes.