I was there, at the beginning of the third age of the Leeds university bridge club...
Although I've often enjoyed pulling Geoff's leg, he has had a tremendous impact on the bridge club. As he leaves Leeds it is appropriate to review his contributions to the club. His involvement in the club nicely splits into two: Sept 1991-June 1993 and Sept 1994-9th September 1999. In the former he was an enthusiastic bridge player, but it is in the latter period where he made the club what it is today.
The club's web pages give a good idea of activity in the bridge club in the late 1990s. As Geoff's career in the club goes all-the-way back to 1991 I've taken this opportunity to embed Geoff's bridge career into a brief history of the bridge club in the 1990s. Along the way I'll mention some of the people who were active during the 1990s. Gone, but not forgotten.
OK, gone and forgotten by all but Geoff and myself!
Although 1990 is the last year of the 1980s, this narrative follows the academic, rather than the calendar, year. Thus I start in September 1990 when I returned to Leeds after a year in Bath. The Bridge club committee comprised Mark Bratley, Paul Crosswell and Tom Cohen. Within 10 minutes of rejoining the club I was on the committee and within 10 minutes of rejoining the committee I was drinking in the union. My kind of club.
Mark Bratley joined the club in 1988, Paul and Tom in 1989. In fact Tom had occasionally visited the club in 1988-1989 when he was in the upper sixth form at Leeds Grammar School. The committee would remain the same in 90-91 and 91-92.
Mark and Paul are the best student players that the club has seen in the 1990s. After leaving Leeds in June 1992 Mark played for the England U-25 team and both Mark and Paul played in trials for the England Camrose team. These days they regularly play for the Kent team. On the current EBU Gold Point Ranking Scheme Paul is ranked 40th and Mark 199th (8th September 1999).
My only memories of this year are that we played a great deal of bridge. Monday nights was the club night, where we played in our traditional room (LG15). Tuesday nights we played at the Senior Common Room. Visits to Leeds bridge Club were made, but mostly we played social bridge. We were young, we were foolish, we thought nothing of playing 80 hands a night. The SCR was run by the aptly named Dr., now Professor, Bridge. When Mark and Tom first told me that the SCR BC was run by a Dr. Bridge I thought they were having me on. To their great amusement, as I was forthrightly telling them this, who should be standing behind me?
Other regulars at LUUBC were Jim Edwards, Jeff Johnson, & Vicky Beamish. Jim & Jeff had been stalwarts of the club since their student days in the early 1980s and would turn up frequently throughout the early 1990s.
Everyone has their own idea of when the Golden Age of the club was. (For most people it's their first or second year). The years 1991-1993 were not a Golden Age of the club (as I'll explain latter), but they were a Golden Age of bridge at the University.
In the academic year 1991-1992 it seemed that you could go into the Maths department any time of the day, any day of the week, and you would find at least four people playing Bridge. Seven or eight was not an uncommon sight, and during lunch hour it often seemed that all the chairs in the comfy-chair area were occupied by people playing bridge. Many of these players were members of the maths department: Mark Bratley, Jimmy (an excitable fellow), Neil Daniels, Matt Poulton, Richard, Adrian (never forgotten by those that had the privilege to know him), Tony, Ali, Graham Mendick, Geoff and myself. There were others too, whose names I forget. Not everyone was a Mathematician, Tom was a regular as was Eric Liu.
In fact there was so much bridge that one member of staff pushed a motion through the departmental committee banning bridge. The reasons for this were not revealed. Perhaps he thought that having bridge in the department created the wrong impression to visiting sixth-formers? Perhaps he thought that showing undergraduates some authoritarian behaviour would encourage them to work harder? Who knows? The member of staff concerned (hated and despised by bridge players!) is still in the department. (To be fair, he was notorious before the `banning bridge' incident).
These years saw a very active, and very social, group of players. As well as playing in the Maths department we played in the Senior Common Room on Tuesday evenings.
It was during these years that Geoff received his solid grounding in bridge (playing four, or more, hours a day, five days a week will do it!), although he didn't join the bridge club `proper'. Unfortunately, no-one in the BC wanted to teach beginners so the committee had a policy of scaring them away as quickly as possible. Once they had `got-the-message' the remaining players had a `serious game' on Monday evenings.
As I mentioned above during the academic year 1991-1992 there were a large number of active players in the maths department. Eventually they wondered what the difference was between the `good players' and themselves. There they were, playing regularly a few hours each day, five days a week. They had the audacity to challenge the University A team to a match! So one evening, sometime between 24th February 1992 and 14th May 1992, we had a twenty board match.
University A Team: 121 imps.
Brash young First Years: 14 imps.
We had five players on the `A' team. I played with Mark Bratley and I think Tom, Richard, and Jimmy (?) made up our other pair. The brash young first years were Geoff, Neil, Tony, and Graham.
In 1992 Geoff's parents bought 11 Manor Drive: aka `Bridge Central', `the Ruff and Discard' (in more than one sense), `the passed out'. Although Geoff was still not a member of the bridge club `proper' he was now deemed `good enough' to join our august group and we used to often go round to his place to play. A tradition that continued until the house was sold in September 1999. The enthusiasm for Geoff's house was fuelled by the folding of the SCR game folded at the end of 1991 (?) after Dr. Bridge and his partner had a massive row.
In latter years the number of resident bridge players would out-number non-bridge players and from 1994-1999 11 Manor Drive was the centre of the bridge universe! Rent-paying resident players who lived at this house included Geoff (92-93 & 94-99), Neil Daniels (92-99), Abigail Green (97-99), Andy Hardy (98-99), Ben Gibbons (98-99) and Matt Poulton. Non rent-paying resident players included Sarah McMullen.
Members of the bridge-club `proper' during 1991-1993 not already mentioned include Anne (from Materials), Richard (from History) and John Stell (1988-1992). Richard was one of Professor Bridge's students. When he'd visited Leeds as a sixth former he had been interviewed by the Roy Bridge. Richard has listed bridge as a hobby on his UCCA form and the interview was short. "How do you play 4 Spades on the lead of the Queen of hearts?". Richard's solution must have impressed Roy as he was subsequently offered a place to read History!
Geoff returned from France with an even greater enthusiasm for bridge, but by September 1994 the bridge club was defunct. Not only was no-one interested in teaching the beginners, no-one was interested in running the club. The two are linked, everyone who was active during the `Golden Age' had left the university and there was no-one to replace them!
So Geoff had to restart the club anew. Last week the 1999 committee were worrying about how to organise the stand at Fresher's Week and grappling with how to run the club during the first weeks of term. Back in 1994 Geoff had to do everything on his own! The club met in LG15 on Monday evenings and on the first night we had 7 tables. Thinking back 1994 was the last year in which we ran a regular duplicate.
The first year Geoff didn't organise any teaching as he was too busy doing everything else (except running the duplicate). Geoff's idea was to keep the club as simple as possible, get it going with a reasonable level of membership and then to build things up in subsequent years. Even so, he found time to write and distribute the first version of his notes for beginners.
Notable people to join the club in 1994 were Andy Hardy and Paul. 1994 also saw the return of John Stell to Leeds for a PGCE. John had been a member of the club October 1988-June 1992. He dropped out of the University for a year so that he could pursue his interests in pub-quiz machines, making a fortune, before returning to Leeds in 1991. (I suspect that John was part of the Bridge Club `proper' and didn't meet Geoff in 1992-1992).
The club entered the Portland Bowl, beating Sheffield (our nemesis in the 1980s) before losing to Newcastle. John Stell and Geoff had two successive bad boards in the last set, costing 30 IMPS! Geoff says "Darn Herbert negatives".
Another person that Geoff played with that year was Liz. Geoff tells me to "mention her if you want. Remember, only the facts, no tabloid sensationalism!". I could mention the case of the phone call home, but I'll digress down another path. No tabloid sensationalism Geoff, the facts tell their own story.
Those of you who only joined the club at the end of the 1990s will find this hard to believe, but in the early years Geoff had a reputation as the club Romeo. (When I returned to Leeds in 1999 the first question that Geoff asked me was "Did you meet any nice women in New Zealand?" and his second, with a hint of desperation, was "Can I have their phone numbers?". I gathered that it had been a lean period for him.) Perhaps Romeo creates the wrong impression, he did have a reputation for making the girls cry. He once told me that they were "tears of pleasure" --- believe it if you will. I never did!
The early 1990s were simpler times. Email for students was a novelty. One female student thought that if she emailed Geoff a valentine's from her university account without attaching her name to it then Geoff wouldn't know who had sent it!
In 1994 the front first floor bedroom of 11 Manor Drive became notorious in bridge club circles.
What else happened in 1994? It was the first year that the club had an email list and it was the year that we played at a social event in Sheffield. (Although it only lasted one day this event was the forerunner to the current Student Bridge Festival). "Whatever you do", I told Geoff, "don't forget to print out the instructions on how to reach the venue". Touring Sheffield city centre has never been so entertaining --- and I've never relied on Geoff either to print out the instructions or as chief navigator again.
This was the year when everything that is good in the club today started, firmly building on the foundations that Geoff laid in 1994. Captain Dan ran the show, and Geoff taught the beginners. Originally Stan Collins (Leeds Bridge Club) was going to, but he only lasted one night. Geoff took over, and proved a great success, as he has done so every year since.
Why is Geoff so good at teaching beginners? Several reasons. One of the most important is that when he's teaching the beginners, he's teaching the beginners. They have his undivided attention. He isn't wandering off to the `better players', talking to them. He's teaching the beginners. Secondly, he is (don't quote me on this) a charismatic figure. He has the gift of the gab and making people feel at easy. I'm sure that this helped to create an environment which encouraged beginners to come back week after week.
Bridge Club now met two nights a week -an innovation as in the olden days once was enough- in the basement of the Brotherton building. According to Geoff we now had a `proper social scene'. (However, my own definition of a `proper social scene' extends to beyond nocturnal activity in the front first floor flat at 11 Manor Drive). This culminated in the first Xmas meal (in the olden days we made do with a Xmas party). The meal was at saninos, which has since closed down. (The 1998 meal was at bachus which has also closed!!) This year also saw the first mountain hut trip, Captain Dan's idea. This was the year that made the club what it is today!
1995 saw Yorkshire life masters Christine Asquith and Cedric Cockcroft becoming involved in the club. Originally they wanted to a one-on-one training session with the best pair in the club, but Geoff convinced them to run advanced lessons for the bridge club team. This training paid off, the club came third in the Portland Bowl --- beating York by only one-imp in the quarter finals. (If I remember correctly the club had a bye in each of the first two rounds!) Since 1995 Christine and Cedric have played with various members of the club in swiss teams and have often visited us to give lessons.
What was it like to play on the most university team in the history of the club?
"It is interesting to note that the prospect of partnering Geoff in a pressure situation like the Semi-Finals was enough to make Neil seriously ill. This meant that Neil and Geoff never played in the match against Oxford. Curiously, this was also the only match we lost that year.
It should also be pointed out that this team contained NO ONE who had been taught bridge by Geoff. Subsequent Portland Bowl teams have all contained such players and have, without exception, struggled to get through a single round (even with the help of a "bye"). Is there some connection?"
It is only natural that Geoff should regard 1995 as a Golden Year. Not because it was the year in which everything that is good was started. Not because it was the year that Geoff started teaching the beginners. Not even because it was the year the bridge social scene started. And not because of the club's success in the Portland Bowl.
No, 1995 was the year of the `French Connection'. In particular there was Isobelle. She was only in Leeds for a year but Geoff really liked her: you could see his play deteriorating as she swayed nearer to his table and getting better as she moved further away. What's more she was a nice Jewish girl (just like mother wanted). In all his years in the club Isobelle was one of the few girls who Geoff missed bridge for when she was leaving England. A moving story.
Captain Dan went to Germany and the bridge club was "run" by John Chapman. This lead to some of the most exciting weeks I have known in the Bridge Club: Stalwarts of the club met in smoke-filled rooms to plot his demise in a coup. Geoff didn't like what was happening, knifes were sharpened, in they went, out went John. By this time the BC had moved out of the basement and into the Union building. For a while we played in the `union quiet room' before it became non-quiet.
John's biggest contribution to the club was bringing along Alix Staines and Clare McGuire ("babetastic" says Geoff, although I don't remember hearing that she had visited the front first floor flat at 11 Manor Drive). Still, John only had two things to do that year, one of which was running the bridge club. Geoff writes:
Yep, big mistake that year, John captain and [deleted as the person concerned is still a member of the club] but no need to sensationalise!!!! As it was John wasn't that bad, except he was crap at bridge, thought he knew all, and had no charisma.
A ringing endorsement.
1996 was the year that Neil Renwick (the only supporter of King John during the Great Purge) got the club online and failed his degree doing so.
I was away for most of this period. Upon returning I went out for a curry with Geoff and discussed what had happened in the bridge club during my absence. Not much according to Geoff as only 30 seconds were required to describe the activities of each of the `old guard'. There was one exception, no need to sensationalise (at the moment): one individual's exploits took almost 30 minutes to recount! At the time of our meal I didn't appreciate the significant of the third-party who tagged along (very much like a puppy). Yes, Geoff's luck was finally turning and Casanova would end his career in Leeds with a bang!
For many years 11 Manor Drive was the mecca of the bridge club. At the height of its fame not only was it the location of regular bridge sessions but it frequently acted as the social centre of the club. A climax, of sorts, was reached in the 1997-1998 year with the regular `Saturday morning' visits of Alix Staines and Clare McGuire. After an evening out on the town they arrived at about 2.30am. Before ringing the doorbell and gaining admittance they would first leave their calling-card on the doorstep. They then took it in turns to worship at the feet of the white porcelain goddess. Having purified their bodies they retired to the first floor front flat. The next morning Geoff would recover the sheets which had been lovingly wrapped around Clare ("babetastic" says Geoff) and treasure them: they were never washed.
A little background. There was a period, after a particularly notorious mountain hut trip, when Geoff and Alix went out. Alix's boyfriend was not too happy with her staying every night in the first floor front flat and words were exchanged; basically he wanted to beat the shit out of Geoff, who got a little nervous.
The regular `regurgitation sessions' only occurred after Geoff and Alix split up - a perfectly natural reflex action.
During these years Sara ran the bridge club, Abigail was, I'm told, quite inconspicuous, although to be fair she had already obtained what she was after. So what happened? It's all on the web pages, but here's a quick reminder:
On Thursday 9th September the bridge club gathered to say farewell to Geoff. After eight years of service he is finally leaving. As someone who has known Geoff for all those eight, long, never-ending, years I sometimes thought that this day would never come.
Not a minute too soon in my book.
It's not really hit me yet, I can't imagine the bridge club without that cheeky chappy. I won't really believe that Geoff has left until the first beginners lesson, when I'll turn my head and Geoff won't be there. He was also very solicitous to them. Well, OK. A certain disjoint set.
Was there any gossip? Any interesting conversations? It was a bridge club social, of course there was! The following amusing incidents occurred:
However, on this occasion, I don't want to distract attention away from Geoff so I won't provide further details. Except to say that they are all linked! I can report that Geoff, a little under the weather by the start of the meal, was delighted to find himself sitting between two blue-eyed blondes and, not wanting to appear unmannered, spent equal amounts of time pawing both of them.
Andy, unusually effusive, was able to provide details of the "French Connection". Unfortunately this led Geoff to make some sweeping statements about French women. Geoff, your personal sample size of two (or was it three?) is hardly representative. Andy was also able to provide a comprehensive list of visitors to the front first floor flat at 11 Manor Drive.
Congratulations to Andy for the following stanza in his "Ode to Geoff". It is a modern classic and deserves to be learnt by heart by all that knew Geoff.
Your work in lower recursive subgroups has found moderate acclaim,
And so you're off to Portugal to impress them with your brain.
But if you believe the rumours circulated by your chums,
Then you'll find the work much harder without Stan to do the sums!
There's no doubt that Geoff was my best bridge pupil, and on occasion Geoff has said that "Mark taught me everything I know about bridge". Retorts to the latter have ranged from "He didn't teach you very much then" through "And he wants to be a lecturer?" to "What does that say about the other pupils".
In addition to his bridge career Geoff has also had an outstanding academic career in Leeds. Still, he must be one of the few people who decided that a better coverage of the eclipse was available by listening to it occur on the radio rather than watching it on the TV! "Over all too quickly". "Not very impressive". "Was that it?" Not just quotations about the eclipse, but comments made over the years by visitors to the first floor front flat at 11 Manor Drive.
It may have struck you that although during the "Golden Age" we played a great deal of Bridge (more than played's today) we didn't organise (m)any social events. What can I say? Those were simpler times, and we were simpler folk. We didn't haven't the sophistication of today's students with your fancy foreign foods and trendy nightclubs. We were happy to play bridge, and if excitement was needed drinking beer was enough. The bridge club has changed beyond recognition over the last ten years.
So, farewell Geoff! Thanks for everything that you've done for the club. And in reply to your last comment "I'll be seeing you Mark" I'd just like to say "Not if I see you first".
This report has gone on considerably longer than I expected (just like Geoff's stay in the bridge club). What can I say?
Geoff, this is your bridge club.
John Stell has a different view: `` If I remember it was me bidding a two suited ghestem bid and Geoff with his powerhouse decided not to come into the auction for some strange reason - I think the pass cards aren't as heavy?'' (email 1st May 2001).
Geoff Ostrin provided me with many years of free entertainment. He also helped the writing of this article by supplying many details of his time in the club. Neil Daniels supplied me with details of the vomiting incidents and Isobelle. Neil Renwick prompted me about the "French Connection". Richard Twitchett recalled the dynamics of the team that reached the semi-finals of the Portland Bowl.