Kong! Pung! Green Dragon! Red Dragon! Three of Seasons! Mah-Jongg!
Even the names of the tiles are magical, are they not? And the etchings upon them, the fine calligraphy, the mysterious world of a very ancient culture and a game which goes back, far far back into the mists of time, all conjure up a special reverence, a mystery and a piquant desire.
Not to mention a near-homicidal need to win at all costs, especially when playing with younger, and in many cases more adept, siblings!
I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t playing Mah-Jongg with my parents and, as they were hatched, my younger siblings. The memories go back to early childhood and the set shown in the images above and below lived in a cupboard in the hallway of our house in Headington, Oxford.
There was something incredibly exciting about those times when the old box, with its beautiful ivory tiles, the trays, the scoring spillikins and the rules were brought out and set up on the kitchen table.
The distinctive rattle of tiles cascading from box and dice ricocheting all over the kitchen still echoes in my ears, and releases chemical excitement into my system.
Ah! The close-eyed suspicion of building the walls, of cutting into one of them and laying the ‘reward’ tiles atop! The battle to see who would be East Wind in that round! The divvying up of each person’s hand! The different tactics adopted by various family members! The squabbles! The tantrums! The cries of, ‘I’m not playing anymore!’ and, ‘It’s not fair: She always gets a hidden Kong of Dragons!’ and, ‘Somebody didn’t mix the tiles well enough, did they?’
The clear aural memory of loud squawks – for, as a family, we were not exactly quiet! – of, ‘Kong!’ ‘No! You can’t have a go now; you missed your turn!’ ‘Stop trying to look at my tray!’ and finally, triumphantly, ‘Mah-Jongg!’ can still bring a wry grin to my face and a silent tear to the old eyes.
The set we had was, I believe, old even then. I am not sure who had it originally, or where it came from. If any of my siblings are reading this, perhaps they can enlighten me.
But it was an integral part of my childhood – and, after my father’s death, almost ten years ago, the Browning Family Mah-Jongg set came to me. I know now that it can be played online; that sets can be bought pretty cheaply from shops both physical and virtual. I know that the rules are hotly contested; that the varieties in terms of playing this games are legion; that Mah-Jongg as taught to us by my dad may well not be the ‘right’ way of going about it!
But, now settled in Glastonbury, I am hoping that some of the people I have met might be familiar with this game – and that, some time soon, I will be able to set up Mah-Jongg evenings here!
Time the old box rattled its contents upon a kitchen table once more! Time the house resonated to the sound of furious accusations, screeches, crashes as peevish players upturn the walls in a rit of fealous jage – and, more to the point, time for this amazing game of happen-chance and individual strategy to see the light of day, or sunset, once again!