Thu, 05/01/2008 - 17:12

In chess, pawn to c4 is known as the English Opening.

This story also begins with an English Opening - a retiree from Albion buys himself a house in a Bulgarian village. His name is John and he loves Bulgaria. He's visited the Black Sea a few times and even knows a little Bulgarian - he understands almost everything, despite his broken speech.

John's neighbour is the villager Ivan. Their gardens are divided by a common fence with a komshuluk, or little gate. Ivan immediately hops through the komshuluk to meet his new komshiya, or neighbour.

“So you're from England,” Ivan says, eyeing the foreigner with suspicion. “Where exactly in England, eh komshi?”

“From Manchester,” replies John.

“Which Manchester?” Ivan asks, because he has cable TV and he watches English football. “United or City?”

And without waiting for an answer, the Bulgarian asks him a second question:

“Hey now, Uncle Johnny, why did you sell your boy Beckham to the Spaniards? And then to the Americans?”

Here John finds himself unable to reply, not only due to his insufficient knowledge of Bulgarian. Luckily, Ivan isn't listening to him anyway, but continues his interrogation:

“Will Wayne Rooney play this Sunday or is he still injured?”

“No understand… Me no watch football,” the Englishman attempts to explain in his pidgin Bulgarian.

“You don't watch football?” Ivan is thunderstruck. “You don't watch the Premier League? You're not a real Englishman - you're nothing but a hayseed!”

“Yes, seeds!” John replies. “Want plant seeds in meadow, grow tomatoes, peepers…”

“Who the heck grows tomatoes anymore?!” Ivan exclaims in astonishment. “You're not gonna get rich that way! If you want tomatoes, go to the shop and buy them! So what if they're Turkish - what difference does it make?”

At this point the Bulgarian villager offers his English neighbour a sure-fire get-rich-quick scheme - hitting the jackpot. And not just any old jackpot, but the Euro Football jackpot. All they need to do is to pool their bets for the English matches, hit the jackpot and split the winnings “Feeftee-feeftee”!

John declines the offer. He has other plans - to fix up his house, clean up the garden, and plant vegetables and flowers.

“Friggin' idiot!” concludes Ivan and retreats to his own garden.

After this English Opening, the game between the two neighbours moves into its middle phase - the Mittelspiel.

John really does fix up his house, painting it himself and replacing the roof tiles. Ivan watches him and from time to time yells over the fence: “That's never gonna work!” But John continues working and things do work.

Later the Englishman looks for a tractor to plough his garden. It turns out there isn't one in his village, but in the neighbouring village - the only problem is the tractor driver is on a permanent bender. So John buys himself a small tractor. He ploughs his own land then begins to help the other villagers. They start seeking him out not only for his tractor, but also for his chainsaw - John has outfitted himself with a petrol-powered wood cutter. He offers his services to the whole village, but not for free. He wants to be paid for his work - not much, but at least the local going rate.

While John works, Ivan sits in the pub talking trash.

“Who does that capitalist think he is!” Ivan gripes and lifts his mug of beer. “He came here to skin the locals alive!”

He orders himself another beer and raises his voice: “That's what happens when we sell our land to foreigners! They'll make us into slaves!”

And he sits gaping at the television. Cable transports him to London's Highbury Stadium where Arsenal is playing Tottenham. Ivan is sure that the match will be a walkover, since his boy Berbatov plays for Tottenham. Ivan, like all Bulgarians, is convinced that God himself is also Bulgarian!

Thus we head into the Endspiel.

The story has a few possible endings.

First ending (possible, but highly improbable): Ivan hits the jackpot, thumbs his nose at John and buys himself a villa in the Spanish resort of Marbella.

Second ending (possible, but improbable): John's enthusiasm for work wanes, he falls in love with the local rakiya and visits the pub ever more frequently. He lets his garden go to seed and grows a grizzled beard. When he happens upon a copy of the Guardian, he curses the UK MPs as he reads: “That lot waste all their time arguing and don't get any work done!”

Third ending (possible and probable): Bulgaria is a fully-fledged member of the EU. Ivan is now European. He lies in the shade of his plum tree and watches how the other European next-door, John, digs a hole to plant a tree and murmurs: “What did we need Europe for if we're still as poor as we've always been?”

Issue 20

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