The Lessons of the Grob

A stranger here
Strange things doth meet, strange glories see;
Strange treasures lodg’d in this fair world appear,
Strange all and new to me;
But that they mine should be who nothing was,
That strangest is of all; yet brought to pass.
Thomas Traherne, The Salutation

January is a long month, and it has started, appropriately enough, in a series of hard frosts. I awoke yesterday morning to a silvered and glaucous world in which nothing, it seemed could happen. The garden birds still had not defrosted by the time I was eating my breakfast (save for a magpie, but magpies are strange birds) and whatever I had planned for the day never really happened.

But this is how years should start. Slowly, reflectively, a little melancholically, not in a flurry of purpose and activity and resolution. There is nothing wrong with starting well, but often the best way to start is to do nothing. I used to know an international chess master who specialised for a time in an unusual opening line called the Grob, after its progenitor, Henri Grob (1904-1974) where white eschews the usual principle of occupying the centre of the board, pressuring the centre from the flanks instead; if, as this chess master explained to me, the prudent rule of thumb in the opening moves is to place your least valuable pieces in the centre of the board first (the pawns) followed by the next least valuable (knights and bishops) and so on, then it logically follows that you should begin in fact by putting nothing in the centre at all, allowing your opponent to run into the horns of the buffalo.

Well, something of the same logic pertains at the beginning of a new year –whether the year is scholastic, financial, Chinese or Gregorian. The old year should go out with a bang, the new year should begin in watchfulness.

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