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The Domino Effect Letters Blog | Barrie Mahoney

'Writing Inspired by an Island in the Atlantic'

The Domino Effect

Have you played dominoes recently? I certainly haven't and, thinking about it, the last time that I played must have been when I was aged nine or ten, recovering from chickenpox and playing the game with my mother during the boring days when I was confined to bed.

During the years that we have lived in the Canary Islands and the Costa Blanca, I often see groups of elderly men sitting together on the pavement, outside a cafe bar, playing dominoes. In most cases, this is not a genteel game played in silence, but quite an energetic activity that involves a lot of shouting and waving of arms. There is one particular group of players that I often see when I pass a cafe bar in our nearest town; it is usually the same group of elderly, and not so elderly men. The game seems to go on for hours.

Yesterday, I noticed that two other tables had joined the usual single table and there was an intense level of interest. I am not sure whether the group were holding some form of competition or playing for reward, but it certainly generated complaints, cheers and loud shouts of disapproval. The noise level was made even higher because of the noise of the dominoes rattling and being banged on the metal tables, which I assume is all part of the fun. Spain is often regarded as one of the noisiest places on the planet, and the playing of dominoes and dice games outside cafes has been banned in Seville, because the intensity of noise disturbs local residents and tourists. I began to see why.

Dominoes may best be described as a game of logic and, like all such games, is important in keeping the brain lively and active. This is particularly important for the elderly. In addition, the act of holding and moving dominoes helps to maintain dexterity and alertness. Although dominoes are a Chinese invention, and were sold by the Chinese equivalent of a friendly Betterware salesman, if you didn't have a set of dominoes in China you were no one. It was to be five hundred years later before they first appeared in Europe, and were brought to Italy in the Eighteenth Century. It is assumed that the game found its way from China to Europe by missionaries who loved playing this Eighteenth Century equivalent of a video game to while away the small hours. The pieces themselves were originally made from ivory, as well as granite, marble, brass or soapstone. Fortunately, most present day dominoes are made from plastic or Bakelite. Judging from the loud noise, I am assuming that Canarian dominoes are made from granite.

I watched the game for a few minutes before moving on. As well as enjoying the game, it was good to see that these elderly men and their friends can meet and enjoy each other’s company. We often read distressing stories of the elderly in the UK who are trapped inside their homes for days on end, because of the poor weather and the lack of visitors or any form of companionship, which is so important for all of us. This group of domino players certainly have other ideas.

© Barrie Mahoney 2023

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