Uno, as you probably know, represents the number one in at least two languages (Spanish and Italian are the ones that I am familiar with). It is used specifically for nouns that take the masculine form, though this is not always straightforward. The word for a car is masculine in Spanish (“coche”) but feminine in Italian (“macchina”). For once I will not digress too much about languages that assign the masculine, feminine or even the neuter form (hello, Germany) to inanimate objects. (Yes, the German word for car, “Auto”, is neuter.)
Instead, this piece is about the card game Uno which we have taken to playing as a family on Saturday nights. Until the middle of April Saturday was movie night (or, occasionally, movie afternoon). Previous “Word of the week” pieces either side of the new year were built around films that we had seen as a family (“Casablanca”, “Rocky”) and throughout the winter we carried on most weekends. We worked our way through every “Rocky” picture, then “Creed” and “Creed 2”. The last of these was the only film not included with any of our subscriptions, so we had the unfamiliar experience of paying extra to watch it.
Most of the other films were included in our various subscriptions or recorded from TV. “The Railway Children” (nearly 50 years old) prompted my daughter to choose something more up-to-date the following week: “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” (she had just read the book). “Chef” was recorded late one night and included someone signing in the bottom right corner. We weren’t expecting that. “Forrest Gump” had been recommended by a family we know through my daughter’s athletics club, and was a very popular choice. “Sense and Sensibility” was the first Jane Austen adaptation that the children had seen, and featured familiar faces from some earlier movie-watching: Emma Thompson (“Nanny McPhee”), Alan Rickman (from the Harry Potter series) and Hugh Grant (“About a Boy”, “Paddington 2”). There have been movies on DVD too: the original, 1976 version of “The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3”, “Westside Story”, and repeats of “Chariots of Fire” and “Groundhog Day”.
We might return to movies on a Saturday night but for over a month now our Saturday evenings have involved games of Uno. If you are unfamiliar with it, a detailed description here probably won’t help much. Like most games you learn by playing it, which we did at the end of 2019. My brother was visiting from Spain, as was usual until Coronavirus, lockdown and the last 9 months of 2020 changed the world. We spent a couple of evenings with various family members, in various combinations, playing game after game. The most we managed was 9 of us seated round a single table, but people dropped in and out throughout a session. Later in the Christmas holidays my son and I bought our own set of Uno cards from Waterstone’s on the High Road. Former “Strictly Come Dancing” champion Harry Judd walked into the shop just after us, searching for some kind of toy or board-game. He was wearing jeans and a t-shirt – no jacket, hoodie or sweater, just a t-shirt. In December.
Since April our Uno evenings have comprised the four of us (my wife, me, our two teenage children). For the first couple of sessions we were sat round the kitchen table, but that didn’t really work, and there wasn’t much on the radio that we wanted to hear. The next time we played (Saturday 8 May) I wanted to keep an eye on the football, Manchester City at home to Chelsea, so we relocated to the living-room. That’s where we keep one of my two favourite pieces of furniture, my mother’s old card table. It folds out to allow four people to sit comfortably at 90 degree angles to each other with no risk of seeing each other’s cards. (My other favourite piece of furniture is the Victorian bureau that I grew up with; I am seated at it right now.) Chelsea won the game in injury time to delay, briefly, confirmation of City’s third title in four years.
The following Saturday the scene was the same, but the game was different: Brighton 1 West Ham 1, which pretty much confirmed that West Ham would not finish in the Top Four. The following weekend we played Uno with Eurovision in the background (all 26 songs, but not the voting) and on the last Saturday in May it was the Champions League final. Once again I was hoping for a City win, and again I was disappointed.
Last weekend there was no live sport and no international music competition, so we played Uno while keeping half an eye on a recording of “Pointless Celebrities” from earlier in the evening. My son won the first game, my daughter won the second, the kind of sequence that makes the whole thing more relaxing for me. There was a time when we played something like 8 games before my son won one, and it was a relief when he did. He gets far less practice than my daughter does: she plays Uno with a group of friends at school most days, in breaks and at lunch-time. That set of cards has become rather sticky so we have a brand new set specifically for home use. They might get next weekend off. I told my daughter that I was recording “The Greatest Showman” on Film Four tonight. None of us has seen it, so maybe we’ll take a break from playing cards this weekend and have Saturday night with a movie again. Or could we do both?