Mah Jongg is not just a game. It has become a part of my life that allows me to entertain my Mah Jongg-playing friends, cook great meals to serve to them and test my mental skills during our game play (which, hopefully, is often).
Our good friend, Annelise Heinz, sent me the following email with THE CUTEST MAH-JONGG in the subject line: “Hi Ann, I just ran across this story and knew you would love it. You can’t make this stuff up!”
And yes, I agree – this is the cutest Mah-Jongg…I know you will agree!
MAH-JONGG, THE ELTHAM PALACE LEMUR
How Stephen and Virginia Courtauld, owners of Eltham Palace in South London, lavished attention – and interior designers – on their much-indulged ring-tailed lemur in the 1930s.
THE MARCHIONESS AND THE MILLIONAIRE
Virginia Peirano and Stephen Courtauld met in the Alps. She was impulsive, creative and unconventional, with the title of marchioness from her first, unhappy marriage. Stephen, scion of the Courtauld textile empire and a keen mountaineer, was quiet and ‘unflappable’, according to a former colleague. He had received the Military Cross in 1918, fighting with the Artists’ Rifles.
They were married in 1923 in Fiume (now Rijeka, Croatia). They were both in their early forties, and childless.
On their return to England, they bought a ring-tailed lemur from the Harrods pet department. They christened him Mah-Jongg, although he was soon affectionately known simply as ‘Jongy’.
Among the privileged Bright Young Things (or in the case of the Courtaulds, Middle-Aged Things) of the 1920s and 1930s, exotic or unusual pets were all the rage. Unity Mitford had a grass snake called Enid and took her pet rat to debutante balls. Evelyn Waugh, who satirised this fashionable set in novels including Vile Bodies, described another pet lemur as ‘half a cat and half a squirrel and half a monkey’.
CHARMED AND DANGEROUS
With a large disposable income, the Courtaulds were at the centre of interwar London society, and were noted patrons of the arts. They also loved sailing. With the help of his brother-in-law, Stephen designed a motor yacht he named the Virginia. Over the winter of 1936, the couple sailed her from Cape Town to Egypt; other voyages saw them collecting orchids and making films around the South China Sea.
Mah-Jongg, lounging in a specially designed deckchair, brought a certain tropical cachet to these trips. But he disgraced himself at a farewell lunch for the British Arctic Air Route Expedition on board the Virginia when he bit the expedition’s wireless operator, Percy Lemon, so viciously that he severed an artery. Lemon did not fully recover for three months.
Looking for a new home close to London, the Courtaulds bought the site of Eltham Palace in 1933.
There, the architects Seely and Paget designed a remarkable modern mansion for them incorporating Eltham’s medieval Great Hall. It was lavishly decorated in an eclectic range of styles, from the Art Deco of the dining room to the Swedish-designed entrance hall.
Stephen and Virginia made sure that these glamorous designs didn’t exclude Mah-Jongg: his image was incorporated into Eltham’s architectural and decorative fabric. The mural in the billiard room by Mary Adshead, depicting St Cecilia, features a lemur sitting beside a column, and during the restoration of the Great Hall, new wooden bosses were carved in the likeness of a curled-up Mah-Jongg.
Jongy’s spacious living quarters were on the first floor at the centre of the new house, where its two wings met. From a trapdoor in the floor, a bamboo ladder led to the Flower Room, adjacent to the entrance hall.
His quarters were, like the rest of the house, centrally heated, providing a tropical climate. The cage’s décor of Madagascan rainforests, by Gertrude Whinfield, must have made Jongy feel quite at home. Exoticism of all kinds is reflected elsewhere in Eltham’s décor: the door reliefs in the dining room, for example, combine Classical Greek motifs with depictions of animals and birds from London Zoo.
Mah-Jongg died in 1938, after 15 years spent sharing the Courtaulds’ glamorous lifestyle. Although he only lived at Eltham for four years, his enduring influence on one of the most beautiful 1930s buildings in England can still be seen there today.
By Xanthe Dennis
Drawn from the English Heritage Red Guide to Eltham Palace by Michael Turner
Nothing like hosting a brunch and lots of Mah Jongg in the morning. What could be a better way to start the day? And what better way to end the day with this self-picked and really fun Mah Jongg hand of FFFF DDDDDDDDDD.
I was so lucky to pick those three Jokers because no one was discarding Flowers!
Q. Today one of our tables had an occurrence that had not happened before. A tile was racked and simultaneously the previous discard was called. Who wins? This was not a tournament. One of our players posted this on Facebook and got many, many opinions on this. MOST said they believed the person who picked and racked got to keep the tile, because the person who called at the same time the other tile was racked was just not paying close enough attention. But a few said the caller had the upper hand. Who’s right?
A. It’s called a “simultaneous occurrence.” In all cases, the benefit of the doubt goes to the person claiming the tile. See the tournament rule below:
18. SIMULTANEOUS SITUATIONS: Sometimes a tile may be claimed at the same time as another player racks or discards their next tile. This comes under the “Mah Jongg Rule of Simultaneous Occurrence,” also known as “Interception,” “Precedence of Claims,” and “Concurrency.” In this event, the claimant will receive the benefit of the doubt. Please contact the Director for the official ruling in this matter.
Our wonderful friends, Donna and Boots, held a great tournament in Santa Maria. I think we can all pick up some fun ideas from the following message from Donna. I love the “Hand on the Wall” idea!
Wish I had been there!
Boots and I billed it as the “Biggest Little Tournament Ever” There were 80 people with 60 of them as experienced and 20 newer players each with their own rotation and separate prizes. We had two separate categories so those newer players could play 3 games in the time allotted for the other group to play 4. It gave them an opportunity to be part of a tournament without feeling too anxious. They loved it!
Players came from as far away as Santa Barbara to the south and San Luis Obispo to the north. It only cost $7.00 to enter and first place got $150.00 with cash prizes for first, second, and third place given to experienced and newer players. We donated over $200.00 to a non-profit group in the city of Santa Maria.
We gave away boxes of “DOTS” candy to the first 27 people in the door to encourage people to arrive on time. We had a wonderful breakfast food spread. We played two rounds before a catered Panera lunch and one round after. During each round there was a special “Hand on the Wall” – if you made this hand you got a special prize. There was only one per round.
We had an electric timer that everyone could see to know how many minutes were left. If you didn’t make any mahjes, we gave away Mounds candy bars (because we hoped you had “mounds” of fun) and Charleston Chews (because we know you had some good Charlestons).
You might remember theblog posting from last weekabout our friend Audrey’s cats playing late-night Mah Jongg. Well, it appears that Audrey isn’t the only one with MJ-loving kitties. Our dear friend Stuart in Seattle sent me the following: “Ann, I suppose you’ll now be inundated with cat pics. Here is Nathan waiting for the tiles (Photo 3) and his predecessor Izzy waiting for the other players.”My doggie Lizzie couldn’t care less when the MJ tiles come spilling out. But I certainly never knew that Mah Jongg could be a “catty” game…