Who is this Paul Huggins?
By Phil Smith

Who is this Paul Huggins?

As the paying customers stared in through the cage-bars, they didn't know just what or why they were looking at him. The young Paul Huggins would stare back in bemusement. Why was it that people would come and spend good money just to point and comment in hushed voices? Well, there was a very good reason: Paul, until the age of six, was a fairground attraction; he was a circus freak.

The problem with Paul's early career was that, well, there wasn't really anything to point and stare at. The circus management had been promised a real freak that would attract slack-jawed yokels from around the world; the advertising agency promoted the latest attraction promising "the most hideous thing that had ever been seen", and yet all there was was a normal looking child. There had been a huge mistake: the hideously disfigured Paul Higgins had been sent by a clerical error to boarding school, where the lack of proper counselling for the continual peer group abuse led to the now infamous knife-wielding attack of 1989. But for three long years people would pay, point and stare at the young Mr. Huggins wondering if, like some odd work of modern art, they were supposed to 'see' something in this child that was worth the entry fee.

It is my opinion that most character traits are formed in the first five years of our lives, and it must be assumed that the creature that we now know as P.H. is mostly a result of those involuntary exhibitionist years. Paul spent nearly all of the rest of his days trying to avoid being the centre of attention. In fact, most of the time he tried to become invisible. Literally. Few people have spent as much time in the library and in the laboratory investigating ways of making matter transparent to the eye. As an aside, the nick-name P.H. was originally pH, though I don't like to mention that as it points out what a bunch of geeks the rest of us are.

Given that making physical matter invisible to the eye is not possible, Paul's task was like that of the early alchemists — doomed to failure. However, in the course of his studies he came up with the Elliott-Halberstam conjecture — a complex theorem to do with prime numbers — and this led to a considerable amount of publicity and even fame in mathematical academic circles. As this was the exact opposite of what he had intended from his work, there was some irony attached to this development. He shunned his work and the theorem became a conjecture with other researchers credited for its existence. Paul didn't see the lighter side of his mathematics-based irony, however, and in a spate of desperation turned to the liquor bottle to ease his demons.

Alcohol is only a temporary solution to life's troubles. Waking up with a huge hangover are the wages of this temporary solution. And how is a man, made from dust, to pay these wages? The answer in Paul's case was not with a lot of water, bed rest and the morning-long repentance that comes so naturally to any heavy drinker. Rather, his was made with a litre bottle of vodka and a pack of playing cards. Though this might seem a surprising combination for an unholy pact, nevertheless these are the facts that must be recorded.

Each and every day at nine thirty in the morning, Paul Huggins drinks a thimble of vodka and deals himself a bridge hand. One thimble and one thimble only; one bridge hand and one bridge hand only. This is all he is allowed in the terms of the pact, and this is all he ever does, each and every day. In return for this ritual, he is forevermore protected from having a hangover, or from feeling undue pain from publicity. You see, the vodka is protection from the hangover, and the bridge hand protection from... well you get the picture.

The thing is, while the heavy drinking has long since gone by the wayside, removing the need for the always-adhered-to vodka ritual, the bridge playing has gone though the roof. Not only does Paul deal a hand of bridge at nine-thirty every morning, he also plays the game nearly every day and thinks about the game constantly. The great thing about a man who thinks about the game as much as Paul is that there sure is a lot of really poor bridge to think about. And being the kind of devotee that he is, thinking about the game just won't do: writing about it and talking about it in all its glory is a must.

And this is why we keep getting e-mails from Mr. Huggins, describing terrible auctions and ridiculous declarer play. And defences, oh the defences! But the great thing is, as long as it's about bridge and not maths, or science, or drinking booze, or being a freak, then he is never going to get the recognition he deserves. And that's the part that is really important to Paul.

An Aside

It is a well known fact that, when you write more than three articles for poorbridge.com, you get your own biography. Well, unless you tick the invisible "I don't want a biography" box on the submission form that is. On the other hand, if you really want a biography, then you simply buy a member of the staff a bottle of single malt whisky (higher standard than Glenmorangie), and you automatically get a bio.