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There’s Only Me in Team.


Get yourself a comfy spot on the sofa in plain view of the Telly and:

Simply print out this sheet and play the game that’s the talk of the town. Why not spend then next three days listening to Colin Montgomery talk about himself while he’s supposed to be commentating on the 2012 Ryder Cup for Sky TV? Get yourself a pen and cross off each word or phrase every time Monty utters one of them (you won’t have long to wait, I promise).

Once you’ve crossed off all the boxes, jump to your feet and shout “Shut up you dull Scotch Fucker !” and, who knows, you could be on your way to our terrific star prize: An hour in a lift with Nigel Mansell and Gavin Hastings. 2nd Prize is a weekend with Sir Nick Faldo and Bernard Gallacher at the Mullett Hatchery, Penge.

Please Gamble Responsibly and Drink Heavily when Asked or Offered.

On Your Marks, Get Rich, Go


It’s nice to hear that the Olympic Torch will be in Croydon today. All morning I’ve been singing to myself  “It’s coming home, it’s coming home, fire’s coming home…”.
I suppose if (as has often happened on this relay) the flame goes out they can always re-ignite it with the embers of a burning sofa left over from the riots.

Yes, there’s no getting away from it : IT’S here. That event that you and everyone at T’BBC Salford has been looking forward to.  London 2012 is here and it doesn’t matter that, like me, the very thought of Sebastian Coe induces in you a touch of the Yangtze Rapids it’s here to dominate your tv set, pub conversation and in some cases, the very hell you live in.

Nobody enjoys sport more than I do (unless I have to actually compete in it, you understand) but I do get the taste of a thousand lemons in my mouth as the BBC commentaries and fanfares are drowned out by the clinking-clanking sound of Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Samsung, Procter&Gamble (as if it’s much of a gamble)  G4S and the rest of them hauling sack-loads of our cash out of the country. And all this before Brendan Foster even gets the chance to sober up, or Michael Vaughan interviews Steve Redgrave about his two Olympic Gold Medals.

The decision to move the BBC out of London in the Jubilee Year (in the end, the Queen refused to move to Bury) and the LONDON olympics is really bearing fruit now. The team in Salford are left to report on events in London the way that Jeremy Bowen used to report on events Syria from a vantage point over the Jordan border. They do, of course, have people nearer the action, but for Orla Guerin read Carol Kirkwood, and for John Simpson read the brilliant Mike Bushell. From their gantry this morning above Freedom Square…sorry…Olympic Park, Carol kindly familiarised the viewer with the London skyline, as if it was us who’d been away, not them:

“…and to the left of the screen you can see the Shard: one of the biggest buildings in London…if not the biggest”. It’ll be one or the other darling, but well done on your preparation nevertheless. She ran out of time before she could show us the exact location of the community Gun Emplacements “Sponsored by Accurist”.

Bushell, with his Homer Simpson gormless smile splashed across his face, sat motionless, desperately trying to remember that Wiggly Baggins had won the Tour de France and not scored a double-hundred at Chelmsford yesterday. Such a pro.

Somewhere between the enthusiastic amateurs and the Shard in the distance (however big it may or may not be) one could just spy the scene of the crime, Park Olympia: A dozen or so thoughtfully-designed, and on a few occasions, strikingly beautiful stadia dotted around what looks like the industrial storage facility next to Heathrow’s Terminal 4.

 If not exactly a war-zone that Kate Adie would be proud to report from, then something that needs the help of the Olympic torch and an accelerant. My knowledge of the English language is not advanced enough to express my sentiments on the bit of sculpture in the middle.

So, at last the sun has come out, as if to welcome the world’s finest athletes to our shores. (I knew it would be hot this week – Carol Kirkwood predicted snow) It certainly shone on 12 South Africans yesterday as 11 of their cricketers made life miserable for an Anglo/Bokke XI at the Oval yesterday, and the 12th – a golfer- not only won The Open at Lytham, but went a long way to dispelling the myth that no-one has ever met a nice South African. Ernie Els overcame the hapless and helpless Aussie Adam Scott who Devon Loch’ed up the home straight, playing the sort of golf that I’d be proud of – bogeying the last four holes.

Poor Adam, it’ll be tough to forget that one. Clearly his caddie Racist-Stevie Williams (it’s a double-barrelled forename), who has claimed all those Tiger Woods victories as his own, clearly lost his golden touch and should now be sacked, never to whiten our door again. Some weird mirrored symmetry in a liberal-thinking, white South African, beating a bigoted kiwi.

But never mind all that now. It’s Olympic week. So gird your loins and cheer for your boys (and girls). Cast aside your petty squabbles with racism, corruption, corporate greed, scorched earth policies and financial impropriety. This is England, after all. You should be used to it by now.

Cry God for Bradley, Rebecca and Saint George !!!

And Seb can go and fuck himself.

Diamond Dogs it Out


The scene: An office in Canary Wharf, London.

Bob Diamond: “I’m resigning”
Marcus Agius : “You can’t resign, I’m resigning. In fact I’ve already resigned”
BD: “When?”
MA: “Earlier on. Before you did, anyway !”
BD: “You never told me!”
MA: “Well do I have to tell you everything?”
BD: “Yes, frankly”
MA: “You were out hunting with old baldy Hester. Couldn’t get hold of you”
BD: “Anyway, it’s me who has to go. They’ve got me by the balls”
MA: “I thought you were gonna dog it out ? You said to me ‘fuck them, they don’t understand what we do anyway. I’ll tell the MPs on Wednesday to go fuck themselves’. That’s what you said to me”
BD: “Well I’ve been thinking. I haven’t got the balls to front this one out.”
MA: “You’re an American, for Christ’s sake ! You can’t go around admitting to anything now. You’re letting down generations. That’s not the American way.”

A Secretary buzzes through: “Stephen Hester on the line, Mr Diamond. He wants to know if you’re free for a jog around Canary Wharf at lunchtime”
BD. “Oh I need that fat fucker right now, don’t I ? Tell him to bugger off. Tell him I’m away. Tell him anything. Tell him I’m dead”

Bob and Marcus resume their chat:

BD: “Listen. I’ve got my $100 million Dollars out of this lot. I would think I’ll get a nice payoff and Gideon will sort me out, so I’m catching the first stage outta Dodge. Then I’m gonna play a hell of a lotta golf. I’m good mates with Tiger.”
MA: “I Bet you are. Oh Bollocks! What the hell am I supposed to do now ? If I’d have known you were gonna resign I’d have never jumped. I’ve up shit creek with a  poxy couple of million. Plus my payoff, of course. And my shares. Not forgetting the Christmas bonus.”
BD: “Jeeze, sorry, Bud…..Hey wait: I gottit !”
MA: “Oh Christ, what now?”
BD: “No, hear me out. I get a cab up to Regen…er…Bond Street, buy a big leather trunk in which to put all my cash, but on the way back I stop off at Downing Street (I’ll get the cabbie to park round the back) and suggest to Gideon and Davey that you come back but (and here’s the smart part) we’ll say it’s only so that you can choose my successor. You know: we’ll use the ‘we don’t want to leave the ship rudderless‘ bullshit that everyone uses. The public will lap it up”
MA: “They’ll never buy it”
BD: “Why not ?”
MA: “Well for starters, I’ve already said that I was “Truly sorry” for everything and…”
BD: “And What ???”
MA: “er…..well, I think I may have said we were guilty of an ‘unacceptable standard of behaviour’ and that the ‘buck stops with me’
BD: “Oh for Fuck’s sake, Marcus ! Why the hell did you go and do a thing like that ?”
MA: “I thought it might be for the best. Sorry, Bob”
BD “Robert
MA: “Robert, sorry. So they’re not gonna take me back now. How would it look ?”
BD: “When did you say you did all this ?”
MA: “Yesterday morning. It was all over BBC Salford and everything
BD “Hmmm…” (thinks)
“Oh Fuck it, let’s give it a shot. No one will remember that far back. What’s Nick Robinson‘s number ? He’s pretty tame…..”

Missed


The sun in the heavens was beaming,
The breeze bore an odour of hay,
My flannels were spotless and gleaming,
My heart was unclouded and gay;
The ladies, all gaily apparelled,
Sat round looking on at the match,
In the tree-tops the dicky-birds carolled,
All was peace — till I bungled that catch.

My attention the magic of summer
Had lured from the game — which was wrong.
The bee (that inveterate hummer)
Was droning its favourite song.
I was tenderly dreaming of Clara
(On her not a girl is a patch),
When, ah, horror! there soared through the air a
Decidedly possible catch.

I heard in a stupor the bowler
Emit a self-satisfied ‘Ah!’
The small boys who sat on the roller
Set up an expectant ‘Hurrah!’
The batsman with grief from the wicket
Himself had begun to detach —
And I uttered a groan and turned sick. It
Was over. I’d buttered the catch.

O, ne’er, if I live to a million,
Shall I feel such a terrible pang.
From the seats on the far-off pavilion
A loud yell of ecstasy rang.
By the handful my hair (which is auburn)
I tore with a wrench from my thatch,
And my heart was seared deep with a raw burn
At the thought that I’d foozled that catch.

Ah, the bowler’s low, querulous mutter
Points loud, unforgettable scoff!
Oh, give me my driver and putter!
Henceforward my game shall be golf.
If I’m asked to play cricket hereafter,
I am wholly determined to scratch.
Life’s void of all pleasure and laughter;
I bungled the easiest catch.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse

Anatevka


So we’re making progress. The advert is in and the dustman are on steroids.  The house has never look tidier although, to be honest, that’s no great boast. But everything is heading in the right direction, if not quite at ramming speed, then at a very jaunty pace.

As you know, Railway Cuttings is to be put up for rent as the company,  Sharp Single International Holdings (UK Ltd) seeks to consolidate its position in the market. Last week the agent came round to assess the estate. It’s a nervous time, renting your house. Will other people see it as you do ? Will they ignore all the little imperfections and those little-jobs-you-were-going-to-get-around-to-but-never-managed-to ? The door to the barn is hanging off its hinges and the mock tudor gabling atop of the east wing still needs attention for a touch of rot, but otherwise my man was quite impressed.

The drainage in the lower field is still a problem, but only the keenest of eyes would spot it. Seven of the nine bedrooms are in excellent order, he said, and of other two he said the fact that one contains a gin distilling apparatus and the other a bowling machine with practise net shouldn’t be too off-putting to prospective tenants.

“You never know, Mr B,” he chuckled “we might find an alcoholic cricket nut?”
“I doubt if there’s another one in the area” I sighed.

The duck house was, he thought, a rather charming feature and once the moat and the gravel drive had had a little de-clagging then he couldn’t see any reason why the property shouldn’t fly off the shelf. He took a couple of snaps and left me to my chores, while he contacted Country Life to negotiate an acceptable rate for a display ad, hopefully opposite the Girl with Pearls. He’s suggested putting an advert in House and Hound but I thought that would be just a little pretentious.

OscarAdvert

So for the worst part of a week now that’s what I’ve been doing : de-clagging. I read somewhere that to make your house more attractive to buyers you should remove every third item from the shelves, bookcases and kitchen. Apparently it gives the impression of space and cleanliness, a minimalist look that’s so popular these days. Hmmm ok.  I decided that I’d remove every other item on show. I’m moving out anyway so the more I remove now the less work for me later on.

Out went the stack of old newspapers I’d been keeping “just in case” (you remember newspapers, right?). Off the walls came the hat collection, gathered from around the world and my travels on eBay, and hung on hooks to cover unsightly marks, scratches or stains. But I did need to keep something on the walls – to make it look lived-in and homely- so I left hanging my display of memorabilia from the 1947 Cup Final – Charlton Athletic 1-0 Burnely (aet)- and my framed Derek Underwood jockstrap.

Hidden from sight was the, now I come to look at it, worrying-looking collection of exotic, once opened booze bottles – the type that you have a crack at late on Boxing Day when there’s nothing else left (and then hurriedly replace the stopper): Greek gin, Spanish vodka and Japanese scotch, Pink Cloves, Jamaican ouzo and grappa. Some of it donated to the cause over the years, and some collected by myself at some time, somewhere and in a some heightened state of optimism that it’d taste just as delicious as it did when that dodgy waiter served it to me during that summer holiday all those years ago. No, the bottles definitely had to be put away. Not disposed of, you understand, just hidden. Well, you never know, do you?

Some of this stuff MUST be drinkable

The first swoop through the house was pretty successful, if a little tiresome and depressing. Thanks to staying up all hours to watch the Ashes cricket in Australia (you knew I’d get to it in the end, didn’t you ?) I’ve been suffering from sleep deprivation and there are early signs of exhaustion. Usually the English are so piss-poor that after the first match I could ignore the rest of the series, but it seems that the Aussies are rather less than average this time out so I fear I shall feel like this for the next 6 weeks.

So I wasn’t in the best of condition to lug dirty great bags of rubbish to-and-from the attic to the rubbish bin outside. Poor bloody dustmen. I trudged through the house carrying two bin-liners: one for stuff for the tip, the other for eBay (they’re pretty much interchangeable), in my semi-conscious state dreaming of Australian wickets to the soundtrack of Fiddler on the Roof. I snapped myself out of my malaise. It’s not as if the Tsar’s Cossacks are running me out of my little dwelling but the Tossacks from Natwest surely will if I don’t make other arrangements soon, so moving out before the bailiffs move in is by far the best plan of action.

But nevertheless I can’t say it made for happy work. When you systematically go through each and every item in your home you find yourself dwelling over the history of it and the enjoying memories for several minutes, before stuffing it into one bag or the other. Most bits you find, of course, turn out to be complete crap and something you haven’t thought about, let alone looked at for several years. It’s a time for that good clear-out you always promised yourself, but it’s still a less-than satisfying thing to do, if for no other reason that you realise just how much useless shite you’ve accumulated over the years.

The exciting news, of course, is that the new property is taking shape. The Incumbent is, as I write, overseeing work on The Sharp Single’s new HQ down in the pretty little hamlet of Dartford. Unfortunately somehow we managed to hire the firm of Hamza and Hawking to carry out the refurbishments of the new offices and they are less than perfect. If you poke your head out of the window and listen hard you may be able to hear the squeals of pain as The Incumbent inserts a spirit level into Mr Hawking.  The Incumbent doesn’t suffer fools gladly (she makes allowances for me, bless her) and these cowboy builders obviously didn’t realise there was a new Sheriff in town. If by the end of the day they’re not strung up by their plumb-lines I shall be very surprised.

For those of you who don’t know it, Dartford is in the heart of the county of Kent in the South East of England. Set amid rolling hills of fabulous English countryside, it is famous for The Peasants’ Revolt (tick), hop fields (tick tick) and for being the main escape route out of Essex (tickety tick tick).

Inshallah,  the 2011 Sharp Single will be published from its new premises, a huge purpose-built, neo-Georgian villa complete with billiards room, a nine-hole putting green and bar. From my desk (I’ve been allocated the potting shed) I shall enjoy the grand vistas of the oast houses, apple orchards and cement works of the surrounding area which some critics aren’t already calling the most exiting and up-and-coming town east of Erith. There is, of course, ample parking.

So now I sit and I wait for the phone to ring. I imagine in a week or two there will be a long queue forming outside of people eager to rent this undes-res. I envisage scenes akin to Shallow Grave as I carefully select my first tenants. It might be fun. It could be tortuous. It will be another story.

Roll Over Beethoven


So the match is over, the race is run. Nothing else left to do than take to the podium and soak up up the applause, pick up your medal, then face the flag, put your hand over your heart and sing your guts out to the national anthem. Simples, as they say.

If you happen to be British you don’t get to hear your national anthem much – certainly not after sporting events. The soundtrack of my youth would more likely include the East German, USSR and USA anthems than the British one. Throughout the 70s and the 80s being crap at sport was something that not only defined us as a nation but thankfully spared us and the rest of the world the torture of listening to God Save the Queen. My god it’s dull. It’s a dirge and it’s terribly, terribly, boring and tedious and dull, never mind the sentiment in the lyric: asking one bloke I don’t believe in to save a woman I don’t believe in.

The only national anthem slower, duller and less inspiring than ours is possibly “Oh (fuck it’s) Canada”. Were both tunes penned by the same guy? Fortunately the Canadians tend to be as feckless at sport as we are so the chances of listening to their anthem are equally slim. There are some terrific tunes out there, to be sung in the name of sporting excellence and patriotic pride, just GB and our colonial Canucks don’t possess one.

The Italians have a great one – “Il Canto degli Italiani“(The Song of the Italians) – even though it seems to be three songs stuck together. Watching the Italian Rugby team belt it out before an international match, tears rolling down their eyes is truly a marvellous spectacle. The French song is great too – I always well up when that woman sings “La Marseillaise”- halfway through Casablanca. Few would deny “The Star Spangled Banner” is a cracking tune, even if it’s a bit overplayed, and hearing the old Soviet song – the nattily entitled “Gosudarstvenny Gimn Rossiyskoy Federatsii” was always a thrilling experience, right up until The Pet Shop Boys butchered it.

“Advaaaaaaance Australia Fair” always reminds me of “We Plough the Fields and Scatter”, but at least it’s a happy little ditty. Brash, short and childlike – sort of sums up the whole nation really. The Germans still insist of using the same tune as was rather popular over there in the 1930s and 40s, they’ve just changed the words a bit. Uber alles, they seem happy with it, so who are we to cringe ?

So it was with some trepidation and reluctance last night that 12 half-pissed and totally knackered European golfers took to the stage to collect the Ryder Cup. The speeches over, they stood as one, faced the row of flags representing their respective countries and drew breath. The PA system burst into life with a lovely rendition of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, from his 9th Symphony.

“What the fuck’s this?” squawked one critic with whom I was watching the coverage.
“Mozart” says I, erroneously.
“Why the fuck are they playing Mozart?” asked another couch-bound pal.
“It’s the European Anthem. This is your anthem” I informed him, correctly this time.
“Is it bollocks. Who voted for that then?”
In truth, I’m unused to arguing over either 18th century music or the voting systems of the EU, but I gave it a go.
“The European government did. Ages ago” (apparently it’s been our anthem since 1985, it’s just few realise it) “It’s a good tune, isn’t it? Better than ours”
“But it’s German !” someone pointed out in horror. Admittedly they had me there.
“Could be worse” I offered “Could be Mahler”
I was greeted with blank Homer-esque looks. I tried again. “Well there are so many different nations, they just chose one which encapsulated the continent as a whole”
“Bollocks !” came a cry from the armchair. Strange, I didn’t remember inviting Melvyn Bragg round to watch the golf.

Back on stage, our golfers were clearly having similar doubts about the music. There they stood, motionless, looking both a little bewildered at what they were listening to and what they were supposed to do. Just one – the great Miguel Angel Jimenez – seemed to be singing along. But what was he singing ? Did he know the words ? And in which language was he singing them ? Or was he just making them up, mouthing nonsense like an English Politician at a Welsh political conference ?

So I looked the lyrics up:

Joy, beautiful sparkle of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium!
We enter, fire-drunk,
Heavenly one, your shrine.
Your magic again binds
What custom has firmly parted.
All men become brothers
Where your tender wing lingers.

Personally speaking I have never entered Elysium’s daughter, fire-drunk or otherwise, but apart from that it seems pretty placid and neutral, doesn’t it ? It’s not a rabble-rouser, it’s not particularly jingoistic and unlike the original words of “God Save the Queen” it doesn’t point out that there are “Rebellious Scots to crush”, even if there are. And it’s a nice tune, so why not adopt it as our own ? Teach it in schools, rugby and football clubs the continent over. Job done.

Or rather it isn’t.

With no Ryder cup to watch any longer, I switched channels this morning to take my first glimpse at The Commonwealth Games. This has always been a bit of an oddity in the sporting calender because, as there are no Russians, Germans or Americans to lose to, we have to make do with losing to Kenyans, Australians and South Africans. It’s also one of those rare sporting competitions when Great Britain splits into its component parts of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the other lot, who compete against each other. Here again “God Save The Queen” is not appropriate as HRH is Queen (apparently) of all the competing nations, and it would be a bit boring (as if it wasn’t anyway) to have to listen to the same turgid song at each medal ceremony. So, the Jocks have chosen “Flower of Scotland”, the Northern Irish “Danny Boy” and the Welsh, well probably “Delilah” or something, but they’re not expecting to get the record out of its sleeve for a while.

England have traditionally gone for “Land of Hope and Glory“, a full-thrusting, ball-breaking sing-yer-heart out sort of number, a million miles away from “God Save…”. And so, having watched the English swimmer Fran Halsall romp home in the 50m butterfly I sat back to enjoy her picking up her medal, stood as she was between the two Strines who were both predicted to beat her. There she was, gold round her neck, as proud as punch and the band struck up. But we were not to be treated by “Land of…” but instead we got “Jerusalem”.

Now Jerusalem is a lovely old song, sung at school assemblies and on rugby terraces throughout the land. But it does have a tendency to go on a bit (remind you of anyone?). But nevertheless, we’re told that there was a national poll in which “Jerusalem”, as recorded by the The Grimethorpe Colliery Band (I’m not making any of this up) won the day by beating “Land of Hope etc” by some votes to some fewer. National poll my arse. Anyone out there asked to vote for this?

So off they went, knocking out a decent rendition of William Blake’s poem. One verse takes a good while to complete. We got both verses of it. And poor old Fran had to grin and bear it. It went on forever. At the start she look excited and a little bit teary. By the end she looked embarrassed, cramped up, bewildered and in danger of nodding off. To win her gold medal she swam one length of the pool in 26.24 seconds. The anthem took 2 minutes 25 (yes I timed it). I emailed the fragrant Clare Balding at the BBC if this was a Commonwealth Games record.

She hasn’t replied, but I suspect it is a record. For now. I’m starting a new “national” competition to vote for England’s anthem for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (which’ll doubtless make Delhi look like Las Vegas). Suggestions so far include “Bohemian Rhapsody” “Bat out of Hell” (extended version) and “Eskimo Nell”. My plan is to find to an anthem longer and more tedious than the 50k Walk. Morrissey albums are exempt on humanitarian grounds.

Elsewhere: The Philippines crack down on anthem abuse

Preferred Lies


About this time a two years ago I was in Kentucky trying to find a decent pint. A bunch of selected chums and I had gone over there to lay to rest the myth that the colony had thrown away the recipe for beer when they threw all that tea into the water in Boston a few years ago.

We were also there, of course, to witness one of the world’s great sporting events: The Ryder Cup. A couple of us had been to one before, in Spain 1997, and it was an experience we wanted to repeat. The build-up the matches was electric. Louisville had been invaded by thousands of European fans, including seemingly half of Ireland, and the locals couldn’t have been nicer about it (especially after they realised how much Guinness they were gonna sell that week).

The US fans were passionate about a victory which had eluded them for several years and they did their very best to cheer their team on as American captain Paul Azinger‘s 12 men visited the bars and restaurants down the main drag the night before the match. Every steakhouse and every bourbon house rang to the sound of the American chant:

USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! “USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!”

It was impressive stuff. American fists were pumping, the US flags were waving and, having failed to find a decent local brew, we sank endless pints of Irish stout, soaking up both the alcohol and the atmosphere. One woman tapped me on my shoulder.
“Please tell your friends that we’re not all like that” she said, motioning towards a crowd of jumping, star spangled piss-heads in full rabble-rousing flow.
“Don’t be daft” says I “there’s nothing wrong in cheering for your team. We’re loving it”. It was true, too. I’d never seen this sort of patriotic fervour up close and whatever side you were rooting for, it was pretty impressive.
“We just wish you’d get yourself a better song” I added.”

Our team warm up. That shirt still doesn't fit me.

The whole week’s experience was truly sensational. The golf was mesmerising, especially by US team, and the fans were nothing if not generous, friendly and fair. We’d arrived with the slight worry that they wouldn’t respect either spirit of the competition or the etiquette of a golf crowd. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Yes they were loud, yes they where one-eyed, but they were shouting for the home team, and no-one could have denied them that.

“USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! “USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!”

We tried to join in, but couldn’t remember the words.

One damper on the whole proceedings was when the bars were shut on the Sunday morning (they play God Squad rules over there), but we managed to survive on coke and muffins until the allotted opening time. As we sat there on that final day, perched above the 9th green and witnessed the gradual collapse of the Europeans, our new american friends were truly kind and sympathetic to our plight. They neither gushed nor gloated. I like to think we were magnanimous in defeat.

As we shook hands and said our goodbyes one elderly woman said to us “See you in Wales in two years”
“Sod that!” said our Gary “We’ll see you in Chicago in four”
“You guys not going to Newport?” asked her husband incredulously
“Nah” squarked our Gavin, “It’s a khazi and it’ll be underwater in October”.

I don’t think she knew what “khazi” meant. She gave signs of understanding “underwater”.

I didn’t sleep much last night. So excited about this weekend. Genuinely nervous. I’m spending the whole three days lying on the couch, not intending to miss a shot. Went downstairs at 6 am to make a cup of tea and prepare. Put the fire on warm and curl up on the couch. I can get a decent pint from my fridge when I need one (it won’t be long).

It’s been pissing down on the course all night. The course is sodden. Underwater. They’re playing preferred lies. The rain in Wales in October is torrential. Now who could have predicted that?

Time Gentlemen Please


Autumn. Conkers. Squirrels. Cold snaps. Crisp mornings, chilly nights. Leaves falling off, evening closing in, windscreens frosting up. Harvest festivals, the bringing in of the sheaves. It’s a time of change. It’s the end of the season: time to pack away the pads and the bats, put the snorkel back in the loft, the Speedos (still unworn) in the bottom drawer. It’s the start of the season: out with the gumshield, buy a new tube of the liniment, dust off the woolly hat, eek out the hipflask. The ground takes a stud, the grass no longer grazes your knees, you can see your breath as you gasp for it by the corner flag.

Things to look forward to: The Ryder Cup; The Ashes Series; the first M&S Christmas advert; the smell of a hot radiator; Trick or Treat. Things to dread: Charlton in a relegation six-pointer; the new season of The Apprentice; Strictly Come Dancing; The Labour Party conference and Guy Fawkes Night (if that’s not repeating myself).

By way of a change, and in a vain attempt to redeem themselves in my eyes, The BBC weather bureau accurately predicted the end of the summer. They said the last day would be Wednesday and, sure enough Wednesday it was. It was gorgeous. As it happened three of us took to the golf course and we couldn’t have picked a more splendid day to waggle our mashie niblicks around in the open air.

My pal, Big H, is a member of the local golf club, Blackheath, and kindly invited Shaun and I to play a round with him. Blackheath is the world’s oldest golf club, which was fitting as I played it like the world’s oldest golfer. To be fair, my first half-dozen holes were decent enough for one who hadn’t picked up a club for over seven years. However, the effort of whacking a little ball around a few miles of parkland soon took it’s toll on these old bones and by the 10th I was sweating audibly, my feet were quite literally bleeding and I was screaming for my mum long before I limped up the 18th.

I have spent many a year explaining (mainly to women and Americans) how tiring and taxing on the body a game of cricket can be, but imagine the look of incredulation on The Incumbent’s face when she saw me the following day, looking as if I’d been run over my a truck. It’s an age thing, you see, and no matter that 80 year old men happily play four games of golf-a-week without so much as a stiff back, or that there are 50 year old cricketers leading their club’s averages, my body has decided to call time early on my chosen sporting careers. I’m not in the Autumn of my cricketing or golfing life, more like the New Year’s Eve party of it- somewhere between the “can I put your coat up in the bedroom” and the “Auld Lang Syne” of it.

The previous weekend I’d had to cry off the last cricket match of the season, citing knee and ankle failure. It was a depressing decision to have to make, knowing it’d be the best part of seven months before my next one. But I was in so much pain it seemed the sensible thing to do. When later the chance to play golf came along I couldn’t resist digging out my 30 year-old golf shoes (the style of which attracted much derision and mirth from my playing partners) and borrowing a set of clubs.

As nice as they are, it was more than my pals could manage to conceal their amazement at my lack-of-fitness. I dunno why: I’ve never been fit. But the rapidity of my decent into a pool of moaning sweat had them fearing for my wellbeing. Dare I play again ? Will I be asked ? If I do play, will the paramedics be on stand-by? Or do I give it up as a bad job, wait until the 2011 cricket season begins and believe that somehow my body will repair itself in time for me to take an active part ?

There have been discussions (albeit a wee bit one-sided) on trying to get fit. Swimming has been muted. Someone actually mentioned joining the gym. Someone else even suggested dance classes. I glazed over like Homer Simpson at a school play. My mate Johnny Mac (he who has just run from John O Groats to Lands End) even said to me over a pint the other night that “everyone want’s to stay fit, don’t they?” He could tell from my expression he may as well as offered me a half-pint.

So I am seriously considering giving it all up. I’ve had a decent run, after all, and maybe it’s time to stand aside and yet youth flourish ? On most summer Saturdays, by the time I strap on the knee-supports, apply the Ralgex and pop half a dozen pain-killers the game’s already started. If I can’t meander around a short-ish, flat-ish golf course without squealing like a stuck pig maybe it’s time to look for other ways to participate in sport ?

I know how to cut up a half-time orange, fill up the tea-urn or run the bath for the lads while they’re out on the field of play. If pushed, I could be the linesman or touch-judge, as long as the players don’t run too fast. At a push I’d drive the team bus. I could umpire, though don’t ask me to caddy (those golf bags are heavy). There are many, much older than me who will scoff and scorn me for being such a lardy wimp, people who keep themselves in reasonable shape and whose weekends still entail pulling on the boots or the plus-fours, polishing off their bowls or even donning singlet and trotting off for a brisk 10-mile run.

But it just sounds too much like hard work to me. Pass me that shooting stick and hand me the program. I’ll queue up for the Bovril, I’ll happily prepare the picnic basket. Let me join the 100 Club and if you’re short I’ll even mark out the pitch, put out the flags or help out behind the bar. I love the game, I adore the competition, I am never happier than when I walk onto the first tee, or take a shiny red cricket ball on my hand or (back in the days of yore) jog out onto the field and stare down my opposite number. I’d always rather lose 22-21 than win 40-nil. But now it hurts. A lot.

It hurts more than it ever did. It starts hurting sooner and it hurts for longer. Sometimes it even hurts before the match starts. So as I sit here, three days since I peeled off those painful, painful golf shoes and I’m still feeling the pain, it’s now surely time to say “time’s up” My cricket captain never reads this rubbish so I’ll have to write and tell him. I’ve announced my retirement to him before and he ignores me, but this time I mean it. Honest. Having not donned golfing troos for the best part of a decade, my pals won’t exactly mourn my passing.

I can always meet them in the bar after. I’ll be snuggled up in front of Strictly, awaiting Sports Personality of the Year. Anyone fancy a game of crib?

Hitler’s Bunker



What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’

Winston Churchill, speaking to the House of Commons, Westminster, London, June 18, 1940

Meanwhile, just up the road in Richmond, more stirring words…

Replace your divots, sir ! Especially that big one.

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