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?

Brothers in Arms


A couple of years ago I spent several great nights in a fantastic bar. And not just any old fantastic bar, but Robert’s Western World in Nashville, Tennessee, probably one of the great bars anywhere. On the face of it, there’s nothing remarkable about it: It’s a small, glass-fronted boozer, with the bar running down the length of one side, shelves full of cowboy boots running down the other and the beers pretty dire (we are in the State’s after all). But there’s enough whisky (sipping or otherwise), stetsons, dancing, good ol’ boys and sensational live bands to keep anyone happy for oh, about 12 hours a night, I reckon.

I’d been recommended this bar by my old mate and former colleague Jim Frederick (that’s him above, left , trying to keep the author upright, in front of the stage in Robert’s). Jim knew that me and my pal Shaun would be in Nashville and arranged to meet us there.

He had left the UK to return home to the States to write a book of the true story of some US soldiers who go into a spot of bother in Iraq. In fact they got into a lot of bother. A lot of his research took Jim to Kentucky and Tennessee and the Army posts and barracks thereabouts.

The three of us settled in for a long night of chat and booze, country music playing and boots stamping all around us. As the three of us drank and jawed our way though the evening, Jim had Shaun and I spellbound by his story, a sad, occasionally horrific, always gripping tale of boys plucked from the suburbs, given a gun, shouted at and sent abroad to fight. What happened to them created headlines all around the world and is an astounding yarn of the effects and the stresses of battle on our fighting forces. I demanded a copy of the book when it came out.

A night or two later (or it may have been that same night, my memory isn’t what it was) into this maelstrom of Johnny Cash tribute bands, blue-grass guitars, hoopings-and-a-hollerings, and yee-haws, walked a young lad and his family. The relatives had come into town for a drink and to toast this young man and wish him good luck. He was off overseas to fight in one of the wars in which America was involved.
He was in his number 1’s, USMC mess uniform, immaculately turned out, tightly cropped blonde hair and looked about 17 years old.

And he looked absolutely terrified.

Then a very strange thing happened to me: I stood up as he walked by and I shook his hand, wishing him good luck. Dunno why I did that. Have never considered myself a war-monger, and am no great patriot (even in my own country, let alone theirs) but yet I felt this was the correct thing to do. I guess it was because I could see the fear in this lads eyes, and got angry at the madness and folly of sending our youth to the slaughter, leaving the politicians thousands of miles behind at home to spin their corrupt webs.

I’ve never been that close to a Marine before or since (during our stay, everywhere was swarming with young soldiers on their way to, or returning from some conflict-or-other). It’s not something you see very often back home, thank god. But without getting too daft about it, I will remember that boy’s face for a very, very long time.

Anyway, the book’s out now, and I’m about to order it. So should you.

And you can buy it on Amazon here