Ian Wood: It's time to climb the fence, pick up my out-of-bounds ball and hop on the bus
TIME marches on, as they say, and I'm beginning to feel that not only is it marching on, it's trampling all over me. The joints are in a bad state and when I shuffle off to the shops I am constantly overtaken by toddlers who whizz past me as if I'm standing still.
Assistants in supermarkets have started to offer to pack bags for me, and when I board buses I have to hasten up the aisle before someone with a caring nature ushers me into one of the seats reserved for those who are finding the going unbearably heavy. The cumulative effect of all this has forced me to the conclusion that the time has come for this column to be laid to rest before I am.
The column's been going since, I think, 1987, and I'm supposed to have been retired for the last 17 years. Retirement was a disappointment. At first I had dreams of lolling around reading improving books and going to exhibitions, but as things ground on it became increasingly evident that there was no chance of that. It wasn't that much writing was involved - just a quick blast on a Sunday morning - but columns have a devious way of enslaving whoever is compiling them and no sooner is one column completed than the mind switches to what's going to be on next week's menu. It got to the stage where I could hardly walk down the street without taking mental notes of the strange ways of people, children and dogs - anything that might trigger a fruitful train of thought.
Fortunately, golf, which has been the main source of inspiration - if that's the word - has provided an abundance of material and there's no sign of it stopping. Even as I was wondering how to set about this piece, news came through that a Duddingston member with a remotely controlled trolley had got a bit too remote and uncontrolled at the 18th and watched trolley and clubs plunge into the swollen waters of the burn.
A fair example of the material on offer was the golfer I played with at Southerness while on holiday in Galloway. He was a tidy player and spanked his opening drive down the middle before pitching deftly to the green. I, meanwhile, had gone through the green with my second and, after I'd chipped back, he removed the flagstick and stood by until I'd putted out. He then replaced the flagstick and began to walk towards the next tee. As he did so, I noticed he had his golf ball in his hand. "Aren't you going to putt?" I asked him. "No," he answered, "it just spoils everything." I was a bit shaken at the time, but looking back on it, his course of action, while perhaps a shade defeatist, was an eminently sensible one.Why should an irritating little chore like putting be allowed to mar a golfer's enjoyment of an otherwise pleasant round? I'd have done it myself if I hadn't known the kind of flak I'd have had to take from my regular golfing set who are, in the main, insensitive and tend to go for the jugular.
That same golfing set, however, provided a rich vein of material over the years, though they didn't always know it. One of their number, a virtuoso of the show-stopping phrase, shot into print as a result of a remark made during a round in Spain. His tee shot at a par-3 hole had climbed as far as it was going to and was now plunging inexorably towards a yawning bunker. Another member of the fourball murmured: "That's in," to which our man responded: "Shut up and give the ball a chance."
The same man struck again in Spain when, at the conclusion of an appalling round, he topped his drive to the last hole and, exasperated, took a fairway wood for his second - never a great idea. Moving into the address position with the veins throbbing in his forehead, he hissed: "Right, no more of this finesse!" As his last remaining golf ball sailed gracefully out of bounds, I remember racking my brains to recall traces of finesse I'd detected during that round but, really, I couldn't think of any.
Musselburgh's old championship nine-holer was a rich source of memories, though it was at Monktonhall that I first got on speaking terms with a golfing great - Jack White, the Open champion of 1904. He told me to clear off. Down at Levenhall, it was someone else who cleared off. A tall, gangling lad from Portobello, against whom I'd been drawn in a competition got off to a bad start and sliced clean off the course at the fourth on to the adjacent main road. Climbing the fence, bag and all, he retrieved his ball from the far gutter, boarded a passing tram car and I haven't seen him since.
It was an odd way to end a golf match, but my hat's off to that lad, for by his actions he effortlessly achieved the sort of smooth and painless departure I've been trying to effect here with gritted teeth and going flat out. However, don't think it hasn't been fun.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 26 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 12 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: South