African Winds and the Golfer

woody2It was a John Denver ‘leaving on a jet plane’ moment.  The bags were packed and ready to go, dawn was breaking and the taxi was on its way. But we had a different script.  Different lyrics.

“Your bag is overweight” said the Golf Police.  “I am not paying excess baggage charges”.

Three times the bag was re packed and lugged to the bathroom scales.  Things were sacrificed. Shoes. Tops. Trousers. The pillow remained, snuggled next to the golf books.

The taxi waited on the drive.  Last minute notes scribbled.

Dear Family,

This is us leaving the story.  Leaving on our jet plane.  Heading for a palm fringed pool and the warm winds blowing up from Africa.  I feel sure the pilot will have:

Slept well/not argued with his wife/eaten an egg with salmonella for breakfast/be nursing a hangover or forgotten to put on his lucky socks……. or be heading for a migraine, aneurism or cardiac arrest.

Don’t forget to buy some food and always close the freezer door.

The washing machine still has not learnt how to empty itself. Nor has the dishwasher.

Will be back in time for Romeo and Juliet.

Soon the soft light from yonder window will break and the taxi is on waiting time.  We must away.

Adios  xxxx

PS. Money in the piggy bank if you run short.

The Golf Police added a PPS.

Don’t forget to bring in the post/empty the bins/set the burglar alarm and turn off the heating at night. Don’t drink all my wine and stay safe xx

The taxi glided away in the darkness.  But John Denver was right. We had no idea of what lay ahead.

The pilot was Norwegian.  He did not need his lucky socks and had not eaten eggs tainted with salmonella for breakfast. He reached Velocity One without a hitch and chattered to his first officer about black runs and mountains, as his plane cruised above the clouds and the glaciers.

The Golf Police reclined his seat and fell asleep.

I got the short straw. The kid who spoke about plane crashes and bombs, between colouring pictures in his book.  I checked the wing flaps, engine sounds and clouds.  I wore the lucky socks.  It was time to hand the flying over to the pilot. I checked the flaps one last time, plugged in the iPod and left the man in the front seat to his cockpit, air traffic controllers and winds. The Golf Police slept, the kid kept colouring and we flew through the sunrise.

Our days were spent by the palm fringed pool.  Our nights dining in harbour side restaurants.  Eating paella beneath star studded skies. The winds were warm from Africa and the eight pillowed beds soft.  The tiled floors cool and we slept to the sounds of the ocean.

I traded the fairways for the pool. Rhythm in the water, instead of the tee.  No one swam more lengths.  Each swimmer had to be overtaken and silently swum into second place.  My pool. My challenge.  My domain.

I knew the lines of Juliet and Lady Capulet by heart.  The Bard’s book tucked next to the shades and sun cream. The sun block applied just as it said on the tube.  Every four hours and after each swim.

We picked up Spanish vocabulary, with a smattering of Finnish and Portuguese. England seemed far away as we lazed beneath blue skies and palm fronds.

On Sunday I left the Golf Police to his sun bed by the pool and headed off to the local church. To light a candle and say a prayer. But I had underestimated the pull of  Sabbath bells on the Spanish faithful. Time, tide, tee times and Spanish Catholicism for no man wait. Or woman.  The church was packed. The pews full.

I  found wall space and squeezed between a stout black shawled Spanish senora, with sensible shoes, and a stouter German hombre who smelt of aroma de garlic.

My Spanish was still in its infancy. I quickly learnt I was not a caballero but a senora.  I could wish the waiters a good day and rattle off a good ‘Hasta la vista’ without the ‘baby’ bit. But the church service was a different level. Wedged between the Spanish shawl and the garlic fumes, I enjoyed the mystery of sung and spoken words in another tongue in the small white church, with its Virgin Mary surrounded by little boats and candles.  The altar decked with the colours of Christmas and Baby Jesus tucked snug in the manger of the hay filled stable.

The dark haired priest looked out at his overflowing flock. The earnest congregation fanned themselves in the morning heat, between prayers and reverential genuflection. I joined in with the confession bit.

Dear God,

Sorry for not always being a good person.  Also sorry for taking the knife from the restaurant to cut up an apple.   Watch over the people I love.

Amen

I left out the bit about wishing bad things on the kid on the plane.

I smiled at the priest as we left the little white washed church.

“Nos venos el ano.  Adios amigo” (See you next year).  Delivered like a local.  The priest smiled. With hindsight, I wished I had just spoken with God and not his priest.

The Golf Police was still on the sunbed by the palm fringed pool.

“Good service?” he said.

“Fine. Very Spanish but fine”.

Far away,  Big Rich was in charge of the fairways and handicaps.  The Sheriff filled his diary with golf dates and in between swings, Ruggy thought about scribbling Christmas cards and ordering the turkey.

Even they did not know what lay ahead.  Perhaps only the Priest and his Boss were in on the secret.

The jeans got tighter, the tan darker and still no one beat the record for pool lengths. We ate food cooked by the heat from a volcano and watched the sun set over the ocean.  Strangers became friends.

I finished three thrillers  and a chick lite trashy novel. I ran out of books and  re-read  Romeo and Juliet. The sun cream  tube was almost empty. We knew the name of the waiters’ children and  spoke to the Brazilian towel boy in Portuguese.  Verbs were short and we never got beyond pleasantries.

We missed the sun rise but caught the sunset.  We survived ferocious winds and stayed away from the angry ocean.

And one day, quite by chance I found a new friend.  By the pool.  We spoke not in Spanish, Finnish or German.  We spoke a language unfamiliar with the Golf Police. We spoke Golf.

He played off fifteen.   Nearly got a hole in one. His wife sometimes caddied.  Played with his son. We got passed all the tricky questions.

“So how often do you play?”

“Do you both play?”

He knew the short game was important and his driver was 9.5 degrees. Regular shaft.

I returned to the sun bed and the Golf Police.

“So what were you talking about” he said.

“Home.  Thespian. Romeo and Juliet” I said.  I didn’t mention the four letter word.

We ate our last supper under the star studded sky and packed to return home.

And then with the words of Denver ‘leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again’, everything changed.

It snowed at home.  The country slid to a halt under a blanket of flakes. No Trains. No Buses. No Planes.

Daughter No One sent a text.

Can’t open the front door x

The thespian was more forthright.  Snow did not sit well with Press Nights, cancelled trains and no pavements.

This  bleep bleep bleep snow.  Will need to find a room in town xxx

Motorways gridlocked.  Drivers slept in cars.  Commuters slept on trains.

I tried to explain to the Finnish family.

“But it’s only snow” they said.

“English snow. It’s different”.

It got lost in translation.

All flights were cancelled. There would be three empty seats at the theatre as the Capulets slugged it out with the Montagues and Romeo and Juliet learnt that communication is everything and were doomed.

We booked another flight and returned to the pool. I upped the anti and did extra lengths.  Mowed down anyone who came in my watery space.  And then Spanish air space was closed. The controllers went sick. All of them.

“But why?” said the Finnish family.  We had no answer.

I returned to the white washed church. I was early and found pew space next to a Spanish couple. Style. Class. Co-ordination.  Her blouse matched his waist coat. She wore expensive emerald green shoes. I got my diary out and made a note to order the Christmas turkey and sent a text to the thesp.

Can’t believe we won’t make it back for Romeo and Juliet. You know I would swim back. Break a leg xx

As I pressed ‘send’ the priest appeared and knelt down to speak.

I tried to remember Spanish for ‘sorry’.

“Apenado”.  I mumbled “It was an urgent text.  Turned my phone off now. Sorry”.

He smiled. He smiled a lot this priest. But he did not go away and the woman with the emerald green shoes watched and listened.

He was a man who simply put his trust in God.  He spoke softly. In English.

”Will you read the lesson?”

“I don’t speak Spanish” I replied and heaved a sigh of relief.

“In English” he said.

I looked at the Virgin Mary with her white tulips and tall ivory candles.  The little fishing boats and Baby Jesus in the hay.  I wondered how to speak to this man of God in his purple and gold robes. I wondered what the Spanish translation was for:

“Senor, I have come to your church to light a candle and say a prayer. To be quiet and private.  I wanted the candle to light the dark places of sorrow for someone far away.  Instead, I find you have a slot machine where one euro lights one electric candle. No flickering candle. Just plastic ones with soul less flames.

I want to sit quietly next to the lady with the emerald green shoes and leave my prayers. And I am only here because of the snow and now I am going to miss Romeo and Juliet and I don’t want my plane to fall out of the sky. And you want me to stand before your crowded pews and read to the assembled throng.  Too hard. Too difficult and the answer is no”

That is what I want to say to the dark haired Priest. But the Lord moves in mysterious ways and I too speak softly.

“Si Senor” I say. “Si. I will read”.

He smiles and returns to the altar.  I feel my mouth go dry and can’t believe there was no other sucker to read in his church.  I think about the Killers – ‘nowhere else to run’ and I go into competitive mode.  I can turn dormy five matches around. Chip in off the green.   No one can beat my pool lengths.

I remember all the rules the thespian has taught me. Speak slowly. Breathe.  Look up as you speak.  Don’t make it sound like a funeral. Even if it is one.

And when the priest beckons, I stand between the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus and I try to read the words of Isaiah the Prophet with a smile. I try to leave them wanting more.

It’s ok.  I get through all the verses and just forget to genuflect at the end.  The priest and lady in the emerald green shoes both forgive the transgression.

I listen to the mystery of the words again and confess my sins. All of them.

Dear God,

I know sometimes I miss out mentioning some of my smaller sins, but I guess reading this lesson makes us level. Look after those I love and watch over the pilot when we wing by you dodging clouds on the way home.

I own up about hating the kid on the plane and the Spanish air traffic controllers. It’s all out in the open.  No secrets in the little church hard by the Spanish harbour. I tell Him the knife has been returned and even tell Him about the book swop at the Irish pub. You take a book and swop it for another.  Except I took two and left one……..

“Sorry” I whisper on the hard, unforgiving pew.

I light the electronic candle, leave a prayer and say farewell to the priest.  The Golf Police is still by the pool.

In the evening, the same night we are meant to be sitting in the circle watching the star crossed lovers, the balcony scene and our sparkly star, we go out for a meal.

“I know how you feel about missing it” said the Golf Police, rubbing moisturiser into his tanned body.

“So we’ll go somewhere nice.  Have a bottle of wine under the stars and drink a toast to our thesp”.

He so nearly got it right.

We bid farewell to the pool, the palm and the warm winds of Africa. I leave a book and a ball marker for the New Golf Friend, who almost got a hole in one and has allowed the game to seep into his soul.  I leave him a note.

Hope you like the book and sink some good putts with this ball marker.  I bought it with the money Big Rich gave me when I beat him on the eighteenth.  Makes it kind of special.

Ditch the driver and buy some new clubs.  Keep practising the short game.

Let me know when you get down to twelve. Ring if you ever get to our neck of the woods and we will go out for a game.  You can meet Big Rich and the gang.

Safe home and thanks for the poolside friendship.

Woody x

I leave out the pillow, pack the golf books, jump in a taxi and head home to the snow.  Time to leave on our jet plane.

I wear my lucky socks.  Odd. One with yachts and anchors and the other with pink sheep.  I tie a green ribbon to my jeans and think about the prayer and the candle in the church.

I get an aisle seat. Port side. Seven rows back from the exit.  Perfect view of the cockpit. There is no kid talking about bombs and crashes.  I get a glimpse of the pilot as he sits in the cockpit before take off. He looks like he slept last night. Brown hair. Blue eyes and he smiles as he talks to his first officer. A man who had toast for breakfast. Not eggs.  Not a care in the world.

The Head Steward is Portuguese and I practice my smattering of words.  I ask him about the pilot  and wish him a Merry Christmas. He looks like someone who enjoys life and has no plans to die. Soon.  But I don’t tell him about the odd socks and the lucky green ribbon.

And as we fly above the clouds, I think about the frozen fairways wearing their blanket of snow.  The cancelled trains. Buses and planes. And I think of the thespian and the last Spanish meal by the ocean, warmed by African winds. The night we should have been sitting in the circle, not under the stars.

The Golf Police chose the restaurant and booked the table.  Ordered the wine and gave me the menu.  And on the wall of the restaurant are black and white photos.  Of Venice.

And on the menu is a pizza.  Called Romeo and Juliet. And as the words blur, I looked out to the ocean and thought of home.