The Vicar and Provisional Balls

woodySome days stand out in the memory.  They shine like precious jewels.  They are beyond price. Others, such as Vicar-gate are best forgotten.

“Any plans for tomorrow” asked the Golf Police.

He had just finished watching a rugby match.  I closed my book.  “How to Putt out of Your Mind”.  Third time of reading and still I missed putts. Misread the break or pace.

“Might have a seaside day” I replied.

I took the book to bed and dreamt I slotted a putt to win The Open.  Downhill. Right to left break.

Shortly after sunrise, I threw some shirts and socks in the washing machine,  a few clubs in the boot,  and pointed the car in the direction of the coast.

The plan had been a short stroll along the cliff top. But it was too cold. Too windy. Even for a short walk, so we called into the golf club. Read the notice boards, checked out the competition boards and bought some balls from the pro.

Can’t interest you in any clubs?” he said.

We walked away from temptation and found an empty table in the halfway house, with its smell of  coffee and rashers of bacon sizzling in the frying pan. Big slabs of bread pudding and cake sat on the counter. Outside we could glimpse the lighthouse on the headland and a wild sea.

“What can I get you today?” asked the lady behind the counter. 

Temptation won and we  shared a slice of home made coffee and walnut cake. Tea was served in big china mugs and the tables, with their napkins and menus, soon filled with golfers wrapped up against the cold.

“Mind if we join you ladies?” A four ball pulled up chairs, called out their orders and shared their fairway tales. Sandy pars and chips that almost touched the flagstick.  Sliced drives, provisional balls and missed putts.

“I’ve got a great book you can borrow. About putting”.

“He only reads the betting odds and footie scores” said the Big Fella who got the sandy par.

They finished their tea and bacon butties and headed out to battle the wind and the back nine.  We wished them well and went for a leisurely drive around the coastline, before buying a bag of chips.

“Must be all that sea air. If we share them, its only half the sin and half the calories”.

The portion was generous.  It looked more like three sins.

Parked on the cliff top, within the shadow of the lighthouse , we savoured the chips and watched a black dog chase the waves of an incoming tide.

I love the roses on your tights.  Same dusty pink as my lipstick” said the little figure from the passenger seat.

Gear for a non golf day.  A denim skirt. Cornflower blue top and thick tights with dusty pink roses and ankle boots.

“And I love your yellow jumper”.  The colour of primroses and windblown daffodils.

Remember the buttercups you used to pick me, on the way to the beach?”.

I remembered. Small pudgy fingers  which picked a posy of buttercups and daisies. Pressed them  under my mother’s chin, made daisy chains for her hair.Later, on the beach, those same hands would collect sandy sea shells and we would press them to our ears and hear the sea. And holding hands on the long walk home.   I felt the beginning of an unbidden tear.

Outside, a bitter wind blew from the north east. It tangled and teased the  the tops of the waves of the grey-green sea, making white horses which rode into the bay. In the distance, we could see the golfers on the back nine. Fighting the wind and the rough. Counting down the holes before they could sink the last putt and seek the warmth of the bar.

Two gulls stood on the cliff top, looking forlornly out to sea.

“Why don’t you give those chips to the gulls?”

We had our fill.  Waste not want not.

Before the chips hit the ground, the sky turned dark from a feathered squadron  diving on its prey.

“Poor you” said the little figure, laughing in the car.

We drove home with the aroma  of vinegary, salted chips.

Time for tea in bone china cups and the crossword.  I read the clues but each time was beaten to the answer.

” How about this one. 12 across.  Dickens novel.  Five letters”

We both knew the answer.

The house on the cliff top. Overlooking one of the bays of our childhood.

“Remember we used to walk passed it on the way to Kingsgate?”  

“Remember how scary it looked in the moonlight?”

“Remember the day we looked round it? We went in the upstairs study, overlooking the bay, where Dickens scribbled away.  

“Remember I got into trouble for sitting in the chair?”

And then we had an ice cream and sat on the pier and watched the fisherman with their lobster pots And we took home some fish for tea……” Crosswords and memories. 

Bleak fitted neatly with the other clues.

We got stuck on 23 across – temporary or conditional – 11 letters. Ate home made fruit cake and drank hot tea. Admired the brave snowdrops, which stood defiant against the cold.

“Be nice when the weather is warmer and you can sit in the garden”.

“And you can play some more golf without all those layers and hand warmers.  Spring will warm my bones” said the little figure in the chair, looking out to the garden.

Golfers to the core.  We spoke of tricky par fives and missing putts for par. Matches lost and matches won.  We looked at Hogan’s Bible. Studied the pictures of hand action and hip turn ratio to shoulders.

When it was time to leave, another hug, another look which said  – Don’t leave it too long. Come back soon. I love you and miss you.

Write me one of your stories” said the little figure by the window in the chair.


I promised.

“I’ll be back soon” I whispered.

On the way home REM sang “Everyone Hurts”.  I changed the station.

And between the bowls of porridge and the ironing board, between the game of golf and the snowdrops, I kept my promise.  Wrote a letter and dropped it into the postbox.

Dearest Mama,

Just thought you might like a few words to brighten your day.  I can see you sitting in the chair with the crossword and watching the birds. I expect Dad is digging over the vegetable patch. Or perhaps he is tinkering in his workshop or out with the dog? I have recovered from the trauma of the gull attack on the cliff top.  Would have made a good story for the local press.


Managed to get out for a game of golf this week. Swing is not very reliable and have booked a lesson. I paid into the swindle but did not take home any winnings. Even missed nearest the pin and found the bunker. The putting has improved so it was worth reading the book three times!

The clubhouse was full so we had to sit on the patio.  Freezing. Wake for a Very Old Member. He had been a good golfer in his time. Sliced his driver but had a deadly short game. Could chip stone dead and sank most of his putts. I wondered if he had read the same book as me about putting?

We watched the  Vicar circulate in the clubhouse, a few words here. A handshake or conciliatory pat on the shoulder. Excusing himself,  he stepped outside onto the patio.  Had a nicotine fix and a few minutes reflection before coming to sit with us.  Said he played a bit of golf himself in his time. Once he was ordained, he couldn’t make Sundays so he gave his clubs to someone in the congregation. Said the service did not go without its hitches.No one could find the key to the toilet.  The organist had a cough and picked up  the wrong music. Missed a few bars between coughing fits. The eulogy was very long.  It got worse.  Someone  brought a  guide dog.  It had a fight with the church cat and tried to drink the holy water.

“No wonder I can’t give up the nicotine” he said, with regret.

We shivered, behaved with decorum and Rich said all the right things. Then Sid arrived.

” Oh My God. It’s bloody murder in there” he said, not spotting the stranger in our midst. Wearing a  dog collar.

“Actually, Sid” Big Rich whispered, “Think you will find it was natural causes”.

” Don’t know who’s pegged it but those cakes look great.  I’m wearing black.  Want me to  sneak in and pinch some?”  said Sid.

Rich looked away and the Vicar went a whiter shade of pale. I think he might have had a word with his Boss.

Dear Lord,

Please look out for this crowd.


He went back inside and we told Sid. About the Vicar.

“Oh Christ” he said.

Next time we will check if there is a wake booked on the same day as our swindle.

Must go and burn some supper.

Take care of your sweet self and a big hug.

See you soon. I have not forgotten your story.

Love always  xx

PS.  23 across – provisional.  I should have known that from the number of provisional balls the swindle  play off the tee.

Enjoy the snowdrops  xxx