I wonder if he still remembers me. After all these years, probably not. The son of a surgeon, softly spoken and impeccable manners. I remember the day he told me he was leaving. Moving away. No forwarding address. Things would have been different. If he had stayed.
I grew up by the sea and one day summer’s day, I married an oval ball chaser. We had a blast with our balls. Chasing, passing, striking, scoring with different shaped balls. Catching tides, riding waves, fighting currents. Watching sunsets. The sea and its moods, with the mournful lament of the foghorn and the clang of halyards. The lonely cry of a gull in winter and the soaring skylarks in summer, became the symphony and sound track to our lives. We enjoyed late Saturday nights and long Sunday lie-ins. Tasty pub roasts, interspersed with holidays in noisy cities and ocean lapped shores.
One day everything changed. Including the sound track. We became three and traded the sea and skylarks for chaos and nights of broken sleep. Our hyperactive insomniac shaped our days and nights. Sleep and sport deprived, my kit bag, gear and waterproofs were thrown into a cupboard under the stairs, gathering cobwebs and dust. I traded the ocean, bruises and banter for spectator sport, viewed from the sofa. Remote control in one hand, a baby and bottle in the other. In time, we became four and chartered our lives and way through the debris and delight of childhood. Bath times and bedtimes, feeding the ducks and puddle jumping. Shouting at the ocean and skimming pebbles across the waves. Catching snowflakes, building snowmen, the tooth fairy, the magic of Christmas and all the bits in-between.
On Saturdays, with the infant and toddler wrapped against the biting cold wind, we patrolled muddy touchlines. Hookers, with cauliflower ears, launched crooked throws to the line out and wingers scored tries and won the bragging rights in the bar. We learnt all the line out calls, the offside rule and the black arts of the front row.
Life was good. But something was missing. Beyond sleep. I missed the roll of the ocean, big waves and the running tide. I missed being part of a team. The cameraderie of the changing room. Triumph and disaster. Celebrating the win and learning from the loss. Watching someone’s back. Grabbing opportunity and taking a chance. Living on the edge and never throwing in the towel. Ever. Wearing the bruises and scars with pride. Especially black eyes. One day I came up with an idea. A plan. I discussed it the hyperactive insomniac one bath time. Sought her opinion between bubbles and the fluffy towel.
“So what do you think? Of the plan?”
She smiled sweetly. I took that as a form of consent.
I made a call and one Sunday I left the infant and toddler with the bruised rugby player on the sofa.
“I won’t be long”.
When I returned, none of them seemed to have come to harm. The house was wrecked, but it was a price I was prepared to pay.
It became a regular occurrence. I always shared it with the the hyperactive insomniac during bath time. She smiled and covered me in soapy bubbles.
Every Sunday, I left them and headed off for my golf lesson in a three-sided hut at the local club. Using an an old seven iron from the Pro’s Odd Bin, I happily hooked, shanked and sliced, totally oblivious to what lay in wait outside that little hut. Bunkers. Dog legs. Dragons. Rules and lipped putts. I took the game up with a friend. The wind messed her hair. She kept missing the ball and decided to take up the piano. Traded shanks for scales and neat hair. I stuck with the seven iron. I would return home with tales of hitting the sweet spot but they fell on deaf ears. The oval ball chaser never found the G spot of golf.
“Remember, I tried it once” he said.
A single figure business associate invited him to a golf day at the seaside. The format was simple. Stableford. Full handicap. Twelve holes before lunch, followed by eighteen holes and a three course meal. Unlimited wine sealed the deal. He left early for the coast, armed with hope, some borrowed sticks and new golf shoes. No one told him about links golf. Narrow fairways, fast greens and brutal rough. Teed off at the back of the field. Twelve new balls and an unforgiving sun. The skylarks sang. The sky was blue. The rest of the group completed the morning’s play, ate their lunch and headed out for the afternoon round. They left behind a scribbled note. Attached to a cheese and pickle sandwich with a white, wooden tee.
What took you so long? Enjoy the lettuce.
The rookies ate the left overs, replenished their balls and returned reluctantly to the fairways. After five holes scything through the rough looking for their balls, they conceded defeat. Sunburnt. Blistered. Exhausted. They headed to the bar, never to darken the links again.
I offered him the chance to caddy. As a career, it would prove to be neither long nor auspicious.
“How hard can it be?” asked the back row forward. “Just carrying a few clubs around”.
He was a late on the tee.
The flora and fauna were studied.
“Did you see that woodpecker/deer/fox?”
Clubs were muddled.
The putter cover was lost on a distant fairway.
On the seventh hole, the bag fell over at the top of my opponent’s back swing. She shanked the ball and swore. Loudly.
The caddy was not happy. Things were said as we walked up the fairway.
“It wasn’t my fault the bag fell over”.
“How did I know it was your last bottle of water/banana/snack bar?”
“What is wrong with eating crisps on the green?”
“I can’t believe you missed that short putt back there”.
I won the match, hacked off the opposition and sacked the caddy.
It only remained for him to be a spectator.
My golf had gone from a rusty seven iron in the three-sided hut to a county final.
My brother carried the bag.
Golfer, best friend.Experienced in matchplay.
The rugby player offered to watch.
“I am sure I can get a baby sitter”
It seemed a watertight plan.
The sun shone, the greens were fast. The rugby player didn’t show. After six holes, the match was level.
The seventh was a dog leg. The caddy notes said ‘attack from the left side of the fairway. Opens up the green on the approach shot‘. We had done our homework. But life does not always go according to plan. At the top of my back swing, I heard the familiar sound of munching crisps.
I topped the ball off the tee.
“Forget it” the caddy ordered.
The crisp muncher caught us up, half way down the fairway.
“How’s it going?” stage whisper, right.
“Didn’t think much of that tee shot”……
The tenth was a par three. An elevated green, surrounded by bunkers and woods. Precision. A risk and reward shot.
“It’s your seven iron. Trust your swing”.
We looked one another in the eye. Brother. Sister. Caddy. Player.
I trusted, swung and the ball landed on the green. We swopped smiles. Job done.
My opponent went through a similar routine. On her backswing a phone went off. I recognised the ring tone. She thinned her ball into the bunker. The Crisp Muncher headed for the trees, trying to get his phone out. A cloud went across the sun, the temperature seemed to drop a few degrees.
From the woods, came sounds reminiscent of a brown bear lumbering through the undergrowth. Except bears do not have conversations on mobiles.
“Can you hear me? Did you get my email?”
I sunk the putt and went one up. The rest of the match was completed in silence. The bear retreated to the bar. I won the match.
We had exhausted the last avenue of sharing this noble game.
Now there are golf balls in the fruit bowl. Dropped in when pockets are emptied on the way to the washing machine. Golf balls and spin cycles do not make a good partnership.
Lines have been drawn in the sand. Not everyone shares my love of the dimpled ball and the fairways. The remote is hidden when golf is on the flat screen. But I fight my corner, along with other dimpled ball chasers out there.
I have learnt a few tricks. There is always time to fit in a bucket of balls at the driving range on the way back from the supermarket. I found someone else to give me golf lessons. The practice range is near another supermarket. There are even skylarks. My golf pro understands if I have to take a call from home. He knows about the Golf Police and plays his part well.
“Price check on till 15. One packet of custard creams”.
I have two sets of clubs. One in the boot of the car, the other a decoy set in the house.
The world is divided into two camps. Dimpled ball addicts and the golf police. And golf balls in the fruit bowl.
And the blue eyed son of the surgeon?
He was the golf pro who first handed me an old seven wood and taught me to love this game. I often wonder about him. Whether I would have got to single figures. If he had stayed.