Archive for May, 2008

He’s Hired!

May 29, 2008

After a mid-May interview at Framingham State College, your Blogmaster General was hired as new full-time temporary faculty in the Department of Economics and Business Administration. I had a nice long chat and lunch with Bob Wallace, the department chair, and after a pleasant walk around the typically leafy New England campus I met with Dr Robert Martin, the Vice President of Academic Affairs.

These meetings were followed by email salary negotiations, and after all parties were satisfied, I signed a contract to teach three courses for the first semester of the 2008-2009 academic year. Subsequent discussions led to my decision to teach an additional course one night a week, which will bring in a little supplementary income to what will be in late October a new family. The contract provides for my employment at the College for one year, and Bob gave me assurances that this foot-in-the-door could lead to long-term employment.

I had sent out dozens of email applications to colleges and universities in the Boston area, aiming at deans and department chairs at schools that offered business degrees. Since I could not find Bob Wallace’s email address on the Framingham website, I sent him a résumé and cover letter through snail mail. When I write a cover letter for a job application, I try to put a little zing into it. The résumé should be dry and just the facts; the introductory letter should contain some of the writer’s personality. My introductory letter included not only a summary of my teaching experience and an assertion that I would make a great fit at Framingham, but also told a little of my Scotland adventure, of how I hoped to study golf history at the University of St Andrews and then how I planned to marry a nice Boston girl when I returned to the USA this summer. It also noted that I had discovered how Bob, an economist, had published a paper on the economics of tipping, and as a former bartender and wine steward, I looked forward to comparing notes with him. Bob sent back a letter saying, “I loved your letter!” And yes, Virginia, he included that enthusiastic punctuation mark.

He also told me that he had been to Scotland a few times and had played golf at St Andrews and other Scottish courses — there was no doubt a bond had already formed. Further emails enhanced our new relationship, and it was clear he was close to hiring me, except for the tiny detail of not having yet met me in person. My decision to travel to Massachusetts for an interview unquestionably helped to seal the deal. Amazing to think that of all the applications I sent to colleges and universities in the Boston area, most sent back a tepid ‘thank you’ accompanied by assurances that my credentials would be “kept on file,” while Framingham’s response was so positive that it led to a job offer.

I have really good feelings about working with Bob at Framingham State College, and I can’t tell you how much weight it takes off my shoulders to know that I have a good job waiting for me back in Boston.


Amy Winehouse Plays the Old Course

May 9, 2008

Dateline Thursday, May 8, 2008

Amy Winehouse was released from police custody in London after yet another drug arrest. It was the second time in a week she had been arrested on drug charges, and then, inexplicably to this observer, released again nearly immediately after being incarcerated. Upon her release, on the advice of her drug councilor, she headed north to Scotland, where she played a therapeutic round of golf at the Old Course in St Andrews.

On the tee of the first hole, after Winehouse and her caddie Pete Doherty learned that the hole’s name was the “Burn” hole, they sat down and proceeded to light up a pipe filled with hashish. This would hardly have raised an eyebrow in London, but as this was St Andrews it provoked a response similar to that of Henry Bateman’s painting, “The Man Who Missed the Ball on the First Tee at St Andrews”. (See my “page” on the right.) I mean, people were shocked. The Secretary of the R&A escorted the couple into the clubhouse, where they were detained for three minutes.

The Secretary apologized for the delay, awarded Winehouse a par for the first hole, and hastened her to begin her round on number two.

At number 2, the “Dyke” hole, Pete whipped out a needle and added an impromptu tattoo of two women kissing to Amy’s upper thigh. A marshal penalized her a stroke for delaying play, but then rescinded it.

Number 3, the “Cartgate” hole, features a dangerous bunker down the left side called the Principal‘s Nose. Winehouse, hearing this, dropped everything and ran for the bunker. She jumped in, and immediately began snorting cocaine from an ingenious dispenser that looked like a golf ball.

Number 4 is the “Ginger Beer” hole, named for the refreshments sold from a cart owned by “Auld Daw” (David) Anderson back in the 1890’s. (Anderson had been a greenskeeper, ball-maker and caddie at St Andrews.) Amy pulled out a cellphone, and moments later a helicopter landed. A burly attendant emerged, carrying two cases of beer, which were rapidly consumed by the dangerous duo. A marshal penalized them two strokes: one for delaying play and one for not sharing the beer with the marshal.

On number 5, the “Hole O’Cross”, she hooked her drive into the Elysian Fields along the left of the fairway, where she encountered a group of autograph-seekers walking along the beach that runs next to the course. She head-butted the first three, causing the rest to flee screaming. The marshal did not assess a penalty in this case, because head-butting is encouraged in Scotland, and to sign autographs would have slowed down play.

As you probably know, the 6th is called “Heathery”. There is a cluster of bunkers down the left named the Coffins. Winehouse and Doherty were greatly amused to lie down, after shooting up some heroin, and pretend they were dead and in pine boxes. Smart money suggests this will happen sooner rather than later.

When Winehouse and Doherty discovered that the 7th is called “High” hole, Doherty produced a Thai stick the size of a golf club, and soon thereafter the two golfers were puffing away on it.

Lost and disoriented, they skipped the 8th hole, “Short”, and stumbled on to number nine, “End”. Doherty saw the historical note on the golfer’s guide telling how the Kruger bunkers, far to the left, date from the Boer War. Winehouse, whose ears were ringing at this time, thought that Doherty called her a whore, and so slashed his head with her sand wedge. Pete, feeling no pain by this time, saw the trail of blood roll down and stain his shirt, which he admired for its realistically blood-red color. The marshal was going to penalize them further, but then considered what’s the point?

Number 10 is a good hole, named for Bobby Jones by St Andrews admirers after he passed away in 1971. Winehouse noted the quote from Jones printed on the scorecard, about competitive golf being played mainly on a 5 ½ inch course, which is the space between your ears. She found this to be so hilarious that she and Doherty each popped 5 ½ Ecstasy tablets, and rolled around in the gorse.

The 11th hole, “High” confused the pair, because they thought they had already played the High hole. (Here I should mention for Old Course neophytes that the Old Course is unusual in that there are seven “double” greens. These extra-large greens serve double duty in that one part of the green is used for an outward bound hole, and then another part of that green is used for an inward bound hole. For example, the outward 5th hole, “Hole O’Cross (out)” shares the same green with number 13 coming in, cleverly named “Hole O’Cross (in)”. Likewise with holes 6 and 12, and 7 and 11, sharing greens and to some degree names.)

Let’s get back to our detailed and dispassionate narrative. Winehouse and Doherty were confused by the arcane course layout and nomenclature, so on the “High (in)” hole, they noticed that they hadn’t smoked any crack cocaine yet, whereupon Pete produced the hardware and applied the pyrotechnics. The marshal was spotted later sobbing uncontrollably in a large thistle bush.

By the time they recovered their bearings they were on number 13, “Hole O’Cross” in that homecoming direction we talked about. Winehouse hit into a nasty little bunker down the left called the Cat’s Trap. Doherty pulled out a cat he had recently trapped, which had been tied up with duct tape. With dramatic flair he picked up Winehouse’s ball from the bunker, replaced it with the snarling cat, and exhorted her to hit the cat instead of the ball. Doherty is reported to have said, “They don’t go very far, but I love the sound they make when you hit them real good.”

A marshal swooped down before her back swing attained that full athletic coiling, and plucked the cat away in time, recognizing that the cat was indeed his own. He penalized Winehouse nine strokes, the same number of lives that cats purportedly have.

The 14th hole is called “Long”. Menacing the left side of the fairway are four bunkers known as the Beardies. Winehouse took the opportunity to impugn Doherty’s pathetic excuse for a beard, directing much scorn on the few scraggly hairs that are seen more often on old ladies whose eyesight has failed. This caused a bit of an imbroglio, made worse by the fact that Doherty had just created and consumed a new cocktail made from two cups each of vodka and Scotch whisky, and was feeling maudlin.

Number 15 is a beautiful hole, the “Cartgate (in)”. Learning that the pair of mounds in the fairway used as an aiming point were called Miss Grainger’s Bosoms – I’m not making this up – Winehouse again whipped out her cellphone, and soon a huge black SUV appeared. Out popped an artsy-looking, androgynous specimen, who on the barked orders of Winehouse, began to apply green body paint to Amy’s now-bared breasts. When finished, and when Winehouse lay down on the ground, the resemblance between the actual golf course and Winehouse’s upper torso was astounding. When notified by radio, the Secretary called the R&A lawyers to see if this was some sort of copyright infraction, but was instead told it was merely bad taste.

On the 16th, the “Corner of the Dyke” hole, another bit of theatre unfolded. Guarding the green directly in front is the Wig bunker. Coincidentally, Amy had hit her ball in there, and by this point she was so frazzled due to the lack of intoxicating stimulants, that her own wig began to shift and droop most distressingly. The black bouffant monstrosity atop her head took on a life of its own, one perhaps more meaningful than its former owner. Strange that with the wig down completely covering her eyes, Winehouse hit the best shot of the day, a phenomenal sand wedge that flew towards the flag, landed gently, and then rolled into the cup. She didn’t see it however, because she and Doherty were still in the bunker, drinking from a large box of wine.

The 17th hole, the infamous “Road Hole” runs along a low stone wall fronting the Old Course Hotel. There were so many fans wanting an autograph, or to hear a few words of enlightenment or a song from Amy, that the Black Watch was called in to restore order. To assist with morale Winehouse threw empty beer bottles at the crowd, which quieted them down quickly.

The last hole, named for Old Tom Morris, is where the famous, ancient bridge over the Swilcan Burn is located. (I have a photo of my dad standing on that bridge, and I treasure it.) Winehouse and Doherty, having downed a half bottle of Valium, decided it would be easier to crawl under the bridge than walk over it, and emerged dripping wet if none the worse for wear. Winehouse’s considerable eye make-up was at this point running down and covering both sides of her face in black, the whole impression that of three piano keys. There’s a deep swale in front of the green, the much dreaded “Valley of Sin”, and here this reporter will refrain from detailing what took place between these shining examples of celebrity.

I will tell you that the next morning, Amy Winehouse’s unconscious body was found hanging from the obelisk that stands very near to the 18th green, the Martyr’s Monument. If that particular juxtaposition has any meaning for you, please let me know.

Prepping to Go

May 7, 2008

My blog may change to a biweekly affair for a few days, or few weeks, as I prepare to leave Edinburgh and move to Boston. There are a million details to take care of, too many books to box, clothes to pack, golf memorabilia to stand and hold, and then wonder why I still have such weird treasures.

My money says that you probably haven’t read all the fiction and other fun things on my site yet,Framingham State College so you shouldn’t feel slighted for not having suitably new and stimulating copy available to you. So go back and read such goodies as “Thoughts on the Cooking of Fish”, or “The Secret Life of Crumbs”, or “Crema Contendere” my satiric piece on coffee-tasting. Since this is on the surface a mostly golf weblog, you should read “A Niblick in Time”, humorous golf fiction in the style of P.G. Wodehouse.

Next week I am going back to Boston for two weeks, partly for a job interview and partly to see my fiancée, a sweet, wonderful, beautiful girl who is working at a job she hoped she would never have to do again. I’ll be back in Scotland at the end of the month, and then make the final push to leave permanently around the end of June.

Please stop back here again soon; I appreciate your visits.

Parenting, and a Little Golf

May 5, 2008

You are the parents of young kids or teenagers. You want to know if you are good parents or not. One question: do you regularly allow your kids to go out unsupervised very late at night? Then you are bad parents.

It’s that simple.

I don’t care if you live in the UK or the US or in Russia. Through your indifference or diffidence or just incompetence, you are not doing your kids any favors, and you are making the world a worse place. Congratulations.

Recently I read about a shopping mall in Maryland, the Boulevard at the Capital Centre – and yes, I agree, the name gushes pretentiousness – which has decided to start a new program next month, which will ban anyone 16 and younger after 9 pm, if they are without adult supervision. (Here’s the article.)

The move follows recent disturbing trends in teenage violence across the US and the UK, and mimics policies in place in other American malls, such as the country’s largest, the Mall of America in Minneapolis. As can be expected, teenagers, reacting to any diminution, real or perceived, in their freedom to do anything, anywhere, anytime, are against the policy.

Sierra Gillian, 17, and showing the wisdom and maturity of someone ten years younger, called the initiative “dumb.” She then goes on to unleash a powerful tautology: “If something is going to happen, it’s going to happen.” Wow.

Why can’t kids understand that such restrictions, limits or controls are for their own good? Oh, yeah, it’s because they’re kids; they don’t understand because they are not yet adults.

In the May 4th Sunday Times Magazine was an article about the spoiled children of Moscow’s new batch of billionaires. Every licentious dish is on the menu, every hedonistic appetite is satiated. And they’re still teenagers. One young man is celebrating his 17th birthday. It’s 3 am on a Friday, and the scene is the Rai, a nightclub popular with Moscow’s young and very wealthy. Drinks, drugs, and chauffeured Hummers take the place of family time and salubrious role models.

One rare voice of reason is heard from a wealthy Moscow mother: “I have no doubt that many rich kids will either be in rehab or addicted to a shrink by the time they reach their mid-twenties. I do all I can to make sure mine won’t; ultimately the parents are to blame.”

Boris Arkhipov, a professor of child psychology, says of kids who are spoiled by parents who lavish money and presents on them instead of time and parental influence, “Discipline for many is a problem. They don’t accept authority.”

Closer to home, nearly every weekend night, very late at night, and by this I mean from about 2 am to much later, I hear out my Edinburgh flat window very young voices. Not very young as in young adults in their twenties or thirties; no, I mean kids younger than 15 or 16, and often sounding closer to twelve. What are they doing out that late? Why on earth do their parents allow that? And why do these kids sound as if they are drunk?

I’ve spent enough time bartending to know the sound of someone who has had a trigger amount to drink. You know what I mean by trigger, don’t you? It’s that point when speech begins to slur, and people become repetitive and either jolly and giggly, or they go in the other direction and become argumentative and surly. These latter types can quickly turn violent.

There is nothing at all wrong with my sounding like a curmudgeon and complaining about how things aren’t now like they were back when I was a kid. When I was young, we were told “no”. We were punished if we did something wrong, which is how it ought to be. We were controlled and did what we were told. We were given chores and taught the importance of work, and we were taught how to behave. ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ were assiduously drilled into us, and we were respectful to adults. That’s a key point there, that we were respectful. We grew to understand that there was a certain amount of deference owed to adults: they knew things, they had been places, they had gone through various kinds of war, and they could do things we couldn’t.

I regularly read in the UK papers how groups of violent teenagers and young kids, often drunk, roam the streets and attack and sometimes murder hapless adults. How could things have possibly gotten so bad? It’s the fault of the parents.

As I think back to when I was a kid growing into a teenager, my younger brother and I were raised in a strict household. It was strict but there was also a very generous amount of love and time spent with the whole family. Older and wiser now, it strikes me that parenting, good parenting, is very difficult. It involves a great deal of work, patience and time. It also requires the parent to place a greater priority on being a parent than being a friend, and also requires the mom and dad to learn how to say “no”.

Kids will offer up their best acting learned from watching movies, and use the oldest and least compelling arguments, such as “But all my friends do…” Weak parents, the kinds that don’t care how their kids turn out, won’t marshal the strength to tell them ‘no’. The kids turn to Plan B, C and D, and scream, cry and plead; sure a parent can be lenient and say ‘yes’ now and then as a reward for good behavior, but most of the time, when your kids want to do things that they shouldn’t, like go out with their friends late at night, they need to be told “no”. It’s like any other exercise: it gets easier the more you do it.

There are far too many parents who are happy to let the TV be the babysitter. There are far too many parents who would rather let their 12 and 13-year old boys run around Edinburgh late at night, evidently after drinking cheap cider, than be brave enough to tell them “no”.

Originally I was going to finish with an impassioned section exhorting parents to get their kids — boys and girls — to play golf. I was going to tell how my dad taught me and encouraged me, and how he helped me to learn some of the important lessons golf teaches. Lessons like the primacy of being honest, playing by the rules, and being respectful of others. But I won’t. I won’t go to all that trouble because I’m going to go play golf right now, after I send my mom and dad an email and tell them I love them.

Fighting Brain-rot

May 3, 2008

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Golf and Restaurants, Part I

May 2, 2008

I have been thinking recently of the important relationship between golf and restaurants. Those of you who do not play golf — you civilians — may not see the connection, but it is a long and significant one. On a wonderful day at the course with your friends, who would not think of getting a hot dog and a beer at the turn? (For you civilians, that’s the break between the front and back nines.) This is an ancient tradition that dates back to about 1132, when Farkus the Flatulent was beating Bagdir the Bellicose in a no-handicap match, and Bagdir pounded the daylights out of Farkus’s favorite yak with his 6-iron, and then ate it before teeing off on the next hole. As everybody knows, the first hot dogs were made of ground yak.

It is a popularly held myth that John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792) invented the sandwich, but golf historians agree that it was actually invented by a hungry Scottish golfer, when he tucked a small sheep between two pieces of bread. This is also how the expression “to pull the wool over his eyes” came about: his opponent chose the moment when his vision was blocked by his large sandwich to cheat.

There is considerable debate over the nature of the evolution of golf balls. Many feel the earliest balls were simply small, round stones, which were hit with crooked sticks by shepherds. In later years wooden balls were used, then featheries (leather pouches stuffed with feathers), then gutta percha (a kind of rubber), and then the Haskell ball, the first to be constructed of multiple layers consisting of a small rubber core surrounded by wound elastic thread covered by a tough outer layer. Recent documents suggest that one of the early balls, and Peter Lewis of the British Golf Museum disputes this, was in reality a very small haggis. Heavily smudged records show that customers of Cornelius Corstorphine, “the worst butcher in Fife,” often used small units of haggis for their games, since Corstorphine’s haggis was considered unfit for consumption.

When the first golfing clubs were established, such as the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers in 1744, or the Crail Golfing Society in 1786, they did not have what we would recognize today as a clubhouse. Instead, after their rounds of golf were over, the gentlemen would repair to a nearby inn or roadhouse, and enjoy a banquet. The Edinburgh “Gentlemen golfers” usually convened at a local tavern called Luckie Clephan’s, while the men from Crail dined at the Golf Inn, to this day a cozy spot with a nice fireplace.

On tomorrow’s post I will describe in more detail what one of these après golf dinners was like, and some of the unusual customs. You’ll be astounded at the quantity and variety of courses, and quantity and quantity and quantity of strong and satisfying beverages. Let’s just say that little pain was felt.

See you tomorrow.