Archive for the ‘Scotland Journal’ Category

Royal Couple Elopes!

April 27, 2011

This astonishing news just in: Prince William and Kate Middleton, the overly-publicized couple scheduled for the fairy tale royal wedding this Friday in London, have eloped!

We are pretty sure that the royal family are not amused.

Well-connected sources — and I always have well-connected sources — say that the hounded couple got tired of living in a fishbowl and being subjected to inhumane scrutiny. They agreed that they had had enough, and after a brief discussion at the Bag of Nails, decided to steal away last night. They donned disguises, borrowed a friend’s car, and headed north. Exhausted, they spent the night at the same pub in the Scottish Highlands that was featured in the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film, “The 39 Steps.”

In that classic movie, one of Hitchcock’s best, an innocent man is chased by both the police and the bad guys. Prince Harry, William’s younger brother by two years, said that William had been identifying lately with the Richard Hannay character, the innocent man. William was tired of being hunted by the relentless paparrazi, representing the bad guys; his family, putting his every move under a royal microscope and expecting him to toe the royally stultifying line, were like the police.

No wonder the young couple cracked.

When informed of the escape, Prince Charles said it reminded him of a “corker” of a polo match he was in once. (At that, the BBC reporter rolled his eyes, and explained that Charles had once been struck on the head with a polo ball.) Camilla Parker-Bowles, his significant other, remarked that she had the highest hopes that Kate had brought along an ample supply of hats.

The Queen, showing a surprising range and depth of humor, said that she loved a good practical joke, and told the story of how Prince William, while still a little tyke, had once replaced the sugar in a 17th century sugar bowl with salt. Summoning up a favor nearly 500 years old, she placed a clandestine call to the Vatican, and had them dispatch a squadron of Swiss Guards to Scotland to find the headstrong couple and bring them back to London.

According to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who claims to prefer salt in his tea over sugar, the Swiss Guard’s outlandishly dated costumes would allow them to move unnoticed thoughout Scotland, where unusual garb is the norm. The Archbishop seemed to be at least partly in control of what is said to be a volcanic temper; he was responsible for orchestrating the official wedding, and would have been front and center during the entire ceremony.

It is well-known that he planned to retire after this most flamboyant feather in his cap, and was going to write a screenplay for a movie about the wedding. Russell Brand — with heavy makeup and a dubbed voice — was to play the role of the Archbishop.

Any gossip about a movie of an extravagantly fabulous royal wedding may be wasted, since rumors misting up from Scotland indicate that the couple is already married. My sources reveal that William and Kate were married by a local priest in the ruins of Urquhart Castle, on the shore of Loch Ness. The only witnesses, required by British law, were lads pulled from a local pub. It is said that Nessie surfaced briefly, and frolicked in the cold waters of the loch during the impromptu wedding ceremony. According to grainy photos I looked at after consuming most of a bottle of single malt scotch, she was grinning.

Grains of Truth

June 23, 2008

As you will recall from my recent missive on martinis, I am trying to empty the flat of food, drink and condiments in time for my departure later this week.  This causes some unusual combinations, and while my tongue has taken some esoteric journeys, I am none the worse for wear.

In St Andrews last year I bought a rice cooker, the advantages of which I was taught long ago by my buddy Gary.  When Michelle was here we ate mostly pasta, but since I have been alone I have mixed it up a bit more, and have enjoyed experimenting with Indian food.  Running against the grain, as it were, I prefer brown and wild rice to the more bland white rices, and when you add some sautéed vegetables to some Indian sauce it’s not bad at all.

If I cook rice as a side dish, to take things up a notch I like to add a little butter, non-fat if it’s around, and maybe a little splash of sesame oil.  I like that mysterious, nutty quality that sesame oil brings, and it hasn’t killed me yet.

Last night I was in the mood for some low-intensity comfort food after a long and rigorous day of shopping on the tourist-strewn Royal Mile, so I reached for the rice cooker.  Sadly, I was out of butter — both regular and non-fat — as well as sesame oil.  Then I noticed a small jar of peanut butter.  Hmm.

If I can add butter to the rice and water in the cooker before I turn it on, and if I can also add sesame oil, why not add a blob of peanut butter?  (It was the smooth kind in this case.)  I measured the rice and added the water, and then I spooned out a glob of peanut butter the size of a golf ball — the larger American ball, not the smaller British ball — and tossed it in.  I switched the rice cooker on and then fled the room, having run out of courage.  Nestled safely in the living room I poured a glass of wine and waited.

In a little while the kitchen and hall were filled with that rich, satisfying smell of peanut butter, something like Mom’s homemade peanut butter cookies.  When the light indicated that the rice was done, I removed the lid and gave it a good stir and sniff.  The rice was moist and heavy, and smelled intoxicating.  Usually I look at rice as a filler vehicle on which you pile something interesting and nourishing, but I was shoveling this stuff down.

If you like to experiment in the kitchen, and Michelle LOVES it when I experiment, you might want to try mixing in some green onions or some crumbled bacon.  Tune in next week, when we see what happens when you use jasmine rice with peanut butter and jelly.

Some Thoughts on Gin and Vermouth

June 22, 2008

Ladies & Gentlemen,

I have spent a fair amount of my career, my career as a drinker, thinking about that sublime melange combining gin and dry vermouth in propitious proportions.  My conclusion is this: it’s a good thing.

As we speak I am conducting further research, with gin from the freezer.  As the aim in these recent days is to run out of everything in time for my departure on Friday, I am prematurely out of vermouth, so I am making do.  Making do with a bit of citrus is not a very bad thing, so sometimes the mix-master on duty tosses in a bit of lemon, lime, or even a slice of pear.  On stranger days, when such luminaries as Kingsley Amis or Hunter S. Thompson come to mind, I add a pinch of cinnamon or ground cloves.  OK, weird, I know, but cloves has always been my catnip, and there are worse things to dump into the shaker.  I won’t list them here.

What kinds of things do you do?  What sorts of gin do you prefer?  What botanicals, additives, condiments or accessories do you toy with?  What martini stories do you know?  Please share.

My most important martini story by far started when I discovered, back in fall of 2006 in St Andrews, that Michelle liked martinis.  We went to a bar on South St called the Gin House.  We imagined speciously that they knew something about martinis.  But after I requested two martinis, and saw the very young bartender proceed to pour two large glasses of Martini and Rossi dry vermouth, I knew we were not on the same page.

As what happened at every bar in the UK, I had to instruct the man or woman behind the bar in the fine art of constructing a martini cocktail.  At a hotel in Stirling there were cocktail shakers behind the bar — a good sign.  (The universal bad sign was the absence of olives; you simply can’t find olives in a bar in the United Kingdom.)  But when I told the bartender to fill one of the shakers with ice, he used his ice tongs to carefully place precisely three cubes into the shaker.  I said, ‘no’, there should be more ice — so he added three more small cubes.  At the brink I told him ‘NO’ you must FILL the shaker with ice, which must have been a wholly alien thought for him; I think he sensed wisely that I might erupt and destroy the hotel if he didn’t end his miserly attitude towards ice, so finally he added a sensible quantity.  When at last we had our cold drinks in hand, with a bit of lemon instead of an olive, we calmed down — I calmed down — and we enjoyed the salubrious effects that gin and vermouth provide.

I hope I remembered to pack my shaker.

Do not suffer thirst.

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

Ladies & Gentlemen,

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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.

Plum’s Golf Omnibus

April 30, 2008

P.G. WodehouseReading and writing are two of my favorite things. I have been reading voraciously for many years, but am very new to blogging. (So, apparently, is this spell-checker, which inexplicably does not recognize “blogs” or “blogging”.) One of the things I like about being here is that it feels as if I am part of a community of readers: readers are attracted to blogs. And one of the rewards of reading blogs is the opportunity to encounter something new. Today I’d like to talk about one of my favorite writers, P.G. Wodehouse. If you have not read any of his work yet, you should give him a try. (Or read one of my stories; see below.) His first name is Pelham, a name that is perhaps a bit unfortunate, and not what I would name my son. If you say it quickly you come up with his nickname, Plum. His last name is not pronounced like you would think, because it’s pronounced, “would – house”.

Anyway, Wodehouse was a gifted comic writer who wrote nearly a hundred books, many of which are novels and the rest collections of short stories, plus many plays and musicals. Now, don’t screw up your face in disgust at the thought of musicals; it’s his novels and short stories I want to tell you about. In my hand today is his prized collection of golf short stories, The Golf Omnibus. You should run out and buy this 467-page collection boasting 31 short stories, and I’ll tell you why. Plum was crazy about golf, as am I, and loved to play when he could, but on rainy, dismal days like it is today in Edinburgh, he would happily read or write about golf.

An important note is required here to further explain what is meant by ‘golf short story’. These little jewels, averaging about fifteen pages, are primarily about people, but set against a backdrop of the greatest game. People fall in love, form lasting friendships, leave the office early to play golf, and steal your girl; there are lovable and deplorable people in these stories, just like people you know. There is something in each story that will appeal to anyone who likes to read; I bet, and I taught statistics for over ten years, that you will enjoy these stories even if you don’t play golf.

All the stories contain characters who love the game, and some play thirty-six holes a day, but not everyone is a golfer. And the most important themes are those you would find in other short story collections; it’s just that much of the action takes place on golf courses, in clubhouse bars, locker rooms and pro shops. A central character is The Oldest Member, a lovable old geezer who has been around forever. He’s the guy who was a member of the country club back when the protagonists’ grandfathers were members. A charming fact is that since The Oldest Member — and we never hear his real name — has been around for so long, he has most likely changed the diapers of the younger characters, which allows him such great intimacy with them, that they confide in him. I think that at certain ages we have trouble talking to our parents about sensitive subjects; in my turbulent teens I was able to open up to my best friend’s parents next door, because I felt I could talk to them about things that were somehow too uncomfortable to discuss with my mom & dad.

A typical plot line consists in a couple of young golfers who are romantically involved. Something happens to upset the relationship; a new seductress arrives on the scene, or something occurs to disrupt their happiness. One of the lovers will come looking for advice from the wise Oldest Member, who is most likely in his rocking chair on the porch of the club, where he can look out on the course and watch people play. Young people, being in a hurry, want a short answer, but as The Oldest Member comes from the teach-them-how-to-fish school, his method is to tell them a story like it was a parable.

The one seeking advice too late realizes the wise one is about to launch into one of his fables, and tries to duck out. But by then The Oldest Member has grabbed the unenlightened one by the wrist and is guiding him or her to the chair next to him. What then follows is a story within a story, and soon the reader can do nothing but smile and watch it all unfold. Much of the charm of the stories is in the warmth and humor of the narrative, and the dialog, which both crackles with realism, and soothes like an old sweater. And another part of the fun is guessing how the story will end, because The Oldest Member always does a good job of providing insight into the human condition, and it’s this knowledge that gently shoves the couple back to a happy conclusion. It’s great stuff, and the stories and novels are perfect for rainy day reads, again and again.

The photo above is of Wodehouse at age 23, and he has a relatively small smile. On the back cover of The Golf Omnibus is a photo of him at around age 90. He has the biggest smile you could imagine, perhaps a sign that writing golf stories leads to a long and happy life. I hope so.

If I may indulge in a bit of shameless self-promotion, since this is my blog, please read my golf short story on this site, A Niblick in Time; it’s my homage to Wodehouse. I hope you like it. Thanks for stopping by, and keep your head down.

Baseball in Scotland

April 27, 2008

I saw your eyebrows. They lifted in surprise when you saw today’s subject line. But there’s quite a bit of interest in American baseball here in Scotland. Well, from me mostly.

Each morning starts with a perusal of the box scores, recaps and standings on ESPN’s major league baseball “scoreboard”. From there one can jump to player stats, team stats, season stats, and pretty much anything you could want, short of having the phone number of Bill James. I focus on a handful of teams: the Seattle Mariners, because I lived there for half my life and still think they can go all the way; the Boston Red Sox, my newly adopted team, winners of two World Series in four years; the Baltimore Orioles, mostly from an ancient loyalty to my approximate birthplace, and proximity to Maryland’s Eastern Shore during those golden years at Washington College in Chestertown, and because Brother Dave goes to lots of games; the Washington Nationals, because they are the Senators reincarnate, although my interest rapidly declined after lots of losing; and lastly, the New York Yankees (?). I look at how the Damn Yankees do only because I love to see them lose. (There is something salubrious, for me at least, about splenetic Yankees owner George Steinbrenner getting furious when his team is beaten; his chip-off-the-old-block son Hank looks to follow in the micro-management mold, and is sure to earn as little respect as his dad among baseball people.) The best days are when the Bosox beat them, due to the age-old rivalry. Funny, here in Scotland you see a fair number of Yankee baseball hats on the heads of Scots. Michelle has some pretty choice words to describe the Yankees, and came close a couple times to telling off big burly Scots wearing those caps with the distinctive “NY” logo. Michelle and I believe they don’t have any idea what bums the Yankees are; they just wear the hats because they know it has something to do with the States.

Which reminds me, if you have never read Michaels Lewis’s book “Moneyball“, let me tell you it’s a fascinating refresher course in baseball managing strategy, and throws new light on baseball statistics. It came out in 2003 but is still valuable, and sits nicely on the shelf next to his other works on sports, economics and winning vs losing. For those new to baseball it is an excellent primer, and I recommended it to my students majoring in business as a guide to the world of winning with limited resources.

But what prompted my post today was the surprising performance of the Orioles. They’re sitting on top of the AL East! Holy cow! New manager Dave Trembley must be doing something right. Last year, and the year before that, they finished the season TWENTY-SEVEN games out of first place. Hometown fans must be enjoying the reversal of fortunes, since for the last home-stand series of games, attendance averaged just over 80% of capacity. Baltimore’s Camden Yards is one of my favorite ballparks, with great views, a friendly crowd — the opposite of the hostile beasts found at Yankee Stadium — and lots of excellent food like Maryland crab cakes. There’s lots of new talent, since I look at the box scores and don’t recognize more than one or two of the Baltimore players, which is weird since I used to know the names up and down the line-up. And while I hope to tag along this year with Dave to see the O’s again at Camden Yards, I also can’t wait for my first glimpse of Boston’s Fenway Park when I move to “The Hub” this summer. Cool.

Lastly, a team I have my eye on is the Arizona Diamondbacks. One interesting baseball stat that leads me to this is the difference between the runs scored and runs allowed. The Orioles sit at the top of the NL West division holding a three-run difference, while the D-backs sit on top of theirs, with a whopping fifty-four-run difference. Arizona had until recently led the majors in this category by a ton, until the Cubs largely caught up with a recent three-game series against Pittsburgh, in which they outscored the Pirates by TWENTY runs, and who now hold a forty-two-run difference. Baltimore will have to do a lot of things right to keep their lead in the AL East, if they can only maintain such a narrow margin of victory.