Last week my better half and I escaped to the Emerald Isle for a wee break (we’re still here) – the first time since pre-pandemic days. We had an outstanding ferry ticket to be used from the shenanigans last year, so booked ourselves a passage from Holyhead into Dublin on the Dublin Swift. I always opt for the Swift as it takes the shortest time, about two and a quarter hours and my friends and family know what a lousy sailor I am. Last time I was here and was faced with a few too many ripples on the water between me and home I aborted and headed to the airport, leaving the husband to ferry home alone.
Things didn’t get off to a rip-roaring start when, 24 hours prior to sailing, a text message pinged in saying due to adverse weather conditions we had been moved to the big ole tub of a ferry, complete with stabilisers and so on, which sailed three hours later than our original scheduled time. Apprehensive didn’t quite describe how I was feeling about the whole trip but, armed with ginger tea, seasick pills, a roll of kitchen paper and copious discreet sick bags, I weathered the rolling about not too badly at all. It was strange, though, coming off the boat and immediately having to join a queue for Customs – a throwback to days of yore, and not a welcome one at that.
It is essential to pack holiday reading and I brought with me a tome that has been in my possession for at least two years but one which I hadn’t got round to reading before, Donald Steel’s “Thin End of the Wedge”. I’m halfway through and engrossed and at that delicious point where you hope it’ll be raining later on so you can return to base with a clear conscience, sink into a comfy armchair and get reading again.
Donald is one of those who, to the outsider, looks effortlessly skilled at all sorts of things, mostly to do with golf, although cricket does come a very close second. Intriguingly he has on the cover of his book, “Memoirs of a golf correspondent, player and course architect”. I’ve been pondering the order he listed those three parts of his life. Although undeniably all are inextricably linked, if the order were chronological would it not have been player, golf correspondent and architect? So why put golf correspondent first? Perhaps he himself gives more weight to that part of his life? Hmm, hard to think that of such a prolific and talented architect. He didn’t plump for anything as mundane as alphabetical order and although Donald may just have dashed these nine words off with scant thought I secretly hope there was some rhyme or reason behind it.
I’m enjoying his book on so many levels. There’s no one in golf he doesn’t know; he is a bridge for me back to golfing folk I never met but was a fan of in my early days; I’ve played, and enjoyed, many of the courses he has designed; he’s a brilliant raconteur and, for me almost most important of all, he writes beautifully.
This brings me to a topic oft discussed and argued about in our household – the evolution of language, both spoken and written. As regards the latter, I find myself increasingly intolerant of poor grammar and spelling when reading anything by people who get paid for writing. The number of “correspondents” who can’t write grammatically appals me. It certainly distracts me from the point they are making and detracts from my enjoyment of their pieces. Of course, the opposing point of view is that language evolves and what does it matter if the apostrophe is in the wrong place? You understand what is being communicated, don’t you?
I’ve been so, so lucky to have read so many wonderful writers on golf over the years. My late brother-in-law, David Davies of The Guardian, wrote beautifully crafted pieces, littered with little gems of information that you would never be able to find by googling something. The writers of that era, and Donald Steel certainly fits into this category, knew the players they were writing about, forged friendships with many of them and there was a shared respect and trust.
The landscape is different for more modern writers, of course. Tour players, like a rare species, are protected from having to mix with the hoi-polloi and access to them is strictly controlled and monitored by Tour media bods who are constantly poised to whisk away their precious charges. Therefore, opportunities for relationships of mutual respect and understanding are more limited – and, heavens above, friendships, as in Donald’s day, are rare beasts. In lieu of really knowing a fellow human being, Mr Google (with all his faults) assumes greater importance and shallow, ill-informed writing is the result. Because of budgetary constraints many journalists aren’t sent to tournaments and spend their Sundays watching the action unfold on television. How impossible the task to write well when at the mercy of whatever pictures a TV producer chooses to show you. With no chance to talk to players or get the feel of the action on the ground good golfing journalism is dying a death.
I know already that this book of Donald’s will be one I read and read again. As I type this, I’m looking out the window at what the Irish call a “soft day”. In other words it’s raining again and on this holiday that means only one thing – pass me Thin End of the Wedge, please.