“Don’t tell me,” Dai used to say, usually with a certain amount of exasperation because he’d been kept waiting longer than he wanted. “You fell into chat.”
In my defence, it’s often rude to sail on regardless, not saying a word and apart from the social side of things, there’s a lot to be said for falling into chat; you never know what nuggets you’ll unearth without really digging at all.
For instance, did you know that the whole of Northumberland has a population of 650,ooo-ish (too much chat not enough concentration), the same as the London borough of Enfield? Or that there’s a world-renowned coffee roastery in Amble? Or that a retired Yorkshire farmer (cattle and sheep) now sends his hand-carved shepherd’s crooks all over the world? All information gleaned as a result of starting up a conversation with a total stranger over coffee at a shared table in a crowded market.
There’s nothing stand-offish or reserved about the English up here in the north-east, they’re world-class chatters and if you’ve got a dog with you, you’re away in a coach. There’s lots of space and plenty of spiritual inspiration – Holy Island and Lindisfarne, for example – but if you’re a would-be Trappist, it’ll be tough to make the step up to fully fledged; nearly as hard as passing your driving test unscathed on some of the country’s most challenging bends. If they say it’s a bend, they mean it. And, if you decide to take the bus, strap yourself in, it’s a ride to rival the best of Alton Towers or Blackpool – and if you’ve got a bus pass, it’s free (though not of anxiety).
Just down the hill from the church, at Low-Newton-by-the-Sea, just before the beach, there’s a pub with its own wee brewery and we wouldn’t have known about it if we hadn’t fallen into chat. They love dogs and don’t mind sand all over their floorboards. Unfortunately their famous crab stotties were off the menu when we got there but we had a ham ploughman’s to die for and on reflection, what a place to go.
“Are you taking your clubs?” people asked when they heard about the trip to an area with more than its share of good courses. Fair question but one long-suffering golfer got it spot on: “For goodness sake,” she said. “It’s a holiday.”
I did pack my putter, with the intention of practising a tip I’d spotted on some website or other but I recently deleted a whole load of emails by mistake and it’s probably returned to the ether (AI here I come). In any case, the weather’s been brilliant so we’ve been out all day and the crib, flip uno, bananagram, paints, putter and waterproof trousers remain untouched. The books aren’t quite unread but it only takes a page or two before the sea air kicks in and the snoring begins.
Talking of books, we did pay the obligatory visit to the world-renowned (there was at least one American in there and several Germans) Barter Books in Alnwick, housed in the grandeur of the old station, built in the days when they knew a thing or two about grandeur. If you read (and/or drink tea or coffee and eat cake), this is the place for you. Bliss. And they welcome dogs.
On the golf front, I was delighted to see that Portmarnock (Dublin, Ireland), a course that’s up there with the best anywhere and a club that only recently joined the 21st century by allowing women members (wow, now at least one up on Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iran and any number of places), will be hosting next year’s Women’s Amateur Championship. In 1931, when the event was called the Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship (I do wish they’d kept the British bit when they changed the name but, then, taking the event to Ireland might have been trickier), it was played at Portmarnock and the redoubtable Enid Wilson won the first of her three successive titles.
Royal Porthcawl, which is hosting the Senior Open (presented by Rolex) this year, will also host Final Qualifying for the Open (the 151st) at Hoylake, on the 4th of July. Porthcawl takes over from Burham & Berrow, which is still recovering from last year’s drought. Wonder if they’ve worked out how to stage the Open itself in Wales for the first time; Porthcawl is certainly getting plenty of practice.
And, finally, many congratulations to Brendan Lawlor, who won the inaugural G4D Open at Woburn. The Irishman finished just two strokes clear of England’s Kipp Popert, with Juan Postigo Arce, of Spain, third. Lawlor, who’s part of Niall Horan’s Modest! Golf group, was ecstatic: “It’s just an unbelievable feeling…It’s been an incredible week. The volunteers, the R&A, DP World Tour, EDGA, everybody involved has put in so much work to get this championship done. Every player here, we felt like royalty this week. Hopefully this is the start and we’re going to have many more of these major events. Disability golf is definitely on the way up.”Brendan, who’s a pro, is probably off practising somewhere or contending for another trophy but today, weather permitting, I’m off on puffin watch, cruising round Coquet Island. Don’t think I’ll be needing my putter…