One of the good things about meeting and marrying Dai, who died ten years ago tomorrow (thank goodness he’s not around to thunder against a royal wedding usurping his anniversary), was getting to know and love his family and friends.
We buried one of those friends on Wednesday. Mark Wilson, one of the world’s great people and a world-class teller of tales – and did he have tales to tell – was 90, born in 1927, just a few weeks after Dad. He hadn’t been too well for quite a while but his humour never failed him and when I emailed him late last year to congratulate him on winning PYP (pick your pro), one of the AGW’s most/least prestigious competitions, he responded immediately. “It was a fiddle,” he said. I think that’s because Mitchell Platts, a canny punter, filled in Mark’s card or, at the very least, marked it. Anyway, Mark’s going well in this year’s version of the season-long comp (essentially, name the winner of every tournament but only use a player once and you earn the money that your player does) and if he’s in the prize money again, his winnings will go to charity.
Dai, who had a pedantic, puritanical, purist streak, couldn’t see the point of PYP and never entered. Whenever, in the days before shot-by-shot websites and unbroken surveillance of the world’s fairways, he rang me and I’d ask, affecting nonchalance, how some relatively random player was doing, he’d be mystified by my interest but tell me; when he realised why I was asking, he’d never tell me….I’m currently third from last but have already won more than a million dollars – and it’s not even the end of May. Jason Day is my pick for the Byron Nelson this week – and I haven’t even checked that he’s playing. That’s part of the problem: you’re picking so far ahead that you’re just glad if your man (or woman) is in the field. It is daft but it’s good fun, a bit like golf.
In March (well, it could have been any month, reducing my home landfill is the work of a lifetime and the mountain has yet to become a molehill), I was rooting through some old papers and found this typewritten invitation, which I sent to Mark, who was horrified!
“I don’t remember ever being that mean,” he wrote. “One drink only….did anyone turn up?…….just escaped from a dreadful week in hospital, starting with 12 hours on a trolley in odd corners of A & E and finished in a bed in a bitterly cold corridor (heating had broken down and engineers were working on it). Poor NHS. Literally poor……Thankfully, my hospital medical treatment was great and I am recovering well in a warm care home……”
However frail he was physically, Mark was mentally with it and that note baffled and bothered him. “I keep reading this invitation which puts me to shame. How could I be so mean? Hopefully it was a joke….I’m guessing that it was about the time I took redundancy at the Daily Express and joined the [European] Tour.” Anyway, after discussing the invitation with Joan, his wife, he set to on his iPad again: “Hello Patricia: Joan denies all knowledge of such meanness. She says we have never known anyone content with just one drink or such a time limit! Insists it must have been me with a sick joke, oh dear! I would love to know the answer. Could it have been my idea of celebrating becoming AGW chairman and ‘at home’ being the Press Room. You really have started something with your rummaging……”
In the end we came to the obvious conclusion that it was a joke and Mark said, “Can you imagine me giving Dai a limit of one drink and making it last 45 minutes! I must have had a good sense of humour (and a thick skin) in those days……”
One of the reasons I love the photo of Mark at the top of this piece, tapping away at his typewriter in a press tent that was posh in those days, rudimentary now, is because I’m old enough to have worked in similar tents. It makes me think of a dimly lit, smelly old thing that had probably last seen service at the Yorkshire Agricultural Show in 1949 and had been unearthed, brushed down and pressed back into service as our press HQ at Ganton for the home internationals or an amateur championship of some sort.
Getting to know Joan and Mark – and a host of other men and women, too numerous to mention here, not least for fear of forgetting someone – has been one of the joys of my life. It was a sad, emotional, uplifting day on Wednesday, with Mark’s grandchildren and daughters doing him and Joan proud with loving tributes at the service at Woking Crem. Then, at the wake at Sunningdale Golf Club, Renton Laidlaw, who succeeded Mark at the (London) Evening Standard, paid tribute to his friend with a eulogy that more than matched the exquisite setting.
If you want to know what kind of man Mark Wilson was, Renton summed it up when he told us that when he came down from Scotland to take over from Mark, who was off to the Daily Express, Mark handed him his contacts book (a journalist’s most precious possession) and said, “Everybody you’ll need is in there.”
No wonder we all loved him.