Hello everybody.  If you are, thanks for being out there and reading.  The sister and I are back and raring to keep in touch with our friends near and far.  Who knows where the meanderings and musings will take us and how much golf will feature.

I thought I’d start off with the sainted Alice, who does have her stubborn streak, like most older beings, female and male and everything in between and round and about.  She is a good-natured soul, the very best and now has a job as a therapy dog, cheering up children and their families – and the staff – in a local hospice and visiting a local primary school to help pupils with their reading.  She’ll be working at Crufts next month, promoting the work of the charity Canine Concern.

Go Alice – and her camera-shy owner Sue, they’re the best.

Like all labs Alice will eat almost anything – not too sure she’s fond of kale – but chocolate is a big no-no for canines, not that that will stop them scoffing a whole box if the chance arises.  Fortunately, some of us humans are allowed chocolate – in moderation of course – and this Tony’s stuff is not only delicious but good for our social conscience too.  I’d never heard of it until the other week when my cousin’s husband left some in my fridge as an introduction.  Warning:  it’s dangerously delicious and can, apparently, be bought at any supermarket.  As you’ll notice from the wrapper people can’t wait to rip in to it.

If you read the wrapper carefully, it talks about slavery on cocoa farms in West Africa and Tony’s mission is to bring you scrumptious chocolate that you can eat without guilt.  To quote:  “….we lead by example and show the world that chocolate can be made differently:  in taste, packaging and the way we do business with cocoa farmers…”  Really, what’s not to like?  We can all do our bit and enjoy chocolate with a clear conscience.

Never forget that consumers have clout.

Moving across the continent to East Africa, I watched a bit of the LET’s opening event of the season, the Magical Kenya Ladies Open at Vipingo Ridge not too far from Mombasa, if I read my atlas right.  Olivia Mehaffey started well with a round of 70, three under par, just a shot off the lead, which was good to see.  Mehaffey, born in Banbridge, had a successful amateur career, starring in college at Arizona State, playing for Ireland and GB and I, in the Curtis Cup but she’s struggled as a professional and admitted she’d found her lack of consistency difficult to cope with.

Playing golf – or any sport – for a living, which is a luxury, is tough, tough, tough.  A very small number of players make shedloads of money and if they’re well advised and sensible (!!), they’ll be set for life but careers are short and most have as many downs as ups.  Injuries can play havoc with form and confidence and if you’re the only player on your team, it takes immense strength of character – and a lot of support – not to become a complete basket case.

If you play golf just for the money, as one young professional admitted to Tony Johnstone not long ago, it’ll surely be even tougher to cope with the vagaries of this daft, character-revealing old game.  Better love it, have it seep into your bones and your soul if you’re to survive.  There’ll be exceptions, of course but not too many of them.

These days Johnstone is one of Sky’s most insightful, balanced commentators, a Zimbabwean who won more than his fair share of tournaments as a professional but said he never had a clue what the prize money was when he played in an event.  He made a good living but the purses hadn’t become so stratospheric that winning didn’t matter – or winning once (majors apart) was enough.

Johnstone’s lived with multiple sclerosis for years, is a wild life buff, as befits an African and is the sort of person you’d love to have dinner with. Oh dear, am I harking back to the good old days already?  So much for good intentions.  At least my road to hell is better paved than my road to the golf club.

There were zebra grazing in the vicinity of the course in Kenya – truly magical.   This one wasn’t there but I snapped him/her in South Africa a few years ago.

I’m still making my trips to Spurs, travelling ever hopefully and recently a friend commiserated with me on my wasted journey to watch us play Manchester City in the 4th round of the FA Cup.  “Why wasted?” sez I, knowing full well what the answer was going to be.   “Well, you lost.”

We did indeed, 1-nil, to a very late, scrappy goal that sparked delirium among the City players and fans.  Probably the best club team in the world ecstatic that they’d hacked out the win at the death, showing our goalie and us that we still have a lot of work to do to be top-notch.

They had pretty well ground us into our own well-manicured turf all evening and that was part of the point of going.  We hoped to sneak a win but in reality, as a fellow fan said, we didn’t lay a glove on them and there’s nothing like watching the best close up.

And my mate and I were close up, five rows back from the pitch in the West Stand, right in the heart of the action (my usual seats were occupied by City fans, visitors getting a bigger ticket allocation at Cup games).  You could see the players’ faces and the stars like De Bruyne, Grealish and Maddison warming up right in front of you, chatting away as they stretched and watched the action on the pitch.  Ace.  Well worth the trek.

Kevin De Bruyne, one of the best, preparing to return from injury.  Still goalless at this stage!