Annual Meeting Of The Destitute Golfers Club


At this impoverished institution, by-line, “Not a club between us” members from the whole of London gathered annually to sponge drinks off sympathetic passers-by and bore each other with tales of the finest shots they had ever played. There was that curious atmosphere which develops when the person you are talking to is not so much listening to your story as bursting to recount, in extended detail, the glowing tale of when, a mere thirty years ago, his seven iron shot sailed over the trees and landed within two feet of the hole on the fifteenth.

Topics of conversation where limited to well-played shots, clubs we had played, and our “Caddies,” which in this case normally meant the wives. Naturally there were female members of the club, but women generally being more sensible in the longer term than men, had not reduced themselves to boasting before a bored audience in the same quantities as the misguided sex.

Brian Parks was the treasurer, whose duties were confined to saying “I’m the treasurer,” there being no actual funds to manage. Correspondence was conducted largely by email, with only Christmas cards being sent by traditional means on account of cost. Brian was treasurer because, as well as being a bankrupt who lived with his daughter and her diminishing patience, he was also a man with a constant stream of ideas all guaranteed to place him among the wealthy within a matter of days.

As tales of balls sailing over trees, against the wind, round obstacles, all revealing the forgotten talents of the story tellers began to die down, Brian announced his latest plan. “I’ve applied to be the golfing professional at St Andrews” he said, which course, many of us know, enjoys a world-wide reputation. Heads shook in disbelief, and the ability of a man to distance himself from his circumstances by applying delusion, conceit or a poor grasp of realities came home again to his bewildered fellow members.

“Many of the new and younger members at top clubs are scared to apply for coaching from the normal professionals and I realise they need the help of a more accessible talent to help them get to the first base without being intimidated,” he informed his bewildered chums. “What talent is that?” said Fred Ramsey, who may have held a grudge against the treasurer on account of being trounced at the polls by Brian earlier in the year when the post became vacant. The previous treasurer had inherited some funds from an uncle in America and thus become ineligible for membership. He was missed, of course, but still attended on occasion to buy a round of drinks and flaunt his good fortune in front of his former comrades.

“I never mastered the five iron” admitted Brian, “But my putting was pretty good if I say so myself” “No one else would” said Fred Ramsey. There was a sourness about him which might well give a clue as to why he didn’t win the treasurer’s position. If we were to advise him, we might tell him not to apply for the job as junior-professional at St Andrews Golf Club, either because his tired ego might not be able to handle any further rejection or, at eighty-four, his swinging days were well behind him.

 

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The Missed Connection


There was a natural beauty about her: the kind a girl might unconsciously enjoy if social unease does not make her ask herself whether her hair is too long or short, or chin pronounced or eyes too close together or anything which unsettles us in relation to our peers so that we make those initially subtle alterations which take us further from ourselves and so the unsettling voyage begins. Her manner was unguarded and strangely moving if I’m honest, and I wished for some excuse to go over and speak with her.

She was the daughter of my English lecturer at university, the one who specialised in Victorian literature, a kindly man who had invited his tutorial group to spend the night with him and enjoy a day’s walking on the fells. Now it was the evening, and we were back in his house and about to enjoy a meal cooked by his lovely wife. They were a picture of the perfect family, and the daughter was the angel you would expect in such a setting.

As I writhed within myself, and wondered what light and casual remark I could use to introduce myself to her, “Mr Glib” or Andrew Cummings to use his real name, another of the students and one who later went on to enjoy a quite prominent career in broadcasting, slide in her direction and asked her in the tone of one used to dealing with life and its varied nuances, “So are you at university yourself” and she smiled at him and revealed she was at the same university as us, but studying medicine. “That’s very clever” said Mr Glib and soon he was oozing himself inside her life and suggesting they might meet for coffee in the student union.

I am confident that I was one of my professor’s favourite students because I actually had a passion for the subject he taught, but outside the world of tutorials and precisely worded essays I was socially awkward and with a wardrobe to match. Once more I had to pretend that nothing touched me and “real-life” was a subject of research rather than experience. “How do you put the fun into your day?” I heard Mr Glib ask the unspoilt beauty and soon they were sharing their passion for vintage films, which surprised me, as I had been exposed for extended periods to Andrew’s languid discussion of his interests and “vintage films” had never featured in them.

I ate my meal, and managed to bore everyone but the professor with my discussion on “Fors Clavigera” an interesting text written by the Victorian social thinker, John Ruskin. Finally Mr Glib said “This is not a tutorial Nigel” and smiled at me as if he was being kind, and then at the group with his “Where do we find them?” tolerance: I was never much good at dinner parties.

To make matters worse, Cummings went on to marry her, and enjoy his career success; no doubt revered by his listeners and fellow broadcasters. I met him and his wife years later at a reunion dinner where my job as an English teacher drew few gasps of admiration from the group, most of whom were gathered round Mr Cummings, apart from his wife who stood some distance away, staring at a watercolour. On impulse I went up to her and said, “You know, when we were students, and we had that dinner at your father’s, I wanted to come over and speak to you but Andrew got there first, and the rest is history.”

“I wish you had” she said, and gently touched my arm and I wondered if she might still be my unopened gift from destiny. “How is your father?” I asked, but before she could answer Andrew came over with that smile of his which speaks a thousand languages. “How is life in the classroom?” he asked, cutting across our conversation, “Still banging on about John Ruskin?” and his manner was curiously replete and satisfied. She looked at me, like a conspirator and said to her husband with something of an edge, “The last word isn’t everything you know” and he replied, “What do you mean?” but I think I understood her. I hope I did.

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A Writer’s Search For Meaning


I have always been a sort of psychological explorer, interested in those minute changes of mood as the mind travels between one moment and another. As an author of no repute, but wishing to gain one, I recently tried to conduct some research outside the local railway station leading to one or two awkward encounters. Let me give you an example and a half.

I see a man struggling to get his mobile phone out of his pocket. I walk up to him, equipped with my most harmless smile and say, “Good Morning. I am an author of no repute, currently conducting a research project on those miniscule mood changes which connect one moment to another. Can you take me through the range of emotions you experienced while trying to extricate your phone from what is clearly a poorly packed pocket or “PPP” as we say in the writing game.”

By then the man is already on the phone and wondering who this gap-toothed apprentice-sage is, preventing him hearing the man who has called him. I know it’s a man, by the way, because, obviously, I am doing a little eavesdropping on the side to gain a bit more background texture on the situation, ( It’s a writer thing you know.) This is a family Blog so I cannot record his full reply but let me just say it had two words in it. The first one began with “F” and the second one was “Off.”

Being a pioneer in the micro-emotional research movement or “MERM” as we say in the trade, I walked away unbowed by this experience to continue my research with another member of the public. Now I see some gentleman of prosperous appearance arguing with a cab-driver about the appropriate tip he should be paying, and, as a writer of established repute might say, “Smooth as an eel in a river of jam” I oil up to him and say, as you’d expect, “I am an author of no repute currently conducting a research project on those miniscule mood changes which connect one moment to another. Can you take me through the range of emotions you experienced while trying to get out of tipping this taxi driver?” I’m not certain whether he, in his turn, had been doing a little eavesdropping but, uncannily, he also turned to me and used the same short reply system or “SRS,” as we say in the writing game, offering up the expletive response of the hour ending with the word “Off”

Clearly, I will have to adjust my research techniques if I am going to make any progress in my studies but when I finally crack the required approach I will write up my report for you or “WUMRFY” as we say in the trade. It might make interesting reading!

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An Adventure in Internet Dating


Book Cover

It was Derek, of course, who came up with the idea of internet dating after Bernard told him he had been checking out some sites.

“Come on, mate. It’s made for you. I’ll help you set it up.”

The wig, a no-expense-spared creation in dark brown, did something to make Bernard look a little younger and from a planet nearer home. Normally, his drawn and slightly lined face, together with jug-like ears and baldness, had given him a difficulty with those used to making snap judgements, a characteristic brought into sharper focus on the web and often on dating sites.

“Your age,” said Derek, “I think we need to shave that a little.”

“What do you mean shave?” asked Bernard, not as familiar with bending perceptions as Derek.

“Forty two is a little old in the tooth for our prime market.”

“And what is our prime market?” said Bernard, feeling he was drifting further outside his comfort zone. Of course Derek had the answer. “Look, Bernie,” he said – he used to shorten his friend’s name when he was being especially cajoling or manipulative, “the world of dating is not one of hard facts.”

“But I just want a normal girl. You know. Someone to walk with, watch films with, who can cook and laugh at my jokes.”

“What jokes are those Bernie?” replied Derek. “I’ve never heard you tell one.”

Bernard wracked his brain for some gem with which to make his point, but then just shook his head.

“I think we’ll go for thirty-two,” said Derek. “You could get away with that in the right lighting, and the wig knocks years off you. It opens up the market. Women in their thirties are a bit on the guarded side, and we don’t want that do we?” He smiled and flashed his polished teeth at his old chum, who was losing the will to argue. “Let us continue with our creation.”

“Alright. Thirty- two.”

He would be a surveyor rather than a quantity surveyor. It never did to be too precise about professional backgrounds.

“Music.”

Before Bernard could reply, Derek was already describing his tastes as ‘eclectic.’ That should give off the vibe of someone who had thought things through and was open to all art forms. More and more, Bernard found himself to be the subject of this profile but not the creator of it. Indeed, the guy with brown hair who was looking at him from the page with a range of vigorous hobbies was so different from himself that he started to abandon all sense of realism.

“Loves skiing, sailing, and the ocean,” he suggested.

“You’ve never been skiing in your life,” said Derek, and then they both started laughing.

It was not long before Bernard was a well-read man of thirty-two with a decent experience of life, broad ranging interests, and an appetite for outdoor sports who was looking for a lady of twenty-two to thirty-five to ‘join him in life’s adventures, both inside and outside the home.’

Bernard thought that suggested an undercurrent of intimacy without being too forward and was likely to attract the eye of any discerning women. Derek was delighted to see the way his protégé was entering into the spirit of their enterprise.

Soon, they were working on a name. “With this profile,” Derek promised, the only outcome is success”

The Above is an excerpt from my book “Living Life Backwards” which, despite demands from the discerning public, is still on sale through Amazon and other mysterious sites. Click on the image next to this post and be sure you will receive not less than one cup of cyber coffee from the Countingducks foundation as a mark of our gratitude.

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The Stoic Lover


It was not his place to bother her with matters of personal concern but that did not prevent his heart moving with submerged turbulence when his secretary arrived each morning asking, as she had each day, “Coffee” to which he always said “Of course:” Thus it had been these four years: Marina was her name, and he her boss, and always mindful of his responsibilities to protect her beautiful exuberance from his personal agenda. She had the right, he firmly believed, to keep her work life free of emotional encumbrance.

Nearly forty and practising as a lawyer, away from glamour, and somewhere in the patents department, his energy was spent largely in caring for his mother who used her infirmities to keep him by her side. Widowed when her son was only seven, she had first declared, and then repeated, “You are the man of the house ” which, when young, he took to be a compliment, but now, he recognised, was more a prison sentence: still knowing something and having the courage to speak about it are not the same thing we sometimes learn.

Now the thunderbolt: Marina, Spanish by birth, who had come to England to work as an au-pair and then stayed because she enjoyed London so much, had decided it was time for her to return home which meant a thousand miles from him. As she handed him the letter resigning from the post something in her eye asked him a question, which he avoided with his well-trained manner.

“Happiness is not ours to seek but for others to bestow,” some sage, apparently freed from impulse by a life in caves, had told his university professor, who had collected such possible “Truths” while on youthful adventures trekking across sun-bleached landscapes, which “Wisdoms” he had passed on to minds as disconnected as his own during the lectures he gave on jurisprudence.

Now, his ex-pupil’s over-scrupulous heart could only watch Marina take his happiness with her and, infected by these pallid wisdoms, limply ask. “Why are you leaving?” and as her eyes replied, “I loved a man but his heart was not brave enough to speak ” her voice said “I am engaged to a boy from home.” He did not even know she had a boyfriend.

“That is excellent” he said, “I’m sure you’ll be very happy”

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In The Land Of Atrophy


In the blesséd land of Atrophy, where “Safety” is our dearest wish, and “Risk” a place regarded with unease, the air is always re-cycled to remove impurities and drinking-water boasting special properties is bottled in germ-proof containers, pleasingly displayed.

Nothing untoward occurs, as far as we are able to prevent it, and adventure is seen only on flat-screen TVs. Comfy in our air-conditioned rooms, we watch the struggles of ancient heroes from our culture’s past, or brave men in flying suits battling against green faced creatures from some other planet or dimension. We admire the combination of valour with selfless courage pitted against forbidding odds, as these brave souls secure the liberty we now spend so urgently on replacing furniture or trying out new leisure wear.

The frontier now, is lost in mythology, vanished from experience, apart from in ideas of course, although we view those warily. Manners are the triumph of our age or possibly just this city, but good behaviour, we understand, should define conduct at all times, acknowledged with due courtesy.

Routine is our blesséd friend, sanitising experience, and love a guarded territory, reserved for ourselves, our homes, and those considered family. For others whose problems we read of in the press, we offer up our empathy, expressed in measured tones of course, because to be respected in this place, we must behave predictably.

Still let us not despair just yet, the switch provides electricity, and taps the water for our baths with proven reliability. If we dream of another land where an unpredicted life is lead, we may go there once a year, tossing away our normal cares. We call that place our “Holiday.”  

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Down At The Fossils Club


I go there once a week on Thursday afternoon’s with what I call my spending money. That is the money which is not taken up with just surviving, although that makes me far from unique I know. Down at the club you will meet every kind of couple, happy and sad, angry or merely contemptuous, loving, gentle or blissfully unaware of their partner’s misery. In fact you’ll meet the human race, metropolitan style, excepting almost every story begins with “I used to” because very little happens now apart from organised games of bingo or cards which, let’s face it, just says you’re past it more than anything else can do.

Me, I sit at the bar mostly, sipping on a husbanded beer, swapping remarks with people I recognise, friendships are harder to grow after a certain age, and lusting in my hopeless way after Penelope of course, who is not interested in me, and has not been these three years. Not that I’m capable of expressing my interest in her on any physical level. Not to worry, being passed by in life, by people off to the shops, or restaurants, theatre’s or their weddings is what I’m all about. Invisible really, but always good mannered I assure you, that is one standard I insist on. You’ll never hear me shouting or expressing a crude appetite.

Anyway, enough of me, or you’ll be calling me “self-centred,” which is so true it hurts. At the Fossils Club, as I’ve said, the normal start of any sentence is “I used to” or “We used to” for those couples both of whom are still alive and can admit to enjoying each other’s company. And after that phrase come the careers and hobbies, “Be an accountant,” “Run a betting shop,” “Walk the Pyrenees,” or “Sail single-handed across the Serpentine Lake in London’s Hyde Park.”

Those of us not lost in daydreams or envy nod our heads in admiration. (Admiration of others is one of my talents by the way, along with envy if I’m to be honest: something I hate ) and if the conversation lulls, one of those who know me better than most might ask me “What about you Michael” and I will always say, I’ve applied to become a barrister, or I’m training to be a structural engineer, or any other profession I can think of, the entrance to which is unlikely given you are nearing your seventieth year.

But I don’t mind, because I’ve earned just enough to sit by the window in my lodgings out of the rain and live in daydreams. Daydreams are good you know, because in them Penelope always smiles at me and says “You know I like you” and someone from a major publishers knocks on the door and says “We demand to publish your manuscript” and holidays are enjoyed without the bother of leaving your recliner. In my imagination I’m just loved for who I am. In my imagination I will never be short of breath and the possible is just the start of my new life.

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