Friday, 22 September 2017

Translating a language in a foreign zone


I have a sensible arrangement with the golf club. I agree to pay a sub as long as they accept that I don’t actually have to play the game. It’s a good deal for both of us. Mark Twain reckoned that golf ruined a good walk and the club saves a small fortune on green-keepers wages by me not despoiling the carefully manicured grass they call fairways, and the tees and the greens.

Last week I unthinkingly broke the contract. I agreed to play in a twilight golf tournament. It seemed like the perfect competition. My dictionary describes twilight as “a shadowy indeterminate state” which would mean no one would see my inability to strike the ball in an athletic manner, my complete lack of co-ordination, and the committee would be blissfully unaware of the damage I was doing to the course.

There were other aspects of the competition that I found appealing apart from being conducted in the dark. The organisers said it would be played over 10 holes - in my view the perfect length for a golf course - and that they had chosen the flattest ten holes so that the mountainous section did not have to be attempted.

It’s not generally known that the young Ed Hillary did all his training on the Masterton golf course prior to his triumphant ascent of Everest in 1953. When asked why he chose Lansdowne he apparently said: “Because it is there,” and on one occasion, after he had successfully traversed the full eighteen holes of the course, he told those back at the clubhouse that he had: “Knocked the so-and-so off.” All this is anecdotal, but it has a ring of truth to it.

The organisers let me down right from the barrel-jump. A twilight tournament to them meant a 4.30 pm start. Taking daylight saving into account this is about when the sun is at its highest point and any attempt on my part to participate unnoticed was quite impossible.

They must have named the competition after the zone they are in.

To play golf successfully you have to learn a whole new bunch of words and ideally attend a special language school for a few weeks. When I arrived a formidable looking woman was standing on the clubhouse veranda and was obviously commanding the whole operation. I was told she was the “captain.” She asked me what my handicap was. I noticed, just a few feet away, a man in a wheelchair with two broken arms, a broken leg and a neck brace; the result, I presume, of a car accident. I said that comparative to him, I didn’t have one. The captain told me she would put me on a “twenty four” and I could have “fourteen shots.” She mumbled something else too, but the only words I caught were “smart” and “Alec” so I assume she wasn’t referring to me. She also said that whenever I hit a bad shot I could have a “mulligan.” I thanked her profusely, now concluding that around here English is a second language.

But I gave a good deal of thought to all this curious information and reckoned I knew what she meant. “Mulligan” must be brand of whisky, probably an Irish whiskey. I was apparently allocated fourteen “shots” of this whiskey and then for every time I sliced, hooked or had an “air shot” I was allowed to take extra swig. It’s a good thing I don’t imbibe because by the tenth hole I would have been paralytic.

Scoring is another mystery. You have “stableford” points. This sounded like a garage for a certain brand of car, but the poor man I was partnered with spent an age endeavouring to explain the intricacies of this complicated scoring process, eventually giving up. I left school with three languages: fair French, lousy Latin and great Britain, but my best subject was bookkeeping and I also had a reasonable grasp of maths. Despite these units of higher learning I’m darned if I could work out the “stableford.” In the end my partner said he would keep both our scores which I suspect would have been unacceptable to the “captain,” but I never let on.

The course is apparently in good condition because everyone we encountered as we crossed paths to access the flattest holes said how great the fairways looked. I wouldn’t know because my ball inevitably went into that section of the course they call the “rough.” The rough is cunningly placed on each side of the fairway and is cleverly configured so that if your ball lands in it, it completely disappears from sight. If you do perchance to happen upon it, it is so enveloped in the long grass that to hit it out successfully is virtually impossible. Most “mulligan’s” would be drunk, I would imagine, from these outer reaches of the course.

One day I’m going to build a golf course where the fairway is “rough” and the edges of the fairway will be mown like a bowling green. Thousands will flock to my club because they will feel good about themselves and I will make a small fortune. Unfortunately it will take a large fortune to build and maintain the course, so I will still be out of pocket.

For me to play ten holes is the equivalent to a seasoned players playing eighteen or more because I wend my way from one side of the fairway to the other. The America’s cup people would call this “tacking” but it is not a recognised feature of golf. I end up hitting twice as many balls and walking twice the distance. To confuse the issue my partner said after we had played ten holes we could go to the “nineteenth.” Try as I may I never found a tee, nor a hole, nor a green, with the number 19 on it.

We did however end up in the clubhouse; it was still broad daylight and now we were confronted with the prize-giving ceremony. An engaging young fellow with clean shaven head and the unlikely name of “Jamie” was the MC. Someone whispered to me he was the club “pro” but I dared not explore what that might mean. There was a table full of small boxed items to give out to the winners. I counted 39 prizes on the table and given there was ten teams of four participating, odds were that I was in for a trophy. Pretty well everyone had proudly gone forward when the last prize was left to present. Surely my name would come up next. The final award was for the worst round of the day and I got up out of my chair and was halfway towards the podium when I realised the intended recipient was the man in the wheelchair.

I felt like a complete mulligan.

(First published  November 20th 2002)

“Language is not an abstract construction of the learned or the dictionary makers, but is something arising out of the work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of humanity, and has its bases broad and low, close to the ground.” - Walt Whitman.