For the past week or so I have been on less than top form, being the victim of a pincer attack by a nuclear-powered cold and a bad back. The cold caused my nose to become a Mount Etna of snot and my lungs a pulmonary Smith & Wesson firing bullets of phlegm as I attempted to immerse myself in the Open Championship from the depths of the sofa. I’ve had colds before, obv, but none like this.
The spinal aches, however, are a recurring niggle that can be traced back to my lifelong yen for the sport Jordan Speith mastered at Royal Birkdale last weekend. Twelve years ago I was still sufficiently robust to carry my golf bats in a bag, and while sauntering blithely down a muddy slope at Littlehill in Glasgow I took a tumble, the weight of the clubs and my torso coming down with an almighty thud upon my coccyx. The resulting herniated disc and associated spinal issues have given me gyp ever since.
What does this have to do with motoring? Simple. I have, you see, been thinking about risk.
Golf, or at least the variant in which most amateurs such as myself participate, is not perceived to be a dangerous pastime, whereas motorcycling is widely seen as colossally treacherous, both by those in the know and those, er, out the know.
A question I have been asked more than once since becoming a rider is: why do something so potentially disastrous to my capacity to walk/talk/breathe, besides for fun? And while it’s tempting to drone on about how my appetite for golf – not alpinism; golf, for God’s sake – has seen me temporarily unable to stand upright, and what could motorcycling possibly do that would be worse, the truth as I see it is that the regular navigation of perilous circumstances is a central pillar of what it means to be alive. And the more you do it, the better you get at it.
Unlike the so-called dangers that governments and corporations insist lurk in every cranny of daily life, on a bike the risks are slap-bang front of you, in darkest black and brightest white. In seven months of riding I have been forced into an emergency stop when a car cut me up (wobble factor on a scale of one to five = one; I was doing 15mph) and watched, powerless, as a VW Polo lurched across my path to reach a motorway exit at the very last moment (WF = three). Most recently, where the M77 merges with the eastbound M8, I was forced prematurely into lane one of the M8 to avoid being crushed by a straying HGV (WF = five).
What I’ve learned from these experiences is this: if you’re going to ride a motorcycle, never forget your vulnerability to even the slightest hazard. Drivers of cars, buses, vans and lorries will always carry out manoeuvres that endanger you, and occupying the moral high ground doesn’t speed up the fusion of bones or the healing of wounds. Assume the worst and always, always have an out.
Oh – and install an action camera on your handlebars or helmet. The chances of remembering a registration number to provide the police with when facing oblivion are nil.
Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.
If there were consistently funnier TV comedy moments in the 1970s and 80s than when Messrs Barker and Corbett read spoof news stories at the beginning and end of The Two Ronnies then I wasn’t privy to them.
Even now, the following – impeccably delivered by Ronnie Barker – makes me howl with laughter: “The perfect crime was committed last night, when thieves broke into Scotland Yard and stole all the toilets. Police say they have absolutely nothing to go on.”
Or how about this from his diminutive partner: “After a series of crimes in the Glasgow area, Chief Inspector McTavish has announced he’s looking for a man with one eye. If he doesn’t find him, he’s going to use both eyes.”
I’ll be the first to admit my comedy writing skills are non-existent, and due to my lacking a phone number for Corbett and Barker lacking a beating heart I’ll never know how they might have conjured belly-wobbling mirth from the news last week that thieves have stolen £26,000 of golf clothing from a shop in Linlithgow. It’s crying out for a punchline, isn’t it?
Given the woeful nick of golf fashion, if you can even call it that, you can only imagine the horrors being offered to drinkers in West Lothian pubs this weekend in exchange for hard cash.
Granita pink slim-fit slacks, sir? Yours for 20 sheets. No, I don’t have them in a 44in waist. Or can I interest sir in a floral-print shirt, new for spring-summer 2015? This natty little number’s £95 in the shops but sir may have it for a tenner. It’ll make sir quite the draw with the lady members. I’ll even throw in a matching cap – sir might need it to swat away the bumblebees.
My own approach to golf apparel is conservative. Trousers, shirts and sweaters should be unpatterned and a sober colour – grey is good; blue is better. Shoes should be plain white or black, sans the dreaded tassels, and should not resemble trainers or football boots.
With shorts, meanwhile, you can get away with a fine check but never, ever flowers. The latter would get you suspended sine die, and that won’t wash with your matchplay partner after he’s carried your inept ass to the semi-finals of the Macdonald Fraser Jubilee Quaich, repeatedly fibbing to his line manager about ongoing dental work to ensure a succession of early cuts and allow for tackling the pile-up of early-season fixtures that are the curse of the eager club golfer.
That said, Ronnie Corbett has form in the sartorial-crimes-on-a-golf-course department, and he makes me laugh like a drain. Maybe I should loosen up and embrace my inner golf twonk. Anyone fancy a pint in Linlithgow?
Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.
“Welcome back,” I hear you say. “What gives, droog?” Putting your frankly unfathomable deployment of the argot coined by Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange to one side, I can reveal it’s mighty fine to see you again. For the record, I’ve been here, there and everywhere these past two weeks – well, Newcastle, London and Reading; do they count? – refuelling my mind and body at the fag-end of an incomparably epic year.
So good is it to be back, in fact, that no sooner have my snakeskin Chelsea boots graced the leaf-strewn pavements of the Dear Green Place than I am off. It’s got nothing to do with almost being deleted from the glitchy app of life by a red Skoda Fabia estate driven by Mrs Magoo as I cycled to work on Wednesday morning, or the nimbus of diesel ringing the roundabout near my flat that turned my ordinarily biddable Saab into the automotive equivalent of Torvill and Dean the following day.
And it’s certainly, sincerely, indubitably unrelated to the blackened soggy crust carpeting the city as we hobble glumly towards the winter solstice like condemned men to the guillotine.
It’s so bad that I’m looking forward to spending my first ever night in a static caravan. Happily, not in Saltcoats but St Andrews. Yes indeedy, after nigh on 40 years of dreaming about it, the day has come when I have something in common with the rugged if romantically enfeebled Jim Rockford other than a lifelong membership of Club Bloke.
James Garner’s TV gumshoe was a heroic figure to my young self, not least because of the seaside trailer in which he laid his weary head, the surf soundtracking his egress to the Land of Nod. His Pontiac Firebird was pretty cool too.
It’s at sleeping in a static caravan that the similarities end, alas, though I’m not seriously complaining. I don’t recall Jim Rockford ever taking off to the Kingdom of Fife with a gaggle of greying stallions for 36 holes of links golf, a few tins of lager and an Indian takeaway in an effort to banish the autumn blues.
Yes, so soggy has my default golfing playground become that I’ve given up the fight and taken flight. Endlessly beguiling as soil scientists no doubt argue it is, I’ve no desire to become any more familiar with earth than I already am. In the coastal sod of Fife I hope to find an agreeable level of resistance to my clubs, a quality signally lacking from the borderline quagmire of Balfron. And if not, there’s always beer and curry.
Trailer trash? That’s me – for one night only.
Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.
Although clad in the uniform of the modern alt-rocker – black skinny jeans, black Doc Martens, black hoodie – Sam McTrusty is not long back from competing in the Dunhill Links, the pro-am golf tournament played every year on the Old Course in St Andrews, Kingsbarns and Carnoustie.
Compared to his day job, it felt like a trial. “I was shaking,” he says of partnering English pro Simon Khan over three rounds. “I’m standing next to Rory McIlroy on the range and we’re both hitting shots. Then there are 400 people watching me hit from the fairway. I was more nervous than I’ve been playing any gig – and I get really nervous before gigs. I can’t eat. I can’t stand still.”
Such are the opportunities that come your way if you’re prepared to graft. And graft, as we will discover, is a key ingredient in the inexorable rise of the group McTrusty pilots, Twin Atlantic. Likewise the game of birdies and bogeys, which is why we’re in The Golf Lounge in Glasgow, as low-risk an environment in which to swing a club as any at this time of year.
The singer and guitarist, mildly hungover after a late night at a casino, sits alongside his fellow 26-year-old Ross McNae, with whom he grew up on Glasgow’s south side. Twin Atlantic recently released their second full-length album, Great Divide, the follow-up to 2011’s Free, which went silver with more than 60,000 UK sales. The new record might surprise some followers, evoking as it does such rock behemoths as Def Leppard and Big Country. This week the group embark on a European tour which kicks off with a show in Aberdeen on Thursday and a brace of dates at the Barrowland in Glasgow, which sold out within hours of going on sale.
Beyond a barrier to the side of our table, sinewy drummer Craig Kneale, 28, gamely attempts to use right-handed clubs (despite being left-handed) under the watchful eye of lead guitarist Barry McKenna, 29, who at his peak played off a handicap of four. We would have been here a week previously had McTrusty not received a call inviting him to the east coast, but who can blame him? “Make hay while the sun shines” will be a recurring theme today.
Twin Atlantic, though, might have hit peak golf. “It’s getting a bit much,” McTrusty concedes cheerily, “not for me and Barry personally but this is literally the last golf thing we do. We don’t want people to forget we’re a rock band.” Today they’re playing a virtual round on the Centenary course at Gleneagles, where the band watched the Ryder Cup last month after playing the opening gala concert at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow. It’s unlikely the concert will make their top 10. “It was weird. It wasn’t …” McTrusty searches for an appropriately diplomatic summary. “It wasn’t the craziest reaction we’ve had.” What was the audience like? “Corporate golf people, who are the worst people in the world,” McTrusty says, laughing. “Not all of them but most of them. It was a selfish project because golf is what I do in my spare time. It’s like meditation for me. All I can think about for four hours is golf, so I don’t worry about reviews or band stuff or the business side of things.”
How was the Ryder Cup itself? “Me, Barry and Sam were at the 15th green when the winning shot got hit,” says McNae. Did they dress appropriately? “I did because I’m a pure golf poser,” says the singer. “I tried to get more ‘golf’,” says the amply whiskered McNae. “I had trainers and a shirt on.” You don’t want to stand out in a golf crowd, I suggest. “No, it’s not cool,” agrees McTrusty, taking a slug from his water bottle.
Peak golf or not, before the quartet get on their tour bus there’s a round to get in. Not of beers, but of questions, 18 in all, the aim being to learn how Twin Atlantic found themselves on the precipice of major league success. On the tee, Messrs McTrusty and McNae.
Hole 1 An easy par four to start. Where did it all begin? “We met on the first or second day of school,” recalls McTrusty. “Our whole friendship has been around music. Ross’s dad plays Scottish folk music on guitar – I’d go over to his house and I’d never seen anyone play guitar up close.” He smiles. “We were also listening to the American Pie soundtrack, that pop-punk thing.”
Hole 2 Another par four to steady the nerves. How did the now teenage McTrusty and McNae meet the others in the band? When not studying painting at Glasgow School of Art, McTrusty could be found pouring pints in sundry Glasgow watering holes. “I’m a bar whore,” admits the frontman. “I worked in Nice And Sleazy, Bloc, the Republic Bier Hall. I met Craig working in Bloc and Barry working in Sleazy’s because they were in other bands. The catalyst was meeting them – we formed the band an hour after our first practice together. We were like: ‘We’ve got something here.'”
Hole 3 Time for a par three. What happened next? “We were going to Craig’s mum and dad’s house and practising from nine or 10 in the morning till five at night,” explains McTrusty. “We’ve been pretty much full time since then. Once we’d started it was all we wanted to do.”
Hole 4 A par five now the muscles have warmed up. At this point in the tale Twin Atlantic were building a live audience with UK tours and shows with the likes of Biffy Clyro, Smashing Pumpkins and McTrusty’s childhood heroes, Blink-182. How were they funding their musical activities? “We were still working in Nice And Sleazy and B&Q,” says the singer. “Eventually we had to make a decision – we couldn’t do both,” recalls McNae. “We had to not have a job and be poor, but make enough to get to the next place. You were in the van and the only thing you needed was somewhere to stay and food.”
Hole 5 Another par five: Twin Atlantic sign to LA label Red Bull Records after Meredith Chinn, a member of its A&R team visiting London, receives a tip-off from a certain Glaswegian music business luminary.
“What’s his name?” asks McTrusty.
“Alan McGee,” says McNae.
“Why do I always forget his name? He’s a pure famous guy. So she asked him, ‘Who’s worth checking out?’ and because we’re from Glasgow he said, ‘These guys are doing OK.’ It so happened that her flight home got delayed and we were playing a show. It was serendipity that she even saw us.
“Our band started at the exact time the music industry collapsed, so we were going into major labels and nobody was willing to take a gamble on a Scottish rock band. We were totally disenchanted. So when we spoke to Red Bull I was like, ‘Fuck it, we want to be one of the biggest bands in the world, we want to make this our lives.’ They were like, ‘Give those guys a record deal.'”
Hole 6 A par three. The band records a mini-album, Vivarium. As is common with young bands, asserting their identity fell victim to youthful exuberance. “We wanted it so much that when the opportunity was there we were in a daze for a year,” recalls McTrusty. “We sound confused. We sound excited. We were putting five songs into one and trying too hard.”
Hole 7 With the turn looming, the first in a trio of par fours. What were they listening to at this juncture? “A lot of complicated rock music,” replies the singer. “The Mars Volta, Fall Of Troy … But even the stuff we considered softer sounding rock was still Mew – we thought they were melodic. It was either that or post-rock like Mogwai or Explosions In The Sky.”
Hole 8 Gigs. Gigs. And more gigs. “We went to America and did a 50-day tour with 47 shows,” says McTrusty incredulously, “and we did a lot of European touring. So many tours in the UK. We wanted to be out working.” The graft paid off – once they’d released their first album proper, Free, the band were playing to thousands, not dozens.
Hole 9 Buoyed by their new-found success, Twin Atlantic jettison the ballast of indie credibility and set the controls for the heart of the charts. Says McTrusty, “People ask you: ‘If you could write any song, what would it be?’ And it’s never …”
McNae interjects: “Mogwai’s whatever …”
“It’s John Lennon’s Imagine or Dancing In The Dark by Bruce Springsteen. It’s not like all of a sudden we’re the big pop machine. We started connecting with people and that gave the band a whole other meaning.”
Hole 10 The back nine begins with a par three. How has Twin Atlantic’s audience changed? “When we started it was people like us,” recalls McNae, “then halfway through Vivarium it was a lot of teenagers.”
“Teenage girls, let’s be honest,” adds his colleague. “Then we started to get radio play and on the last tour for Free it was anybody – couples in their late 50s, 60s, across the board.”
Hole 11 A par four called Advice. “I worked with Craig B from Aereogramme in Sleazy’s,” recalls McTrusty. “A crucial point he said was: ‘Don’t be fucking idiots. Take every opportunity you get. My only regret is we held on to our indie morals. All it’s done is stopped us and now we have to split the band.’
“We’ve been at points where our cool-o-meter is telling us: ‘Don’t do that.’ I’m talking about four years after he gave us the advice, and we’ve said: ‘No. Let’s stick to what Craig said.'”
Hole 12 A par four: the recipe for success. “We feel lucky,” says McTrusty, “but we’ve made sure we work 10 times harder than anyone else so we’re in the position to be lucky. The one thing golf taught me is that if you hit 100 7-irons you’re way better than had you not. It taught us the work ethic side of things and patience.”
Hole 13 A short par three. Working hard means they now look after themselves, though it wasn’t always thus. “For years it was seven men sleeping in a van that sits four people,” he says. “We learned how to sneak eight of us into a hotel room.”
“Unscrewing windows,” sniggers McNae.
“When we look back I’m like: ‘How the fuck did we do that?'” says McTrusty. You can get away with murder in your early 20s, I suggest. “And we have,” says the singer. “We definitely have.”
Hole 14 Another par three. McTrusty is the latest in a growing rank of Scottish singers whose brogue is recognisably Caledonian. Is accent an issue any more? “Some people in America have said: ‘I have no idea what you’re saying but I feel it,'” says the frontman. “We’ve had more problems in England over the years,” adds McNae.
Hole 15 The last par five of the round and time to address the elephant in the clubhouse: scale. Size. Stadiums. “We’re comfortable with the idea of becoming an arena-sized band,” says McTrusty. “We don’t want the adulation but it’s hard to explain the feeling of having all those people connecting to your music.”
Great Divide sees the band working with producer Jacknife Lee, whose career was undoubtedly assisted by his work over the years with Snow Patrol, another Glasgow-based group who flew the indie nest (and ultimately Scotland) for more commercial climes. “I always have these sayings,” begins McTrusty. “When we recorded Free we were trying to make a timeless rock record. I don’t know how many times I said ‘timeless’. Then for Great Divide I maybe said the word ‘iconic’ 5000 times when we were recording.”
Hole 16 The final push starts with a par four: the present. All four members have long-term girlfriends and homes in Glasgow, but on the road they have a ready-made tribe in the shape of their crew. “They’re like a big touring family,” says McTrusty. “Our sound guy did our first-ever gig in King Tut’s. He was the in-house guy but we stole him.” The singer chuckles. “If we’ve done 500 gigs he’s done 450 of them. It’s the same with our guitar techs, and the drum tech is Craig’s brother.”
Hole 17 Another par four and a slight curveball: much of Great Divide was written in Canada, where McTrusty fled to stay with relatives. “We toured so much with Free that when I came back to Glasgow I was like: ‘Fuck, I don’t have anything here.’ I’ve got a bit of family but I was used to being away from them and they were used to me being away. I remember going at 100mph when I came home. It felt like everything was in slow motion so I thought: ‘I’m going to try to keep the speed up.’ So I ended up writing a lot of the record in Toronto.” He pauses. “It isn’t as rock-star as it sounds. Like loads of people in Glasgow, I’ve got family over there.”
Hole 18 A simple par three to finish. What wisdom can Twin Atlantic impart to others wanting a slice of the pie? “You have to be best friends,” says McNae, quietly. “What touring taught us from an early point is that if you can’t let things slide, be friends and get over it then you won’t be a band for very long.”
Today’s meanderings come direct from the house at 1 Memory Lane. You can’t miss it, being the only dwelling of note in the area, the consequence of more than half a lifetime’s pursuit of enlightenment at the Church of Make Mine a Double. In truth, Memory Lane is erroneously titled. Amnesia Avenue would be more apt.
The spur for my foray into the misty backwoods of my mind is the news that my old secondary school, where the pursuit of enlightenment was of a more solemn variety, is seemingly for the chop, having been deemed unfit for purpose. North Ayrshire Council is seeking to shell out £30 million – the equivalent of a decent Premier League midfielder – on a new Largs Academy sited next to Inverclyde Sports Centre, even further up the back of the town than the current school. In fact, it’s so far from the town centre it might as well be over the moor in Kilbirnie; a horrid thought, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Optimists will be of the view that the increased inaccessibility is knocked flat on its bahoochie by the potential for giving pupils greater exposure to a range of sports, a perspective I share. During my time at the school, with Britain buckling under the Thatcher government, a string of teachers’ strikes and associated curtailing of extra-curricular activities – the principles of which, then as now, I supported – rendered parents the sole guardians of the sporting development of their offspring. Physical prowess and academic ability are seldom bedfellows, and too often I saw boys with exceptional football skills wind up in a scholastic cul-de-sac.
Fortunately my sporting abilities lay on the golf course, which meant school, for me at least, was a banquet at which I gorged myself with varying degrees of zeal, depending on whether (a) the girl I had a crush on at any given time was in my class and (b) I’d been seated at a desk sufficiently far from any fellow mischief-makers to allow me to focus not on shivering with mirth but on following the teacher’s instructions.
It’s 26 years since I left Largs Academy yet I am still slightly saddened not to recognise the name of a single teacher on the school website. Whatever happened to Slink, the subject of many a defamatory graffito? The moustachioed Mr Kater, the English teacher who insisted the word “overtly”, which I’d used in an essay, didn’t exist?
Ultimately, I suppose, your experience of school is coloured most by your teachers. If you can remember them.
Postscript: Upon reading this column, Slink – AKA Mr Hugh Hamilton – got in touch to tell me he was alive and well. He also assured me that Kilbirnie wasn’t so bad after all. I remain unconvinced.
Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.
This being moving day at the 143rd Open, I offer no apology for indulging in a short ramble about golf. Or rather, a golfer. A professional of savage instinct, primal brilliance and peccadillos at odds with the stuffy conservatism of the game.
During practice at Hoylake a few days ago, he rocked up wearing a comically loud pair of trousers emblazoned with SpongeBob SquarePants, a cartoon character seemingly dreamed up by someone with an LSD habit. For Thursday’s opening round, he plumped for trews adorned by images of buxom starlets. Ladies and gentleman, I give you the nonpareil maverick of modern golf: John Daly. Wild Thing. The Lion.
If you’re thinking there must be more to Daly than his choice of trousers, you’re right. There’s music – he has made two albums. There’s clothing – those trousers come courtesy of an endorsement deal with Loudmouth Golf. Golf, however, isn’t what he does best any more.
The reason he shows up at the Open every summer is an exemption granted after he won at St Andrews in 1995. In the intervening years, the best he could do was a tie for 15th, again on the Old Course, in 2005. He has missed the cut no fewer than nine times. As we go to press, his score of four over par at Royal Liverpool will again be insufficient to prolong his participation in the tournament.
It has become tradition for Open observers to scoff at Daly’s outlandish apparel and boundless appetite for cigarettes and Diet Coke without once acknowledging their own transgressions and weaknesses, and that is a shame. But what’s sadder is the fact that Daly, who is only 48 years old, frittered away arguably the greatest mojo golf has ever seen so early in his career. Let there be no mistake: peel away the layers (and they are legion) – the $55 million gambling losses, the yo-yoing weight, alcohol abuse, five marriages – and in John Daly you will find not only the world’s most natural golfer, but also the only double Major winner (he won the US PGA in 1991) not to play in a Ryder Cup. What a waste.
Though lacking any literary merit whatsoever, Daly’s autobiography My Life In and Out of the Rough is to be recommended if only to get a glimpse of the courteous, humble man so often derided as a clown.
A “redneck from Arkansas” he may be, but Daly could teach the supposedly more urbane members of the golfing establishment a thing or two about living life in plain sight, admitting your failings and trying to be a better man.
Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.
I spend 95% of my working week fettling the magazine that accompanies this newspaper on a Saturday, and have done for the best part of eight years.
Chief among the perks – invites to red-carpet dos, sporadic deliveries of edible or drinkable goods, the unstinting veneration of my colleagues* – is the early exposure to interviews with and exclusive photographs of the world’s most desirable women.
In today’s issue the comely Scarlett Johansson discusses her impressions of Scotland, the location of her new film Under The Skin. The movie website IMDB sums up the plot more succinctly than I ever could: “An alien seductress preys upon hitch-hikers in Scotland.” I’m unsure what Michel Faber, the author of the book on which the film is based, would make of that precis, but you get the gist.
“I like Glasgow,” she says. “It’s akin to New York.” Johansson hails from the Big Apple, so you have to trust her, no matter how difficult it may be.
She goes on to reveal that the film crew sometimes let off steam in the city during their stay; the actress, on the other hand, is fastidious when working, the implication being she kicked back with the Kindle edition of C’Mon Geeze Yer Patter! and a glass bottle of Irn-Bru (“That’s got a kick”).
Had I been aware La Johansson was in town I would’ve gladly shared a day in my life with her, surely a far more edifying pursuit than gazing at the walls of a hotel room.
First we’d find her some stout boots and I’d engage her as my caddy for a round of golf at my home course of Balfron. The 4.5-mile walk, oxygen-rich air and fulgent repartee between me and my partner Dave would set her up for a birl down to Burger King in Drumchapel and a veggie bean burger meal, and it would be remiss not to pop into B&Q for lightbulbs and Pets At Home for cat gubbins while in the area.
Thereafter we could visit my father, timing the visit with an international rugby union match on the telly.
“Dad, this is Scarlett. She’s a very famous film star.”
“Come on lads … Pass it! Oh, hello Charlotte … What a bloody shambles! Come on boys!”
“Bye, Dad. Catch you later.”
Then we’d shoot up the road in the Saab and pick up some wine before …
Who am I kidding? A greying Scotsman squiring a 29-year-old habitually rated one of the world’s sexiest women? She could do a whole lot better, younger and fitter. I’m positive my other half would agree (calm down dear, etc). Think I’ll stick to magazine production.
* Only one of these statements is true.
Reproduced with permission of Herald & Times Group.