On a return to Ancient Rome

Ryder Cup

Well, the Ryder Cup is about to kick off in Chicago, with all of the associated jingoism, mass hysteria, and xenophobia that goes with it.
I have loved and played the game of golf for the greater part of my life. I can still remember Jack Nicklaus as a brash young man, with crew-cut hair and belligerent attitude, taking on Palmer and Player in all those early challenge matches. In those days Nicklaus was young and he was arrogant and he was slightly obnoxious, or certainly to me, and certainly to the legions of Americans who worshipped Arnold Palmer.

But, later, I also remember Jack Nicklaus picking up Tony Jacklin’s four footer, on the final green at Royal Birkdale, to tie the 1969 Ryder Cup, in those days when GB and Ireland team religiously got their backsides kicked by The U.S.A.

Jack Nicklaus

Times have changed, and attitudes have changed, and now the game of golf has changed. Europe now wins more than its share of Ryder Cups, and the rivalry has intensified to the point where it has become unhealthy. Given a similar scenario, to Nicklaus and Jacklin in 1969, I very much doubt that Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy  would be allowed to do the same thing today, because all that matters in The Ryder Cup today is grinding the opposition into the ground, in an effort to somehow assert one continents superiority over another.

Tiger Woods

That, to a point, is fine, because winning is why men and women play professional sport; winning cups, or medals, or championships, or the Super Bowl, or Grand Slams, or World Cups, or ten-million dollar challenges, but what worries me is the trend from healthy spectator partisanship toward unhealthy xenophobia.
When I say that I include the players. Players get wrapped up in the competition, and that is good for the game and good for the audience, but when players begin to incite crowds with aggressive gestures and a patently obvious dislike of their opponents, I draw the line.

In physical-contact sports, where aggression on the pitch is transmitted to aggression in the stands, I can understand the difficulty in controlling emotions, but in Golf?

The media, too, are playing their part in fostering this unhealthy rivalry.

The Olympic Rings

In The Olympic Games we saw more attention given to which country finishes where, in the medal table, than to the running of the races and the playing of the games. For an event so steeped in the history, culture, sportsmanship, and all-round good-natured amateurism of The Olympic Games, seeing this blatant jingoistic muscle-flexing left me feeling saddened and sickened. Even in The Paralympics we saw more attention paid to the medal table than to the remarkable achievements of every one of the athletes who overcame so much to just be there and competing.

Jack Nicklaus overcame the natural belligerence and impetuosity of youth to become one of sport’s most gracious and well-loved ambassadors, because the fabric of the game encouraged him to do just that, but how will tomorrow’s stars learn if the fabric of the game is destroyed by blatant commercialism, nationalistic fervour, and xenophobia?

There will always be idiots in sport, whether watching or playing, because sport and intellect are so often mutually exclusive, but in golf, where standards and traditions were once so important, I can see no need for this biennial return to the mob-rule and xenophobic excesses of Ancient Rome and The Circus Maximus.

 

I love golf, but I won’t be watching The Ryder Cup. I haven’t done so since Kiawah Island in 1991, and I see no reason to change now. But when you watch, if you do, and when you see and hear the chanting, and xenophobia, and all-round lack of grace exhibited by everyone concerned, you will be watching a great sporting spectacle, but you will also be watching the general and inexorable decline of sportsmanship, sporting tradition, and the wonderful game of golf.

Have a good one.

‘Quality Literature’ – A guide to worth, or elitist twaddle?

Quality is one of those words that can never be defined in terms that completely satisfy everyone. During my years in the armed forces it simply described functional and hardwearing equipment; accurate side-arms that didn’t jam, comfortable boots that lasted, and so on. Then, during my years in commerce, the advertising agencies adopted it and quickly expanded its definition.
At the beginning of the nineteen-eighties it was the stock word for just about every marketing slogan the computer industry ever coined. By the end of that decade it had become a ‘buzz word’ for everything from good working practice to meaningful and fulfilling leisure time.
Quality Seafood
I love the feel and resonance of the word. To me it conjures images of soft-leather chairs, and polished-mahogany tables, sumptuous living, expensive cigars, and twenty-year-old scotch. It can be as pretentious as ‘bling’ and emotive as an exclamation, or as informative as the bluntest adjective.
Most will concede it is entirely subjective, and yet, when it comes to literature, its use seems to stir up all manner of snobbery and polarised opinion.
There are still literary agencies, on both sides of the Atlantic, who insist they will only accept submissions of ‘quality literature’, although, and at the same time, failing to properly explain their precise definition of the term.
Cover of "Complete Works of William Shake...
Some will insist that popular literature cannot be quality literature, and yet I have the complete works of William Shakespeare sitting on my bookshelves, as do millions like me from across the globe. Perhaps, as with certain types of rain in a drought, Shakespeare’s popularity is the wrong kind of popularity.
Maybe it is all to do with fashion. After all, D.H. Lawrence was considered a purveyor of ‘filth and pornography’ not so very long ago, whereas today the purists will excuse Lawrence’s previous denigration, at the hands of the self-appointed  guardians of quality literature, by claiming that. . . ‘The man was obviously born before the world was ready to embrace his genius’.
Maybe the cynical among us are right. Maybe quality literature is a term we use to describe the books we all like to say we’ve read, rather than the books we actually like to read. Perhaps there has to be an element of ‘donning the hair shirt’ about settling into quality literature.
Me. . . ? I change my definition every couple of years.
Cover of "Five on a Treasure Island (Famo...
For example. . . At the age of five, if anyone had claimed that Enid Blyton’s Noddy series was anything but quality literature, I would have hit them with my teddy bear. By the time I had reached the grand old age of ten, Noddy had been supplanted by The Famous Five and dear old Shadow the Sheepdog. When I was thirteen, Charles Dickens had assumed the mantle, but then, at the age of seventeen, Thomas Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge was ‘my speed’. At nineteen, a politically radical postman from Derbyshire, named J.T. Edson, and the exploits of cowboy hero and fastest gun ‘Dusty Fog’ had become my literature of choice. Dear old J.T. was in turn supplanted by Louis L’Amour, and he by D.H. Lawrence and a little-known but much-read author named Burton Wohl, whose best-selling novel, A Cold Wind in August,  was roundly castigated as ‘filthy dross’.
Cover of "The Mayor of Casterbridge"
Now who does that remind you of, today?

Some may claim the authors mentioned are a hotchpotch, writing everything from the so-called classics and quality literature to pornography and pulp fiction, but each has, at different times in my life, drawn me, and enthralled me,  and enlightened me, and transported me, and devoured me.
By my definition, any book that has the power to do such a thing constitutes quality literature.
So there you have it. Quality literature. Something to do with age, something to do with time, something to do with fashion, something to do with influence, something to do with environment, something to do with education, something to do with creativity,  something to do with prose style, something to do with culture, something to do with the literary establishment, something to do with peer pressure, something to do with interpretation, something to do with emotivity.

But, and most importantly. . . Everything to do with you, the individual.

Have a good one.

First Post


Welcome to this, my first post as the writer of a blog.
I know nothing about blogging. There, I’ve said it; it’s out there. In fact, this whole blogging ‘thing’ is the result of a conversation that went something like this. . .
“You’re going to need to start a blog.”
“Why?”
“Because people are going to want to know something about you.”
“Why?”
“Because you’ve written two books, and you’re in the middle of writing a third, and they’re starting to generate interest.”
“Well, let people read the books; that’s why I write them.”
“Yes, but people are also going to want to know something about you, as a person.”
“Why?”
“Because people are interested in that sort of thing.”
“Why?”
No, this wasn’t a conversation between a five-year-old child and its frustrated mother, but between yours truly and Pam, my long-suffering wife, who designs my book covers and runs my website.
You see, I dislike the celebrity culture that seems to have the western world in its grip, and starting a blog, when I haven’t even reached the long list that will one day become the short list that may eventually become someone’s minor-celebrity Z-list, struck me as exacerbating the problem.
But then Pam added the clincher. . .
“You’ll get to give them your opinions.”
There it was; proof, if proof were needed, that Pam wraps me around her little finger. And if I had ever doubted that she knows me better than I know myself, there that was too.
“Really?”
“Oh yes.”
“Well, I suppose I could take a break every now and then.”
That was that, wrapped around, spun around, and dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st Century, before I’d had a chance to draw breath. And here I am now, frantically scanning the memory banks for any odd snippets that might mildly titillate.
Not that I’m a stranger to technology; in fact I’ve designed, and consulted on, some of the world’s most complex and sophisticated computer networks, but that all seems like such a long time ago. You see, I can explain the seven-layer architecture that underpins data networks, in some detail. I can discuss physical and electrical properties, and protocols and interfaces, with the best of ’em, but don’t ask me which keys to hit to hit, and in which order, because when it comes to using those constantly evolving applications that perch on the communications subsystem, I haven’t got a clue.
So here I sit; racking the brains and coming up short.
I suppose I could tell people about my likes and dislikes; about our family and our five Burmese cats, and why I love Rioja, and why I play golf, and why I still love to fish, and what I’m writing and how it’s going, when I’m not doing this blog, and the books I’ve read and loved, and the films I’ve seen and loved, and where we live, now, and where we’re moving to, and raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, and all those other favourite things.
Maybe I could tell you a little more about the places I’ve seen. Perhaps I could tell you about my days, how I fill them, and how they never seem to be long enough. Perhaps I could even drop in the odd never-before-told juicy story, about some of the famous people I’ve met in my life. . . well, no, perhaps that would be taking my capitulation to the celebrity culture to extremes, but maybe the rest of it.
That’s if you’re interested?
If not, I’ll have to think of something else.