The Headingley Test

I listened to the closing moments of the England cricket Test against Australia on Sunday in disbelief.

Ben Stokes had brought off the most remarkable victory in international cricket history. With last man Jack Leach they had to score 73 to win. And win they did.

But it was the closing moments which were wholly and utterly remarkable. Stokes was first dropped, then with the entire Australian team surrounding the boundary he hit a six which just got over the leaping fielder. He then went for a crazy single with two to win and stopped, only to leave Leach stranded half-way down the pitch. At this point it was surely all over and what a tragedy it would have been. But Nathan Lyons somehow fumbled the incoming throw. Then the next delivery from a riled Lyons hits Stokes on the pads, but umpire Watson gives ‘not out’. The camera clearly showed differently, but the Aussies had used up all their reviews and the last one rashly. A single was then achieved to cleverly put Stokes on strike in the next over. The English now cannot lose. The tension is immense as fast bowler Cummings scorches in to deliver the vital ball to Stokes, who simply battered it through the covers for four and the whole of Headingly and England erupted in jubilation.

This was immense. I had to watch the replays several times later on TV to take it all in.

But imagine being there?

The wonderful commentator Johnathan Agnew said that he had never seen anything like it and I don’t think he ever will again.

Don’t we just love sport in this country? It’s something we are very good at and it is something that this country revolves around. Whether it’s WImbledon or the Boat Race or Ascot or The Open or the rugby. We excel at it. And this Test Match was at the pinnacle of that.

It’s a shame we don’t have a Johnathan Agnew in golf mind you. For old Aggers is simply sublime. A wonderful commentator on the game. His timing, his knowledge, his sensitivity, his passion. His niceness actually. He does come across as a very decent bloke indeed and you can hear and see everyone responding to this. It’s heart warming and life giving. I really can’t get enough of Aggers.

There is a wonderful anecdote from last summer about someone who had written a letter to him which he read out on air. About how this chap’s father had sublimely drifted to another world, in the utmost contentment, listening to the kindly and euphonious tones of Aggers on Test Match live.

What a way to close your innings.

But in golf we are bereft of good or even decent commentators. There is no one near the level or pitch of Aggers. Ok we had Peter Alliss for donkeys and he indeed still pops up from time to time on the feeble Beeb coverage of the Open. But he never did it for me. Rather far too self-obsessed I felt and always annoyingly trying to be funny. But not very.

And then we have the likes of Ken Brown and Ian Carter and Ewan Murray who are mind blowingly boring. And then Sir Nick Faldo over on Sky of course.

Oh deary, deary me.

He’s about as inspiring as a kick in the head.

Anyone for cricket?

 

The Open Shop, St Andrews

I have previously written about my disbelief in the renaming of the Old Tom Morris Shop as ‘The Open’ by the Links Trust.

This morning I was wandering down by there and I saw Old Tom’s great, great, grand daughter (sweeping outside the shop as she owns the flat above and indeed the shop). At least I think she’s direct lineage or maybe she is just his great, great niece or whatever.

Anyway, I asked her what she thought of the renaming of their historic shop and she most politely said ‘I really can’t comment. It’s been sub-let to the R&A’.

Well I said. I can comment.

‘It’s an absolute shocker’

And she carried on her sweeping and made no comment.

While I’m on this theme, I may add that we have finally come up with a name for our bistrot in Edinburgh. It’s to be called ‘Leopardo’

This has been a painstaking process. In fact, it’s taken two years to get to Leopardo, via Old Flower Shop, Wild, Gardner and Costa, Leftbank, The Crazy Duck, The White Duck, The Blind Duck, Riverside Cafe, Sika, Idiom, Air Cafe, Ulysses, Velvet, Untitled, Little Sicily, Palermo, Aeolian and many, many more.

I finally settled on Bang, Bang, Bang. But no one was overly enthusiastic, apart from moi of course.

For I thought it was kind of memorable and had some latent, nuanced, obscure, underlying humour, given Alessandro’s Sicilian heritage.

But it was not to be.

We ultimately had a vote and Leopardo won handsomely.

Let’s say a slightly more conservative choice.

 

on the benefits of sea bathing

I have been swimming in the sea three days this week and it’s been wonderful for body and soul. I am convinced that this is much better for your mental health than a long dose of anti-depressants. Not that I’ve ever had a long dose of anti-depressants, but I’m convinced that GP’s should be advocating regular dips in cold water before prescribing them.

I was inspired to start doing this again by a new buddy Mark Vigil, aka The Wall Street Caddie, who is here for the summer, writing a book on young Tom Morris and caddying at Kingsbarns. A most affable bloke, he sets his day around drinking coffee in Taste, caddying, practicing his golf, dipping in the North Sea, having a few beers in Aikmans and writing his book. I look forward to reading it.

Our bistrot is very nearly there and we are just waiting for the council to give us building control clearance. The only major factor is that we haven’t got a name yet.

Leftbank has been ditched and there are numerous other possibilities being thrown around. I am now of the opinion that a good name is pretty important and we are finding it very hard to come to a consensus on this. Aeolian, Il Gattopardo, Wild, Old Flower Shop, Sika, Untitled all hit a mark and are there or thereabouts but I want something completely different (which I won’t disclose here because it’s rather hot property in my opinion). It’s completely off the wall but is certainly individual and memorable. And that’s what a good name should be I reckon.

If anyone has any immediate and inspired thoughts please send with haste.

 

Fore!

I found it very interesting that Paul Lawrie was ‘gutted’ after he hit a marshal in the recent British Seniors championship. And interesting only because he said that ‘he always shouts fore’.

Because he didn’t in this case and the said marshal got hit. I posted this on Facebook and no one commented on it. And that is strange.

I also find this interesting because it’s quite a hot topic at the moment and one that should have elicited some response, especially amongst caddies.

Remember, at the last Ryder Cup, when a poor French lass got blinded in one eye when the pro golfer didn’t shout ‘fore’?

The glaring reality is that a lot of professional golfers have not been in the habit of shouting ‘fore’ for whatever reason. And this has to change, for it’s manifestly their responsibility and indeed they are the best judge of their own shots.

It certainly should not be left to a marshall on the tee, as I think might be the ongoing presumption among some pros.

 

 

what a palaver!

I’m in the habit of getting the 7.50am bus into Edinburgh at the moment.

Yesterday, a very interesting thing happened.

A lass got on at Ferrytoll, sat on one of the side seats at the front and proceeded to apply her make-up all the way into Edinburgh (20 minutes).

Now, this was particularly fascinating from my male perspective, as I hadn’t quite imagined that so much could go into the female visage (and I do mean this both literally and metaphorically). But I also think this display was fascinating for the rest of the full bus too. In fact we were all rather captivated by this pretty, self-absorbed lady, who really acted like she was all alone.

Anyway, there was much intermittent powdering and the administration of creams and sprays and brushes and pomaders (I think they are called pomaders?) and puffing and pouting and squinting and hare-eyed staring, the most careful attention around the eyes and the neck and the forehead and several, regular, dramatic, still-camera pose moments of maybe not quite self-admiration, but certainly junctures of deep self-reflection. Kind of Picasso mid-paint like. But, I’m not sure Picasso had the want to update his self-portrait on a quotidian basis. However, maybe with such a captivated and attentive audience he might have?

I was slightly irked as I had to get off at Blackhall and couldn’t see the finale. At this stage the lipstick was being very carefully administered, the Chanel 5 was wafting, not unpleasantly, through the bus and the face was a fine and deep, smooth rouge.

The couple behind were having a wee chuckle and informed me that the procedure had started in the bus station at Ferrytoll.

God get me a train!

Apart from that highlight to the week I saw the one and only Cologne Tom out on the Old, which was cool. In years to come people will rue the fact that they came to St Andrews, saw the castle and the cathedral, Hamish McHamish, stepped on the Swilcan Bridge, posed next to the R&A, had fish and chips in Anstruther, a pint in the Jigger, but never met the most wonderful man that is now the Old Course caddie, Tom Stevenson.

He is a delightful one-off. I have never met a person with such charisma.

I once wrote an article for HK Golf decrying the powers that be in the Links Trust, and more particularly the incumbent and present caddie master, for not putting Tom on Obama’s bag when he visited a couple of years back.

That was a massive missed opportunity. It would have done wonders for the image of the St Andrews caddie and immeasurably enhanced our international relations in one fell swoop. I mean stuff all that Downing Street and Chequers nonsense. This would have been enormous and everlasting. Tom would have had Barack eating out of his hands.

I mean even that buffoon Boris Johnson would have grasped that one.

But alas not the Links Trust.

On the golf front I have scraped into the final of the Jock Hutchison over the Old. After a massive collapse with consecutive out of bounds on fifteen and sixteen and a nervous three stab on seventeen, I just held my nerve to hole a Doug Sanders on eighteen.

There is goff in the old dog yet.

 

 

a minor miracle

I’m into the semis of the Jock Hutchison and this is now verging on a minor miracle. Again, I won at the twentieth as darkness fell over a most beautiful mid-summers’ evening on the Old Course. Poor Ken Hodge must be left in a state of minor shock at having lost a game he pretty much had in the bag. For, bar the first hole, he was one-under on the first nine, which is rather handy for a nine handicapper. However, a missed four foot putt to go five up on eleven seemed to unnerve him and appeared to be a momentum changer.

Funny old game goff!

Well not that funny sometimes. On my last visit to Mortonhall I hoofed a drive well left off eighteen and heard the most enormous crash. It transpired that I had hit full toss into the side of a Subaru Impreza. The car park in the club is covered by some trees but not quite large enough, yet, to provide vital cover. Rather shocked at what could have happened (I mean it could have been a Fiat Uno for example) I apologized to the rather serious looking Subaru Impreza owner (he was not overly impressa!), exchanged numbers and had a few wee worrying thoughts about large body work repair bills. I reported the matter to the club manager who claimed she had never heard of such an incident in thirty years. I was going to chuck in the idea that it may be wise for the club to put some netting up, but decided that it may not be the opportune moment.

The upshot was that it was covered by the club’s insurance. However, like the nets at the end of the practice area, erected recently at the St Andrews Driving Range, I would now suggest that the same be carried out at Mortonhall. Although if I may say, the net in St Andrews is in my opinion not quite high enough. Legal team at Links Trust take note.

Then the kilted caddie will be able to proudly say that he has made two significant contributions to the world of golf. Unfortunately, my swing is not one of them.

We are just back from France where we stayed with Prof Kennedy who worked in psychology at Dundee for thirty odd years. A lovely and talented man. He and his endearing Polish wife, Elizabeth, put us up in their rather nice pad in the rolling hills near Marciac, with views to the high Pyrenees. It is a stunning spot and far away from most things, apart from the odd distant motor vehicle that you could hear once or twice a day. We had lazy days going to local markets, eating and drinking in the garden and generally being seduced by this pretty and special part of France.

But things are going to change soon and fast here. The bistrot is near complete. Leftbank should be open by mid July. It’s rather daunting to say the least if I’m honest, but the key issues of staff and suppliers have been sorted and we have had the benefit of using a very talented interior designer in Paula Murray of Supertonic, as well as it being most efficiently project managed by Isabella Chaussy of the Norman Gray Partnership, alongside a huge contribution from Dave Cockburn on the finance side. However, it’s really now down to us to make this thing roll.

On the political front I’m really at sea. Brexit has rather undone us has it not? God it looks like we are set to have bumbling Boris as PM for a while. I say a while because I don’t reckon he’ll have a long tenure and I think he’s got about as much clue about the ramifications of a no-deal as I have of the workings of string theory. Yes he can talk and pontificate and Bertie Wooster for England. But has he any real substance and does he really care? I fear not. His ‘abundant, abuntant’ claim about the technical fixes for the backstop were not abundantly convincing to my mind. We will see.

The students have graduated this week and what unnerves me is that a lot of my friends kids are amongst them! This means that I’m getting old and it’s rather disquieting as it’s come around awfully quick. Where did all that time go? A haze of stuff that I think happened to me but I’m not too sure about now. Yes I remember the friends and work and some landmarks. But it all very strange.

What reassures one is a reunion of old friends. We had this a couple of weeks ago when a Mr Buchan returned for a week with his now grown up son, Henry, and we all went out to the Apartment for dinner. And it was fabulous, as we laughed and teased and reminisced and drank and cried and acknowledged that we were still the same. Albeit for a few grey hairs, challenged hirsuteness and some odd and sometimes significant portliness.

But it was wonderful. And I am very glad and lucky in this respect.

So I will finish on a positive note. We are most bullish about Constantinople in the St Leger as he just got pipped at Ascot by a much lighter weighted nag. I’m most keen on a Federer win at Wimbledon, Matt Wallace in the Open, a Trump impeachment, and an honorary R&A membership awarded for my services to caddying.

Surely one has to come in.

 

 

 

A real dog

I am talking, in the first place, about the investment management industry of course.

This Woodford chap and his Equity Income Fund has really put the cat among the pigeons and caused a bit of a stir. Why? Well, because he’s brazenly taken exorbitant management fees in the face of mind blowingly bad results and he and his colleague bagged a 30 millionish salary last year. So much for the efficient market hypothesis and all that stuff? Isn’t that what this industry is all about?

This has been driven by the usual nonsensical hype and the rather adroit salesmanship of Hargreaves Lansdowne. Money for old rope springs to mind. I think Mr Woodford was creaming off a hundred thousand a day from hapless investors whose stocks were very much heading south. This has to change. It’s a sham and an embarrassment to the industry. Fees should and must be performance related. Surely? Not this ridiculous global 0.5 to 1 % charge on assets under management. That can result in huge fees for poor performance and some quite incapable people getting very rich indeed. Annoying what? It’s kind of like levying a mandatory 15 % service charge on your restaurant bill even if the service is crap. It stinks.

Fish soup!

I had a really bad fish soup in Fishers on the Shore on Monday and it cost me 8 and a half quid. It was tasteless and insubstantial and decidedly uninspiring. I am really going off restaurants that don’t care about what they put out, trying to rest on their laurels and supposed reputations and pretty locations. I guess that’s the massive benefit of having an owner-managed place with people who do care about what their customers are eating. And I suppose that’s why Jamie’s Italian chain rather collapsed. Because let’s face it- food is very important and it’s not going to wash that my pizza is made in a franchise-fronted joint living entirely off the reputation of some whipper-snapper cockney A-List celeb.

People want decent, honest food. Well at least I do.

Now politics. What a bloody mess we’re in. Or should I say the Conservatives are in. This leadership contest is one thing but I think as a party they are doomed. Well unless they have the guts to put Rory Stewart in. That would be a tonic for us all. National service is a tip-top idea and the citizen’s assembly takes away the need to try and get a consensus of MP’s. Ok he’s a rather well spoken Etonian, Oxford PPE bod. But that’s ok. I think he’s very well meaning.

But please not Boris. I couldn’t cope with five potential years of hair tousling, pretentious Homeric references and Bertie Wooster antics every night on News at Six. I will stick with PG Wodehouse for that. And just remember what a mess he made as Foreign Secretary. Dumb bloody blonds.

Anyway, we are forging ahead at Leftbank. It should be open by mid-July (2019). We have a clean slate here and will attempt to provide fresh food, great quality wine and beers, the best coffee, teas and hot chocolate. All in a beautiful space. It’s not just all about the bottom line for us and that’s our main credo. We want people to have a genuinely good experience. In this respect we really care. And I think that’s a good start, as it appears many don’t.

Here is my present roll-up bet. Constantinople in the St Leger, Matt Wallace the US Open, Fraser Clark MCBA champ, Rory Stewart PM, Japan World Cup Women’s footy and Men’s rugby, Federer Wimbledon and a K McLaren to miraculously pull off an historic win in the Jock Hutchison Trophy over the Old, after an amazing second round qualifying score of a hundred, to just secure the 32nd matchplay qualifying spot.

Yes miracles do happen.

The odds on this are a massive 350 to 1 and min bet the usual £100.

Thanks and tidings.

 

 

 

London Blast

A short visit to London with the objective of doing a recky on some pretty classy wine bars is not an unwelcome venture.

Alessandro and I travelled down on Friday and pitched up at Michael’s office just off Bond Street to be met by his most attractive assistant Andrea, who informed us that he was working but that she would take us first to some cafe’s.

This is an extremely trendy area where everyone looks eminently cool, sophisticated and basically loaded. Dairy products are fading fast and oatmilk and coconut milk are in by all accounts. Healthy eating is the name of the game here and if you’re not serving an avocado/spinach option on the breakfast menu then you’re going to be severely commercially challenged.

We eventually caught up with Michael and headed to Isabel Mayfair which is one of the swankiest joints in town, where you don’t want to look at the prices on the menu unless you fancy a wee cardiac. This place stinks of money and is the only establishment that I’ve been to where they have a smiling attendant to open a fantastically lit, granite laden toilette, smelling decidedly Yves Saint Laurent and really most opulent.

Mind you, when a glass of wine comes in at sixteen quid and a small plate of serrano ham hits you at twenty-eight you realize that the guy paying the rent bill is not dealing in minor sums.

Of course we rather lorded it. Michael is not the sort of guy to do things by halves and add to this a bit of Palermo panache and a nutter from Morningside then you have a rather brutal cocktail, if I may carry on using a metaphor in the fashion boisson.

Fortunately, Michael had to work next day so we didn’t go to excess. A pizza and a wee night cap in the bar of the Leonard Hotel climaxed a pretty fun evening where the three business partners had august, insightful thoughts on the Edinburgh bistrot venture, decided that life was pretty rum, or indeed 15 year old Glenlivet in Alessandro’s case.

Next morning we headed to Portobello Road where Mike sells his jewels and that sort of thing and we caught him looking rather worse for wear, went to a superb cafe called Gail’s where it’s all smiles, excellent gruyere, fresh bread and good coffee. To top it all and would you quite believe it? Temple of Heaven came in by a short head in the 4.20 at Newbury by slightly nudging out Well of Wisdom and so paid for the whole trip.

A complete winner.

I trust Leftbank will be like this. But not quite at these prices.

Seven thousandth swing change and on meeting Mr Usher

Had a fine day out in Edinburgh and the fortune to bump into Mr Stuart Usher who runs the Edinburgh Guided Tour company.

As well as being the most affable chap, he affirmed my thoughts about the Scottish Tour Blue Badge Guide thing and I felt rather satisfied that I had not bailed out 9 grand on a painfully intensive one year course. He has been going seven years now, has no qualifications, is fourth on Trip Adviser and is seemingly growing rather exponentially.

Yes, I suppose it’s a bit like the degree thing nowadays. Every Tom, Dick and Harry has one but is it what counts if you want to get on and do your own thing outside academia? Certainly my business partner could have gone to Uni but decided that he very much wanted to be his own man. And now very much is I may add.

Now what is going on in the world? It’s all a bit up in the air by the looks of things. The horrible thought is that we may now have to listen to Nigel Farage for the next few years. This is dangerous. The man is utterly unbearable. He’s almost on a par with Lyndsey Graham, Trumpy and that Roger Stone bloke.

It’s all utterly desperate and despicable and is enough to drive any sane man over the edge.

On the golf front I was rather glad Matt Wallace didn’t win the British Masters. No. I’m not a great fan of the man. I once sat down for lunch with him and he really had a struggle making eye contact with me.  A man who at times acted like a spoilt brat to his lovely caddie, Dave McNeilly, and has a serious temper issue when things don’t go his way. He is lucky that Dave McNeilly is a very decent bloke and has stuck by him.

My golf is nearly there. I surprised myself by hitting over the Swilcan Bridge from the back tee of the first on the Old. A bit of a silly shot in all honesty taking the driver, but I’m a fairly silly person.

My seventh thousand swing change is working swimmingly. It’s a much flatter and uncomplicated plane, inspired by a comment on the practice area by 31 handicapper, most excellent restaurateur, Alessandro Costa and validated by a tip-top butcher in Bruntsfield..

Isn’t life a strange old thing that I can get a top tip and insight from a relative novice to the game? Thank you Alessandro. And thank you as always Mr tip-top butcher.

Our bistrot is progressing well now. The new shop front is in and looks swell. It should now come together in the next few weeks. We are all heading for a weekend in London to look at a couple of Mayfair wine bars that Michael likes.

And I dare say we may even go into them. Not that Mike and Alessandro are massive imbibers, but it would be silly to travel all that way and not sample their wares.

And I’m sure the taxman will see this as a most necessary business expense.

 

 

 

 

 

Ding Junhui, Zhou Yuelong and de Gea have had a mare of a week

And I will tell you why.

Both Ding and Zhou led by 9-7 going into their final sessions of the World Snooker Championship and never thereafter won a single game.

David de Gea on the other hand, followed up lousy form in his two previous games, to make possibly the worst attempted save in professional football, in Man U’s game against Chelsea.

The snooker has been fascinating to watch though. It’s a remarkable game in that a whole match can change on the back of one marginally errant shot. The entire ebb and flow dramatically alters, energy is sapped, momentum lost and reversed. It’s basically curtains.

The most fascinating thing about football is the ongoing verbal garbage espoused upon the game. I mean Ole Solskjaer, the now not so enlightened Man United manager, kind of defended De Gea’s shocker by saying ‘it was just one of these things’.

No it wasn’t. It was a fundamental error which should never have occurred at this level of football. De Gea should have caught that very tame shot and never parried it. A stand-in, inebriated, second division, Sunday-league pub team goalie could have caught that ball. All day long.

I probably could have caught that ball.

Now America. What the hell?

Trumpy is now suing banks over issuing details of his financial interests. In fact he is suing all and sundry as far as I can see. What a charlatan he is. But I suppose this is how he made buckets of lucre in his business dealings and it’s the way the hideous man operates. The only problem is that he is running the country and some people expect transparency. Which is what his Attorney General Bill Barr says he’s all about, but isn’t in fact even willing to pitch up to a House Judiciary Committee meeting for questioning. What a complete load of bull.

But did we expect popular capitalism to end up any differently in a country like America? Or maybe America is just the inevitable climax of popular capitalism. A phoney, jumped up state, drunk on money and drugs and sex, run by a cheap and dodgy, chat show host billionaire who doesn’t give a flying fart for truth, decency or integrity.

And it seems the mass of the electorate may not either. So long as the Dow continues to climb and their taxes are getting cut.

It’s really all pretty awful.

But that’s enough of that stuff as there is only so much you can take of that smug faced and intensely irksome individual.

My golf is shocking by the way.

I played in the first round of the Freddie Tait last week against a one handicapper. The Freddie Tait is basically the prestigious scratch knockout tournament, open to every player in town.

I screamed a drive off the first of the New and acknowledged some degree of surprise from my opponent (he knew my handicap was 9), who may have then thought that he might have a match on his hands. However, this was immediately dispelled on the next shot when I missed the green from 30 yards. I got hammered 7 and 6.

Otherwise things are swell. The builders have put the new shop front in the bistrot, the floors are down next week and the furniture should be here in two.

So my life is going to change dramatically soon. No more swanning off to golf, shooting the crap in Taste, dreamy wee days in Edinburgh or harbouring idle thoughts about writing for the Oldie, day-long sipping Amarone and a fine life of leisure.

This is now getting serious.

And some may say it’s about time too.