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Monthly Archives: December 2011

When I was a teenager I was addicted to a ski film called P-Tex, Lies & Duct Tape, directed by Greg Stump. For me it captured the essence of skiing: the hedonistic pursuit of forsaking all else just to live in the mountains and follow the snow. Sleeping where you can, climbing to the peaks when you can’t afford the lift pass, living for life itself.

The guys the film followed were self-confessed ski-bums. They’d opted out of mundane modern life, said: “screw you,” to the 9-5, the mortgage and the fancy car. And, my god, were they happy.

Stump, a former skier himself, was known for his narrative and I think P-Tex was where he expressed what he really thought about life. At one point after a mash-up of old footage showing people toiling in factories and offices, with Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” providing the soundtrack, Stump quietly says,

“Jobs: The bane of our existence, trade your life for wages.”

I’ve always remembered that quote. In a supremely concise way, it sums up the dilemma of western capitalism. In order to maintain the (supposedly) luxurious and highly advanced lives we’ve created for ourselves, most of us have to give up our lives to generate the wealth necessary to sustain it. The problem, as we’re seeing now, is that no matter how hard everyone works, it’s not sustainable.

So maybe it’s time to forsake all else, move to the mountains and just play in the snow.

Watching this season’s film by Matchstick Productions: “Attack of La Nina,” has made me think it would be a pretty good idea.

So many ski flicks in the last few years have focused on the ever-increasing technical ability of the “athletes” they feature. It’s impressive, for sure. What these young guys can now do in the half pipe, on the slopestyle course or in big air comps is pretty mind-boggling: Double, even triple flips, 1620s for god’s sake – I remember when a 360 was the holy grail.

But, the thing is – these guys are, indeed, “athletes.” In fact they’re gymnasts or acrobats. They train on trampolines and into foam pits. If they tightened up their techniques a little and pulled their trousers up a little higher – they’d be pretty useful on the vault or across the floor.

I like watching them twirling around and it definitely looks cool. But I can’t really relate to it. I’ve skied since I was a nipper and am reasonably proficient, but I’m not going to attempt a corked 720 next time I’m up at Glenshee.

What I can relate to are the segments when these young guys, and some of the older generation, head for the big mountains. Not because I can huck giant cliffs and straight-line 45 degree couloirs, but because I love being up in the alpine or in the trees, picking lines and looking for the best snow. That’s what the people I know who ski a bit enjoy to do.

Attack of La Nina charts a winter of skiing in North America (2010-2011) over which they enjoyed inordinate amounts of snow in the US and Canada – thanks to the effects of atmospheric phenomenon La Nina – get it?

The film follows a few key members of the Matchstick team, principally through the Canadian Rockies. Mark Abma, James Heim, Eric Hjorleifson, Ingrid Backstrom, Callum and Sean Pettit and others, go from Whistler to Roger’s Pass, the Selkirks and further into the mountains. They stay at remote lodges, they camp by hot springs and they ski powder. It’s all pretty idyllic and inspiring.

And, as ever with Matchstick films, there’s an eclectic, old and new-school, soundtrack featuring tracks from: Tricky, La Roux, 70’s hardrockers Captain Beyond and a host of others. There’s a couple of nice tunes from acts I’ve never heard of like Electric Owls and The Naked and Famous – I think the latter are from New Zealand.

My favourite use of a tune though is ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down,” – the backing to Sean Pettit’s segment in Whistler. ELO are so un-cool that they go full circle and are, in fact, cool. And the incongruous nature of using this quirky old track to accompany one of the best young talents in freeskiing works so well.

Pettit is probably the standout performer, flawlessly taking his park skills onto some pretty big terrain. He skis with an amazing energy and fluidity, bouncing off ledges, landing from huge heights like a butterfly with sore feet. His infectious personality comes through as he larks about with Frenchman Richard Permin and just camps it up a little on and off the snow.

Eric Hjorleifson nails it as well. The speed he skis incredibly dangerous lines through trees or down technical steeps is insane. Mark Abma says at one point that he thinks “Hoji” is breaking new ground. The shots of him belting down a steep, pillowed face, covered in trees and rocks without bothering to scope it first, confirms Abma’s sentiment.

There’s a nice bit of history as the team visit the Selkirk Wilderness skiing operation, founded by the, late legendary “hot-dogger” Allan Drury. They meet his wife and daughter and then huck off some cliffs Drury once flew from, on narrow two metre skis back in the day. Interspersed with old footage of Drury, it nods a head to back-country skiing’s spiritual past – it reminded me of P-Tex.

The cinematography is amazing throughout. After more than a decade of releases, the Matchstick filming and production team has become increasingly skilled and artistically aware. With time-lapse footage, crazy angles, soft blurring, atmospheric lighting, there’s a real aesthetic beauty to this film.

My favourite segment is probably the one filmed at Meager hot springs in British Colombia. These can only be accessed by helicopter and the group spends something like 20 days camping there, skiing in the mountains above on the good days, chilling out on the bad days. Sped up footage of the skiers relaxing in the hot spring as a tray covered in snow and beer bottles floats between them pretty much says all that this film is about.

Attack of La Nina is not about great skiers showing off how good they are. It’s about great skiers enjoying the mountains, the snow, the company of like-minded people and just living the dream. It’s pretty hedonistic and unrealistic for most, but it’s great escapism and would certainly beat trading your life for wages.

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I’m going to be 32 next March. In anyone’s eyes, even my own, I can no longer be considered a child. So I was rather surprised yesterday when I was scolded like one.

Yesterday afternoon Jessie (wife) and I decided to take the girls swimming. When I say decided, what I mean is: Jessie and the girls went on about me joining them on one of their swimming trips for three or four weeks until eventually I realised it would be easier, for me, if I just gave in.

Anyway, we went to a council-run pool and paid £6 to join one of the “open” swims. That seemed like quite a lot to me. I’m sure I can remember handing over 25p to go to the baths. That was probably back when I was a “child.”

For six quid I was expecting big things and I must say it was pretty nice: not too cold and with three friendly lifeguards on duty. It was also very quiet – just us and a couple of women doing laps – which is good when you’re shepherding the two squeakiest and splashiest water goers since little Bud got attacked by a shark and Flipper went mental.

The girls love it though and, to my surprise, we were all having a great time. After a little while we had the pool to ourselves, Jessie and I were able to take it in turns to swim a couple of lengths and everything was very relaxed.

Beatrice (youngest daughter) wears one of those buoyancy jackets – it’s good because it holds her up completely, there’s no way she can go under. I was looking after her and we had swum down to the deeper part of the pool. I’m a reasonably strong swimmer, I did it competitively when I was younger and have kept up with it over the years. The knowledge of that, combined with Bea’s flotation jacket, and the fact I could still touch the bottom meant I was feeling no concern for our safety. Neither, clearly, were the lifeguards who sat calmly looking on.

Then, from out of a little cupboard beside the pool scuttled a scowling woman. I watched her half run around the pool to the lifeguards – controversial because even I know you’re not supposed to run by the pool. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but she was clearly berating the youngsters and gesticulating in my direction.

I didn’t think much of it, I thought perhaps she was pointing at a poorly stacked shelve of floats or a Twix wrapper stuck to one of the kayaks. But, she then came back round in my direction and stood over me.

“Will you stay in the other half of the pool!” she semi-shouted, in an incredibly patronising tone.

I was so taken aback that I had to challenge her.

“Sorry, why? We’re the only people here.” I replied.

“Erm, because that one can’t swim!” If you can imagine her wagging her finger and moving her head side to side as she said this, you’ll get the gist.

“Yes, but I can and she’s wearing a lifejacket,” I continued calmly.

“I’m sorry, are you questioning me?” She blurted out incredulously.

“No, I just wasn’t aware of that rule, there’s no sign up about it.” I said, slightly apologetically.

“Well, I’ve made you aware now,” she said before scuttling back into here cupboard.

I suddenly felt very strange, like I was back at school. What sort of insane power trip would you have to be on to tell off a 31-year-old man taking his daughter swimming?

I can understand that the pool has a rule that non-swimmers aren’t allowed into the deep end – that makes sense. But, as there was nobody there apart from me, Bea and three, yes three, lifeguards, then perhaps the rule could have been overlooked. If she really felt the need to enforce the rule then couldn’t she have come and quietly, politely informed me of it? Perhaps even pointed out that it was a bit silly, but she was duty bound to let me know…

Yes, it made me feel like a naughty boy again, and that reminded me how badly young people are often spoken to. It’s little wonder they rebel when those in positions of authority make them feel like I did yesterday on a regular basis. I assume the lady at the pool has to deal with youngsters most days and her technique for keeping them in line is to patronise them in the way she did to me.

That might have the desired affect at the time, but it leaves the patronised party feeling belittled and subjugated. That makes them want to fight back. I’m doing it by writing about the experience here. I’ve decided that, for a 31-year-old, it’s a better tactic than throwing a bin through the window of Footlocker.

Also published on the Golf Monthly website

There can be few, if any, top touring professionals who maintain such a connection to grassroots golf as Scotland’s Paul Lawrie.

This week the Aberdonian was presented with a PGA recognition award for his work, through the Paul Lawrie Foundation, to support and grow the sport. The foundation was launched in 2001 and it has helped countless juniors get into, and develop, their golf. The current crop of players enjoying the support of the Paul Lawrie Foundation includes two-time Scottish Amateur champion David Law and Kris Nicol, who recently won the Q school on the Alps Tour. The Foundation has also expanded beyond golf and now supports other sports including football, swimming and hockey. To see more check out paullawriefoundation.co.uk

But Paul doesn’t just support grassroots golf; he still plays a bit of it too. He’s a member of the North East Alliance – the event I compete in most Wednesday’s through the winter. Open to pros and amateurs, we visit a course somewhere around the North East of Scotland each week, pay a tenner and play in some fairly inhospitable conditions.

You might think chapping about from winter tees, across mud and ice to rather dubious putting surfaces might be a bit below a former Open champion, and maybe not the best preparation for competing against the world’s best on pristine layouts in warmer climes. But no, when his schedule allows, Paul tees it up. And he doesn’t always win.

His last start in this year’s Alliance was at a very windy Newburgh on 23 November. He fired a two-under-par 70, but was beaten by a shot by one of his protégés Kris Nicol. (I shot a 75 if that’s of interest, which it really isn’t.) If my limited understanding of the Alliance prizemoney is correct, Paul will have picked up £80 for his efforts – money that goes straight back to the Foundation.

Two and a half weeks later Lawrie picked up another cheque, this one a little heftier, about £515,000 heftier in fact. By finishing runner-up in the Dubai World Championship, Lawrie pushed himself up to 18th on the 2011 Race to Dubai and moved back inside the world’s top-100.

How many players experience golf at both ends of the spectrum in this way? None, I’d guess. One week playing with a rag-tag bunch of die-hard golf lovers on a partly frozen course, beating all but one of them and picking up £80; then a fortnight later playing an event featuring many of the top-100 players in the world over a perfectly manicured track, beating all but one of them and picking up £500,000 – quite amazing really.

The members of the North East Alliance might need Paul’s help with a little mission that we’re embarking upon.

Next summer a new course is opening just north of Aberdeen, the owner is an American chap called Donald Trump. Apparently the track is going to be pretty good and we are kindly offering Donald the opportunity to host a meeting of the North East Alliance, maybe not next year but perhaps in 2012. We’ll see how Monty, Sean Connery et al. get on first.

Welcoming the Alliance would be a real badge of honour for Mr Trump and vindication for all the hoops he’s had to jump through to get the project through the planning process. I know that he has ambitions to hold some significant events at his new course and this would surely be a great stepping-stone. We have a field that (might) include a future Open champion, a former Walker Cup player, a former Scottish Amateur champion, a former British Boys champion, a former winner of the Northern Open and the Tartan Tour, then there’s me, my dad and a selection of other such notable figures in the world of golf. It’s a no-brainer Donald.

Also published on the Golf Monthly website

For mean spirited types, Christmas Day can be a bit of a bore: Endless mirth and none of it sarcastic, saying thank you every 15 minutes, having to endure more hearty family activity than one should face in an entire lifetime. It’s all a bit much isn’t it?

I’ve been thinking of ways to spice up the “big day” and I think I’ve come up with a winner. Its inspiration comes from my time at university when I used to enjoy a spot of “Pub Golf.” The idea of that was: 18 pubs, 18 drinks, and just see how far you could get, taking as few gulps as possible. I once made it to the 17th when I was forced to abandon my quest, and narrowly avoided arrest, after attempting to steal a bar stool in protest at not being served. Happy days.

So anyway, my plan is: “Christmas Golf.” It can be played with one or more like-minded family members or friends. It’s not even necessary for the other participants to be in attendance at your “celebration.” As long as you mark your card honestly, (as all golfers will,) you can compare scores at the end of the day to see who is furthest over, or under, par.

You need to decide on 18, (no nine actually, I can’t be bothered to think of 18) Christmas challenges or events to be scored against. It’s a moveable feast and can be tailored to individual requirements. This is how I see it panning out:

Hole 1
The early bird


Hole Description: Contestants must attempt to consume an alcoholic drink as early as possible on Christmas Day. Champagne/fizzy wine is non-counting because everyone quaffs that on Christmas Day from the moment they open their eyes.

Scoring:

– Nothing before the pre lunch sherry: Shame – bogey
– White wine before 12: Steady enough – par
– Lager before 11: Well in – birdie
– Port before 10: What an effort – eagle

Hole 2
Golf speech

Hole description: During lunch the player must chink his or her glass before standing up to give a monotone, golf club-style speech.
“Erm, I’d just like to welcome the opposition (probably the in-laws). I hope they’ve enjoyed the first course. I certainly thought it was presented well and I’d like to thank the caterers for their work today.”
Competitors will be ranked on the response of the audience.

Scoring:

– Asked to stop before being allowed to say, “I’m really looking forward to next year’s return fixture”: bogey
– Stony silence: par
– Golf clap: birdie
– Asked for encore (highly unlikely): eagle

Hole 3
Crazy golf

Hole description: Competitors are tasked with trying to instigate a post-lunch game of crazy putting around the wrapping paper, piles of new socks and discarded plates of smoked salmon strewn around the sitting room floor. Again scoring is based on general reaction to the suggestion.

Scoring:

– Unanimously dismissed: bogey
– Some support but still dismissed: par
– Partial or full participation: birdie
– Full participation with play going on until something precious is broken and, at least, one member of the family is in tears: eagle

Hole 4
Dangerous package

Hole description:
 Prior to play commencing, the competitor must nominate a relative or friend. The present given by the nominee to the player will be ranked on its usefulness and/or desirability. Score will be based on the player’s honest internal reaction to the gift.

Scoring:

– “I didn’t even know I didn’t want this”: bogey
– “I don’t want this”: par
– “I won’t throw this away immediately”: birdie
– “This is actually quite good”: eagle

Hole 5
Eclectic score

Hole description: Another booze related challenge here: Players must attempt to consume as many different types of alcoholic drink through the course of the day as they can. Last year in this challenge I set a personal best of 10 – Champagne, sherry, white wine, red wine, dessert wine, port, beer, sloe gin, whisky, brandy.

Scoring:

– Less than three: Back to Q school – bogey
– 3-6: Just scraped your card – par
– 7-10: Raced to Dubai – birdie
– 11 or more: Topped the money list – eagle

Hole 6

Diversion tactics

Hole description:
 Players must attempt to make as many members of their family as possible miss the Queen’s speech by distracting them with old episodes of “Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf.” Points will not be awarded for those either too young or old to know what’s going on.

Scoring:

– Plan foiled: Failed to qualify – bogey
– One sleepy uncle (or equivalent) fooled: Missed the cut – par
– Three or more watching Lee Trevino vs Arnold Palmer rather than HRH: Top-10 – birdie
– Total diversion: Lofted the trophy – eagle

Hole 7
It’s a cracker

Hole description: Players are marked on the reaction to the joke in their cracker. Inevitably it will be absolutely dire but, if you can give the right delivery, you might just get a laugh.

Scoring:

– Tumbleweed: Out of bounds – bogey
– Groans: Chipping out sideways – par
– Ironic chuckle: In the rough but playable – birdie
– Actual chuckle: On the fairway – eagle

Hole 8
Devil’s advocate

Hole description:
 The objective is to start as many golf-related arguments with the non-golfing members of your family as you can. Topics for discussion include – “Tiger Woods: He’s not that bad really,” “Sports personality of the year awards: There actually should have been more golfers on the short list,” “Golf v tennis: Tennis is dull.” I don’t know why, but people who dislike sport still like watching Wimbledon… weird isn’t it?
Scoring for this one is based on how many people are still speaking to you by the end of the day.

Scoring:

– There’s a bit of an atmosphere but everyone’s still chatting: bogey
– The die-hard golf haters have ceased communication: par
– Your mum is giving you the evil eye: birdie
– Even the golfers have ostracised you: eagle

Hole 9

The real thing

Hole description:
 The Holy Grail for any true follower of the religion of golf on this holy day is to actually get out on the course. It’s extremely tough to negotiate but could potentially be facilitated if you’ve received a golfing gift.
“Sorry darling, I’m going to have to pop out for a couple of hours, I simply must trial this Jimmy Tarbuck novelty score counter.”

Scoring:

– A putt on the carpet: In a lowly manger – bogey
– Chipping in the garden: Glad tidings – par
– Out for a few holes: How great thou art – birdie
– A full 18: Thine be the glory – eagle