An Irishman's Diary

 

Four years ago I was on a lovely holiday in an Irish hotel renowned for its excellent facilities. It was built for relaxation. One afternoon I was lazing in the big conservatory, like a cat on a window-ledge, with the bright sun streaming in, creating a Mediterranean climate. I was engrossed in a bulky paperback. I was a happy man: all was right with the world. Every now and again, I would casually glance at the activity outside. A "crazy golf" competition was taking place. There was a crowd of men, women and children, all going about their business with great gusto. As for me, golf, whether it be crazy or the other kind, doesn't set me on fire.

Once, when I again peered out from behind my book, I noticed a middle-aged man standing furtively beside his little white ball. To my astonishment, I saw him move the ball with his hand to a much more advantageous position. He then shot it through a tunnel, and landed it beside the hole, where he had little difficulty in sinking it. His opponent was quite unaware of this sleight of hand.

One of those things

"Not nice," I said to myself. "Totally against the rules, old boy." But I wasn't particularly interested in the little incident. I got back to my book and my relaxation: that's what my holiday was all about. Just one of those little things in life. No fool like an old fool, so they say. You would expect him to have more sense.

That night after dinner, all the guests retired to the entertainment area for coffee and drinks, followed by a dance. At about 11 p.m. everything came to a stop. It was time for the "presentation". The winners of the hotel's competitions during the week were to get their prizes. Lo and behold, when it came to the golf prize, who should step forward, grinning proudly from ear to ear and waving to the crowd? Yes, you've guessed right. It was him, the little guy who moved his ball, the win-at-all-costs merchant. I looked on in amazement and shook my head. It reminded me of that part of the wedding ceremony where the priest solemnly asks the congregation if it knows any scandal about the couple: if so, step forward and spill the beans, otherwise "forever hold your peace". I sat there impassively.

Like a witness at a Mafia trial, I knew nothing. But I thought to myself: "It's a funny old world. Here is this grown man prepared to go to any lengths to win a Mickey-Mouse competition so that he can feed his ego. What a miserable little life he must lead." The only one he was fooling was himself. How could he take satisfaction in winning after cheating the opposition?

Admiring public

Next day, when everybody was going home, there he was, Nick Faldo himself, in the car park, with his admiring public walking up to congratulate him. They shook his hand vigorously, joking that he would have to come back next year and defend his title. He took all the praise with hard-necked aplomb. It had been his crowning glory. He certainly would never forget that wonderful holiday, the adulation, the recognition and the camaraderie.

What makes an adult behave like that? Maybe Dr Anthony Clare might come up with a rational explanation. Was there some void in his life, a need for attention, did he have to be a winner? Very sad. Twenty years earlier I had come across another example of the win-at-all-costs mentality. I was on holidays with the family in Co Donegal. This was another sporty hotel, with plenty of activities for all ages. One of these was a father-and-son soccer match. The stupid Irish Times man and his seven-year-old son foolishly decided to enter this socalled bit of fun. You mightn't believe it to look at me now, but I was once a useful left-half in the Bobby Moore style and played at a fairly high level. My son was soccer-mad and had notions of becoming a star goalkeeper for Manchester United. All the dads and kids were divided into two motley teams. The referee (the young hotelmanager) blew the whistle and we were off.

Great male ego

It was the roughest, toughest, most gruesome and most dangerous game of football I have seen. Again, the great male ego had to be satisfied. Fathers felt they had to practically break every leg in sight to show their sons how good they were. They went well beyond what could be deemed safe play. Sportsmanship was non-existent. They were prepared to clatter into children and bowl them over in their mad stampede to impress. Even I didn't feel safe - and I used to be able to rough it with any kind of psychopath on a soccer or rugby pitch.

I was particularly worried for the safety of my little son, the youngest boy on the pitch, who was standing in goal. They were kicking balls at him like Exocets, then following up and trying to put child and ball into the back of the net. This was in the era when you could attack a goalkeeper, not like today's pansy football, where if you look sideways at the keeper it is a free kick. The child could have been seriously injured. I made my apologies, gave some lame excuse, and walked off with the little lad. He wasn't too pleased, but at least I preserved him for posterity.