July doubtless means different things to different people. To me, it means golf. For the past umpteen years, I have written about the annual Open Championship for a national newspaper, something I undertake in full awareness of my lack of credentials for the job.
It has become the one fixed point of the calendar. Every July, I head off to St Andrews, Carnoustie or Sandwich; every July I say to the golf correspondent, when we meet in the press tent, ‘Well, here we are again, hooray! You couldn’t just remind me who won it last year, could you?’ And every July I cry, ‘Thank God for waterproof trousers!’ as the rain comes in horizontally from the sea.
This July we will be at Royal Lytham & St Anne’s, which I seem to remember has a bit more shelter than some of the other Open courses, but is a lot less dramatic as a result. My main memory of Lytham is of its jolly little pier, which is too short to reach the water – a fundamental failure of design that inevitably strikes one as a useful metaphor for something, although I’m not sure what. The last Open at Lytham, in 2001, was won by David Duval (or so I discover by looking it up). Duval, of course, was that short-legged American with huge biceps who looked like he’d just got parole, with his wrap-around shades, grim visage and repulsive habit of spitting into the rough. (Subsequently he found domestic happiness, plummeted down the rankings, and lost the muscle tone; he’s notable nowadays mainly for the gobbing.)
There will be many reasons to enjoy Lytham. But there are differences this year. For one thing, the Olympics follow on quite smartly, and since I’m covering those as well, I can’t afford to be prostrate with exhaustion before they start. But the more upsetting difference is that this year I’ll be staying in a hotel, when traditionally the writers hire a multi-bedroomed house from a willing (large) family. Then we live in it, using their fridge, sleeping in their beds, and eating their porridge; it’s such a thrillingly transgressive experience that I’m really going to miss it.
It’s just so fascinating to see how other people live – especially younger families with nice houses. There are things I would never have guessed – for example, that there’s never a radio anywhere in the house. Never. (I own at least 12 radios.) Also, no one keeps teaspoons in a logical place, and they have family photographs in frames on every single surface.
This is all so alien to me that I feel like Margaret Mead among the Samoans. See how they have images of all their tribe on the walls, on the mantelpiece, even on a special polished altar table in the hall! See how some of the larger photographs of not especially attractive offspring have been printed on canvas to resemble painted portraits! See how they have flat-screen TVs in every room! See this huge and splendid kitchen that contains only a tiny selection of pans, knives and bowls (and no potato peeler)!
I expect the principal fear of the owners entering into this arrangement is that a bunch of irresponsible journalists will raid the wine rack, leave mug-rings on the mahogany or accidentally set fire to the shed. Whereas, in fact, the worst that happens is a middle-aged single woman with a notebook stands aghast in their kitchen, and declaims, ‘Oh my goodness, no potato peeler. Don’t these people ever cook?’
This article was first published in the July 2012 issue of Saga Magazine. For more wise and witty writing like this, subscribe today.