Young men looking for excitement are so easily led astray


I found out over last weekend that a surprising number of my acquaintances were watching a golf tournament which was being shown live on British television.

Now, far be it from me to show my prejudices on what I hope is a liberal minded website but…..

Well, I have to be honest, I think golf is one of the most boring inventions yet to be created by mankind.

Not only does it take for ever to play but it must, I would have thought, seem even longer if you are stuck watching it in front of a television set.

18 holes are many too many, I could imagine, if I really had to, watching a very skilled genius of a player like Tiger Woods doing a quick circuit of a putting green but, to devote days to this, the sporting equivalent of watching paint dry, is just beyond my usually broad-minded powers of understanding.

So when, one of those acquaintances began to tell me about the “exciting finish” involving a man from somewhere in South America, I rudely interrupted him and told him not to bother.

Now, for once in my life, I am not talking from a position of ignorance.

As a privileged child, I attended one of England’s Gothic-arched public schools, where sport was a dominant part of the daily schedule and where I discovered early on but then with much repetition, that I was not a talented footballer, rugby-player or cricketer even if I could, reluctantly, keep going for ever on marathon cross country runs.

In fact, if marathons were run not for speed but just until the last man was left standing,or running, I might well have won. Sadly any spectators that might have been interested, unlike those golf enthusiasts, would have long gone to their beds.

Like my point about golf you may well think.

Well, when I had survived at this school into my middle teens, I was able to manipulate the system a bit, pull the wool even, over some naively optimistic teachers’ eyes, and, let’s be frank here, cheat.

Golf was the perfect “sport”, pastime, recreation, or whatever you want to name this game for the living dead.

I was at an age when I wanted to spread my wings a bit, do what I wanted a bit, have some me-time, as they say. Like any teenager, I wanted some excitement. More than standing around hopelessly and helplessly on the playing fields of England. So I invented an enthusiasm for golf.

The teacher with the unfortunate responsibility for my behaviour was persuaded, with, even if I say so myself, an immaculate argument that rather than waste my time failing on the rugby field or cricket pitch, I should pursue my true talent which was on the golf course. Poor fool, I love you dearly, Sir, if you are still alive.

This kind-hearted man arranged for me to be a schoolboy member of the local golf club – a wonderfully situated piece of countryside on the cliffs above the sea, ruined by the sterile landscaping of those 18 holes. I was allowed all the club’s facilities except the use of the clubhouse bar, this enabled me to walk around for hours hitting a ball into long grass.

As golf is really a hobby for old men, I was the only schoolboy to show any enthusiasm for this idea so I became my school’s only golfer. Well that is what they thought.

There was a set of ancient golf clubs sitting in the attic at home, they had a rather smart, 1920s feel about them, so they were ideal for my sporting debut.

And, of course, you already know, the rest of the tale. Ostentatious leaving the school grounds with afore-mentioned golf clubs, equally noticeable arrival at the golf club. Quick visit to the locker room where the clubs were deposited and then…..freedom!

I nearly got caught, only once, when my teacher challenged me to a game.

Luckily, he was the worst player ever to try what looks like an easy game, and on the first hole he smashed a fence near the club house and never really got his confidence back until we abandoned the game after the third hole. The God of all cheats was smiling on me that day and I managed to hit the ball every time.

I said I would carry on and he left thinking me a golfing genius whilst I, excited by my victory, found a place under a tree and dug out my favourite book,a life-changing find in a second-hand bookshop, James Joyce’s Portrait of the artist as a young man.

There was no way, I thought, that Joyce’s Young Artist, Stephen Dedalus, would have wasted his time on a golf course.

So don’t tell me who won the golf, I just don’t care.

What should young men do? Well, if they have the talent, play football, compete in the Olympic Games or, even better, in my opinion, take up martial arts where the mind and the body struggle to find a perfect union. Others of course join the army, climb mountains or take to crime.

Young men, it seems, really do need some excitement, certainly more than watching golf on television but we should be keeping an eye out for them, excitement can also be dangerous – for all of us.

On trial this week, in Mumbai, is the only surviving terrorist from the Mumbai attacks.

Mohammed Ajmal Kasab, named in the press as “the baby-face killer” is just 21 years old and, almost certainly faces the death sentence if he survives a public lynching. On his first appearance in court, he looked like any other lad of his age in his grey t-shirt, tracksuit bottoms and flip flops. He smiled and laughed charmingly and was even told off by the judge for chatting and chuckling. He is accused of shooting 58 people at Mumbai’s main railway station.

Indoctrination into one of those crazy Islamist movements, has turned what must have been a lad with a naturally youthful jeu d’esprit into a disaster not just for the people of Mumbai but for the wasted life of Kasab himself.

It is easy to see how young men can be drawn into an adventure, no matter how reckless, foolish and, ultimately, murderous it might become.

We are usually happy just to watch youthful, swashbuckling adventures at the cinema but some “man-boys” – especially when they come from trouble-torn, impoverished states, can easily be drawn into something much bigger than they can ever predict.

A real life adventure has been filling the papers this week.

Captain Richard Phillips, who was taken hostage by Somali pirates, did all the things you would have wanted to do if you were sat there at your local cinema with an over-sized bag of pop-corn.

He is obviously a hero and a very brave man.

Three of the four hostage-taking pirates were shot dead by American navy snipers before Captain Phillips was rescued and, even then, his rescue ship came under attack again from those now famous Somali pirates.

Apparently 17 ships and nearly 300 seamen are now being held by various bands of pirates around the Somali coast.

It reads like Jamaica Inn, Treasure Island, or even Pirates of the Caribbean but, of course, it is real life. These pirates are, yet again, young men, on an adventure, for sure, but also, as we now see, on a potentially murderous mission.

The three that were shot by the Americans appear to have been the first casualties on either side and a part of me, I have to confess, thought, did they really have to die.

The piracy began some time ago when Somali “coastguards” were employed to police foreign fishing fleets from depleting this impoverished nation’s fish stock. It soon became apparent, as these things do, that there was money to be made and an onland mafia sprang up and recruited local lads to do their dirty work for them.

Most of these pirates that we are all getting so bothered about are young men, just like Mohammed Kasab, maybe.

When they are recruited they are told that they must “be a hero and accept death” – lines straight from a Hollywood movie. It is no great leap of imagination to see how they would leap at the chance of being a seafaring adventurer. Some of the stories about how they board foreign vessels, I have to admit, do sound impressive and, yes, even genuinely swashbuckling.

Already though, like most youthful games, things have got out of hand. People are dead, foreign money is at risk and international reputations are at stake. It is usually the young men, no matter what side they fight on, who end up in coffins.

Instead of those unrealistic visions of adventures on the high seas, or heavenly virgins waiting in Heaven, the World’s young men, and it is usually men, need some legitimate excitement and a real sense of purpose.

Let’s keep them safe from those dangerous old men with visions.

I just don’t see them settling down in front of the television watching that round of golf.

Maybe my trouble is that I never quite grew out of wanting to be a pirate. I have just finished reading George Bernard Shaw’s powerful and, for me anyway, moving play Heartbreak House which, amongst many other things, focuses on a group of leisured English bohemian liberals at the time of the First World War. I felt under attack myself at times, living here in Sussex not far from Shaw’s imagined setting and I am reminded of the play’s ending as I write this.

A bombing raid interrupts the characters:

“Did you hear the explosions? And the sound in the sky: it’s splendid; it’s like an orchestra; it’s like Beethoven…….what a glorious experience! I hope they’ll come again tomorrow night.”

Shaw is so right over Beethoven. Anyone who has seen Stanley Kubrick’s film A Clockwork Orange will know just how badly behaved young men can be when they have Ludwig Van ringing in their ears.

Well, moving on, it is time for today’s poem in my mini-poem marathon, I suppose this one is all about the other side of the coin, that unbeatable moment when all the action is done.

Lazy

Hot,
Spent,
Languid,
The two
Sun cradled
On the sand.

No need to talk
Or force the truth.
Just lie there.
Lost to that lingering,
Lazy
Sigh.

7 Comments

  1. Cool, my favorite play and one of my favorite films in the same post.

    You didn’t mention the character in HH who lives a completely pampered, spoiled life, and goes around under an assumed identity having all sorts of unnecessary but genuinely dangerous adventures. Would seem to fit your theme.

    I have a pet theory that the survival instinct is go ingrained in the human DNA that, even though most of us live fairly protected lives, we’re miserable if we don’t constantly imagine that our lives are in danger.

    Personally I think there’s one sport that’s even more deadly on TV than golf: fishing.

  2. Hi Anatole,

    Yes, Hector, the pampered kept man who likes to walk on the wild side!

    It is strange though, or maybe it is because I am too like them, but Heartbreak House seems to be relevant everywhere I go since I read it.

    That mix of intelligence, passion and principle is brought together so well… actually now I have read it, I plan to reread it straight away.

    I seem to remember that it was you who recommended it – I have to say you are right,I can’t believe I have never read it or seen it before.

    It does get me between the eyes more than a few times though but that is a good thing…isn’t it?

    I certainly do have a danger urge…maybe I should hang around on golf courses waiting for a ball to hit me on the head.

    Fishing? Golf? Fishing? Golf? How the fuck can you choose!

    I feel better though now that I have confessed to that schoolboy crime…maybe though, joining an angling club would have been better. No, I would have had to have spent all that money at the fish shop pretending I had actually caught anything.

  3. HH is astonishing to me every time I dip into it. I don’t fall for the usual line that Shaw’s characters are just stick figures in a debate, but the characters in HH are so emotionally complex that they take the breath away and make many of his other characters almost seem to fit the conventional criticism.

    But my reaction also alarms me, because HH is a depiction of a group of self-involved cowards who sit around chatting about their emotions while civilization falls apart around them. What does it say about me, and about our current society, that I find these characters to be so spectacularly engaging?

    I quite like the poem, btw. Ellie Dunn would like it too, I think.

  4. Anatole,

    I am pleased that HH gets you that way.

    I wasn’t expecting to feel so emotional about the main characters. I kept putting the play down because of other calls on my time but it haunted me throughout and wouldn’t leave me alone.

    I wasn’t expecting those bursts of emotion and passion from so many of the characters and I really didn’t think they would stick me with like they did.

    Like you, I felt that GBS was getting at me too. I feel at times that my life here in comfortable Sussex, England, surrounded by liberal, fun-loving intellectuals, is too close for comfort to the residents of Heartbreak House.

    Maybe, like me, you engage with these characters who are definitely flawed in the way you say, because you are, like, I hope and suspect, Shaw, on the side of emotion honestly expressed and felt and, ultimately, optimism in the human spirit.

    As you say, these are not two-dimensional figures in a black and white debate and, for all Shaw’s intellectual line, he loves these flawed but humane bohemians.

    I do hope so because I do too.

    Pleased you and Ellie like the poem by the way…I left the play hoping that she could find such happiness one day.

  5. I think she already had, sitting there in the night, content beside her dreaming Captain…

  6. You are right, of course. Sighs.

    The poem is supposed to be shaped like a tree but the software wouldn’t play ball.

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