I guess old age is maybe creeping up rather more quickly that I thought. I wrote ‘Target One’ ten years ago which really isn’t all that long. Well. It shouldn’t be. Yet when I re-read it a few days ago, it was like reading a book written by someone else altogether. Obviously I could remember the main bones of the story, but about 70% or so was completely fresh to me.
For some reason I feel mildly embarrassed to say that I actually quite enjoyed it. Saying that doesn’t seem right somehow. Un-British and all that. It put me in mind of one of my very favourite authors, Grahame Greene, who was just about as British as they come. Greene labelled every one of his books as being either a ‘novel’ or an ‘entertainment’. A word of warning here. If you are feeling a bit down in the mouth, don’t even think of going anywhere near one of Graham Greene’s ‘novels’. Before you know it you’ll be reaching for a bottle of pills or standing on top of the railings of a very high bridge. ‘A Burnt Out Case’ has to be one of the bleakest and most soul shredding books ever penned.
Anyway. As usual, I digress. I bring up the legendary Mr Greene because as I rattled through ‘Target One’ it occurred to me that it is very much of an entertainment. Anyone who has read a few of my books will maybe agree that they can also be divided into novels and entertainments. The novels tend to stray into the gloomier edges of this aging Lancastrian’s mind. Take a lad from the rainy valleys of the north, age him through the eighties, and as often as not you get a dark view of life. Guilty as charged. Ten years of working at First Base hasn’t helped much in this regard. Any place were the heroin tide washes in will always be home to more hard stories that it is really healthy to hear.
‘Target One’ is happily none of the above. ‘Target One’ is very much an entertainment and it gladdened by heart somewhat to remember I am capable of this sort of thing!
So where did it come from? I guess most authors tend to draw on a variety of feelings and emotions and loves and hates when they concoct a tale. Sometimes it is something going on in the world around. Something in the news or in front of your nose. A theme. An injustice. Poison from History. A mood abroad.
‘Target One’ started with a place and the place was the Turnberry Golf Course on the wild west coast of
. My son Dyonne flew the
nest and got a job up there when he was 17. It was one of those big days in any
parent’s life. Bags packed and thrown in the boot and a hug from mum. Sixty
miles passing through the sad, broken towns of the Scotland Upper
Nithsdale valley where all the coal mines are long dead and gone.
Sanquhar, Kirkconnel, New Cumnock. It is our Upper Silesia.
Places which once were something and now are broken. The West Virginia Upper
Nithsdale valley exudes sadness and melancholy like a dusty diary
under a heap of attic junk.
I vaguely recall my mind wandering back through Dyonne’s young life. First steps and first words and first time at Anfield. Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles and Spiderman and Stanley Collymore. When the kids fly the nest, adults get a sinking sense of their own mortality. An era has passed and it will never return.
Maybe as a valley Lancastrian, other post-industrial valleys will always bring out a maudlin view of the world.
Anyway. We landed up at the car park and took in the gleaming white walls of the hotel which it has to be said is a pretty spectacular place. The last time I had been there was back in the long hot summer of 1977 when Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson fought out one of the greatest head to heads in sporting history. I had the privilege of watching Jack twice during the baking days of that distant summer and it has left a deeply imprinted memory of utter greatness. The likes of Jack are few and far between. I have been lucky to see a few in my time. Live. Real time. In the flesh. In the moment. Viv Richards, King Kenny, Johan Cruyff and Seve Ballesteros are probably the only ones who were in Jack’s league.
Nowhere could have provided a more perfect setting for the generation crossing majesty of Jack Nicklaus that week. I have always loved everything about Scottish links courses. I love the way that over hundreds of windswept years they have become re-embedded into the landscape to such an extent that it is hard to see where nature ends and man begins. These are the places where sport gives mankind the opportunity to fight a battle against nature without worrying over much about losing. If you decide to climb a Himalayan mountain or trek across the
Sahara, then there
is a pretty big risk factor. Sure you get the chance to slug it out with nature,
but if nature wins you’re deader than dead.
Finding a way round eighteen holes of a great Scottish links course offers a chance to pit yourself against the elements without having to worry about those same elements wiping you out. If you try to take on a links course swept by a gale carrying horizontal rain, there is no point trying to use brute force. If you do, the elements with laugh their socks off at you. The only way you stand a chance is if you use your brain and your guile. A links course in a gale is a place for craft and artistry and imagination. Planning and percentages and nerveless execution. It is the canvas where only the true greats can paint their pictures. Surely there can be no sight in any sport to compare with watching a genius like Seve Ballesteros playing through a gale.
Once I had left Dyonne to start out on his years of adulthood, I parked up and took a walk over the manicured fairways and between the dunes. It was a wet day and evening was coming on early. Nobody was about. Just a clutch of seagulls and oystercatchers. Out at sea, the rocky
was just about visible
across the roll of the waves. island of Ailsa Craig
When you walk across the Ailsa Course at Turnberry, there really can only be one destination: the ninth tee. Nowhere on earth can there be a golfing place where man meets nature to such an extent. The tee is perched on a rocky outcrop surrounded by the sea. God alone know how old the rock is. Hundreds and hundreds of millions of years and then some. The golfer has to stand in the teeth of the wind and hold the nerve. It is about 200 yards to a ribbon thin strip of fairway that runs up by a lighthouse. The two hundred yards is made up of sea and rocks and beach and seagulls and tussocky grass. No wonder it has inspired hundreds of postcards and paintings and photos. If you Google it you aren’t spoiled for choice.
I felt like the last guy on the planet as I stood on the tee and felt the wind and the rain in my hair and remembered watching Jack crash a one iron up the right hand side of the fairway all those years ago. I had been 17 and the Berlin Wall still had 12 years to stand and
had just won the European Cup for the very first time. In the midst of such
absolute eternity, it was hard not to feel all the years that had passed since
I had last been on the ninth at Turnberry.
I must have stood there a while watching the gulls flap around in the gale. A dad who had just delivered his son into the big world of adulthood. A man looking back at the boy who had once followed Jack through the dunes in a heart of a barely remembered a heatwave summer.
Pieces started falling into place one by one. Suddenly a story started the process of forming in my head. The blighted old coal towns of
Upper Nithsdale would be in it. And a
terrorist plot. And a man’s fight against addiction. And in the end everything
would come down to a few hours where two men would fight it out in the wind and
the rain on the Ailsa course.
And the key to the whole tale would lie with the tee on the ninth hole.
A couple of months later the story was written and printed and done. Most people seem to like and enjoy it. Lots have told me that it kept them turning the pages deep into the wee small hours of the morning.
It is an entertainment that seems to have entertained, and right now you can download yourself a copy absolutely free of charge from the Kindle Store. Just follow the link below.
Having just read it as a stranger with a fading memory I feel quite happy to recommend it!