It was six years ago I walked into my editor’s office and boldly requested a work transfer to Australia. He looked at me quizzically like I’d lost the plot entirely and snapped a robust NO before returning to his newspaper. “I’m so glad you thought your answer through” I sighed. “Isn’t this supposed to be a caring sharing company that delights in offering global exchange opportunities to staff?” “Get out” he barked back. Point taken, I didn’t need to be asked twice.

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Today is International Woman’s Day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women everywhere. “Think globally, act locally” they said.  So I did and bought a plane ticket to Mauritius. To mark this joyous occasion, a few of my favourite Mauritian holiday sunset pix. Happy IWD.

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So there I was. Striding down the lush green fairways of a swanky Kent golf course overlooking London’s glorious skyline. My mind wondering off as I gazed into the distance at the sleek Shard of Glass towering over the capital. The 80-story skyscraper continuing its heavenly climb. From its summit the views stretch for 50 miles in every direction. An extraordinary feat of engineering and on reflection, perhaps, in part to blame for my temporary blip in concentration.

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World Trick Shot Golf Champ

They promised a fun day out for the whole family and Decathlon didn’t disappoint.

Hosted by Geoff Swain, the amazing World Trick Shot Champ wowed audiences with a variety of mind-blowing golf stunts in the new look showroom.

Decathlon’s Surrey Quays superstore was transformed into a golfing mecca this week with huge discounts on a wide range of equipment and clothing plus competitions and prizes galore for all ages.

Just watch the video below and tell me the little chap at the end isn’t the next Rory McIlroy?

To celebrate Decathlon’s golf launch, there’s still time for one lucky reader to win a brand new set of Callaway Diablo Edge irons, plus an Inesis “Doggy Bag” and two-dozen TaylorMade XD golf balls for a runner-up. Just click here to enter: GolfMagic


Get up close and personal with the current World Golf Trick Shot Champion…

Interactive, educational and totally enthralling, Geoff Swain’s must see act is coming to Surrey Quays in London next Saturday.

And DECATHLON is offering you the chance to win a one-two-one 30-minute session with the trick shot champ.

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Calling All golfers,

Are you desperate for your golfing fix but averse to tackling the fairways during the winter months or constantly faced with a Course Closed sign? If so don’t despair, I’ve found a solution. Sports giant DECATHLON has come to our rescue with what promises to be a fun-filled family day out. Read More

Those who follow this blog will be well versed with my regular rants on the perils of winter golf. But also aware that topping my 2012 new years resolution scroll involves less whinging and more embracing the chilly elements. So you can imagine my disappointment, especially after a week of gearing myself up for the sub zero elements to be faced with a Course Closed sign. Not to be defeated, the only remaining dilemma is how I spend my Saturday.  Water the grass, venture out on a bike ride, spot of gardening or invite a few chums round for a BBQ?  Who says this embracing business isn’t working?

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My Early Golf Years

I first played golf at the age of twelve and a half. It wasn’t something I volunteered for, more an enforced lesson in parental discipline following an unfortunate incident involving my mother’s beloved Fiat 124 Sports Coupe and a brick wall. After a strict two-week curfew, my reprieve came in the form of caddying for my dad. Not quite what I had in mind when celebrating my lifted sanctions, but I jumped at the chance to get out the house.

By the 2nd hole even my dad could sense I was bored out of my tiny mind. He handed me a 7-iron, a tee and ball. I swung wildly and like a fired up cannon ball my Dunlop 65i spurted forward an impressive 35 yards. I was ecstatic and instantly hooked. And so my caddying career ended and my love for golf began. My spirits were uplifted, even if my ball was not for the remaining holes.

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Winter golf

There’s something about the start of the pro golf season that sparks new realms of excitement in me.

Notwithstanding my juvenile crush on the G-Mac, it is more a yearning to dust down my clubs and follow in the footsteps of Tiger’s comeback after a lengthy period in hibernation. Inspired by involuntary chunks of free time and watching the golfing greats lock horns under an Abu Dhabi sun, I decided it was time for a seasonal revival of my own. It’s no secret that my lifelong passion for the game is all consuming, only not during mid winter months. Unashamedly a fair-weather golfer, I generally hold out for eternal sunshine which is a staggeringly pointless exercise given my residence is well north of the equator.

But not so the case in 2012, I summoned a few valiant chums and braced myself for a transcendent experience. Resembling a modern day Mitchelin Man’s trophy wife bulked up on base layers and unsightly thermals, my mind perpetuated a tropical fantasy like some supercilious fool.

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Old Course Hole-in-One

Hayley Barlow hole-in-one

I had spent all of two plucky weeks finding my way around the News of the World when the opportunity of a lifetime presented itself. A chance to fulfill a childhood dream playing golf on the Old Course at St Andrews in Scotland.

But how do you tell your editor you’re taking off for a few days when you’ve been employed for, well, a few days?  Fortunately my resourcefulness kicked in and after a string of tortured hearts and minds type metaphors on how our readers expected a little bit more, I was soon heading towards Scotland’s most cherished slice of common land.

I was just a girl from the colonies with a giddy obsession for all things golf. When you throw in the words ‘where the game was first played 600 years ago’ and follow that theory through to the end, you’ll appreciate this was an occasion worth augmenting.

With a new job underway and prosperous tabloid career ahead of me, I stepped into Tom Morris, the world’s oldest golf shop and walked out with a shiny new set of Titleist clubs.

It was time for the golfer in me to step up. The starter called my name. It was show time. My hands shook like a plucked guitar string, either nature’s way of expressing deep-seated feelings of exhilaration or the aftermath of too many fruity Chardonnays the night before.

Like a long lane that has no turning, the opening holes were peppered with hazards, gullies and double greens.  Par, par, par, it was positively dreamlike. As I paced the revered fairways, I prayed the ‘Old Lady” wouldn’t let me down.

It was so far a scorecard too good to be true. Heather, gorse and sand traps had yet to register on my radar. Here I was taking on the boys like a president of the Smug Club whilst playing the birthplace of golf. Will this show never end? But even I knew maintaining this score was an impossible dream.

And then I stepped up to the 11th hole. I once read in some esteemed journal that this was one of the most celebrated par threes in the world of golf. To me it seemed just like any other plucky 150-yard par three.

The hole played directly into a harsh prevailing wind off the Eden Estuary. Falling temperatures and lashing rain did little to deter my enthusiasm. Teeth chattering and saturated I struck my 7-wood with perfect pitch. The ball soared through the air clearing the Strath bunker like a Kentucky show horse and disappeared onto the large elevated green.

“That’s in the hole,” shrieked my partner looking on blindly. I knew it was good, but how good exactly demanded instant inspection. I grabbed my bag and sprinted 150-yards down the embankment and up towards the green.  And there it was, my precious battered Callaway wedged neatly between the flagstick and the cup.

Picture courtesy Golf Monthly

A perfect fluke. The heady feeling of euphoria was dizzying. A Tornado F3 fly-past followed.  Admittedly it was returning to nearby RAF Leuhers but I appreciated the personal touch.

I tiptoed over to a discreet corner of the green, pulled out my mobile phone and phoned Zimbabwe. “Hi Mum, guess what, I’ve just had a hole-in-one on the Old Course at St Andrews.” The line crackled. There was a pause. “I’m sorry sweetheart, it’s a bad line, can you speak louder,” she screeched. “MUM, I’VE JUST HAD A HOLE-IN-ONE ON THE OLD COURSE AT ST ANDREWS.”

Suddenly a fearless band of green-keepers appeared from nowhere, “Sorry lass, but no mobiles allowed on the course.” I hung up the phone. Thanks chaps, you really threw some sunshine down on that one.

But it was the twitching of the seagulls descending like locusts in their multitude overhead that seemed to spell out my goose was cooked. Adrenaline raced through me and my body shook like some wired partygoer at some 80’s beer fest. No matter, seven holes to go and I was determined to continue with cunning, guile and whatever shreds of talent remained.

After many celebratory hugs and high fives, we eventually moved onto the 12th hole, a great tactical challenge and home to a host of unpleasant bunkers. I teed up, gripped it and ripped it. As I scoured into the distance for my ball, someone pointed out a small white blob trickling down the footpath. I didn’t see it, but I’m told the ball barely made contact with my driver before it scuttled over the edge of the tee.

I won’t bore you with a shot by shot analogy of the remaining holes, but suffice to say either someone was looking down over me or a serious dose of humble piety kicked in. Save for the odd challenging pot bunker, I pulled it off. I really did get to dream my dream.

Who knows how many Zimbabweans have achieved a hole-in-one on the Old Course. And who cares, because for me those 18-holes were the epitome of life on a 5 x 3 played out in almost perfect unison at the historical Home of Golf.

Twelve years on, I’m still that same girl from the colonies. Only now I carry the News of the World in my heart, a P45 in my pocket and a hole-in-one from St Andrews on my scorecard.

Signs of the Times

Ever walked past a sign that stopped you in your tracks? Some leave you in stitches while others require an immediate double take. Here’s a collection spotted during my travels from Mozambique to Manchester and beyond.

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Sydney Harbour

In 2007 I was fortunate to spend several months on a work exchange in Australia.  I spent evenings and weekends exploring the city and waterways with my closest friend, a Canon EOS DLR capturing it’s unique beauty.  And I’m sure you’ll agree, few cities in the world showcase a more spectacular backdrop than the magnificent Sydney Harbour.

Bungee Jumping at Victoria Falls

Bungee Jumping at Victoria Falls

Bungee jumping is like marriage, a binding commitment and not to be entered into hastily. Just ask that lass from Down Under following her unforeseen plunge into the Zambezi River. I’m thrilled she escaped largely unscathed despite the poor girl’s seriously bruised anatomy resembling an etched map of the Sahara.

Her disturbing experience sent my mind reeling to a jaunty tale back in 2000. The day when I upped my cautious innocuous lifestyle from a quivering mass of indecision to one of reckless transgression all for the sake of a handsome certificate.

Victoria falls is one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the grandeur of the Zambezi River spanning more than a mile along the Zimbabwe-Zambia border.

Every year 50,000 people throw themselves off the world’s largest sheet of falling water roughly twice the height of Niagara Falls with elastic attached to their feet. A sentence which sounds worse when you say it out loud.

My preparation for this coup was complete with a few nervous sips of heaven in a bottle. Yet despite the bravado, it wasn’t long before my anxiety allergies kicked in. Starry-eyed and reeking of vulnerability, I summoned what little strength remained in a bid to disregard the unconscionable fear frothing on the inside. Hovering 111-meters above the water’s edge I longed for the days before I lost my once self-respecting mind.

The next few minutes were a blur as I zigzagged my way towards the fringe on a tiny platform of certain doom. In the background, pom-pom shaking locals were either toying with my melancholic psyche or spreading goodwill, hard to say which. My curiously pale mother signalled her final thumbs up, more in hope than expectation, or so it seemed. There are only so many times you can ask a bungee chief how firmly he has fastened my ankles or secured the rope. Along the bridge fellow senseless jumpers formed an orderly queue. The cash tills rung out.

And just like that final instructions were bellowed thick and fast. “Look left for the camera, look right for the video, five four three two one … BUNGI.” And with that I hurled my delicate features teeth first towards the mighty Zambezi. A piercing medley of shrieks and shrills ensued which threatened to peel the enamel from dentally challenged reptiles consorting upstream.

Fortunately the rope never reached its breaking point and instead I shot up up towards the bridge several times over before bobbing to a gentle halt suspended upside down. As I began to scour the valley for signs of life, a delightful young man arrived. Relieved, I wrapped my arms firmly around him as he winched me back to where it all began.

Overwhelming, mind-blowing, breathtaking, dreamlike, surreal and just a little bit chilling. I’m not sure which one word best describes the experience, but when you find the answer, just hit the buzzer.

A Letter to Bob

My friend Bob Warren

Dear Bob,

It is three years today. I’m not sure quite what you would have made of this wheelie bin of misery since you left.  I’m not sure what I make of it.  All good reasoning eludes me. But I’m ok living in the dark on that.

I remember the first day we met.  You walked into my office and asked exactly what it was I did at the newspaper.  I said I wasn’t entirely sure.  You insisted we talk it through over a decent lunch. That four hour lunch was the start of a decade of decent lunches and an unforgettable friendship…

You were always there for me, well, sort of. Do you remember five years ago I phoned and told you I had fallen off my bicycle and broken my leg? In one crisp and commanding sentence you shot back: “What an extraordinary thing to do.”

Or that day following a vociferous bollocking from the editor who had turned all raging bull on us, you arrived at work wearing your national service medal.  “Dear God why?” I asked somewhat bemused. “Courage under fire old thing, courage under fire,” came your response.

Well there’s no doubt it has been an extraordinary three years without you. Some days when I’m sucked into an unavoidable vortex of rage and despair I miss your sage advice, homespun wisdom, your combination of strength and resolve. But most days I just miss you, your vivacious laughter and above all, your friendship.

They say justice is intrinsic to humanity. That matters less to me. If there were any justice in this uncivilised world, you would still be right here with me. But instead, your friends will gather today and raise a glass to you during yet another decent lunch.

Cheers my friend.


Welcome to Zimbabwe

BY NICK JONES, Former Chief Sports Sub, News of the World

Now, as a tabloid sports hack, I’m used to people thinking we wield great power (utter rubbish but Lord Justice Leveson seems to think differently). But this was ridiculous. The lad was on his knees, in tears of gratitude. And all because of a $20 note. I hadn’t expected this reaction but, frankly, I hadn’t expected anything that had happened in the last 12 hours.

It sounded a great idea when our Webmaster and professional Zimbabwean had suggested a golfing trip to her homeland. I’d only been to Africa once before — when you’ve seen one elephant you’ve seen them all – but this promised to be different. I knew the economy was screwed, Mugabe was a tyrant and that most of their cricket team had defected. But that was it…

A flight on Air Zim, an early morning landing and then straight off to Chapman Golf Club in Harare. We met up with a couple of Hayley’s friends and preceded to the first tee with our caddies tagging along – oh the novelty of it all. My first realisation that this was not England came with the bag check. Now I didn’t feel the need to inform my caddie that I had six balls, a camera and a pair of sunglasses in there – but the locals did. I was also told to ignore his requests for cash.

As for the course, well I loved it. It had a kinda American feel and, although my game was all over the place, the caddie – wearing a Manchester United shirt (Mr Glazer please note) – went willingly into the rough to look for my ball. Coming straight from an English winter it was a delight to see the ball skip along rather than just go splat. The condition was excellent and the rough, which appeared nothing to worry about, incredibly clingy a round the club. Chip out sideways quickly became the order of the day. One hole that stood out for me was the par four 6th. Only 300 metres but a water hazard in front of the green which left little room for manoeuvre.

All was going well until we got the 18th tee. As the sole gentleman in our fourball I teed off from the back (if you’d ever played with long-drive queen Barlow you’d know how ridiculous this was) and that gave me and the caddie a few minutes to talk while the ladies got underway. He told me that his parents were dead, he had to walk 10 miles each day to reach the club and that he was raising a brother and sister alone. Now I’d been told not to fall for this kinda thing but how couldn’t I? I reached into my pocket and peeled off a $20 bill. £14. That’s all. Even in a poor country that was surely about right for a tip? But his reaction totally took me by surprise.

He got on his knees, crying and promising to name his first born after me. Two things struck me. 1. I had changed a man’s life. A first for me. 2. How the hell could I get this weeping man up and off his knees before Hayley and the gals noticed. Thankfully I managed to haul him to his feet before the locals were aware and we completed our round. At which point I sheepishly watched as the Zims paid their caddies in Zim dollars and we headed to the bar – with Barlow looking on suspiciously.

As we chatted over drinks and the sun set over an excellent course, I got another lesson in economics Zimbabwe style. We ordered our first round which came in at 1800 Zim dollars. A half hour later we ordered exactly the same round… 2200 dollars. I will never complain about English inflation again. It was to become the running theme of the week.

After a good night’s sleep (the water had gone off in the night so we had to take advantage of the swimming pool) we packed up the car and headed towards the Eastern Highlands. Hayley was in her element, driving along and chomping on some kinda local delicacy called biltong as she headed back to the hometown where she had spent many of her teen years.

On the way we worked out that a 20,000 dollar note was the equivalent of 50p which helped us make sense of the stratospheric numbers required for every beer. Add in the fact we had literally wodges of cash and I have never felt more like a millionaire. An unsettling feeling in a country where the poverty was obvious.

A three-hour drive saw us in Mutare and then we headed up into the Vumba hills to Leopard Rock – a hotel the Queen Mum had stayed at in the dim and distant past. It’s fair to say there weren’t many guests, in fact at one point we were the only guests, but after checking into sumptuous rooms (and, God be praised, with hot running water) we headed off to the first tee.

Now as a journo freeloader I have been lucky to play many of the world’s finest courses but believe me when I say… if you can ever, ever get to Zimbabwe you absolutely must play Leopard Rock. As a course it ranks alongside any but when you add in the scenery and magnificent views there are few better places to tee it up.

Every hole was a test but the 17th stands out in my mind. A par three with the green seemingly set on a precipice. The views from the putting surface into neighbouring Mozambique were mind-blowing even if I had long since given up caring about my score.

After getting my arse kicked 6&4, I handed over several sizeable bricks of cash to the newly crowned Zimbabwe Matchplay champ before retiring to the bar and finally the casino.

But that’s a story for another time…

Have you ever tried to make your way through Sydney Airport with a set of golf clubs?

Determined stowaways crouching in the wheel well of a 747 have more chance of a cheery G’day from scratchy officials than law-abiding holidaymakers with grubby golf shoes.

A torturous 23-hour 10509-mile journey is followed by an equally tedious wait in the Welcome to Australia queue.  Finally I’m met by a hat wearing badged-up Bruce who asks without a trace of irony what’s in the bag I’m wheeling along emblazoned with giant Titleist lettering.

“I’m going to go out on a limb here and say golf clubs,” I responded similarly dead panned.  “Step this way please,” he shot back as he led me to the guilty people counter.

I clutched my passport firmly in hope that being born under the sovereignty of the Crown, Bruce and I might be able to settle this the old fashioned way. But as time passed it soon became apparent not even the Queen’s subjects are exempt from undeserving vilification.

Suddenly my timid risk free life was laid bare for all to see. The golf bag was up ended onto a metal slab reserved only for drug mules and medical examinations, or so it seemed. “Hello, hello, hello,” he uttered self-contently emptying pockets and rifling through my treasured pile of graphite shafts and metal woods as discarded tees and golf balls scrambled for cover off the autopsy table’s edge. Preppy tourists peered across in our direction curious as to the thunderous racket blighting the environment.

And then he found them.  Gripped in his gloved paw he slowly raised one pair of size 5 ladies Nike Air golf shoes.  The snooping crowds gasped. Admittedly they weren’t the virginal shade of white they had once been. Instead a disheveled, muddied and well-worn look of someone in search of Northern Hemisphere fairways during winter months.

Seve would have been proud but alas not so the case with Bruce.  A lengthy lecture on soil contamination ensued including extracts of the Quarantine Act of 1906 recited with intriguing precision. Just as I was preparing myself for a lifetime in this seven circle of hell, a set of shiny santised golf clubs and shoes arrived minus the forbidden dirt thanks to some deep steam clean treatment courtesy of Bruce.

I thanked my new Aussie mate with an anxious apology and a spirited giggle. “Welcome to Australia!” he snapped and was off.

Yeah Tiger’s Back

Tiger Woods Comeback

Let’s face it, there isn’t a woman in the world who can resist the scent of a wounded boy.  After a self-imposed absence from my life, Captain America finally secured a touch down this weekend hitting mind blowing golf shots the rest of us can only dream about.

Now before I go on, I ought to admit my part in the troubled Tiger’s downfall.  I won’t say it was my shining hour but … actually, who am I kidding.

I’m reminded of one of our daily editorial conferences when both the news and features head honchos fought for the editor’s attention over top billing in the newspaper with a stream of steamy Tiger kiss and tells. I let out a palpable sigh.  Just how far from the pack had Tiger strayed? Seriously, enough already!

I had spent the previous three weeks promoting and syndicating our exclusives kicking off with some subbing brilliance: “Tiger is a Lion Cheetah” and detailing tawdry tales of his sexual encounters with a range of envious cocktail waitresses, good time girls, home wreckers and mistresses.

How many times could I possibly get Sky News to run more News of the World footage of teary mascara smudged escorts in pleated crimson frocks detailing their pleasures and heartbreaks to a family audience?

As a fan of the great man, even I was finding this ongoing series of revelations a tad weary. And despite my Tiger and tabloid loyalties, these emerging encounters with the world’s golf number one were fast becoming tortuous reads and frankly proving tricky to keep up with.  Fortunately newspapers routinely updated their readers with birdie tree graphics and for the avoidance of doubt, course layouts charting his latest cocktail inspired conquests.

“You’re just jealous because you’re the only female he hasn’t tried to seduce in a downtown restaurant car park,” sniggered a smug-married lad from the picture desk sitting to my left.

“Are you frigging kidding me?” I fumed back.  “I would no more take a chilled Pinot from that man never mind a chipping lesson and god knows I could do with both.”  The editor turned and glared at us. An awkward silence fell upon the room.

“Anything you’d like to share with conference Barlow?” he snapped.

My great and worthy opponent looked down at his note pad sheepishly.  So be it, this was my big suffragette moment, a real career clincher for woman’s lib.  “I was just er, wondering whether we might film these delightful gals in HD?” I mumbled.  The doodling, shaking halfwit sniggered.

Tiger lost my respect with his quasi-orgasmic ego trip during his ‘profoundly sorry’ press conference.  His orchestrated, contrived and manipulated drivel fooled no one.

But announcing a leave of absence from golf was his ace card.  That really got punters pondering about a game without Tiger.  Unimaginable!  And true to his word, he vanished from our screens and from our lives.  And with that, the obnoxious, petulant, arrogant brute he had become.

But it wasn’t long before we called for his return.  We missed him, his genius, his determination and his nerve.  It was time for the Tiger to step up and he did. Now he’s back where he rightfully belongs, a titan of the golfing world with a newfound respect, humility and appreciation.

Finally his name is in lights once again, complete with his trademark smile and arms firmly clutched around the Chevron World Challenge trophy.

So glad I played my part.

Celtic Manor Wales

Elin Woods couldn’t tame the Tiger, but Celtic Manor Resort certainly did.

Last year trouser-dropping Eldrick and the rest of golf’s big boys descended into the stunning Usk Valley in South Wales for the world’s greatest tournament – the Ryder Cup. Captain Monty and his hand-picked line up of superstars took on the mighty Americans in the biggest clash since Tiger’s wife sliced a 9-iron through his bank balance in the divorce courts.

Following in the footsteps of greatness, I took on the colossal Twenty Ten Course in fighting mood…

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A Declaration of Love

Passionate about Golf

There aren’t many advantages to being made redundant.

But after a decade of eating my mistakes, weight loss is undeniably one of them. Never having to work Saturdays again has its curious merits too.

But above all, a summer donning sleeveless shirts, tailored shorts and matching peaks – all very tasteful if not a tad dated – rank up there with payday.

Someone once said: “Unemployment makes early rises of us all.” Which trust me is no misnomer.

After exchanging early morning pleasantries with face-painted, briefcased-clad, suited and booted neighbours scurrying to city desk jobs, I too scurry off towards my chez away from chez in search of frivolity and enlightenment.

The sun peaks over the mountain top illuminating splendid size-5 footprints crisscrossing dewy, lush, hallowed green fairways of a discreet southeast London golf course.  It’s not just for shepherds anymore.

Those first few nerve-racking holes when the anxiety of life’s realities are surpassed by the magic of er, Callaway Kryptonite, if you will.

Common interests are the foundation of a long lasting relationship, just ask Scotty Cameron.  As if a putter needed some self-obsessed worshiper.

That fiery rush you get from a perfectly lobbed sand wedge, like some cheeky non-conformist at an AA meeting.  Murmurs of faint praise and yet it thunders in my ears.

But this ain’t no walk in the park.  A recent blemish which could almost pass as a scar following a prickly incident with the spiny leaves of a holly bush and an untimely shank into a neighbouring field of dozing heifers.  A reminder to pick up some milk on the way home.

Between duck hooks and three putts, this is a prime opportunity to just punch out for the day.  Insurmountable pleasure with lashings of pain and a pinch of naked self-serving pity … just as nature intended.

I’m not sure where my story ends, but short of a graphic in HD choc full of pithy insight, I think you’ve just captured the start of it.

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