About 40 minutes drive from my home in Hongqiao, Tianma was a lush oasis of calm. A welcome release from the endless grey landscape that is Shanghai.
The caddy captain greeted us with the usual welcoming smile whilst her team rushed to unpack our golf bags and load them on to the electric buggies. If you’re ever unlucky enough to catch me in the pub you might find me waxing lyrical about the joys of walking the full 18 holes. Ignore me. It’s the drink talking. The reality is that I sit in an electric buggy for a good 3 hours, occasionally getting out to take a shot.
For some reason I felt the need to babysit my Dad. I noticed that the caddies had put Olaf’s and my bags together on the back of the same buggy whilst putting my father’s alone on a buggy of his own. I interceded to get them to reallocate the bags but my father quickly put a stop to that ;
“Are you sure you’re ok with driving the buggy on your own Dad ?”
He looked at me with a barely concealed contempt.
“I was playing golf before you were born. Do you seriously think I can’t handle an electric golf buggy ? “
That told me ! I quickly apologised for having the temerity to try to help him. Olaf and I then saddled up, and with the caddies assistance, made our way to the first tee.
The first tee lay alongside a beautiful lake. We dismounted and limbered up. We indulged in a few practice swings and the obligatory stretching of the muscles. I’m not sure how useful or indeed necessary such a warm up routine is when you are basically going to spend 3 hours in a buggy with the occasional short walk to your ball. I’ve always fancied however that any onlookers might assume (wrongly) something like…. “looks like they know what they’re doing….they’ve obviously played before…..” and it feels nice I think to enjoy the misplaced respect of others….
I stared contentedly over the placid lake. The cool fresh breeze on my face, the birds singing in the trees, the sun on my back………this is the life……
“What’s keeping your Dad ?” asked Olaf.
“Not sure” I replied… “Hang, on, that’s him I think, coming over the brow of the hill….”
“He’s going quite a speed !” remarked Olaf.
“Don’t all those buggies have speed limiters on them ?” I wondered aloud…..
Events were to unfold so quickly it is hard to properly recall the order. I do remember my mild concern turning to alarm when, at a distance of about 20 yards from us, my father’s caddy dived off the back of his buggy. Her SAS type roll on landing was pretty impressive. Had she done it before ? Were we in an episode of the A team ? The buggy was now careering toward us and my father didn’t appear to have any control over it. At the very last moment he swerved around me and Olaf and then ran at speed along the bank of the lake.
The last image I have of the buggy is of it teetering almost cartoon like on the edge of the lake before rolling over 180 degrees and then promptly sinking. It was no Titanic. Just a couple of seconds and then it was gone. For a few seconds all was quiet. The surface of the lake placid as before, broken only by the odd bubble emanating from the fullly submerged buggy and pilot.
Time then seemed to stand still whilst we tried to make sense of what we had just seen. The caddies collected themselves at the waters’ edge and stared passively at the few bubbles emerging from the sunken buggy. I’m sure their ‘How to be a perfect caddy’ manual had been very comprehensive but I felt sure that it had not prepared them for such an eventuality. Maybe that chapter has now been duly inserted……”Chapter 28, sub section B, point number 5….” What to do when apparently insane foreigner drives a buggy in to the lake….”
Anyway, I digress. It felt like an age, however I am sure it was only a matter of seconds, before Olaf and I dove in. Being October, the water was not yet icy cold though I’d class it as invigorating nevertheless. The buggy had sunk top down and we discovered my father, pinned by the top of the buggy to the floor of the lake, eyes wide open, desperately holding his breath. Olaf set about working furiously to set him free. A strange thought occurred to me. My father had always talked passionately against the EU. I even remember back at the time of 1975 referendum, my father saying ….“ We were mad to join the Common Market. I’ve done business with the Germans. They’re miles ahead of us. If we allow free trade with them they’ll eat us for bloody breakfast!”
One of the pre-war generation, he had a healthy distrust, a fear even, of the Germans. Now, like with Ghandi punishing Hindu transgressors by ordering them to bring up their child to be a Moslem, if my father survived this he’d have to spend the rest of his life singing the praises of the German who’d saved him !
Anyway, to my immense relief, Olaf soon wrestled my father free and we hurriedly manhandled him to the safety of the bank. We re-grouped on dry land in our oh so sodden clothes. My Dad broke the silence ;
“I did it to save you… ”
“It only ended up in the water because I had to swerve to avoid you ….”
He must be joking I thought. Even Alistair Campbell couldn’t spin his way out of this one…..
“Dad. For God’s sake. You didn’t need to drive it in the lake to avoid hitting me and Olaf. There’s a bloody big pedal called the brake ! Did you not think of maybe using that ?”
“Oh yes, err, ……err, yes I think the buggy must be defective. ……..Or, maybe I got my foot jammed underneath the pedal and so I couldn’t press it……Err..Yes, that sounds more like it…..”
I told him that I’d call Qu Bin (the driver) to take us home and he looked incredulously at me like I was the one who’d completely lost the plot (oh, the irony) ;
“I’ve forked out 100 quid to play 18 holes ! I’m not going to pack up just because of one hiccup. Come on Olaf ! I can buy us some new clothes at the club shop and then we can get on with the round……”
So, 15 minutes and 235 pounds later, we teed off. We completed the 18 holes in time for lunch and didn’t play that badly, all things considered.
Over lunch we were joined by a very anxious looking man who turned out to be the club secretary. The buggy had by now been fished out of the lake and was a write off allegedly. Worst still, it transpired (or at least he claimed) that the electric buggies were not insured against such a demise. The three of us uttered the usual “that’s China !” curses but to no avail. My father was going to have to pay. Out came the credit card….
It was quiet in the car on the way home. 10 minutes in and I could no longer resist ;
“You’ve missed out on playing golf for 8 months because you weren’t prepared to pay the 100 pounds green fee….”
“Well, by my calculation today’s game cost you 1,670 pounds ! 100 pounds green fee, 235 pounds for new golf attire and 1,335 pounds for the electric buggy…..
“Sod off !”
I have to confess that I’ve had so much fun relaying that story to all and sundry, so many times, that I almost consider that 1,670 pounds to be money well spent. My wife however often stands up for my Dad telling me that I should be more sympathetic. “For God’s sake” she’d say…”He could have died !”
“But Heather, you should have been there”…I retort. “It was hilarious. First he claimed he drove in to the lake to save me and then he claimed the buggy was defective ! ”
“Well I wouldn’t laugh if I was you …”
“Why not ?”
“Well you’re just as uncoordinated as your Dad. That’s your DNA. Think about it. That’s you in 29 years……”
She was right (again). It wasn’t funny….