Carnoustie headed north towards St. Andrews. God was in his heaven and David Jacobs was on the radio. Cruising along at a steady fifty-five, I had the chance to look around me. And sigh. The motorways of Britain are depressingly honest. They tell the truth about people. There is no better place to learn the full details about the darker side of the human psyche than on the M1 on a sunlit Sunday morning in July. It is not only a major thoroughfare: it is a mass confessional with periodic lane closures. Sin is everywhere.
Put the average man or woman behind the steering wheel of a motor vehicle and you turn them into demons. They race, bully, bicker, impede, distract, show off and generally torment. They blind you with their headlights, deafen you with their horns, intimidate you with their proximity, mesmerise you with their nodding dogs, terrify you with their recklessness and appall you with their complete disregard for the basic courtesies. They also abuse their machines cruelly and court disaster as if they had nine lives.
The M1 is the high road to damnation.
Carnoustie hates it as much as I do. It brings out the worst in both of us. Instead of going on a dignified and unhurried journey to our destination, we are forced to compete, to jostle, to bear malice, to seek revenge. At any moment, our comfortable cruising speed could be reduced to a juddering twenty by a coach lurching out of an access road or increased to a teeth-rattling seventy-five when a removal van we try to overtake decides to respond to the challenge. Hazards abound. You end up becoming one yourself.
So why do we always use this route? I wish I knew.
The rasp of an exhaust jerked me out of my reverie as a high-powered motorcycle shot past us, illegally and dangerously, on the inside lane. Bent low over the handlebars, a leather-jacketed figure swung his machine out in front of us and accelerated away, his white scarf streaming, his black helmet glinting. When I flashed angry headlights at him, he caught their glare in his mirrors and gave us a gloved V-sign over his shoulder. We surged forward in pursuit but there was no hope of catching him. With all her virtues, Carnoustie is no speed merchant. The chase was soon abandoned and we fell back to a more sensible pace.
Pylons rose up to disfigure the landscape. As we passed beneath overhead cables, the honey-smooth voice of David Jacobs became a hoarse gargle. The interference then cleared and we were into the overture to ‘Mack and Mabel’. Carnoustie felt soothed. She almost purred.
Carnoustie is a motor caravan. To be more exact, she is a T-registered Bedford Adventura CF250. She boasts four berth sleeping accommodation and has a complete kitchen with full gas cooker, refrigerator, stainless steel sink with two drainers, and a constant source of hot and cold water pumped electronically. She is especially proud of her shower unit which, with the portable toilet, makes her independent of organised sites. Fitted with underfloor freshwater storage tanks, she also has a waste water tank which enables us to choose the point of disposal.
Among the many extras which a loving owner has added are a stereo radio and cassette player, a colour television, mains electricity, vinyl flooring, a Viking Petite catalytic heater and a set of golfing prints framed in rich brown to match the teak-effect furniture.
For most of the year, Carnoustie is my home. She has everything.
Including a telephone with an aggressive ring. Bra-a-a-ark! Bra-a-a-ark!
With one deft movement of the hand, I killed off ‘Mack and Mabel’ and lifted the receiver. It was Fiona. She sounded peeved.
‘Welcome to the day!’
‘I’ve just woken up and…you’re not in bed with me.’ ‘Full marks for observation!’
‘Where are you, Alan?’
‘On the M1. Somewhere in Derbyshire.’
I could see her lips pouting. ‘But I want you here.’
‘No can do, Fiona. I told you I had to be off first thing this morning. Duty before pleasure, my darling.’
‘You might have said goodbye,’ she complained.
‘I did. When you were asleep. I kissed you on the fore- head.’
‘Thanks a bunch. I’m rationed to kisses on the forehead now, am I?’ Her tone softened immediately. ‘You should have woken me, Alan. For a fond farewell.’
Fiona specialised in fond farewells. The first time I tried to say goodbye to her, it took two and a half days. At one and the same time, she can send you on your way and deprive you of all urge to go. If ever she gave up her job at the hospital, Fiona could make a career out of the fond farewell. She could teach the subject at night school and set up weekend courses for advanced students.
‘Are you still there, Alan?’
‘No. I’ve just popped out for a run on the hard shoulder.’ ‘Very funny.’
‘Thanks for ringing, anyway…’
‘Hey, don’t hang up on me, you bastard. Or I’ll jump in the car and drive up to St. Andrews after you.’
‘Don’t you dare!’ I yelled.
‘Why not?’ she teased. ‘I might bring you luck.’ ‘Fiona, you promised.’
‘But I want to see you play.’ ‘Watch me on the telly.’
There was a long, ambiguous silence at the other end of the line, then a warm whisper caressed my ear. ‘Alan…I’m lying on the bed. I’ve got nothing on. I’m all yours, sweetie. If you were here right now—’
Instinct made me slam down the receiver and switch on the radio again. The mere thought of a naked Fiona was enough to make my palms sweat. I had to put temptation firmly behind me. It may be different for other golfers but sixteen traumatic years on the professional circuits have taught me that self-denial is a vital part of my game. I could never begin to concentrate on my shots with the Mistress of the Fond Farewell in the offing. During the week of the Open, I must not even have heard of a blonde physiotherapist called Fiona Langley.
Bra-a-a-ark! Bra-a-a-ark! ‘I’m not at home.’
I grabbed the receiver and bellowed a few obscenities into it. Fiona giggled. I took a deep breath. ‘Look, do us both a favour, will you? Stay out of my life.’
‘I miss you.’
‘Go back to sleep.’ ‘I love you.’
This time it was Fiona who hung up. I smiled, forgot all about her, put down the receiver and eased Carnoustie past an articulated lorry. David Jacobs started talking about Rossini.
When I had set out from Northampton, I had reckoned that I would stop only three times—at Woodhall Services for light refreshment, at Washington Services for some fuel, and at an unspecified point between Carfraemill and Dalkeith for lunch. St. Andrews, in short, was a par four.
The beauty of a vehicle like Carnoustie is that it ensures privacy. You can be blissfully lonely in a crowd. When I pulled into the car park at the Woodhall Service Area, the place was bursting at the seams. The world and his wife had descended on Yorkshire. Instead of having to queue interminably for a cup of over-priced, lukewarm coffee, then battle for table space in order to drink it, I was able to step into the parlour and get out the perculator. Safe inside my own four walls, I ran no risk of being recognised by the idiot public. Being a sporting celebrity is a mixed blessing. You become a sitting target for complete strangers who think they have some sort of claim on your attention. I do not suffer fools gladly any more.
Restored by coffee and biscuits, I set off on the second leg of the journey. The M1 seemed busier than ever and I was grateful to be able to leave it and join the Great North Road. Traffic was still heavy but Carnoustie maintained a much more even pace.
I allowed myself some first thoughts about the week that lay ahead and the enormous task that confronted me. By the time we reached Wetherby I had almost completed my practice round on the Old Course, testing its defences and relearning its subtleties. My mind was all slashing drives and bold approach shots and delicate putts. Fiona was not even a hazy memory. She was strictly out of bounds.
Braking hard to avoid collision with a wayward oil tanker, I realised that I was back on a motorway again. Demons came out to play all around me and I automatically lapsed back into the bad behaviour that passes for good driving. Washington Service Area beckoned with a blue sign and I drove straight to the petrol pumps.
The old man at the pay desk obviously recognised me but could not put a name to the face. He delayed giving me my change while he worked on the problem. Eventually, he got there and it produced the usual half-witted grin of triumph. ‘Hey, I know who you are,’ he announced, thrusting my money at me. ‘Alan Saxon! Yeah, that’s it. Alan Saxon.’ The grin was commuted to a smile. ‘Didn’t you used to play golf or something?’
It was an all too familiar question and I have still not found a suitable answer to it. So I nodded politely, turned on my heel and walked quickly away. I wanted my anonymity back. Leaping into the driving seat, I switched on the ignition and set Carnoustie in motion.
Only then did I become aware of my passenger. ‘Hello,’ she said, familiarly.
‘Who the hell are you?’ ‘I was hoping for a lift.’
Carnoustie came to a halt but my temper gathered speed. ‘You can’t just climb into somebody’s vehicle like that! Of all the bloody nerve! Now get out before I throw you out.’ ‘But I’m going to St. Andrews,’ she explained, calmly. ‘I don’t care if you’re going to the sodding Hebrides. Out.’
She sat there happily and made no effort to move. I put her age at twenty but she had the languid confidence of a much older woman. Resting on her knees was a nylon haversack. She unzipped it, took out a small, leather-bound book, flicked through the pages, then held one open for me. I stared down at my own autograph in red biro.
‘Last year. At Royal Birkdale.’ She put the album away. ‘I did well there. My name is Janie, by the way.’
‘It’s been nice knowing you, Janie. Now disappear.’ ‘But I’m on my way to the Open.’
‘I never give lifts,’ I insisted. ‘On principle.’
‘That’s why I got straight in. It was my only chance. If I’d tried to hitch, you’d have driven right past me. I read somewhere that you’re obsessively shy. You have this fetish about travelling alone.’
‘I am not obsessively shy!’
‘Okay—desperately insecure, then. Amounts to the same thing. According to this article—’
‘What bloody article?’
‘The one that said you tend to fly off the handle.’
The humour in her eyes stifled my explosion. I sat back and appraised her more carefully. Her face was interesting rather than attractive but the shoulder-length black hair was beautiful. Though she wore only a check shirt, denim jeans and white trainers, she managed to look almost elegant. But the most striking thing about her was her composure. She was poised, relaxed, completely at ease.
Curiosity slowly got the better of common sense. ‘Who are you?’
‘I told you. I’m Janie.’
‘But where are you from? What do you do?’ ‘I’m a student.’
‘Psychology. At Bristol.’ ‘And you like golf.’
‘I like golfers.’
She looked at me with a mixture of innocence and provocation that rang all the alarm bells. I knew that I should heed their warning and put the girl out. She was an invader. A distraction. A threat. She was another Fiona. If I let her stay, I would be jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. Out of physiotherapy and into psychology. Out of the fond farewell and into the familiar hello.
She deserved to be kicked out at once. Without mercy. ‘I’ll take you as far as Coldstream,’ I heard myself say. ‘Thanks. That’ll do for starters.’
Carnoustie eased forward again and we rejoined the traffic on the last short stretch of motorway. Janie stowed her rucksack beside her feet and took sunglasses from her breast pocket. As she put them on, she tossed her hair and I felt it brush my shoulder.
I drove in silence and tried in vain to justify the fact that I had offered her a lift. She had conned me and I had been a willing victim. She had aroused my interest and made me break my golden rule. Torn between resentment and fascination, I became more and more uneasy and resolved that I would get to Coldstream as quickly as possible. For this raven-haired student of psychology, that was very definitely the end of the line.
We came off the motorway and a golf course soon appeared to our left. Sunday morning sportsmen were enjoying leisurely contests in the bright sunshine. People were playing golf for the sheer fun of it and the sight lifted my spirits. Janie, however, ignored the spectacle completely. I could not understand why.
As we plunged into the Tyne Tunnel, she broke the silence. ‘I do like that,’ she said, pointing to the little figure that hung from the driving mirror. ‘Is it a lucky charm?’ ‘Sort of. My daughter gave it to me.’
‘It’s very sweet.’
Without bothering to ask permission, she unhooked it so that she could examine it. The silvered golfer was made out of die-cast metal and he was in the act of driving from the tee. Lynette had bought it for me because she thought it looked like a miniature version of her father. For that reason alone, the object had special value for me.
Janie was intrigued by it and pinned it to her shirt. ‘I’d love to have it,’ she declared. ‘As a memento.’ ‘Sorry.’
‘I’m ready to pay for it.’ ‘Not for sale.’
‘But your daughter could get you another one,’ she persisted. ‘Then I could have this. How much was it?’
‘I wouldn’t part with it for anything.’
Janie did not give up easily. ‘Where did she buy it?’ ‘Haven’t a clue.’
‘Then ask her,’ she urged, indicating the telephone. ‘Ring her up right this minute and ask her.’
‘I can’t,’ I told her. ‘Lynette is abroad.’ ‘Where?’
‘School trip. A coach tour of six countries. They’re in the middle of France today, I think.’
She fumed quietly and considered her next move. We were not really talking about a miniature golfer. We were engaged in a battle of wills. Janie seemed determined to have her own way and was annoyed that she was meeting so much resistance. She cleared her throat and returned to the attack.
‘Ring your wife, then. She may know.’
‘My wife and I are divorced. We speak to each other as little as possible. Besides, why should I go to all the trouble simply to satisfy a whim of yours?’ I tapped the driving mirror. ‘Put it back where I can see it, please.’
She was not done yet. ‘Is there no way I can persuade you, Alan?’
I had never been propositioned quite so bluntly before and I needed a moment to absorb the impact. Then I tapped the mirror again. Reluctantly, she hung the figure back in its place.
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched the tiny golfer swaying gently to and fro. There was no way that I would ever surrender him. When you see your only child as rarely as I do, and love her as deeply, and miss her as painfully, any present from her takes on an added significance. Of all the funny little gifts that Lynette had sent me, the golfer was my favourite. It travelled everywhere with me. I wore it on my sweater during every tournament and I had developed an almost superstitious reliance on it. Apart from that, Lynette always asked after it in her letters.
How could I tell a twelve-year-old girl that I had given her star present to a hitch-hiker in return for services rendered?
Coldstream got its first mention on a signpost and this seemed to bring Janie back to life. I thought she had been sulking but her tone was amiable and her manner forthright.
‘It would be marvellous if you won the Open again.’ ‘Yes,’ I agreed, modestly.
‘You’d be the first British player since the war to take the title twice. That would be fantastic!’ She gave a short laugh. ‘You’d have to buy another motor caravan and call it St. Andrews.’
‘I’ll stick with Carnoustie,’ I told her. ‘That was the big one for me. The first time has got to be the best. Not that I’d say no to a second time, mind. Or a third, or a fourth, if it comes to that. But Carnoustie will always have pride of place.’
‘What was it like, actually winning?’ I shrugged. ‘A lot better than losing.’ ‘When exactly was it?’
‘A long time ago, Janie. A long, long time ago.’
It was fourteen years but it felt more like a century. ‘How do you rate your chances at St. Andrews?’ ‘Ask me next Sunday.’
‘I’m asking you now.’ ‘No comment.’
‘Why are you afraid to talk about it?’
‘I’m obsessively shy. Remember? And desperately insecure.’ ‘In other words, I can mind my own business.’
‘Look,’ I stressed, ‘I offered you a lift not an interview. Now there must be a thousand and one other things we can chat about—the weather, the price of fish, the state of the nation, what a nice girl like you is going to do with the rest of her life. Choose any subject. Except golf. On that I keep my own counsel. I discuss it with nobody.’
‘Fair enough,’ she conceded. ‘Let’s talk about your marriage.’
‘Why did it break up? For the usual reasons?’
‘Or did your wife get pissed off because she wasn’t allowed to mention golf either? I bet you were a barrel of laughs to live with.’
‘First you tell me to choose a subject. Now I’ve got to belt up. Have you always had this trouble making up your mind?’
I pulled on the steering wheel, mounted a grass verge and brought Carnoustie to a halt. Janie and I stared at each other. For several minutes there was no sound except the panting of the engine. Her gaze was steady and challenging. She was daring me to put her out. And while that had been my firm intention when I stopped, I could not find the words to do it. There was something about her which deprived me of my usual sense of purpose. She knew it.
The more she irritated me, the more drawn I became to her. ‘How old were you when your hair went grey?’
It was such an odd thing for her to ask me at that particular moment that I laughed involuntarily. She laughed too, then repeated her question.
‘I must have been about your age.’
She touched my head with soft fingers. ‘I like it.’ ‘I don’t,’ I confessed.
‘Is that why you always play in a baseball cap? Oh, sorry!’ she corrected herself. ‘Forget I said that. I didn’t mean to talk about golf again. But I do like it, honestly. A full head of grey hair makes a man look so distinguished. And sexy.’
‘I don’t feel either just now.’
She glanced through the windscreen, then turned to smile at me. ‘It’s not all that far to Coldstream, is it?’
But we both knew that I was taking her all the way now.
We had a picnic lunch just outside Dalkeith. It consisted of a salad washed down with white wine and followed by a selection of fresh fruit. The glorious sunshine persuaded us to eat in a field and I spread out a tartan blanket for the occasion. Janie devoured the meal as if it was the only one she was likely to get for a while. For the first time, I sensed a vulnerability about her.
She was good company, chatting happily, complimenting me on the food, teasing me because I diluted my wine with Perrier water, behaving as if we were old friends at a reunion lunch. When the meal was over, she insisted on clearing everything away and washing the dishes in the sink. I stayed in the field and watched the sheep on the distant hillside, picking their way past outcrops of rock as they climbed to higher grazing. It was a restful scene. I could have enjoyed it for hours. But Janie reappeared and strolled towards me.
I started. Janie had taken off her trainers, socks and jeans and undone the front of her shirt. As she walked barefoot over the grass, I could see the white triangle of her pants peeping out from beneath the shirt. Her legs were long and thin and she moved with the grace of a dancer. Kneeling beside me, she slipped off her shirt to reveal a slim, smooth body with small, rounded breasts.
‘Thought I’d improve my suntan,’ she said, lying on her back and arching up so that she could ease off her pants. I put a hand out to stop her. ‘What’s wrong? Nobody can see me here.’
‘I can see you, Janie.’ ‘So?’
I stood up. ‘Maybe it’s time we pressed on.’
‘Failure feelings? Or have you taken a vow of chastity?’
She arched up again, pushed her pants down over her thighs, then sat up so that she could remove them completely. Rolling over on to her front, she stretched herself full length on the blanket. All at once the sun became oppressively warm.
I was thankful that I had put so much Perrier into my wine. ‘I’ll wait for you,’ I said and strode off, not daring to look back again. As I climbed into the cab, I congratulated myself on what I saw as a fine recovery shot.
When Janie rejoined me, she had put on her pants and buttoned up her shirt. She threw the tartan blanket over the back of her seat, then struggled into her jeans. I put us back on the road once more.
‘Why not?’ she asked, casually. ‘Lots of reasons.’
‘Somebody else?’ ‘That’s one of them.’
‘Because I’m so much younger than you?’ ‘That’s another.’
‘And what’s the main reason?’
‘I have an appointment to keep in the Auld Grey Toon.’
She dismissed the topic with a shrug and leaned forward to flick the little golfer with her finger, making him swing crazily from side to side like a hanged man in a fierce crosswind. As I steadied him, I shot her a look of reproof. By way of a reply, she began to put on her socks and trainers. A couple of miles beyond Dalkeith we picked up signs for the Forth Road Bridge. Ten minutes later we were approaching Fairmilehead and looking for the turn on to the ring road. The Edinburgh ring road is a cruel misnomer. Newcomers expecting to find a circular route around a major city are severely disappointed. Instead, they are forced to twist and turn and loop and zigzag for mile after mile along a road that is closer to a Gordian knot than a ring. Roundabouts punctuate the route every now and again and a great deal of sign-reading and lane-changing are required.
It was at one of these roundabouts that we came to grief. Whether I was driving too fast, or distracted by Janie’s conversation, or simply very careless I do not know, but I suddenly found myself only yards away from the side of a large green van that had come into the stream of traffic from the right. I braked instantly and the speed of my reflexes probably saved us from a serious crash but Carnoustie still screamed and skidded and clipped the rear of the van.
Since Carnoustie is so much more than a mode of transport for me, I was outraged when I jumped out and saw the damage. Her offside front wing had been viciously dented, her bumper bent and one of her headlights smashed. My anger conveniently hid from me the fact that I had been responsible for the accident and I charged across to the now stationary van to bang on the side. The driver, a short, wiry middle-aged man in dirty overalls, got out to face my ire.
‘What the fuck do you think you’re doing?’ ‘Your fault, mate,’ he retorted, bristling. ‘You pulled out in front of me!’
‘Look where you’re going next time.’ ‘And you.’
The argument quickly escalated to the stage of wild gesticulation and outright abuse. Though I was a foot or so taller than him, he was in no way abashed and turned out to have a far more fluent command of ripe language than I. Other drivers stopped to join in the debate and those who claimed to be witnesses all sided with my adversary. Together with the fact that his vehicle had come out of the collision more or less unscathed, this only served to enrage me further. It was inevitable that somebody in the crowd would recognise me and equally inevitable that the van driver hated golf. When a comedian suggested that I should shout ‘fore’ as I came up to a roundabout, everyone laughed.
By now, of course, we were holding up a long line of traffic and impatient horns were playing a symphony of annoyance. It was time to go. After ridding ourselves of a few more accusations, the van driver and I traded names and addresses and agreed to let our respective insurance companies punch it out by correspondence. He reserved the right to have the last word.
‘I hope you drive better from the bloody tee.’
The laughter was even more mocking. I pushed through the crowd and stalked back to the battered Carnoustie. Bumper and wing could wait but the headlight had to be fixed and that would mean a search for a garage that could do the job. Even not counting the brief pause on the grass verge when I had tried to eject my passenger, I would still be making two unscheduled stops. After carefully aiming at a par four, I would be arriving in St. Andrews with a double bogey.
It was a bad omen.
There was worse to come. When I got back into the cab in need of sympathy, Janie had vanished. And so had the miniature golfer that hung from the driving mirror.
I felt sick.