(Post by John Allan, from Bridgetown, Western Australia –April 2021)
It was May 1975, I had just turned 17 and finished my highers and I couldn’t get out of school quick enough. It was time to make my way in the world…………… and become vegetarian (the reason why has escaped me over the ensuing years). I did have a paperback “1000 Vegetarian Meals” and I was up for a challenge.
My mother knew the lady round the corner whose husband Old Malky (or Callum as his wife called him) was the head greenkeeper at the Bearsden Golf Club and before you could prize the sheets off a surly teenager at noon, I had a job as assistant to the assistant greenkeeper.
Now why Old Malky should be Old Malky to us and Callum to his wife remains a mystery as Old Malky only spoke in monosyllables on alternate days. Come to think of it, I have been known by both ‘Snookums’ and ‘Hey Fat Arse’ on differing occasions by my wife.
The job was very task orientated which suited me fine. My first job at sparrow’s fart was to ‘switch’ the greens. Switching involved a large bamboo pole with a tapering fibre class rod attached which, when moved in a sideways motion, flicked off dew, leaves and other detritus such as beer cans and smouldering cars bodies. (I’m not being judgemental but Drumchapel was just through the woods !) I took to the task like a Zen Buddhist monk often standing on one leg and muttering to myself in a fake oriental accent like David Carridine (Aah, Grass Lopper – get it?
I quickly adapted to the routine. Monday, Wednesday and Friday I would mow the greens. Getting the straight striped effect is trickier than it looks. I tried to convince Old Malky my first attempt was my interpretation of a Rennie Mackintosh design but he wasn’t buying it.
Tuesdays and Thursday was time to trim the tees. If a player came on, we were supposed to move to the back of the tee and idle the lawnmower until they had tee-ed off but many a time we just carried on, hastening a panicked swing as spinning blades came perilously close to shaving the tassels off many a two tone golf shoe.
Friday was hole changing day. There was a special spade device for puncturing and removing turf and soil and woe betide anyone with the temerity to chip and put onto our green until the job was completed and the last bit of stubborn grass was expertly trimmed from around the new hole with the designated scissors. Strict quality control was then adhered to. A bucket full of balls and 3 putters were distributed to each greenkeeper and intense putting from all angles ensued. Then and only then could the club member follow through. Any disregard to this unwritten rule meant your ball was hosed off the green. I seem to remember this important ritual was accompanied by several bottles of beer and pay packets were collected. Friday was a good day.
The only thing I took umbrage to was the toileting arrangements. Greenkeeper HQ was a large corrugated hanger which housed all the tractors, mowers and sundry equipment. I don’t even think it had power. The toilet consisted of an old gallon oil container with the top crudely removed. Not only did you have to pee in full view of your fellow workers you had to hold a rusty jagged tin close enough to circumcise yourself with one wayward shake. As for other bodily functions, the only time I got caught short I juked through some gardens and trotted adroitly home to the luxury of plumbed in sanitation. Does a Bear(sden boy) shit in the woods ? Not this one !
So this was the balmy summer of ’75. I had a healthy outdoor working life and a healthy meat free diet. NB Take it from me. Tofu is only there to bulk up your plate. It doesn’t taste or smell of anything and the texture is a bit disconcerting too. It’s only there so that when people see your meagre plate of vegetables and bean sprouts they don’t say “Is that all you’re having”. Polystyrene would have much the same effect.
Unfortunately, summer changed to late autumn. Crisp summer dawns turned into dark foggy morns. Although I had waterproofs, they were not a match for the torrents of rain constantly soaking into my bones as I went about my daily chores.
Some days when the course was waterlogged I would have to stay in the shelter of the icy cold hanger and ‘riddle’. For reasons I could not comprehend, there was a large pile of dirt in one corner of the shed. My job was to scoop shovels of it into a large sieve and create a pile of finer dirt hour after sodding hour. I never ever saw what the purpose of my handiwork was as it just remained a bigger pile of finer dirt. Yesterday’s nut rissoles weren’t giving me the sustenance that I needed either. That and my mother talking about a turkey roast with all the trimmings for Xmas, I was beginning to crack.
I think I lasted until about October when I turned my back on the noble craft of the keeper of greens (all 9 holes of them) and succumbed again to the flesh of farmed animals and foul.
“Turn up the central heating will you Mum and pass me the chipolatas please !”