Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Today's paper

The article below is one of those pieces which starts with a phone call (in this case: 'Can you drive to Carnoustie and do a story about the torrential rain which is going to ruin the Open golf championship?') and ends up being something completely different.

It takes about an hour and half to drive from Edinburgh and I had problems as soon as I got to Carnoustie - a tiny wee place which could be the model for the narrow, introverted village in James Robertson's novel, The Testament of Gideon Mack. Problem No 1: it wasn't raining, so there wasn't a weather story. Problem No 2: security was as tight as a gnat's chuff - I couldn't get on to the course or near the press centre to get any kind of piece about the condition of the links, or Tiger Woods's baby, or whatever else newsdesks might be interested in.

What to do? I wandered into Carnoustie Golf Club, which sits beside the championship links but is separate from them, and walked straight into a guy called Joe Gourlay. And he had the story which got me the whole of page 3 of the Times. I wrote the piece up in a pub in Dundee, the only place I could find with WiFi. And this is what I wrote ...

'Claret Jug? Nah, it's about a shield'

Carnoustie loves the Open, but the true prize for a town obsessed by golf is already in the bag, Mike Wade writes
A crowd of 180,000 is about descend on the town and Tiger Woods is dreaming of his third successive Open championship victory.
But in their snug club house members of Carnoustie Golf Club sit at ease over their drinks, content in the knowledge that they have already secured the most important prize in golf - and it’s nothing to do with the game’s elite players or the famous Claret Jug.
“The Open is a wonderful thing, don’t get me wrong,” says Joe Gourlay, 61, the club’s match secretary. “But in Carnoustie, the Lindsay Shield is the highlight of the year.”
The shield is an annual trophy won by Carnoustie this spring in a three-way competition which pits the club against its amateur rivals from St Andrews and Leven Thistle in Fife.
Competition is fierce, and requires each club to field a team of 50. Played out over three weekends, this year the result went right down to the wire after both Carnoustie and St Andrews beat Leven, but the game between Carnoustie and St Andrews was halved.
Mr Gourlay’s team may only have won the shield because they defeated Leven by the greater margin, but he is positively glowing with pride.
“It is a great honour to play for the club in that standard of match and a real test of talent,” he says. “You would be very lucky to get in the team with a handicap over three.”
Though still not engraved with this year’s winner’s name, the shield occupies pride of place in the club’s well-stocked and heavily alarmed trophy cabinet. It is so prominent that is easy to overlook the medal sitting in its shadow – which turns out to be a life membership awarded to Arnold Palmer, one of the finest players ever to have lifted a golf club.
Carnoustie may attract the greatest names in the sport, but reputations count for little here.
For all their delight in the shield, Mr Gourlay and the club captain, Alex Brown, admit they love the atmosphere which comes with the Open.
“The feeling in town is tremendous,” says Mr Brown, a 54-year-old engineer. “For every moan about the traffic chaos and the closure of the course, there a lift in spirits and a buzz in the air. But we are never overawed. We are used to seeing great sportsmen round here. They can get peace here to play the game, because in Carnoustie we understand them. The people here are all about golf.”
The statistics bear him out. Little more than a village, Carnoustie is built on the main railway line between Edinburgh and Aberdeen, but its population of just 10,000 supports six golf clubs with a combined membership of around 2,000. Each of the clubs in town delegate two officials to the Links Management Committee, the organisation which runs the publicly owned links and the two other courses in the town. The committee presides over 50 full time staff and an annual turnover of around £2.5 million.
Open years are special. Some of this year’s competitors inevitably themselves up in luxury hotels in distant Edinburgh or Gleneagles, arriving at the course every day by car or helicopter, but others stay in rented houses in the town and at hotels nearby. In the traffic chaos slowly strangling the tiny warreen of streets, there are hazards even for the famous. Mr Brown reveals that he almost drove over the Danish golfer Thomas Bjorn at the weekend.
“He wasn’t paying a blind bit of notice to where he was going, just wandering down the road with his phone clapped to his ear,” complains the club captain.
Local pride doesn’t cut ice with everyone. In 1999, the last time the Open was held here, the condition of the Carnoustie course came under fire, its narrow fairways surrounded by the thickest rough.
The most famous players fared badly, leaving Scotland’s unheralded Paul Lawrie to steal the championship from an equally unknown Frenchman, Jean van der Velde in a play off.
Events that year gave rise to a new term in the golfing lexicon, “the Carnoustie effect”, words which describe the impact on talented but cosseted professional sportsmen of fiendishly difficult playing conditions. After the final round one highly fancied talent, the Spaniard Sergio Garcia, went straight from the course to his mother’s arms in tears. American golfers simply refer to the course as “Carnasty”.
“It was Carnasty that year,” concedes Mr Gourlay. “But it is the same for everyone. If you are a wee bit off line, you’ll get what you deserve.”
“Carnasty. That is a term of endearment really,” says Mr Brown. “It a back-handed compliment. You want to test the best, and that happens here.”

Monday, 16 July 2007

John Bellany

This one's from a few years ago - you can read the article if you click the link on the the right hand side of the page.

John Bellany is one of Scotland's best known artists, who uses language almost as vividly as he does paint. He beautifully evokes his Calvinist childhood and remembers days in Milne's Bar, Edinburgh with the nationalist poet, Hugh MacDiarmid, whose "words wafted out of the window like cigarette smoke".

Bellany's Edinburgh flat is magnificent, full of huge canvases from his earliest days. He was an hypnotic talker and even his wife Helen, gentle, soft spoken and very elegant, sat listening for much of the time, as if she'd never heard it before. As I was leaving Bellany gave me a hug and said " I've found a soul-mate". And that was without having a drink.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

The Imam and the Pastor

I've just added this article, which appears in today's Scotland on Sunday newspaper. It's an extraordinary story of two implacably opposed military and religious leaders in Nigeria who have become much more than good friends, now working actively in movements for reconciliation and peace in their own country and beyond.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

First blast

This blog is intended to act as an archive for my journalism, to generate a little work for me and to entertain you, dear reader. Over there on the right are weblinks to some of the better or more interesting articles I've written over the years. They come mainly from the Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday newspapers, because these are the easiest for me to access. But there is something from the Sydney Morning Herald, another from the Evening Standard. I also have written for the Daily Mail and the Times.

There are many subjects. I enjoyed meeting Michael Ignatieff, Janet Street Porter and Christopher Hitchens and they gave me good quote, but the interview with Diana Mosley - the widow of the English fascist leader, Oswald Mosley - was about as good a story as I've ever had. I knew she was living in Paris, so I rang her when Le Pen did well in the first round of the 2002 French presidential elections. It turned out she was profoundly deaf, so I had to interview her by fax. Lady Mosley took this very seriously indeed and fired back some fantastic stuff - I still have the faxed copies of her scrawling handwriting. The news story and the feature were both massively followed by other news outlets - BBC Radio 4's Today Programme even broadcast from her Paris flat ahead of the second round of voting.

Sometimes you do get a reaction. The story about how Uruguay saved the haggis was the result of a conversation with my local butcher. Twenty four hours after he told me about it, the BBC had a grim-faced correspondent standing under a statue of Robert Burns asking whether this was the end of Scottish culture as we know it. The piece on the disintegration of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh was powerful enough to result in the calling of a conference to consider the future of the city's most ancient street.

There are plenty more out of my articles out there, so if you happen to see one and like it, send me the web address and I'll add it to the list. One or two of are not so good, of course - an easy one to find is a live football match report I wrote of a St Johnstone game which features on The Temple of the Saints fans website under the heading "absolutely crap report by Mike Wade". Cheers guys.

A lot of what I'm writing at the moment is arts news for the Scottish editions of the (London) Times. In common with articles in most Scottish editions of English papers, these do not appear on the web. If they seem particularly worthwhile I'll post them here in this blog.