Exploring Athens

Athens, Greece • August 2018 • Length of Read: 9 Minutes

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I took a sip of wine and a warm smile broke out across my face. The muffled sounds of Athens on a Saturday night rose up from the street below, hot young millennials decked in their finest wears making their way across the plaza to the trendiest bars and clubs where overzealous bartenders awaited to pour hastily-made cocktails and slip in a couple of pick-up lines in the hope of stealing a phone number. From our rooftop restaurant, we had an unrestricted view of the Acropolis; the ancient citadel sat in all its glory atop the rocky outcrop and lighting up the metropolis that it has proudly lorded over for centuries. It was a stunning setting, but I really only had eyes for the girl sitting opposite me. We’d been together for four sweet months and she’d invited me to Greece so that we could explore her homeland together. As she blew me a kiss from across the table I melted a little inside; the luckiest man in the world.

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Eva’s friend had kindly given us the keys to her apartment whilst she was out of town, and after a back-breaking night’s sleep on the fold-out sofa, the place so small that it didn’t even have a bedroom, we casually woke up the next morning, hopped in our rental car, and set the sat-nav for the city centre. Air-conditioning at full-blast and the sun hanging high in the hazy blue sky, a day of history and culture lay head.

Now, I’m a nervous driver as it is; the pressure of having to park outside my school gates under the watchful gaze of my peers just hours after the L-plates had been ripped off my car only the first in long line of moments that I’ve found myself sweating behind the wheel. Put me on the opposite side of the road, however, with a pounding headache, unfamiliar Highway Code, and the navigation of Stevie Wonder, and I’ll begin to panic. As the weather approached mid-thirties, I started to get very hot and bothered indeed.

“You want to take a right here, then go left,” said Eva as we approached a roundabout, having turned off Google’s perfectly adequate automated driving assistant and taken it upon herself to dictate the directions. As I flicked the indicator and pulled out into the junction, however, narrowly avoiding a rampant local and getting an earful of aggressive honking for my troubles, Eva began to question my ability to understand basic instructions.

“I said to go over there,” she pointed, no help at all for someone with their sight set firmly on the chaos of capital city traffic. “Right, then left.”

“You mean straight ahead?” I corrected her, somewhat bemused, but more irritated. “Even, ‘take the second exit’ would have been suitable.”

“Whatever,” she dismissively scowled before returning to her duties. “It’s re-routed us so you’ll need to turn left in 200m.”

As the narrow streets passed by I tried to calculate based on sight and sense when 200m might be, not bothering to question why Eva couldn’t have just told me that it was the fourth on the left. Having to project distances in my head really wasn’t helping the migraine going on inside my skull but considering that she didn’t even have a license I was willing to concede to ignorance. All things considered, Eva had the patience of a saint, and as I pulled into the parking garage at our destination she even hopped out to get me some painkillers and water from a nearby pharmacy. We’re such a great match.

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Of all the buildings in the Acropolis of Athens, the most famous and iconic is The Parthenon, a former temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, the patron of the city that bears her name. With Eva taking on the role of personal tour guide, we made our way hand-in-hand around the heritage site as she mustered up stories and facts from Greek history that she’d been taught in school. Off the back of my visit, I read Stephen Fry’s quite-brilliant book Mythos, an accessible re-telling of the Greek myths for a wider audience. If you wish to learn a bit more about Greek history, it’s an ideal starting point.

Steering our way through the selfie stick-waving crowds, dozens of photos stored in our own camera phones, we came down the winding hill from the citadel and got lost in the bustling cobbled streets before re-appearing at Eva’s favourite restaurant. I let my moro mou order away, proud to be the privileged guest of a local among throngs of confused faces. The feast that duly turned up was fit for a king and queen and we tucked into the tzatziki, kebabs, salad and grilled cheese with the appetite of famine-struck villagers; the captivating conversation put on pause as the chewing began.

Stomach’s bulging, we headed in the opposite direction of the Acropolis Museum for approximately half-an-hour before the chief navigator of this disoriented operation discovered that we were actually walking in the completely wrong direction. Had Eva been the captain of a historic fleet setting sail to discover a new world there would have been a mutiny on-board before the lead vessel had even disappeared from view of the port.

Once eventually in the air-conditioned paradise of the museum, an impromptu subway journey required to get us back on track, we took a journey through the ages, three floors of meticulously restored artefacts, paintings and sculptures bringing to life the ancient civilisation that gifted the world so much in terms of language, science, philosophy, and religion.

“Hey, look at that,” said Eva, pointing upwards to the Perspex walkway of the second floor that ran above. I had no clue what she was indicating towards, but it couldn’t have been the view that immediately caught my attention.

“Are you looking up that woman’s skirt?” she gasped, noticeably and hypocritically holding her gaze for a moment too long.

“You told me to,” I argued in a rock-solid defence as strong as the columns holding up the classical order.

“At the statue, yes,” she laughed. “Maybe I should get you out of here before you cause any more trouble.”

“The statues are all naked anyway,” I persisted as we stopped to throw pennies in the wishing well at the museum entrance. “At least that person had clothes on.”

“Very good, very good. Come on, I want us to be on time for dinner with my parents. Feeling nervous yet?”

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Eva grew up in Nea Artaki, a small port town on the island of Evia, the country’s second-largest after the better-known Crete. Connected to the mainland by a bridge, we made the journey in just over an hour, my palms getting sweatier each mile we drew closer to our destination. I love this girl and really wanted to make a good impression with her mother and father. Thankfully, we weren’t actually going to be staying with them, just popping round for dinner. Instead, we’d been given access to Eva’s countryside summer home twenty minutes further north. A shower, a pressed shirt, and a dash of cologne later, I was as ready as I ever would be to face the music. As the doorbell went, I took a big gulp.

“Hello Crobs,” beamed her dad as I crossed the threshold and handed him the bottle of mass-produced Johnnie Walker whisky I’d picked up in the airport. Not quite the Hebridean malt he would have preferred, but at the bargain price of €18, I couldn’t complain. I wanted to see how our initial meeting went before introducing him to the good stuff. A kiss on each cheek was the traditional welcome, and that’s all I had for Eva’s mum after Eva had realised too late that the flower shop I was going to pick up a bouquet from had shut down months prior.

“Thank you very much for inviting me,” I smiled before pausing to take in the manic around me. Far from meeting just her parents, Eva’s sister, uncle, grandmother, sister’s boyfriend, and sister’s boyfriend’s brother had all made themselves present for the occasion. You wouldn’t be seeing so many of my family members together outside of Christmas Day. My arrival was seemingly quite the event.

“It’s our pleasure,” answered Eva’s dad, who was slightly more apt in the English language. “Would you like a beer? Greek beer is much better than Scottish beer.”

“I won’t argue with that,” I laughed, perhaps a bit too loudly for the situation. “Yes, please.”

Handing me a Heineken, a symbol of everything Dutch, I was more than a little confused as I took a seat at the dinner table. ‘It must be the language barrier,’ I pondered to myself as my eyes and nose took in the succulent buffet spread out before us. Eva had encouraged me that all I needed to do was nod and say ‘yes’ whenever food was offered my way and everything would be ola kala, OK.

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And it was. Eva’s extended family were welcoming in such a homely and generous way that I immediately felt ingrained as a new member of the clan. Every ounce of dread and apprehension quickly left my body as I tucked into the mountain of food in front of me. Eva switched from tour guide to translator, and we laughed and joked away for the rest of the evening. A delicious homemade dessert was accompanied by a trip down memory lane as we peered through albums of old family photos, and, in return, I told silly anecdotes about growing up in Scotland. They could see how much I meant to their youngest daughter… and how much she meant to me.

“Thanks so much for inviting me here,” I whispered to Eva as we lay in bed that night.

“Thanks so much for agreeing to come,” she whispered back, a warm smile breaking out across her face.

A Danish Heist

Copenhagen, Denmark • May 2018 • Length of Read: 5 Minutes

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Going to Copenhagen and not visiting Tivoli Gardens is a bit like visiting Paris for the first time and not seeing the Eiffel Tower; a complete travel faux pas that you don’t want to make. Opened in 1843, Tivoli is the second-oldest operating amusement park in the world and the fifth most-visited in Europe. Situated right in the heart of the Danish capital, directly opposite the train station, the park has attractions for all the family, and as the summer sun shone high in the sky Ieva, Iza, Jason and myself spent the day riding roller coasters, licking ice cream cones, and lazing about on the lawn of the pristine gardens as peacocks wandered around nibbling on leftover lunch scraps. It felt like we were kids again; full of excitement, carefree, naïve and innocent (until proven guilty).

Leaving the park after a lovely, chilled-out day, the girls retired back to the apartment whilst a ravenous Jason and I went in search of some dinner. Stumbling into a Hard Rock Café, more out of logistical convenience than anything else, we ordered a couple of beers from Anna, our Icelandic waitress, and opted for her suggestion of the Jack Daniel’s infused beer burger. A far cry from the traditional Danish smørrebrød cuisine, but sometimes you just need to fill the hole in your stomach.

I noticed something fishy about the two guys at the table parallel to ours as Jason and I clinked pint glasses and reminisced about the good old days, their loud and argumentative dialect the first indicator that they were rather drunk, the empty shot glasses and half-finished plates of food on their table the second. Conversing in Danish, I couldn’t make head nor tail of what they were discussing, but from their frequent glances towards the window behind us, I took a guess that they were itching for a cigarette.

My suspicion was soon confirmed as they got up and burst out onto the narrow balcony through a catch-window which just looked in no way like it should be opened; neither by staff, nor patrons. Anna came rushing over, her Scandinavian blood beginning to boil, and ushered them back to their seats with a stern warning. It was clear that they had been a handful ever since arriving in the restaurant. In retaliation to this, as soon as our waitress had departed to attend to another table they legged it down the stairs and out of the restaurant.

“Have they just done a dine-and-dash?” I gasped towards Jason, who laughed in agreement. One of my favourite ‘doing a runner’ stories is told by my best mate’s father, and occurred whilst he was on a gentlemen’s golfing holiday in Spain.

The twelve ‘Divots’, as their tour group was self-titled, had received the cheque for a rather lavish and boozy meal only to find themselves in the uncomfortable predicament of being unable to afford it. Before any suspicion amongst the staff arose, a Chinese whisper was quickly sent around the table indicating that, on the count of three, they would all get up and do a runner. When the call was made, however, eleven of them hustled out of the restaurant whilst the remaining member of the group, perhaps misinformed of the plan or perhaps out of sheer stupidity, ran straight into the male restroom, trapping himself. Only after spending the rest of the evening washing dishes in the kitchen did the maitre’d eventually allow him to leave.

“Unfortunately, for those two guys, however, they’ve left something rather important behind,” said Jason, lowering his tone and snapping me back to the present. “What’s in the bag?”

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A Hard Rock Café-branded gift shop bag sat propped against a leg of the abandoned table, clearly having been forgotten in their haste to leave. Kicking it across to our table, I opened it to find three Copenhagen-designed souvenir white t-shirts and a credit card receipt for 650DKK; an amount far greater than what their meal would have cost.

“Let’s take them away,” said Jason without hesitation. “It serves them right and they will make great gifts for the girls.”

“Who do you think you are?” I chuckled. “Robin Hood?”

“A modern-day version,” chuckled Jason. “There’s a receipt, so who’s to say that those guys didn’t gift them to us?”

We deliberated the morality of the situation for a while as a few of the tables around us caught wind of what we were planning. “A heist in which the good guys win,” I reasoned. “It is great when the good guys win.”

Polishing off our food and beer in an effort to remain inconspicuous, we then asked Anna for the bill and she recommended we go to a bar called No Stress for some post-dinner cocktails. Thanking her, we arose to leave and as Jason picked up the contraband she gave us a sly grin. “Have a good night, boys,” she chuckled, giving our table a wipe. Having previously abstained from clearing the two drunk guys’ table, an attempt to confirm her false belief that they had genuinely gone out for a smoke and would at some point return, Anna was happy to play the Maid Marion in our little Sherwood Forest routine.

We headed up the street in the direction of No Stress and, lo and behold, stumbled upon the very two dine-and-dash dudes. They were standing outside a bar and in the middle of a heated, but spirited debate about ice hockey, the Swedish national replica tops of their opposition indicating that they had travelled over to Denmark for the Ice Hockey World Cup that was currently taking place. Keeping our heads low, Jason tucked the Hard Rock Café bag under his arm and we marched on past.

No Stress was a cool, underground, Norwegian hangout, and as we perched atop a pair of bar stools and ordered some fruity cocktails from the islands I looked around and took stock of the environment. A group of guys were huddled around a box TV and playing Mario Kart on the Nintendo 64; squads of young people from diverse nationalities sat around high tables, chatting in their common language; and the DJ in the middle of the room set the atmosphere with chilled-out beats. It had been a wonderful three-day city-break to Copenhagen with Jason; catching up with old friends, recharging the batteries, and planning future escapades. And to top it off, we’d pulled off a heist and got away Scot free.

Pour me something tall and strong, make it a hurricane before I go insane. It’s only half past twelve but I don’t care, it’s five o’clock somewhere.

Freetown Christiania

Copenhagen, Denmark • May 2018 • Length of Read: 4 Minutes

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Feeling a bit ropey, Jason and I left the girls in bed and took the metro downtown. Taking a pew at a trendy open-aired café, we ordered a Caesar salad to share and proceeded to lazily sip on cortado coffees whilst taking in the hustle and bustle of the metropolitan city centre. It was a sunny Thursday morning in Copenhagen, and as the summer temperature began to rise the Danish capital came to life; it’s beautiful, tanned, well-groomed and effortlessly cool residents going about their day-to-day business in a manner that had me pining for a return to such lifestyle.

In addition to the chino and shirt wearing masses, groups of dapperly dressed youngsters also began to weave their way through the square, tuxedo-clad guys looking Scandinavian sharp and the girls on their arms glowing in traditional billowing dresses. Bringing us the bill, our waiter informed us that it was Norwegian Constitution Day, ‘Syttende Mai’, and that a number of prestigious parties were being held around the city in celebration.

The hilarity of our escape from the Jailhouse the previous evening was still fresh in our minds as we stretched out our legs and wandered down to Nyhavn Harbour; dozens of brightly-painted boats lining the canal paths and upmarket seafood restaurants spilling out onto the cobbled streets. En-route, we passed numerous gangs of ice hockey fans in Nordic game-day tops, the Ice Hockey World Cup in full swing and busloads of supporters making their way across the Öresund Bridge to support their national teams locking-horns in the historic and fierce on-ice rivalries.

Reaching the end of the pier, Jason and I got some Aperol Spritz from a pop-up bar and chilled on a couple of deck chairs overlooking the widening waterway, chatting about life, the Universe and everything in between as we watched dozens of kids diving in and out of the murky river.

Ever since Jason and I had met on a bus in New Zealand eighteen months previously, a bond of trust and honesty had been created that I hope will last in perpetuity. You know that feeling when you just ‘get’ someone? And they ‘get’ you? He has since become my go-to guru for advice, concerns, ideas, knowledge, and everything in between, and I his muse in return. At the dock we sat for hours, bouncing about ideas, regaling stories from a wilder youth, and trading tales of success and failure. It was bliss.

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A late-afternoon stroll took us to the universally-unique district of Christiania. Right in the heart of Copenhagen sits a former military barracks that lets off a heavy whiff of marijuana. Taken over by hippie-squatters in 1971 as an anti-governmental social experiment, Christiania became a self-governing collective operating under its own rules and principles. Following a dark era involving hard drugs and murder, this anarchistic micro-nation has now cleaned-up, and its 850 residents are currently deliberating an offer from the Danish government to outright purchase the 34 hectares of land they live on.

One of Christiania’s most famous sons is Lukas Forchhammer, lead singer of the pop band Lukas Graham, who, in an interview with Rolling Stone, spoke about growing up in this community led him to learn “how to mix a Molotov cocktail before I knew how to mix a Long Island iced tea.” He has also reminisced about the police presence was so pervasive that a fear manifested itself within the children of the rough neighbourhood and it wasn’t uncommon for this anger to be vented at the authorities. He concluded, however, by describing Christiania as a ‘utopian place to grow up if you’ve got parents living together and working regular jobs. There’s just this sense of community. Everybody knows everybody. Everybody helps everybody. You know the names of your friends’ parents.”

Leaving behind the Freetown, the setting sun shining with an even brighter intensity than it had all afternoon, Jason and I picked up the blaring noise of techno music from a distant set of speakers and, following it, stumbled upon a family-friendly canal-side party; DJ, a bar, and tattooed dudes flipping burgers whilst everyone chatted away in a jovial manner. A couple of cold ones and a few dying rays helped crown off what had been a fantastically-relaxing sightseeing way to shake off our hangovers from the night before.

A Night in the Jailhouse

Copenhagen, Denmark • May 2018 • Length of Read: 6 Minutes

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The security line at Edinburgh airport weaved its way like a caterpillar around the roped queue, grumpy holidaymakers becoming impatient as they shuffled along at an insect’s pace. There was a guy in a full kilt about a dozen places in front of me; Bonnie Prince Charlie jacket, waistcoat, knee-high socks, sgian-dubh, laced shoes, the lot. I would have bet my house on him setting off the security scanner, but as I got trapped behind a group of face-tattooed foreigners he emptied his sporran and strolled through the checkpoint without so much as a second glance from the officers on duty. I guess that’s why I don’t yet have a mortgage or place of my own.

The previous day I’d gone to the cinema by myself to see Avengers: Infinity War Pt. 1, the most recent release in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Why certain people think it’s weird to go to the cinema alone is beyond me. You’re sitting in a dark room, watching something you’ve paid to see, and where it’s a social faux pas to talk. Writing this, I’m struggling to think of many other activities or events better suited to doing alone. There had been some scenes in the movie filmed in Edinburgh. At one point, Scarlet Witch and Vision are having a romantic heart-to-heart in the cobbled Old Town, when a laminated sign on the window of the late-night fast food shop that they’re standing in front is brought into focus to display a pixelated saltire with the notice ‘We’ll deep fry your kebabs’ printed underneath. A warmth swelled up in my heart, so proud to call myself Scottish.

I was heading to Denmark for three nights to visit some very close friends and following a rather peaceful, albeit cramped, flight I exited Copenhagen Airport and took the metro to DR Buyen station where I then chilled out on the grass and waited for Jason, Ieva, and Iza to arrive. It had been two-and-a-half years since I’d made acquaintance with the girls whilst on a New Year’s getaway to their hometown of Vilnius, Lithuania, and although I’d spent a lot of time with Iza during her interim six-month university exchange programme to Glasgow, I hadn’t seen Ieva since. When I’d suggested a reunion in the city where they now resided, they were quick to agree, and it didn’t take much to get my travelling companion Jason immediately on-board. His flight had landed a fair few hours ahead of mine, and he’d sat in the airport bar drinking €9 pints before realizing it would be cheaper, and more sociable, to drink cans of supermarket lager in the girls’ student digs. And that’s when I saw them…

It was hugs and smiles all round as we embraced one another, a million questions being fired about as we sauntered our way towards a nearby park, my neck catching the last glimmering rays of the setting sun. For better or worse, Ieva hadn’t changed a bit, and upon graduating from university back in Lithuania had immediately relocated herself to be with Iza. Despite being the elder of the near-inseparable pair, she looks up to Iza as an older sister for advice, security and confirmation, and the independent Iza lovingly accepts this adopted role.

Unlike in the UK, where there is a party or event taking place near on every night of the week, the bars and clubs of Copenhagen tend to restrict their opening days from Thursday to Sunday. With it being a Wednesday night, our options of drinking establishments were therefore drastically limited. Ieva was able to do a quick search on her phone, however, and identify that a place called the Jailhouse was within walking distance of their flat and open for business. The fact that it was a gay bar did nothing to dissuade us from this proposition.

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With the windows barred up, the booths replicas of holding cells, and the sign hanging above the door designed to be like that of a penitentiary, we entered the street level bar to find a line of male barflies perched atop wooden stools and staring into their pint glasses whilst a gentleman dressed in a fancy-dress-shop policeman’s uniform, and looking like he’d come straight from a Village People concert, poured them their medicine. A gay bar that had every stereotype completely ‘locked-down’.

The policeman’s eyes lit up as we entered and quickly became transfixed on Jason, a dude blessed with the model like looks of Thor. A sharp blow on his whistle and suddenly every punter in the place was looking at him.

“Take your top off for a free drink,” he yelled in a camp and seductive manner. “And that is a law enforcement order.”

Always in good spirits, Jason removed his t-shirt without hesitation to reveal a tanned and ripped personal trainer torso that sent the policeman-bartender into overdrive with hot flushes. He maintained enough composure, however, to grab Jason by the hand and march him round to the staff members’ side of the bar.

“Choose your poison,” he said, absolutely loving this novel treat. “There’s a wide selection on the top shelf,” he continued, taking up a position directly behind Jason. “Or, if you’d prefer to bend over and see what’s on the bottom shelf, then be my guest.”

“The tequila from the top shelf will be suffice enough,” laughed Jason, happy to play along with the joke as long as it remained a joke. The handcuffs hanging from his belt looked to be a prop, but I wouldn’t want to second guess that he’d used them on an un-expectant patron before.

“Very well,” said the policeman, tipping the brim of his cap. “Four tequila slammers coming up for yourself and the three girls,” he grinned, nodding in the direction of Ieva, Iza and myself. In the eyes of a gay man, apparently I’d just switched genders. Whether I should have been relieved or displeased by this, I’m not too sure.

“If I take my top off can I also get a free round?” I asked the policeman as he came over to pour our drinks.

“Sorry, but you’re too ugly” said the policeman with deadpan sarcasm, as Jason searched around for his t-shirt.

“Hey, where did my t-shirt go?” queried Jason. “I don’t want to remain topless all night.”

“Well, somebody wants you to,” laughed Iza. “A guy came over whilst you were behind the bar, snatched it, and then scampered off into the staff room round the back.”

Somewhat panic-stricken, Jason headed round the back and after a bit of searching breathed a sigh of relief. His t-shirt had been put on a hanger on the wall. The guy has been bold enough to steal his t-shirt, but gay enough to not want risk it becoming creased.

We danced around to camp pop hits for the remainder of the evening, cracking jokes with the policeman, who we found out was actually the owner of the bar, and reliving the good old days from when I’d been partying in New Zealand with Jason and snowy Vilnius with the girls. The policeman was an absolutely charming man and seemed to genuinely really appreciate us for having brightened up his mid-week graveyard shift. As closing time neared, one other heterosexual couple and ourselves the only remaining patrons, the policeman gave us some free mint shots for the road and we staggered back to the girls’ apartment.

They had done their best to make room to accommodate their guests, but as I laid down on the hardwood floor, wrapped in a dog blanket, I couldn’t help but imagine that some prisoners probably had more comfortable sleeping conditions.

The Anglo-Celtic Cup Golf Tour 2018 (Part 4 of 4)

Albufeira, Portugal • May 2018 • Length of Read: 8 Minutes • Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

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I awoke to find an empty room, George having most likely headed down for breakfast without bothering to give me as much as an indicatory nudge. Stretching, I stumbled to my feet and shuffled along the corridor towards the bathroom, the rush of blood to my head upon rising causing momentary dizziness followed by the feeling that someone was trying to hammer a nail into the top of my skull. I was in no state to play golf, and by the look of the two guys sprawled out on the living room sofas, neither were Russ and Nick. The pair hadn’t had but a wink of shut-eye, having returned from dinner and decided to stay up all night with a crate of beer. True golf Tour etiquette. Our only hope was that the English were in an equally dishevelled state.

For Saturday’s third round clash, I’d been paired with the very eager Sarge in what was billed to be a competitive wild-west shootout against Bradders and Streety. All three of these men had shown promising displays of high-calibre golf over the previous two days, and with the revised scoring format I’d have nobody to carry me and nowhere to hide. Up to that point, the matches had been played in a four-ball-better-ball format, in which the lowest score from each pairing is compared to decide the winner of each hole. The Saturday format, however, had been altered to make it a combined affair, with both playing partners’ scored added together before being compared to their opposition’s total. To put it simply, this means that if one person messes up then the hole is effectively lost. A dreadful scoring format that I would immediately eradicate where I to ever be awarded the honour of Celt captaincy.

Incidentally, in order to receive this privilege, one must first serve as vice-captain to their predecessor, and to be eligible for vice-captaincy selection Tour rules state that you must have participated in a minimum of three Tours prior to this. As a result of these stringent regulations, no individual in the history of the Anglo-Celtic Cup has served multiple stints as captain, making it the most difficult segment of the still-elusive Holy Grail to tick off. Laid out on parchment by Tour’s Founding Fathers, the Holy Grail can only be obtained when a Tour player has served time as world number 1, won the annual Tour Championships (a separate event from Tour), and led their team to victory on Tour itself. Many a player has completed two out of three, but as of yet nobody has stamped their name on the Grail and confirmed themselves as the G.O.A.T – Greatest of all Time.

“I’m expecting a good showing from you today, Crobs,” said Sarge as I hopped into the passenger seat of our buggy and we set off down to the first tee. I was definitely in no state to be driving, be that in a cart along cobbled paths or with a wood in my hands from a tee box. Drawing my 3-iron from its holster I shook hands with Bradders, wishing him luck, before taking one look at Streety and bursting out into laughter. He was looking remarkably fresh for someone who’d been absolutely hammered in a kebab shop just a few hours previously, but how either of us could take this duel seriously with the antics of the previous evening still fresh in our minds was beyond me.

Bradders, on the other hand, was raring to go, having recently taken up a stringent exercise regime that had him running 5kms before breakfast and laying off the booze. Refraining from drinking spirits isn’t exactly in the spirit of Tour though, I have to say, and as his opening tee shot split the middle of the fairway I was still trying to rinse the taste of tequila shots from my mouth, which was as dry as Gandhi's flip-flops.

Taking a few feeble practice swings, I then addressed my opening shot. Were I to have received a Police sobriety test at that point I would have failed it with spectacular colours, and as I squinted at the tee peg with blurred vision I could make out about three balls sitting atop it. ‘Here goes nothing,’ I thought to myself, and with all eyes of Tour on me I hacked at it with the finesse of a lumberjack. The ball squirted off the hosel and shanked straight-right into a lake that acted as a hazard on a completely different hole. My playing partner just shook his head in despair.

Having matched my opening 7 with an equally disastrous 7 on the following hole, Sarge and I reached the short par-3 3rd one-down and most definitely on the back foot. As I rolled in a 20ft right-to-left breaker for a birdie two, however, and Bradders failed to convert a near-gimmie tap-in, we were back on level terms. And when my stinger of a 3-iron approach under a stiff breeze to the well-guarded par-4 4th landed like a feather a mere 5ft from the pin, my confidence was restored. Unfortunately, however, the farcical change to the scoring format made what would otherwise have been an enthralling game a rather tedious and sorry affair; every mistake accompanied with a slew of apologies and unfulfilled promises of redress.

As the course wound its way out from the clubhouse we were matching one another blow for blow, but as we made our way around the turn a number of fortuitous members’ bounces and get-out-of-jail-free golf put Bradders and Streety in the driving seat. A series of reckless tee shots from our opponents, which you’d have bet your bottom dollar were goners, were found in very playable lies, and as Sarge and I failed to carry one another’s errors the wheels began to fall off the wagon. As much as we tried to cling on in there, in no time at all we were staring down the barrel of a rather hefty defeat, and Streety dealt a decisive blow with an exquisite birdie on the most difficult hole on the course to seal a somewhat deserved 5&4 victory.

Saturday is known as ‘moving day’ for a reason and, despite Aaron’s table-topping performance, the Celts didn’t fare well across the board in the combined four-ball format. The English had eaten into a big chunk of the lead we’d manage to amass over the first two days’ competition, and we would be heading into the final day singles matches with our noses 10-8 in front. It was still all to play for, but we were in prime position to make it rain and end the five-year winless drought.

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The Celts were all out in black polo shirts and beige shorts for the Sunday singles, with eight hours kip under our belts, no hangovers, and eyes firmly on the prize. 12 singles matches meant that 12 points were up for grabs, and we needed 6 of them to ensure that the trophy would be coming home in the bag of Garrett, our motivational captain, that evening. I had been pitted against the frustratingly slow-playing Westy in the penultimate group, and accompanying me in the Celt’s buggy was to be George, my Kiwi brother, roommate, and opponent of Webby. The hour of reckoning was upon us.

George had a challenge ahead of him from the get-go as he knocked his opening tee shot on the Faldo course out-of-bounds, but I, somewhat uncharacteristically, smashed one straight down the middle and raced into a one-hole lead. The 13 strokes I was ceding to my unwieldy opponent, however, got him back into it, and despite being four Stableford points up at the turn I found myself one down in the match play stakes. I was swinging well, but Westy’s ludicrous four-net-two on the 8th, canned 50ft putt from off the green on the par- 6th, and snap-hook recoveries from nearly every tee box weren’t allowing me the walk in the park I’d somewhat naively envisaged.

Webby, on the other hand, was imploding like a chain of ticking time-bombs. Having had an absolute shocker of a front 9, he managed just a solitary Stableford point on the back half to gift George a 6&5 victory, despite his playing partner putting his body on the line to help out a lost cause. Westy, aforementioned as having incredibly poor course management, found himself sauntering aimlessly across the 12th green when a ball struck him square in the chest and knocked him to the deck. Webby had been playing a blind shot into the pin and hadn’t realised where his fellow Englishman was. The result was a rather winded Westy, and Webby having a 20ft putt for par as opposed to raking around in the bushes at the back of the green where his ball would more-than-likely have otherwise come to rest. Despairingly, he still found a way to three-putt and lose the hole, however.

“That was a horrific golf shot,” I said to Westy as his drive on the par-4 14th was topped straight into the foliage at the front of the tee box, causing George to burst out laughing. Any form of course etiquette had been wiped out by the speed of Westy’s play. Shorelines erode quicker than it takes for the man to line up a clutch putt. One of the course martials had parked his buggy at the top of the hill and, with a member of the establishment gazing down at him, Westy had folded like a deck chair. I took the hole with a well-constructed par and a short while later found myself standing on the 16th tee in a dormie 3 position.

But it ain’t over until the fat lady sings, and despite my unassailable lead I’m gutted to say that my nerves got the better of me. A three-putt followed by two shanks on the 17th and 18th, and I found myself shaking Westy’s hand for a halved match. To use the official terminology: I’d ‘shat it’.

At the end of the day though, the result didn’t matter, with an elsewhere dominant display from the Celts providing us with a winning margin of 18-11. For the first time in half-a-decade, the trophy belonged to those with Welsh, Irish and Scottish blood in their veins. And we weren’t going to let the English forget that any time soon. As everyone bode farewell at the airport that evening and went their separate ways, Garrett promised to give the trophy the lap-of-honour that it deserved. The very next day, our group chat received a photo of him holding the Anglo-Celtic Cup aloft in front of the Eiffel Tower – two iconic images brought together in the same picture. It had been a joyous, loose, entertaining, and competitive long-weekend. I couldn’t wait to return to the fold the following year and contribute to the defence of what was now rightfully ours.

Tour website: https://angloceltic.weebly.com/