I think it was Dylan Thomas that said, ‚??Wales is the land of my fathers. ¬†And they can keep it‚?Ě (or something like that). ¬†Well, Nor‚??n Ireland is the land of my fathers; Porteedown to be precise. ¬†And I‚??ve come to take it back! ¬†(Now that dad, his only brother, and his parents are now out in New Zealand). ¬†Because I have a soft spot for this part of the world, for its people. ¬†They are so wonderfully human and, more importantly, funny. ¬†Craic is the name of the game.
Before heading to Porteedown GC ‚?? just a mile or so down the road from my grandparents‚?? old house at 146 Gilford Road ‚?? we were invited to have lunch with their dear friends, Allan & Alix Jardine. ¬†You Dear Reader will never in your life come across more of a character than Alix, who is as they say full of beans. ¬†I haven‚??t laughed so much in a long time. ¬†Allan does well to keep up with her, and offers his own banter when Alix (occasionally) pauses for a breath. ¬†Their house was one of the last I was in before we emigrated back at the end of 2000 (for a Christmas Day cocktail party), so it seemed strangely familiar. ¬†(There were presents this time around too!). ¬†Another of my grandparents‚?? great pals ‚?? David Davin, who‚??s pushing 90 I hope he won‚??t mind me saying ‚?? came along for a sandwich and coffee too. ¬†We all had a famous time telling lies and half truths and everything in between. ¬†Mostly about D T Patton who has been known to share a half truth or two of his own...
David‚??s an amazing man, the light still very much being on and burning bright. ¬†Among other things he told stories of my grandfather‚??s notorious mischief, as well as a particularly nice tale about Upper & Lower Ballanderry (anyone?). ¬†He passed me a piece of paper too with a speech printed on it. ¬†It was the send off he delivered at my grandparents‚?? Emigration Wake, just before they defected to The Antipodes a couple of years after us. ¬†A moving few paragraphs it was too. ¬†I think if David lived in my town we‚??d be friends notwithstanding the 64 year age gap. ¬†Although I‚??d probably soon grow to resent him as he‚??d no doubt hog all the good looking girls with his chat.
Anyway. ¬†Once Alix had shoved as many sandwiches down our throats as she could possibly manage, Allan led us down to the Golf Club. ¬†En route was a quick stop in at G&G‚??s old house, which doesn‚??t seem to have changed much save for a few internal reshufflings. ¬†The immaculate big garden continues to be so. ¬†Walking through it brought back memories from many years gone by, when I‚??d spend hours pitching up and down the lawn ‚?? between the hedges and flower beds ‚?? while the other Pattons would pursue more sensible endeavours. ¬†An evocative 5 minutes or so. ¬†Allan and I did what was Right and Proper, and as the Germans would say, had our picture made.
Allan then took us on a tour of the clubhouse, which too was familiar. ¬†Everybody who walked past would say hello, not because they knew who I was but because that‚??s what they do here. ¬†It‚??s a friendly club. ¬†Along the hallways were framed portrait photos of past Captains and Presidents alike. ¬†A couple of familiar faces appeared on one or two of them. ¬†One frame in particular caught my eye - a group photo of past Captains. ¬†Standing there among a crowd was a handsome gentleman wearing a blazer that looked very familiar indeed. ¬†It was the blazer hanging up by coat hanger in our car parked outside. ¬†(Grandpa handed it down to me a couple of years ago, as he tends to do ‚?? and it‚??s the one I‚??ve been lugging around with me all year!).
As we were laughing about it all a friendly couple of lads got chatting, one of whom was a patient of my grandfather‚??s. ¬†Over the next few hours I would encounter roughly another 30 men or women that were patients of my grandparents. ¬†On each occasion I apologised for what they‚??d had to endure, and congratulated them on still being with us. ¬†
Then a bear of a figure appeared over my right shoulder. ¬†It was Johnny Rankin, the Captain of the Golf Club. ¬†He was a rugby player and looks like he could still hold his own against the Argentinean front row. ¬†A nicer fella of jolly demeanour you couldn‚??t hope to meet. ¬†His Porteedown accent was particularly thick, which may indeed have been one of the criterion for selection as Captain. ¬†Johnny joined us for a chinwag then marched us out the front to meet a photographer who‚??d come to take a snap for the local rag. ¬†Decked out in his number 1s ‚?? most notably, a very fine bottle green blazer ‚?? Johnny put us ragamuffins to shame.
And then there was golf. ¬†Just Michael, Allan and myself. ¬†The 1st tee shot looked more daunting as a youngster, although Back Then the decision making process was easier ‚?? driver it is then. ¬†Fast forward a few years and a bit more strategy is required (because I hit the ball further (but not necessarily straighter); not because the hole has changed). ¬†The 3 iron I hit down the fairway might‚??ve gone further than even my best knock as a 14 year old, but it was on the approach shot that I‚??d get caught out as I had so many times before. ¬†1 green is long and narrow, and slopes sharply from front to back. ¬†Even landing my 50 yard pitch short of the green wouldn‚??t prove enough to hold it; I ended up down the bank over the back and failed to get up and down, carding a miserable opening bogey. ¬†Och well.
Allan was zipping around in a buggy built for the elements. ¬†The red awning you can see in the picture below will hold out even the most determined of showers, which you‚??re likely to find around these parts if you hang out long enough. ¬†The shower that confronted us on the 5th you could see coming like a tidal wave down the fairway towards you ‚?? like those Hollywood rain showers where someone has just turned on the tap. ¬†Frightening, as Gents would say.
Y‚??er man Johnny came out to see us as we trundled up to the 2nd green. ¬†In his pocket were 2 balls, each embossed with ‚??Captains Day 2010, Johnny Rankin, Portadown GC‚?Ě - to pass on to G&G with his best regards. ¬†A nice touch I thought. ¬†Allan had already furnished Michael and me each with a goodie bag holding a marker & pitch mark repairer, yardage book, bottle of water, banana and tees. ¬†Spoiled we were.
The course was just as I remember it: quaint and narrow enough to make you think/cry. ¬†It‚??s very much a parkland track, with trees and small greens being the main defences. ¬†The River Bann plays a lovely cameo on the 9th when you‚??re forced to drive over it. ¬†There appear to have been one or two new holes introduced in the past 10 years since I last played it, like the short par 3 6th, which with a pond and walled garden featuring was a delight. ¬†The 18th was still as hard as it was when I couldn‚??t hit the ball 200 yards. ¬†
[9 tee, over The Bann]
[5 green, guarded jealously]
[17 tee - narrow chute on a 564 yard par 5]
Really today was all about reminiscing though; reminiscing about what two tremendous humans Thomas & Margaret Patton are, and what they meant to this club and community. ¬†Since they emigrated to New Zealand I‚??ve had the privilege of spending a good deal of time in their company, in the hope that a little wisdom might rub off. ¬†They clearly had a lot of fans over ‚??ere in Porteedown ‚?? patients and friends alike ‚?? and continue to be missed to this day. ¬†They were in my thoughts throughout the day.
Johnny postponed the Joker Draw for 20 minutes or so until we‚??d made it back to the clubhouse. ¬†A packed bar waited patiently for Johnny to pipe up. ¬†He then was kind enough to describe me as ‚??a special guest‚?Ě, and tell all what Michael and I had taken it upon ourselves to do. ¬†I said a few words of thanks ‚?? and about The First Tee ‚?? then drew the numbers. ¬†Johnny presented us with a club tie each, and pledged a donation on behalf of the membership ‚?? a very touching gesture. ¬†When all had settled down I sat with the lads and my pint, only to be shoulder tapped a few more times by former patients and friends of The Good Doctors. ¬†It seems they treated nearly everyone in Nor‚??n Ireland! ¬†
A kind gentleman who goes by the name of Don (yes, a patient of grandpa‚??s) bought us a pint of the black stuff and bent our ear for a while. ¬†Lovely chap. ¬†Allan gave me a history lesson on the shilleleagh (an Irish war club, one of which was pinned on the wall as a trophy), then took us next door for a smashing meal. ¬†
A more heart warming few hours it is hard to imagine. ¬†I know y‚??all read this for the golf, but today as I said before was really a story of my grandparents‚?? old stomping ground, where they obviously left a wonderful legacy. ¬†Only for me to ruin it! ¬†
If I may: a huge thank you to Porteedown GC for their epic hospitality (to Johnny Rankin in particular); to Allan & Alix Jardine for their craic and hospitality; and to David Davin for the stories. ¬†Thanks also to Dr Tommy and Margaret Patton for creating such a mountain of goodwill enabling me to come back and have such a tremendous day among your friends!