As a man who has sat next to a pathologically patriotic Scotsman for the
past 10 months at work, I have had much to endure.
Apparently, Scotland, now with its own Parliament, is “Europe's premier
rugby side” and was “the dark horse for the Cricket World Cup”.
As an Englishman and lover of all things sporting, these constant digs are
hard to bear. So when a pair of tickets for golf's British Open
Championship at Carnoustie came up for grabs – courtesy of Scottish
Amicable – I thought this presented the perfect opportunity for an unbiased
The plan was simple – meet fellow MM hack John Lappin at Heathrow
Airport's terminal one at 11.30am – but its execution was a nightmare.
On the white-knuckle ride to St Pancras, the Arabic kickboxing minicab
driver informed me I looked like Dirty Dancing's Patrick Swayze. This
caused me grave concern over his eyesight as we swerved through London
The airport was a hop and a skip away via the Heathrow Express but I still
managed to check in just 20 minutes before the flight was due to leave.
When I finally struggled through the queues on to my first-ever
business-class flight, I found Mr Lappin ensconced by the window with a
copy of The Independent.
Apparently, with my posh ticket, I could have bypassed the hoi polloi but
I was far too deferential to do so. Oh well.
From Edinburgh Airport, we had a half-hour taxi ride to our hotel in
Stirling, the home of ScotAm's HQ. We were to be left to our own devices
for Saturday night but picked up at the ungodly hour of 6.45am the
following day for a 90-minute coach ride to Carnoustie with a herd of IFAs.
So, after checking in, we decided it was too early to start drinking beer
and opted for culture instead. Stirling Castle, on a hill in the middle of
the town, was surprisingly interesting and the official tour guide (a
small, neat man) took great pleasure in pointing out the many “heraldic
beasts” which adorned the place.
Culture over, pizza consumed and shirt ironed for the morning, we met the
personal finance editor of The Scotsman in the bar of the hotel and decided
to see what the bright lights of Stirling had to offer. Armed with a mental
list of the names of a fistful of boozers faxed to me by those kind boys
from the ScotAm press office, we set out to sample the lot. A couple of
trendy pubs filled with children drinking bottled beer later, I remembered
a third watering hole on the list.
I knew we were in trouble the moment I walked in the door and 100 ginger
heads swivelled to eyeball us.
A Scottish flag pinned over the door, wall-to-wall bruisers covered in
nationalistic tattoos with roll-ups gummed to their top lips – and that was
After the fastest pint of this middle-class English boy's life, swilled in
silence for fear of a give-away London accent, I quietly suggested we might
want to consider moving elsewhere. The rest of the evening dissolved into a
blur until our 6.30am wake-up call the next morning. Felt surprisingly
sprightly but Lappin was ragged.
Pulled on my “smart casual” (surely an oxymoron) get-up bought specially
for the occasion and marvelled at the Scottish countryside all the way to
Full English breakfast and a bucket of coffee later and I was right as
ninepence, champing at the bit to check out the course. Golf seems to be a
case of people in appallingly tasteless clothes watching people in
appallingly tasteless clothes whacking a small ball. Fantastic.
Lunch and a few glasses of bubbly, then off to the green at the seventh to
watch the millionaires putt on their final round. Tiger Woods, Greg Norman,
Ernie Els and all the rest of the big names sailed across my field of
vision but I could not catch surprise leader Jean Van De Velde.
My day-long predictions of “le choke” seemed unfounded as we headed back
to the coach for the airport at 5.30pm. Unfortunately, we all missed the
most exiting finish to an Open in years, as Van De Velde lost the plot and
local boy Paul Lawrie took the title after a nail-biting three-way
But as the huge cheer went up on the plane somewhere over the Midlands,
this Englishman cheered as loudly as any of the Scots. I can almost see why
they make such a fuss about the place.