Thursday, 17 March 2011

"Well, skipper, how's tricks?"

No doubt the game of golf has been the furnace in which a good many relationships have been heated, formed and tested. Alistair Cooke met Bing Crosby on the golf course, and in a memorable Letter From America in 1977 he talked about Crosby, whom he much admired, in these terms:

'When he died there was, as you know, a spate of film clips and replayed old interviews and the like.

The most startling and revealing of these was one done very shortly before he died by the American news interviewer, Barbara Walters, who has a knack for asking the piercing, childlike questions we'd all like to ask but don't dare.

She asked him to sum himself up.

And he allowed that he had an easy temperament, a way with a song, a fair vocabulary, a contented life.

And she said: "Are you telling us that that's all there is - a nice, superficial shell of a man?"

And Bing said: "Sure, that's about it. I have no deep thoughts, no profound philosophy. That's right, I guess that's what I am."

It was so startling, so honest and probably so true that it explained why he'd been able through hard times to stay on an even keel.

Why, because he didn't over-identify with other people's troubles, he was able to appear and to be everybody's easy-going buddy.

And because death is so profound and so dramatic, so showy, that's why some of us cannot believe he won't show up in the locker room tomorrow and say: "Well, skipper, how's tricks?"'

My line of thought began with the discovery that today is the one hundred and third anniversary of the birth of one of Cooke's idols, with whom he also had what Cooke called 'The Marvellous Mania' in common: one of the greatest amateur golfers of all time, the decent, courageous, self-effacing genius, Bobby Jones. Of whom more later, because I can't find Cooke's Letter about Jones at this moment. I know there is one - it must be in another collection.
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