Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Discovering Golf by Edward Saxel, resident blogger at I Spy Golf...

There’s something special about golf.  Or at least, I think there is, and I am sure I’m not alone.

Golf may not possess the energy or dynamism of some team sports but it challenges and obsesses in a way no other sport can.  This is a game that gets under your skin. You love it and hate it in equal measure.  

It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what it is that’s so special about the game – a game that can make world-leaders shake at the knees and turn octogenarians into clubhouse heroes.  That’s not because it’s hard to think of a reason, but because the reasons are so many that setting one above another almost detracts from its charm. One day it may be the setting, as you stroll to a cliff-top tee, the rolling-sea providing the soundtrack to a vision of dunes, snaking fairways and greying mountains in the distance. Another it might be the company, the laughs, the shared experience, the one good shot amid the best-forgotten rest.  There’s the challenge, the jubilation, the torment, the competition, the camaraderie. 
It’s a game of physical beauty, too, with picturesque courses and the poetry of a classic swing.  A game that’s so impossibly simple that we can only complicate it and struggle forth evermore, becoming captivated along the way even against our better judgement. But it’s also a game of practicality – get your kids hooked and summer holiday boredom and street corners are a thing of the past.

And of course, it’s a great leveller. Handicaps set a level playing field for all ages and abilities and, with the touring professionals performing on the same stage, even as a beginner you may find yourself emulating Tiger Woods (in location, if not in outcome) – I defy you try that at Old Trafford.

There’s no room for ego or hubris, either, golf will scythe you down the moment you think you’ve cracked it.  That’s what keeps you coming back for more.  It’ll lift you with elation one moment and crush you with despair the next, testing your body, mind and even your soul at times. 

If you’ve never played, you’ll probably be wondering what the hell I am waffling on about.  For anyone inclined to find out, the rest of this blog may help you take the first steps.

1. Don’t be afraid
You don’t need to be big, strong, young or even particularly fit to play golf. You also don’t need to worry about “not being any good” – nobody is when they start, and the majority of clubs are very welcoming and supportive of newcomers.

2. Getting kitted out
The cost of getting set up is often a concern, but while you can spend an inordinate amount on equipment and clothing if you choose to, you really don’t have to. Look for a second hand set of clubs (there are lots of websites trading in them) and the rest you can probably cobble together from your wardrobe.  Proper golf shoes I would say are a must, though again, you don’t need the top of the range and most places will let you take your first couple of lessons in some other footwear.

3. Next stop, lessons
Local PGA professionals are an invaluable source of help and advice – consider them your driving instructor (no pun intended) – and they will save you from snapping your clubs over your knee and giving up prematurely. I know many places that offer six lessons for about the same cost as a tank of petrol, and I promise you’ll have more fun than you would filling up your car.

4. Find a Friend
Finding someone to learn alongside can also be a great help and will give you a natural playing partner when you first start to venture out on the course.  Should you eventually decide to make the transition to club membership, doing so with another person you already know, playing at the same level, will undoubtedly help you take the plunge.

5. Join the right club
If and when the time arrives, research a few clubs to see what memberships are available – you’ll be surprised at the variety on offer for those getting into golf. Most clubs now provide affordable and flexible membership initiatives and will welcome an exploratory visit. Soak up the atmosphere when you to pop along – ultimately that’s what you’re buying into and each club’s is unique and you’ll find some more comfortable than others.

6. Forget what you’ve heard
Most of all, my advice is not to be put off by any pre-conceptions.  Golf isn’t the elitist, stuffy, cardigan-wearing, pipe smoking game of old (at least, not at most clubs). With a little patience, you’ll be amply rewarded. You have my word on that.

Edward Saxel is the resident pro and blogger at, a website featuring the latest offers, golf breaks and memberships from clubs and resorts across the UK and beyond. The site brings together hundreds of leading courses and hotels, making it easier for golfers to search on a single site and then book directly for complete peace of mind. You can follow Ed on Twitter @ispygolfpro

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Modern Music - No Strings Attached by Hamish Campbell-Legg of Lost in Pop Nation...

Following the news about HMV’s administrative visitation I got to thinking about music, rather a lot; I did a fair bit of listening, too. Then I got to thinking about listening and I remembered a passage that I’d read from Theodor Adorno and Hanns Eisler’s book Composing for the Films. They argued that the mechanical reproduction of music - and the catalytic effect it had on the procession of style change - was systematic in rendering the relatively attuned ear of the listener (or the modern consumer) ‘indolent’ and docile.

Accordingly, the ear, and listening (to music), is historically bound up in an archaic collectivity which suggests a kind of socially conditioned ear, an ear intrinsically ill-disposed to change. However, the rapid commodification of art beguiled the ear as it failed to keep up with the ceaseless drove of the industrial age and its mercantile megaphone, the hit-machine. Unlike its actively discriminative neighbour, the eye, the ear is a generally passive organ which, for Adorno and Eisler, accounts for the rationalized artistic development of music in the western world as a concerted effort to awake the ear from its supine slumber. That’s not to say it is unable to distinguish difference, quite the contrary, but that under the reified conditions of pop-culture it is increasingly likely to disagree with the alternative and the new.

But not just disagree; plainly disregard! When Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring premiered at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris on the 29 May 1913 the ensuing riots would emblazon the event into the history books forever more, illustrating that most abusive of relationships between the public and ‘their’ music. Personally, I like this idea, from a historic perspective. The prospect of such wild, bodily affections having been induced so by the ‘dreamy’ ear of the bourgeoisie shows a convulsive negotiation with the work of art all but absent from the public sphere today. Moreover, the riots avowedly attested to the artwork’s autonomy, as being something internally mediated, rather than the diarrheic bowel movements of the economy.

Today, the new exists (somewhat), but to the immediate effect of its alienation. It isn’t rejected on any rational basis but shunned out of popular favour/consideration by the exclusivity of mainstream media; and although there has for some time existed concurrent ‘alternative’ canons, if you like, the majority have underwhelmed, albeit providing ample sustenance for the dilettante, or the elusive ‘hipster’, as they sift through cyberspace leaving behind great hulks of freshly outmoded tunez. Ok, let me just dismount my hobby-horse for a moment or two.

We’ve all heard somebody at a party or other blurt the evocation “music is like, better than sex!” which, depending on what’s playing, may betray more about the individuals’ sex life than the power of the music. But this analogy may infact be more consistent with our listening habits than we think. In a recent article in The Atlantic Dan Slater provided a summation of his new book Love in the Time of Algorithms. He argued that the increase in techno-mediated dating services and algorithmic matchmaking sites is threatening the future of monogamy and that the titillation of ‘alternatives’ is rearing a generation of sweethearts flitting from partner to partner. Maybe this is generally characteristic behaviour across all techno-mediated divisions of society where traditional, definitive cornerstones (commitment, concentration etc.) are being flushed out by the immediacy of the medium.

Let’s stick with the sex/relationships analogy shall we? Somewhere in the middle of paragraph 4 I tore away from my desk and shuffled downstairs to brew my final cup of tea for the evening. Flicking the TV on for some background noise I was assaulted by Zeppelin, Floyd and the Beatles, retrieved once again from the BBC archives in another one of those way-back-when retrospectives; it was Danny Baker’s Great Album Showdown. One of the segments consisted in Danny Baker, Jeremy Clarkson and two others recalling the days when they would ‘support’ bands like football teams and listen to albums all the way through! What commitment! In all seriousness, whether or not technology has impoverished monogamy, it has certainly sustained a similar effect on music. Indeed, in my case, I see my relationship history (with music) as a succession of flings and one night stands, with a couple of exceptions. In all honesty, there is some bloody good music out there, but you won’t find it in HMV. And so it is that I break with each of my fads with that most palliative of gestures; “it’s not you, it’s me...and capitalism”.

Hamish Campbell-Legg is currently doing his Masters degree and is also the author of Lost in Pop Nation - the 'go to blog' for musical enthusiasts...

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

An Architectural Dash Across France to the Swiss Alps... By Oliver Gerrish... aka The Arch Musicman

After an early start in sodden London and a dash under the Channel we arrived in a less wet, but even colder France. I had always been interested by the silhouette of the distant Basilica of St Quentin, a huge mountain-like building soaring ominously in the distance. The journey had been long enough already for a stop so we turned off the payage and proceeded through the ugly outskirts of St Quentin, once the great Mediaeval city par excellence of Picardie. It turns out that this wonderfully grand and imposing church was nearly destroyed completely in the First World War, so it was quite a shock to see it looking so perfect and serene.

Inside there is an M R James-like quiet and other-Worldly calm to this spiky Gothic building. The silence is full of ancient whispers and one expects to hear a distant thin metallic laughter from high up in the Triforium!

This place is Huge! For me it was like being a child in a sweet empty, vast Gothic box of delights filled with treasures like the hand of St Quentin, a great sculpture of St George with a head modelled on King Louis XIV and the finest Baroque organ case in Northern France. If any church is worthy of a spectral organ recital, this is it!

If one wants to have the thrill of a great French Gothic church with none of the tourist rails and barriers go to St Quentin. This church has been through enormous trauma, but it still stands, almost impossibly tall restored to its original splendour wooing motorists off the endless payages of Picardie!

The next stop was nearby Laon Cathedral, arguably the finest early Gothic Mediaeval Cathedral in France, if not Europe. Unlike St Quentin, Laon was not bombed to its foundations and it looks like an ancient French hill-top City should do; great curtain walls, tiny winding streets, squares and, dominating all around, the great Cathedral of Our Lady with no less than five soaring towers of a projected seven. Lifesize stone animals gaze down from hundreds of feet in the air and the silhouette of this utterly extraordinary building is nothing short of Baroque in its sheer exuberance.

On entering Laon Cathedral one is brought back down to earth, as the proportions are comfortable and perfect. The stone is honey coloured and the architecture is the finest it can be...this is a Rolls Royce of a building, even the Triforium is vaulted beautifully in stone and the transepts have their own mini transepts under their own twin towers. Renaissance facades, like the most exquisite mini streets, mask the little chapels which form a continuous sequence around the cathedral.

The Choir and Chancel, entered beneath a black and gold Baroque screen, culminate in a great rose window and three lancets and a flat, rather than the typically semi-circular apse, east end. Laon is a masterpiece of a building and really like no other Cathedral I have ever visited. It is hugely grand, displaying the finest possible craftsmanship and has a magic and energy to it that falls nothing short of marvelous.

Nearby Vauclair Abbey, hidden deep in trees, is at the other end of the spectrum as there is very little left apart from the unmistakable atmosphere of an ancient Religious settlement. Fish ponds, broken walls and the tall remains of a dovecote are all that is left of a once huge building and the centre of an entire community.

One cant help but reflect upon the different fates of these three buildings; the first rescued from almost certain ruin, the second gloriously commanding its hilltop site as it has done for nearly a millennium and the last a mere footprint of what it was.

Now fast forward a few hundred years and a few thousand feet and in to the Alps!

Like most indigenous architecture which has grown out of working alongside the natural environment, Chalet architecture is home-grown and unmistakable in its style. As I sit in a luxurious modern chalet writing this while the snow and wind howl around outside I am reflecting on the traditional style of this particular house, with its timber construction, balconies and great sloping roofs. Like the Churches discussed Chalets have also followed
an architectural form and the variety of decoration is as varied as the Alpine weather.

The modern chalet grew out of the old Alpine farmstead, with its house with huge wide eaves and accommodation for man and beast. Where there was once a cow stall there is now probably a sauna, but nonetheless, modern conveniences have been fitted in to age old sensible design. The herders, whose houses these would have been, would bring their cattle up to the high ground in the Summer months and spend weeks making cheese and butter to preserve the milk. The modern chalet girl/boy doesn’t know how easy their lot is!

From holiness to holidays, architecture is alive and well in France and Switzerland from sea-level to glacier!

Twitter: @oligerrish