If at First

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A few years ago I was still managing to keep my mother – elderly and frail – living in her own home, which was what she wanted. But she had a collection of medical problems any one of which could flare up into a crisis without notice. Every now and again, I would get a call from one of her carers telling me that her GP had called an ambulance. I would then rush to the hospital to ensure she was properly attended to and to give her comfort. Deep down I was worried that she would never be able to return home again but instead would be cooped up in hospital or a nursing home for the rest of her life.

In this period of acute anxiety I had two sources of comfort. One, naturally, was my family. The other – and I’m afraid this will seem a dreadful moment of bathos – was The Clicking of Cuthbert, a book of short stories by P. G. Wodehouse.

As it happens these stories are about golf, which might put you off. But actually they are about rather more than that. I suppose all novels – perhaps all books – have an implicit message about what life means and what it’s about. These humorous stories have an implied idea too – an idea I found wonderfully cheering at the time, and still do: that there is something rather heroic about a chap who keeps struggling against the odds, like Cyrano de Bergerac or Don Quixote.

My particular image of heroic and, in the end, pointless endeavour is that of a golfer playing alone during the twilight of a cold wintry day. There he is in a dark, distant part of the course taking twelve shots at every hole. But he still keeps at it. He fails and fails again but he keeps trying. It is only a game, but he loves it. And that, in a few sentences, is life. Ridiculous? Well, in life we flog our guts out and try to achieve things or find true love or just get the kitchen clean and finally it all ends in nothingness. In a hundred years, none of us will be here and hardly anyone will remember us. Yet we keep on putting

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About the contributor

James Bartholomew has written various books and been a journalist. But his best moment was his tee shot at the 17th at Lambourne, near Slough. He used a 7 iron, and if you don’t shift smartly he will tell you all about it.

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