Shamefully, I had long been prejudiced against golf and golfers, and was amused when someone described the game as “a good walk spoiled”. Unfairly, I associated golf with suburban chaps who say things like “Name your poison, squire!” and refer to their spouses as “my lady wife”. This is clearly uncharitable and judgmental. For all I know, your average golfer may, in the words of PG Wodehouse, be curled up of an evening with a copy of Spinoza.
My anti-golf prejudices were shared by those members of my generation who were rebels and revolutionaries. When the civil rights movement started in Northern Ireland in 1969, and unrest followed repressive police measures, Bernadette Devlin, the firebrand young MP, said sardonically: “There’ll be no riotin’ in the golf clubs!” Bernadette’s supporters saw golf as a smug, middle-class institution preserving the status quo.
Yet in a sweet turnaround of events, this bourgeois sporting pursuit is proving to be a positive and uplifting unifier in Ireland, north and south, with joyful celebrations at the victory of the Irish champion, Shane Lowry, at Royal Portrush.
Holding the Open golf tournament at that lovely resort in Northern Ireland has been an altogether welcome boost for the whole region, and while the political classes clutch their heads over the conundrum of the Brexit Irish backstop, golf emerges as the champion of ecumenism and inclusiveness.
Lowry comes from a small town in Co Offaly in the Irish midlands called Clara. Clara’s name was sometimes evoked as the ultimate backwater. But now Clara can stand proud with the triumph of its native son, golf champion.
Yet Shane himself also sees the bigger picture. North and south of the border, he said, he found the same spirit of congratulation and generosity: “Golf has always been an all-Ireland game.”
There was indeed no rioting in the golf clubs – but who would have predicted that in its own way this decorous sport would turn out to be an agency for
Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematical and computer scientist who died in 1954, is a worthy subject to adorn the British £50 note. Turing pioneered much of modern computer science, and he played a key role in decrypting the Enigma code which helped to defeat Hitler’s Germany.
One advantage of a nation having its own currency is that it can illustrate banknotes with men and women who deserve honour, illuminating their lives and drawing people into the narrative of history. I remember, back in the day, being fascinated by the beautiful French banknotes illustrated with portraits of Cardinal Richelieu and the writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
It seems regrettable that today France, Germany, Italy and most of the other EU countries are denied biographical history in the form of banknotes. The euro notes, as we know, are strictly impersonal, with purely symbolic bridges and window frames, deliberately avoiding any specific historical allusion.
So the Bank of England’s decision to feature Alan Turing is surely welcome. It is often claimed, by the way, that Turing took his own life in 1954 when he was subjected to hormonal treatment, after being convicted of a homosexual offence. But this apparent suicide is disputed: some biographers claim he was carrying out a cyanide test and killed himself by mistake. Like many boffins, he could be odd and impractical.
The mystery of his death makes his story more tragic, but also more enigmatic and engaging. That’s what a banknote image can do – involve you with a life, and a history.
There’s now an app that can project a person’s face into the future, and produce a computerised image of how they will look in their 80s or 90s. The celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey, the broadcaster Jeremy Vine and the performer Courteney Cox are among others who have publicly tried the FaceApp, which wrinkles them profusely.
This could develop into an interesting spiritual exercise – with the added provision of how it feels, on the inside, rather than cosmetically, to be a great age. The saints and sages have been doing it for centuries – especially in their reflections on death and mortality.
Follow Mary Kenny on Twitter: @MaryKenny4
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