Coolest game of golf in the World – Antarctic Clock Golf

Union Glacier in Antarctica is one of the most tranquil places on the planet. I was lucky enough to be down there to cover the annual Antarctic Ice Marathon, now in its 13th year.  Having been several times before and played football, volleyball and cricket with the runners as they relax and wait for the main event, I thought perhaps this year it was time for a spot of golf.

So after some research, I came across the rather forgotten game, that of clock golf. It is unknown who exactly built the first clock face course but the game is believed to have originated in the mid 19th century, supposedly by the English upper class who wanted to practice their golf putting in a more intimate way. Whatever the origins – the game became quite a success in Victorian Britain.

So after purchasing a hole and flag for the princely sum of 10 pounds and borrowing my son’s putter (it’s the only one that would fit into my luggage), I packed all my goodies along with my thermals and headed off.

The Antarctic version of the game revolves around 4 tees marking starting points to reflect the clock face. The object was to take the least amount of shots from the 4 starting points to sink a putt with strokes combined to complete their round. In this context, like in Speedgolf, the flagstick was left in during play. In the extreme conditions of the Antarctic, with temperatures of minus 25°C, players had just one round to establish their superiority as in those conditions the game has to be quick.

Aside from the icy conditions and rutted Heath Robinson course, the Inaugural Antarctic Clock Golf championship took place with a competitive field of players. Each player used the same putter and highly visible golf ball (thanks to visiongolfball.com) for their round. In the end, it was Pal Skyrud from Norway who took the men’s title and Sally Orange from Britain who took the women’s crown.

So despite coming up with the championships and practicing more than the others, I came in 3rd – close but no cigar. Still, at least, when I missed the target I didn’t miss the beauty of the landscape.

 

 

 

 

A haunting reminder of the Irish border posts

Five long days in Ireland and Northern Ireland working on various “Brexit” stories for a news broadcast client. One of the stories that we covered was exploring the possible rebuilding of customs posts between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

 As we drove to the outskirts of the Irish border town of Newry, there is a reminder of what life was like before peace came to Northern Ireland – the weed-covered, fenced-off hulk of an old customs and border post.

 During the Troubles, it was an intimidating presence in the heart of nationalist country. Now it is sinking into the rain-sodden countryside, unused for two decades as the Irish border became a fading memory.

 This morning (8th December 2017) the European Commission has announced it is recommending to the European Council that “sufficient progress” has been made in the first phase of Brexit talks, so it looks like the border question has been resolved. No hard border is likely to return!

 

The mystery of the Ashes Urn?

The Test Match series between England and Australia begins later this week in Melbourne.

But what are the origins of the famous urn and what might it contain. It has been a source of intense speculation down the years. It is reputed to be the ashes of an item of cricket equipment, a bail, perhaps a stump or is it maybe some fire ash embers?

The urn lived on his mantelpiece at a family home in Kent called Cobham Hall (which is now a private girls school), for 43 years later before being bequeathed to MCC where it lives today.

The MCC closely guards the original urn and has resisted repeated requests for it to be taken back to Australia, even on a temporary basis.

This is part of a report I filmed and produced for a sports client of ours in the run up to the Ashes series. 

 

Catalonia crisis

It’s been an interesting few days; I have been working in Barcelona for CGTN on the story that has dominated the headlines since Catalonia attempted to vote on independence. On Sunday, when we arrived there was a rally of over 300,000 people marching around waving flags – the people had spoken – they weren’t that happy with the idea of independence.

           

So, what would happen on Monday? Would many of Catalonia’s  200,000 Civil servants refuse to follow direct rule from Madrid or would  they return to work?

Most did and the main protagonist Catalonia ousted President Mr Puigdemont and several members of his deposed Cabinet fled to Belgium, apparently only hours before Spain’s Attorney General asked for charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds to be brought against them.

The crime of rebellion carries a maximum sentence of 30 years imprisonment, while sedition carries a 15-year penalty. Misuse of public funds is punishable with a six-year jail term. So, perhaps you can see why he did a runner. It was another real twist in the story that no one foresaw.  

We did about a dozen lives into various programmes and cut a couple of packages. Interesting times for Spain!

The Human Polar Bear – Lewis Gordon Pugh

I first came across Lewis on a bitterly cold morning in Oulu, central Finland. I was there to cover the World Winter swimming Championships for a couple of clients.

I was walking about lost trying to find the press centre (the local library) and saw another chap who was also looked lost – it was Lewis.  We got talking and a friendship was born. From that chat I ended up working and filming Lewis on many of his swimming adventures over a two year period– His full-length swim of the River Thames, swimming across the Maldives, the longest cold-water swim in the World (in some Fjord in Norway) and his preparation for his biggest adventure – the North Pole swim.

He is the only person to have completed a long distance swim in every ocean of the world, including across a glacial lake under Mt Everest and off Antarctica. Besides being an advocate for the world’s oceans, Lewis is also a maritime lawyer, a former reservist in the British SAS, and the author of the international bestseller Achieving the Impossible.

His so called speedo diplomacy has evolved views in high places. He was credited by the UN for helping to secure the protection of the Ross Sea in Antarctica, a huge area the size of the  UK, Italy, Germany and France combined. Lewis has been ‘making waves’ for more than 10 years now, braving the coldest places on earth to bring attention to a warming planet. He’s the first human to have completed a long-distance swim in every ocean of the world. Read more about his expeditions at http://lewispugh.com/expeditions-page/

 

Elephant Polo and becoming an ‘Olympic Champion’

 

Firstly, let me explain a brief history of this sport – it‘s believed to have been played for many years on the subcontinent, but it wasn’t formalized as a “sport,” until 1982.  In a bar in St. Moritz where Jim Edwards, owner of Tiger Tops in Nepal, was having cocktails with James Manclark, a Scottish  landowner and former Olympic tobogganer. Manclark loved polo. Edwards owned elephants and a conversation developed.  Back in Nepal, sometime later, Edwards received a telegram from Manclark that read: “Have long sticks. Get elephants ready!” The rest as they say is history.

Play is similar to that of horse polo, with four riders per side, but there are some major differences. The field is far shorter, 100 meters long, compared with a 300-yard horse polo pitch also the games are brief, just two ten-minute chukkers. The elephants are organized into four groups and during the 15-minute break between chukkers, teams switch ends and elephants.

There are some rules: No more than three elephants per team can be in a particular half of the field at one time, and only one elephant per team may enter the 20-meter-deep semicircle zone around each goal. It is also illegal for an elephant to lie down in front of the goal. The elephants are “driven” by local mahouts, the player tries to communicate where he wishes to go – which is easier said than done, and considering that most of the mahouts and the elephants only understand Nepalese. 

The World Elephant Polo Championships takes place over five mornings. No elephant may play consecutive games, and matches must be completed by noon, when the heat begins to set in. To keep the animals fuelled, sugar cane or rice balls packed with vitamins (molasses and rock salt) are given to the elephants at the end of each match.

                                     

To the outsider it seems absurd, if not cruel to force elephants to play polo, but having witnessed five World championships in Nepal, my experience is that at least there, these beautiful creatures are extremely well treated by their mahouts, who care for their elephant for life. The event raises significant funds for elephant welfare in Nepal and for less fortunate people living within the local areas and Tiger Tops, the host has played a pioneering role in conservation and anti poaching projects in Nepal.

I became an ‘Olympic Champion’ quite by accident – It was back in November 2009 and it was the last of 4 tournaments that I covered, as the sponsorship from Chivas was pulled the following year.

I had an assignment to film and produce World-wide News coverage for my client Chivas Regal and the Championships. That year the location in Nepal had changed and we were heading to Karnali Jungle Lodge instead of the usual Tiger Tops jungle camp. Flights and transportation were a little trickier – unfortunately one of the players for the Chivas team had missed his flight and wouldn’t be able get there for a few days. Cutting a long story short – I was asked to make up the team. I duly accepted.

I had a taste of Elephant Polo in previous tournaments in the fun guest match, but not actually for a team. So I was ill prepared but the World Elephant Polo Olympic Quaich Title was in sight.

My team had the world’s best elephant polo players with prolific goal scorer Peter “Powerhouse” Prentice as well as  Raj “the Silver Fox” Kalaan, a former star of the Indian national polo team and a colonel in the world’s last mounted regiment plus British expat and business man Geoffrey Dobbs, who was also an accomplished player.

Heralded as one of the finest matches of the tournament, Chivas representing Scotland, started well with Peter Prentice scoring 4 goals in the 1st chukka for the Scots to lead 5-3 at half time. The UAE’s Fosroc Sepoys then came back hard in the final chukka, cutting the deficit to a single goal with 4 minutes left to play. The UAE team did all they could to get level, but Chivas Scotland hung on in gallant fashion to celebrate their first ever WEPA Olympic Gold Medal victory by 5-4.

 

This certainly ranks as one of my treasured experiences, but I have to say it’s the gentle giants of the Jungle who always prove to be the stars of the show, deservedly so!

Elephant Polo is registered as an Olympic sport with the Nepal Olympic Committee; however it is unlikely to be included in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics or indeed anytime soon.

 

World Hickory Golf Championships

It was my second year covering this event and it is one of my favourites. In a nutshell, Hickory Golf is played with original or pre-1936 replica hickory shafted clubs.

Most of the players play in traditional early 20th century attire with a thin leather bag slung over their shoulder, each bag rattling a cleek, mashie and several other old wooden golf clubs.

The Championships all started back in 2005, when a small group of players assembled for a friendly competition on the historic Old Course at Musselburgh in Scotland. This year, the links course at Kilspindie Golf Club, Aberlady, Scotland was the venue for this fun and friendly tournament. Notably, Kilspindie is reputed as one of the oldest 50 clubs in the world, so an apt venue for the championship. Participants came from across the UK and there was also a strong International contingent, especially from the US and Switzerland.

After two extremely blustery days with winds of up to 40 mph, it was the Carnoustie professional golfer Fraser Mann who outclassed all his opponents. It was the first time Fraser had won the competition, having entered the Championships every year since it started, a just reward for his patience and determination.  He is now one of the growing list of professionals and amateurs competing, as this old form of golf gains momentum and popularity.

It may look gentile, but fierce rivalries motivate many of the competitors, along with the opportunity to experience playing on one of Scotland’s historic courses and the chance to dress the part in plus-fours, flat cap and woollen sweaters.

 

Live broadcasts – never boring!

I have always enjoyed filming “lives” for TV news and live sporting events – one reason for this is that anything can happen especially when a large crowds are involved. If it’s a football crowd, then standing behind the reporter singing or indeed shouting pointless remarks is often the order of the day – also swearing and showing body parts, seem to be obligatory.

But the rugby fans are different – they are on the whole friendly, humorous and entertaining.

Here’s a recent clip from the last Rugby World Cup – where our reporter from the French sporting channel “L’Equipe” was blissfully unaware of some antics in the background; although he was wondering why I was smiling a lot from behind the camera. ‘The Frogmen’ made a refreshing change from the norm in terms of interview crowd disruption!  

 

Polar Clothing – getting it right is a must!

Unless you are an utter masochist, there’s absolutely nothing enjoyable about heading to the Arctic and Antarctic regions without dressing for the occasion. Those jolly Norwegians have a great saying ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” and I have to say I couldn’t agree more.

The real key is layering. Rather than take one very large thick layer, I take several thinner layers that can be put on or off as the conditions dictate. So whether I am filming in the katabatic winds, sitting on the ski-doo or walking around camp the in sunshine I can remain pretty comfortable.

The essentials I take are a “down filled parka” this is extremely warm and can easily be thrown on over my inner insulating layers for immediate warmth. Underneath the outer layer I have two other insulating layers (merino wool), a fleece, insulated leggings, big thermal boots, gloves (I have several pairs depending if I am filming or just walking about) balaclava, neck gaiter, beanie hat and my trusty old Russian Zhivago fur hat with ear flaps (which I purchased in Moscow many years ago.)

 Even with all the correct gear on, the coldness still can find a gap and at ¯40° it’s pretty unforgiving – on occasions when I wasn’t so well prepared, it was not only my hands that turned blue!

 

Interviewing the 7th Python

I had Neil Innes email for a while, but had never got around to dropping him a line –then I saw a YouTube clip of Monty Python’s Holy Grail and the “Singing Minstrel” and it reminded me I should contact him – I am very pleased I did.

He was playing a rare show in a small theatre called the Ropetackle in Shoreham, West Sussex. I had arranged to meet him after his sound check for a half an hour interview.

We chatted about his days working with the Monty Python team, the Bonzo Dog-Doo Band and the Rutles (which I loved as a kid.) He then started to tell me a few anecdotes about some meetings he had with John Lennon.

As it was coming up to the 30th anniversary of John Lennon’s death, I asked him where he was when he heard the news. Looking back at the interview now still brings a little lump to my throat. He was an absolute pleasure to interview and his show wasn’t half bad either.

Still not too sure about the headwear!

 

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