Dear Friends

DF 19 - Iditarod (February 2001)

February 2001

Dear Friends

Here I am in Australia again. I've been treated to a few days at the Hyatt Regency in Coolum along with DP's manager Bruce Payne and a couple of friends, Drew and Nikki Thompson. Good way to recover after a long journey and I'm all set for the onslaught. Jimmy Barnes is coming in tonight, maybe I can persuade him to hop up and sing a bit on one of the shows. I'm off to Sydney in the morning for a TV, then on to Melbourne where I meet up with the rest of the guys for rehearsals until Saturday, when we are doing something at the jamboree the day before the F1 Grand Prix and hopefully I get to see the race on Sunday before flying on to Perth, where we kick off the tour proper. Paicey and I follow the F1 season wherever we may be. He carries around his own satellite dish, so even if we're gigging he can record the race and then, for a modest fee, he lets me watch it. We've never been to a GP before so it's a big deal, and, even better, our show in Kuala Lumpur coincides with the Malaysian GP......serendip.

Bruce is a keen golfer and Drew very kindly set me up with a set of clubs, so the three of us have been out doing the rounds.

Golf is just another game, isn't it.

I've always enjoyed games and sport. I'm not very competitive and so I don't have the 'edge' which takes the average performer just that little bit further. I'm a great fan of cricket and football, although I do more watching than playing these days. Every now and then, in my sporting prime, I would splatter the stumps with a wicked yorker, or hit a boundary, or take a spectacular diving catch. Actually it was more 'few and far between' than 'every now and then'.

I played in goal on and off for a village police football team over a period of ten years. We normally lost by many goals to nothing, but I would make the occasional stunning save. That save, along with a rare corner (we weren't a complete pushover) gave us the reason to turn up each week, as, at the 'Sunday pint' after the game, we would turn a humiliating defeat into a thoroughly deserved moral victory.

I was an all-rounder at athletics; pretty average at everything, never quite good enough to shine at the normal events. The sports masters would despair of me; I had the body of a decathlete and the coordination of a newborn giraffe. Eventually I did OK at the pole vault, this was in the days before they had bendy poles, which accounts for my longer than average arms. I was strong and very dangerous at the javelin; however that turned out to be an unacceptable combination of skills. I could run great distances, but very, very slowly, and, as they needed a calendar rather than a stop-watch for Gillan, I never got picked for the ninety mile trot.

Tennis was exciting, I would thunder around the court going for impossible returns and attempt to put so much backspin on every ball that it would bounce back into my court before the opponent(s) had a chance to hit it. I succeeded with this shot once in my entire life, but boy was it worth the wait.

I used to play table tennis at the youth club and I developed a serve that was so fast that I stood back in awe whenever I got one in. Sadly only one in five connected with the other court and they were returned with a ferocity which I considered quite unbecoming, in a friendly game. Bob Marley was quite impressed with my serve when we used to play at Island Records in the late seventies.

Being good at Snooker is regarded in England as the sign of a misspent youth, so out of respect to my Mother I was a very average snooker player, although I did put in a lot of practice. Later in life things got rather better on the green baize, although I left the long and complicated game behind, and developed a passion for the cunningly hybrid 'English' pool. I even played in a league team for a couple of years until I discovered the captain was drinking my beer. I still play today and I have a table at home over which many pleasurable hours are spent with friends. I consider myself slightly above average at pool, but that is because I'm an expert at whimsy.

Swimming just came naturally. I learned to swim at Alum Bay in The Isle of Wight. Alum Bay is famous for its coloured sands. My method was simple: stand in my own depth with the water up to my chest, then hold my breath and duck under the water for a comfortable period of say ten seconds. Knowing that I could put my feet down at any time, and armed with the knowledge that I wouldn't drown for at least one sixth of a minute, I found it quite easy to get forward motion: lo and behold, there I was on the surface, swimming. It was not, and still isn't, a conventional style, but I do have endurance and sometimes I swim all day. I did move on to scuba diving and one day nearly drowned Chet, my instructor during my 'advanced open water' tuition. He choked with laughter at my novel attempt to reach him without fins, as I tucked them under my arm, sank to the bottom and walked across the ocean floor; it seemed logical to me but completely destroyed the purpose of the exercise.

I was below average at darts, but very consistent. I could be relied upon to score twenty-six every time I approached the oche.

I'm average at chess although I love the game. I win as many as I lose but, with great respect to my friends, I'm not sure they present the stiffest challenge.

So what is it about golf that makes me so sickeningly pathetic compared to a lofty average in all other games or sports? I've been playing at the game for twenty odd years. I'm a member of my local club. I have on occasions played a few consecutive pars. Just when I'm striking the ball cleanly and true the whole thing falls to pieces and oops, there I am on the next fairway or in the pond. Even more embarrassing is the confident swipe with a three iron that gyros thirty feet forward onto the ladies tee. Then there's the putting. When my driving and pitching is comical I putt like a pro, and when I manage to reach the green in regulation….. I six-putt.

It's the advice I've been given, I'm sure of it. Stance, hands, head down, glove (very important to wear one glove), dress code (grrr!), play off the back foot, sand shots, slow down, half swing, you're standing too close to the ball (after I've hit it), practice swing. There's no shortage of advice, all well meant I know, but it conspires to unhinge me. It's a mind thing. All the other games I have played were started as a kick-about, or fooling around in the street where, as a kid, I thought nothing about technique or style but just threw myself into it as an enthusiastic amateur with no thought of success, just a keen desire to play a part. I've had lessons and the teachers have left scratching their heads. I've been on the practice range for hours until every ball is screaming for mercy. I've been told I have great potential when I get it together once in a blue moon, and then someone gives me advice and it all collapses. What am I to do? No don't tell me………please.

I get the impression that there is a general sense of approval for the changes we've made to Caramba. There will be a new feature coming up very shortly and I'd like to introduce it right here and now. One of our great contributors to the old guest book was Jnthn Tate (AKA rabid dog). We stayed in touch and I recently became aware of an incredible project into which he has thrown himself. You may have heard of the Iditarod Race in Alaska. This is one of the last great challenges, and in ranks alongside 'running with the bulls' in Pamplona for excitement but leaves that event far behind in terms of preparation, technique, teamwork and raw danger. The idea is to travel through the most severe conditions found on Earth with a team of dogs and a sled.

Jnthn, or Jon as we may get to know him, wrote to me a while ago asking if I would mind if he flew the Caramba flag for his team. I said I would be thrilled and honoured for us to be involved in such an adventure from the outset. When I say the outset I mean that he is a long way from entering the race and we are looking to a minimum of two years preparation. He has made a start. He's building a team. He's going to keep us in touch with reports in some form or another, maybe a diary, and we're going to put up a nice presentation on Caramba, and we're going to support him all the way. We're going to see pictures of the dogs, he has a puppy called Gunga Din, and I have promised him that I will move heaven and earth to be at the start line of the Iditarod if and when he makes it. The journey to that point is how shall I put it? ….Hey, Caramba!

Watch this space.

Got to run, things to do

Peace & love,
Ian Gillan
Copyright © Ian Gillan 2001

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