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Update 7 March 2005

The 1,001 Mornings of Reggie Buckhorn
Character by EO Costello in collaboration with Simon Barber

"Putting on the Ritz"

May 1936

Putting On The Ritz
May 1936
by Simon Barber.
Reggie & Lodge © E.O.Costello.
Other characters free for Spontoon use.

“Lodge,” I addressed that worthy as the Summer sun set on the veranda of Shepherd’s Hotel and I contemplated wonderful views both inside and outside the well-filled cocktail glass “back at Eton they used to tell us such tales of our rude ancestors. Hard to believe it, but the cave paintings show our extremely-great grandsires living life in the raw, with no protection from their carnivorous opponents but their wits and a good club.”

    “Yes, Sir. The rock art at Altamira in Northern Spain is most noted for its scenes of ancient life. Scholars calculate the style lasted well into the Early Cimmerian epoch.” Lodge’s own ancestry had evidently fed well on fish, that excellent brain-food, and commenced teething on encyclopaedias as soon as they left the stone tablet era.

I picked up my club, and gave a meditative swing with it. “It’s good that some of us follow in the old traditions, don’t you think? I may well have ancestors with one or two more wits and theirs were doubtless sharpened on the harsh grindstone of Necessity, but in compensation … I do have a much better club.”

It had started two weeks before, at the end of a rousing evening at Shepherd’s where the repair bills would exceed the evening’s bar tab. The local decorators owe much of their prosperity to the Buckhorn knack of making a party (and many a chandelier) go with a bang.
    “Oh, you’re THAT Buckhorn.” The voice came from a skinny tiger in a stained white suit who had been drinking bloody Marys all evening with two cronies, a fox and a hound. “Five years I was at that school, they fed us Buckhorn’s Baked Beans every goddam day! We’d kick the cans around when they were empty; we should have done it to the cook. Feeding us cheap veg, and us being carnivores. Gave us gas.”

    I looked at the fellow with some mild amusement. “I cannot, Sir, be responsible for what your school did with the family products. They are perfectly good beans, don’t you know. But I can applaud their chef more than whoever was in charge of the admission list.”

    It took the fellow a few seconds to work this one out, and for a second it looked as if the fur was going to start flying. But then he calmed himself down. “I’ve hardly touched a vegetable since. That’s the way to eat. And I can beat any of you plant-chompers hollow at sports to prove it.”

    I shot my cuffs and looked down my muzzle at him; evidently the fellow didn’t appreciate the finer things in life. “A sporting duel, then? How about tennis?”

    “Make it doubles!” Toby had come in and picked up the plot; the fellow may be a bit of an ass in more ways than one but he does know the ins and outs of a backhand smash.
I nodded. “Doubles it is. We’ll book a court, if we can find one. And bring a friend as a partner – if you can find one.”

The bartender at Shepherd’s is also in charge of the tennis courts. He leaned over with a concerned air, and reminded me about the tournament being held for the rest of the week. “Well, that’s dashed awkward.”

The tiger gave an unpleasantly large grin. “You’ve had your choice, now it’s my turn. I say golf – and my brother’s arriving tomorrow. His name’s Hamish Sneath.”
“I say! Golf’s not really my game!” I could feel the battle going in an unwanted direction already. Though I had potted the occasional ball, I was far better with a racquet. Tennis courses are much nearer a friendly club-house on average, unlike golf where rain and darkness finds one a mile away from succour thrashing at a ball entrenched in a bunker with the impregnability the Hindenburg Line could only envy, while one’s caddy makes gruff Scottish noises. The only time I managed to impress a champion golfer was with the shot I simultaneously hooked and sliced, which he swore violated not only the laws of golf but those of physics besides.

“I’m not bad at the noble sport.” That was Toby of course, putting his muzzle into things.

“Golfing doubles then, you and your pal against me and Hamish. Deal! We’ll be here tomorrow at four, ready to play.” And so the Tiger pounced on his prey, with all of Shepherd’s watching and our reputation as good sports of varied kinds suddenly to play for. With that he finished his drink and bounced off with the air of one having sold a brass watch for gold prices.

“Toby, you ARE an ass.” I told my equine associate. “I just hope you can carry your weight on this one. I’ve putted around a bit, but I’m no expert.”

Just then the fellow’s ears dropped, and his expression was that of having discovered his mess bill was due the day his bank account hit zero. “Hamish Sneath. Oh no. It can’t be him. Not out here!”
“Do you know the fellow? Creditor, old school chum or the like?” Toby’s from a distinguished line of East Coast equines, and is known to money-lenders and their collection agents all across the hemisphere. Which is why he is currently in the opposite hemisphere, but I digress.

The fellow gave a moan, and ordered another Moscow Mule. “I’ve never met him. But I’ve just remembered how I know that name. Oh, don’t I just.” And the fellow started sinking beverages as if he had just heard prohibition was making a comeback tour.

It may have been some awful premonition, but I kept a relatively clear head that night and retired well before dawn; Lodge seemed surprised to see me awake when he entered with the coffee and muffins.

    “Sir has an engagement today?” The fellow knows that I am not a gratuitous early riser.

    I blinked, letting the room come into focus. Shepherd’s Hotel is not cheap but it is good value; many mornings I wake up seeing twice as many of everything they bill me for. Suddenly it all snapped back into place.

    “Golf. Doubles with Toby Trotter, this afternoon. Honour of the herbivores at stake, and all that. Lodge, see if you can acquire a set of clubs. It’s been a year and more since I last mashed a ball with a mashie or nibbled a tee with a niblick.”

    Lodge looked down at me, one eyebrow raised. “I fear that will prove difficult, Sir.”

    “How difficult can it be, Lodge? These islands swarm with tourists, good sports and otherwise. I’ve seen at least two sporting goods shops on Casino Island.”

    He gave a discreet cough. “The clubs are not the issue, Sir. I am in regular communication with the valets of various gentlemen, and that of Mister Trotter informs me his employer is currently in the local Hospital, having taken a tumble from a bicycle in the early hours of this morning.”

    “Oh.” The midnight cycling had been my idea, I recalled; some exercise had sounded like just the thing to set us up for the tournament, and Toby had departed into the night at high speed saying he was just out for a spin. In flying terms, it seemed he had failed to pull out of the spin before hitting the ground. “Well, that tears it. Still, he wasn’t keen on the contest.” A thought struck me. “Lodge, in the context of golfing, does the name Hamish Sneath mean anything to you? That’s the fellow I’ll be playing, I believe.”

    Lodge’s whiskers went straight out; I might as well have told him that in the spirit of International Understanding I had agreed a year’s valet swap with Ioseph Starling. “Mister Hamish Sneath the golfer, Sir? Sir is playing him?”

    “Why, yes indeed, this very day. If it can’t be doubles, I suppose the match has to default to singles.” Looking at the sturdy fellow, I had a sneaking suspicion there was a shock on the way. “You’ve heard of the chap, I take it.”

    “Oh, yes, Sir. He has been in the newspapers this week, having played in the Marquesas One Thousand trophy.”

    “A thousand pound trophy? That’s a substantial thing to play for. Perhaps I can pick up a pointer or two from him.”

    Lodge gave a hollow laugh. “I fear you misunderstand, Sir. The Marquesas Islands are mostly exceedingly steep with an almost total lack of level ground. Typically they are shaped somewhat like …” he searched for an example familiar to me “somewhat like a policeman’s helmet. They have the world’s only par one thousand 18-hole course.”

    “Hmm.” This was indeed strong medicine to take before finishing one’s first coffee of the day. “And this fellow got around that course? It sounds severe.” I had once heard an exceedingly inebriated scientific gentleman darkly mutter about a 9-hole course on Cranium Island where the hazards included gateways to the fourth dimension, but he had been mixing Nootnops Blue and tequila.

    “Indeed, Sir. There is a three hundred yard drive across to the final hole which is on another island entirely. There is a considerable water hazard, and indeed a shark hazard, not to mention coral and jellyfish hazards. Mr. Sneath completed the course …” and here he whispered reverently, “fifty-seven under par.” Evidently Lodge was one of those whose sporting religion includes a sacred veneration of St. Andrew’s hallowed shrine. “The course is reputedly not without its hazards, but the proprietors boast a fatality rate of less than one percent.” He paused. “Although that average figure does include the Native caddies who are familiar with local conditions and rarely fall off the precipices at the eighth hole.”

    “Rarely?” Though no mountain goats, my ancestors knew steep things apart from steep bar bills.

    He gave a quiet cough. “Rarely more than once, Sir. Mister Sneath accomplished all that considerably below scratch.” I almost expected the fellow to genuflect.

    Well, the nearest I’ve been to a scratch player was that incident at Eton with the itching-powder. It looked like I had been well and truly set to take a tumble, up against a carnivore who went round every course devouring eagles and birdies without spoiling his appetite. “Ye Gods, Lodge! That ass Toby has truly landed me in it! But fetch me the clubs regardless; this encounter may be on par with the Charge Of The Light Brigade but never let it be said a Buckhorn shirked an affair of honour.” I sighed. “Then I had better get to Eastern Island to practice; they have the only course in the Spontoons.” There is a considerable Aircraft Hazard on the second hole, but it provides some interesting records. By all accounts, in the open-cockpit days one ball fell into the fuselage of a departing aircraft and had to be played back from where it next touched the ground in Hawaii.

    Suddenly Lodge’s whiskers perked up. “Sir? If I may point out … broadly speaking, there IS another course open to you, one might say.”

As arranged, I met up with my opponents at half past three, having taken Lodge’s advice and submitted to him making the arrangements. There were two Tigers lurking behind a table at the far end of the bar; my adversary of the previous evening and a larger sibling, both of them dressed in the regulation sweater, flat cap and plus fours.
    “Well, so you’re calling it quits, eh? I’m not surprised.” The smaller one sneered. “Going to claim you have a pressing social function elsewhere?” He had spotted the fact that I was in full white tie and impeccably brushed white tail, the outfit complete with top hat and gleamingly polished hooves. There was no deceiving this sharp (and sharp-toothed) fellow.

    “Quits? Oh no. I’m playing, have no fear. My partner is indisposed, but I have booked the course.” I leaned on my brassie, which was of convenient size to stand in for a cane. “My valet will caddy for me. Lead the way, Lodge.”

    As an interested procession followed us out across the terrace bar, Mr. Hamish Sneath suddenly stopped and pointed across to the water-taxis pulled up on the beach. “Hey! You’re going the wrong way! The Eastern Island water taxi’s that way; I’ve spent the morning walking the course and getting my eye in.” A carnivorous smile settled on his features. “It’s got a four hundred yard first hole, I potted it in five.”

    I raised my top hat to him. “Eastern Island may well be that direction, Sir, but as your brother chose the sport it was my turn to name the venue. This way, if you please.” And I continued my stately process along the seafront promenade towards the Casino and the cheaper end of town, where the amusements are laid out for the tour-boat crowds.

    It was gratifying to hear a matching pair of groans from behind me as they realised just where I was heading. Somewhere Mr. Sneath’s ability to take two hundred yard drives would do him no good at all.

“Now, this is nothing to the Atlantic City course they called the “Eighteen hell-holes”,” I commented half an hour later, teeing up to the first shot. “They scorned the conventional water hazards and sand hazards – mere fawn’s play. No, they took advantage of the Depression to buy up industrial machinery for a song and install on the course to enliven the game. They had a boiling tar-pit hazard, an acid-bath hazard and a whole array of industrial mincing machines ready to trap the unwary slice and slice it yet finer. One suspects the owners had shares in a golf-ball factory.”

    It was a tricky enough shot in all conscience; unlike regular matches timing was everything. “Fore!” I gave the ball a sturdy tap with the brassie. It ricocheted along the brightly painted channel and just slipped between the turning blades of the miniature windmill that defended the entrance to the green. Another small putt sufficed to sink it in the hole. “Birdie, I believe.” There came another groan as the famed Mr. Sneath’s own ball was caught by the blades and was swept into the deep, soft sand. Two striped tails drooped like dishrags.

    “That’s not in the rules! Importing quicksand in the bunker!” His junior brother looked on aghast as the ball sank out of sight in the foaming swamp.

    “Crazy Golf, Sir, has its own rules.” Its courses, I reminded myself, were generally nearer places of amusement and refreshment, and normally lacking in crusty Oldest Members demanding hefty membership fees. This sport was far more to my tastes.
I approached the second tee with some trepidation. “Lodge,” I breathed, surveying it while the Sneaths thrashed around in the four-inch deep quicksand, kept fluid by the compressed air grill beneath the hazard. Anything sinks in that. “Have you ever seen such a route? More like a roller-coaster ride than a golf hole.”

“Indeed, Sir. There is a famous skittle alley in Barsetshire where the home team have been unbeaten in thirty years. Mathematicians have been known to suffer nervous prostration after unwisely looking too hard at the curves; the precise way in which it warps is explained not by subsidence but the equations of Herr Einstein.”

“Umm.” I rolled up my sleeves, trusted to luck and gave the ball a good whack with the baffy. It stayed on track through the loop-the-loop, around the chicane and just trickled onto the second green. Two taps with the cleek dropped it into the hole as I pulled out my score card. “Three under par. What ho!”

By this time Hamish Sneath had pulled out a Spade Mashie and was doing his best to bale out the quicksand. Rather a thankless task, but one to amuse the crowd. One could see the fellow’s energy, but local knowledge would have proved more useful; despite what my Sire frequently says, a life of idleness can be a jolly useful way of gathering experience.

“Hole three. The roulette wheel.” This was another hazard unique to the Spontoon course; possibly the view of the Casino just a hundred yards away had inspired it. There was a steadily spinning disc set in the concrete of the course painted as that shrine before which gamblers tithe frequently and occasionally sacrifice all; if the ball hit it at just the right speed it would pick up enough spin to make the turn onto the last green.

“The putter, Sir?” Lodge looked on avidly. To him, it must have seemed a strange parallel world next to the more standard rules; just like when Missionaries keep finding all those Lost Tribes of Israel hidden in Tibetan valleys and retaining ancient beliefs and practices otherwise long lost to history. A fascinating study, though not something one would actually want to convert to.
“Yes indeed, Lodge, the putter.” Behind me, the Sneath team had cleared the second hole in twenty-seven, and to the delight of the crowd managed to stall at the top of the loop-the-loop, plummet and bounce off the track into the rough. Some fellows in pilot costumes did groan in sympathy to be sure, but only as in watching a foe shot down and crashing.

I must say, if my luck on that golfing roulette wheel could be relied on at the ones in the Casino, I could snap my hoof-paws at my Sire’s muttered threats to leave me here with my allowance only payable on approval of the Temperance League. A sweet shot of five yards, then a thirty degree turn on the wheel and bang into the final straight. “Top hole! Hole in three, to be precise. Eight under par.” I may be easy meat on a standard course, but I have watched hundreds struggle against the odds on this hole from the Madston Hotel balcony overlooking it, and know exactly how much oomph to give the ball.

Lodge totted up the score card. “Indeed, Sir.” He furrowed his brow in concentration. “On scale, Sir would have done the Marquesas One Thousand at one hundred below par.” The crowd began to clap, and I doffed the top hat to take a bow.

    There was a sound of despair as of a tiger plummeting into a tiger-trap, followed by a conceding of defeat much like Napoleon’s at Waterloo as the Sneath team realised they were twenty over par and felt decidedly under the weather. There were another two holes to play, but their engineering was far too hideous to describe. One of the edifices was something of a mystery; some sportsmen declare it was bought as surplus from a gentleman on Cranium Island, and others whisper that it escaped under its own volition. Confidence is all, in these things, and Mr. Hamish Sneath was led away muttering about having “caught a tropical strain of the Yips.” Lodge explained that the aforementioned ailment was a golfing style defect causing poor putting, and that modern medicine had not as yet perfected a vaccination against it.

“Cheers!” It was cocktail hour again at Shepherd’s Hotel, where a somewhat shamefaced pair of tigers had their wallets out and were paying tribute to the winner via the bartender. Toby had showed up with a large bandage on his head; fortunately he had not fallen on anything valuable.
I raised my glass. “Here’s to Buckhorn’s fine food – builder of the bodies of champions! So the advertisements say, and I certainly was fed enough of the family fare.” True enough, that had included test batches that were never released to the general public such as Buckhorn’s Tropical Treat Durian Surprise.
    “Cheers.”  “Cheers.” Two glasses were raised glumly, though the draught must have been bitter through no fault of the bartender.

    The Buckhorn glass was full, and for one brief moment all was right with the world. “Although some have accused me being deficient in drive,” I bowed modestly, “when it comes to putting up a good fight, just you ask for Reggie Buckhorn!”