"Who dares to teach must never cease to learn" - John Cotton Dana.
"You can't teach an old dog new tricks" - Anon.
It was definitely in the spirit of the former rather than the latter that I went along for my first golf lesson. I wasn't a complete novice at games that require you to hit a ball with an object you hold in your hand. For most of my adult life I have played either tennis or badminton at least once a week.
But the thing about racket games is that the racket head is always the same distance from your hand. In golf, with a bag full of clubs of different lengths, that simply isn't the case. Hence the need for lessons.
But golf lessons must necessarily take place at a golf club. And I have never thought of myself as a golf club sort of person. For one thing, golf clubs have rules. Rule number one, my prejudiced brain told me, was that on entering the clubhouse you must always carry a copy of the Daily Telegraph. But that advice, I discovered, is out of date. These days it can also be the Daily Mail.
The club I selected for my lessons does have one real rule, though: to play you must be wearing something red. And red is definitely not my colour. So I was feeling just a tad self-conscious in my new red shirt as I strolled towards the practice ground to meet Graham, the man charged with the challenging task of teaching me to play.
"Just hit a ball for me Stephen," Graham said, waving towards a flag that appeared to be in the next county. I lined myself up. and took a lunge at the ball. Instead of arcing gracefully into the air it ran along the ground for 20 yards and stopped.
"Inside," said Graham, pointing back towards the clubhouse. What I needed, he told me, was to start again from the very beginning. I felt a bit like the man who goes to the doctor with a sniffle only to find himself on the operating table with the sound of sawing in the air.
"Forget hitting the ball for the moment," said Graham, "grip and stance are what we must work on." I found myself in the practice room, standing in front of a huge mirror. He invited me to take up my "normal" position and then look at my reflection in the mirror.
I gripped. I stood. I looked. The hunchback of Notre Dame with a golf club in his hands looked back at me. A hunchback in red. "You see the problem," said Graham. "Straight lines are what we need." "I'm naturally round- shouldered," I protested. "Everyone can stand correctly if they try," said Graham.
So I tried. The trick was, Graham told me, to push your shoulders forward and your bottom out. When your hamstrings tighten, bend your knees and push your bottom out some more. Hmm. Graham was probably too young to know about such things as arthritis, MRI scans and degeneration of the spine. But what the hell. No pain, no gain.
I bent those knees. Pushed out that bum. Looked in the mirror. The hunchback had gone. It its place I saw a sort of demented chicken. A chicken in a red shirt. "Excellent," said Graham, "now we're ready for the ball." In my efforts to look like I was about to lay an egg I had forgotten all about the ball.
Graham dropped a ball in front of me. I gripped. I stood. I swung. I missed. In golf parlance, it's what's called an air shot. "No problem," said Graham. "All right for you to say no problem," I muttered. Out there on the course it is about the worse thing you can do short of hitting the thing straight into a muddy pond.
In my garden that evening I practised as Graham had advised. Grip. Knees. Bum. My first ball zinged into a hedge and was gone. The second disappeared over my neighbour's fence. Then, mercifully, the sun went down and I could go back inside.
I dared to learn. I lost my balls. And this was only lesson one.