In the swing of continuing education

I am pleased to report that I am participating in lifelong learning on the grand scale. In the words of the national priorities for education, I am developing skills which "encourage creativity and ambition".

Individual targets have been set to measure my levels of attainment and performance and my progress is being monitored on a regular basis, by my brother-in-law and long-suffering mentor Jim Quinn, of St Augustine's High School in Edinburgh.

I have, at an advanced age, become an apprentice golfer.

As my half century dawned and the galloping years terminated my 25-year stint as a lowly squash player, I was prevailed upon to sample the delights of the pitching wedge and the mashie niblick. Squash is a thoroughly enjoyable and delightfully simple sport. If you hit the wall with your shot, that is good. If you miss, that implies that your basic skills are in need of refinement. Golf is the most frustrating and stress-inducing activity known to man and I am at a loss to discern why any headteacher would pursue additional angst in this way.

Golfers share a mysterious arcane vocabulary only accessible to the initiated. Matchplay, stablefords and greensomes all designate different ways of scoring a match. In a recent Edinburgh staff encounter, I discovered the terrifying implications of the greensomes dispensation.

Essentially, it meant that after Dennis Cartwright, principal teacher of physical education, had effortlessly launched his tee-shot skywards towards the distant flag, I was required to take the next shot using his ball.

Dennis exhibited remarkable forbearance as I consistently unravelled the delicate fabric of his game. While others have scary dreams about monsters and ghouls, I am reduced to quivering collapse by nightmares about creatures called greensomes, which repeat mockingly "Your turn, Sweeney, your turn."

At a recent conference, I enjoyed an early morning contest with Ian Duncan, headteacher of Bannerman High in Glasgow. Ian is an experienced and skilful golfing aficionado and I assured him that I would take him on again when I had been playing as long as he had. A rapid computation revealed that he would then be 102 years old, substantially enhancing my prospects of victory.

June Falconer, indefatigable Holy Rood bursar, has also contributed to my initiation as a golfing enthusiast. A member of the beautiful Prestonfield Golf Club, on the edge of Holyrood Park, she offers advice and encouragement in the most supportive and sympathetic tones. "You are supposed to hit the back of the ball, not the top of it," she urges gently, adding with feigned deference: "It's not a nail, headteacher."

The zenith of my golfing achievements to date has been participation in the St Augustine's grand tour of the Highlands as a guest of the aforesaid Mr Quinn and colleagues.

Charlie Sinclair, maths teacher, was my adviser as we battled the driving rain of Blair Atholl. He solicitously coached me as we tackled a water hazard suggesting an open club face and confident follow through. The ball obediently cleared the stream, only to strike a wall on the other side, bouncing back to a spot within inches of its original starting point.

It was reassuring to discover that 32 years as PE supremo in St Auggie's had not rendered Ronnie Hamilton immune from the vicissitudes of this insane pursuit. Ronnie combined the glorious and the ghastly in a round, its uneven quality only excelled by his struggling opponent.

There may be a cure for this affliction. Perhaps I am not condemned for ever more to look on helplessly like some latter-day Sisyphus as that teasing plastic-coated little torturer climbs the hill, only to scuttle unerringly back down the slope towards the gaping bunker.

However, I am unable to fault the quality of teaching I have received, which has been appropriately differentiated for the slow learner.

Pat Sweeney is headteacher at Holy Rood High in Edinburgh

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