Golf ball theory to the fore

27th August 2010 at 01:00

A couple of Sundays ago, I woke up early and, realising that there would be nobody else in the family up and about for ages, decided to go for a long walk. It was a perfect morning - dry, little wind and just warm enough to stroll comfortably in my Sheldon Cooper "Friendship Algorithm" T-shirt (the garment of choice for fashion-conscious geeks who have recently visited the CBS store in New York).

I decided to head for the Kingshill Forest, accessed via Black Law Windfarm. As I walked along a forest track, I spotted a golf ball. This struck me as odd, as there was no golf course for at least half a dozen miles. About a quarter of an hour later, I found another one.

At work the following week, I invited my colleagues to speculate on how the balls came to be in the middle of nowhere. The most plausible suggestion was that a long-distance dog walker had taken some with him to amuse his mutt. Either that or there's a new form of cross-country golf that I've never heard of. I reckon this is unlikely.

Most golfers that I see appear to go to all possible lengths to avoid walking any distance - so would I if my chosen sport required me to dress like Rupert Bear.

At another point on my walk, I had something deeper to ponder. Near the edge of the forest was a low building with pallets of transparent plastic containers piled on them. In a yard at the front was a wishing well. The place was a mineral water-bottling plant. Ruined buildings and spoil around the facility showed that it was on the site of the old Kingshill Colliery.

Though I have bought mineral water in the past, I generally look upon it as a useless commodity, rating it as no better than what comes out of the tap. Thus, a bottling plant is a waste of resources. How ironic, then, that this one stands where a mine used to operate, coal-powering the Industrial Revolution which has given us the lifestyle we now enjoy.

Behind the water-bottle building, a wind turbine was visible, reminding me of the price most of us agree we have been paying to burn fossil fuels. Simultaneously, it begged the question as to whether creating a landscape that would leave Don Quixote spoilt for tilting choice is the way to generate enough power cleanly to sustain that lifestyle.

I had to stop myself slipping into disingenuous romanticism. Aye, where the pit once stood and honest men toiled there now sits a factory bottling water for office workers who've never had to lie on their backs in an 18- inch seam passing filthy coal over their bodies.

The physics classes I taught often had a tail of General-level boys who were not destined for white-collar jobs. What would I wish for them? A life of graft a mile under Lanarkshire or days spent at the wheel of a Transit (with a copy of the Daily Record on the dash and a bottle of Irn Bru between the seats), delivering something nobody really needs?

Rather than speculate, perhaps I should ask them. Maybe they'll have their theories about the golf balls too.

Gregor Steele didn't take any mineral water with him on his walk.

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