The conference that I attended last week was held at The Belfry, the hotel and golf complex situated close to Birmingham and venue, quick internet research tells me, for at least four Ryder Cup tournaments. I know little about golf, so this was quite an experience, enhanced even further by the fact that the hotel was undergoing some refurbishment, with the result that the conference itself was held in a marquee. As someone who put her foot down about camping about a quarter of a century ago, I viewed this latter development with some trepidation; however, despite intermittent rain, the marquee was neither damp nor draughty (rather the reverse) and in fact quite luxuriously appointed. It even had a small ante-room that had been kitted out with proper flushing loos.
I still felt that I was the temporary inhabitant of a somewhat alien landscape, however. The golf course (It is actually three golf courses, the most difficult of which, the ‘Brabazon’, I was reliably informed, is a legend of its kind; this must have been true, as assorted men could at most times be seen gazing across at it, some taking photographs, others just lost in a trance of admiration) is perfect in every way. The acres of lush grass are flawless, manicured and bright green. The trees are symmetrical, the fountains crystal clear, the pathways pristine. It looks like a film set, rather than a managed slice of English countryside, but for a particular kind of film. It’s not the sort of place where you might encounter Mr Darcy striding across the greensward (though there would be some convenient lakes for him to jump into if he were so inclined) and you’d certainly not be able to imagine the muffled screams of a madwoman in the attic (in any case, the hotel itself is rather a low-lying, stubby building and may not have attics). It would probably be most suitable as the backdrop of a romantic comedy. I could conceive of Cameron Diaz, running across the course in a pair of Jimmy Choos to get to her lover, a posse of infuriated golfers in her wake; or Pop Larkin, annoying the staider representatives of middle England by turning up with his noisy and unpredictable brood. (Several golfers staying at the hotel were accompanied by young families, but all the children seemed to be behaving impeccably.)
This is not to say that no dangers are to be encountered in a place that exists largely for golf. The Belfry boasts a whole fleet of motorised golfing buggies. To me, they seemed to be extra large, a type of off-road version of the ones I’ve seen in Yorkshire. They came bowling round the pathways at some speed, making walking hazardous for the unsuspecting. Either one of the hotel’s attractions is the fringe sport of potting conference-goers, or the drink-driving laws don’t apply in its grounds. An additional, temporary, danger was caused by the gangs of workmen employed on the renovations. They were frequently to be encountered striding about purposefully, balancing what looked like iron girders on their shoulders. I tried to photograph two of them engaged in this activity, but a bevy of passing buggies got in the way. I did manage to snap them on their way back for more girders, however. The one on the left stuck his tongue out at me, too late for my picture: I felt like Just William, establishing good relations by means of a skirmish.
What is beyond dispute is that The Belfry is a very photogenic place. This whole blog-post is therefore just an excuse to show you some pictures of it. I won’t say anything about the conference, as that belongs firmly in the compartment of my life marked ‘day-job’ – except to offer you a rather extraordinary sentence delivered by one of the speakers, which may amuse you and has already sown the seeds of a possible plot in my mind: “We uncover the discordant voice of dentistry – all dentists hate each other!”