Frances J MacGregor (Freedom 2022)

Frances J MacGregor
The Rainy-Day Freedom Fund
 
I never was much of a golfer. Don’t get me wrong, I love the game, so pure, such a simple concept. Of course, people can make anything complicated, and they usually want to. That Golfing Rule Book can make your head spin.

But at the time I’m telling you about I was playing every week and losing a packet every single time by not refusing a bet with the other three in the group. They were all well off, why should they care? But when you’re knocking around with that kind of person you can’t keep saying ‘I’ve no money’ or ‘bit strapped for cash just now.’ So, you carry on. Betting and losing. Every Saturday down at the Golf Club.

My girlfriend Junie had just walked out on me for more or less the same reason. It was going to be her birthday that Sunday and I was planning the big proposal. But first we went to see Fisherman’s Friends at the VueMax, it was fun but then that song ‘No Hopers’ got into her somehow and she kept calling me a no-hoper and moaning that I wasn’t even a rogue, at least not in that romantic way where I might get away with stuff now and again, like a smuggler or something. I couldn’t even go in a fishing boat – too prone to being seasick. I was just a guy who kept going to work and being poor and she didn’t want a no-hoper like me. She said she wanted her freedom. I said, this is England, you’re free to work or not, free to vote or not, free to love. Or not. More or less everyone’s free, except if you’re in prison and even then, well it’s not exactly Russia is it, you know, Elizabeth Fry would turn in her grave if she saw the torture and inhuman stuff that goes on there… But that’s another story, I said.

She said yes, she wanted to be free not to love me. Definitely not to marry me.
 
So, it was a bit of a losing streak really, what with her and the golfers. But a few weeks on I got this idea, and it kept bobbing round my head. About how to make some money, from golf. Golf into gold. Eventually I told my mate Vic about it one day when him and me were having a beer one afternoon, going on about the cashflow situation.

‘So that’s Junie gone. She said she wanted her freedom. So do I.’
‘You want freedom? From what?’
‘Being poor and miserable. I’ve got nothing for a rainy day. Not a penny. You can’t have much freedom like that, only to keep on doing what you’re doing. That’s how dictators work. They want everyone poor so that no one’s got any fight left. Then they pretend to save them. What I need is a freedom fund, for the rainy day.’ That was me, down and grumbling.
‘I’m a bit short too,’ he said.
‘Me, I see all these rich twigs at the golf club, honestly money no object. And they love to compete, they love to show off and they love to win.  Anyhow I’ve got a bit of an idea. It’s a question of how to make money from it.’
‘Ah,’ he said, ‘that’s always the burner.’
‘If only I had a piece of land.’
‘What for?’
‘If it was long enough, say 300 yards, or a bit more, whatever, I could set up a competition. You know, a driving competition.’ Vic looked a bit baffled.
‘You know,’ I said, ‘with the driver, the big golf club that they use to hit golf balls a long way?’
‘Oh, the driver.’
‘If you could have one symbol of manhood it’s that. Or even womanhood, I’m guessing.’
‘What?’
‘With a fantastic swing driving the ball further than you or anyone you know has ever driven it. Golfers would give their… well a lot anyhow, to be in a regular competition like that. They could get hooked.’
‘How would it work then?’
‘Well, it’s only a small outlay for a start. You need a pile of golf balls and maybe a tractor with a pick-up machine. Or people with arms and buckets. A field. You need distance markers. A grass cutter. You need a stand to drive from, covered and lit. You need a bunch of flags to mark the best drives and a way to make sure you’re getting the right person. Perhaps a different tee for ladies or younger folk? I’m not talking about permanent, not a driving range, I’m talking about a set up just for a competition, say once a fortnight or something.’
‘Did you ever meet Boz Shackleton?’
‘Don’t think so…’
‘I used to play cricket with him. Sound. But the thing is he lives on a farm. I know for certain there are fields there that they do nothing with. Don’t ask me why.’
‘You’re thinking he would lend me a field?’
‘Us.’
‘Oh.’
‘You couldn’t run it on your own anyhow. What if he hasn’t got a pick-up balls thing, you’d really have to do all that yourself. You have to take the money, set them up, record their drives, deal with any bother and on and on…?’
‘You may be right. Ok so let’s plan it out. Suppose you ask that Boz if he can lend us a field. For say two Saturdays with a view to others if it works. If we just set up one stand for now… no lighting as it’s summer, but maybe with the garden umbrella if it rains… and I’ll see where we can get say 250 balls cheap.’
‘250!’
‘Well ok, 300.’
‘Too many?’
‘But you have to give them two or three goes. Let’s say a fiver for three, best one gets recorded. A hundred folk. That’s £500 quid. We can say the pot is one third of the take. We get a third each.’
‘What about Boz?’
‘Ah. Ok, what about £10 for 5?  Normal life on the course they bet £25 to pull £100 including their own stake. I know they’ll pay £10 to win, say £300, and it will only take them about five minutes. If we collect 1K then we give Boz £100 and we get 300 each.’
 
It went on from there. My dad had some wood in his garage and I helped him make a standing, portable but Boz let us leave it in a shed down the end of the field. We found some huge pieces of board at the tip, my dad added stakes to them, and we painted yardages. My cousin Phil and I walked up and down the field doing measurements with a long tape he has for archaeology, whatever, then we hammered in the stakes. We got 400 used balls from the local golf course for £30, not the one where I was a member, but the one where a mate worked and he said he could get some.

The first day we decided to stick with the folk we knew and one or two others they could ask so it added up to about thirty. Virtually all of them brought their own balls with their marks on and that meant we didn’t need anyone up at the far end with flags that day. Especially as my dad hadn’t finished making them. They all gladly paid £10 that day for a prize of £100. My dad judged it just for fun he said, so Vic and I took 75 each and gave Boz 50, everyone was happy.
 
Word spread. So fast it took us by surprise. There was no fortnight about it, too much demand, so we went with weekly and by week 7 we had around 200 entrants. So, my dad was definitely in it now and my kid brother, as well as Vic’s girlfriend and Boz’s brother. Someone was always up at the end of the field with the flags and we marked the best. We had to start early and have half-hour time slots to space them out, with pick-up time in between. People still wanted to use their own stuff, but we did have a couple of drivers and some spare balls, because it was a rule that anyone could be there, no toffee-nosed membership or fancy equipment or anything. If you had a tenner, you were on. This lad Andy, worked in a car paint shop, was a complete natural. Clear winner half the time!

The numbers kept going up and in a little while the prize money had to be raised. Then we had to make a prize for 2nd and 3rd.  Then we couldn’t do the one competition in a day because there were too many people to fit in. So, by popular demand we changed it to a running competition over three separate days but with a pot of £2K. We had some fancy yardage markers made and a couple of stands with artificial grass laid down on them and battery lighting and rubber tees, really nice. So two people could drive at once. We even bought a little chemical loo. We were giving the helpers and Boz generous handouts, but still Vic and me were going away every week with a massive amount of cash in pocket. We went on for more than a year, every week, no bother.

Then we decided to have a league, like the FedEx Cup, so the top 100 folk over six months could fight it out at the end for £100 per head. It would be all done in one day, 10 tries each. We decided the prize would be a pull-in, as if we needed one, but 50% of the pot to the winner, 10% to a charity of their choice, 15% to second and 5% to third, 20% for us. Vic and I would pay the helpers ourselves out of our own money. Cash, everything was cash.

All the entrants had a time slot and everything was in place. Of course, they brought family and chums with them, so it was all a bit crowded and Boz had to let them into the fields either side to spectate. He put fences up so they could stand along the hedges. Both fields were full, picnics everywhere, kids running around, the lot. The cheering was fabulous, honestly it felt a bit Ryder Cup or even the Open. A real thrill.

We didn’t really expect everyone to stay all day. But they did, they just wanted to watch and cheer. So that meant more cars on the lanes round the farm than could fit and so by midday Boz had to open another field for them and the women had to queue for the chemical loo or walk down to the pub, but the men were going behind the bushes at the hedge at the top. Boz said not to worry it would all rot down. Things seemed to be getting louder and louder and then we saw cans flying about and wrappers and stuff and people were lighting portable barbeques and before we could do anything someone had set fire to the grass. Boz ran over and got it out, but he was nearly mobbed on the way back.

Things fell apart after that. But it was the fighting that did for us. Just a few of them at first. We thought they’d burn themselves out, but they didn’t and so at one of the breaks Vic and me we took a driver each out of the bag as if it might help us. Boz had a handy bit of wood that he used to have near to the person minding the cash, in case of mugging or something. It looked like a baseball bat. It was a big stick really.

Anyhow we tried to calm them down, but it ended up the other way and we decided to look threatening, like we meant to hit them. It was a right scrum. I ended up hitting a bloke over the head and then watched his blood slowly trickling down his face. Everybody stopped, women screamed. Someone called the police. Then Vic disappeared off with his girlfriend to get something for his mum he said.
Inside 15 minutes we had three police cars, a motorbike, a helicopter, two ambulances, a fire engine and a planning officer from the council. It was later when the Inland Revenue caught up.
 
The woman in the smart suit and the very shiny hair switched off the recorder.

‘So, off the record, you’ve lost your freedom for now but I’m guessing you made quite a bit of money?’ she said in this low voice.
‘A bit, yes,’ I said, thinking I may as well brag about it.
‘You know I’m a reporter, but can you tell me whether you’re pleading guilty?’ she said, with a hint of a smile in those lovely blue eyes.
‘Don’t know yet. One lot in here have bet on me saying guilty and they say I’m dead if I don’t. Another lot have put money on not guilty and they say if I don’t then they’ll make sure I won’t be able to do… things, ever again. They think they’re amusing, but still, they might mean it.’
‘That’s a dilemma for sure.’
‘Mmm.’
‘Who do you do… things with, when you’re not in here?’
‘Oh, no one now, I told you about Junie, how we split. She said I was a no hoper, remember, not enough of a rogue for her? She didn’t want to go on the road to nowhere with me. You know that song? Anyhow she wanted to be free not to love me. She said.’
‘No sorry, don’t know it. But it’s not exactly the road to nowhere you’re going I’m thinking. Definitely the road to somewhere. Let’s hope it’s out of here first.’
‘Yes, that law person says they wouldn’t give me bail because of hitting the guy, with the driver? But I didn’t mean to… we were trying to calm them down, went a bit wrong. But it was probably one of the best strikes I’ve ever got with that driver. Honestly.’
She moved slightly and pushed her hair back, such a great gesture that, for women. It’s like the attitude that cigarettes used to give folk. A bit cosmopolitan, a bit knowing, a bit here’s me I’m one of the gorgeous people. She stared at me straight in the eyes, like I was being hypnotized.
‘Don’t go thinking I’m telling you what to plead will you now, Evan Young?’
That’s my name see, Evan Young, but the way she said it made it seem like she was flirting, like she meant something else. It made me go all hot anyhow.
‘No, I won’t,’ I said, a bit lame.
‘I wouldn’t like to see you being locked up for something that wasn’t really your fault.’
‘I think it was my fault, really.’
‘Surely you were just being enterprising. Things like planning permission, well, so easy to forget, plus it’s not like it was an important field, is it? And I’m sure you never meant to wrap your driver round someone’s head.’
I looked at her.  
‘Have your lawyers said anything about the chances?’
‘Of what?’
‘Does pleading guilty mean more or less automatic prison, or that you get off lightly for saving them a lot of trouble? Does pleading not guilty mean they’ll go mad to get you punished or they’ll agree there isn’t enough evidence to make you a convict?’
‘No, they haven’t said.’
‘Well, you’re not Jack Reacher are you, so you’re not going to get out of here until they let you out. That’s for certain. And you might have to work for it.’

Then she was leaving and knocked her bag on the floor. She went to pick it up but as she did that, she put her hand on my leg above my knee, then squeezed it a bit. All over in a second. But honestly.
 
So, what can I say. There was a bit of media stuff that helped I think, some roving reporter or other making a fuss about ordinary folk being punished for having flair and being enterprising and even helping local charities. And remanded for no good reason. All the papers picked it up and so I got bail. Then I got away with it. More or less. I have to report somewhere once each month and do some litter picking twice a month, but I hate litter so that’s great for me. Some of the young kids come to help me. I was fined by the Council for something or other to do with no planning permission. And I paid Boz Shackleton’s fine for the same thing. I even paid some back tax. Vic got away free as a bird. I didn’t rat him out, surely, he would have done the same for me? I’m on a suspended sentence for the guy with the bloody head. Me and him have a pint now and again at the Swan, he goes on about that competition, he says best day ever.

And I have a rampant roving reporter hanging out with me whenever she can get away. She doesn’t want to get married. She says she loves me, but she made sure I got my freedom and she’ll always want hers, to chase around the world, if need be, after the big one. I think she means like the Hatton Garden Job or something.

I paid for my dad and his new girlfriend to go on a round the world cruise, he took his garden gnome as well. He keeps sending me pics of the gnome, like in that film, but this time it’s the three of them, him with thumbs up, grinning for England.

Oh, and the people at the Golf Club took me on as Events Manager. I’m setting up a FedEx Cup-style competition this next year. It’ll be on their driving range and I’m planning for all-comers, members, non-members, no-hopers and rogues, a bit like me.

And I’ve still got 50K stuffed in a bag under the floorboards. It’s my Freedom Fund, for that rainy day.
***

Bio: Frances has lived in Northern England all her life but around 6 years ago she retired from her forty-year career as a social worker and moved further north to Cumbria. There was further education along the way throughout those four decades, a Degree from the Open University, various diplomas, then an MA in Complex Societies (Archaeology) were the result. Pressure of work meant that a PhD in Violence in Society remains unfinished. All of this involved much academic writing but Frances never ceased wanting to write fiction. Even with little time to allow this passion she worked on a novel from 5am until 6am each day for five years, then took an Arts Council Subsidy to publish A Memorial to War in 2008. She is now being represented by Dream Engine and the first of a family realist drama trilogy, Monday Monday, is due to be on the shelves in February 2023. Find her on Twitter @francesjmacgregor.

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