For my sins, I golf. Not terribly well. I play off a very moderate handicap of 16. Actually for someone who plays most weeks and has done for ten years or more, it’s a crap handicap. I don’t generate enough club-head speed to hit the ball very far. My good drives are maybe only 220 yards long, my average drive probably not even 200 yards. The very many better players I regularly compete with will out-drive me by 40 or 50 yards on most holes. It’s OK. I can live with it. It’s why there is a handicap system that allows total moderates like me to compete with champing young tyros. And compete I do, in the many and various competitions that my club runs.
One of the most interesting aspects of all this competition is that I get to meet new people. It’s a large club, with 1200 members, and though I have grown to know many of them over the years, the competitions regularly seem to pitch me in with perfect strangers. When playing with a stranger, the conversation usually turns to “What do you do for a living?” It’s one of the standard etiquette questions you use when playing golf, along with “Where do you live?”, “Have you got kids?” and “How long have you been a member here?” All very tame, cocktail-party sort of stuff. But for me the “What do you do for a living?” question causes me all sorts of angst because, to be truthful, I am not altogether sure what the answer is.
My regular golfing partner, Steve, if he is to to hand during a doubles match, usually interjects at this point with “What Mark does is work, but not as you’d know it,” which always makes us smile but leaves our opponents none the wiser. But when I am playing singles with a fresh face, as I was this past Saturday, it tends to launch me off into a potted CV of my life since leaving university in 1974. Which isn’t quite the simple answer I would like to give. It would be so much easier to say “I’m an accountant” or “I’m a taxi-driver.”
As it is, I make most of my regular income from writing about house building, but I don’t think of myself as being a writer. I am not really a consultant either. On Saturday, I tried “selfbuild guru” for the first and last time. It sounded pretty silly as I said it and it took me at least three more holes to explain what I meant, having to go through the “what I have been doing since 1974” routine once more.
Anyway, in the bar afterwards, as I nursed a beer to soothe yet another defeat at the hands of a longer hitter, my opponent had another go at tackling my employment status. He asked me if I had any relevant qualifications for what I did. “Of course not,” I replied, almost as a mark of honour, “other than six months learning to be a carpenter in 1982.” I am not an architect, not a surveyor, and what I do is in any event quite different to what any of them do. But I do do a certain amount of consultancy work, advising people about the routes that lie ahead and the options that face them. Glibly, I told him that I was in the business of reconciling aspirations and budgets. He liked that explanation. He was a management consultant himself and he could relate to this. He suggested that what I did was pre-architecture. Yes, that’s it exactly, I said. I am most useful to people if I can have a little time with them before they hire anyone. I am a pre-architect.
I liked the sound of this. Next time I golf with a stranger and the dreaded “What’s your line?” question comes up, I will try this one on them. I don’t expect it will do any better than any of the others but it’s worth a try.