Next day their wives tried to press-gang the boys into going on a family day out to the GCHQ Club at Chum Hong Kok, a small resort on the south side of Victoria Island. Here in its spacious grounds the traditional colonial club atmosphere still survived. The members could, swim in an open air pool, play tennis on well kept courts, eat in a fine restaurant or just have a picnic. In this comfortable home from home environment, the families of the British civilian and armed forces community were able to relax, or just top up their tans.
However, Zander did not intend to spend a whole day with his or any other family and had already planned to get away for a game of golf with Grunt. Affably he suggested that he would be happy to drop everyone off at the club in the morning and pick them all up again later in the day, but that he and :Grunt had already made their own arrangements. Jane, all too aware of her husbands’ past record for duplicity, was naturally suspicious and challenged him,
“And what will you two be doing?”
The question was shrugged off with a sigh and the mumbled reply,
“Oh, do not worry about us,” said Zander, “Grunt will be going home soon and it may be the last chance for him to see round my office and inspect some of the project works I’m doing.”
It was such a plausible excuse that Jane just turned away with a “Harumph.” and immediately forgot all about the matter.
Next day, with both families unceremoniously dumped at the club, the ‘busy men’ headed for ‘the office’.
Although Zander did not play much golf, his official position gave him free membership of the Royal Hong Kong Golf Club at Fang Ling and the nine-hole course at Deep Water Bay. But Fan Ling was too far away for them to get to, and play, to be back in time to pick up the families; so they headed for Deep Water Bay.
When they got to the course, Grunt hired a set of clubs and Zander delved into his scruffy old golf bag to find him some broken tees and a few scruffy old balls.
Local experience had shown that, to combat the effects of the sweltering heat, it was essential to take in a little liquid refreshment before going out on the course. It was also the accepted thing to have drinks ready for them on the terrace when they came in after the first nine holes, just to provide refreshment before setting off on the ‘back nine’.
Their next call was to the caddy master who provided each of them with a Chinese caddy and as they set out for the first tee, Zander felt it was his duty to give Grunt a piece of advice,
“If your ball goes into the heavy rough, do not go in looking for it. Some pretty nasty snakes live in there.”
Grunt nodded, but whilst taking note of the advice, he could not help but think back to Zander’s false shark alarm when he went swimming off Musqueteer and the subsequent revelation about shark nets.
On the first tee, Zander, as host, assumed the honour and played away first. For once, he struck a clean shot straight down the middle. Then with a satisfied look on his face, he stood back to give Grunt his turn.
Grunt’s drive began with a lot of flexing of arms, knees and hips, but then his strength became his weakness, when, to the accompaniment of a characteristic ‘GRUNT’, he tried to hit the skin off the ball. Sure enough, his well-trained eye-muscle co-ordination came into play and he hit the ball very hard. His prodigious shot soared off the club face went straight for some way but very soon became a classic slice and ended up deep in the heavy rough. Ignoring Zander’s advice, Grunt strode forward to look for his ball.
Up to his knees in vegetation and keeping an eye on where he thought it had landed, he walked straight to it. It was sitting up nicely on a small, sparsely grassed stony patch. Delighted to have found it so easily, Grunt, already eying up his next shot, turned round to ask his caddy for a club. He was surprised to see that Zander and both caddies were still standing on the fairway, all of them gesticulating wildly and shouting something.
Grunt immediately thought, Zander has put them up to this, and started back to fetch the club himself. He had just taken his first step when out of the corner of his eye; he caught a slight movement on the ground. He froze. There, slithering out from under a flat rock and hissing menacingly was a long, brightly coloured snake.
In a state of mounting alarm, he sucked in his breath and rose up on tiptoes to get as far from the threat as he could. His situation deteriorated when he noticed more and more snakes were slithering out from under other rocks. Each one of them was coming towards him.
In a horrifying flash of understanding, Grunt recalled reading somewhere that colourful snakes were the bad ones and each one of the ones he could see were very, very colourful. Grunt screamed in silent terror, here, surrounded by creatures that could kill him; many question marks had just been set against his long-term future.
However, the caddies and some of their nearby colleagues had already swung into action and using flailing golf clubs, like a suicide squad clearing a minefield, they beat a path through the rough towards him. The rescuers reached him in what seemed to take a lifetime, but by guiding him back along their already flattened path, they liberated the visibly shaken and humiliated Grunt. By this time, any snake in the immediate vicinity, that knew anything about the Chinese population’s passion for fricasseed snake, would have scarpered long ago.
Grunt, his dignity left in the rough, was soon back on the fairway and suffering mocking catcalls from the clubhouse balcony where a crowd had gathered to see what all the fuss was about. With his pride in tatters, he had to get away from them, so claiming aloud that his lie had been unplayable, he dropped a ball on the fairway and played on.
From then on, even off the tee, Grunt’s driver stayed in his bag and just to make sure that he did not go back into the rough, he drove off with an iron. Even although Zander had no part in Grunt’s humiliation, the snake episode had made his day, and for the rest of the round, every time their eyes met, the subdued Grunt was acutely conscious of Zander’s smug ‘I told you so’ smile.
At the end of their game, rather than face the crowd in the clubhouse, Grunt suggested that, straight away, they should head back to meet up with the families.
Within an hour, they were sitting with their wives in the lounge at Chung Hom Kok enjoying a beer and exchanging the news of how they had ‘spent their day’. Zander was well into his’ hard day at the office routine’, when the yacht club Commodore (who knew all about everything that went on in the Colony) came over, pointed at Grunt and suppressing his obvious mirth enquired,
“Aren’t you the chap who went on a snake hunt at the golf club?”
Both Zander and Grunt sat up and looked at him, aghast as their cat was forcibly shoved out of the bag. Jane and Lucy, both smiling sweetly at the Commodore, encouraged him to give them a blow-by-blow account of what had happened. As the Commodore tale unfolded both Zander and Grunt stood wearing fixed, sheepish grins that, by the second, they found harder and harder to maintain. By the time that the Commodore took his leave everyone was smiling; the Commodore because he had got his revenge, the deceived wives’ triumphantly because they had caught out their husbands and Zander and Grunt just sheepishly.
Afterwards the boys suffered a few days of domestic freeze out.
During that time, Zander’s mess bill arrived and its content sent him deeper and deeper into the doldrums. Although he had expected a slight overspend from the family’s visit, the amount charged was way above anything he had ever paid before. Looking carefully through the thick wad of copy chits attached to his account, Zander was staggered to see that on the day he had given the family his card to use, there were dozens of receipts. They itemised numerous rounds of soft drinks, lashings of ice cream, a ridiculous amount for tokens for the fruit machine, a restaurant bill that would have fed the family for a week and on top of all that, an over-generous amount paid over for staff gratuities – something Zander always grudged paying. When he asked Jane if she could explain this, she looked him straight in the eye and with a hint of a smile said, ‘No idea.’
The four children, boy twins and girl twins, were summoned and lined up in front of their father with anxiety written all over their faces. They admitted that they had perhaps spent a little more than usual, but after further grilling, admitted that they had been entertaining their friends all day, ‘Just like daddy’s friends do.’.
Jane, on hearing this admission thought it a good time to leave the room, so whispering discreetly to Zander that, she was going out for a walk, left her husband and his little brood to their unfinished business.