Saturday, 18 February 2012

For the love of rugby

This afternoon, number 3 and I are headed north to Newcastle to watch what may turn out to be one of the last Premiership matches in the North-East with our beloved Falcons holding up the entire Premiership by some margin. We're off with our Irish chums, Declan and his lovely daughter as Newcastle are playing London Irish and we are very excited.

My love of rugby goes back to my teenage years with my father. As the youngest of four - the other three are boys and older than me - it became my duty to go with Dad on a Saturday afternoon to watch Coventry who were the Leicester Tigers or Saracens of their day, topping the league most seasons. A few matches in and I was hooked.

In the years that followed, I played a bit at college before our team fell apart when the captain went off with a photographer from the Sun (for all the reasons that are probably springing to mind!) and then I met and married two men (not at the same time) who were not interested in rugby. In fact, the first one turned out to love Bradford City more than he loved me and romance in the Shed End was something of a struggle.

Anyway, years went by and I only occasionally watched rugby on the tv and then in 2003 the rugby bug bit me again. England were immense - some of them rather long in the tooth but nonetheless immense and I ironed my way through the World Cup in Australia, nearly burning a few shirts at key moments, and numbers 2 and 3 started to get hooked too.

After the joy of the famous World Cup winning drop goal by you-know-who, I wrote on the downstairs loo blackboard that I wanted to see the best fly-half in the world play at Newcastle. Of course, I hadn't factored in that he might be injured most of the time for the next five years, after which he would quite rightly move to sunnier climes but number 2 bought me tickets to Kingston Park, home of the Falcons and actually by the time the great one did play we were huge fans of the whole team.

In better years, Kingston Park has been a fortress - Newcastle might not have been able to win away from home but on their own ground they were impenetrable and we watched them beat some of the best. One time, it was a whole family outing to see Northampton, not least because number 2 had a bit of a thing for Ben Cohen. The sound of the home crowd - including us - singing the Blaydon Races when they score a try is absolutely epic.

So today number 3 and I are going to have a brilliant time, sing the Blaydon Races - even though we only know half the words, the rest being in Geordie - and fingers crossed Newcastle will make a miraculous escape from the drop at the end of the season and we will have another winter of rugby to look forward to.

And in the meantime, there'll be a whole summer of tennis for us to enjoy!

PS Number 1 plays rugby too and I am sure much better than I ever did. I did a lot of running down the wing, mostly without the ball and only occasionally with it. Number 1 is really good and having looked at her team, hopefully no photographer from the Sun will want want to run off with any of them - fine though they are!

Later: Just back and Newcastle won so definitely worth the trip. Off to celebrate with a glass of red and some good friends.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Growing Old Disgracefully

Last weekend, we (my beloved and I) and a whole host of England rugby supporters headed north to beautiful Edinburgh. Of course, not everyone was there to celebrate my birthday (which has a number way too large to admit to) but celebrate we all did!
Our love of Scotland's fairest city goes back to when number 1, and subsequently number 2, played lacrosse there in the Scottish Schools Championship. Though not at a Scottish school, northern lacrosse schools were always invited to make up the numbers and we, along with some like-minded parents, decided this was an excellent excuse for a weekend away, especially when once it neatly coincided with the Calcutta Cup. The first year, we actually stayed in Melrose, well away from the clubs and bars of Edinburgh of which more later, and as the girls were only just sixteen we larged it in Melrose instead. Although this is over ten years ago, I still remember my beloved performing one of his classic turns - standing on a chair, surfing whilst singing the theme to Hawai 50. Anyway we emptied the restaurant - more of that later too!
Further epic trips followed for the lacrosse and included several tales which perhaps should never see the light of day but amongst which eating polo mints which were sewn on to a girl's sweater in Rick's cocktail bar is just one. So we were especially delighted when number 1 chose Edinburgh for her university career. For four years, we had the best possible excuse for heading north and we got to know the city quite well. We did, in the last couple of years, find a boutique hotel in the centre of Edinburgh in which each room is charming and different and named after a place. We have now stayed in Reyjavik, Atlantis and, most recently, Moscow. 
Four years ago, when number 1 was in her final year, we thought we would give the Calcutta Cup another crack en famille. We managed to secure four tickets (two and two) for my beloved and me, plus children 1 and 3. This is not to say that 2 and 4 would not have enjoyed the experience but 1 and 3 were selected for the team on that day. Number 3 and I went with my Scottish brother in law (sort of brother in law as he is married to my ex-sister in law and is part of our rather elastic family group) and my beloved went with number 1. We turned up, England didn't. It wasn't that they lost having been massive favourites, it was the manner of the losing. Scrappy without the S.
When I noticed in the autumn that my birthday and the Calcutta Cup shared the same date, it had to be done. My beloved got two tickets and on Friday we headed north in an absolutely packed train to Edinburgh. I say packed because we couldn't sit together and I shared (and I mean shared) my seat with a substantial Scotswoman with a handbag of equal proportions who spent the entire time chatting her way through her contacts list on her phone. I pondered whether if I included her randomly and rather unflatteringly in the TFN which I was working on on my laptop, she might notice but then again... she was bigger than me and she might have hit me. 
Checked into Le Monde (with a couple of complementary glasses of fizz), we headed into the very cold Edinburgh night to our favourite Thai restaurant. It looks fairly unprepossessing from the outside but it is a cracker. We ordered and ate so much that we scarcely managed to waddle back to the hotel but it was worth it. (Our children were as disgruntled about missing Dusit as they were about missing the match - that's how good it is!)
Now if it's one thing my beloved does really well, it's my birthday. Presents, cards and out for a lovely breakfast and then on to the streets of Edinburgh for some shopping. After a few hours, he begged for Guinness and we found a great bar and listened to the craic about the match ahead from lots of really cheery (and confident!) Scottish supporters. The great thing about the rugby is that everyone is up for it in a really non-aggressive way. On the train, in the bars, on the bus and on the streets on the way to and from the match, the feeling is just one of 'we're having a great time, we're lucky to be here'. I cannot imagine such a thing at a football match, but perhaps I am wrong. It would be nice to think so. 
Murrayfield has a great atmosphere and we sat behind the posts looking down the pitch. Next to me was a young man who greeted me with a big smile and said, "I hope you shout - I do!" I think he knows now! Although he was an avid Scotland supporter, he and I had lots of banter and he was generous in his applause of the England scores as we were for theirs. The only discordant note in the whole day was the booing of Owen Farrell when he took the penalties. For goodness sake, he's 20, scarcely a man, at his first international. But he held his nerve - well done. And we were thrilled to see Phil Dowson get his first cap. We met him when he was at Newcastle and had dinner with him. He is a really bright guy who chose rugby over one of the top accountancy firms. He also introduced me to Jonny Wilkinson so he has a place in my heart forever!
Back in the city after the match, we met up with our chums from the village and had a fabulous night out. More Guinness, red wine and dinner at a tapas bar where we emptied the place and were asked to leave so the staff could go home. Then on to the nightclub below the hotel which is a really buzzing place. We could have queued for the Opal Lounge which is where the players usually go but Shanghai was packed and we braved the dance floor to show that even at our, well my, advanced age I've still got it. I made a new friend and I'm not going to say anymore about that - you had to be there! 
Yesterday I felt like hell. It was the worse hangover since the grappa incident in Cyprus a few years ago. I remembered asking my beloved for a soft drink at about 2.00am and he told me that a double Hendricks and tonic was one and got one for me. Apparently I didn't argue. Anyway we went for a brisk walk and emergency trip to the supermarket to buy painkillers, and one big fry up later I felt much better and well enough to squeeze onto the train home. 
So, hoping that this year continues to be as brilliant as my birthday weekend (but without the hangover) and fingers very firmly crossed for my friend to continue her excellent recovery from her major operation and that my children do as well in their exams as they deserve to (given the huge amount of school work currently occurring in this house). Have a good one!

PS Edinburgh was also the home for many years of the late, but very great Uncle Bill Hook, hero of Colditz and the most modest man I ever met. Gone but very definitely not forgotten. 
England's Phil Dowson
Phil: looking mean I think!