Monday, 16 February 2009

Rugby Sentimentality (& I don't care how whimsical I am)

With the Six Nations rugby well under way, and with Wales beating England at the weekend (sorry had to mention that), I am often left to ponder the strange hold this sport has over so many people. I can't quite define what it is about rugby, that seems to route itself into the Welsh psyche so forcefully; an intricate web of randomness, that seems to signify so much to our identity.

No, I can't really fathom it out. But I can explore what it means to me.

Last week a video appeared doing the rounds on rugby message boards and emails, someone had compiled footage of great Welsh rugby tries and moments through the ages and put it to music. Some of the tries I had only ever seen once before, or possibly never. Others I remembered only too well indeed. Watching this internet video made me feel incredibly emotional. Yes, I was being a big girls' blouse, and began blubbering into my keyboard.

Rugby can be a beautiful game - flowing moves, darting runs, amidst hard knocks and bloody tough hits. This contrast of physicality and then sudden speed and free movement, it's a bizarre and yet remarkable contrast to the sport. Yes, rugby can be awful, dire spectacles, but at the same time, to me, a high scoring match can be just dull as a forward-battled mud-feast. And that's what I love about rugby. The contrasts - the big, the small, the knocks, the running, the kicking, the passing, the hard fought battles of attrition on some days, the free flowing try-a-plenty on another.

But watching the footage of matches gone by, I was taken back to my childhood. There was Scott Quinnell scoring a great solo try against France, and I was instantly taken back: 1994, my Nan's house, watching the match in her small dining room. I can feel the carpet on my feet, I can taste the lemonade on my lips, I can smell my Nan's cooking, I can hear my Nan squealing in excitement and the sound of her slippers jumping up and down on the floor. I can remember the moment so vividly, I can still feel that tingle of joy, the warmth of my Nan's enthusiasm. It's as if she is back again, alive and bloody loving it, living the moment. It's a bizarre and yet heart warming experience.

There's Kevin Morgan's try against Ireland: 2005, I'm taken back to watching the match on a big screen at a Cardiff rugby club with my dad, I can't hear myself think there's such noise, I'm in complete and utter disbelief that Wales are about to win a Grand Slam, something I never thought I'd ever see. There was such joy, I can only liken it to winning the lottery. No really. And I've never seen my dad so...happy. He's surrounded by all his best friends, guys who he has known for most of his life, friends he met through playing rugby. To see everyone else so happy just makes you feel so euphoric. Who needs mind-altering drugs with highs like that?

Of course, some of the tries were from an era before I was born. The so-called golden age of Welsh rugby, the 1960s and 70s. A time held in such high regard by someone like me born in the 80s and who only ever knew a plethora of losses, false dawns and heavy defeats, it seems to contain mythical properties. The losses and sheer disappointments I grew up with, have instilled in me an inherent pessimism in Welsh rugby that I can rarely shake. The lows were so low they were sponsored by British Coal (before the Tories disbanded it that is). And yet you always had that little glimmer of hope burning, you could never truly turn your back.

There is one particular try, scored by Keith Jarrett against England in 1967...the black and white footage isn't clear, but as Keith catches the ball inside his own half and streaks up the touchline for an incredible score in the corner, for a split second there is the grainy, shadowy figure of my grandfather sitting on the touchline. I have watched this try time and time again to catch a ghostly glimpse of the grandfather I never knew, who used to be a steward at the old Arms Park.

And I think this is why rugby means so much to me. Rugby is a passion of my father, and his father before him. It's a link to my past, a connection to times gone by that I either lived through or even didn't. Loved ones no longer here are somehow back with me again. In some strange way, I feel closer to the grandfather I never knew when there is a big rugby match on, than any other time in my life. This is why rugby will always mean so much, and will always play such a role in my life, no matter what I am doing or where I am. This is why you can never walk away, (even when we will fall inevitably dire again).

When the final whistle went at the Millennium Stadium last Saturday, I could so clearly hear my Nan cheering happily and proclaiming her wish to crack open the whisky bottle and to dance the night away in celebration of Wales' win, it was as if she was there. She was there.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Overheard in the supermarket

Two old ladies in the house cleaning paraphernalia aisle.

Old Lady 1: Ooo!
Old Lady 2: What, what WHAT!?
Old Lady 1: Just look at that. Stainless steel cleaner.
Old Lady 2: What?
Old Lady 1: I know. An actual cleaner, that cleans stainless steel.
Old Lady 2: How marvelous! I used to leave the stainless steel to soak in soapy water.
Old Lady 1: I know! Isn't it amazing that they can do these days?
Old Lady 2: The world is filled with such fabulous things. Stainless steel cleaner, well.
Old Lady 1: I'm not buying any though.
Old Lady 2: No, neither am I.

Ladies shuffle off. Bizarre.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Snow? SNOW!? Snoooooow I tells ya!

Unless you went on holiday to the moon last week, or was in a coma, you would probably be rather aware of the snow that hit the UK. It was apparently the heaviest snowfall in about 20 years. And in a typical British way, the country went snow-mad, with a large percentage of the country coming to a complete standstill. You only had to look on Facebook to see that nearly every single status update had SNOW mentioned somewhere, or the white stuff, and they weren't referring to some Amy Winehouse shenanigans.

After about a day, you become tired of SNOW! being all over the news and media. Actually, after about an hour you do. Admittedly, in the rural areas or where it was heaviest, it was a relative big deal. And London had rather a lot, so naturally, the media were interested. London is the centre of the universe after all!
There's only so many "viewers' photos" of snow you can take. Or roadside reports from freezing looking reporters standing in torrid conditions and saying 'there's a lot of snow here'. D'uh.

But it became a political issue. The usual cries come creeping out from behind their Daily Mail-branded scarves and woolly hats. 'Why aren't there more measures in place to stop the country from coming to a halt whenever there is snow?! Typical badly prepared Rip-off Britain' Well probably because apart from Scotland, where they regularly get adverse weather, and I dare-say continue as normal as they're used to it, it would a waste of money. And we all know how much the people who moan about this hate the scandalous waste of tax-payers' money. I can see it now, millions spent on huge snow-plough trucks, only for them to be abandoned on the roadside for 20 years. The Daily Mail would implode with the disgrace, and link it to the fall of house prices.

Oh well, the snow has now melted and it's already being forgotten about. Although I can never work out who wants/prays for snow more....the kids, who want a day off school and to have a good play in the snow, or the teachers, who want a day off school and to have a good play in the snow?