If you read my last blog, you’ll probably understand why I’ve had quite a worrysome week.
If you haven’t, let me tell you. Last Friday, on my flight from Stansted to Malaga, I “apprehended” a prisoner on the run who was being taken back to Malaga to stand trial for an unspecified crime.
For reasons which readers of my blog have asked me to explain – but I cannot – he decided to make a bolt for it up the aisle of a Ryanair 737 at around 20,000 feet.
His escort – “Jason Statham” – who had dozed off, awoke to find him doing a Usain Bolt towards the front of the plane and yelled, “Stop him!” and I obliged by dumping him with into seat 10C with a “no arms tackle.”
So, I’ve been waiting all week for a knock on my door, and for the armed officers from the Cuerpo Nacional de Policía, to slap me in handcuffs and escort me to Penitentiary Málaga for assault.
It hasn’t happened, because a) I didn’t assault him… I was merely obstructing his progress and, b) the Cuerpo Nacional de Policía are for too busy drinking coffee and flirting with the waitresses in my local café to arrest anyone. It’s now one week on, and I think I’m probably in the clear. They could, of course, make me a Freeman of Marbella, give me a medal for bravery, and even pay my rates for a year, but somehow I can’t see that happening.
You’re probably wondering – or there again you may not be – why another blog so soon after the last one? Well, this is for two reasons, and by virtue of this duality, I am going to take the unprecedented step of blogging about two very different and unrelated things.
First the Rugby World Cup.
Now you may remember that I wrote some time ago that I was going to stick fifty quid on England to win it. Will I did, and I’ve never been so glad to have lost fifty snots. This was because England were absolutely dreadful. And by the way, I got 15-1 on them winning, which I thought to be quite generous.
Yes, I can hear you saying, “well, they got to the semi-final didn’t they? And that was further than Ireland got.” And yes you’d be right on both counts. But to get to the last four, England had to beat a very poor Argentinean side, and sneak past Fiji. And while this was an improvement on their last outing against Fiji at Twickenham, the South Sea Islanders aren’t exactly world beaters, in fact they’re still a Tier Two country. Oh no they’re not? Oh yes they are… check it out.
And on the subject of Tier Two sides, England also edged past Samoa by one point, courtesy of a Samoan dropped pass on the try line in the final play of the game. The fact that, had England lost, they still would have qualified only serves to emphasise the absurdity of the competition.
I know it’s been done to death, but I’ll add my twopence: the structure of the competition is flawed. The top four teams in the world were in pools A & B, therefore two had to go home following the quarter finals.
And yes… while I am absolutely gutted that one of those was Ireland, I’m also gutted that the other was France. However, I was lucky enough to be at the Stade de France, drinking beer at €10 a pint, for both quarter finals. For without a doubt, these were consummately the two finest games of rugby in the competition. It was heart-breaking that someone had to lose in both games. But that’s life, despite what woke parents tell their children.
Despite retaining possession for the last five minutes and with the clock well into the red, Ireland could not break the Kiwi defence. Not once in 37 phases. Had Sexton not missed a penalty he would have kicked in his sleep, he could have popped over a drop goal, and we would have played Argentina in the semis. And had Kolbe not charged down Ramos’ conversion, France would have played England, giving us the final everyone (well, me anyway) wanted: Ireland V France.
Respect to New Zealand though. In addition to closing the door on Ireland at the death, they did a job on Ireland’s normally invincible lineout, and scored off the same lineout move – not once but twice. From the first, Van de Flier, usually so reliable at the tail, got caught in the thirteen channel, while an inside ball from Richie Mo’unga allowed space for Will Jordan to scythe through the heart of Ireland’s defence and score.
On balance, New Zealand probably had the better of us on the day. But what ruined my evening more than losing, was being seated next to the most obnoxious Kiwi I have ever met. He spent the entire game manspreading, yelling at the referee (‘that’s a f***in’ neckroll, ref!’) and hurling obscenities at both the Irish team and their supporters. This is not what rugby is about, and thankfully not representative of his fellow countrymen.
And he had a mate two rows in front (Bouffant Soccer Boy) who was equally obnoxious, facing the Irish supporters and insulting them with his small-town nastiness: stick to soccer, Bouffant Boy. Therefore, the only good thing about South Africa winning the Webb Ellis Cup, was to shut these two morons up. I hope both of them were there, and I hope they are still in mourning.
I was seated, for the France V South Africa game, beside The World’s Fattest Man. And while I know that I’m not as slim as I was when I was running ultra-marathons, at least I have never chomped my way through two family-sized bags of Maltesers before a game kicked off. As it turned out, he was quite a decent chap, and was rather apologetic about leaving me less space than I’d have on a Wizz Air flight. He was Belgian and a neutral, which, in essence, is very Belgian. As is beer, chocolate, and locking children in basements. Did I just write that?
So that was the Rugby World Cup, and I’m glad it’s over. A friend sent me a William Butler-Yeats quote, which just about sums it up from an Irish perspective: “Being Irish, he has a sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.”
On a final note, four years ago I blogged about the World Cup in Japan, urging World Rugby to consider make some changes to the game. None of these, naturally, have been implemented, and some have even got worse: for example, wasted minutes re-setting deliberately collapsed scrums. Have you even seen a scrum collapse in a warm up? Nope? Me neither.
And TMOs, with the exception of the yellow-to-red card provision, are taking even more time dredging through minor errors which occurred thirty phases or so ago.
And another of my recommendations yet to be converted into action: Ban. The. Haka.
My reason for this is summed up in a quote whose origin I am unable to find, therefore I cannot attribute it:
The haka is a rogue element in Rugby. No other leading nation goes through a pre-match ritual like it and whatever its origins, it has become an attempt to intimidate the opposition … more, it suggests favouritism.
Finally on the subject, if you ask me – which surprisingly World Rugby won’t be doing – the World Cup should be conducted through two separate competitions: one for the top eight Tier One countries, and the other for the top eight Tier Two countries. Countries in each group play each other, and the top two play off for the Cup. To make it more egalitarian, the bottom Tier One country (England) then plays the winner of Tier Two (Fiji).
Just a thought. Oh, and let’s throw Italy out of the 6N – they’re a disgrace.
Let’s move on to my other unrelated subject.
Thirty years ago today, I was dropped off at Heathrow’s Terminal 3, about to begin the biggest adventure of my life – a trip to Nepal to run the Everest Marathon.
Now, if you know me, I will have bored you to death about this on numerous occasions.
If you don’t know me, you may not know that in late November ’93, following a month’s trek from the roadhead at Jiri to Gorak Shep (basically Everest base Camp) I took part in the world’s highest marathon, and crossed the finishing line in fifteenth place (out of around 100 elite international runners) at Namche Bazaar. I flopped over the line in a time of five hours, fifty-five minutes and ten seconds, in the shadow of Dave English, a two-hour twenty marathoner who had represented England. To explain this phenomenon, altitude effects different people in different ways, and I got off somewhat lightly.
Two days later I got very drunk – never a good idea at around four and a half thousand metres – and then got dysentery, from which I nearly died. No seriously, I did. There were eight doctors on the expedition, and my doctor – Simon Petredes – when asked how I was faring replied, ‘I have never dealt with anyone so ill, who is probably not going to die.’
If you want to read about it, buy a copy of my first book, The last Latrine. You can pick one up from Amazon, currently very reasonably priced at £7.42. And the reason that there’s only one review is that it was out of print before Jeff Bezos started to make his millions. Heck, he was probably still waddling around in nappies when it went out of print.
Although the book focuses on Nepal – the wonderful people, the majesty of the world’s highest mountains, the stark hardship of life at high altitude, and the vulnerability and fragility of westerners, it also details the complexities of the relationships that developed – or broke down amongst the runners and support staff. It’s a good read – trust me.
To give you an example – me being me – I managed to piss off most of the party before the plane had even moved from the Heathrow tarmac.
Unbeknown to me, expedition members – of which there were over two hundred, including athletes, doctors, support staff, journalists and film crew – had been instructed to find a seat within a block in the centre of the plane, and to disregard the seat number we had been issued. I had missed this crucial snippet of information, because a) I was buying another pint (it would be a long, dry flight on Biman Bangladesh), b) in the toilet, or c) I had subliminally filtered this information out as spam.
So when I told a passenger that they were in my seat and asked them to move, this triggered a chain reaction which ultimately resulted is the entire plane being “de-planed”, and starting over so that everyone was seated in the allocated seats.
It didn’t take long to attribute this piece of wilful sabotage to me, which got me off on the wrong foot with many of the people I would co-existing with for the next six weeks.
We had a ten-hour layover at Dhaka before the final flight to Kathmandu, and a seemingly random group of us were loaded into a minibus at gunpoint by soldiers and marched into the Minister of Tourism’s office for photographs “in tribute to the great runners of the Everest Marathon”.
I further compounded my troublemaker status but pointing out that, unless a seismic shift in the geology of the Himalaya had occurred since yesterday, Everest wasn’t actually in Bangladesh.
Thirty years… it seems like yesterday, except it’s quite a while since I ran my last five-minute mile. Where did the time go?
I’m going to finish with two unashamed sales pitches: don’t forget to pick up a copy of The Last Latrine, and please – if you enjoy my blogs, “like” (on Twitbook), share and even consider joining the email list.
Hasta Pronto chic@s!