Full Circle

My first car was a lime-green Skoda 105, similar to the one in the picture below.

Lime Green Skoda 105

My Dad bought the car in the late 1970s. At the time, Skoda had a reputation as a car manufacturer along the same lines as £1 discount stores have today amongst high-class supermarkets. It didn’t do much for our street credibility, but it did have one thing going for it; it wasn’t a Lada! The car was a bit of a noisy “chugga-bus” but it was reliable, and it did get the family out and about safely. My Dad would never have a word said against it.

I’ve deliberately started this story in the middle; let me take you to the start. My Dad passed a motorcycle test while serving in the Army in the late 1950s. When he converted from an Army licence to a full civilian driving licence, due to an administrative error, he was given a full driving licence which entitled him to drive motor cars. In over 50 years driving, he never had an accident (to my knowledge!); these days, you hear stories of people passing their driving test and crashing within the next 24 hours. His first car was a Hillman Minx, there were probably others in between but in the 1970s he purchased a Reliant Robin 3-wheeler, or as it might be referred to today, a “Del-boy”. A few years later, the British car manufacturer, Reliant released a four-wheel version of the Robin called a Kitten. We exchanged the 3-wheeler for a 4-wheeler which ultimately was traded for the Skoda 105. It’s clear that my Dad’s motoring philosophy was more about getting from A to B than becoming a style icon.

I was fortunate, after a year of taking trains to and from University, Dad decided to buy a new mustard-yellow Skoda and gave me the lime-green one. My first significant journey in the car was the four-hour trip from home to Norwich. It involved about 20 miles on the M62 and many more down the A1. I didn’t find out until afterwards, but my Dad secretly followed me on that journey to make sure I was OK. He eventually turned round to go back home… after I reached Doncaster!!

I had many adventures in that car, many of them involving mechanical malfunctions. The Haynes manual became my best friend and ultimately my most read publication. I learned a lot about car maintenance and even changed a cam belt on my own, in the dark, in heavy rain, on a motorway hard shoulder near Swinton.

From being a little embarrassed at how uncool my car was, I grew to appreciate the advantages it gave me. If there is one thing I learned from my Dad, it is that a vehicle is designed to get you from A to B and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a Ferrari or a Skoda, whether it’s fire-engine red or lime green. This mentality has been applied to many other aspects of my life, the exception being my wife, Angela, who is, of course, the fire-engine red Ferrari!

What happened to the mustard-yellow Skoda? It was handed down to my brother when he passed his test and Dad bought another Skoda. He continued to enjoy this brand of car for the rest of his driving life. We called his last one the “big yellow taxi”.

Two weeks ago, Angela took out a lease on a new car. You guessed it; it’s another Skoda (a “Yeti”) – our first.

Skoda Yeti

These days it is a highly respected brand of motor vehicle, practical, reliable and now with an acceptable level of style. Nobody we have spoken to, whether they are friends or people in the motor industry, has anything negative to say about them and we honestly couldn’t be happier. It is funny how events in your life can come full circle.

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Cut-Throat World

Colin is a trained chef. He built a small but flourishing business cooking gourmet, restaurant-quality food and delivering locally to people hosting dinner parties, people trying to impress on a dinner date and, more lucratively, to small businesses attempting to dazzle potential new clients.

Colin and his friend and former customer, Andrew, came up with a great idea. They wanted to extend the business to occasionally cater for individuals who had previously enjoyed the finer things in life but were either no longer capable of cooking for themselves or led such busy lives that they had no time for anything other than fast-food. Instead of creating the food centrally and transporting it, they thought it would add to the experience if the cooking were done in the customer’s own kitchen. Andrew agreed to manage and supply these services, and although he was not directly employed by Colin, it was decided that a weekly invoice would be issued by Andrew to Colin for the services he provided. Andrew’s hourly charge was little more than ‘minimum wage’ even though Colin invoiced the customers at a much higher rate. There was no written contract; it was an arrangement that was understood by them both.

Colin found the first few customers; the word spread around the neighbourhood and beyond, this arm of the business thrived. More customers came along, and Andrew somehow found the time to satisfy them all, often at short notice and regularly over weekends. He did a great job; the customers loved him, partly due to the superb quality of his cuisine and partly for the experience, trust and companionship he provided. Keys to the customer’s properties were offered without hesitation so that he could perform his tasks when the customer couldn’t be there.

After a few months, the only involvement Colin had in this aspect of his business was to invoice the customers based on the weekly reports he received from Andrew. Customers soon began to communicate with Andrew directly. Knowing his own diary, he was able to manipulate and manage all appointments to satisfy all the customers.

Unfortunately, the workload took its toll. Andrew had absorbed an ever-increasing number of customers, and as a result, he worked very long days, spent many hours each week in-transit between customers and found that he had little time for his own family or his own interests. He often skipped lunch, he was permanently tired, and his health deteriorated as his stress and blood pressure levels hit the roof. He had stopped enjoying his job as he felt he was rushing everything and had less time to spend with his customers, many of whom had become good friends.

Andrew decided to take control of his life and terminate his working relationship with Colin. His health had to come first, so he gave notice to Colin who, as you can imagine, was disappointed. How would Colin be able to find another dedicated gourmet chef as talented as Andrew to continue those services and still pay the minimum wage? From Andrew’s perspective, he never lost his love for cooking and was prepared to set up his own business doing the same work but with a fresh set of customers. He would be able to charge the same rates that Colin billed the customers which made it possible to generate similar income by working just over half the number of hours he did for Colin. It also meant he would be able to do the job properly and avoid rushing, particularly with his lonelier customers. Andrew’s family and friends would benefit from this change of plan, and he would generally be much healthier and happier.

Colin decided to contact his old friend, Robert to see if he would be interested in taking over this branch of the business. After a little persuasion and some renegotiation of payable rates, Robert eventually agreed, so Colin sent an email to all his customers to explain that Andrew was no longer working for his company, but they should not worry because he has a perfectly adequate replacement ready to step in and carry out those same services. What happened next surprised everyone. The majority of Colin’s customers contacted Andrew directly to ask if he was still intending to provide gourmet food services. They had grown to love him and trust him; while they had no doubt that Robert would be able to cook similar quality food, many saw the risk involved in rejecting perceived perfection in the hope that the alternative would be just as perfect. As much as he knew it would disappoint Colin and Robert, Andrew decided that the “customer is king” and if they wanted to keep him and Andrew wanted to provide that service, who was he to argue? Of course, some of the original customers were friends of Colin’s, and as much as they enjoyed Andrew providing the services they ordered and were disappointed that Andrew was no longer available, they decided to stay with Colin.

After that, things became a little acrimonious. Colin accused Andrew of poaching half of his customers, Robert was a little upset that the business was not quite as big as he thought when he decided to take it on and Andrew became very upset that his formerly good friendship with Colin had come to a bitter end. The last communication was an unpleasant text message from Colin to Andrew sarcastically ending with the words “Enjoy your new job!”

So, where would your loyalties lie?

Call Andrew

Note, this is a true story, although Colin isn’t Colin, Andrew isn’t Andrew, Robert isn’t Robert, and there was no food involved whatsoever.

Father of the Bride (#2) Speech

Loren's Wedding

A few weeks ago, Loren asked if I would make a speech at her wedding. I said I would only do it if I were allowed to have a little fun at her expense. Josh then said he wouldn’t have it any other way…. So here goes.

It’s fair to say that over the years, Angela and Martin have taken responsibility for many of the important decisions in Loren’s life: education, her love of horses, career choices and more recently the house that she lives in with Josh and the kids. As “Dad #2”, I’ve been able to enjoy many of the fun moments in bringing up a child with plenty of character. Josh, you are about to find out some things about your new wife, and yes, it is too late to change your mind.

I used to update a diary when Craig, Loren and Bethany were children so that I’d have something to look back on in my old age. I’m now in my old age, and it’s been great fun this last week reading through some of those entries. Out of the hundreds of references to Loren, I have picked out a handful of short stories to give you an insight into the background of this lovely young woman.

 

1996

There’s a statue in Denholme Park of a man in military uniform with his head bowed, holding a rifle.  Loren asked if he got upset when they put cement over him.

Loren was eating a sweet at school, and her teacher caught her, she told her it was a cough sweet – it wasn’t!

Loren sat on my knee while we watched TV; she patted my stomach and asked if I am going to have a baby.

1997

When packing the grass into bags, I found a caterpillar that Loren adopted.  She called it “Emma” and took it to school in a small mustard jar with a bit of grass inside. It died.

At a kids party, Loren beat Craig to a pulp with someone’s handbag.

While at the airport queueing to check in, Loren loudly asked: “Has that man got a bomb in his suitcase?”

Loren had loads of M & S chicken tikka bites (heavy on the garlic) then sneakily made every effort to breathe all over her Grandad from behind his back.

Loren has a new motto, “If at first you don’t succeed, give up!”

For the last two months, Loren has been calling me “Stewie Old Boy.”

I cooked Loren an omelette for her dinner, and she was told that she must finish it if she wanted any sweets afterwards.  She took it on a tray into the conservatory, and we watched her from inside the kitchen where she couldn’t see us and found her feeding it to our dog, Curly.

Loren was making a noise in her sleep at about 11pm, so Angela went up to her to find her “sleep-driving”.

Loren and I went to the Nawaab to pick up a takeaway curry.  When we got back to the car, Loren insisted on holding the brown paper bag on her knee so that it didn’t fall over on the way home.  I told her that the curry smell would be on her legs for a whole week.  She said that the smell would be in my mouth for a whole week as well.  The bag had leaked dupiaza sauce onto her dress; Angela was not-best pleased.

1998

Linda came over one Saturday night for some wine and curry with Angela, did I mention the wine? She stayed overnight and slept in Loren’s bedroom. She had a pounding headache on Sunday morning, but that may have been more down to Craig and Loren slamming every door in the house on a constant basis.  It turned out that Loren had done it deliberately so that Linda would wake up and get up and then she could enter her bedroom for her roller blades.

 

2002

Loren has an awful cold sore between her nose and her top lip.  One boy at her school tried to poke fun at her, but she replied, “Just you wait until your hormones start taking action and you get big boils on your face, let’s see who’ll be laughing then”.  The boy apologised.

Loren had to see her headmistress Mrs Bleasdale today after being grassed up by a boy who she pushed into a wall.  Mrs Bleasdale told her to “act like a young lady” in future.

2004

Loren came first in the school sports day 1500m race………. then took the following day off sick!

2005

Loren had some ‘New Look’ vouchers to spend.  Just before we set off to Halifax, Angela asked her, “How much have you got?” to which Loren replied, “All of them”!

 

 

Let me tell you about Loren’s bedroom. As a young teenager – and probably beyond – she had little inclination in keeping it tidy. In fact, you couldn’t tell what colour the carpet was because of the stains and all the rubbish thrown in all parts. Angela and I thought she was old enough to take responsibility and “if she wants to live in a pigsty, she can live in a pigsty”. I did find out a few years later that it wasn’t that bad, it was a sterile surgical theatre in comparison to her sister Bethany’s. If Loren was the Princess of untidy bedrooms, Bethany was undoubtedly the Queen. But I digress…

I took some photos of her bedroom to show her how bad it looked. I focused in on what looked like the remains of a snake which had shed its skin; it turned out to be a months-old rotting piece of pineapple peel. Things came to a head. She was told to get it sorted out and, to be fair, she rolled her sleeves up and got stuck in. I offered to help by taking out an overflowing paper bin. I walked down the stairs and noticed she had thrown away the pages of a diary she used to keep as a young child. She doesn’t know it, but I kept those pieces of paper and stored them away for a rainy day. It’s not raining today, but here they are for your amusement.

Tweety Pie and Sylvester

Look at them, look how cute they are, what a sweet thing that she used to keep a diary. They’ve even got love hearts and Sylvester and Tweety Pie on there. Let’s have a little read of some of the entries.

“My boyfriend’s name is David. I met him at my brother’s football party. We played tig, and I never went for anybody else but him. I had a great time, I don’t think David did.”

“My worst thing on telly that I could watch is football. My brother loves it. I think he would marry it if he was allowed. He never stops thinking about football. I hate it.” <To be fair, she’s got a point!>

“I was supposed to be tidying my room. Stewart was in a bad mood, and we didn’t do anything wrong. I said ‘I haven’t done anything’ and he said “EXACTLY!” So I went into the living room and sat down and watched TV.”

“I hate Scott and Daniel. I hate Scott because he annoys you and he’s really geeky. He throws stones across the table. If he keeps doing it, I will kick his head in”

“I hate James and Philip at my school. I feel like I want to hit them on the head with a hammer.”

I think we ought to stop there before Josh tries to make his escape.

I feel like I’m running out of time, but if anyone would like to hear the World War II gas mask story or even the one about the Twin Towers that I’ve bottled telling you, please come and see me afterwards.

Josh, good luck mate! Seriously, I started this speech inferring that I’d give you a scary insight into the woman of your dreams. In truth, all these little stories have contributed to making her the strong, fantastic wife and mother she is today; we are all immensely proud of her, and I know you are too. The best advice I can give you is to write down all that fun stuff that your kids get up to because one day Josh, you will be making this speech at Beau’s wedding.

I’m certainly not going to bring this celebration down in any way, but I’d like to reiterate what Martin said about Loren’s grandma Alicia who of course is no longer with us. There was an extraordinary bond between them, and I know for a fact that she would have been so excited today and proud of how Loren turned out. I also can’t forget about everybody’s favourite Uncle – Uncle George – and Lyn (David’s wife and John’s Mum) who both loved Loren very much but sadly passed away over the last couple of years. They would have both been in their elements today.

 

So, because there are two dads making speeches, you get to have an extra toast. To our wonderful daughter, her fine young husband and let’s not forget the grandkids. You are a fantastic family.

 

<Applause (hopefully)>

 

And finally, here is the twin towers story which I bottled out of telling….

“Loren has always been a compassionate girl. I remember that terrible day when the twin towers were brought crashing down. Loren was utterly devastated and upset for days afterwards. Oh, it wasn’t for the tragic loss of life but more because it took all the attention away from her 10th birthday.”

 

Fun at the Optician’s

While taking my parents for their annual eye test appointments at the local optician, I found myself hanging around in the waiting room for around 45 minutes. A lady brought her elderly mother for a similar eye test; the old dear sat in the chair next to me, I can only describe her as a funnier and chattier version of Catherine Tate’s “Nan”. After she inflicted her personality on the receptionist, she turned her attention to me; at the time, I was surfing the Internet on my iPhone just for something to do. The conversation went like this:

Nan: “What are you doing?”

Me: “Just browsing on my phone.”

Nan: “What are you watching on that thing?”

Me: “Some dog videos.”

Nan: “I love dogs, will you show me one?”

Me: “OK, would you like to see a sausage dog puppy having its first bath?”

Nan: “That’s brilliant. Is that your dog?”

Me: “No, I do have dogs, but that’s not mine. Look, here’s another video, it’s a dog on a surfboard.”

Nan: “Oh, I love that, is that your dog?”

Me: “No, that’s not my dog. Would you like to see 10 Labrador puppies rushing to their feeding bowls?”

Nan: “Sure.”

.. at this point, she took my phone from me, and I showed her a video of a ranch in America where 10 golden Labrador puppies ran inside, all skidded and fell on the vinyl floor before arriving at their feeding stations and munching their food at a breakneck pace.

Nan: “That’s fantastic. Are they your dogs?”

Me: <out of devilment> “Yes they are!”

Nan: “Really?”

Me: “Oh yes, they live in my holiday home in Nebraska.”

Nan: “That’s amazing; do you really have a home in Nebraska?”

Me: “No.”

… She laughed really loudly and gave me a thump on my shoulder. Her daughter and the receptionist were in hysterics.

Nan: “Will you show me a picture of your dogs?”

… I found a photo of my beautiful 3 black Labradors with my equally, perhaps even more, beautiful wife, Angela, in the middle of the picture. Before handing the phone back to her, I zoomed in on the Labradors so the top part of Angela was not visible. This is the picture in full.

Angela and the Boys

Nan: “They are gorgeous. Ooh, will you show me a picture of your wife, I might know her? Is she from Clayton?”

Me: “No, we don’t live in the village, but a few years ago she did work for a while at the Wool Board just down the road.”

Nan: “Well I’m bound to know her then?”

Me: “How’s that? Did you know people at the Wool Board?”

Nan: “No, but I often popped into the butchers on the other side of the road.”

She cackled hysterically, so did her daughter, so did the receptionist; she was messing with me, if this were a football match it would have been one goal each. We kept each other entertained for the next 30 minutes; I reckon it ended in a 3-3 draw!

My parents returned from the examination room. My Dad’s eyesight had neither improved nor worsened, so the glasses he had were still OK. For some obscure reason, my Mum’s vision had slightly improved, and she needed new lenses; she decided to buy some new frames at the same time, so she accompanied the receptionist to choose some, and my Dad sat beside me. I had planned to take them shopping straight after the trip to the optician. Dad said to me “we might get to Tesco’s fairly soon if your Mum frames herself”. As Mum was choosing the frames at the time, I thought this was really quite a high-quality pun joke until I realised my Dad was having a grumble, and there was no joke intended whatsoever. I laughed, Nan’s daughter laughed, the receptionist laughed. Dad remained stony-faced in the chair.

Poltergeist

No jokes, no twist in the tale, this is the true story of the freakiest thing that has ever happened in my life.

In the early-1990’s, I rented a small terraced house for 6 months in the beautiful small town of Haworth in West Yorkshire. I won’t tell you the name of the street because I know what you are about to read, however, here is a picture. I lived about half way up on the right-hand side.

Sand Street Haworth

When I first moved in, the landlady gave me a little tour of the old house. It was very small with a tiny entrance behind the front door and a living-room with a micro-cooking area at the back. There was a double bedroom on the first floor and another smaller spare bedroom in the attic. From the kitchen area, there was a door leading to stone steps down to a dark, musty cellar. It stored some old brooms, some essential tools and spider-web covered wine bottles. It was the first of only two occasions I ever went down there.

Every house has its own sounds, and I eventually became used to what was normal. As the months went by, I became increasingly aware of other strange sounds. Floorboards would creak in the middle of the night, the door leading to the attic would slam at unexpected times and every time I checked, it was closed solid. I would occasionally feel a temporary breeze flow through my bedroom, and yet all windows and doors would be closed, there were no vents in the walls. These events were more frequent when my 3-year-old son stayed with me. I have no idea why but that was an undeniable fact.

Those who know me will understand there is a logical scientist inside, trying to get out. I have little time for UFO enthusiasts, ghost-hunters and anyone attempting to convince me about religious creation theories. It is for this reason that what I’m about to tell you cannot be dismissed as the ramblings of someone who wants to believe in the unbelievable.

Towards the end of my six-month tenancy, the strange unexplainable happenings had escalated to daily occurrences. I admit I always thought it was an odd house but at no point was I ever worried or scared. My son was not with me on this one particular night. I was awoken at around 4 am with a loud bang in the kitchen right beneath me. I genuinely thought there was a burglar downstairs, so I hurled myself out of bed, out of the bedroom, launched myself down the stairs in the darkness and burst into the living room/kitchen. High on adrenaline, I turned the light on ready for a confrontation, but there was no-one there. I scanned the room, even looked behind the settee in case someone was hiding, but I was on my own.

I checked the front door, the only way into the house – it was locked – then returned to the living room. Somewhat puzzled I walked into the kitchen, and my heart literally skipped a beat; that’s when I noticed the weirdest thing I’ve ever witnessed. On the draining part of the kitchen sink was a wooden chopping board. Slammed into the board was my super-sharp bread knife, recreated in the picture below. It was swaying from side-to-side.

Chopping board and knife

I had not used that knife in the days leading up to that night, nor had I ever kept the wooden chopping board on the sink. I looked to my right and saw that the door to the cellar was ajar by about three inches; it had been shut since the day I moved in.

Now I admit that at this point I was starting to worry. Using more force than I thought I would have to, I extracted the bread knife from the chopping board pushed open the cellar door and turned the light on before descending, holding the knife in front of me. It was only a small area, and all I could see was the broom, the tools and the spider-webbed wine bottles. There was no other way in or out.

I cannot explain the events of that night. I promise you there was no alcohol involved that might have clouded my judgement and there’s absolutely no exaggeration for story-telling effect. A few days later, I handed the keys back to the landlady. Of course, I recounted these events to her but she just smiled in puzzlement and said that she’d never experienced anything like it while living there herself, her previous tenants had never mentioned anything either. She probably thought I was a nutter!

 

Claudine

It was September 1980; we had just finished our A-levels and were about to embark on our university education. Along with 4 other friends, I took the opportunity to go camping in the South of France for two weeks. We stayed in a small resort called Sanary-sur-Mer not far from Toulon, more precisely at Portissol Beach. This is what the beach looks like today, but back in 1980 there was a lot less going on, and instead of holiday chalets next to the beach, there was a huge campsite.

Sanary-sur-mer Portissol

On a warm evening during the first week, I joined two of my mates for a few beers in a local bar (or it could have been some very cheap white wine, I can’t quite remember!). We strolled back to the campsite in the moonlight and noticed some French boys messing about with a football on the beach, so we popped down to introduce ourselves and hopefully have a kick-around. It became apparent that it was not an organised event and that they were all basically trying to impress a girl who was watching them while sat up against the wall.

The boys were probably around 16 years old, the girl with them was 18 as I found out later; one of the boys was her younger brother. They viewed us with some trepidation as we approached and they quickly closed ranks. The girl shouted “Hello” to us, so we went to join her. She was called Claudine and was the proud owner of a pair of beautiful big brown eyes, long and curly jet-black hair, and an infectious smile. Although a little on the short side, there was definitely something about her that made us quickly realise why those younger boys were out to impress, but making themselves look like immature idiots in the process.

We were able to have a laugh thanks to a mix of Claudine’s broken English and mutual sign language. If this chance encounter was a race for her affections, then it’s fair to say I was leading the race. The reason was not due to my good looks or my intelligence, of course. One of my mates was much better looking, and the other was far more intelligent. Now I’m definitely not saying that the brainy one was not attractive, nor am I saying that the handsome one was thick as mince, but if you swapped over those traits to create two separate people, they would both be dangerous. No, the reason why I was leading the race was that I was the only one who had a GCE ‘O’ level in French and I could manage simple communication when spoken slowly.

My friends decided to join the French boys in a game of football leaving me to chat to the lovely Claudine. Things were progressing nicely, in fact, she had raised the subject of skinny-dipping, but then things took a seriously bad turn. Two policemen arrived on the beach, and it was evident they weren’t messing about. They spoke no English, and their French was so fast I could not understand what they were saying. Claudine did her best to translate; it transpired that we were breaking the law by being on the beach after dark. The cops didn’t seem too concerned with Claudine and the French boys, they were more focused on the three English holidaymakers.

Claudine said, “let me talk to them”, and she walked about 20 paces away with the two policemen. After chatting to them for two or three minutes, she returned with an explanation. With the two cops leaning against a railing a short distance away, Claudine said that they would allow our French friends to go home if they went straight away, but we were given an ultimatum. If we agreed to meet them at the local bar near the top of the hill the following evening when they were off-duty, then they would not arrest us; if we did not agree, then they would take us down to the local station and charge us.

At this point, we looked across at the ‘gendarmes’ in an entirely different light. What did they look like? Take a look at this picture of the Village People.

The-Original-Village-Peop-001

Now try to imagine the guy on the right, wearing the uniform of the guy on the left. I hope you now understand the position between a rock and a hard place that we found ourselves in. We obviously didn’t want to get arrested, so we agreed to meet them in the bar the following evening. Claudine went across to tell them, and without a word of a lie, the more senior cop blew a kiss at us. Holy crap! Claudine came over to me, planted a kiss on my cheek and said goodbye. I never saw her again.

Did we go to the bar the following evening? We most certainly did not.

Did we return to the beach on any of the remaining evenings of our holiday? Not on your Nellie!

Looking back at this incident almost 40 years later, I’m now starting to think they may have been joking with us but I would not bet my mortgage on it.

Unsung Hero

My daughter, Bethany, told me a story about something good she did at work, but circumstances dictated that she was unable to claim any credit for it. It reminded me of a rugby league story which I’ve since recounted a few times.

I used to play rugby for Sunderland in the mid-1980s. We played a friendly match against Clayton ARLFC in Bradford and afterwards, 5 Sunderland players were asked if we would like to join the Clayton team on a short tour to the South of France to play two matches in Toulouse. We were not really part of the Clayton team but we were welcomed anyway, and made lots of friends. At this point, I could tell you stories of some of the events of that memorable trip, including:

  • a drunken visit to the Pernod factory,
  • indescribable mass seasickness on the Portsmouth to St Malo ferry,
  • the time I fell asleep in a French café/bar and awoke with my right arm completely clean-shaven,
  • trout fishing,
  • getting lost in Auterive and having to blag a lift back to our base using translation skills gained from my French language O-level,
  • an England v France size contest (I’ll leave it to your imagination to determine what was being measured, suffice to say the little French scrum-half won after the English prop-forward quickly admitted defeat before having to remove his trouser belt).

Clayton ARLFC

This particular story is about one of the best moments I’ve ever had on a rugby pitch. In a tough game played in blistering heat, the score was 20-20 with less than a minute to play. Our French opponents were in possession, virtually on their own line, but in a final display of Gallic flair they whizzed the ball out to their left-winger who cut through our defence and went flying down the touchline. I was the only Clayton player who made an effort to chase. With every stride I was slowly gaining ground and, after a 90m run, we arrived at our try-line together. He glanced across at me and put in a full scale dramatic dive into the corner to claim the match-winning try. I did the same thing, smashed him in mid-air with every ounce of energy I had left and managed to dislodge the ball and prevent him scoring. The final whistle blew immediately afterwards.

The French winger and I gathered our breaths back – or as the Australians call it, “sucked in the big ones” – we shook hands, helped each other off the ground and joined our teammates at the other end of the pitch in an act of cross-channel, end-of-match camaraderie.

Back in the changing rooms, all the players were buzzing; no one had expected us to even get close to the French team, let alone leave the match with a draw. I’ll never forget the moment that our captain was talking to all the senior players in the team and said “What a fantastic match, but who made that crunching tackle at the end to stop them scoring?” No one said anything; inside my head, my brain was screaming “Tell them, tell them it was you”, but I didn’t. I thought in that moment that I would come across as a needy little nerd in a team of relatively tough rugby players, so I opted to sit there in silence.

Did I do the right thing? I’m not sure, even to this day.