This weekend sees the opening game of the Rugby Six Nations Championship and I am looking forward to enjoying some of the games at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium. I am a long-standing member of both Cardiff and London Welsh and, although I have lived over two-thirds of my life in England, there is no question where my loyalties lie. Nothing is quite as bonding as when a total stranger from the valleys spills his beer over you in the Cardiff Arms Park bar.
Since retiring to Norfolk I have also become a member of the local rugby, Holt. It is a successful and well-run organisation and, although the first team only plays in division 2 London North-East, can claim to have produced two current British Lions: Ben and Tom Youngs. To their credit the two young men can often be seen in the clubhouse and on the touchline; both are approachable and have managed their success with commendable maturity.
One of my real pleasures is to enjoy the set lunch in the clubhouse before a home game. The committee and members are most welcoming and embrace all visitors. It is a farmers’ club and inevitably many of the conversations start from a firmly Norfolk perspective. One of the rugby enthusiasts that I took to a club lunch was a former Director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet; before that he had been a successful ballet dancer. When his former occupation had been revealed you could see one of his neighbours at the table puzzling with this alien concept. His considered and well-meant response was to ask ‘Do you have anything to do with the Thursford Show?’ This is the local Christmas song and dance extravaganza.
Inevitably, as in the case of all rugby clubs, there is a certain amount of excessive beer consumption and one member in particular is known for his intemperate behaviour. As he has become less mobile he watches little of the game but spends his time in his chosen seat at the bar. On occasions his behaviour has given cause for concern and he has recently been banned from all future trips with the Holt Farmers Club. The Club Secretary sent him a letter saying that he was now longer welcome and they had come to the conclusion that his behaviour was ‘ineluctable’. I am someone who does crosswords regularly but had never heard of the word; according to Chambers it means ‘not able to be escaped from or avoided’. That description is both apt and polished.
Together with my elder son I will be sitting with the Holt contingent when England play Wales at Twickenham. They are good company but I hope that it will be me, rather than them, who will need to be magnanimous in victory.