Hello, this is me sticking my grizzled old rugby head up from his decrepit bunker here in wintry Adelaide.
To anyone who noticed, I apologise for my absence from these pages for quite some time. To anyone who did not notice, perhaps I should also apologise for my absence not being noticeable.
This is not about just winning rugby, this is about finding true happiness – and rugby is very much a part of that.
First, I need to tell you I have been to a very dark place indeed. Last summer, a disturbing malaise came over me. I began to feel uninterested in the coming rugby season.
At a certain age, some men begin losing interest in sex which, given all the trouble it may have caused them over their lives, is not such a bad thing. But for me to start losing interest in rugby?
It disturbed me profoundly.
Rugby has been the greater interest of my life since the age of five; it proved to be my way forward in life. Where I came from in New Zealand, you could be an axe murderer but that would be overlooked if you could play a decent game of footy.
Perhaps, I suspected, my melancholy was a sign that the Good Lord, Big Godfrey, was preparing to bench me from the rich and colourful pastiche that has been my strange existence.
As the Adelaide summer progressed and edged towards winter, there was a brief, so very brief, burst of optimistic sunlight during the World Cricket Cup when the Kiwis played Australia in the final.
Curse me, berate me, if you wish, but I was enthusiastically rooting for the Kiwis. It still seems strange to ‘root’ for a team, as the Americans say, but if that’s what it takes I am always happy to do so if I can.
For mine, the Australian cricket team has been for many years the equivalent of the All Blacks in rugby: smug and arrogant, sunglassed, in their self belief, their right to rule their world.
For me, the prospect of the underdog New Zealanders beating Australia in the final was, well, a brief reason for living.
But, unsurprisingly it was not be, and I fell back into my torpor.
I kept reviewing my life, the dismal business failures, the disastrous relationships, the betrayals, the burnt meals, my bandy legs – and the lack of any great recent success by my adopted, beloved Wallabies.
I even seriously considered not reconnecting my Foxplay account for the Super Rugby, that was how bad it became.
I imagined a bleak winter just looking blankly out the window.
This may surprise you but all of my life I have been an ‘up’ person, a supreme, cock-eyed optimist. I am known for it. Besides, old habits die hard.
I relented and hooked up Foxplay at the start of Super Rugby in the hope that watching the rugby might kick-start my renewed interest in the hallowed game.
It took a little time to resuscitate me but gradually those warm old feelings started coming back.
I am 68-years of age. I have a buggered back (from rugby) and a savaged knee (yes, rugby). Walking is becoming very painful.
I live in an old rental house that is as near to condemned as can be. It looks like a mausoleum from the outside.
When it rains, I have to put buckets out in the hallway – I can see daylight through the ceiling at one end.
There’s the bathroom where, last winter, a waterlogged metre-square piece of ceiling fell out, dumping huge mounds of ancient possum poo and fruit stones all over the floor – filling up the loo and the open cistern which I had been trying to fix.
It exposed the fossilised remains of a long-dead possum on a beam toothily grinning triumphantly. The mess took two hours to clean up.
I mainly survive on an the age pension and drink very cheap wine with ice and grated frozen grated lemon which staves off the flu and, as the Bible says, gladdens my heart (read also numbs the bloody knee and back pain – and gets me to sleep).
I eat a lot of sausages, gravy and mash. I consciously eschew the use of my heater during these cold Adelaide months because I live in abject terror of the almost unpayable consequent electricity bills.
I get to bed early because I can form a cocoon of beautiful warm air under my doona which allows me to breathe it into my fragile lungs and sleep luxuriantly and peacefully up to ten hours a night. You can’t buy that, especially if your stock market shares are taking a thrashing.
I own one pair of jeans and recently upgraded to a pair of stretchy topped Fred Bracks trews from a charity shop: cost $1.00!
But I do have some reasonable footwear from better days: a pair of old heavy duty, dark tan RM Williams boots; another pair of featherweight, duck-toed black Florsheims and just recently a pair of very smart, brushed leather tan Rossi dress boots. Very nice.
(Guys, you do know that one of the first things women notice about you is your footwear? )
Now, prepare to gag. From time to time I have rats in my house – plenty of them. Big ones.
I found one in my very old Eureka gas oven the other day. It had somehow squeezed in through a gap in the floor of the antiquated appliance.
I am not sure who got the bigger fright, the rat or me. Naturally, I slammed the door shut – and turned on the gas. Moments later, Ratty came shooting out the back of the oven and, at blinding speed, dived to clean air and blessed safety through his hole in the wall.
Hopefully, I suspect Ratty has now departed to a better place; he and his rat pals ate all the strategically-placed ‘Kill Rat; sachets and for now I live, or hope I live, in a rat-less house.
Summarising, in almost every way I am the antithesis of materialism, or mammonism – or for many of you, I suspect, my daily existence is your worst retirement nightmare come true.
All of the above notwithstanding, I have several small comforting luxuries for which I am eternally grateful.
My room is dry although there are one or two holes in the floor. A blue tongued lizard climbed up through one of them and interrupted my siesta two summers ago.
It could easily have been a King Brown. The bedroom ceiling and walls are cracking badly. Every so often a small piece of plaster falls on my face from the ceiling while I am sleeping – true.
I have decent gas hot water although I have to gingerly climb up into a 100-year old bathtub set up on a wonky bricks base to shower.
The rim scares the bejesus out of me; if I were to slip on the straddle climbing in or out I would, as the Honey Badger would say, crush my canastas.
And hey, I have the internet – and I also have a wonderful Tuscan-style courtyard, Weber, fish smoker et al, enclosed within 130-year-old gravel-and-brick walls (although four years ago on the other side of the house the whole wall collapsed into the neighbouring heart surgeon’s driveway – 70 tons of it).
Such is the life of the impoverished writer. I rather believe (in theory) though that if I was rich I would be most reluctant to die and leave behind all my material comforts whereas, in being poor, death would somehow be . . . easier.
I digress. I was writing about finding happiness. I find incredible – if not poignant per reason of my vintage – happiness in the company of my six-year-old son, Jackson, when I have him every Saturday. I recently got him a Wallabies cap and little Wallabies flag on a stick. I got him some car window stickers courtesy of the ARU in an effort to rescue him from the bloody Crows, but they seem to have already entrapped him. He goes to Auskick on Thursday nights and now wants a Crow’s guernsey ($90!).
He frequently pipes up in his sweet little voice from the back seat as we are driving in my beat up old Hyundai that he loves me. You can’t buy that, either.
Last Saturday the Happy Planets aligned perfectly. I spent the day with my precious Jacky Da, as I call him. We shared our regular small serving of fish and chips from the ‘best chip shop in the world’ at Brighton Beach then spent an hour playing video games at Intencity and generally whiled away the day in an emotionally rewarding way.
I told him about the wonderful Wallabies rugby union team and how they were playing the mighty All Blacks in Sydney that night. He loves the Wally B crowd chant published recently in The Roar; playing it to him is my rearguard action against the blasted brainwashing Crows.
I drove home happy in the warm afterglow of feeling so loved by my young child – the purest love there can possibly be. I turned my mind with a sense of rare optimism to last Saturday’s Test match and the rare luxury of two roast lamb shanks with soy, mint and sweet chilli sauce I would savour during the game.
I knew that if the All Blacks were to be beaten it would be that night and to my unfettered, sublime joy so it proved to be.
In the aftermath I did not quite scale the heights of ecstasy I experienced on the morning of Nov 7, 1999, when the Wallabies won the Rugby World Cup; my bewildered then family actually saw me down the back garden in my baggy underpants, on my knees, a tumbler of sloshing Bundy and coke raised high to the heavens, saluting the sun and thanking God.
Nonetheless last Saturday night was, as an old dog might say, so damned chumpy I could have carved it.
Next Saturday could be even better . . .