Up and down the country for the next month there will be a dawn chorus of sleepy Welsh voices saying ”Oi love, wherebyto is that little fella delivering the milk at 4 in the morning, whistling Bread of Heaven? Whenbyhow is your nightie on the front gate? And whatbywhere has the cat got a limp and hiding under the sofa?”
It’s Rugby World Cup time: yes it’s ridiculously early in the morning, yes it’s ITV, and no, watching the highlights is not an effective substitute for getting up at dawn’s crack and doing a job for ewer country.
Optimism Gnome has been waiting a long time for this. Since the dark days in Nantes when his own countrymen beat him into a pasty pulp after the Fiji game, he has been preparing. He was there in the dark days in Poland, creeping around the barracks at night whispering in the ears of the boys “you do not need an ale: ale bad”. He was there in a crevasse in Alaska with Richard Parks saying “believe Richard. Believe”. He was in bed with Dai Greene in Daegu singing Van Halen’s ‘Jump’. He was not there at Wembley when Robert Earnshaw was ballooning a sitter into Heathrow’s flight path, and for that he is truly sorry – he was instead in New Zealand biting the hell out of Bakkies Botha’s achilles.
But now he’s back in Wales, and for the next month his mission is to visit every home in the land on match day, driving his little milk float, delivering your wakey milky to your doorstep and with his enchanting whistle, summoning everyone to the battle-front in pubs and living rooms throughout the land for anthems and bacon rolls and swearing, and if you really must, a pint. Optimism Gnome will also send your wife back to bed for a recovery snooze and make sure the cat stays out of your way. He loves you, and only wants to help.
Some say his toadstool house at night looks like Toby Faletau’s head. Some say he’s Shane Williams’ dad – or at least the bloke who told Mary she was being blessed with a child. Some say his weekend in Tenby with Shirley Bassey in 1967 is the reason there’s a Kylie Minogue. Some say his ‘special additive’ to your milk would breach at least a dozen areas of the Food Safety Act (1990). All we know is, when the whistles blow for the Welsh to leave the trenches and charge like rabid loons in service of their country, he provides the ready-brek glow of invincibility that makes it all seem like a really good idea. However, he takes no responsibility for the incredible hulk come-down when you wake up in a hedge in only your pants with hazy recollections of sing-songs, cider and a girl from Bridgend who looked like Graham Price – then you’re on your own.
Optimism Gnome is up bright and early, there’s a red dragon being hoisted up a flag-pole and a big noisy trumpet blowing off like a Magners fart. There’s a job to be done here; there’s brothers out in foreign lands behind enemy lines needing some back up, and you’re it. Yes, you.
Opty-Gnome uses and recommends Salbutomol Inhalers for panic attacks and episodes of excitement-induced hyperventilation. £7.40 on prescription or £29.99 +p&p from the WRU website for one with ‘breathe like a dragon’ written on it in marker pen.
The dawn of the age of the Orc has been postponed indefinitely as it emerged that if you just stand in front of them and pull them to the floor all day then they don’t really have that much more to offer. Orc forces arrived in Cardiff on Saturday including scrum-mammoths, line-out trolls, siege-ram mutants and wide-out nazgul wing-beasts. The strategy was to find hobbits and run at them really hard on the strict understanding from the Generals that the hobbits would grow weary of this and eventually step aside, enabling crushing victory and celebratory drinking from captive skulls. Curiously, when Orctactic met with determined heroic hobbit defence, the thinking from the Orcmaster General seemed to conclude that the running head-down at the enemy was only failing because there wasn’t enough of it. And so it went on. And a bit more, increasingly coupled with dropping the ball and allowing it to be stolen.
The Orcmaster General seemed to suggest that Orctactic didn’t work for unspecified reasons but would work on all other days for another set of unspecified reasons, giving hope to many people around the world that despite the retirement of George Bush Jnr, the chances of future moments of blundering unintentional comedy were looking strong. He also seemed to suggest that the sado-masochistic torture bridles worn by two of his scrum-mammoths that forced them to veer off sideways instead of forwards somehow warranted penalty tries and yellow cards because the good-guys didn’t have anywhere to put their heads. Everyone invited him to stand in a dark corner and think about it.
Meanwhile, hobbits were clearly delighted despite not being entirely sure how the hell that happened exactly. What was certain though was that they are in the kind of shape that mountains are made of, if said mountains could also run a marathon backwards whilst carrying another mountain, they also care to the extent that all the ale and cowgirls in Cardiff couldn’t tempt them out on the lash, and that committed traffic calming measures are sufficient to persuade Orcball to erupt at high velocity from its own rectum.
Thankfully even those of us who survived the 90s have only witnessed a few games where we’ve quietly confided in friends that by the 60 minute mark we’re not entirely sure we can be bothered watching the rest of it, and leaking further tries results in gazing up from the paper and tutting in mild irritation. August 4th 2007 was one of those days.
With the 2007 world cup just round the corner, what would have been really nice was some sort of morale boosting solid performance; show some parity where it counts and maybe put together some moments where we could all look at each other and go “hmmm, the boys have clearly practiced that one”.
Instead, Gareth Jenkins took the Welsh 3rd XV to Twickenham to face pretty much England’s first choice line-up. The first choice Welsh side wasn’t exactly firing with confidence, and their replacements were not exactly kicking down the door demanding to be instated. So mustering the thirds, introducing them to each other the day before and sending them out into an amphitheatre sporting loincloths and penknives against professional gladiators replete with industrial scythes and AK47s, could only be kept in the archives in a box marked ‘Really Bad Idea’.
It was perhaps best summed up by everyone who watched it with the pertinent question “What was the point in that then?” The only conceivable answer to this question that stood up to any scrutiny being “A pay-day and confidence-boosting training session for the RFU”.
4 tries for Nick Easter is a heinous crime. Subbing him for Dallaglio who then scores a try is like finding your house has been burgled and the gits have shat on the lounge carpet for good measure. And then poor Tom James gets called off the bench for his first cap – and his only chance to stake a claim for a world cup spot – with 50-5 on the scoreboard and 78 minutes on the clock. Thanks for that.
This sorry episode should be removed from human memory by whatever means necessary. Alternatively, a win of any sort for Wales on Saturday will go a long way to allowing the ghosts of the little bits of us that died that day to cross over to a better place and be at rest.
Speaking at an Amnesty International event yesterday, Bono, conscience of the world and millionaire saint brought the plight of 42 Welshmen held captive in Poland to the attention of the global media. Unknown captors have held the tourists at a secret location in eastern Europe in what is believed to be a pay-as-you-go exclusive venue for the rich to torture kidnapped victims for sadistic pleasure.
“Have we lorned nothin’?” Bono pleaded with a banging fist on the podium. “When yuz torcher people, you never get what you want”.
A journalist pointed out that if they just wanted to make people suffer and get their rocks off over it, then in this case they probably were actually getting what they wanted.
“Ok, ok yeah, foin. But yooooshaly – yoooshaly is what I’m sayin’ – dere’s no point to it. Deez are 42 fellas, banged up at the morcy of evil men, and they’re being kept in fridges at minus 140. Minus feckin 140! That’s like in space or whatever. Then they’re made to run around a field with dronk people shootin’ at them, troying to catch moice and beetles to eat. We can’t turn a bloind eye to this! And that’s why we’ve teamed up with Max Boyce on our latest single – ‘42 Men in a Fridge’. It’s mostly really shoit, but the chorus goes:
42 men in a fridge, why doesn’t God set them free?
42 men in a fridge, is there something better on TV?
42 men in a fridge, bangin’ on the door to be set free.
42 men in a fridge, maybe there used to be 43.
“I do this high-pitched falsetto thing as backing vocals and Edge is playing a big doorbell solo. It’s still massively shoit, though.”
As silly season continues, it’s time to look back into the archives of rugby’s great moments. Today it’s the jaw-dropping moment during the 2009 Lions Tour’s second test in Pretoria with the scores tied at 25-25, when Ireland’s O’Gara – having been on for a matter of minutes and having already oafed-up for a springbok try – hears strange voices in his head. They tell him that a kick to touch for the draw might be nice and would give his mates a chance of levelling the series in the next test, but hey man, a punt up in the air, a chase and gather on the half way line, a burst of pace through a paralysed defence and a stunning touchdown under the posts, that sounds like a much MUCH better idea.
Unfortunately, that’s not quite how it happened. Du Preez recalls what happened next.
“What the hell is happening? I thought. Why am I in the air gathering a ball that should be in the stands? This is hilarious! Then all of a sudden, to top it all, I’m sensing O’Gara is actually trying to take me out in the air. I’m thinking ‘penalty’, I’m thinking ‘series win’, and I’m thinking ‘big cigars and dancing girls’. Then it happened; pain the like of which I’d never experienced, all made the more surreal by trying to balance on feet three metres below me which were staggering all over the place. It was like riding a unicycle. If the unicycle had a head for a seat. And was stuck up your arse. And kept shouting “Oi never touched him” in a really muffled voice. Then I fainted.”
Doctors at the hospital still say it’s the most complicated procedure they’ve ever undertaken. It took a marathon seven-hour operation to free the Irish fly-half’s head from the rear cavity of Du Preez involving an oxygen tube, three gallons of KY Jelly, a pulley system and eighty stitches. The senior surgeon insisted that the incident was a one in 240 million chance that normally would end in severe head or neck injury for the unlucky person who felt the full force of an arse at that velocity.
“The precise speed and angle of descent in this incident allowed the sphincter to close again around the head so fast that no tearing occurred. It appears that O’Gara had managed to get himself in exactly the worst place he could possibly be at that moment in time, yet ironically, it was also the best place. Riddle me that, batman!”