Four years ago a chum conjured up a cracking idea. “Let’s do the Lions tour to New Zealand!” he said. A bunch of us signed up for the Mid-Life Crisis trip of a lifetime to spend two weeks immersed in the best rugby on the planet with an eclectic collection of rugby lovers from all corners of these islands in the country most devoted to the sport. The brewing anticipation since then has been joyful. I have loved the innumerable lunches, pub outings and incessant debate in the Cardinal Vaughn Car Park at Twickenham about the tour. I’ve never seen grown men reduced to such animated and childlike excitement as I have with this tour as it has morphed from a dreamy ambition to reality. My own sense of adventure was heightened because I have never been to New Zealand but have always thought of it as the place I am spiritually at least, most close to. Indeed, if ever the Mad Marxists get a sniff of the levers of power here that is where I’m heading.
It was then, a tad disappointing to miss QF002 to Auckland via Dubai and Sydney last night. What we might describe as an unfortunate confluence of events have conspired against me and forced me to drop out just at the four year finishing line. It was though fantastic news for the youngest Crumble Kid who got the phone call of a lifetime, packed up his university accommodation in quick time and drove down at 3am yesterday. A quick turnaround from summer to winter gear at home and off to Terminal 3 where, after a quick goodbye, he found himself luxuriating in the BA Lounge with my chum. Kind of surreal turnaround.
We tend not to sink into self pity at home, it just isn’t our way. You move on and move fast. It is after all, not the biggest disappointment I have ever had with missed flights. No, that one is forever etched on my memory.
In the summer of 1981 I was sent from the Scottish Infantry Depot at Glencorse to join the Gordon Highlanders for a couple of months before starting at Sandhurst in the September intake. After two months in Belize I was ready to go. Any sane person would have felt the same. So it was with as much of a spring in my step that I could muster while doing foot drill that I marched into the CO’s office in Airport Camp to be told, “Well done Corporal Crumble, I hope you have enjoyed your time with us. I want to wish you good luck at Sandhurst and I look forward to meeting you again sometime.” That though, is not what he said. Not even close.
“Now look here Corporal Crumble, I know you must be looking forward to your flight tomorrow and starting at the Academy but there seems to have been a bit of a cock-up in the paperwork back at the Depot. You will now be starting at Sandhurst in January so will stay with the Battalion until we leave Belize in November. When we get back to Kirknewton you will stay with us and come up to the Mess and understudy a Platoon Commander until you start in January.”
That was kind of him. I had a fabulous time with the Gordons who were a decent and professional bunch and the time spent with the other officers in Kirknewton was indeed, good preparation for the Academy. But, at the time, standing in his office, the news was crushing. Another three months in that stinking, disease ridden country; most of it spent humping heavy kit around the jungle. Disappointed doesn’t touch it. In Belize they brew a beer called Belekin, (tastes like cheap perfume and did the same sort of damage to your gut), and distill a rum called One Barrel which tasted much like the issue mossie-rep we used in the jungle. I think I drank most of the available supplies in the country that night. I never touched the bloody stuff again. Looking back, it was a good thing. Had that bad news not have come my way then a whole lot of cards would have fallen differently and life very probably, would have meandered down a different path.
As I said, we banish pity at home but I allowed myself just a hint of pathos when I sat down on return from the airport to watch the Woody Allen movie, Cafe Society. Like all Woody Allen films it received mixed reviews. I loved it and it fitted my reflective mood perfectly. The film is worth watching for Vittorio Storaro’s gorgeous cinematography alone and the soundtrack is full of my favourite music. It was a gentle and melancholic end to what was, a rather frantic day.
I guess then, it will have to be Japan in 2019.