OK, I'll fess up. When I started this blog I lived at River Cottage, a little small holding in the beautiful Wylye Valley but then I moved. So now I live in a beautiful little village in the same valley with my two gorgeous, funny, intelligent children, The Boy, 18 and The Girl, 16. They were clearly swapped at birth and must spend all their waking hours wondering who their real parents are. I've followed no discernable career path, having worked in publishing, the arts, Slebrity PR and as an airstewardess in the Middle East (see what I mean!). I've lived abroad for many years most recently in France. I now work in child protection for our local authority in between raising Orpington hens, writing my next book and pretending to be self-sufficient. I am proudly a single mother
As a long time follower of the game with the odd-shaped ball, it comes as no surprise that in a recent survey by the dating site Zoosk, rugby players were voted the sexiest hunks. What was slightly surprising though was that this appears not to have been reported outside of India. No doubt a conspiracy by the ones who play with the round ball. For me, of course, it's all about the thighs game but for those of you who prefer to just enjoy the legs and bums, here is my Rugby World Cup Top Totty.
In no particular order
1. Ben Foden
Ben is the nearest rugby has to a footballer. A former Pop Idol auditionee, now married to one fifth of the girl band, The Saturdays, Ben is a bit of alright, even if he can't seem to keep his jeans up - I recommend a nice piece of string, Ben
2. Dan Carter
A regular on any list of rugby totty, Good body, slightly overexposed but hey, who cares. We know what's in his boxers thanks to his ad campaign for Jockey underwear. Oh, and probably the best player in the world
3. Ben Youngs
One of the better things to come out of Norfolk. Cute, boyish good looks, too young for me really to be commenting on without it being a bit creepy! Couldn't find a single photo of him in his undies... Damn!
4. Gonzalo Tiesi
The now-injured and out of the World Cup Argentinian Centre and Dieux du Stade's Mr December is just a bit of alright really. Phenomenal bum too, but then I only watch for the game.....
5. James Haskell
I have a soft spot for English lock forward James Haskell, who as Mr August in the Dieux du Stade calendar shows that he really had the most perfectly shaped thighs abs ball
6. Francois Steyn
The rather preposterously named Francois Phillipus Lodewyk Steyn is the wunderkind of the Bokke and despite a liking for sporting rather suspect facial hair, he easily makes the list
7. Mike Phillips
The enfant terrible of Welsh Rugby and one half (with Duffy) of the second biggest slebrity couple in Wales, Mike nearly didn't make it to the World Cup having been thrown out of the team because of his 'anger management' issues. Allowed back in after promising to go into therapy. Hang on a minute, I'm sure I had an O' level in counselling rugby players with issues
8. Jonny Wilkson OBE
'There is a god and Jonny is his name' was a familiar banner around rugby grounds after his last second drop goal to win the 2003 World Cup. Quintessentially English, even if he does play rugby in France but a tendancy to break rather easily
9. Richie McCaw
All Blacks openside flanker, captain and all round top totty. I like a man with a nice Haka
10. Todd Clever
Despite a penchant for Michael Boltonesque locks, US captain Todd Clever is a bit of alright in a rugged sort of way. You could imagine him wrestling a bison, or is it just me. Just me then...
Today heralds the start of my favourite times of the year - well, four years really. It's the rugby World Cup,a regular feast of muscular thighs and tight butts top level sport. My interest in rugby started when I was in my teens and my boyfriend du jour played both school and county rugby. At first I had no idea what the attraction was of this game that looked like something you might come across on any city street at pub kick out time on a weekend. Piles of men jumping on each other, pushing and knocking each other down but the more I watched, the more my interest grew. First it was the bums and thighs but eventually it was the game itself.
Long time readers will know that I went to the very first World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in 1987. In those days it was a rather small, provincial affair held at local grounds to an audience in the hundreds rather than the thousands. We hung out with the teams after the matches and most of them still had a day job. The days of rugby being a professional sport were just a distant dream.
I followed it in the Middle East where it was played on pitches that were more sand than grass and where I had the distinction of being one of few women ever to be tackled by an All Black when he slid across the try line into myself and a friend leaving a trail of stud marks across our shins but fortunately didn't spill our beer. This was followed by being hoisted on the shoulders of Murray Mexted for a manic dance to Jeff Beck's old school disco classic 'Hi Ho Silver Lining'. The fact that my head was making regular and solid contact with the ceiling as he jumped around may account for a lot which has happened since.
I also had my own (very) brief flirtation with women's rugby, much to the horror of my male rugby playing friends. It lasted but a few weeks when our coach got fed up with us taking half an hour to bind on for a scrum as putting our hands between the legs of our fellow team mates didn't come naturally and had to be precursed with countless apologies for touching bits we had no wish to touch. We also lacked the killer instinct of some of the other women's teams who all had nicknames like Ace and Crusher, while ours would more likely have been Mimsy or Fluffy.
For the next 6 weeks the top rugby playing nations in the world will play the glorious game, off the field, fans will mingle together gently joshing each other and sharing pints in pubs downunder. It's so unlike football. So for those of you not familiar with the game with the odd shaped ball, here is my Girlie's Guide to The Rugby World Cup so you can enjoy it yourself.
Firstly, the game. It's an old but true saying that Rugby is a hooligan's game played by gentlemen, as oppposed to football which is a gentleman's game played by hooligans. It might look like a punch on a Saturday night but once you understand what is going on it all becomes clear.... apparently!
Rugby owes it’s existence to us, the English, or at least to a certain Englishman, William Webb Ellis who invented the game in Rugby – how’s that for a coincidence! What? Oh, I see, that’s why it’s called rugby is it?Well thank goodness he wasn’t in Pratts Bottom or Piddle Trenthide. Bored during a game of football – that’s the one played by the big girl’s blouses with the round ball – he picked up the ball and ran off with it.Many a child has been chastised for doing just that in a fit of pique but good old Will got credited with a creating whole new sport and had a trophy named after him.
It’s played on a field or pitch that has two things like giant Hs at either end.Blimey, you hear people say, how wide is that goal mouth?But no, in rugby it’s not just a case of booting it past the goalie, the player has to actually kick it over the bar and between the two uprights. Easy peasy? You try it.
The object of the game is for one team to run with the ball and try to put it down on the ground over the try line (that’s the line that the posts are on) with as much flair and swan diving as possible. This is called a Try. Why it’s called a try when you haven’t tried, you’ve succeeded, is anyone’s guess.A try is worth 5 points. To make things more interesting the ball can only be passed sideways or backwards, never forwards unless you are the All Blacks of course, who seem to manage to get away with it.
If your team scores a try, then you have the chance to convert it, though into what is never clear.The kicker will try to kick the ball between the uprights. This is called a Conversion and is worth 2 points.
You can also score penalties by making it look like the opposing team has done something wrong in front of the referee. A penalty is worth 3 points.
Then there is a drop goal.A drop goal can be described in two words. Jonny Wilkinson.Many England fans still bask in delight of Jonny’s last minute drop goal (you basically drop the ball and try to kick it over through the posts) which bought the World Cup home to England in 2003. Yes, I know it was 8 years ago but we have long memories in rugby and I actually ran down our road draped in an England flag screaming madly.A drop goal is worth 3 points
The opposition must stop the team scoring a try. They do this by diving at their legs/shoulders/necks/manly bit and hanging on tight. If all else fails they might try to stick out a boot and trip them although this is not strictly legal. Sometime lots of players cuddle up and hide the ball from the other players. They will then try to push or drive the player holding the ball towards the try line.Often they fall over and lots of other players jump on top of them. This is the point where they wives and girlfriends hide behind their handbags.
These jumbled piles of bodies can be either ruck or a maul. In a ruck, the ball is on the ground and players are not allowed to handle it. Instead they must try and ‘ruck’ the ball out with their feet. They can also use their feet to try and ruck the players out... with those nasty metal studs and all. Nasty. In a maul, the ball is held off the ground and everyone must try and stay on their feet. That’s their own feet, not somebody else’s.
Ruck? Maul? Or just a game of Ultimate Twister
You might also see a lineout. This is when some of the players from each team stand in a line at ight angles to the touch line.A player with no neck will shout a bunch of unintelligible instructions thenhe’ll throw the ball and somebody will jump for the ball while his team mates try to give him a wedgie. No wonder he can jump so high!
Then there is the scrum, where the two props, a hooker (no not that sort)the second row and the number 8 players on each team lock arms and other assorted body parts, in a way which would most likely be illegal in some countries. When the referee says crouch, they kneel down. He will then say ‘touch’ and the four props will poke each other’s shoulders.The referee then says ‘pause’, in theory so he can inspect the scrum formation,and finally ‘engage’, when the two front rows push together with much grunting. Both teams push against each other while the scrum half of the team that has possession of the ball feeds the ball into the space in the middle of the scrum.The hooker then has to try and hook the ball back through the scrum with his feet until it pops out of the back, preferably into the hands of the scrum half.
Hang on boys!
The positions in rugby all have their own purpose.There are eight players on each team who are called forwards. Their job is to push, shove and generally manhandle the opposition and create gaps for the glory boys to run through. Occasionally they do actually go forward. Even more occasionally, they score a try.
The other players in the team are called backs, who’s main job it is to go forward with the with the minimum amount of stumbling, fumbling and falling over at least until they get to the try line where generally they all fall over.
He’s the one generally hanging around at the other end of the field. He is the last line of defence and is always blamed when the opposition score.
There is one on each side of the field. They are usually pretty quick on their feet. They are the glory boys to whom everyone tries to get the ball so they can do what they do best, which is pulling a hamstring just before the try linescoring tries.
Two again, the outside centre who usually hangs around the fly half (see below) and the inside centre who usually stands inside the outside centre (got that?) When attacking, they are the ones who run quickly toward the nearest opponent and collapse into their arms. They have an uncanny knack of tripping over themselves or being flattened by opposition players whom they were trying to run through.
The Fly Half...
The fly half is generally the first person to receive the ball from the scrum half after a breakdown of plan so he needs to be decisive and a clear thinker so his first action is generally just kick the ball anywhere. Kicking is his thing, grub kicks, up and unders and chips (not with fish). His also there to provide a soft landing for the opposing front row
The Scrum Half...
Often one of the smaller players in the team and often with something of a Napoleon complex. He spends the whole game trying to keep out of the reach of opposing forwards. Usually becomes cocky in the last fifteen minutes of the game and gets thumped. Mouthy
The Front Row...
Made up of the props, chunky muscular men with no neck, and the hooker who, despite the name is not the team biatch. Mean and moody. Often their game is played in one part of the field, without the ball, while the rest proceed elsewhere. Generally look a bit unfit and after 15 minutes they are always completely shagged out.Often they have a slightly pained expression cause by a bit of overenthusiastic binding on by the second row (see scrum above)
The Second Row...
Big buggers, they are generally the tallest players in the team and push against the front row in the scrum. May spend much of the match resting their head between two well cushioned thighs, clutching on to each others love handles.The rest of the match may be spent comfortably tucked up under a pile of bodies in a ruck or maul. Good catchers, they are often the one getting the wedgie in the lineout (see above). Usually distinguishable by a magnificent pair of cauliflower ears and a nose the shape of South America.
Meet Peter Buxon, Gloucester Second Row
The Number 8
The Number 8 is the only position with no specific name. They bind onto the back of the scrum to provide extra weight and may also act as another jumper or lifter in the lineout. The main goal of the Number 8 is to complete the game with their hair still in place. They are also apt to remember plays in which they were involved, even though no one else who played in the same game has the faintest recollection of their participation. Some are known to shave their legs and the soles of their feet.
Easily identifiable as the one on the pitch in a different coloured jersey. May occasionally and inadvertently take part in play if they don’t move quick enough. The Ref should always be referred to as Sir or Your Majesty and should, according to the crowd, have gone to Specsavers.
Well, the big fat family holiday is over and we are all back in our respective homes in Kent, Sussex and Wiltshire. This is the first time I've ever holidayed in the UK, not entirely surprising for someone who had visited Australia before she ever went to Scotland. It's the first time I've been on holiday with my extended family. Would I do it again? You bet I would/wouldn't* (delete as applicable)
For reasons best known to myself, I had pictured sitting in the acre and a half of gardens at the barn in the summer sunshine, a good book in one hand and an elderflower presse in the other while the children browned themselves gently on the beach. The reality was far less pleasant. The West Country could easily have been renamed the Wettest Country with days of torrential rain and temperatures hardly out of single figures. The 'narrow lanes' in the brochure proved to be a spaghetti bowl of windy, narrow byways with 8 foot high hedges on either side blocking out the views of the beautiful Devon countryside, light, oxygen, sanity....... The barn was at the end of a particularly tortuous 5 mile one. We all cheered when we pulled out of that lane for the last time. The road down to the beach required crampons and abseiling equipment.
Moira had spent the week babbling away happily, oblivious to the fact that she was directing us down cart tracks and no through roads. She suffered daily abuse but it didn't seem to dent her enthusiasm.
We visited the South Devon Chilli Farm to sample the Bhut Jolokia, one of the hottest chillis in the world. It was an experience akin to ironing your tongue. On the first and last days we did get onto the beach at Slapton Sands (no sand) and Blackpool Sands (no sand) a lovely beach that was just a little too Boden Mummy meets Organic Mummy for my liking. The children all seemed to be called Raphael and Xavier or Kitty and Tilly (or anything else ending in a 'y'), the mummies were all toned and missing their daily workout at the gym back home in Richmond, the dads fortunately couldn't get signals on their mobile phones so we were at least spared the loud twatcalls to the office. It did have a lovely beach cafe selling organic food but by the time you'd paid the £6 parking fee - yes Dear Reader, £6. They didn't mention that little surprise in the tourist guides - there wasn't much left over. We had only gone for lunch but having forked out £12 between us just to park I insisted we stayed there till sundown among the squalling children and fractious parents.
I took The Boy and The Girl to Exeter for the day which was much more their thing to be honest. We live in the country so we don't really need to holiday there as well. We munched delicious nachos in the sunshine at Giraffe, casually wondering about the man with the red hair who was wearing a ball gown, before they bankrupted me in Jack Wills. I loved Exeter. It has a nice vibe. I told The Boy he may go to University there.
Top holiday moments were both thanks to my parents. "So what are these jalapeno things?" said my mother as she put a forkful in her mouth - I've never known her speechless for so long - and the moment when my dad's false teeth fell out in the middle of dinner in a restaurant was not to be missed.
My top tips for family holiday survival in no particular order are:
1. You're staycationing. It's not a hot country. Take a coat
2. No dogs, not even well behaved ones like my sister's. Dogs bark. They bark especially at 5am every morning and wake you up. They don't however, wake up their owners
3. Jump leads are good - unless you carry distress flares of course. That way, if you have an unexpected flat battery you don't have to try and direct the breakdown services to an unknown location somewhere in South Devon. Imagine the scenario......
"This is ABC Breakdown, how may we help?"
"Er, I have a flat battery"
"OK, that's no problem we'll send someone to you as soon as possible. Where are you?"
"Could you be a little more precise?"
"What is your nearest town?" Dartmouth, it's about 10 miles away"
"Well I think I passed a signpost a while back saying 'You are entering Little Aresendofnowhere, please drive carefully' a while back"
"OK, can you give me a landmark"
"Can you give me a laddder?"
"Hedges, lots and lots of hedges. That's all I can see"
"OK, is there anything behind the hedges that might make it easier to find you?"
"Damned if I know. They are all about 8 feet high."
4. All snorers should be forced to share a room, preferably in another holiday cottage a few miles away.Perhaps give them some hotel coupons.
5. No dogs
6. Take a map. Do no, repeat not, rely on Satellite Navigation. Sometimes progress isn't all it's cracked up to be
7. Lush green countryside means one thing. Rain. Do not leave your vast collection of sudden unexpected rainshower-bought umbrellas at home resulting in the purchase of yet another (very expensive) umbrella
8. Did I say no dogs?
9. When renting a holiday cottage in Devon bear in mind that 'narrow lanes' actually means virtually impassible in the normal world. Taking your car for a few practice laps round the maze at Hampton Court Palace is adviseable just to get you acclimatised. Also, bear in mind that driving speed is directly proportional to the width of the road. The narrower it is, the faster they drive. An adrenalin injection is also adviseable to restart your heart after a Range Rover Sport narrowly avoids parking on your bonnet
10. Don't forget to pack your sense of humour. You'll need it.
Our next trip (now already taken place due to Delayed Blogging Syndrome) is to visit The Husband in Bulgaria, where he has sold his soul to Hollyweird. Watch this space......