Leading up to last weekend I was plunged into a major psychological crisis from which it is a miracle I have emerged unscathed. Or more or less unscathed.
It is the sort of crisis about which I know many of my erstwhile friends (I call them erstwhile because I am already in the process of dumping them for good, the rotters) will attempt to diminish, by calling it trivial, beneath the attention of any serious person, unworthy of me, and various other meaningless descriptions.
At the very source of it all lay my desperation in face of the failure of Canadian sports television channels to broadcast Saturday’s momentous Rugby Union game between England and the New Zealand All Blacks, who still hold a place of importance in my heart (or, in deference to those who say I have no heart, somewhere around where the heart is usually to be found), in any case a place of importance in my lifetime’s experience, consolidated ever since I had the pictures of every All Blacks team from 1905 on pinned to my bedroom wall when I was a child.
I have lived a peripatetic life that for many decades took me to regions outside the All Blacks ambience, but from the moment I realized I could pick up their games by internet, thirty years or so ago, the old enchantment has caught hold, and I am captivated as every Test match against the old adversaries approaches.
This game against England was one of particular moment, because through an accident of scheduling, our team had not met theirs for four years, giving the Poms, as we laughingly call the English in Kiwiland, time to hire an aggressive Australian coach who declared his intention of beating the All Blacks in the forthcoming World Cup. The All Blacks (who, incidentally, were given their name from the colour of their jerseys when they toured Europe in 1905, winning 35 games and losing one, to Wales, who have only once beaten the All Blacks since, in 1953, 65 years ago), have won the last two World Cups, and have so immeasurably improved since the last one in 1915, that I feel justified in calling this Aussie coach’s daydreams a laughable conceit. I go to no less an authority than the Financial Times, of London to back my ludicrous claims: “The All Blacks are the most successful sports franchise in history, achieving a better win ratio than Brazil in football or Australia in cricket,” wrote their commentator Jamie Smyth, last year. “They have claimed three World Cups and won more than three-quarters of the matches they have played in their 125-year history, more than any major national sports team. Many New Zealand fans go to rugby matches wondering not whether their team will win, but rather by how much.”
However, behind every adversary’s laughable conceit lies the possibility that it may be carried out; so one can see the importance of Saturday’s rare game as we lead up to the next World Cup to be played towards the end of 2019, a date that only an optimist would say that a 90-year-old fan might expect to meet.
When the local sports channels fail me (have you ever noticed that they seem to think any old soccer game between West Ham and Burnley, for instance, carries more weight than an All Blacks Test? How the hell did we ever make it through the last war, with guys like these among our decision-makers? I ask you) I have to resort to illegal streaming channels that offer free services, until you have clicked several buttons, when they come up with demands for considerable sums of money, for which, if you pay them, you get frequently interrupted shots of a game that are quite likely to be wiped off the screen at any moment as their perpetrators flee from criminal persecution.
Occasionally in the past I have successfully negotiated such channels, but recently they seem to have toughened their demands, and for several days, desperately trying one after the other, I kept getting put on to betting sites in which I have no interest, having made my last bet at the age of nine when my Dad gave me half a crown to spend at the races, and I lost.
In the last throes of desperation I turned to my ace in the hole, a son who knows this streaming world inside out, since on his computer he sees every television show ever screened anywhere within an hour of its having been broadcast, through some legerdemain that I would never have the nerve to investigate, so complex and convoluted does it seem to a guy like me. This son is a paragon of patience and understanding of the aged, among whom he likes to include me, for reasons that still escape me. And after I have described my dilemma to him I can depend upon it that within minutes he will be saying, in the gentlest voice, “Are you a complete idiot? Why can’t you just follow the instructions?” enunciated in slightly rising tones that have been known to bring the neighbours knocking on my door in alarm.
In vain do I say that I have just done exactly what he told me, and that the message that came up on my computer did not have the word Google across the top as he claimed it would, but rather it had a message explaining why I was in error. Eventually he agreed he would drop over to my place (an hour’s ride away in the bus) and see if he could arrange things on my computer so they would work. Which he did, and sat there clicking and touching, clicking and touching, and when I inquired as to what he was doing, he would say, “I am doing the work. You can’t expect everything to come up like roses just because you hit one or two buttons. You have to be prepared to do the work. You have to cancel those betting channels, and keep on doing it.” Anyway, he got some game or other going, seemed satisfied that I should be able to do the same in his absence, and took off with the confident smile of a job well done.
That’s as maybe : I had no idea where to start, but figured it may as well be with the channels I had already spent three days trying to connect with. I realized my son had recently had open-heart surgery, and could not afford to be disturbed unduly, so I was determined not to approach him again. Meantime I had decided to enrol in a relatively honest-looking channel that asked me to pay some $30 for three months, surely not a high sum for the three or four Rugby games I would want to see in the next two or three weeks.
Meantime on the side, thrashing around on my computer aimlessly and in increasing dismay, I had opened a programme that offered to answer questions, paying the $5 introductory fee, and had proceeded to enrol until I hit the place where they were asking for a big sum of money for a year’s service, at which point I withdrew. Meantime my son on his own volition phoned to see how things were proceeding, and when I told him I had enrolled in a site but had been unable to connect it to anything concrete, in spite of having paid my $30, my son calmly, and with only the slight suggestion of a raised voice to nothing higher than would have awakened a herd of brahmah bulls, suggested I should send him the material and he would try to make it connect. At this point the guy --- I have to pause here and pay tribute to his superb grasp of these technological mysteries --- almost magically straightened it all out, connected me, and low and behold I managed to watch the Rugby game first to last.
I have to report not only that my son did not have a heart seizure but that the All Blacks managed to win by the narrowest of margins, 16-15, in a game that everyone agreed was most encouraging for the Poms, and presaged something pretty phenomenal for their World Cup prospects. I almost had a heart seizure myself as we hung on desperately --- I am sorry that word has cropped up so many times in this one Chronicle --- managing to survive an apparent winning try that the French referee and South African television match official agreed should be to disallowed.
Now, on to Ireland next week. The cognoscenti are saying Ireland is even better than England. But the All Blacks have had a hell of a scare, and can be expected to be at their best.
I certainly hope so. I always say it when we are beaten, “After all, it’s only a game.” Thank heaven my fanaticism is limited, so that I can actually believe that.