The Rugby World Cup

Rugby journalism is the art of the blindly obsessed interviewing the mutely inarticulate about the completely unknowable yet paradoxically: the completely predictable. Someone will win the game. Someone will lose. Everyone will agonise over it during and after and come to the conclusion that rugby was the ultimate winner on the day and that it was, invariably, a game of two halves. Seriously. How many halves are there ever going to be, to be a whole game?

Along with such deviancies as secretly liking Australia and loathing meat pies I have to also confess to just not getting rugby. It’s ok if Sonny is getting his gear off or there are Latins to look at, but the idea of watching big guys with no necks and an alien where their ear used to be just doesn’t do it.

Hours can be spent watching three-day horse events or polo. There are the pretty horses; but rugby occupies the same mental space as Sufi whirling dervishes or Finnish stick walloping nudists. I’m a foreign anthropologist witnessing a rare and incomprehensible ritual without language or any knowledge of the rules every time I watch a rugby game. But this is world cup and I know the risks . I may be banished to some remote kingdom and have to spend years in exile eating hokey pokey ice-cream and remembering random cricket scores in order to prove my worthiness to re-enter the realms of kiwidom. Which is why we, the ignorant and feckless individuals who do not care enough to understand rugby, need commentators and journalists so that we can absorb their views and pretend that we belong.

The promos for 3 news has one rugby boffin sniffing the seats at Eden Park and telling of the joy of the patter of “little spiked feet trotting out of the change rooms, the smell of horse liniment. Strong. Deep.” Sounds like gay porn with cowboys – I could get this so wrong so decide not to borrow from that source. Searching the channels I scout opinions from the players themselves; ‘I think the other team played very well, but we played to our strengths and we came through.” Well you’re not going to play to your weaknesses are you? Although that could be entertaining, I have yet to see a player play dead on the field and then when everyone’s got the ambulances running, suddenly jump and make a run for the try line. And, came through what exactly? The storm? The war? What is the metaphor they’re getting at that I’m missing?

I know I will be tested after the Argentine/Scottish game. I take notes so I’ll be prepared. Cantenponi says that they must win to stay alive. This might be true if this were soccer in Argentina. It’s not unknown for soccer stars to be shot by disgruntled fans for some mistake but the Wellington crowd looks harmless enough. I listen to the commentators trade notes on the ‘teeth crunching – botty squeaking excitement”, of it all. Cantenponi converts!! Yay!!! I think, but to what? Buddhism? Suddenly I catch a glimpse of a parade of my Pakeha uncles, brother and Dad – they are wearing Scottish tartan hats but they’re shouting for Argentina. I can’t see the mad Latin anywhere. The commentators are babbling; ‘The Argentines are shouting and singing, as they do.” The mad Latin rings, he’s chanting: “ He who’s not jumping is a big fatty!” There are 2 thousand others chanting with him. ‘What are you doing?” I ask. “I’m jumping – obviously.” He shouts. ‘How come you’re not with the others?” ‘I got kicked out for jumping and singing. I couldn’t sit still any longer I can’t ‘do’ pakeha – so I’m up with the jumping hooligans. Also – your uncles have memorised rude phrases in Spanish and are shouting them at people.” “Female genitalia of your sister’s parrot, being one of them?” “Yes! How did you know?! I have to go – We have to jump!” I do a quick check: Nope. Teeth uncrunched. Botty not squeaking. Still don’t get it.

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If there is a hell – it will involve people randomly breaking into song with pitchforks

The small person has developed a taste for musicals. I take this as proof that my partner had a dalliance with the sort of person who liked ‘Evita’ and that the person who calls me Mum is not my biological offspring. The deviance, encouraged by her grandmother who bought her Mama Mia (do I need to explain why a 7 year old singing ‘give me, give me, give me a man after midnight, is just so wrong?) Annie, and Mary Poppins.

After yet another day with a sick kid however, Mary won and out came the DVD. Happiness restored I sat and listened, amused, to Mrs. Banks and the ill one sing; ‘cast off the shackles of yesterday, shoulder to shoulder into the fray… our daughter’s daughters will adore us, and sing in grateful chorus: Well done! Well done sister suffragette!’ on Monday, exactly 114 years after New Zealand women gained the vote. Unfortunately it seems – their daughter’s daughter’s don’t adore them or even really get what all the marching and fuss was about. My generation got it because we still saw obvious signs around us of many of the jobs and systems for the boys. I think we might have over done it with the skin head hairdos and boiler suits though because the generation that came after us preface any objections to gender inequality with phrases such as “ Not sounding like a feminist or anything but….” And yet women are still missing in action in politics both here and internationally. Unlike Saudi women we do get to vote but as far as women MPs go, we have more than the US but less than Norway, Sweden and inexplicably Rwanda.

To my knowledge, there has never been a woman MP from Northland. The North instead seems to specialise in blokes whose political longevity relies not on dynamism and an ability to advocate and hustle to put something in the kete, but instead on their ability to continue breathing. Provided they are not caught chasing after underage strippers they get to stay. It’s like the Kremlin in the eighties – a conveyer belt of guys that all look the same and get replaced by someone who looks, acts and believes exactly the same. The Whangarei electorate is dire – the last time we had a change of colour here – I was 7. John Banks lasted for about 18 years until he was unleased upon Auckland. They must have wondered what the hell they’d ever done to us to deserve him. The current MP will have been in office for about 15 years by the time he romps home again next election.

My letterbox could do the same if only I could get it on the National party list. It’s not necessarily a bad thing it just makes for excruciatingly tedious politics. Sure, thanks to MMP the party vote still counts nationally for those of us who feel our electorate vote, because of substantive traditional margins and a lack of opposition, is essentially wasted. But it’s the lack of real sport in it that makes the game listless – and surely adding a few more women to both major parties’ ranks would help. Otherwise we’ll just have to satisfy ourselves with the blood sport of watching the Act party implode but there’s such a lack of suspense when they just keep stabbing each other in the front. Nope.

We need some genuine rough and tumble in the political ring of the North and perhaps it might take some women to do the job. Take a look around. Every second one of us is one; surely we deserve some kind of a voice? Georgina Abernathy, one of the original Kiwi suffragettes said; “It’s for the good of the family, and the young around us that we are requesting justice at the hands of the State.” That still seems like a good rallying cry over 100 years later. Politically, if Northland were a musical it would be Annie – singing ‘Tomorrow’. Yup. Things do eventually change; you’ve just got to keep hoping.

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World Cup NZ

The world cup has got me thinking that you can tell a lot about a nation from its national anthem. Here in New Zealand we sing a song of warm fuzziness and humble pleas, not to God of our particular nation, but a God of all nations thereby acknowledging our own insignificance in the greater scheme of things. We meet in love and general niceness and ask only that if there is strife and war to be dished out to the cosmos, that the universal God be so kind as to give us a miss and send it all elsewhere. Historically – so far so good.

We’ve missed out on most of the starvation strife and prolonged civil wars that most countries have copped and while that makes for a peaceful and pestilence free existence it also makes for a rather boring (although sweet) national anthem. While the haka may carry some of our national fire in the belly, with its throat slitting bum baring ferocity – it has also become a ritualised display of fossilised aggression. Friday showed us inspired choreography and breathtaking creative coordination. It also gave us haka a la bollocks, haka with feathers, haka with imaginary canoes and haka in ties. OK. We get it. Everyone is really angry and ready to fight the enemy (in a friendly and sportsman like way – just ignore the whole throat slitting bit.)

Our national anthem and the haka seem to sum up our slightly schizophrenic national psyche. As does the Argentine’s. Saturday had the mad Latin driving round town with the national flag on our beat up truck. I’d personally like to thank whoever nicked it from him when he left it in the carpark. The flag and the upcoming game with the English engendered in him a need to drive about town singing the national anthem out the window and inciting war against those Malvinas stealing pirates – those offspring of Satan: the English. I had to remind him that this would also include me – and technically – our daughter.

Part of the problem with the Argentine anthem is its blood and guts hyperbole which gives the expression ‘over the top’ a whole new dimension. In fact the toned down version had to be created because the original was so long and gory against the Spainish that it offended the wave of later Spanish immigrants to such a degree that it frightened them. “to resound with horrible din: the whole country is disturbed by cries of revenge, of war and rage.In the fiery tyrants the envy spit the pestipherous bile.” You get the idea. And it went on. And on. For personal entertainment I did suggest that with all those double barrelled surnames and excessive hair product in the Argentine team – the best response if they were ever to face the haka -would be to blow a big group kiss the way of the Mighty All Blacks. I regretted it. It triggered another round of the national anthem where he swore they would gain victory or all die in glory trying. Which is why I’m supporting Japan, simply because they’re called the ‘Cherry Blossoms’. The idea of a bunch of rucking maniacs going by that name delights and inspires.

I’ve had just about enough of the machismo of rugby - it’s time for the All Blacks to reclaim their feminine side. The English have stolen their uniform anyway so it’s time for a change. What about renaming The Mighty All Blacks, the Little Kowhai buds and going for a yellow look? My only hope is that they play like a pack of girls. The NZ women’s rugby team pack of girls that is. And that’s because; the Black Ferns always win.

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