Hello everyone! My Mam suggested I write a short article for you. She thinks my musings would add a more gentle tone to the usual verbal bludgeoning as dispatched by proven rugby giants like Mr Haskell, or “Ah James Oh James” as my Mam likes to whisper when she is leafing through the rugby calendars she keeps at her bedside.
I don’t want to show off or anything, but some of you may have noticed I play rugby for the Scarlets and for Wales. Unfortunately I hurt my foot very badly recently so I am back at home resting in my old bed at my Mam’s house. My feet stick out the bottom a bit now but otherwise it’s just the same as it always was, all warm and soft and safe.
As I write this my Mam is busy downstairs baking cakes while softly singing ‘Bread of Heaven’ – except she changes the words to ‘Cakes of Heaven’ when she puts them in the oven because she knows it makes me laugh a little bit. My Mam kept my old bedroom just as it used to be. Even Happy Ianto, my old friend and the happiest teddy on earth is still here, snuggled up with me right now as I write this.
It is so lovely being home again I even wrote a little poem about it:
Nothing to prove
My every move
From here I can look out across the street and see the rooftops and disused aerials of Penwynyrrdd Terrace. Today they are all etched into a lovely blue sky so even the mountains in the distance seem less dark and glowering than usual. My Mam always makes sure the curtains and nets are pulled back from the sash windows so I can see out – or as my Mam says, “So the angels can see in” – when she kisses my forehead before leaving for chapel on Sundays.
I don’t wonder that many of you are surprised that I am an international rugby player, and to be honest I am a bit surprised too sometimes! I had very mixed feelings about playing rugby, but in Wales everybody is on the look out for “the new Barry John” from the very moment you are born. Once I flopped over onto my side while trying to reach a rusk and Dai the Couch leapt to his feet and shouted, “Look how he’s laying that back for the forwards!” Another time I came home from school and there was a commotion at the front door. It was Bryn the Lash telling my Mam he’d seen me up at LLyddyfrydd’s Tump chasing butterflies. “Just like Phil Bennett”, he said in his excitement, “but prettier!”
In some ways it’s true of course. Like most Welsh boys it was easy for me to catch and pass a rugby ball. However, I especially wanted to be number 10 so I could spend hours on my own practising my kicking. I’m a bit of a daydreamer though and spent far too much time lying on my back in the grass watching the clouds drift by. To this day I still have problems concentrating when taking place kicks, especially if the sky is blue and the rugby posts are reaching up to the heavens like Jacob’s ladder!
Tackling was more of a problem for me because it is quite rough and can hurt a bit but my old sports teacher at Ysgol Gyfun, Bro Myrddin, knew all the secrets of motivation. He said if I didn’t tackle properly he would tell my Mam I was there when Uncas Morris was showing off that magazine he found in his Dad’s shed. I would have died if my Mam ever found out, so all I could do was close my eyes and tackle my heart out!
So I developed through the age groups and professional ranks and before I knew it I was in the Welsh squad, but not in the team of course. Then one day I was warming up with the reserves thinking about playing marbles after the game when “The Count” went and injured himself!
“The Count” is Stephen Jones’ nickname, after The Count from Sesame Street. It’s because Stephen was always counting his Welsh caps while laughing in delighted astonishment as the numbers just get higher and higher. “Three! Four! Five! Six! SIX!? Hahahaha!”
I was so surprised that the day just flew by. People say the English boys didn’t even notice “The Count” was injured and I was playing instead. No one really tackled me that day and I seemed to be blessed with elusive anonymity for many months to come – right up to the RWC in fact!
People often ask me what the Cryo-Chambers were like in Poland, thinking that it must have been awful. It wasn’t that bad really. Besides, my Mam used to take me to stay at my Nan’s old house on the hillside overlooking Gwyryf’s Leap. Once you’ve experienced visiting the outside toilet there on a mid-winter’s evening the Cryo-Chamber seems like an evening in the snug at the Three Arrows! Nothing grew on that bleak hillside – it was so blackened and barren it became known as “The Devil’s Welshcake”.
Darker clouds eventually gathered on my rugby horizon, but that is a story for another day. The light is fading now and I’m starting to feel a bit sleepy, so if you don’t mind I will stop here. My Mam will soon be up with my bedtime cocoa, and, to be honest, I’m also a bit nervous about tomorrow because my old girlfriend from school, Gladys Moping-Pew, is coming over for a visit. We haven’t seen each other since our misunderstanding on the banks of the river Gryddu, so keep your fingers crossed that everything goes well!
In the meantime it’s goodbye for now and a very happy wave to you all from Happy Ianto!
As told to the greatpoochini undercover as MisterIlks.