DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 35 2018
MONDAY, AUGUST 27
Day 19 of Britain/Ireland adventure and we head north from London to Lymm in Cheshire, where we book into a studio apartment in this lovely town. It was quite a trip, with British Rail’s reservation’s system collapsing, on a public holiday. It was a matter of ‘do your best’, when it came to seating. The trip took us through Leicester and Chesterfield to Sheffield, where we changed to a small train for the trip to Manchester’s Piccadilly Station. Our Hertz Hire Car man is a Manchester City fan.
At Lymm, we have two drinks at The Bull’s Head, where locals are still talking about Warrington’s loss to French club, Catalan Dragons in the Rugby League Challenge Cup final at Wembley, 48 hours earlier, a match Marie and I attended. Lymm is very much part of Warrington’s catchment. An Irish chap talks about his recent holiday in the New England area of the United States. Hyde’s Nelson Pale Ale uses New Zealand hops, hence the name. One drink at the Spread Eagle, where there are two lovely black and white cocker spaniels. When I was a lad we had a golden cocker. We have Scottish salmon for dinner.
The owner of our studio apartment, in the garden of her lovely house, is Maria, whose dad is a Wigan rugby league fan.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 28
Walk the bush path around the dam at Lymm, and then the Bridgewater Canal tow path to Spud Wood. A ‘drought’ had closed 10 percent of Britain’s canals this summer. After lunch, we visit Arley Hall and Gardens, where a caravan show had been held at the weekend. Marie loved the place. One of the gardeners said he had been there 52 years. A drink at the ‘Brewery Tap’ before Dinner at La Boheme, Lymm where the French chef serves up excellent scallops, rabbit and sirloin. The Brewery Tap, right beside the canal, boasted copies of ‘Towpath Talk, the UK’s number one read for all waterway users.
BBC’s North West news carries a story that there are very few organ donors of Asian descent in the UK. Angela Ripon is still on BBC1, and the Steve Wright in the Afternoon Show is still on BBC radio. Today I heard him play that great song by Brisbane boy, Kevin Johnson, ‘Rock and Roll, I Gave You the Best Years of My Life’.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 29
A lovely day, courtesy of our Lymm based friends, Allen and Beryl Olive, who pick us up in their 11-year-old Merc and drive us to Knutsford. They had intended to also take us into the village of Great Budworth, but it was shut off by road works. I had taken my 1994 Kangaroo supporters tour there, for a pub lunch before attending a Warrington v Hull match at the old Wilderspool Stadium. Dual rugby international, Jonathan Davies played for Warrington at that time and joined us in the grandstand, as he had been ruled out of the match.
Allen and Beryl take us to the Barn Owl at Agden Wharf, on the canal, and then back to their lovely house, Watendlath, for a light lunch and afternoon tea before an early dinner at their favorite Chinese restaurant at Grappenhall. Watendlath is situated on an acre of land, and features a tennis court. It is built on a private road, which has to be maintained by residents, some of whom don’t pull their weight, despite their wealth.
Allan played soccer, but also rugby league, for Salford Boys. The Olives lost their only son, an Oxcford graduate, to cancer when he was 43. We met the Olives on a 2017 Mediterranean cruise. Their most recent cruise was to Norway. Allen had his own engineering business, and although the coal miners’ strike of 1981 proved a major setback, he battled on to make a success of things.
John Crowley, now 70, makes contact with me through my website. John was a police officer at Murwillumbah when I was a cadet journalist, and we were rivals on the rugby league field. He was a prop for Old Boys, and I was a utility player for Brothers. ‘Crowls’, who now lives in Adelaide, introduced me to Neil Diamond’s ‘Hot August Night’. John is good mates with former Balmain fullback, Bob Smithies.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 30
An emotional day for me as I catch up with my great mate, Paddy Hart from Widnes. I hadn’t seen Paddy since 2000, when I covered the Wales v Papua New Guinea World Cup rugby league match in Widnes, and we had a drink at St Bede’s Club, with noted Australian league journalist, Steve Mascord. Marie and I catch up with Paddy at London Bridge Inn, Appleton, on the banks of the Bridgewater Canal. We had been for a walk before lunch (cod, chips and mushy peas) to Hough Lane Bridge, where there is an excellent cricket ground. We saw a heron catch a fish. Noted league historian/author, Roger Grime from St Helens, also joins us at the pub. Roger looks like former Sunday-Mail editor, Mike Quirk.
Paddy says former Great Britain skipper, Frank Myler is not well. I first met Paddy in Australia in 1974, and we have been mates ever since. A product of the West Bank rugby league club in Widnes, Paddy, a tough-as-teak prop, played rugby league in Australia for Taree United, after playing rugby union for Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and club union in South Africa, on his way to Australia.
Lamb chops (from Hopkinson’s Butchers) for dinner. The butchers have operated since 1918.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 31
Drive to Leeds (more particularly, Scholes) via the Yorkshire Dales, to stay with our close friends, Andrew and Sandy Varley. At Hawes we visit ‘The Creamery’ for a cheese making demonstration. One beer at ‘The Board’, where outdoor diners flee from the wasps. An RAF jets flies over as we walk around Aysgarth Falls. One drink at Coverdale pub, which is in need of love, but boasts a beautiful beer garden. Dinner tonight with Sandy Varley, who takes us to Gascoigne Arms, Berwick-in-Elmet, which is full of soccer fans watching Leeds United play. I was hoping for the Huddersfield v Wakefield rugby league match. I have home-made shepherds pie, while Marie settles for chicken curry. Sandy’s husband Andrew has Varley Picture Agencies and has contracts with Leeds United and Middlesborough. He gets home from the United match at 11 p.m., all stressed out, just as I was back in my days as a league journalist. Andrew puts out food for the hedge hogs – as you do.
In Singapore, our daughter, Melanie talks music with friends, and wonders aloud why Marie and I weren’t into Cold Chisel. Why weren’t we?
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 1
Drive to Sandsend on the east coast, via Thornton le Dale, where we have lunch at New Inn (black pudding fritters (moi); parsnip soup, Marie). A local says he might get his pub back by November, a reference to the number of tourists in town. Drive onto Yorkshire Moors, via Forge Valley, where the bird life is impressive. Into Whitby tonight, with Andrew and Sandy – drinks at Moon and Sixpence and dinner (haddock) at Trenches, where they tell you which trawler caught the fish. The chips are made from potatoes from Ripon. Andrew tells me the once famous Flying Pizza restaurant in Leeds is now part of a chain, and they have taken down the Leeds United photos, which the Varleys donated. Andrew’s dad, John was a fine photographer, who, in addition to covering sport, also covered ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland. Andrew recalls great Leeds’ characters, John Power and Terry Brindle. Brindle was one of England’s great cricket writers, and write Geoffrey Boycott’s biography. Sandy saw the band ‘Queen’ in their early days.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 2
I am first up, and there are two paddle boarders out to sea, as Varley’s English flag flies proudly above his residence. Part of a cliff collapses as we look at an old Alum mining area, during a beach walk. Coffee at beach front ‘Tides’ and then lunch at ‘Horseshoe’ Egton bridge – roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.
Andrew and Sandy are keen Formula One fans and they are glued to the TV as the Italian GP gets underway. Marie gets me to kill a spider. That is bad luck says Andrew.
Back in Australia, Marie’s nephew, Jack Pope wins his (Lismore) soccer grand final 2-0.
Photo 1: Lymm pub
Photo 2: Arley Hall Gardens
Photo 3: Marie Ricketts (left) with Allen and Beryl Olive
Photo 4: Steve Ricketts and Paddy Hart
Photo 5: Dales pub
Photo 6: Marie Ricketts (left) with Andrew and Sandy Varley at Sandsend
Photo 7: Sunday roast lunch