Recently a mate asked how many times I had been to Britain and/or Europe, and when I answered ’20’, he said I should write a book.
I’m not in the mood for that, and for those who follow this website, you will be aware that I regularly post stories from those travels.
But with time on my hands, with this ‘Chinese flu’ keeping my wife and I largely housebound, I thought I would file a 20 part series on those trips, under sub-headings.
PURPOSE OF TRIP
To lead my third Kangaroo Supporters’ Tour to the Northern Hemisphere, followed by a UK holiday. I still called it a Kangaroo supporters’ tour, even though there was no ‘Roo tour to follow, with the Super League War having upset the apple cart. If not for ‘the war’, the Kangaroos would have toured Britain and France in 1998, just as they had done in 1994, when thousands of Australian supporters followed them. There were 44 people on my 1994 trip. There were 31 people on my 1998 trip, all of them declaring their willingness to go, because they had been saving their pennies for a trip every four years. The rugby league component of the ’98 trip was to include a catch-up with several clubs in the south west of France, and our attendance at the Third Test between Great Britain and New Zealand at Watford.
Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland.
The Pyrenees’ crossing, taking in the Catalans National Park and Arles-Sur-Tech, on our trip from Barcelona to Carcassonne. Arles was, for a time, the home of France’s most famous rugby league player, Puig Aubert. A students’ international between Great Britain and France was held here earlier in the year, when guests included some of the 13 man code’s greats, among them Edouard Ponsinet, Vince Cantoni, Gilbert Benausse and Gaston Comes.
Tweed Valley and Teviot Hills, Scottish Borders.
Clifden Bay, County Galway.
UNESCO World Heritage city, Toledo, Spain. A few members of my tour group got lost here.
Castle Combe Village, Wiltshire. Once a centre for cloth weaving, and also the setting for Rex Harrison movie, Dr Doolittle.
St Kevin’s Monastic Settlement, Glendalough, County Wicklow. St Kevin is said to have come to this beautiful spot, as a hermit, to forgo the joys of human love.
FIRST MEAL THAT I CAN RECALL
Vegetarian dinner in Madrid. Not intentionally. We didn’t realise it was a vegetarian restaurant until we saw the menu, and by then we were settled. In 1998, the chances of stumbling across a vegetarian restaurant in Madrid, were minuscule. As for vegan restaurants – they hadn’t been invented, not in Madrid, anyway.
Chilli con carne (with chips) at a pub in York, with my top English league photographer, Andrew Varley. I ordered this dish to avoid the obligatory chips, but still got them.
Full Irish Breakfast, black pudding and all, Imperial Hotel, Galway.
MOST MEMORABLE MEAL
Traditional Spanish dinner, including a fried potato dish, at King Bar, Madrid, with live music from a pianist/singer.
Haggis, Golf Club, Hawick, Scotland. Live music supplied by brilliant local ‘folk ‘n roll’ band, Scocha.
Eye fillet at a restaurant, the name of which escapes me, in Dublin.
FIRST PUB/BAR STOP
King Bar, Madrid
Louis Armstrong pub, Dover for a jazz night. The (London) band members were the oldest people in the pub, but they were good, and what a cracking night it was.
Hollywood Bar, Galway, for live music
BEST PUB/BAR STOP
Bar Felix, Carcassonne, a rugby league hangout. The licensee, Renee Duffort, coached the French national team on their tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1964. There was live music, out in the square, from a brass band.
Horse and Hounds Pub, Bonchester Bridge Pub, Scottish Borders. Beautiful staff and a piper (Cameron) to make us feel at home.
Matt Melloy’s pub, Westport, County Mayo, with Matt (from the Chieftains) himself (along with his son, and a local crooner) providing the music. Some of the locals said they had never seen Matt play at the pub. We were privileged indeed.
ONE SPORTING EVENT
None in Europe or Ireland. Two in Britain.
Rugby League Third Test, Great Britain v New Zealand, Vicarage Road, Watford on a wet, miserable night. Match finishes in a 23-all draw, thanks to a last-minute field goal by British halfback, Tony Smith from Wigan. Brits celebrated as if they had won, but they were actually just glad they didn’t lose again, after the Kiwis won the first two Tests, at Huddersfield and Bolton.
Rugby union match between home side, Hawick and Boroughmuir at Mansfield Park. None of us Aussies were union fans, but the match was entertaining. It flowed, and the standard was quite high. Hawick, captained by fullback, Gregor Sharp, a process engineer, won, and we celebrated with a few ales at a nearby pub.
EVENT OTHER THAN SPORT
Festival of Virgin of Pilar, Zaragoza, Spain.
Lord Mayor’s Parade, London.
Nothing of note.
Limoux, France. We caught up with a number of the local rugby league players, among them Laurence Raleigh from Gilgandra in country New South Wales. Laurence is a nephew of my former Brisbane Brothers’ teammate, Vince Raleigh, who is one of Australia’s top swim coaches. The locals told me local league fullback, Benat Bourell had defected to Beziers Rugby Union. While in Limoux we also visited the factory which produces Blanquette de Limoux, France’s oldest sparkling wine.
William Wallace Monument, hidden away in the bush near Melrose, Scotland. (Not to be confused with the national monument at Stirling). Borders locals, Elliot and Linda Gibson acted as out guides.
Maumturk Mountains, Connemara, County Galway
MOST UNUSUAL EXPERIENCE
Mayoral reception for my rugby league group, at Carcassonne, thanks to French coaching director, Louis Bonnery, a ‘local’. (He is from Limoux, which is just to the south). We were treated like celebrities, because we were rugby league supporters.
Hearing a member of local band, Scocha, singing an ode to Hawick, from the ‘Mote’ (a 12thC earthwork) at Hawick, as the sun rose. He and I had been drinking rum and milk with other members of the band, at the local golf club, after a Robbie Burns night. The milkman arrived with his delivery, just as we ran out of milk.
Having Chieftains’ legend, Matt Melloy shove a pint of Guinness into my hand, as our tour coach left his pub in Westport, County Mayo. What a ‘roadie’.
1 Virgin of Pilar Festival, Zaragoza, Spain
2 Border country, Spain/France
3 Laurence Raleigh (centre), rugby league import, Limoux
4 Lord Mayor’s Parade, London, 1998
5 Robbie Burns night, Hawick Golf Club. The band is Scocha
6 Matt Melloy and his son, at Matt Melloy’s Pub, Westport, Ireland.