DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 39 2019.
Our train from Bergerac to Paris reaches speeds of 320km, as song ‘Hold Tight’ by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich buzzes in my brain, for some bizarre reason. My wife, Marie and I had just spent a week in Villeneuve-sur-Lot with English friends, Terry and Joyce Holmes, and we are now in the final week of our European holiday, the highlight of which has been a 13-day river cruise with ‘Scenic’, from Amsterdam to Budapest.
It is fascinating, people watching on the train. There is a selfish lady, whose lap top straddles the aisle; a young couple alternate between cuddling and snoozing, while a Middle Eastern looking fellow near me is bare footed and reeking of BO. Our Parisian cabbie, an older chap, is delighted to receive a 1.40 Euro tip. No seriously. And the Australian dollar is the weakest it has been for 10 years.
Our medieval apartment (with mod-cons obviously) in Rue Des Blancs, in the fashionable Le Marais area is a delight. We quickly explore the area, which was once the Jewish quarter, and it quickly becomes apparent that LGBTQ community thrives here.
Walk along the River Seine, and almost shed a tear when we see the fire damaged, Notre Dame Cathedral. Lovely lunch (artichoke salad; white fish with tomatoes; plus pasta) at Ricette, in Rue Cardinal Lemoine, in the St Victor area, where we are looked after by two delightful ladies of African descent, one of whom speaks English and knows about Melbourne. After lunch, we walk to the edge of the St Germaine district, and then across the river to the gardens of the Hotel de ville de Sens, where a chain saw is being used to cut down a tree. A beautiful orange butterfly flits by, reminding us of the beauty of nature, as the chain saw powers on. While Marie shops for gifts for our grandchildren, I have a couple of beers at La Tour Du Temple, where two young Australian lasses are sheltering from the storm, which has hit with some force. They are in Paris on tertiary scholarships, one to do with ceramics, the other music. I didn’t think they would want to talk with an old bastard from ‘down under’, but they were delighted to, having spent some time in Paris now, and yearning for the sound of the Aussie accent. One of them says I sound like a news reader. They are from New South Wales and are rugby league fans. People are lined up outside a falafel store. Really! Maybe it would have been better than our basic dinner at Bistro Beaubourg, near Pompidou Centre – turkey breast and chips (moi); salmon and chips (Marie). We shelter from the rain at ‘Black Dog Bar’, which appears to be something of a bikies’ hangout, with heavy metal music. The barman shouts Marie a Rose, to ease her nerves, I think.
Another beautiful day walking around Paris, along the Seine, to the Louvre; people watching in St Jacques Park. Moules and frites at Au Chien Qui Fume on Rue du Pont Neuf, accompanied by Rose’ from Bergerac. There is a poster of former France rugby union forward, Jean-Pierre Rives on the wall. When I comment, the young barman says ‘Legend’ – Jean-Pierre, that is. Pre-dinner drinks at a cafe/bar near Pompidou Centre. Our waiter, who is very cheerful, gives us toasties with the Happy Hour specials – a glass of Rose and a Kronenbourg beer for 6E. A bloke wearing a Palau Broncos rugby league jacket – from down near Perpignan – walks by. Marie comments on the elegance of French people.
We have pork chops, followed by Creme Caramel, in our apartment. The pork was bought at up-market butchery, La Grandgousier on Rue Saint Honore.
Police march in Paris, in protest at low wages and suicide rates within the force.
Former Australian Rugby League medico, Dr Hugh Hazard died today aged 77, after a battle with cancer. He was Canterbury-Bankstown medical officer from 1975 to 2008. I had a lot to do with him when I covered Australia’s Tri-Nations tour of New Zealand, England and France in 2004. The Australians were based in Paris and Toulouse, during the French leg of the trip.
Return to Australia, via Singapore. The immigration process at Charles De Gaulle Airport is a disaster, and that is being nice. The Business Class Lounge, when we finally get there, is basic. Memo Steve and Marie. Don’t ever fly out of Paris again. Singapore Airlines steward wants me to lower blind, because of the glare in another passenger’s eyes. I decline the request, partly because I am in a foul mood, following the debacle of the airport, and also because the reason I asked for a window seat, on a daylight flight, was to look at the world below. And what a world! The view of the Alps is sensational.
At the Singapore Airport lounge, it is good to read ‘The Australian’, and an article by Greg Sheridan about China’s economic rise having nothing to do with Communism.
Back in Paris, there has been an insider knife attack, at police headquarters, with four people murdered. We had walked by there yesterday.
Arrive back in Brisbane, on time at 7.30 p.m.The kids have left one beer in the fridge. Should be grateful for that I suppose. Best movie on the flight? ‘Stuber’.
Valleys’ Rugby League Club reunion is being held, just up the road, with the late Hugh O’Doherty honored, but I retire early, despite an invitation to attend.
It is lovely to catch up with family today, namely our eldest son, Damien; his wife, Emma and daughters, Parker and Evan; our youngest boy, Lliam; his wife, Channelle and sons, Ethan and Connor.
Great to see rugby league dominating the television screens, instead of union, which was the case in France. On FoxSports, Paul Kent recalls the wild nights of Rothmans’ Gold Medal award dinners in the 1980s, in Sydney and Brisbane, and how Canterbury-Bankstown chief executive, Peter ‘Bullfrog’ Moore would hold parties that went for three days. Fellow commentator, Greg ‘Brandy’ Alexander says “dislocated fingers can be a real pain in the neck”. We know what you mean, ‘Brandy’.
The Courier-Mail’s William McInnes has a lovely column about Brisbane Rugby League legends, Hugh O’Doherty and Peter Leis, who died in recent times. I am told Valleys’ stalwart, Peter McWhirter paid $2,000 last night for a painting at the Diehards’ reunion, with the money to go to the juniors. And sadly, there were few, if any players, from Valleys’ 1989 premiership winning side at the reunion!
GRAND FINAL DAY. The Roosters win a thriller 14-8 against a brave Canberra Raiders’ outfit. A howler from referee, Ben Cummins, who signalled six again, and then changed his mind, was the big talking point. There was another controversy early in the game involving a charge down, and the accidental intervention of Sydney Roosters’ trainer, Travis Touma. If the ball hadn’t hit Touma, Raiders’ English forward, Elliott Whitehead was in a position to perhaps score a try, or at the least, set one up. I’m not suggesting Touma intervened on purpose, but, I can tell you, if it was Brisbane Broncos’ Allan Langer, or someone else with football smarts, they would have got out of the way. Retired superstar, Johnathan Thurston did a nice piece of Roosters’ halfback, Cooper Cronk, for Channel 9, telling how they used to catch the same southside (Brisbane) train as youngsters. After the game Thurston asked Roosters’ coach, Trent Robinson about the ref’s six again blue, and Robinson got a bit stroppy. Well done ‘JT’. The question had to be asked, and it’s not often former players, who are not media trained, ask those questions, because they prefer to pat people on the back.
Newtown win on the ball against Burleigh in an amazing finish to the State Championship final. Kiwi international, Greg Eastwood was given the honor of kicking the conversion of the match winning try, scored by Jackson Ferris. I interviewed Greg when he first came into the top grade with Brisbane Broncos. Junk food was his enemy early in his career, and he always had a battle with his weight. An unlikely looking footballer, he had a great sidestep and sublime ball skills. The Broncos’ women easily account for St George Illawarra, 30-6 in the women’s grand final. It was the main ‘curtain raiser’, but I believe the State Championship should have that billing.
My barber, Eric Pappas watches the grand final in a bar in Hobart, Tasmania, where Great Britain Test winger, Ryan Hall’s sister is watching the action. Hall was part of the Roosters’ squad, but did not get a run in the GF.
Wests had won the Newcastle grand final. A mate of mine, from the Hunter, said Wests ‘bought the comp’.
Former Australian Test winger, Eddie Lumsden has died, aged 84. Originally from Kurri Kurri in the Hunter Valley, Lumsden played in nine Sydney grand finals with St George. He played 15 Tests for Australia and 17 times for New South Wales. He made his Test debut against the 1959 Kiwi tourists, at Brisbane’s Exhibition Grounds, in a match won 38-10 by Australia, with centre, Reg Gasnier scoring three tries. The other debutant was Balmain fullback, Keith Barnes, who was also the skipper.
1 Our Paris apartment
2 Le Marais locals
3 Notre Dame
4 Ricette Restaurant
5 Falafel queue
6 Aussie girls in Paris
7 seafood delight
8 Back in Brisbane
9 grand children (from left), Connor, Ethan and Parker.