Happy Birthday Rugby

RWC-2015

William Webb Ellis, alleged inventor of Rugby, was born on this day in 1806.  The Rugby World Cup trophy is named for him, the William Web Ellis Cup.  We next compete for it in Japan 2019.

In the History of Rugby written by Edmund Van Esbeck, the retired Irish Times Rugby Columnist, he surmises that Ellis learned about the game in Ireland.  His father was a Cavalryman and was stationed for a time in Ireland.  The young Webb Ellis would have seen the local Irish lads play Cás, the gaelic version of football, which uses hands as well as feet.

It was only natural then, when he attended Rugby school, that he should take the ball in hand and run the field to score.  Rugby school adopted the new style and set the first laws of the game.

Today tiny little Ireland play the mighty United States of America.  On the rugby field an island of less than 7 million people take on a nation of over 327 million people.  What hope do we have?

While we wait for the Kick Off here is a rugby poem by an ex-lawyer turned poet.  It’s a poem in the tradition of Banjo Patterson, the bushmen and the diggers.

Why we play the game; by Rupert McCall

When the battle scars have faded
and the truth becomes a lie,
when the weekend smell of liniment
could almost make you cry,
when the last ruck’s well behind you
and the man who ran now walks,
it doesn’t matter who you are,
the mirror sometimes talks.

Have a good hard look son
that melon’s not so great
the snoz that takes a sharp turn sideways
used to be dead straight.
You’re an advert for arthritis,
you’re a thorough bred gone lame
and you ask yourself the question;
why the hell you played the game?

Was there logic in the head knocks
in the corks and in the cuts?
Or did common sense get pushed aside
for manliness and guts?
And do you sometimes sit and wonder
how your time would often pass
in a tangled mess of bodies
with your head up someone’s arse
with a thumb hooked up your nostril
scratching gently on your brain
with an overgrown Neanderthal
rejoicing in your pain?

Mate, you must recall the jersey
that was shredded into rags
then the soothing sting of dettol
on a back engraved with tags.
Now it’s almost worth admitting
although with some degree of shame,
that your wife was right in asking
why the hell you played the game.

But then with every wound reopened
as you grimly reminisce it
comes the most compelling feeling yet
Christ! you bloody miss it.
You see, from the first time that you lace a boot
and tighten every stud
that virus known as rugby
has been living in our blood.

When you dreamt it
when you played it
all the rest took second fiddle
and now you’re standing on the sideline
but your heart’s still in the middle
and no matter where you travel
you can take it as expected
there will always, always be a breed of people
hopelessly infected.

If there’s a team mate
then you’ll find him
like a gravitational force
with a common understanding
and a beer or three of course.
And as you stand there telling lies
like it was yesterday old friend
you know that if you had the chance
you’d do it all again.

You see, that’s the thing with rugby
it will always be the same
and that my friends I guarantee you
is why the hell we play the game.

Happy Birthday William Henry Ogilvie

Ogilvie1

A Scotsman who spent 10 years ranching in Australia, Ogilvie was a friend of Harry (Breaker) Morant and another great horseman.  A bush poet; he is best remembered for his outback poems like the one below.   I have a special room in my heart for bush poets like Breaker Morant, Ogilvie, Banjo Patterson, Robert Service and Rudyard Kipling.  I love their songs of the wild road, open spaces, skies that go on forever and hearts set on adventure.

My Hat! ;by William Henry Ogilvie

The hats of a man may be many
in the course of a varied career,
and some have been worth not a penny
and some have been devilish dear;
But there’s one hat I always remember
when sitting alone by the fire,
in the depth of a Northern November,
because it fulfilled my desire.

It was old, it was ragged and rotten
and many years out of mode,
like a thing that a tramp had forgotten
and left at the side of a road.
The boughs of the mulga had torn it,
it’s ribbon was naught but lace,
an old swaggie would not have worn it
without a sad smile on his face.

When I took off the hat to the ladies
it was rather with sorrow than swank,
and often I wished it in Hades
when the gesture drew only a blank;
But for swatting a fly on the tucker
or lifting a quart from the fire
or belting the ribs of a bucker
it was all that a man could desire.

When it ought to have gone to the cleaners
(and stayed there, as somebody said!)
it was handy for flogging the weaners
from the drafting-yard into the shed.
And oft it has served as a dish for
a kelpie in need of a drink;
It was all that a fellow could wish for
in many more ways than you’d think.

It was spotted and stained by the weather,
there was more than one hole in the crown,
and it made little difference whether
the rim was turned up or turned down.
It kept out the rain (in a fashion)
and kept off the sun (more or less),
but it merely comanded compassion
considered as part of one’s dress.

Though it wasn’t a hat you would bolt with
or be anxious to borrow or hire,
it was useful to blindfold a colt with
or handle a bit of barbed wire.
Though the world may have thought it improper
to wear such old rubbish as that,
I’d have scorned the best London-made topper
in exchange for my old battered hat.

 

Crimes against poetry

bart

There is a wonderful story about the famous stagecoach robber Black Bart.  An unlikely western folk hero, he hated horses and carried out his robberies on foot.

Black Bart was an original California gold rush ’49er.  A brave soldier, he fought gallantly for the Union in the Civil War, was promoted from private to first sergeant and was brevetted to first lieutenant.  After the war he returned to prospecting.  He had some kind of nasty encounter with some Wells Fargo employees and turned from digging for gold to holding up stagecoaches.  He specialised in targeting Wells Fargo in Northern California and Southern Oregon.

After leaving verses of poetry at the scene of some of his robberies he gained a reputation as a bush poet and the nickname “Black Bart the Poet”.  It was detectives working for Wells Fargo who eventually tracked him down and arrested him.

Always a polite and well mannered man, who avoided coarse language, his sentence in San Quentin Jail was reduced for good behavior from 6 to 4 years.  The time in jail was hard on him and he emerged old, feeble, half blind and half deaf.  He was quite a celebrity and a crowd of reporters awaited his release.  When asked if he intended to rob any more stagecoaches he told them that he was through with the life of crime.

One reporter then asked if he intended to write any more poetry.  Black Bart said “didn’t you hear me say that I’m through with crime?”

I’ve labored long and hard for bread,
For honor, and for riches,
But on my corns too long you’ve tread,
You fine-haired sons of bitches.

—Black Bart, 1877

Here I lay me down to sleep
To wait the coming morrow,
Perhaps success, perhaps defeat,
And everlasting sorrow.
Let come what will, I’ll try it on,
My condition can’t be worse;
And if there’s money in that box
‘Tis munny in my purse.

—Black Bart, 1878