Monday, March 18, 2013

Chariots of Fire in Cardiff

“You can stick your f*****g chariot up your arse . . . “ 

You know it’s going well for Wales when the singing starts. 

Max Boyce’s Hymns and Arias to celebrate the Welsh, and the alternate Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, to rub salt into the wounds of the English. And there will have been many hoarse voices on Saturday night following mighty renditions of both. I just wish I’d been there, but a mess-up in my scheduling put me on the other side of the world.
There is nothing like a spectacular Welsh win on the rugby field to bring out the “hiraeth” – the longing for one’s homeland – in me.
On Saturday morning, at 10am, in the King’s Head in Santa Monica in LA (currently seven hours behind the UK until the start of British summertime), you couldn’t move for the red shirts. There were a few English scattered there, too, and they became most identifiable by their groans when their team gave away yet another penalty, messed up a pass, or dropped the ball. Which was often.
In contrast, Wales were controlled, disciplined, fiery, and the best they have been since they became the darlings of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
Until the UK smoking ban, I was never a huge fan of British pubs, and they are still not my favourite watering holes. They are generally places people go with the specific intention of getting drunk or getting tanked up to move on to another venue, where their aim is to be unconscious by 2am. They are places where people talk bollocks for hours at a time, convinced, with each new glass, that they are achieving depths of Socratic insight. They are places where male customers talk to female bar staff as if they are pieces of meat (and think scrag end rather then rump steak).
But on a rugby international day, over 5000 miles away from home and Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, where Saturday’s Six Nations clincher took place, there was no other place to be in LA other than the King’s Head.
It’s an Irish bar that does really good food and where you can have your “ ‘alf an’ ‘alf” – half chips, half rice – that we so love with our curry in Wales. The staff are great, and it is popular both with locals and visitors. Heck, I even saw David Beckham in there with his children.
None of us could quite believe Saturday’s win, as at the start of the game we had all predicted a very close match that would probably end with England winning the Championship, if not the Grand Slam.
Then, as Wales raced away with it, I heard a woman say: ”I really wish I was in Cardiff now.”
And I did, too. I used to have front row, front stand, halfway line seats in the Millennium Stadium, and with three seasons in “Jaci’s Box” – the hospitality box I hired at Cardiff Blues in the old Arms Park next door - it was one of the happiest and most fun times of my life. 

I have several hundred T-shirts bearing the phrase “I’ve been in Jaci’s Box” left over. Someone suggested that I donate them to help out with clothing next time a natural disaster hits a distant part of the world. I am not sure. The sight of a serious ITN reporter commenting on sobbing, hungry children, while they lurk in the background in their “I’ve been in Jaci’s Box” T-shirts might not be the best incentive to bring those charitable donations rolling in. Maybe I’ll put them on e-Bay instead.
Yes, it’s always rugby international days at the Millennium Stadium that reinforce my roots. And then I remember the grey, the rain and the cold of Wales, and California beckons again.
There are enough Welsh here for us to start a splinter country, though. A couple of weeks back, half of Cardiff seemed to be on Hollywood Boulevard to see the Richard Burton star being laid. Welsh actors do very well here, and Matthew Rhys is currently wowing audiences with his performance in The Americans, for which he is hotly tipped to pick up several awards.
The world has become smaller for a generation used to travel, and when I feel homesick, I always remember that the UK is only half a day’s travel away.
Compare that to an England defeat at Cardiff, where 80 minutes can seem like a week.
Now it’s being asked whether Wales are capable of winning the 2015 Rugby World Cup, which is being held in . . . England. 

Now that would be a very sweet chariot indeed.   

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