I had an interesting weekend. I went to my first ever Rugby game. It was an interesting experience. By that I mean weird. Being an American, married to a British woman, I have to confess that I didn't know what to expect. I am, of course, referring to the Rugby game. I have learned to not have too many expectations about marriage.
It was between Cornwall and Gloucestershirerrrrwhatever, which was the county championship of England. My wife's parents bought some tickets to the match for them, my wife and me. Her parents are Cornish. Now the interesting bit is the people of Cornwall have never got over the fact that the English have conquered them so long ago. The Cornish have the firmly held belief that England is oppressing them using the standard elements of oppression such as well-maintained roads, free health care, etc. These people are to Britain in a similar way that the people from Oklahoma are to other states in the US, but less sophisticated. For one thing, they haven't discovered dentistry yet. What teeth they do have are crooked and jut out at weird angles, sort of like a piranhas, but grungier.
The match happened at Twickenham, to which the British always describe as "the hallowed grounds of Twickenham," even on the tube maps. Twickenham is a suburb of London. This is a six-hour journey for the Cornish and about an hour for the Gloucestershirerrrrwhatever-wegens. I get there and the entire stadium is filled with Cornish men and women wearing yellow and black rugby jerseys and a small group of worried looking Glouscestermacallits, trying to look inconspicuous in their red and white rugby jerseys, hoping now to loose the game and leave with their skins.
In addition to the yellow/black jerseys, the Cornish are decked out in scarves, Cornish flags, and Viking hats (horns and all). The Viking hats hearken back to the good ol' days when the Vikings conquered them, raping their women and pillaging their villages. They still get misty over those heady times before the British oppressed them with their fancy roads and sewer systems. The scarves and hats invariably have fifteen yellow dots, arranged in a bowling-pin type pyramid, that represent some point in history when the Cornish paid fifteen gold pieces in tribute to the British crown with the promise that they (the Cornish) would not fight the English. I think this is when, while the Cornish were not fighting, the English marched right in and conquered them. "Oh no! Indoor plumbing!" the Cornish cried in sorrow; and the event is remembered to this day in the form of athletic wear.
There were around twenty-five thousand people at the stadium. Of these, about twenty-three thousand five-hundred of them were Cornish, five hundred from Glouscestershire, and the rest were Honorary Stewards. What's that all about? How do you become an Honorary Steward? The normal Stewards were wearing red jackets while the honorary ones were given green ones. Does it signify amateur versus professional status? Son, you work hard and make sure those fans find their seats and you too can one day wear the Mantle of Stewardship!
The amazing thing about the Cornish fans was that they all knew each other. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that most of them were related. The Cornish are very friendly and welcomed me heartily. Times that I have visited the in-laws in Penryn, near Falmouth, I felt like they were glad to see me. And I don't think it is just because I saved their daughter from spinsterhood. The neighbours, all of who were at the match, seemed to like me, too. This may have been because one of the requirements to come to the match, placed on me by Norman, my wife's step father, was that I, under no circumstances, convey any admiration for the opposing team. I was immediately festooned with the various accepted items of clothing that showed support for the Cornish team. I had to say pass on the Viking hat though. You just have to draw a line somewhere and bovine head wear is my limit. Naturally, the Cornish accepted me. It didn't hurt that I wasn't English. At any rate, I would heartily recommend a trip to Cornwall because, besides being hailed as the French Riviera of England (a feat that is admittedly, not that hard to accomplish), Cornwall is beautiful. The people are friendly to tourists and so laid back that in some parts of the world they would be considered comatose.
The match was about to start and the atmosphere was festive and some Cornishmen came out with their mascot. What symbol have they chosen to represent the hearty folk of Cornwall? What icon have they selected to show the fierceness of their warriors? What vision do the Cornish use as inspiration when things look grim? A Cornish Pasty, that's what.
A pasty is basically a meat, potato, and onion Stromboli, only the crust could be used to deflect small arms fire. The history of it stems back to the days when there was a lot of tin mining in Cornwall. Each day the wives would make these pasties in such a way that the men, when they got to the opening of the mine, could drop the pasty down the hole without it busting open when it hit the bottom of the shaft. Honest to God, this is the truth. Later they would use them to dig the earth. OK, I made that part up. Needless to say, this was one tough hombre of a pastry. Its pretty tasty as well and I would imagine that it was doubly so if you spent a large amount of time in a dark hole.
Now I don't know whether it is the toughness of the pasty or the toughness of the Cornish digestive system that is the symbolism the mascot fosters, but it strikes a deep chord of pride in the Cornish. So they paraded a six-foot plastic Cornish pasty (not quite as tough as the normal pasty, but probably less mouldy) around the stadium, stopping at each goal post and hoisting it up by ropes in some sort of Cornish gastronomic blessing to cast out the evil rugby demons. The guys carrying the thing are wearing kilts like the Scottish. Don't ask me what they wear under them, I was afraid to ask because of the clearly rational fear that they might show me. Now the Cornish men have never worn kilts historically, but I figure that they did it because if it worked to differentiate the Scots from the English, it could work for them, too. Only it doesn't, and they look like a bunch of men in yellow and black skirts, but you don't want to tell them that directly, especially not at a stadium with twenty-three thousand five-hundred of them.
After the Giant Cornish Pasty of Death was ushered around the stadium, the players from both teams came out. The Cornish were especially proud of their players. And this is not just because the Cornish fans outnumbered the opposition by fifty-to-one. Unlike the Gloucestershire team, composed of mostly professional rugby players who were slumming it, the Cornish team are home-grown young lads who are doing it for the love of the game, taking time away from the normal jobs they perform such as farming, commercial fishing, petty larceny, etc. And this love of the game is also shared, I'm sure, by the young man from the Cornish Province of Fiji.
With the exception of the obvious events such as kicking the ball through the uprights or crossing the try line, the subtlety of the game was lost on me. Most of the time was spent ferrying the ball from one end of the field to the other with intermittent breaks where the teams would perform acrobatic manoeuvres with their team mates and occasionally get together and hug each other. Call me an uneducated colonist if you must, but the image conjured up by the word scrum and a bunch of guys hugging each other doesn't seem manly to me. Of course, I wouldn't want to be in there once it broke up, because invariably there would be a Gloucestershire man down. I think the main strategy of the Cornish team was to win through attrition.
Throughout the game, the Cornish sang traditional Cornish pub songs. The themes, most of which, consisted of how the Cornish men were butchered by the English in battles of yore. Hardly inspirational, but there you go.
It was a close game until the end when, with seconds on the clock, the Cornish score a try (the rugby form of a touch down) clinching the game. With that the crowd poured onto the field and the game wasn't even over. The Cornish team still had to make the conversion (extra point field goal). So the rugby players and referees had to chase the crowd off the field before they could complete the game. Eventually, they made the conversion and everyone again rushed the field. Along the way they were plucking up pieces of the "hallowed grounds of Twickenham" to take back to their lawns in Cornwall.
After the game, the Cornish went to the stadium bars and drank and sang more Cornish pub songs including a heartfelt tribute to those legendary Cornishmen, the Beach Boys, and their song "Sloop John B," including backup vocals. There wasn't a dry eye in the place.
I know that I will carry the memory of times like these with
me forever or at least until I get some therapy. But now, it's time
for dinner. I think I'll have a pasty.
© 1999 Thomas Snow, all rights reserved
appears here by permission
This was written after a Rugby game I went to in May of 1999. It was primarily my views, as an American, about the humorous aspects of British life. I hope you enjoy it.