So here I am. It’s 9.30 on a Sunday morning in England and I’m sitting on my couch with a laptop, watching the Round 13 game between the Storm and my beloved Sharks.
I’m tired because I just flew back in from Australia yesterday, after a pleasant 3-week sojourn where I spent some quality time with family and friends. Though it’s obviously fantastic to be back with my beautiful wife and even more beautiful (I’m sure she won’t mind me saying that) little boy, I miss Australia desperately and watching the mighty black, white and blue go round in the NRL is one way of keeping in touch with my antipodean roots.
Anyway, back to the game, which is now under way and which my bleary, jet lagged gaze is summarily fixed upon. The Storm are in some sort of Superman get up for this game, a large ‘S’ emblazoned on the chest of their jumpers. They haven’t been travelling all that well recently, while the Sharks have been flying – 4 on the bounce and looking to make it 5. We don’t have a bad record against the Storm as it happens. They’re generally pretty close games.
Talking about close, you certainly feel close in the cramped confines of economy class on a 24-hour trip from the other side of the world. Oh how I long for just one chance to turn left when first walking into a large Boeing on the tarmac. Unfortunately, this time, I was also stuck in a middle seat, which leaves even less room to try and get comfortable. A slightly built young man was in the window seat and for a brief minute I thought that the aisle seat may be not taken, which would allow me to sit there and give us both a little more room. Alas, it was not to be. A – and I’ll be kind here – generously proportioned woman dressed in purple came to our row and fate conspired that she held the ticket for 27H.
I took my seat in the middle, while she manoeuvred her ample frame into the seat beside. She then proceeded to produce an i-phone, a blackberry and various other electronic gadgets, which she plugged into the chargers and USB ports in the back of the seat in front of her. She also used the back of the seat in front of me I might add, although she did ask if that would be ok. The upshot was, I ended up sitting amongst a tangle of black cords, looking a little like a scale model of the rear of a music festival sound stage. Wires running everywhere, just like Storm players punching holes in a less than solid defensive line.
The other problem was that she just seemed to fill the space between us. Every time I thought I had found a little room to stretch a leg or place my arm on the rest, she shifted and quickly filled that space with purple clad flesh. Like Storm players seeming to cover every blade of grass whenever the opposition looked like mounting a promising raid.
After a short time, the meal trolley began its navigation of the aisle and we had a choice of lamb or fish or vegetarian pasta. The point here is not what I chose, but that with whatever meal, you will also get a mini bread roll and a little packet of butter. Making the most of what space I had to sort my meal out, I managed fairly well until the lad next to me knocked my elbow and my mini bread roll bounced out of my despairing grasp – kind of like a bomb jolted from the hands of a fullback and/or a winger – and into the lap of the large woman beside me. Now, whereas a player from the Melbourne Storm would no doubt gleefully fall upon this bounty and immediately dot the bread roll (sorry, ball) down for a try (both times dammit!), she was in a more convivial mood and kindly passed the offending foodstuff back to me. At which point, it slipped from my grasp again and I watched it roll agonisingly just out of my reach to the floor below the seat – where no doubt a Storm player again would have pounced on it with glee before throwing it a metre –yes, at least a metre! – forward for another damn try.
After the meal was finished and the trays again were upright against the back of the seat, the lad next to me at the window curled himself up into a ball on his seat and pulled the airline supplied blanket up over his head, covering himself completely. I bet Sharks coach Shane Flanagan was wishing he had such a blanket to hand as the game approached half-time.
There was a brief respite in Abu Dhabi airport, where I could stretch my legs and purchase a stuffed camel for my son – he specifically asked for one and when he sees it he tells me it’s the wrong colour, but he still likes it, which is scant consolation (a little like a Beau Ryan try in the 78th minute).
The next part is a bit of a fitful doze, breaking in and out of sleep, crushed by a nightmarish purple nemesis.
As the plane descended into Heathrow, I switched on the live video function for the screen in front of me and watched the vision of the approaching runway from the camera at the front of the plane. It reminded me of the flight simulator games of my youth, except I had no joystick that gave me control. The landing strip loomed closer as the flaps went up and I was certainly glad my uncomfortable ordeal was coming to an end. I just wanted it to be over. It wasn’t the greatest of landings though, the Boeing speeding above the tarmac, its engines screeching and shaking, before it finally came to earth with a violent, bone-juddering thump. And the Sharks, on that Sunday night in Melbourne, did likewise.