Park Life: Mud, mud, glorious mud

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TOM, MY unsporty son, was extolling the delights of rugby to his little brother, who has yet to try the 15-a-side game. "It's definitely more fun than football," he assured him. "But Tom, you HATE rugby," I objected, remembering that the full rugby kit - including mouth-guard - required by his new school had been worn precisely twice before Tom opted for medicine-ball in the gym, or whatever alternative is offered in these enlightened times. "Well, it's my favourite outdoor sport," he insisted. "It's just that I don't like getting all muddy and cold in winter."

The rest of his sentence was lost in my guffaws as I burst into a chorus of "Mud, mud, glorious mud". Rugby's detractors may describe it as cross- country wrestling, but surely getting muddy is the very essence of the sport. My memories of my own schoolboy rugby career are limited - I wasn't much good at it - but it always seemed to be raining, and it was fun getting covered in mud from head to toe. As a spectator, the particular glory of the pristine white uniform worn by the English international team is that it looks completely filthy within 10 minutes of kick-off.

If you share Tom's taste in sport and don't have a dog to walk, there's very little reason to go outside for the six months of the British winter: you might as well emigrate to Florida. Better, in my view, to find reasons to enjoy cold, damp weather, and playing rugby is one of them - you charge around enough to keep yourself warm, and have the sheer, elemental fun of hurling yourself and your opponents into the mud.

Football is, of course, more adaptable, which is one of the reasons for its universal appeal and its spread to parts of the globe too dry to have much grass, let alone mud.

One of the traditional pleasures of British football, though, is the long-range sliding tackle, a manoeuvre alien to the South American game and one which comes into its own on boggy mid-winter pitches.

And it is not only mud that can be best enjoyed through sport. Earlier this week, I awoke to find a thin blanket of frozen slush over the world - the closest we have come to snow this year. In a weak moment I considered abandoning the weekly run on the local running track in favour of an indoor work-out at the gym, but luckily I decided to go ahead as planned.

I had the slippery track to myself and began running slowly and gingerly, my shoes crunching the knobbly ice at each stride. Slowly my feet felt more secure and I gathered speed. Perhaps I was becoming used to the conditions. But no; what was happening was that the ice was gradually melting as the low winter sun transformed the cruel morning into a bright, crystal-clear day.

I can't recall having observed or experienced conditions changing at such close quarters before, and it was certainly the highlight of my week. I know I'll never persuade Tom that he should play rugby, and that doesn't bother me. But I do hope he finds some way to enjoy getting cold and wet and muddy.