IT STARTED with the barber, or the milkman, or the blokes in the pub who know that I do something vaguely to do with "rugby".
"Ready for the World Cup then? You'll be watching plenty of that."
Well, no, not much at all. Possibly none. Apart from already bridling at the word "rugby" being purloined to mean one code, I wouldn't enjoy it, so I won't go out of my way to watch it.
"Bet you do," they say.
Money where mouth is. Phineas Fogg-style, we have drawn up the contract; pounds 25 - to be invested in a bet on Lancashire winning the County Championship - says that I must not peruse the event on TV or text, listen to it on the radio, read any newspaper coverage or even join in any conversations devoted to it.
A glimpse on the news is permissible, provided I immediately get up and put the kettle on.
The first tricky moment. A headline reading: "World Cup Delays Dog Meat Decision". Sounds like some rogue butcher in Cardiff, but turns out to refer to the football affair in South Korea in 2002. Phew.
Ready for the World Cup? Ready as I'll ever be.
FRIDAY 1 OCT
Collared in the street in Manchester by an acquaintance, who wants to know how "we" are doing to do in the World Cup. "I'm sorry, I can't discuss it with you."
For the opening ceremony and the first match, I'm in a darkened room in the company of octogenarian musicians from Cuba. If there's any rugby union reference in that particular film, I'll count myself pretty unlucky.
Should really be collecting my youngest daughter from school, but there's just that slight risk of her running out of the playground, pigtails flying and shouting: "Daddy, daddy, how are Wales doing against Argentina?"
Should be okay in Liverpool, a one-sport town if ever there was one. But, oh no, there's a match on a big screen in the pub near Goodison. Into the back room. Horrors - it's on there, too. Nobody watching it, but it's there.
Finish my pint in the gents and leave. Just my luck to stumble into the French-Canadian quarter of this cosmopolitan city.
Very interested in the Scotland-South Africa result today. Sounds a cracker - 26-all. I refer, of course, to The Independent Student Rugby League World Cup - we toyed with just calling it "Rugby". As for the outcome of any other game between the same two countries today, I am entirely ignorant.
In Glasgow on serious "rugby" business - England v South Africa in our World Cup.
A sign in the clubhouse at Whitecraigs: "Tickets for Scotland v Uruguay are available on a first-come-first-served basis." Astonishingly, nobody is killed in the rush.
Super League Grand Final day at Old Trafford and a full-throated roar of approval goes up from the television watchers in the hospitality suite. A spontaneous outpouring of patriotic emotion and cross-code solidarity? Not quite - it appears some chap named Lomu has just trampled a few England "tacklers" underfoot.
More Student World Cup business in Wales, where I put the bet in jeopardy by puzzling over the bilingual "Rwgbi" road-signs. Check the small print. In the clear - nothing about reading road-signs.
No Rwgbi (Rygbi?) of any note today, apart from the Civil Service Rugby League Cup final at Warrington. A victory for the Royal Mail, as if you didn't know.
But, oh dear, a mood of gloom has crept over the Principality since my last visit. Can't imagine what it can be about, but it must be what keeps the crowds away from the Vetch Field for Wales versus Ireland.
A potentially tricky one today, with a long flight to Australia. What happens if they start showing World Cup highlights to a captive audience at 30,000 feet? I can hardly get off.
But, of course... What are those little eye masks provided for if not this very eventuality? That or unscheduled appearances on They Think It's All Over.
It's all over for the northern hemisphere leg of the bet. Now it's a question of remaining vigilant Down Under.
Brisbane. Will games be harder or easier to avoid when they're screened in the middle of the night? Harder, if you've got jet-lag.
Even worse, an old mate invites everyone down to his bar, Adrenaline, which has, he proudly tells us, 41 TV screens.
Not all of the screens are tuned to events back in Europe, but what I really need is a bar called Amnesia or Anaesthetic.
In the Story Bridge Hotel to pay tribute to a great Australian sporting team. I refer, of course, to the Tasmanian women's hockey squad, holding court in the public bar and removing any temptation to join the knot of tweed-jacketed rah-rahs in the corner studying a flickering image with rapt attention.
Find a use for the "Rugby" World Cup. After nights of dislocated sleep, draw the curtains and put on the quarter-final triple-header very, very quietly.
The result? Sleeping like a baby midway through the preamble to the first game, rocked soothingly by the steady rhythm of penalties and woken up, eight blissful, rejuvenating hours later, half-way through Good Morning Australia. Thank you Twickers.
Auckland: What you have to admire about New Zealand is their air of unshakeable confidence as they prepare to flog the French and face their inevitable showdown with Australia.
Bars and cafes are advertising that they will be open at 4am for the semi-final. Unfortunately, none of them are offering free grog and a refund on pounds 25 bets.
MONDAY 1 NOV
Sleep through the inevitable All Black cakewalk and awake to the sounds of celebrating in the streets below. It is the French team in the America's Cup doing the celebrating and everyone tells me I have missed the one game worth seeing. I'll live with that; two more games - including one that a few people in Sydney might want to see - and it will be safe to go back into the living-room.Reuse content