Returning home from training used to mean walking into an immaculate bachelor pad, flicking on the flatscreen TV and watching Top Gear repeats until it was time to go out for dinner with the lads. Not any more. After a few very tough days' training at Twickenham, Olly Barkley and I hit the M4 and headed west but while our destination was mutual, the lives awaiting us were very different.
Olly spent most of the journey being unforgivably rude about the music on my "embarrassing" iPod and, predictably, wondering which local restaurant he should pay to feed him that evening.
I, however, walked in to a beaming baby daughter being held by an exhausted wife who was doing her very best to look pleased to see me. Much as I wanted to seek refuge on my sofa and flick on yet another car-repair programme, I knew I had duties to perform.
"You go to bed, darling. I can handle this little creature for a few hours," I said, unknowingly. An hour later I was knackered and suddenly the thought of endurance sessions at HQ did not seem quite so difficult. With no end in sight, I knew I needed a boost; it was time to fire up the espresso machine and get myself through it. If the SAS could survive weeks in the Sierra Leone jungle, another half an hour of child's play ought to be just that.
It was at this juncture that it all went very wrong. I heard my name being shrieked – unabbreviated – with a volume and intensity that took me back to the day my dad caught me jumping a red light on my mountain bike. As it turned out, my wife, who had decided to get up in complete silence (presumably to check I was indeed "parenting", and not just rocking the baby chair with my foot while watching TV), arrived downstairs to find our six-month-old daughter having residual organic spinach removed gently from her cheeks by our English Bull Terrier, Gus.
Part of being a rugby player is having the ability to raise one's hand and take responsibility for one's errors. This was unavoidably one of those times. Ultimately, Gus is a nice dog (if you know him, otherwise you are lunch) so all was well, but the baby was swiftly removed from daddy and whisked away to be wiped and sterilised. Note to self: failure to babysit responsibly results in extra sofa time.
No, this is not the attitude. But one thing my ensuing spell in the real doghouse did give me was time to reflect on what has been a quite wonderful season in the Guinness Premiership. Being a Bath player, I am pretending the first few months of the season did not happen. After all, it is where you finish, not how quickly you start, that is important. I will keep telling myself this, as it makes me feel better.
Along the way, plenty of memories have been made and these will, for all except the eventual title-winners, last longer in our minds than any one match ever could. Seeing the colossal Duncan Bell go down like Jürgen Klinsmann in a casual game of football before training, after someone half his size went in on him like Vinnie Jones, was hilarious. It was like seeing a hippopotamus topple on the spot. His two days in hospital having the resulting infected wound flushed out ought to have stopped our giggling, but no.
Then there was the day that our captain, Michael Claassens, got his timings wrong and left his pre-match team talk too late. "It's time, lads," called our team manager, much to Michael's shock. "Don't worry, mate," I said. "We can't understand a bloody word you say anyway."
The most embarrassing moment, sadly, involved me. On hearing the final whistle against Saracens at Vicarage Road, I strode like a stroppy child towards the referee, David Rose. Thinking I knew it all, I said something along the lines of, "Please, sir, might you explain your last decision? I only ask as it appears to have cost us the match." (Or something similarly polite.) "Flats," he said, "what are you on about? You've won the bloody thing."
An awkward realisation followed – with my eyes flicking between Mr Rose and the scoreboard – before I made for the changing rooms to formulate my apology. When I delivered it he was still laughing.
It is not the New Year, but this time of year has a similar feel. Most players will be tucking into all the carbohydrate their bodies can handle and enjoying that fabled luxury, a beer over dinner, before announcing their end-of-season resolutions. I will be fitter next year. I won't drink a drop. I will score a try before I'm 35. Or is that just me?
My resolutions are simple: steal Olly Barkley's iPod in a bid to become cool again and stop feeding the kid spinach. That or just clean her face properly. Mind you, that's what dogs are for, isn't it?Reuse content