David Flatman: Gluttony and wine – a rare Christmas without rugby

From the Front Row: I had spent the previous 15 years as a professional sportsman like a monk
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The Independent Online

I remember reading about Daley Thompson's approach to Christmas Day. He would go for a run because he was an athlete, and that is what athletes do. Then he would go for a second run because, well, any athlete could do one and he did not want to be just any athlete. Then, having convinced himself that lots of athletes would have navigated this same thought- process, he went for a third. And that, in a nutshell, is how I spent this Christmas.

OK, that is a lie. However, if you replace Thompson's name with mine and the word "running" with "ingesting dangerous numbers of calories at one sitting" then we are near- identical specimens.

This festive period was one of excessive consumption, and I make no attempt to disguise that truth. The big day ended up with me in a heap on mother's sofa, so overnourished that I was unable even to leave my pew when the girls (and, embarrassingly, my father) put on that awful dancing programme. Sitting through that was a version of torture, but food-induced trance paralysis kept me rooted to the spot by my backside. Ah, Christmas.

I am able to feel comfortable about my greed and excess for two reasons: firstly, I am no longer a professional sportsman, so have no need to behave myself (other than for continued good health, but let's not get bogged down with all that fundamentalist stuff); and secondly, I had spent the previous 15 years Christmassing like a monk.

Admittedly, you could not have paid me to go running three times on the big day but still, these times are a test of a rugby man's will. One thing I did this year, for the first time in my life, was have a drink during the festive season. When my mother offered me a glass of red I instantly said no, and it was not until she asked why and reminded me there was no big game coming up that I realised my answer had shown me up as an institutionalised retiree. I did have a drink, and I did enjoy it. When I tweeted my previous abstinence, I had Exeter's Kai Hortsman and Perpignan's Luke Narraway accusing me of fibbing and poking fun at me. But it was true; as a pro, I never had even a glass of wine. A strong coffee was as crazy as it got.

So I arrived at my parents' house for Christmas, Chris Rea playing for the 40th time, kids screaming and wife close to breaking my nose with the iPod, over which I took complete control for once, fully intent on relishing my first Christmas week off since I was at school.

I stayed up late on Christmas Eve, chatting over a beer about cars and bikes with my brothers-in-law with no thought about ideal amounts of rest. I piled the carbs high on my plate and chomped through them like a mountain goat on a tree root and, for once, I did not have to load up the car and set off home straight after lunch.

With no game or training on Boxing Day, I was able to experience what Christmas television was really all about. Well, I had hoped I would watch television all night. Instead, the whole family sat down and did a 175-question personality profile. For fun. Both my father and my sister are psychologists, and they warned us that this would not be fun. But mother insisted. She thought the idea was hilarious. I must say it was original, but perhaps Trivial Pursuit might have been more my level. The results will be with us in a week and, rest assured, should mine be entirely positive I will keep you posted.

After all this, the sportsman in me should have been abated. Instead, early on Boxing Day morning my father and I grabbed our bikes and headed out for a couple of hours. And I did the same a day later. I am no real rider, just a fat dad with all the gear, but while there is something in me that loves no longer having to worry about gym times and body-fat percentages, I guess the part of me that wants to be fit and strong may never die.

So do I miss Christmas rugby? Truly, no. But as much as I enjoyed my champers over lunch, having something so worthy of abstinence was a great thing. In all those years of turning down second helpings of potatoes and saying no to wine, I never complained once. In a room full of people, I felt blessed to be part of such a worthwhile cause. Exactly like Daley Thompson, then. Well, almost.