A few years ago, the announcement of a few days off would see an immediate surge in excitement among the group. I remember being awarded some holiday on a Friday and, by Saturday evening, being on a flight to Miami with a mate. With very little responsibility to speak of, the trip was booked, the card was swiped and the cocktails were ordered.
So, when we were told a month or so ago that 10 whole days off were just around the corner, I expected the team room to be awash with boyish activity; amplified conversations about dream destinations and likely weather conditions, how many pairs of Speedos might be needed and a general commitment to blow any budgets.
I asked one of our youngest and most handsome players in what country he intended to cut loose and was a bit shocked by the answer: "Probably stick around here I expect, mate," he said. "Got a dog now, haven't I?"
Blimey, I thought, and moved on to the next. "Bit skint," said the aspiring pro, "can't really justify the expenditure." Honestly – and at the risk of being crude – I think I was earning £5,000 a year when I went to Miami. OK, so I didn't then have a dog, but I just got stuck in with no thoughts of financial consequences whatsoever. Times have changed.
Or so I thought! Tom Biggs then managed, in a second, to restore my faith in rugby. He told me of a planned trip to – guess where? – Miami with Olly Barkley. Quite right, too. It sounded like the sort of trip not to miss: great restaurants, the best clubs and a luxury hotel. Then, selfishly, Barkley went and broke his leg and the whole thing was called off. I honestly don't know if Biggs will forgive him. This, I thought, was time for me to step up. As a senior (in terms off appearances, not age, you understand) player, I now needed to lead by example. So with the spirit of the game in mind, I went home, pulled open the laptop and searched out flights to New York. Then, with a bark and a cry, I was reminded that I do indeed now have a dog – two in fact – and a baby as well. Ah, yes, better alter my search here, I thought. So, instead of a lads' trip abroad, I booked a couple of nights in a hotel not 40 minutes from my house for the wife and me. Can't be too far from the baby, you see (there was someone looking after her other than said hounds, before you ask).
What followed was a period of reflection. I think we all reach an age – or stage – when a nice bit of room service and a good night's sleep is more appealing than eight hours of thumping music and a hangover for breakfast; I just didn't think I was there yet. Naturally, I pretended not to be happy at all about being forced to grow up for once but, it has to be said, a nice time was had by all. A trip home to see my mum was also engineered and, I must say, it was quite blissful not to be thinking about rugby for a few days.
After a while, though, I was ready to get back to work. The first few sessions last week were a bit of a blow but soon enough the legs and lungs came back and all felt right again. It was at this point that I realised that life is all about balance.
We can't spend our whole lives behaving like 19-year-olds; appealing as it might sound, I think it would ultimately prove unfulfilling. No, it's all about balance. We still have a lot of work to do this season and we need to be in decent nick to do it. So, a hotel and a few days of mum's cooking were just the tonic.
Come the end of the season, though, it will be nice to properly let our hair down (cue obvious gags). My old mate Mike Tindall is marrying some girl from Gloucestershire, and that stag do won't run itself.