D&P Blues to Date With IKEA

BACK in the midst of time, back when my journalism career was no more than an impending work experience spell at what became my first paper, back in my teens, back even when my body could withstand a game of rugby, a poor refereeing decision cost us a place in a cup final.

There may have been other factors, but let’s put it down to the ref. It seems to be the fashionable thing to do.

It was a close tussle in a second team semi-final against local rivals, a place in the final at Kingsholm – Mecca in terms of rugby in Gloucester, if Mecca was overlooked by a cathedral – up for grabs in my first season of senior rugby.

Forget Twickenham, the real home of rugby

If memory serves, we (actually, think it was probably me) were penalised late on at either a ruck or a scrum, the opposition kicked to the corner and, eventually, turned pressure into points and snatched a lead we didn’t have the time or opportunity to regain.

And that is as close as my playing career got to Kingsholm – thankfully, my journalism career went there and a lot further – and in the list of great rugby heartbreaks, it doesn’t really register.

Nor do my experiences match up to those of the experts who have spearheaded the criticism of referee Craig Joubert after Scotland’s rather more high-profile loss to Australia in the Rugby World Cup quarter-final.

Yes, Joubert was wrong to run off the pitch without shaking hands with the players. It is one of the key tenets which rugby holds onto as part of the mutual respect among all concerned (regardless of what some of the physical battering involved may suggest) that it believes (rightly, much of the time) elevates it above other sports.

And he was rightly castigated – although ex-internationals, generally with a Scottish accent, suggesting he should “never referee at this level again” within minutes of it happening, did little to uphold the traditions of the game they claim to be defending.

Why Joubert ran off has not been proved. Suggestions have ranged from the need to use the toilet to fearing for his safety – amid isolated reports of a bottle being thrown at him – but they need to learn the facts before making quite such outlandish reactions. Especially one persistent rugby irritant.

But, more worrying to rugby’s image – both of itself and from the watching sporting world – is the way so many experts, ex-players, fans, keyboard warriors and, most worryingly, World Rugby, dived into the torrent of abuse and blame Joubert has received in the minutes, hours and days following his award of the deciding penalty against Scotland.

Let’s look at this coldly.

World Rugby took 24 hours to review and assess the controversial offside decision before categorically stating Joubert was wrong (an appalling decision which far outstrips any mistake made by the South African).

Experts either made their judgements from the safety of the stands – a long way at Twickenham – or, having seen the replay from every available angle and speed. They could not agree on anything other than Joubert should have gone to the video referee (TMO), something he was not able to do in that situation and which, for the first few games of the tournament, they had been telling us was being called upon far too often.

The Twitterati didn’t bother too much with any evidence (rather like the despicable cowards who attacked Wales wing Alex Cuthbert after their defeat to South Africa).

Joubert had one view, very little time and no confession from Aussie scrum-half Nick Phipps that he had intentionally grabbed at the ball – an act which, in the letter of the law, would turn the penalty into a scrum.

No, Joubert had no help but made a perfectly justifiable decision based on the evidence in front of him – and how on earth is he supposed to judge what was going through Phipps’ mind, especially as the player himself was appealing for the penalty?

Not Phipps’ fault, nor the unfortunate, penalised Jon Welsh, nor Joubert. Right or wrong, his decision was perfectly understandable. Unlike the reaction of his bosses at World Rugby who should not be pointing fingers, but looking at how they could help him.

Less technical laws relying less on interpretation and more on hard evidence for starters. More convenient, more efficient TMO rules for seconds.

And all that from a decision which would have been forgotten if it had happened at any other stage of the match – rather like the other decisions which are now being pored over (and spuriously tweeted out by another former international) from throughout the 80 minutes.

Take it to extremes, there was a case for a knock on in Scotland’s ultimately winning try against Samoa in their final group game. Rule that out and Japan qualify, not Scotland.

Didn’t hear too many complaints about the referee then.

That’s extreme and, to be honest, absurd. That’s sport with all its infuriating frailties which somehow add up to the drama that makes it special.

The result stands, whatever evidence anyone comes up. Or at least until some bright spark with too much time and money comes up with the idea of a legal challenge, based on a verdict on Joubert already delivered by World Rugby.

But above all, Scotland did not lose solely because of that decision or any other made by Joubert. They conceded five tries, they threw a risky lineout to the tail when defending a lead in the dying moment, they conceded 30-plus points (which would have been a lot more if Bernard Foley had been on form with the boot and Australia had played anything like they can) and over the course of 80 minutes, made other errors.

As did Australia, as did Joubert. And that’s sport. Why the best team doesn’t always win and why we can’t always pick the winners.

Unless you are betting on Southern Hemisphere teams that is.

The rugby has been supplying much of the soundtrack of the last few weeks, but there’s also been the little matter of starting out on the D songs on the A-Z iPod Challenge.

And wading into the shallows of a new letter has been distinctly uninspiring with plenty of less than great album tracks and little to really grab the attention from Uncle Earl to Pavement.

There’s been a few exceptions, the ever-reliable Ryan Adams popping up (twice) with Damn, Sam (I Love A Woman That Rains) while the Dan section produced several listenable tracks, most notably Johnny Cash’s reading of Danny Boy and Daniel by Veronica Falls, one of those bands who keep going up in my estimation as this trek goes on.

Unlike an awful lot of rugby fans.

photo by:

Blackhole to Blue-Eyed Pop

DON’T blame it on the sunshine, don’t blame it on the moonlight, Blame It On The Tetons.

Not sure exactly what Modest Mouse had in mind when they attempted to pin something on the chunk of the Rocky Mountains just south of Yellowstone National Park.

But doubt they were thinking of small, furry creatures, this blog and an alphabetical journey through an iPod.


Yet glance to the top of this page and name of this site and it all owes a great amount to a few days in the Tetons (or the Tits as the early French settlers would have had it).

Sat up on top of this and all pages on this site is Norman, who has left a legacy from three days staying in the Tetons en route between its bigger, better known National Park cousins, Yosemite and Yellowstone.

Norman lived on the banks of Jenny Lake, where the group of us who were journeying across the US on the final leg of our London to New York overland adventure, headed out for the day.

While his furry buddies scurried off into the undergrowth, Norman assured his place in posterity by remaining totally nerveless as our group of three stopped on the path and pointed camera lenses in his direction, even having the decency to stop rooting for food long enough to sit up and face us.

Jenny Lake
Jenny Lake

Why Norman? Not quite sure, the moniker was given to him by one of my walking companions and it stuck, especially when his picture started popping up in the collections of pictures from three months on the road – longer for those of us who extended our times in the States.

Why he holds such an exalted role in this site is less certain.

Late one evening, the idea of transferring the initial London to New York articles from a community blogging site to this personal one was being kicked around during a stay at an old friend’s who knows something about that sort of thing.

The next morning, the same friend had got up early and greeted my bleary-eyed arrival with this newly-created website and, somewhere along the way, Norman’s tale provided the inspiration for the name and the Travel Marmot was born.*

Blame it on the Tetons indeed.

Not that Norman is the only thing which made the Tetons stick in my mind. Far from it.

We arrived having driven up from San Francisco, via a beautiful, sweltering day in the open-air cathedral formed by the peaks of Yosemite, up through Nevada and an incident-packed white water rafting trip on the Snake River at Jackson, Wyoming – complete with a downpour and calamitous capsize for our sister raf,t which left people strewn all over the place and a frantic rescue which probably seemed far more dramatic than it was from our position perched on the edge of a raft being tossed around by the maelstrom.

Snake River Lager
Snake River Lager

Our arrival at Colter Bay, our Tetons base for three nights and not initially something which leapt out of the itinerary, was met with delight as it provided the holy trinity of overland travellers – warm showers, a laundry and a bar, which served a brew called Snake River which we were far happier to swallow than its namesake.

Add in wi-fi, plug points in the toilet block near our campsite to charge our modern-day travelling needs and the most staggering, huge night sky – although the warning of bears around the site ensured we didn’t hang around in the open too much to savour it all on the second night on site.

So maybe it’s not a case of blaming the Tetons, but thanking them.

Modest Mouse’s reminder of those few days popped up as we escaped the Blackhole (kicking off this section courtesy of Beck), stumbled Blind and Blank for a while and ended up tangled up in blue, ending with Blue-Eyed Pop from the Sugarcubes – track number 999.

It’s been an eclectic bag with three versions of both indie classic Blister In The Sun by The Violent Femmes (always a welcome visitor, especially on a sunny drive home after work) and, aptly given its proximity to the death of their final remaining member Tommy, the inimitable intro and force of nature that is Blitzkrieg Bop (albeit one of them by Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros).

Blankest Year by Nada Surf dates back to my first iPod, pre-dating by a few weeks my first laptop, meaning it had to be populated by the contents of my brother-in-law’s, as indeed does Blind Willie McTell by Bob Dylan, just at the time when he was starting to make his mark in my collection.

And you can throw in entries by a couple of old faithfuls – Billy Bragg’s version of Blake’s Jerusalem and Blue Badge Abuser by Half Man Half Biscuit.

There was also two versions of Blight Takes All – one of …And They Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead’s more accessible moments – and all 17 minutes 45 seconds of Blaise Bailey Finnegan III by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, a surprisingly enjoyable and intriguing blast of sound behind an interview with an American survivalist.

Possibly a neighbour of Norman’s.

*The same friend continued his role as the Patron Saint of Travel Marmot by solving an issue which had locked the whole site up before he managed to somehow force his way in. Cheers Jase


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