The temperature dropped in France last week. The hopeful party that left my house a week ago wore short sleeves. In the seven days that followed, things turned a little chilly. By Thursday Paris was snarled up, no trains, no hope, the gauntlet to Sarkozy thrown down. Winter and discontent had come early.
The day of the 2007 Rugby World Cup dawned with a nervous knot in her stomach. We followed the ritual of a week before, we put on the war paint, we wore the shirts - we wore plenty of layers - and we toasted the boys with champagne.
It was when we got to Châtelet that we realised things were different, a bit frosty. Whereas last week the England supporters had made the Metro walkways ring with a victory song, this week we were tense. A bit distracted, a bit nervous. The South Africans didn’t make eye contact, the stakes were far too high for banter.
As we poured out of the train at the Stade, we were caught in a crush. The riot police forced us back onto the pavement, and herded us down into a subway; hundreds of anxious fans watching their step.
We took our seats in the stadium and the sea of red and white around us bought comfort. Our anthem rang out loud, we were buoyed up by our hope. And so it began. We pushed them back, we turned them over and groaned when they got first blood. We fought back, and by half time - although they were ahead - it was still within our reach.
It passed in a blur. The try that belonged to us had us screaming. They showed it over and over seemingly for our pleasure. Then - as through the righteous roar we realised - the pack fell silent; our eyes glued on the ref. ‘It’s taking too long, he’s not going to award it’ a man muttered grimly. The downward sweeping motion of the ref’s arms, the shake of the head, and the fear that started to grow.
There comes a moment in a match, when the time remaining and the score line no longer bring hope. I remember the moment I was sure it was lost. The chill from the stone step we were perched on spread upwards, and the war cries fell silent. When it was over we sat numbly. As the England team took the walk of defeat, I cried. They were broken, it really was all over. Not even the jaunty swagger of the stray England fan who broke ranks and briefly held aloft the Cup, could lift the mood in the stand.
We trudged back to the train; no triumphant singing this time. Although a lone voice did lead those that wanted to sing,
‘Hoist up the Sloop John B,
see how the mainsail sets…'
And the pièce de résistance? We took the train as far as we could, and then no taxi wanted to know. The striking French had cancelled the last train home and there was nothing for it but to walk. We walked in silence - we had no more words – we were lost in our thoughts. I thought of Jason Robinson limping off the pitch, his rugby career surely over. Of the ref who turned his back on some blatant obstruction; of Cueto's try that could have changed the course of the game. Of Mike Catt, of Jonny, Dallaglio, of chances lost, of just how much defeat stings.
Our 6 mile constitutional ended sometime around the Witching Hour +3. We made a cup of tea, slumped on the sofa and stared at each other. I poured some sloe gin, and I thought of you dear blog readers. I thought of how you should make your sloe gin, or it will not be ready for Christmas.
Sloe Gin lore says you should pick your sloes after the first frost; it kills all the maggots. The first frost of Paris sparkled on the car rooftops as we trudged home last night. In another life we might have scrawled triumphant messages in Jack’s handiwork, we might have whooped as we staggered along the silent, frozen streets.
If you wish, make your Sloe Gin. Seize your chance, get out there and fight. Give it your best shot, and if it all goes horribly wrong, at least we’ll always have Sydney.
Hopes and Dreams Sloe Gin
Pour your heart into making this drink. Come Christmas, when your gin is ruby red, your spirits have lifted and you can smile again; it'll taste really good. The ratio for making sloe gin is - in old money - 1lb of sloes, 8oz of sugar and slosh a bottle of gin on top. Or two, you can never have too much heartwarming Sloe Gin. In new money use:
225g caster sugar (although I've made it before with granulated sugar)
1 litre of gin
- Spend a chilly afternoon picking sloes, if the first frost has not been, put them in the freezer
- When ready to make the gin - and really, do it soon, you want it red by Christmas - wash the sloes, remove any maggots and make sure there are no bits of leaves
- A great big preserving jar is a good way to make it, put all the berries in the base, pour over the sugar and fill it up with gin
- Stir it well, the sugar will gradually dissolve over the coming weeks, but don't miss your opportunity to lovingly stir it every few days
- Keep it on a sunny window sill if you wish. As the pale and sad wintry sun shines through the red gin, it will soothe your broken dreams
- Some recipes say you should discard the sloes after 6 months (if there's any gin left after Christmas), but I like to keep them in
- At Christmas, raise your glass, shore up your hopes and think ahead to New Zealand, 2011