When I'm enthroned on the sofa with a glass of shiraz and a World Cup semifinal to watch, the dog has the sense to keep quiet. Not so Angela, the Bulgarian hit man. He insists on asking idiot questions.
Retentive readers will recall that Angela came to live with me when my house was red-stickered. He's proved useful, scaring off the bureaucrats by sitting at the top of the drive in a short frock and conspicuously oiling his Uzi. In his spare time he's knocked up some stunning floral arrangements and my underpants have never been more neatly ironed. But, and it's a big but, when it comes to rugby he's a pain.
Typical was a moment in the semifinal when the wonderful Cory Jane, who, significantly, had spent most of the previous week drinking, leaped, snatched a high ball from the teeth of the ugly Aussies, landed on his feet as lightly as a falling leaf and then sidestepped an onrushing thug with the grace of a falling leaf that's done ballet. "Go Cory," I bellowed.
"Friend of yours?" said Angela.
"Never met him in my life."
"So why are you cheering him?"
"He's a Kiwi, isn't he?"
"Oh, I see," said Angela. "If someone happens to occupy the same arbitrary lump of territory as you do he's automatically your mate, your hero and by some bizarre extension of association your representative."
I ignored him. The balletic Jane had passed to the electric Dagg (which sounds like an agricultural device). Dagg set off upfield, leaving a litter of yellow jerseys writhing on the turf. He went with the pace and sizzle that comes only with youth. Somehow, one of the Aussies - though emphatically not the one with the snake-eyes - managed to take him down, but then the All Black bruiser boys, led by Brad I-don't-do-reverse Thorn, rumbled up like a tank division.
"I'm merely curious," said Angela.
"Get Bieber," I screamed. For the ball had gone loose and the blonde Aussie child, who's a dead-ringer for Justin Bieber, had taken it back over his own line. Two All Blacks seized him while a third pressed his unlined face into the turf of Eden Park. I punched the air.
"Tell me," said Angela, laying aside his knitting to peer at the hoardings round the pitch, "What does it mean by 'official beer of the Rugby World Cup?' And isn't Heineken Dutch? Do they even play rugby in Holland?"
"Oh for God's sake," I said. "It just means that one brewer offered more money than the other brewers."
"Ah," said Angela. "So the word official means only that the brewery bought its way into office, in the hope of making money from its status. We have a name for that in Bulgaria. It's called corruption."
"We have a name for it, too. It's called marketing."
"How very strange," said Angela. But from then on I blocked him out. I was enthralled by the spectacle, as the All Blacks exhibited that most wonderful of virtues, grace under pressure. Here was the fusion of heart and head and flesh. In the intensity of the moment those 15 men had a cause. They believed and they acted as one and for those 80 minutes they must have felt more fully alive than most of us will ever manage in this tame quotidian world. And it was good to be with them, to wince with every tackle, to grunt with every scrum, to thrill to the deeds of the tiny, elfin Cruden, the low-slung swaggering Nonu, Kaino the Colossus and Captain McCaw who is held together by tape. It was exhausting.
Two minutes to go, and the game was in the bag. I sat back, drained, and reached for my glass. Angela, I discovered, was still talking.
"To sum up, then," he was saying, "you are content to have your primitive tribal instincts deliberately and cynically inflamed, to allow the media to convince you that your own sense of worth is somehow attached to the actions of 15 people whom you don't know, and then to have this synthetic and unwarranted emotional intensity exploited for commercial gain. Have I got that right?"
The whistle blew. The game was over.
"Bang right," I said. "We won," and I cheered so loudly that the dog barked.
"We?" said Angela. "We?"
- The Press