Underhand heating

Colin Meads

Today my mind was jogged by another entry in a sister web diary here at the Sri Chinmoy Centre website. More sprinted than jogged really, and straight between the "uprights" with egg-shaped "ball" in single hand, for the recollection is of Colin "Pinetree" Meads—New Zealand and possibly the world's greatest rugby player ever.

It was during a nationwide mid-winter power crisis several years back, when the lakes of the South Island—source of much of our hydro-electricity—had almost run dry, and a national newspaper ran a story quoting prominent New Zealanders on what they were doing personally to avert calamity.

The substance of the article is mostly irrelevant—no doubt the Prime Minister was wearing an extra pair of slippers, and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa performed her concerts by candle-light that year—of interest is the fact that it spawned a second, even bigger story: namely what the current All Black Captain—he of hair-product and sports-car fame, and past captain and "Legend" with a capital "L"—Colin Meads, were doing to avert an "All Black winter".

Let me first declare here my own bias—I am not the biggest fan of rugby. Although able to debate the finer points of the formation of a ruck, and the merits of a flat back line versus one on deep, other than a few lengths of the paddock of its' "touch" variety I have never actually played the game—much to the horror I am sure of my long-dead All Black trialist grandfather ("But for the war I would have played. They didn't select a team that year you know...")

Aside from my passion for and useful qualities with a round ball at my feet, I am of course a True New Zealander, and national pride declares that should I see an English rose on white sleeve protruding from the bottom of a mass of bodies, I am honour-bound to do my very best to stomp on it with both feet, a rigourous downwards "rucking" motion deployed.

On the topic of my ancestry, I am really half-Canadian, but seeing as I hate ice-hockey it seems that I am full-parts biased...

But back to the power crisis. The All Black captain of that time was not it is fair to say a universally popular choice. He came to the position controversially at the tender age of 24, jumping a long queue of grizzled veterans, and at a stage in his career well before it had entered the realm of the iconic—a status usually attained by completing a game with a broken limb. "Real Blokes," or those who actually play rugby, were less than comfortable with his pretty-boy looks. Rugby, or "Thugby" to its' detractors, is a sport where a taste of ugly is the traditional serving—an unleavened mixture of sideways nose, flattened eyes and permanently swollen cheekbones. With a side of everybody's favourite—"cauliflower" ears.

To be fair to Captain Pretty Boy, he never stood a chance in any meaningful comparison to Colin Meads, and even less in the flippant one which was the placing of their responses to the power crisis side by side. When questioned by a reporter about what he would personally do to reduce power consumption, the present leader of the Men in Black—a resident of New Zealand's southern most city, Dunedin—responded that he was "turning down his under-floor heating."

While this might sound like at least something of a concession in New Zealand's snows-once-in-a-while far south, it was in reality massively out of touch with the daily lives of most. Dunedin is predominantly a student town, and I as I have been told first-hand, mid-winter heating more often than not consists of hanging blankets on the walls and writing essays tucked up in bed.

Out on the other flank, it is doubtful that salt-of-the-earth Colin Meads had even heard of under-floor heating—unless it was something to do with a cattle-shed—and his response not only publicly shamed his present-day equivalent, but warmed the hearts of the nation with its' honest simplicity.

To paraphrase:

"The wife Verna thought it might be nice this year to get someone else in to chop the wood, seeing as I'm nearly seventy, and have been doing it myself for the last fifty years. But to do my bit for New Zealand, I guess I'd better chop it again."

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