IN THE WORDS OF THEIR COACH, DANIEL HOURCADE, ARGENTINA ‘GAVE IT THEIR ALL BUT THEY LEFT EMPTY’ AFTER LAST WEEKEND’S WORLD CUP SEMI-FINAL AGAINST AUSTRALIA – AND THEY WEREN’T THE ONLY ONES.
Calamity is always relative – any man can endure a toothache save he who has it – but the TV short-circuiting fifteen minutes before the Argentina/Australia semi-final on Sunday prompted something very close to hysteria chez Simmons. Mrs. Wife was frantically re-plumbing the pipes at the back of the box, I was jiggling the TV up and down in the hope of shaking some sense into the damn thing and the dog was running round in circles barking at both of us. Nothing.
Quickly, we considered our limited options. Louise and Daniel were away for half term and had left Maria a key so she could water the cat. Could the three of us, perhaps, sneak in there to watch the game? No, we couldn’t, given our dog and their cat get on like, well, like cats and dogs; besides, if it came to a brawl, my money would be on the cat. It was far too late to scramble to Jamie and Karen’s, Tom and Ann were out and the Baldwins were still in Italy. Briefly we considered taking a chisel to their French windows but that didn’t seem terribly neighbourly. So – desperately – Mrs. Wife re-jigged a few more cables, the dog barked even louder, I kicked the back of the TV, and, hey presto, there was ITV’s gormless chimp climbing up the poles at Twickenham. What exactly is he supposed to represent? No matter. We were back at the World Cup.
I confess, it’s unusual for the missus and the mutt to get quite so animated about a game of rugby – in fact, it’s unheard of – but she is Argentinian and he is an Australian Shepherd dog, so this one came laden with hefty bragging rights. Mrs. Simmons – like many of her tribe – is an impassioned pessimist, a product of, on the one hand, exuberant Latin bloodlines and, on the other, an unremitting procession of institutionalised corruption that’s bled her country dry for generations, which means the contradictions are hard to reconcile. Deep down, most Argentinians are never quite sure whether their country is a source of despair or delight.
The dichotomy is never more obvious than when it comes to sport. Last week a well-connected chum at work got in touch offering to source some tickets to the final should Argentina prevail, a generous proposition which I passed on over dinner that very evening. Mrs. Wife wrinkled her nose. ‘I think I’d rather have some new curtains,’ she said, and even after twenty-one years of marriage, neither of us knew for certain whether she meant it.
But then cometh the hour cometh the woman and there she was on the very edge of her beanbag with a token glass of ‘Arbol de Vida Pinot Grigio’ in one hand and her phone in the other texting Betania in Hanover, Laura in Long Island, Yamila in Buenos Aires and Marta in London. The World Cup had gone global from the middle of the living room carpet.
Mind you, the omens didn’t look good for Las Chicas Argentinas. Nowhere near enough of the boys were crying during ‘El Himno Nacional’ and, then, within a minute – blow-me-down – a Simmons had cantered through for Australia. ‘He’d better not be a relation,’ muttered Mrs. Wife, as Foley banged over the extras, ‘because if he is, he’s off the Christmas card list.’
It quickly got worse. Tuculet got badly scragged, Imhoff Wentoff and Adam Ashley-Cooper flew into the corner, whereupon the mother of my children said a rude word. She wasn’t the only one resorting to obscenities, as Pagadizabal leveled a Wallaby and offered him an unsolicited observation about his sexuality. The vocabulary of Argentinian oaths is surprisingly limited and, consequently, very easy to lip-read.
‘If they don’t sort themselves out soon, I’m off to paint the bathroom,’ said Mrs. Simmons, as another catch and drive splintered badly. Five minutes later and Lavanini – dubiously – was in the sin-bin prompting another small profanity. Marta came through with a text, presumably expressing her outrage at the rank injustice of the yellow card. Mrs. Simmons consulted her phone. ‘No, she says there’s thirty-five per cent off lighting at John Lewis next week.’
Despite his team being 3-12 to the good, Rousseau – so named because dogs are born free but everywhere they are on leads – was still fast asleep on the floor. It takes a lot to excite an Australian Shepherd, especially after a forlorn morning chasing fleet-footed pheasants. Believe me, if that dog ate only what he caught, he’d have starved to death three years ago. But then Ashley-Cooper went in again, Mrs. Wife and I yelped in simultaneous exasperation and Rousseau – startled – leapt to his paws and trod on the remote control. Suddenly we were watching ‘Songs of Praise’ from Westminster Abbey and – frankly – the temptation to stick with it was almost overwhelming. Instead The Boss made good on her threat and stomped off to slap a brisk coat of Cotton White on the bathroom ceiling.
Half time was grim. I slunk to the toilet for a comfort break while trying to work out why Argentina were trying to run so much slow ball. I was so befuddled it was twenty seconds before I realised the lid was still down. But then in the second half, Los Pumas rallied. Sanchez brought the game back to 15-22 and – on cue – Mrs. Simmons returned from the bathroom ceiling. Cordero had a dart but lost the ball. Amorosino cut through but was turned over. It was as frantic as it was brutal. ‘Do you realise,’ she said, ‘that the only person on the pitch who isn’t bleeding is the referee?’
With ten minutes to go, Rousseau slunk off to the kitchen, unable to stand the tension or – very possibly – the sound of his mistress unravelling. ‘Get him off it, for heaven’s sake,’ she shrieked, as the blue and the gold grappled on the ground for possession. Trust me, had my beloved been pitch-side and wearing her wellies, Michael Hooper would have taken one for the team.
And then suddenly it was over. Drew Mitchell weaved past – seemingly – every Puma on the pitch to set up AA-C for a three-trick, Australia – yet again – had prevailed at Fortress Twickenham and Argentina were gone. Mrs. Wife, her jaw set grimly, disappeared to rinse her brushes – rather them than me – while I tried to explain to the dog that his team were in a World Cup Final. I’m not sure he quite got it.
Whoever prevails in the final – be it New Zealand or David Pocock – will be more than worthy winners but it was a desperate way for Argentina to depart, as Daniel Hourcade’s flowing tears proved. Truly, though, England 2015 has been a preview of Tomorrow’s World and Los Pumas can take pride not just in how far they got but how they got there.
Moreover we can now buy those curtains with a clear conscience and – if we get them at John Lewis – maybe we’ll uncover a discounted desk lamp or two. It’s not much of a consolation, I grant you, but as they understand all too well in Argentina, when God gives you lemons, you make lemonade.
27 OCTOBER 2015