Win a great new book by Stuart Barnes
The genesis for this book was a meal Stuart Barnes shared with Charles Dance in South Africa. The English actor thirsted for rugby tales and, many years later, Barnes has delivered an outstanding and highly unusual book.
The ex-England fly-half turned journalist makes it clear from the start that this is “a book of feelings, not a factual journey… doubt, not certainty, resides here”.
His idea is to write with the aid of nothing but memories and he cheats only occasionally; hence he discovers, whilst describing how he had a half-day off school to watch Wales v New Zealand, that what he thought was a 13-3 All Blacks win in 1973 with Ian Kirkpatrick the only try-scorer was actually a 19-16 win in 1972 with Keith Murdoch the victors’ try-scorer.
Later, we find Barnes going on to YouTube to watch the famous try he made for Jeremy Guscott in the 1993 Calcutta Cup match at Twickenham, but by and large he trusts the old grey cells and they seldom let him down.
The book takes the form of an A to Z, Barnes choosing a topic of his liking but writing freely within it. A is for All Blacks and B is for Bassaleg School, the Newport comprehensive where Barnes arrived with “an Essex boy’s loathing for rugby”.
The C chapter, on Gareth Chilcott, is arguably the best in the book, combining great tales about Barnes’s former Bath and England team-mate with the poignancy of his once life-threatening liver disease and hard-hitting views – how hypocritical is it to condemn violence on the pitch yet laugh at it during after-dinner speeches?
We’re not about to run through the chapter headings one by one; suffice to say, across the book you will be treated to a happy mix of autobiographical insights, game analysis, punchy profiles and bold pronouncements.
And occasionally, too, withering attacks, such as on David Moffett for vandalising the club game in Wales.
For those who don’t recall Barnes as a player, he was a flat-to-the-line maestro in the ilk of George Ford and Danny Cipriani. “If I had one significant ability, it was the capacity to come up with the right answer to the question being posed in front of me,” Barnes writes. It’s instructive that when Chilcott was voted by his peers by a landslide to be Bath captain, coach Jack Rowell stepped in and ensured the job went to Barnes.
The rugby-loathing youngster became head boy at Bassaleg, captain of Wales Schools, was named in a senior Wales squad whilst still at school, and read Modern History at Oxford (“Oxford was a sequence of going under and coming up for air”).
His England career was predominantly one of disappointment – he would have won far more than ten caps had he not, at times, made himself unavailable – and he was denied a Lions Test cap in 1993 after team-mate Rob Jones accidentally trod on him in the midweek match against Southland ahead of the first Test, splitting his head open.
Among his more interesting musings is an argument to reduce the value of a drop-goal to one point, criticism of coaches for looking at their laptop instead of the game, and his decision to employ a voice coach after the Sky commentator felt his voice became too gravelly in 2013.
All in all, it’s a fascinating read and if the book meanders that is not to express criticism; it merely means the direction the reader is taken is as swerving as a person’s thought processes. Charles Dance should be satisfied.
Stuart Barnes: Sketches from Memory is published by Polaris, RRP £16.99, and you can buy it here.
Polaris have kindly provided us with six copies to give away in a competition. For a chance to win one, look at the photo below and answer the question beneath it, filling in your details. The competition closes on Thursday 30 May.
Terms and conditions
The competition closes at 23.59pm on Thursday 30 May 2019.
Six winners will be selected at random, each winning a copy of the book Sketches from Memory by Stuart Barnes.
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