It helps that Stuart Barnes is a terrific writer, one capable of echoing perfectly in print that laid-back, intelligent, letâs-have-a-beer-and-discuss-it character we hear so clearly when listening to him commentate on international rugby matches.
And because Barnes is such an engaging, tactically-astute commentator, his willingness to do something different with his rugby memoir works a treat. We should have expected it. He dispenses with the traditional, orderly template which determines how most sporting biographies are written: the rapid rise through the playing ranks; the amusing anecdotes, the lucky breaks and details of games played, trophies won.
Instead of providing readers with a predictable, chronological path through a successful career, Barnesâs choice of title reflects his self-imposed written brief, intriguingly outlined in his bookâs introduction. What makes for an interesting life, says Barnes, âare the fragments that flood our memories in no particular order. In the deep of the night, who amongst us thinks their life through chronologically? Our life, all life, is random. Unordered. Quixotic. The story with a start, a middle and an end is no more than a skeletal framework. There is more truth to be found in the meandering madness of the maze.â
Barnes calls his book an âalphabet soupâ and while this means that, in the early chapters at least, there is an element of chronology about it, it is purely coincidental. He advises his readers that âThereafter, time is inconsequential. As is order.â
Fashioning a new way of presenting a sportsmanâs life is daring, but this fresher approach draws the reader in, for he or she has no idea of whatâs coming next. And when Barnes admits to a long-standing trick his brain has played upon him (a schoolboy trip to Cardiff to see Wales face the All Blacks), it feels, well, real. Weâre all guilty of making similar errors, convinced that thirty, forty years ago, such-and-such scored and the team in blue won and we ate chips and mushy peas on the way home. Check the facts and we discover it wasnât like that at all.
Hereâs Stuart Barnes and one of the best sporting memoirs youâll ever read, warts, typically ageing memory and all.