My Old Man He Played Rugby is a humorous new version of the well-known traditional rhyme This Old Man. It has come out in the middle of the rugby season and in time for Father’s day. I asked Peter Millett, who rebooted it, some questions about rugby, about Father’s Day and about his life.
What part has rugby played in your life?
I come from a sports-loving family. They were especially mad about boats and could happily spend all weekend out on the water or in the boatshed fixing sail craft.
When I was growing up in the seventies and eighties life moved at a slower pace. Shops were only open on Saturday morning and there wasn’t a great deal of other entertainment. If there was an All Black’s game on TV in the middle of Saturday afternoon we would all sit down and watch it uninterrupted.
Superstars of that era were wingers Bernie Fraser and Stu Wilson. We thought they were the bee’s knees. Bernie was such a prolific scorer that the South East corner of Athletic Park in Wellington was even named after him!
I couldn’t play rugby at school. By the time I was 12 years old I was 6 feet tall and still growing too fast. Eventually, I reached 6ft 5. My body wouldn’t support my spine so any contact sports were out. While the other students were out on the rugby field I had to go to the library. That probably helped to foster my love of reading and writing.
Despite my setback, I was always passionate about sprinting. Thanks to my long legs I was a very fast runner and became a 100-metre sprinter. In my early twenties, I was able to play touch rugby and proved very effective on the wing.
These days I’m a moderate kind of kiwi bloke, not a macho kind of beer swilling guy but an all-round sports watcher. I appreciate all aspects of rugby, soccer and cricket. Although I like watching a game of sport I am just as happy reading a novel.
What are your ideas for a perfect Father’s Day?
I’d spend it at home with family rather than going out. We would sit down in the afternoon and watch a movie we could all enjoy like James Bond or Mission Impossible. And then we would all play a competitive board game together, but nothing that lasts more than an hour or so. Battleships is a family favourite. And of course, Dad should be allowed to win!
For dinner there would be homemade meaty male-friendly food, hamburgers would be good! And after dinner, Dad would be given some free time to do his own thing.
(I rather suspect it might be a snooze! And at some time during the day there would no doubt be a family rendition of the lyrics from My Old Man He Played Rugby)
What is the perfect Father’s Day Present?
I have sometimes got socks and underwear (probably, because men don’t look after themselves so they need some basic clothing maintenance).
But I think the perfect present is one that will help to create a memory for kids when they grow up. So I have created a story that families will remember enjoying reading together, one that each one could find their own Dad in amongst the colour illustrations.
The Dads in this story look like ordinary Kiwi Dads, not rugby stars like Jonah Lomu. They like to play a social game of rugby, like those played by High School Old Boys, where there’s nothing too dramatic at stake. They are just out to enjoy themselves and to celebrate each position on the field rather than be ‘do or die’ competitive.
However, Penny Scown, our editor who knew rugby better than I did, made sure the imagery and sports action made the game look really authentic.
The one female present on the field is based on real person – Joy Neville – Europe’s first professional female rugby union referee. In the story, she is depicted as a young girl with pigtails.
How was it collaborating with others on this book: the illustrator and the songwriter?
We made an excellent team. Singer Jae Laga’aia was a real rugby head in his youth. He also represented NZ at youth level. A calamitous shoulder injury ended his career.
After leaving New Zealand he has continued having a great career as an entertainer in Australia where he is even more successful than Fred Dagg was.
And Jenny Cooper is an award-winning illustrator of more than 70 children’s books. I felt honoured to work with them.
Who has been the inspiration for your humorous writing style?
Comedians who have influenced me are Spike Milligan, The two Ronnies, and Pam Ayers. Families can have a good clean chuckle over their whacky humour. That’s what I like to achieve in my books as well.
My Old Man He Played Rugby is by Peter Millett, illustrated by Jenny Cooper and sung by Jay Laga’aia. Publisher: Scholastic. RRP: 19.99 for Paperback and CD.
GrownUps have three copies to give away. We think this book would make a great Father’s Day gift and would be lovely to read with the grandkids. To be in to win, enter your details below. T&Cs apply. Competition closed.
Reviews by Lyn Potter
Parent and grandparent, avid traveller, writer & passionate home cook