They’re the words no journalist wants to hear.

“There’s a typo in your story,” said my colleague.

“What?” I quickly flicked through the newspaper to the indicated page. “That can’t be. I read that thing through at least a half dozen times.”

And yet there it was. My eyes zoomed right to it: an extra “s.” It could not have been more obvious if it were circled in cocaine and lit by a disco ball.

I’d written “professionals photographers” instead of “professional photographers.” Crap!

I know: it’s not the end of the world. But the reading public expects a newspaper’s content to be perfect. I’d let them down. On top of that, I imagined staffers at the The Competition shaking their heads, making a “tsk-tsk” sound and noting that “oh, so he’s not as perfect as he’d like everyone to believe.” Double crap!

It’s not the first time a typo has slipped through. Inevitably, and unfortunately, it won’t be the last. And, I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, an extra “s” is more sloppy than embarrassing.

If you’re looking for embarrassing, the king of them all is, of course, omitting the “l” from “public.”

“The mayor called for a pubic debate on the issue.” “The president was encouraged by pubic reaction to his speech.”

Ouch and double ouch. That is the epitome of cringe-worthy. And yet I have seen it done.

An interesting flip side to that was found in a magazine story I was reading about Brazilians. It read something like, “More and more men are opting to have the hair removed from their public areas.”

A typo in reverse. Now that’s a new one.

I was spurred to share these thoughts by a recent headline I spotted in one of our national newspapers.

It was datelined the United States and read “tenn girls murdered by ‘Speed freak killers’ named”.

My first thought was that the headline writer was using the abbreviation for Tennessee (Tenn.) and had simply forgot to uppercase the “T” and add the period. I was wrong. Because the third sentence in the story mentioned teen girls. So the headline should have read “Teen girls murdered . . . ”

Somewhat less than professional, methinks.

Of course newspaper typos aren’t limited to journalists — sales reps have messed up as well. Viking Woman should know. In another life, she sold newspaper ads and told me the normal chain of command would involve a design person putting the ad together, which would then be proofed both by the sales rep and the person/company paying for the ad. So that’s three sets of eyes before the ad goes to print.

Which doesn’t explain how one supermarket ended up advertising a 99-cent deal on two-litre Cock. I’m going to guess that store manager sprayed Coke out his nose when he read that in the morning paper. On the bright side, he did report an upswing in the number of female customers. I guess size – and weight – does matter.

Another Viking Woman whoopsie involved a small classified ad that was supposed to read “some shift work required.” It appeared in the paper (after passing through the proofing process) as “some shit work required.”

Not exactly a laughing matter at the time but Viking Woman did hear from several sources that various staff room bulletin boards had that ad posted and circled with remarks along the lines of “So you think your job is bad.”

An extra “s”? Yeah, I’m not going to sweat it. But lesson learned: I will be more diligent in the future. Especially if the story involves someone drinking Cock in pubic.

I flipped the bird to a lady this morning. I’m not proud of my actions, starting with the fact that I’m way too old to be indulging in such childish gestures.

In my defence, however, I was having rather a bad morning. It had rained during my it’s-still-bloody-dark-out walk and I had yet to have my fifth coffee of the day. Never a good combination.

Plus I felt this particular lady was acting like a total bitch.

The situation began when I dropped Viking Woman off at work. I had my signal on, so everyone knew what I was up to, the car was well clear of the traffic flow, and it was obvious by the fact I was sitting parallel to the road and not pulled into a parking space that I had no intention of doing anything but pausing.

I first spotted the lady when I glanced in my side mirror to ensure I was well and truly out of the driving lane. I could tell by her expression and the way she was yapping to herself that she wasn’t happy. I assumed she wanted the parking spot I was momentarily blocking.

Instead of pulling in behind me and waiting two seconds until I pulled back into traffic, she instead zipped around the corner. Which is where I encountered her, two seconds later, getting out of her parked car. She recognized my vehicle, of course, and carried on with her yapping, this time directed at me as I drove past.

I’ve never claimed to be a lip reader but I’m pretty sure she wasn’t saying “Have a nice day.”

Which is when I lost a bit of self-control and showed her the middle finger of my left hand. She wouldn’t need to be a lip reader either to understand the two words I mouthed right back at her.

I usually don’t give into road rage. Even if someone cuts me off, I rarely engage the horn. I figure if I have time to honk, I have time to brake.

I’m always nervous that two things will happen after I lean on the horn, wave my arms around and run through my entire vocabulary of curse words.

One: The offender and I will end up side-by-side at the next red light.

Two: The offender will be larger and more aggressive than me.

This concern about my personal safety probably dates back to an incident that incurred while I was working for the provincial Ministry of Highways. I was a flag man on this particular day, using my Stop/Go sign to direct traffic around some kind of roadworks.

No one likes to have their hectic/important schedule interrupted by construction, which probably explains why this one particular fellow zoomed right past my Stop sign.

“Asshole!” I yelled at the back of his car as he sped away.

Cue sudden squeal of brakes. Driver’s side door opening. Big glowering guy stomping in my direction.

I had time for three thoughts:

1)      For a guy who was  in such a big hurry, it’s amazing he now has time to deal to me.

2)      I’m almost positive my workmate will intervene. Any minute now. OK, now.

3)      I’m going to die.

Naturally – because that’s how these things work – Mr. Angry Face was taller than me. I’m not sure if my feet actually left the road surface but I know I was at least up on my tippy-toes when he grabbed the front of my safety vest and yanked me into his personal space.

“What did you call me?”

“Nothing,” I lied, momentarily interrupting my prayers.

He gave me one last shake, let go, stomped back to his car.

I straightened my vest, pretended all the other drivers who had actually managed to stop weren’t staring, and looked around for my partner. Turns out he was standing several feet away, well out of harm’s way.

“Where were you?” I asked.

“Watching,” he said.

I still shudder at the thought of how close I came to swallowing my own teeth. Which is why I make a point of never engaging with other drivers.

Unless I haven’t had my fifth coffee of the day.  And the other driver is a woman. And the lane ahead is clear of traffic, allowing me a quick escape.

When you lead a gypsy life, where gaps between employment are often wider than is economically desirable, the idea of exchanging Christmas gifts becomes secondary to, say, mortgage payments or keeping the lights on.

In 2011, however, Viking Woman and I were both blessed with full-time jobs and so decided that a few simple gifts under the artificial tree would not break the bank. I had to keep in mind that she is a Born Again Jenny Craig disciple, while she kept reminding me that my wish list of Toys For Boys would be fulfilled the instant we won the lottery.

Come Christmas morning, however, the presents that were purchased made the desired impression and hardly any at all were mentally tagged for regifting.

But the more I pondered on the items Viking Woman gave me, the more I realised she was sending me coded messages, if only I was astute enough to understand them.

For instance:

The Starbucks coffee? Message: You have a refined and sophisticated palate, even if you are going to slurp back most of this before your eyes are actually open in the morning.

Boutique soap? Message: You are a well-groomed metrosexual with excellent hygiene who needs to stop using my expensive body wash.

Tom Petty CD? Message: You have excellent taste in music and after you’ve inflicted Mr. Petty on me, I’m going to torture you with both of my favourite music genres: country and western.

Lifetime membership to Jenny Craig? Message: You’re a fat bitch.

OK, it’s not like I didn’t see that last one coming. After all, it does take me longer to shave in the morning these days, what with all those extra chins flapping about. And my clothes seem to have shrunk, for reasons I simply cannot explain and so blame the washing machine.

But I have a perfectly good explanation for this sudden growth spurt: It’s not my fault.

In my defence:

I recently spent a week in Las Vegas. Anyone who has been served a meal in the U.S. knows there is enough on that plate to feed an entire African village.

I recently spent two weeks visiting my parents. Mom, knowing I wouldn’t be home for Christmas, trotted out samples of all her baked seasonal goods. Mom, knowing I wasn’t home at Thanksgiving, hauled out the pumpkin pecan pie that had languished in the freezer for two months. One does not, after all, send their first-born back to his wife looking famished.

I know: I put the sick in homesick.

And then I return to the loving arms of Viking Woman just in time for Christmas, which meant an office lunch room filled with chocolate sirens calling me by my first name, like they knew I lacked willpower. It turned out the little bastards were right.

See what I mean: Not. My. Fault.

And so now December is winding down as I belly up to my computer desk and Viking Woman is asking when I will be joining her at the altar of Jenny. Just as soon as the house is emptied of all the junk food we bought for that Christmas Day party you insisted on hosting, I tell her while being careful to smile.

When all the chips and sweets and ice cream and potato salad are safely tucked away (read: stuffed into my pie hole), then I will bare my soul, and my bulging abdomen, to the acolytes at Jenny Craig and begin the long, hard, calorie-less, fat-less, tasteless slog back into my jeans.

It could, however, take me a while to empty the pantry and the fridge. A condemned man would never wolf down his final meal.

While I’m doing all that chewing, I will not be thinking ahead to how svelte I will look once I shed 60 pounds.

What I’ll actually be contemplating is how many days into the programme I will get before I gnaw off my own arm.

The kid beaming out of the photo looks positively ecstatic. The goat he’s clutching, not so much. I’m guessing the animal somehow comprehends the child’s broad smile is in anticipation of a big bowl of goat stew for dinner.

While Christmas shoppers scurry outside the office, I’m sitting at my desk looking at an ad for World Vision. You know the one: “Buy a World Vision Smiles gift this Christmas and help change lives.” The ad copy is accompanied by photos of cute, but obviously needy kids, holding assorted critters ($9 for a chicken and chicken feed!; $20 for a duck!; $40 for a goat!”) as well as some second-tier actor whose face is meant to add a dose of legitimacy.

Donating to the welfare of hungry children is probably a  guaranteed instant deposit in the karma bank but I admit to being wary, having seen too many images of warlords hijacking trucks belonging to assorted humanitarian agencies and then feeding their soldiers while villagers starve .

How do I know my $40 is actually buying a goat, as opposed to ending up in some pirate’s bank account? How do I know the goat is going to that cute kid, as opposed to some fat general?

Who knew gift giving would involve so much thinking?

There was a time Viking Woman and I spent willy-nilly on each other: “Did she just glance at that and smile? Sold!”

Those days are long-gone.

Maybe it’s our small budget and big mortgage. Maybe it’s our small house and even smaller storage space.

Maybe we just have all we really need.

I, for one, cannot think of a single thing I’d like for Christmas. Scratch that: I cannot think of a single thing we can afford that I’d like for Christmas. A new camera? A new computer? Not gonna happen.

Thankfully, we have plenty of memories of Christmases Past, ones when there were presents under the tree as opposed to the dust bunnies who inhabit that space these days.

Viking Woman still enjoys seeing the shock on people’s faces when she relates how, soon after we were married, I gave her a tool belt. And then she laughs and assures her listeners it was one of the best gifts she’s ever received.

She also chortles every time she remembers the expression on my face when I tore open a present from her, only to find a Brooks and Dunn CD.

“Surely this is a mistake,” I said, “because it is you, not I, who is the lone country and western fan in this household.”

“Look again, Mr. Ungrateful,” she said. “That CD contains the song you’ve been singing the last several months.”

“Oh. Right,” I said. “How very thoughtful. Love you!”

We’ve got dozens of such stories about Christmas gifts given and received.

Maybe it’s time for a story about a goat.

Little Old Lady has haunted me my entire journalism career.

I’ve never actually met her but I imagine her to be sour of expression, someone who stands in her front yard shaking her cane at the kids playing in the street, berating them for being too loud, having too much hair, wearing their pants too low and their baseball caps backwards.

She owns a small dog and feeds it slices of cheese even though that nice man on the TV says human food is not good for animals. She knits while she watches daytime soaps and yells at the characters for being gullible fools. She doesn’t answer the phone if it rings during American Idol, thinking only an idiot would dare interrupt quite possibly the greatest entertainment ever invented.

She forgets where she put her glasses. She sometimes forgets to put her teeth in. She believes anyone who survived the Great Depression and the Second World War has the God-given right to bitch about everything and anything.

And, oh yeah, she hates me. Or, more specifically, my writing. In fact, she hates all journalism.

I know this to be true because every newspaper I’ve ever worked for — a Times, a Star, a News, a Herald, another Herald and now a Courier — fear Little Old Lady more than they fear the Internet.

Which is why every story I’ve ever written — every story you see printed in a respectable newspaper — has to pass this litmus test: Will it offend Little Old Lady? If an editor experiences even the slightest niggle that Little Old Lady will take umbrage with the content, the story will be edited or quite possibly  killed.

Little Old Lady enjoys sharing her opinions. Her morals violated by something she finds offensive, she will phone an editor to vent her spleen. Or, even worse, mail (!) a handwritten (!!) letter explaining, in no uncertain terms that, should the paper continue to print such objectionable trash, she will have no alternative but to cancel her subscription. No one has the balls to tell Little Old Lady that the paper is actually delivered free.

I was envisioning Little Old Lady this week while writing a story about a new horse trail. On the surface, this is not the sort of story that would normally raise wrinkled hackles but my plan was to use the word “shirty” to describe some rather nasty people who’d objected to equestrian invaders.

“Shirty” is one of those Kiwi-isms Viking Woman and I encountered when we moved to New Zealand. I know it’s not a real (read: North American) word but I have this sneaky hunch Kiwis use it in polite company when what they really mean is “shitty.”

Is Old Little Old Lady going to read that sentence and not give it a second thought because, after all, that’s how everyone speaks here?

Or will she stop short, raise a weathered eyebrow, clack her dentures in disgust and reach a quivering hand for the phone?

I guess I’m about to find out. Wish me luck.

Like all couples, Viking Woman and I have our differences.

For instance, she’s an outdoor person and I prefer to be inside. Where it’s warm and dry. And there aren’t any weeds.

She’s a dog person. I’m a too-lazy-to-walk-the-dog person.

She loves children. I like children. When they belong to someone else. And live far away. Preferably in another country.

She likes rom-coms. I’d rather poke a sharp stick in my eye.

She likes country music. I’d rather poke a sharp stick in my ear.

She likes people. I prefer to be alone. In a lighthouse. Built in a cave.

I like sex. She likes to sleep.

You get the picture.

We also tend to perch on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to sports. And by sports I mean hockey, as opposed to those other sweaty activities involving people who can’t skate.

I love watching hockey. Viking Woman would rather conduct a root canal on herself. With a chainsaw.

Although, having said that, she did once prove her love to me when we were still dating by memorizing the names of all the NHL teams. I was suitably impressed, even if there were only 21 teams at the time.

Of course, like all romantic gestures, this one did not survive the wedding vows.

Day of wedding:

Me: Prove your love by naming all the teams.

VW: (proceeds to do so)

Day after wedding:

Me: Prove your love by naming all the teams.

VW: Puck off!

Despite all these disagreements, we have managed to stay together for nearly two decades.

Until now, that is.

It’s with a heavy heart that I must report Viking Woman has taken up with another man. Fifteen other men, to be exact.

Because that’s the number of players each team is allowed on the field at any one time during the Rugby World Cup tournament.

That’s right – the woman who would rather bathe in battery acid than share the same room with a copy of The Hockey News, now sits in the lounge, eyes fixated on the TV, yelling encouragement at the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national team.

Rugby is a relatively new sport to both of us and so we’re not quite sure of all the rules. Which might explain why I’m shouting, “Hey, ref! Get a real job!” while Viking Woman is shouting, “Hey, ref! Get out of the way! You’re blocking my view of Daniel Carter’s bum!”

Like I said, as far as I’m concerned, there is hockey and then there are silly games played by people who can’t afford to buy pads. Rugby is one of those silly games: Large hunks of meat crashing into each other, wearing little more than a tight jersey and short shorts.

Nope, can’t see the attraction.

The winner of the Rugby World Cup won’t be crowned until Oct. 23. I expect this marriage to be well and truly over by then.

Unless, of course, Viking Woman can recite the 30 teams currently playing in the NHL. Let’s start with Anaheim . . .

4 a.m. September 11, 2001

September 11, 2011

The Rarotonga night was hot and sticky. Viking Woman and I had long since kicked the thin sheet aside when the phone rang.

I stumbled out of bed, glancing at my watch as I made my way to the kitchen. 4 a.m. September 11.

Jeane Matenga was on the line. She was my boss at the Pitt Media Group, which runs the lone TV station in the Cook Islands. CITV does not broadcast 24 hours a day but someone from overseas had contacted Jeane and, after receiving that call, she’d driven into the office to fire up the station’s computers. Then she phoned us.

“Turn on your TV,” she said.

The television in our lounge was small and analogue. The reception was iffy at best and all the images had an orange tint because I was never able to figure out how to adjust the colour control.

But none of that mattered to Viking Woman and I that morning. As roosters crowed and stray dogs howled in the humid darkness, we watched in stunned silence as the north tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.

This isn’t real, we said to each other later. This can’t be happening. This is Hollywood special effects. This is science fiction. This happens in other countries, in those barbaric places where strife and human misery and deadly attacks are a tragic way of life.

But this was not a movie. This was real life. This was real people dying in front of us as we stared, transfixed, at an orange screen while the tropical island stirred awake around us to greet a world that had just been changed forever.

We are West Coast Canadians and this was happening on the East Coast of America and yet I still felt rage at those who would let loose a bloodbath of this proportion in what I considered to be my backyard.

This was my way of life and my corner of civilization under attack and I was furious. President Bush, whom I’d always considered a buffoon, made a lot of loud noises about hunting down and punishing the perpetrators and I admit to pumping my first in the air and shouting the equivalent of “F**k, yeah!”

The ripple effect of those attacks reverberated across the world, even to our tiny hidey-hole in the South Pacific. With everyone suddenly very nervous to fly, and the Cook Islands economy based nearly 100 per cent on tourism, the government panicked at the prospect of lost revenue and ordered all departments to slash their budgets by 20 per cent.

That’s how Viking Woman lost her housing allowance. That’s how we were forced to return home.

But home no longer looked the same. We flew into LAX in late October to be met by squads of stone-cold soldiers carrying large weapons and eyeballing all of us as if we were potential enemies. We brought a small dog back from Rarotonga but, judging by the hassle that entailed, you would have thought we’d secreted Osama bin Laden himself up the poor thing’s arse.

I am not terribly worldly. I’m a simple man, content to maintain a tight focus. I have my family and my hockey and my movies and my photography and that’s all I need. I treat others with respect and expect the same in return.

I do not know, nor do I understand, what inflames people to kill each other. For what? To prove your god is better than my god? Does a god who would condone such mindless savagery deserve to be worshipped? We could debate this point for hours but I have better things to do with my time.

I, like all of you, will not be here long. Eighty years, give or take, if I’m lucky. I just want to live in peace, have some fun, be a good person, and then leave behind a better world for my children and my children’s children.

That seemed like an achievable goal until September 11, 2001. Now, I’m not so sure.

Imagine, if you will, combining the excitement of the Olympic Games with the Super Bowl, the seventh game of the World Series and the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final. And then multiply it by a million.

Welcome to the Rugby World Cup.

And welcome to New Zealand, which is hosting this wondrous event from Sept. 9 to Oct. 23.

A tree cosie shows its true colours on Dalton Street in Napier, New Zealand.

I had to make several adjustments when Viking Woman and I moved from Canada to New Zealand. Among those was learning to ignore the sports news.

Where, at home, I’d devour every story and game summary and relish every highlight of every game in the National Hockey League, I quickly discovered Kiwis don’t give a rat’s bum about my favourite sport.

“Too violent,” they sniff. “Too many pads.”

In fact, mention “hockey” in New Zealand and everyone assumes you’re talking “field hockey.” “Ice hockey” is the rather ignominious term Kiwis use on the rare occasion they bother referring to the fastest team sport in the world.

English sports reign here. That means the likes of cricket and polo and lawn bowling and rowing. All of which bow down to King Rugby.

“Husky men in tight jerseys and short shorts,” I sniff. “The very definition of macho, I’m sure.”

I don’t understand the game – if there is a difference between Rugby and Rugby League I’ve yet to discern it – and I don’t really care. But these days it’s all Rugby World Cup all the time.

Napier is, in fact, hosting two of the games, as  some of the lesser matches (read: any game that doesn’t feature the All Blacks) are being spread around the provinces so even small-town hicks like us can be fleeced by high ticket prices.

As it happens, both games in Napier feature Canada. I may not have any love for rugby, but I still have a maple leaf tattooed on my heart, metaphorically speaking, of course. So Viking Woman and I will attend one of those games – probably vs France on Sept. 18 – during which we will dust off our Vancouver Summer Games apparel, including the red mitts, the idea being to eliminate any doubt as to which country we are supporting.

The interesting part about Canada taking part in this tournament – apart from the fact there are actually enough players of this calibre in the country to make up a team – is the world’s perception of my motherland. And by world I mean those people who put together the program information packages about each of the 20 participating countries.

I particularly enjoyed reading the cuisine entries in each country’s fact box. Apparently, we Canucks tend to fill our faces with poutine, butter tarts and maple syrup. Say what? No pancakes? No Tim Horton’s doughnuts? No chocolate-covered jujubes?

Aside from poutine – does anybody outside of Quebec actually consume that crap? – our food loves are at least palatable. As opposed to, say, Scotland (haggis, oats, potatoes), Namibia (bush stew) or Wales (what the hell are cawl and laverbread?).

As for our American cousins, there isn’t a single slice of apple pie or a ballpark dog on their list. Instead, we are told Yankee Doodle dandies chow down on crab cakes and potato chips. Oh. Really.

So, yeah, the Rugby World Cup is already proving interesting even before the first ball is, well, whatever it is they do with their balls down here.

I was appalled to read recently where women judge men not by their chiseled good looks, nor by their iron-clad abdomens. Neither are they swayed to swooning by a keen sense of humour nor straight teeth nor the bulge in the pants that indicates a wallet fat with banknotes.

Nope. Women, apparently, judge men by their shoes.

Which would explain why no one is lining up to seduce me. Well that and the fact I’m married. And old.

Shoes, I readily admit, have never ranked very high on my personal priority list. They’re good for keeping my socks dry and my feet clean and, um, well, that’s about it, right?

I currently own a pair of year-old running shoes that I bought in Las Vegas, a pair of hiking boots that I save for winter and then never actually summon the energy to bend down and dig out from the back of the closet, and a pair of black dress shoes that are reserved for weddings/funerals/job interviews and so still look new.

I will confess to trying to keep up with foot fashion, during a time I like to call my Young and Foolish Phase.

I once owned a pair of “motorcycle’” boots whose unfortunate demise came during a tour of Europe when the sudden loosening of one heel nearly deposited me in a Venetian canal.

Later in the ’70s, prompted by an attraction to a towering young miss, I invested in a pair of boots with elevated soles that saw me at risk of snapping ankles and neck every time I teetered around in them.

My shoe shortage is in direct contrast to Viking Woman who, the last time I bothered to look, possessed the exact same number of feet as I do, and yet has this strange urge to amass a huge collection of footware. And by huge, I mean at least 20 pairs, if you can wrap your brain around that extreme excess.

It must be an estrogen thing. How else to describe this tragic inability women have to just say no to their feet.

And, of course, it’s never just the shoes. I’ve spent countless hours wedged into a plastic chair, fondly reminiscing about my bachelor days, while Viking Woman ogled the latest fashion offering in stitched leather. Only to be told, at the end of this lengthy exercise, that now she needs matching accessories, starting with a purse.

All of which makes raises the question as to what it was that attracted her to me in the first place. Maybe I looked like a patient man, one who would endure her foot foibles without a whimper of protest.

Or maybe she took one look at how I clad my lower extremities and knew straight away she’d never have to worry about losing me to another woman. As improbable as it sounds, she was absolutely right.

It’s funny the things that remind you of home after you move to another country.

Seeing k.d. lang on an English talk show, for instance. Viking Woman was a big fan of lang during the formative years of her career, to the point of following the singer and her band around the bars of southern Alberta. Those were the days when lang wore a wedding dress and cowboy boots while performing in nearly every Legion hall in the province.

Seeing NHL jerseys in incongruous places is always cause for a double take from an expat. The other day, I spotted a middle-aged Maori woman in a supermarket wearing the Atlanta Thrashers’ third jersey. I very nearly tapped her on the shoulder to tell her the sweater was now a collectible, what with the Thrashers in the process of packing up and moving north to Winnipeg.

I always find it sad when NHL franchises move. It’s like acknowledging failure and that somehow hurts my pride in the game.

Hockey has been a part of my life for as far back as I can remember. Back to the days of black-and-white TV when you could see any team play at home on Hockey Night in Canada, just as long as it was Montreal or Toronto.

I was an expansion-era baby, one who chuckled at my father grumbling at how expanding from six to 12 teams would dilute the product and how on earth could he be expected to keep track of all those players. Now, of course, there are 30 teams and some 700 players and I’m the one doing the grumbling.

We had two religious experiences every weekend when I was growing up. Saturday, 5 p.m., was the weekly hockey game. Sunday, 9 a.m., was the weekly Catholic Mass. Lulled into boredom by having to spend an hour cooped up in a church in my best clothes, I would lapse into daydreams, ones in which I replayed every highlight from the night before, often imagining myself as one of the goalies, plucking pucks out of midair. Jesus wasn’t the only one saving on those mornings.

So how does a hockey fanatic end up in New Zealand, a country where “hockey” means field hockey and you have to say “ice hockey” to make yourself understood? Long story. Let’s just say I’ve had to rely on the Internet for my puck fix for several years now. To the point that, during my annual visit home, to actually sit and watch a game on TV is like discovering the sport all over again.

It’s like finding a treasured toy from one’s childhood. I can’t help but stare in wonder. And smile. A lot.

* * *

Rugby is the king of New Zealand sports, of course. All Blacks all the time, as it were.

New Zealand is playing host the Rugby World Cup 2011, which, apparently, is the equivalent of hosting the Stanley Cup final, the Super Bowl and the World Series. All at the same time.

This is how gaga this country is for the sport they call affectionately call footy: there was a big celebration earlier this week to mark the fact the competition would be kicking  off 100 days hence. Yup, three-and-a-months until the first ball is booted in anger, and grown men were putting on black tie and patting each others’ bums in eager anticipation of seeing the All Blacks mop the floor with all comers.

I’m not a big fan of rugby – big men in tight shorts scare me for some reason – but I am a big fan of my home country. Yes, Canada has a national rugby team. I have no idea who the players are but, after seeing how Canada’s national cricket team appeared to have been recruited from Pakistan, it wouldn’t surprise me if the roster was filled with players who said “say wot, old chap” as opposed to “ya hoser, eh.”

Two of Canada’s games are being played in Napier and Viking Woman and I are going to attend the match against Japan. Nether of those teams is exactly considered a powerhouse in the sport, so it might be the equivalent of watching a Midget-level hockey game as opposed to the NHL.

But we have our Vancouver Winter Olympics hoodies (not that we’ll need them in September) emblazoned with Canada across the chest, our red Vancouver Winter Olympics mittens (not that we’ll need them in September), our red Canada hats and our red-and-white Canadian flags. We plan to be very, very vocal in support of our fellow Canucks.

And, since streaking is somehow an integral part of rugby (yes, this country is still stuck in the ’70s. Why do you ask?), I may even venture onto the field should I be so consumed by national pride in all things True North Strong and Free to the point of casting aside both my inhibitions and my clothes.

Anyone know where I can get an XXL maple leaf?