On November 1, Jillian and I left New Zealand to visit Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. The motivation for the trip was to follow the All Blacks on their Northern Hemisphere tour.
Choosing to spend time in Ireland, we missed the game against Italy, but watched the games against Scotland, Wales and England.
Historically, the tour of 2012 will be remembered for the All Blacks' loss to England. But for me the experience and atmosphere of Twickenham outweighed the disappointment of seeing our team being so soundly defeated.
For pure excitement and raw passion for the game of rugby, nothing could exceed the enthusiasm of 80,000 Welsh supporters packed into Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, who encouraged their team with deafening cheering or heartfelt singing every time they got near the ball.
Scotland also pulled out all the stops with their tilt at the All Blacks. The organisers used every bit of emotion at their disposal to give the match the hype of an international sporting event. Two traditional pipe bands as well as the red hot chilly pipers warmed up the crowd, and Scottish Olympians greeted their national side onto the field.
The sound of The Proclaimers singing 500 miles burst across the PA system whenever Scotland scored points. It so revved up the spectators that even some All Blacks supporters began to encourage Scotland to greater endeavours.
Between the games I took the opportunity to renew political contacts made on previous visits or to make new ones.
The hot topic in Scotland is the referendum on Scottish Independence. In Edinburgh, pro- independence groups were already campaigning.
Most Scots were happy to give me their views. I got the feeling that a lot of Scots feel in their hearts they want to be independent, but in their heads they are not so sure. 2014 is still some time away and a lot can influence the thinking of a nation. Maybe the vote will end up being a battle between the heart and the head. However in politics one should never discount the effect of emotion.
In the Republic of Ireland I had lunch with the Mayor of Wexford and was given a tour of the new county council building. I was told that the number of planners working in this building had reduced from 100 employed in the "Celtic Tiger" days to now just two. Effects of the recession were much in evidence and following the boom, which was encouraged by cheap bank lending, the downturn is severe. In many places we witnessed dozens of houses either half built, or newly built and unoccupied. History appears to be repeating itself as many young Irish people see their future in emigration.
In Dublin we visited the Oireachtas (parliament) and watched politicians in the Dail Eireann (lower house) and Seanad (senate) debating matters of social disorder and health.
In Northern Ireland at Dugannon, where in 2003 we briefly lived during the establishment of the "peace process", we accepted an invitation to have morning tea with the Sinn Fein Mayor of Dungannon & South Tyrone.
Sinn Fein members were new to Council in 2003 and discussions between them and the Unionist Councillors were conducted through an intermediary.
Our reception was evidence of positive change as the Mayor welcomed us back to his town.
Northern Ireland is now a much happier place. That was vividly demonstrated when at a luncheon in the Legislative Assembly, and later in the Chamber, we witnessed political and social interaction between members who in former years were bitter enemies.
During a tour of the highly ornate Belfast City Council building we observed the care taken to recognise the two traditions that make up their community.
In Cardiff we were invited by Kirsty Williams, the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, to tour the Senedd (National Assembly of Wales).
The Assembly was not sitting that day, but we could see that this rather startling building of modern design was built to give Wales a voice and the ability to contribute to a democratic system of Governance.