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Pounding Aberdeen’s Pavements with Purpose

Bringing in the distant bells of 2021 atop Creag Choinnich, I felt truly hopeful. I didn’t know what the start of this year would bring, but I did have one definite purpose: To cycle, run and walk 300 miles between New Year’s Day and the 6th February.

It had all started with a message into a family group chat from my Dad. The old man suggested my brother and I join him in logging our miles for the Doddie Aid challenge. This challenge would run throughout January and up until Scotland’s Calcutta Cup clash with England.

He didn’t have to wait long for my reply and I promised to donate a tenth of the miles I completed to the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation. This is a charity inspired by Scotland rugby stalwart Doddie Weir following his diagnosis with Motor Neuron Disease a few years ago.

After we had negotiated the treacherous descent of Creag Choinnich, my Mum and I woke early the next morning, setting off to find the Secret Howff. The location of this secret bothy is meant to be kept secret and we battled through deep snow to find it hidden on an outcrop after a five mile walk in.

At several moments during this mini-adventure I felt the cold ease into my bones. Casually chatting with Mum and glancing at Cora dog’s frozen paws warmed me up pretty quickly though. I had barely seen Mum during 2020 due to the sporadic nature of the previous year. This 10 mile walk had been the perfect sociable beginning to Doddie Aid.

I left the natural beauty of Braemar, three furry companions and my mother behind two days later for Aberdeen, just before another lockdown was announced. I added another nine miles in Upper Deeside to my total and then hopped on a bus. I knew I had to try and keep this momentum going in the Granite City.

I walked everyday, trying to discover route variations between Leah’s flat and mine or wandering down to the beach often in the dark. My phone can’t handle GPS, so every mile was being logged manually with the help of Strava’s routes function. Although this process had a time consuming element to it, I love maps so it wasn’t too testing a task.

My running was steady, if not slightly scattered into intermittent blocks of activity. I had habitual routes, but quickly became obsessed with running along the River Don where it almost felt like I was venturing into the countryside again. If only for a short while, I was able to get away from Aberdeen’s cold grey granite and the unnatural right angles of the city streets.

On two successive Saturdays I jogged to the Bridge of Don from my King Street flat, running a 7.4 mile loop around the River Don and timing myself. When I would return around 90 minutes later I was cold, sweaty and clarted in mud. The air felt fresher by the riverside, the trails fun and the nature more…natural. Those two runs were tough and magical in equal measure.

A difficult aspect of the challenge was the weather, with the mercury often plummeting towards freezing for most of the five weeks. This all but put the kibosh on my plans to brush the cobwebs of my bike. I could have ridden it, but I was admittedly nervous to face a potentially sketchy time in the saddle. I hadn’t ridden my stead for nearly six months following a crash at speed in the summer. I didn’t want to dent my confidence and more importantly my body, more seriously.

My original target of 300 miles would have still been reachable, but I unashamedly let this target go. I just wanted to be on my feet and to continue moving. Figures outside my daily totals began to feel meaningless. I took reassurance in taking every day as it comes.

The walking continued and I began to enjoy this less laboured form of exercise more. Towards the end of January the snow was beginning to deepen in areas of Aberdeenshire, but the city remained predominantly icy and sleety. On the penultimate day of the month I ran to the top of Danestone and found some feeble snow underfoot. Sometimes getting that wee bit of altitude opens up the city for those of us who like to explore its many streets.

On Friday 5th February I ran four easy miles around the beach and went straight into the shower on my return, running late for placement. It was only later that I realised my Doddie Aid total was at 190.4 miles. I stared at this figure for a while, in the knowledge that the day after was the final day of the challenge. Surely I had to try and finish on 200 miles?

And so the next day I set off with a 10 mile route planned out. I plodded towards a ominous sky along the Spital, scrambling across the slippery cobblestones of Aberdeen University’s cobblestones. From there I powered up Gordon Brae, breathlessly ascending this longish hill, before joining Whitestripes Road. On the final day of this personal journey I was finally leaving the city by foot. With a dull football playlist on low volume in the background, I ran with purpose in an easterly direction before turning back towards Dyce.

The Raynaud’s in my gloveless hands kicked in without mercy and the pain of having to clasp my phone became slightly overwhelming as I ran on. Continuing back towards the city, I passed a raging River Don which made me feel colder every time I glanced it. For the first time I was able to inspect the paper mills on the other side of the river in more detail. Running is a brilliant medium for actually experiencing your surroundings.

Eventually I reached Aberdeen’s city limits again. Ascending Great Northern Road I was buoyed by the deafening weekend traffic and the pain in my hands. I felt privileged to be able to run and more pertinently, to be able to use my legs for my own enjoyment at this time in my life.

And so with just hours to spare until kick-off at Twickenham I finished the challenge on 200.4ish miles. As promised I donated £20.04 to My Name’s Doddie and I hope I managed to raise a wee bit of awareness through my activities. It was a good excuse to be out and about for a worthwhile cause.

On a more selfish note, as I sat with my hands buried in a towel trying to get some feeling into them again I felt a huge amount of satisfaction. For some 200 miles in five weeks on foot will be impressive, while for others it will be less so. For me, I was just glad I rediscovered a lost love for running and as it turned out, for walking as well. I had pounded Aberdeen’s pavements with a feeling of purpose for five weeks.

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Running Diaries – The River Don Trail

On an afternoon of icy rain in Aberdeen I found temporary shelter under the arching Diamond Bridge. This is the third Don crossing, a structure completed in 2016 which connects the housing estates of Danestone and Middleton Park with the city centre.

Five miles into a nine mile run and the bridge was offering little respite from the biting cold. My hands were damp and almost numb. Despite this, I was most definitely in my happy place.

I scanned my surroudings. The River Don looked heavy from rainfall and snowmelt from the Eastern Cairngorms, 70 odd miles upstream. The thought of the icy water made me shiver.

For the last two years I’ve enjoyed following the river’s journey through Aberdeen on foot, switching between its north and south banks in different combinations. For a country lover like me, the area surrounding the Don isn’t too distant from a rural setting.

Monday’s muddy scramble had began by shadowing the river at Persley Bridge, a workmanlike crossing which carries the A92 as it heads North-East. The surroundings hadn’t been too glamorous for the beginning of this mini-adventure but I didn’t mind.

Separated by a roundabout, a sewage works sits across from the two storey Danestone Tesco store complete with massive car park. However, it was a steep embankment beside a Bannatyne gym that started my journey down the Don proper, leading me onto the path to Danestone Country Park.

On entering the park I had crossed the Bridge of Wellies. As my name for it suggests, this is a bridge with dozens of Wellies clinging to its fencing. Each welly boot contains a plant as part of a local initiative to brighten up the otherwise barren country park.

The Bridge of Wellies which crosses the Grandholm Mill Lade.

The path then distances itself from the river, but on Monday I turned back on myself and onto an always slippery slope. In my opinion, it isn’t really trail running if there aren’t some slips and trips. This time was no different and I soon had a mud splattered knee.

This excursion led me right down to the riverside for the first time and onto a more technical path. Careful attention has to be paid here to not tripping over a large tree root and headfirst into the Don’s dark waters. I’ve accidentally dunked myself in the River Dee at Kincardine O’Neil previously, but I think I’d rather fall in there for obvious reasons.

Across the water from this section is the Woodside sports pitches where I last attended a rugby match. That was in March last year, while on reporting duties as Aberdeenshire narrowly defeated Ross Sutherland.

Meanwhile, the trail meanders around trees with more lethal roots and stingy nettles in abundance. This is what a trail runner cooped up in a concrete jungle longs for.

Across the river from the Woodside Sports Complex.

This section soon gaive way to the cobble stoned Grandholm Avenue which leads to a complex of houses, shops and a care home. There are options here to cross a narrow girder bridge and tackle a cobbled ascent into Tillydrone. I personally prefer the muddy route to Diamond Bridge where I then crossed over onto the river’s south bank.

Between the Third Don Crossing and Seaton Park is an impressive Archimedes Screw and an island which seems to be permanently closed off despite there being a small wooden bridge across to it.

After my break under the Diamond Bridge, I had passed both these landmarks and traversed a short section of trail on boardwalk before reaching Seaton Park. This is a particularly picturesque area of the Granite City, especially when the sun shines and a plethora of flowers start to blossom in the summer months.

On Monday, the path towards Brig of Balgownie could be compared to a slip n slide. In my road runners I struggled to gain much grip with the path gaining altitude as it passed the prison like Hillhead student halls.

This exceedingly muddy section comes to an end at the scenic of Brig of Balgownie. Originally built in the 14th century, this bridge would have been the primary crossing across the Don in the locality for many years.

Night falls at the Brig O’Balgownie.

Addicted to polished running statistics and Strava segments, I used to foolishly view stopping for breaks during a run as almost a cardinal sin. Since moving away from Strava as a platform however, I now always ensure I include a moment or two of respite here. I watch the river flow lazily downstream and under the much newer Bridge of Don towards the nearby Donmouth Nature Reserve.

Just upstream from the Brig an ordinarily small trickle down the side of a steep drop sometimes becomes a majestic waterfall following a period of heavy rainfall. It cascades down from just below Balgownie Road and into the Don.

Crossing the river again here, its didn’t take long to reach Ellon Road. Often this is where I bid farewell to the river, returning to the realities of the bustling city. On other occasions I venture slightly further and into the small sand dunes of the Donmouth, the quieter side of the river’s completion point where there are often more seals than people.

On this occasion I ventured no further, flying down King Street. My hands reminded me that my poor circulation had taken a hammering. The ensuing discomfort of thawing them out in the flat is always worth it if there is mud and trails involved.

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Six Festive Strolls

Cora pants with unstoppable enthusiasm as she drags me up the side of Carn na Drochaide with ease. Mum follows on behind as we struggle to navigate the slippery path in search of a good viewpoint. As humans we are unable to depend on the natural four-wheel system which dogs have at their disposal.

Eventually we are provided with views across to some of the highest mountains in Britain. The white complexion of the distant peaks of the Cairngorms means that several of them are difficult to make out against a darkening and overcast sky.

We agree to head back to the car instead of pushing onto the summit. It’s the day after the Winter Solstice and the landscape will soon to be pitched into total darkness. I’m tempted to chatter away to Mum about nothing much, but pause for a split second.

As we rest the silence is almost overwhelming. In that moment I realise how much I’ve missed the countryside and how grateful I should be for the opportunity to leave the city over Christmas, especially under the current circumstances.  

During the first unwelcome installment of lockdown, I often found it better to walk instead of run. Primarily, because it was usually a more relaxing form of exercise to slot into my permitted once daily venture out from Leah’s flat.

I suddenly found walking a great activity to slowly release any stress I had in my fragile system. Walks also provided a great opportunity for me to let any creative thoughts flow. Even if they centered on nonsensical nonsense half the time. Thus, I kept a short diary of my walks over the festive period. 

Monday 22nd December:

We left it until early afternoon to hop in the car with Cora, the excitable black and white Greek mongrel who enjoys elegantly posing for photographs. Parking near the punchbowl at the Quoich, we walked around the west side of Carn na Drochaide along a gradual incline to see if we could get a good view of the Cairngorms.

It wasn’t too cold and there was little ice underfoot, but we still had to navigate a couple of sketchy river crossings. From an elevated viewpoint we had a perfect of the east Cairngorm mountains. No one was about and blissfully, there was no unnatural sound. We descended carefully and eventually finished a decent outing as the last light faded in the west.

Tuesday 23rd December:

It was almost a full house for the Braemar Nixons contingent as we clambered up Carn na Sgliat on a chilly afternoon. At 690 meters, it is affectionally referred to by some locals as Coo Hill. The only member of the family missing in action was Skye, a tiring 13-year-old Black Labrador.

Although her fur is greying and she looks a lot slimmer, I don’t think she has run her race just yet. Though sadly, she does seem to be becoming slightly senile in her older age and is unable to come along on the longer walks with us anymore. I think she enjoys being without Cora and Islay’s company for periods though, especially as the former is the equivalent of a jumpy 20 something. Meanwhile, Islay is an 11-year-old Westie with a can do attitude.  

Coo Hill is one of my favourites hill runs. A winding path takes you up through the heather and eventually onto the summit. On a clear day you can get cracking views and it’s a great place to view Braemar village from.

Today it was blowing a hoolie and started to ding down with snow as we turned into the wind to return down the hill. Mags and I reminisced about eating lunch on the summit of every hill we climbed as a family when we were younger no matter the weather conditions. If we had climbed Everest as a family the result would have likely been death by tuna sandwich.

Christmas Eve:

Our Christmas Eve walk consisted of the classic Creag Choinnich excursion which is unequivocally the closest hill to the house. At a canter it takes about 25 minutes to traverse the steep path to the summit. It’s a perfect hill to climb if you find yourself in Braemar and are short of time. With enough exertion involved there is still a feeling of achievement when you’re able to stop and admire the several different views from the hill in all directions. Skye joined us this time and did admirably in slippery conditions.

Christmas Day:

Its almost family tradition to go for a decent walk every year on Christmas Day. In previous years the suggestion of an outing into the usually pretty ordinary festive weather is met quite begrudgingly. As a kid all I wanted to do was play with my new Subbuteo set or play with my new rugby ball.

This year it was definitely worth it though as we ventured out to try and find the Colonel’s Bed, a rocky overhang in a ravine in the River Ey. We parked the Corsa at Inverey, a hamlet three miles from Braemar and set off up Glen Ey. There was a smattering of snow on the ground and we had to take great care around the steep sided canyon where the bed lies.

The Black Colonel was a particularly violent Jacobite by the name of John Farquharson who apparently burnt down Braemar Castle in the late 17th century. Farquharson had also earlier been banished for killing a man from Ballater.

In search of shelter the colonel is said to have hidden from the Red Coats on the large overhang when they would pay visits to the local area. It is an atmospheric spot, but I also felt a little spooked when gazing into the tumbling rapids within the deep gorge.

 According to local legend, the colonel wanted to be buried at Inverey alongside his lover, but instead ended up at the graveyard in Braemar after his death. The story goes that on the day after the burial his coffin was discovered on the ground next to his grave. This happened twice more before he was eventually buried for good at Inverey.

This is a far-fetched story which I would love to explore in more depth as a piece of creative fiction. Despite this, I seem to get a shiver up my spine every time I read or write about the Black Colonel. It’s a bizarre feeling which I also experienced this afternoon in the vicinity of the Colonel’s Bed and again as I write this after everyone else has gone to bed.

Monday 27/12/20:

Today we walked from the Linn O’Dee car park to Derry Lodge, a building arguably at the outer edges of where the largest Cairngorm mountains begin. This was a bitterly cold walk which my numb hands and feet can attest for despite my thick gloves and wearing three pairs of socks.

Cora pulled Mags along on the lead with glee. When walking her we would love to let her run free, but she has run away so many times that we can’t really risk letting her off the lead. Her early years involved a tough upbringing on the streets of Athens, before she somehow ended up in the UK. With gas to burn Cora dog will just keep running.

This afternoon we were treated to stunning views of some snow-covered peaks as they almost blended in perfectly with the low cloud which obscured their summits. I again allowed myself to drift into my own creative thoughts as I strolled along. I considered how the weather conditions would-be near perfect conditions for the Big Grey Man of Ben Macdui to make an appearance on Britain’s second highest peak, which is relatively close to Derry Lodge.

 Macdui is a monroe which I still haven’t ticked off my list. The fantastical accounts of coming across a giant creature near the summit in low visibility captured my imagination, but also irrational fear when I read up on the subject a couple of years ago. On the way back it started to snow heavily and darkness started to ascend quickly. I was suddenly glad that I wasn’t anywhere near the high peaks.   

Tuesday 28/12/20

This latest walk involved trying to find an abandoned cottage in the middle of a forest in a race against the fading daylight. Mags, Mum, I and the dogs went off the beaten track near Crathie, navigating a substantial forest with several spooky dark patches where the trees were more condensed.

After much map work, we finally found the cottage, apparently used by Queen Victoria during her extensive visits to the nearby Balmoral Castle. More recently planted trees now hem the long-abandoned building in and we had to walk a bit further to find the other end of the forest.

Once outside the intimidating woods we were treated to truly stunning views across to Lochnagar, a mountain which is synonymous with Upper Deeside. Today’s hike was the perfect ending to several festive walks which I was lucky enough to experience in a beautiful part of the world and with my family.

 Wherever you are I wish you the best for 2021 and hope you are also able to enjoy some walking when you need some peace. I would highly recommend it.  

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Social Media and Me

Wednesday 11 November 2020

On Tuesday I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix. A docudrama which I would recommend spending 125 minutes of your life watching and by watching, I mean with no social media apps open and no laptop screen blocking your view of your television. As someone who is likely balancing on the periphery of being addicted to social media with a short attention span to boot, I did both and I really wish I hadn’t.

Some who have recommended I view this have proclaimed their visceral distress at the realisation that many forms of social media (if not all forms to some extent) are constructed around the idea of trying to get the user addicted on some level to using their platforms. For me however, I used it more as a much-needed reminder of how easy it is to be addicted to scrolling through endless feeds of posts and videos.

Watching The Social Dilemma also perfectly complimented my most recent reading material. Jaron Lanier’s Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media, which does what it says on the tin really. It cites the loss of your volition to technology and the inequitable financial situation which a world absolutely reliant on social media would likely find itself in. These to name just a couple of his most compelling arguments for deleting your accounts.

Lanier also appears alongside Shoshana Zuboff in the Netflix special. Despite Zuboff’s intricate study of Surveillance Capitalism, the former’s work is perhaps easier to understand for someone lacking in a more rounded technical knowledge like me. It also got me thinking about how I could write about my own experiences with social media without straying too far into the technicalities of how it all works. Perhaps, creating an uneducated personal account of social media under several sub-headings. Well here goes nothing I suppose.

Tempus Fugit

It’s another gloomy morning in Aberdeen and therefore, a perfect opportunity to sit down and get studying for an array of fast incoming deadlines. My smartphone is likely sitting on my desk, although I’ve recently got into the habit of laying it on the opposite side of my room to give my attention span a bit more of a chance. I start reading through my notes. Its 10am.

Just as I’m getting into my reading a notification pings loudly on the phone and I fall into the trap of checking my device with the aim of seeing who could possibly be contacting me. Suddenly another notification pings and several minutes later I’m scrolling through videos on Facebook or through various opinionated and outraged posts on Twitter, unforgivably leaving any slight willpower at my desk.

Finally, I switch my phone off, annoyed that I’ve likely eaten into maybe ten minutes off my study time. I check my bed side alarm. Its 10:45 and thus we have a terrifying example of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, in this case confined to a device the length of my index finger.      

No Need to Feel Bashful

We’ve all been there haven’t we. You’re at a party (pre Covid-19) trapped with someone you barely know and there’s a clear stiffness in the conversation or lack of one, which is proving awkward. Instead of asking the person a quirky question which could provide you with a means of reigning in the inherent awkwardness of the moment, you reach for your phone and begin to scroll aimlessly.

There are of course extroverted people out there who are great at creating discussion with someone which they don’t know too well. As of yet, I am generally not one of these people, particularly if I’m sober. It is common for me to enter such situations feeling bashful and uneasy. Feelings which I will regularly counter-balance by reaching for my mobile. A device (in both senses of the word) which has done more damage than good in the long-term because as long as I continue following this pattern of behavior, the less confident I’ll become in handling social situations. Therefore, leaving me in the vicinity of a Catch 22 situation.    

The Fear of Missing Out

In July 2014 I joined Facebook. I was almost 16 years old and had arrogantly thought of myself as some sort of maverick for shaking off the magnetism of social media in my formative years at secondary school.  As I built friends over the following months I was struck by the sudden urgency and seemingly endless desire to know what other people were up to.

By nature, I’m a curious (and perhaps nosey) person and I found that platforms such as Strava feed this personality trait. Strava, for the uninitiated, is an app which allows athletes to predominantly record their runs and cycles through the use of GPS which is then circulated around other athletes’ feeds. I used to be an avid user and it proved a highly effective personal tool for motivating me to go further and faster. On the flipside of this was an unhealthy obsession with comparing myself to other users on a daily basis.

 Strava became like a shrine of better cyclists and runners for me to worship and this soon fed into increasing anxiety which I was already starting to feel as a teenager studying for their Highers. This being comparable to a feeling of missing out or not being invited which I know many people, especially teens, experience on a regular basis through shared events and the subsequent pics on platforms like Facebook.    

Indestructible Bubbles

It is almost common knowledge that social media can feed the issue of becoming trapped in an echo chamber of your political views and values. This is one of the aspects of it which I think concerns me the most. After choosing to study Media Studies in my last year at school, I became fascinated with the idea of bias and started to question whether any news outlet could ever really exclaim that it was either truly fair or balanced.

I started reading newspaper articles online and read The Guardian on a regular basis, leaving other publications and news sites at the wayside in my quest to become more knowledgeable about news gathering and production. It wasn’t until we were shown Outfoxed in class one day that I became more aware of being sucked into a so-called news bubble and after attempting to make myself aware of alternative news sites, I realised that The Guardian was comparable to drawing a warm bath for someone whose values predominantly lean to the left (shock horror).

This has of course been amplified since then, following my decision to join Twitter two years ago. My Twitter feed quickly became largely dominated by a steady feed of left leaning articles, comment and a lot of faux outrage at the other side of the political spectrum. If and when a post from the likes of Nigel Farage does appear on my feed, I’ve developed the unhealthy habit of screenshotting it before sending it into a group chat where we can all become suitably outraged without actually taking any action outside ticking a box in a polling booth.    

Need to Know Now

One of the slight fears I have about trying to become a full-time paid journalist is the seemingly super human ability which many in the profession have for keeping up with an endless and ever-changing news cycle. It genuinely frightens me.

In order to keep across the news, we’re encouraged as journalism students to be across social media, checking local citizen news pages such as Fubar News, while most experienced journos seemingly find the time in their hectic workday to send out handfuls of fresh tweets.

As a form of practice for what may be to come, I find myself trying to keep up to date with the news at all times through a messy combination of social media feeds, news websites, rolling TV news and podcasts. This relatively recent drive for journalists to be across all forms of online media is also likely the very last bastion preventing me from quitting my social media if I ever actually took that action.    

No Sleep for the Wicked

In recent months I’ve discovered an unsurprising correlation between late night screen time and an interrupted sleep pattern. I would make a case that flicking through social media late at night not only makes me feel more awake in that moment, but also increases an anxiety which often visits when I’m lying in bed tossing and turning.

When the now denounced Louis CK commented on the inability of humans to sit still in a world with so much amazing technology at hand, it wasn’t just comedy. It is this struggle to be stuck with nothing but my thoughts and a dark room which leaves me teetering on the edge of panic and needing a distraction in the form of my phone.

Fortunately, I’ve gradually becoming better at swapping the sleep intolerant device for a book. When struggling to sleep as a child visiting my grandparents, my late grandfather would often hand me a novel and tell me to read it until I was tired. I find myself sleeping for longer and better after drifting off with a book in my hand.   

Keep in Touch

Last but not least, is what I would argue is the most significant hurdle for many social media users who have considered quitting their platforms. The need to keep in touch with those closest to you and to develop new contacts.

In the modern day, it is arguably a lot easier to give someone a quick follow and direct message than to exchange mobile numbers. Indeed, my mobile phone would be almost futile without its capacity for applications like messenger, my grandparents now being the only people I primarily contact without the use of an app.

This also feeds into the previous need to know now category, with it being of importance to me that I can comment or react to experiences which people are having and sharing on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. I think this can also be viewed as a method of trying to keep in touch in an increasingly digital world.

Conclusion

I realise this meandering essay of a blog post has solely focused on which negatives I associate with social media without the obvious positives which many platforms bring collectively and for me as an individual. For example, the irony that I will likely share this piece on three different accounts at a specific time of which I calculate most people will view it, is not lost on me.

There is however, more perceived downsides of the digital world which I would have preferably mentioned, but this essay of sorts is already too long. I’ll probably try and present the other side of the argument in another blog post in the near future. I hope you retweet this.    

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Weekly Ramblings

Issue 11 – Monday 2 November 2020

The Good

The highlight of this weekend was watching Scotland defeat Wales in the Valleys for the first time in 18 long years, before enjoying a Guinness or two while watching France beat Ireland later on Saturday evening. Despite the turgid nature of the former game, it was bliss to see Scotland actually triumph on the road in the Six Nations against an opposition that wasn’t Italy. A feat the haven’t achieved since 2010!

Away from the oval shaped ball I’ve started a fundraiser for Movember as we head into the first month of winter. Seemingly lacking in the ability to grow facial hair, I’ve decided to start the month with some pre-existing facial hair and an aim to run as many miles as I can before the 1st December.

I’ll leave a link below to my fundraising page and would really appreciate any donations which you can spare. Hopefully we can help put an end to men losing their lives well before their time.

The Bad

I had a decent week in all honesty, but Leah did leave me for the sunshine and beaches of Moray to start a new placement. Although, I’ll miss her while she’s up there, I know its going to be another great experience for her being on a different placement and wish her luck in a new adventure.

The Ugly

This week I started the bad habit of running around the beach in the dark with my small phone torch for company. I enjoy the sound of the waves lapping on the shoreline and its a lot quieter along the Beach Promenade at nighttime.

Unfortunately, yesterday’s night run was slightly spoiled by a loose firework as I crisscrossed Broad Hill, the small bump next to Pittodrie. Descending from the summit an out of control firework landed ten meters or so from my feet after seemingly coming from nowhere.

Quickly changing direction I ran straight back up the hill and down the other side. Its funny how you don’t feel the pain when you’re running from danger. This is a clear advantage of reintroducing bears to Scotland for fitness purposes I would argue, but I’m becoming less of a fan of those fireworks.

Signing off,

David Hodo

Movember page: https://movember.com/m/14439801?mc=1

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A Glen for the Less Cynical

I’m no dentist but as I face Shrek and Donkey with their, bulbous wide open eyes I can’t help but notice their truly terrifying teeth. Fiona is nowhere to be seen and nearby Barney the purple dinosaur looks like he’s been out on the town the night before. His mouth agape in a twisted smile as his beady black eyes stare into your soul.

Thankfully, these characters and their rotting teeth aren’t real, but are also not a part of a deeply weird dream. In reality its a bright Sunday afternoon in the countryside and several excitable kids are running their parents ragged around the 28 acre Den in the Glen. Otherwise known as Storybook Glen.

The three of us felt understandably out of place as we wandered around the grounds as childless adults, but curiosity kills the cat. I think we wanted to discover why this local attraction has received so much attention for ourselves. Receiving plenty of positive and negative recognition since its opening in the 1980s.

A 15 minute drive from Aberdeen, the Storybook Glen is located near Maryculter, a small village along the South Deeside Road to the west of the city. I have little recollection of visiting the park before, although my parents have informed me that I had previously visited as a chubby infant.

The Den includes a restaurant and soft play Centre, both currently closed due to Covid-19 restrictions. Meanwhile, the Glen hosts 94 figures ranging from Humpty Dumpty and his wall to the cast of In the Night Garden. This huge collection of fictional characters are inarguably the most interesting commodity of the attraction.

Don’t get me wrong, several of the figures in the park are very well done. It also feels misplaced for a below par artist like myself to be so critical of the work on display at the Glen. At secondary school level my trees still looked quite dodgy and my hills looked like buttocks protruding into a sky of fluffy sheep. Basically, I’m no Picasso okay.

In truth, Cinderella looks quite resplendent in her well maintained sky blue dress, complete with horse drawn pumpkin carriage. Other highlights include its three miniature castles, a grinning tiger and Puff the Magic Dragon, which coincidentally is one of the only songs I could play on the violin. In a dark twist the tiger was apparently decapitated by a thief in 2012, but seems to have miraculously recovered quite well.

These caveats aside, its not too difficult to see why the well attended attraction aimed at young children has previously been labelled as nightmarish. As mentioned, everyone’s favourite purple dinosaur is quite terrifying and several others could definitely do with a fresh lick paint.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the park Fireman Sam looks like he’s suffered a particularly hard paper round and the Teletubbies look like they been eating too much tubby custard. Nearby, Postman Pat is joined by a red van which he would struggle to fit in with his colossally oversized noggin.

Pat and Sam are child’s play compared to the miniature Emerald Castle though, complete with a worse for wear lion, a tin man with little heart and a scarecrow who’s peeling nightmare of a face topped the lot.

Lisa Simpson does however, offer stiff competition to the Wizard of Oz gang, her saxophone attached to her featureless face for the rest of eternity. The older Simpson sister stands next to her brother, Bart, his eyes bulging out of his head as he balances on a skateboard with his eight fingers outstretched.

In 2011 the site bared witness to the shocking discovery of a dead body amongst its grounds in a darker dose of reality. The man in his 20s was initially mistaken for a vandalised figure by a family, before they discovered something much more horrifying than that on closer inspection.

There is however, a noticeable appeal to Storybook Glen, especially for those children who are easily captivated by the site of their favourite fictional characters all in the same place. We were lucky enough to get a nice day for our wee outing amongst its picturesque grounds, but I don’t think I quite rediscovered my childhood.

The Glen also homes a couple of pigs, some bunny rabbits and chickens, which seem to appear from thin air, in its Old Macdonald’s farm section for any animal lovers. But I’m not sure I would return anytime soon, even to go and see the real highland cow which we somehow managed to miss.

And yet, Storybook Glen was well worth a look around on a day when I didn’t have much else going. If nothing else, the staggering amount of caricatures offer a unique experience to its many visitors who are hopefully a little less cynical and younger than myself.

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Martians, Millennium & Maitlis: Nine Novels of Lockown

On entering lockdown in March my catalogue of recently read novels was looking pretty sparse. My last fray into fiction being the completion of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, arguably best read onboard a ferry to Shetland.

For the first two months of 2020 I’d been too distracted by Netflix and an unhealthy addiction to Rugby League Live in my downtime which kept me away from literature.

But as the nation was told to stay indoors, a personal silver lining amongst the gathering storm clouds was a pick up in my reading habit. Dropping the PlayStation controller (have resisited its pull since), I buried myself in the first book at hand. Here’s a rundown of my nine lockdown novels:

  1. War of the Worlds by HG Wells

I like making the slightly clumsy comparison between the storyline of this late 19th century fiction with some aspects of the Covid-19 outbreak, particularly when studying the apparent helplessness of swathes of the population when faced with a certain threat. After wanting to read Wells’ masterpiece since I was a child obsessed with Jeff Wayne’s musical version of the story, I certainly wasn’t left disappointed. Additionally, I found the sudden conclusion to the novel satisfying as humanity eventually needs an uncontrolled disease to wipe out the unwelcome Martian invaders. 9/10.

2. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

Although I enjoyed this read, I did find it slightly repetitive in Harari’s emphatic description of the future struggle against issues such as the increasing inclusion of artificial intelligence in the workplace. It was however, illuminating and reasonably straightforward, providing clarity to some of the biggest questions in the modern day. Good for getting the brain’s cogs whirring and proved a bit more uplifting than Wells’ descriptions of a burning London. 7/10.

3. Airhead by Emily Maitlis

As the presenter of BBC’s Newsnight, I’d come across Maitlis in passing, but really sat up and noticed her work after she infamously nailed Prince Andrew in a revealing and deeply uncomfortable interview. Airhead emotively details her experiences in interviewing a downtrodden Theresa May following the tragic events at Grenfell Tower and a scary encounter in a Cuban prison cell, while also describing more lighthearted encounters with figures like the Dalai Lama. It was rather reassuring to read about the pre-show nerves that Maitlis still experiences and she provides motivation in spades for any budding journalists out there. 9/10.

4. And yet … Essays by Christopher Hitchens

I flipped through this collection of intellectual essays in a matter of days and in no particular order, in awe of the numerous subjects tackled by Hitchens with ease. Reading this collection made me went to become a better writer. 8/10.

5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson

If Hitchens made me want to write better, Larsson’s first of his posthumously published Millennium trilogy inspired me to get more creative with my writing. This proved to be one of those rare and wonderful novels which I flew through and found difficult to put down. The devil was in the Swedish author’s detailed geographical and character based descriptions. 9/10.

6. War and the Death of News by Martin Bell

This account from an aged and experienced war correspondent was another interesting read, yet excluded some of the palpable emotion of Airhead. Perhaps, this is an unfair reflection though, as the realities of how horrendous conflict is described through the eyes of the man in the white suit. Bell takes the reader through his poignant experiences in Vietnam and Yugoslavia, two of several conflicts which have blemishes the fantastical idea that we live in peace times. 7/10.

7. March of the Lemmings: Brexit in Performance 2016 – 2019 by Stewart Lee

As a big fan of Lee as a comedian, this collection of his Observer columns was hilarious and wacky in equal part. I particularly enjoyed his insistence on inserting self-deprecating swathes of abuse which he received online after each article. However, the last section of the book was quite tedious as a full transcript of his Content Provider stand-up routine was included with a meticulous catalogue of asterisks and notes. 6/10.

8. Flat Earth News by Nick Davies

After leaving this book midway through on the first attempt, I’m glad I decided to pick it up again a couple of years later. Flat Earth News delivers a pessimistic and quite shocking account of the direction the newspaper industry is travelling in. A major selling point of this read for me was its deliberate distancing from political point scoring, taking aim at papers which have historically positioned themselves on both sides of the political spectrum. 8/10.

9. The Girl who Played with Fire by Steig Larsson

After picking up the second installment of Larsson’s best selling series in a Moray village shop for £1.50, the follow-up didn’t fail to disappoint. Leaving the reader on a frustrating cliffhanger, I reckon its predecessor has the slightest of advantages when it comes to nail-biting action. Now I just I need to get my hands on the final volume!

9 1/2. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff

A fascinating and terrifying description of the issues surrounding the intrusions of digital marketing which I’m yet to finish. Not a book to read before bed, but I’ll hopefully return to tackle Zuboff’s enlightening and complex work soon. Uncompleted.

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Running is Badass. Period.

While flicking through an issue of Runners World recently I came across images of toned athletic specimens in perfect fitting gear. Beside the images of barely sweating bodies are finely tuned weight loss regimes, 10K training plans and endless lists of foods to avoid.

Although I often envy the kitted out gentlemen in these publications tI have accepted that look isn’t for me. It might be one day, but it isn’t now. This is of course all my decision and I could look amazing if I chose to. I’m just bidding my time before I eventually cut out the digestives from my diet.*

As a man with wide thighs, short legs and a 30-32″ waist, most of my cheap running gear is seemingly either too baggy or tight. This perhaps explaining the multitude of curious looks which I think I receive when running around Aberdeen**, which have been compounded by the recent discovery of a large hole in a pair of my shorts. Not a look I would recommend.

My overthinking mind tells me the looks I receive are either for that or the unusual running style I’ve failed to adapt over the last five years since a p*** in a race told me I was running wrong. To say I was annoyed was an understatement.

Luckily I have come to accept my miss match of risque fashion choices and running style as my own. Running through the city has never really bothered me and it is one of the sole activities which I actually don’t feel socially awkward doing.

Several acquaintances have however, voiced their concern about running in the city. Some prefer the treadmill because they feel self-conscious about being seen on the hoof. Some do run outdoors but will only run at dawn or dusk when there are less people, but more zombies roaming the streets.

Unfortunately, our social media dominated society has suffered memory loss of what is real anymore, searching for a level of perfection which will always be difficult to reach. When I pass someone jogging around Aberdeen instead of judging their running style or studying their image for blemishes of imperfection, I instantly consider them a badass.

If your still concerned about feeling too self-aware then consider these points: 1.) Who put that person in a position to judge a badass like you? 2.) If they are judging you its because they are probably jealous that your a badass you badass. 3.) They are probably sad they will never be a badass.

Quite often I participate in the same formulaic discussions with non-runners or joggers who are unable to hide their incredulity at my most recent activities. They say: “How far did you run today?”.

And I’ll reply: “Just 7K”

And they’ll go “Just 7K?!”, often in a high pitched voice filled with shock and undeserved awe, before making it sound like I make it look easy when the reality was that I was blowing my arse out for most of the run. Almost collapsing at traffic lights as the blood rushes to my head when I come to a halt.

There’s a reason why several of my recent routes have taken me past ARI, climbing Foresterhill Road while dodging buses and ambulances. Running should be as hard as you want it to be, but the faster among us (not me) are most definitely not finding the experience painless when they run a 5K in under 20 minutes.

I guess I want to get across a point to those who see running as a higher playing field which they will never reach. Lots of people will never be keen on running and that is in itself understandle. Running can hurt dude and can sometimes be pretty miserable if your like me and suffer bouts of athletes foot. Many non-runners are also badasses. I’m just stating that in my book putting on some shorts and trainers is a qualifying factor for becoming a badass.

Gyms seem to be very popular places to visit, but I’m personally not a fan. I can understand the appeal for the more dedicated and disciplined or those who don’t like the Scottish weather. I like my exercise outside and in nature, even if that involves running through Northfield, probably not Aberdeen’s equivalent to the Amazon Rainforest or the Alps.

Some see this form of painful physical activity as pointless without a clear purpose. This epitomised by a passer by in Dundee who asked me: “What are you running from?”. That deeply philosophical question keeping me up long into the wee hours of the next morning after I had descended the Law in a state of existential crisis. I hadn’t been able to give him a straight answer on the spot.

On another occasion in the City of Discovery I was offered a lift. A kind yet misplaced offer which clearly showed a lack of understanding around the idea of running for leisure.

If you have never ran before you may find jogging difficult. We all have to start somewhere and it is the recognition that getting over that first hurdle is the hardest part which is a driving force behind my continuous running. I fear starting out again after a period of rest would be too hard.

I guess I just wanted to get across the point that it doesn’t have to be all about fitness, weight or even aiming to look closer to what this society wrongly assumes is aesthetically pleasing. Rain or shine, my running obsession will always be about my mental wellbeing.

The endorphin rush and sense of minor achievement helping me flush out any lasting negativity for a moment. I love the freedom which comes with a pair of trainers and a complimation of old rock songs on Spotify. Cliffs of Dover by Eric Johnston has become a recent favourite of mine.

My message is pretty simple. If you want to go for a run or to get fitter then why not try the great outdoors and get some Vitamin D (not assured in Aberdeen). If you prefer the gym there’s nothing wrong with that either. You’re probably still a badass.

If you choose the outdoor version then why not run a 10K at your own pace? Run a mile. Jog for five minutes and then stop. Whatever you do, I swear you’ll look badass.

*Slight hint of sarcasm here for anyone that missed it the first time round.

**Maybe I’m a bit of an egocentrist?

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Birthday Adventures

In past years I’ve often awoken on New Year Day around midday, slightly dazed but with a vague feeling that I want to do things differently in the year to come. Unfortunately, the lazy and dare I say slightly dull resolutions that many of us make at Hogmanay have often failed to come to fruition by February 1st if not before.

Thankfully we aren’t too near the end of an eventful (to say the least) year yet. I did however, find myself having similar feelings on the 29th August, which happened to be my 22nd birthday. Yes you read that right, I’m 22. Its frightening really.

So on Saturday I decided to make one simple resolution to try and seize the moment whenever I could. This thinking was challenged when faced with the decision about whether to make a four hour round trip on the hoof to Eilean Donan castle with Bumble and Leah. I wasn’t keen after making a long journey before, but then reality kicked in. Life is too short.

And so we found ourselves on the road to Kyle of Lochalsh, traversing single track roads and steep inclines on the northern route to this postcard perfect part of the Scottish Highlands. An exhausted Bumble would have probably preferred if we’d given this trip amiss, but being situated in Nairn meant this was too good an opportunity. We had to tick this item of our collective bucket lists.

As an undeserved birthday surprise, Leah and I had been booked into the Great Wagon in Nairn, an old train carriage transformed into a cosy accommodation for two. We arrived late on Sunday afternoon in the bonny Highland town, having made our way up from an Aberdeen recently freed from its personal lockdown.

Masked up, we went for a pleasant, but chilly alfresco meal in the town, before enjoying a quiet wander along the beach. I also needed an early night after accidentally double booking myself for the following morning, travelling the 88 miles back to the Granite City for a flat viewing postponed by the local lockdown.

As I set of down the pretty joyless roundabout extravaganza* which is the A96 with Bumble, Leah headed into Inverness to catch up with a friend the next day.

Viewing done and dusted, I traversed the eternity of the 102 mile trunk route westwards, life endangering crawler lanes and all. That road isn’t much fun and previous driver surveys back this point of view up. Reuniting Bumble with her owner**, we then set off for the Black Isle as I napped in the passenger seat.

Passing through the narrow and twisty streets of Avoch and Fortrose, we eventually reached Cromarty, a quaint fishing village dominated by several nearby oil platforms. It was indeed, bizarre to see these complex structures up close as they loomed over the cream cottages of the village’s sea front. Almost similar to HG Wells’ description of the Martians’ tripods in War of the Worlds I thought.***

We wandered along the coastline for a couple of miles in the afternoon sun, watching a small boat circle the closest rig which whirred continuously from its position near the entrance to the Cromarty Firth. This walk provided impressive views across the Moray Firth, but no dolphins were unfortunately spotted on this occasion.

That evening was another quiet one of alfresco dining on the cheap with the eat out help out discount and another wee walk along the beach. This time enjoying the perfectly timed sunset of oranges and pinks.

Thus we come to yesterday when the most exciting adventures and epic travels took place. Waving a sad farewell to the wagon and its generous owners who had provided us with four cans of Brewdog on our first evening, we set off for Eilean Donan Castle.

I was first up in the driving seat, attempting to treat a tired Bumble with care and respect as we travelled north of Inverness before heading briefly towards Ullapool. The roads were an unmitigated pleasure to drive, with plentiful amounts of variation and stunning scenery thrown in for good measure. I’m taken aback at the feat of managing to build a railway out this way to Kyle of Lochalsh.

Two hours later we arrived at the stunning spot, queuing for the toilet and then making our way into the fortress which has its earliest origins in the 13th century. I think I’ll write about the castle and its history in more detail in another post, especially as it was an interesting experience to visit a historical site affected by Covid-19 restrictions. It was though a sign of the weird times that visitors were rightly made to social distance and handwash before entering each room of the impressive island based building.

This is peak postcard perfect Scotland and the surrounding landscape is a definite reminder of what attracts tourists to our shores. Kyle is located eight miles westwards of the castle and this bustling village was where we stopped for lunch following a very brief trip over to Kyleakin to at least say that we had been on the Isle of Skye.

By this time it was late afternoon and we reluctantly decided to head for home. Leah took over the driving duties once again as we trundled through more stunning landscapes. The peaks of the Kintail Sisters rocketing into low cloud above the road towards Loch Ness. This road seemed longer, but eventually we arrived in Inverness, making our way to Keith from there.

It had been a fantastic weekend where Bumble and a decision to grasp an opportunity had done us well. After being stuck in the city several times this year, this was a timely reminder of Scotland’s inherent beauty.

*I counted 37 roundabouts on my journey between Aberdeen and Inverness, nine of which were located in Elgin. I was bored okay!

**To avoid any confusion, Bumble is the affectionate name we have given to Leah’s bright yellow Vauxhall Corsa.

***Although Wells’ imagery is impressive, I’m specifically imagining the artwork on Jeff Wayne’s 1978 album which was one of the soundtracks of my childhood.

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Granite City Getaways

There was some faint hope yesterday on a sad day for the North-East that Nicola Sturgeon would announce a lifting in lockdown restrictions for Aberdeen. Alas there was understandably no change in the five mile travel restrictions currently imposed on Aberdeen’s 205,000 odd residents.

August is of course a time of the year when many Aberdonians would usually be jetting off to enjoy warmer climes or indeed, enjoying some Scottish sunshine while it lasts. This return to lockdown has therefore likely been a bit of blow, especially for those struggling to find or stay in employment.

However, for the former of these setbacks I thought I would maybe look at some of my favourite places to visit in the aptly named Granite City. While compiling this short list I realised the city which I often berated while growing up in rural Aberdeenshire isn’t really a bad place to live.

Kincorth Hill – Lets begin in the south of the city where most Central Belters and lost Dundonians will enter ‘Furry Boots’ city. Kincorth Hill is located just east of a Shell Garage which I spend much of my time in RGU library staring at when I have writer’s block.

There are several viewpoints atop this small gorse and heather covered hillock which provide great views of the city to the north. The hill itself can be quickly accessed via several criss-crossing paths from all sides.

I’d strongly recommend strolling across the hill with a fluffy Golden Retriever, although other dogs are available. Kincorth Hill is also one of several recognised nature reserves in Aberdeen and I imagine it would be a handy spot for those who have a keen eye for birdwatching.

Torry Battery – On the Southern side of the outer regions of the Aberdeen Harbour walls is the Torry Battery. This 19th century fortification was used during both world wars to protect the city from a very real threat. It was last actively used to house residents who were displaced during the resulting housing shortage following WWII.

The Battery is now recognised as a historical site which doubles up as a perfect viewpoint of the busy nearby port and the whole Greyhope Bay area is great for spotting a dolphin or two. These playful animals are often seen dancing in the wake of larger vessels as they pass the South Breakwater.

Girdle Ness Lighthouse – Just along Greyhope road from Torry Battery is the 37 metre tall Girdle Ness Lighthouse. This impressive structure is complete with a rusty fog horn and a cottage which can apparently be rented on Airbnb. To the south the lighthouse overlooks Nigg Bay, where a new harbour has been under construction since 2017.

It was built by Robert Stevenson, grandfather of the famous Treasure Island writer, Robert Louis, in 1833. Activity on the building site next door is somewhat patchy due to apparent contract issues. This makes it a nice spot to find some peace and quiet away from the rush of the city.

Footdee – Directly across the River Dee’s mouth from Torry Battery is Footdee, an old fishing village pronounced as Fittie. This is a charming part of the city which likely dates back to at least the early 15th century. Its narrow pedestrianised streets give it the feel of somewhere which is almost stuck in time.

However, on my last visit to the village I noticed are signs which recommending against visiting the tight-knit community during the current pandemic. This should therefore be taken into consideration when visiting the area and I’ve ran along the beach when passing through the area.

Out with the village there is the modern Pilot’s House, with its many dimmed windows towering over the older building at Pocra Quay. This is where my grandfather worked for many years and it has recently become somewhere I like to go and reflect on life. A handy place to have in 2020!

Again this is also a great location for spotting the odd dolphin or porpoise along with the ships sailing into and departing the harbour.

Donmouth

At the other end of Aberdeen’s long beach promenade, the River Don enters the North Sea at Donmouth Nature Reserve. This area of conservation encompasses some grassland and sandy beaches on both sides of the river’s mouth.

I often enjoy strolling up the North Donmouth Beach while ensuring to maintain a safe distance from the seals which often congregate here. They seem to stop here for a friendly chat before swimming out to the icy waters of the North Sea again.

Brig of Balgownie & River Don Path

One of my favourite routes to run in the city has quite a rural flavour to it and involves traversing the Don from Ellon Road to Persley Bridge in Danestone. This route begins at the five arch Bridge of Don which was constructed from ganite in 1830, before reaching the Brig of Balgownie, an historic crossing which possibly dates back to the 13th century.

From this stunning bridge I usually follow a woodland track, passing through Seaton Park on my way to the relatively new Diamond Bridge at Tillydrone. Seaton Park is a lovely area to wander around on a sunny day, with a wide green space which is often traversed by students making their way to university.

The riverside trail then continues through the greenery which lines the lower echeleons of the Don. Taking you past the Woodside Sports Complex and through some newly built houses until you reach the Persley Bridge.

Northfield Tower

For anyone familiar with the outer regions of Aberdeen, picking a location in Northfield may seem like a slightly left of field option. I disagree.

Behind the area’s high school is the Northfield Tower which I happened upon a couple of weeks ago while looking to stand at the bottom of the city’s alternative to the Eiffel Tower.

From this landmark of the Aberdeen skyline also great view towards Aberdeen Airport and the northern regions of the city. Additionally, visitors to the surrounding playing fields can look into rural Aberdeenshire, a bonus for a teuchter currently stuck inside the city limits.

So there you have it. If you are currently struggling with being stuck in Aberdeen then perhaps you may want to visit one of the locations listed above for some local light relief. Although, even I’ll admit it will be a relief when lockdown has been lifted and everyone can carefully venture out into the countryside again.

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The Spookiest Castle you’ve never heard about

It was a particularly gloomy evening as we made our way towards Dufftown in Leah’s yellow corsa. The bright colours of the car contrasted with the dull greys of the sky above Speyside as we navigated the wet roads.

This was a perfect example of a cheaper and shortened version of a good old road trip. One which had started in nearby Keith and would preferably end up somewhere within a 15 mile radius. Still an enjoyable adventure, but one which lacked the mileage of a Route 66 trip or the Scottish equalivent, the North Coast 500.

My fellow traveller wanted to see another castle, inspired by our visit to the dramatic Slains Castle during the previous week. Stopping in Dufftown, a small village surrounded by hills and several whisky distilleries, we had a look to see which historic sites were within our reach.

It didn’t take long for Leah’s beady eyes to spot Auchindoun Castle, an innocuous place name found on Google Maps. The digital generation’s version of a reliable coffee marked AA road atlas.

I recognised the name and swore I’d visited the site when passing down the nearby Cabrach road (A941) in years gone by. This undulating and winding road takes the traveller through a pretty barren and desolate landscape, linking Dufftown with Rhynie. It’s a road I know well from childhood visits to the Moray Coast when travelling over the hills from Deeside.

From the clock tower in Dufftown’s small square, it took us little over five minutes to reach the castle. The only hurdle along the way being a deeply eroded and steep track up onto the hillside from the road. I imagine this would be likely impassable in the wintery conditions which will often grace this area in the colder months.

A corsa or similar make of car isn’t likely an ideal vehicle for this track, but thankfully the makeshift road doesn’t last too long. Parking is supplied for visitors on your right when you reach the top of the short hill.

On this occasion no other visitors were apparently brave enough to visit the eerie ruin at 7.30 on a Thursday evening and we found the car park empty. Walking past fields of cows we first sighted the castle’s highest tower, peaking above the nearby trees.

Leaving the corsa there was a 10 minute stroll to the castle itself. This involved traversing a grassy and slippy path through a sheep field. If visiting its especially important to close every gate which you pass through. The local farmer will probably not take kindly to one of his woolly friends going for a jaunt in search of greener grass.

There are seemingly two or three entrances to the ruin, with a larger one on the North facing side of the castle. From this side there are good views down to the River Fiddich and beyond, although care should be taken not to fall into what remains of the moat.

The 15th century fortification was most likely built by Thomas Cochrane, an ally and architect of King James III. Cochrane received the Earldom of Mar in 1479 as reward for his hard work, but the castle was more infamously owned by Sir Adam Gordon.

The Gordons likely occupied the castle from the mid 1500s onwards and Sir Adam wasn’t a man you’d want to come up against. In 1571 he launched an awful attack on the nearby Corgarff Castle, burning 29 of its occupants to death following a feud with the Forbes of Towie. Corgarff was heavily affiliated with the Mackintosh clan and this slight overreaction didn’t go down too well with them.

Diplomacy was obviously quite sparse back then and Auchindoun Castle faced a similar fate when William Mackintosh took it upon himself to seek revenge. He taking it upon himself to burn the Gordon owned castle down several years later.

Some historical accounts suggest Mackintosh was later beheaded at Auchindoun for this crime. This being one of numerous harrowing unlisted incidents at the spooky site, which unsurprisingly played host to even more brutal clan warfare.

In its heyday the castle would have stood at three stories high, but the site has actually sat derelict for almost three centuries. The Oglivy family left the site in the 1720s before materials were removed en masse from the tower house to construct a house for William Duff of Braco.

Despite the distint lack of human activity at Auchindoun in recent years, there’s something which sends a chill down the spine when standing inside the ruin’s ancient walls. As a cynic of ghost related spirituality there is something about the castle which I just couldn’t quite put my finger on.

Maybe the low light helped create this atmosphere of mystic . Whatever the case, I won’t be returning at night anytime soon, but would highly recommend a visit to this rather atmospheric remote (and free!) castle.

 

 

 

 

 

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Searching for Dracula

In the midst of an overcast Scottish summer there are wonderful days where this country is literally shown in it’s best light. I think us Scots quite often deliberately forget about these days, feigning for some average conversation starter about how the weather is always rubbish.

Thursday was definitely one of those days, the type you dream about while out in a sleet storm in the darkest depths of a diet failing January.

Waking to wall to wall sunshine in Leah’s new Aberdeen flat, I knew the opportunity of getting out into the Shire was too good to miss. Though Cruden Bay maybe wouldn’t have such an adventurous or large hobbit population.

We set out in the Mitsubishi for Ellon at around lunchtime in search of some fish and chips by the seaside. My morning had involved a dehydrated run in the 21c heat. Maybe not the best running conditions for a Scotsman with poor temperature control.

It took all but 25 minutes to reach the market town where we found a one way system implemented in the name of social distancing. Passing the Tolbooth pub, we found the Bridge Street chippy closed, perhaps a sign of the lasting impact of Cornonavirus on small businesses.

I had last visited the Tolbooth in March, sharing pints with my Dad and Grandad as we watched Scotland overcome Italy in the Six Nations. This must have been amongst the last days of recent normality for most in this country. Although a Scottish away victory was pretty abnormal.

And so we tried nearby Cruden Bay for some greasy, salty, heart stopping battered cod. Having visited the coastal village several times with both grandparents as a child, the village was smaller than I remembered.

With no chippy in sight, we eventually settled for a chicken sandwich and an ice cream from the newsagents. I happily gobbled on my Feast after my trademark poor attempt at parking.

Our destination by foot was Slains Castle, a 16th century ruin 3/4 miles north of Cruden Bay. Not the old church transformed into a dimly lit watering hole on Belmont Street in Aberdeen.

Emerging from a pathway surrounded by woods and into the piercing sunlight we had our first sighting of Slains Castle.

Often referred to as New Slains Castle due to the Old Slains castle which formerly existed south of Cruden Bay, this one was built in 1597. It was lived in by the Errol family until the early 20th century, this surname being a namesake for the nearby primary school.

The castle itself sits impressively upon some sheer cliffs, almost jutting out into the North Sea. Even on a windless Thursday afternoon it is easy to imagine this spot on a dark and stormy night with slight fear and intrigue. The sound of the waves mercilessly pounding the rocks below in the pitch darkness.

Wondering around the roof less ruins it’s not difficult to understand where Bram Stoker’s apparent inspiration for a setting of Dracula came from. During an 1890s visit to the North-East, the Irishmen apparently imagined the vampire taking flight from the castle’s dramatic surroundings, perhaps sailing to the location from the far off Transylvania.

Our stay was far less dramatic as we enjoyed our chicken sandwiches in peace, before carefully strolling around the building’s remains. At one point it would have housed 14 bedrooms, although I didn’t quite trust the structural integrity of the building to venture upstairs.

The inherent lack of any roof makes Slains Castle look more weathered than it perhaps would have otherwise. Though apparently the roof was removed for economical reasons, the second owners of the castle being unable to pay their taxes in the 1920s.

In one room facing the North Sea is a huge gap where a window would have once been. Not daring to go to close I admired the view, trying to consider just how far it really was to Norway and how long it would have taken the Vikings to get to Scotland’s shores.

On the other side of the castle there are also impressive views, with a patchwork of fields giving way to the distant humble beginnings of the Grampian Mountains. With grandparents in Ellon and formerly in Newburgh, this is a scene I grew accustomed to in my childhood. Bennachie and its distinctive shape being the standout feature in a landscape of farms and wind turbines.

It was therefore with a bittersweet feeling that we wondered back to the faithful Mitibushi and travelled back into the Granite City. It’s no secret that I love this part of the world, Aberdeenshire that is.

It’s no surprise then that I’d highly recommend a trip to Slains Castle. From Aberdeen it takes less than 30 minutes to reach by car and if travelling on public transport there are usually buses to Cruden Bay on an hourly basis.

And if you do find yourself at the precarious yet impressive ruin, do mind the drop and don’t expect to sight Dracula. I hear he holidays around these parts at Christmas time and isn’t the sociable type. Though maybe the prospect of a potentially hard Brexit has put him off from visiting this winter.

Disclaimer: I’ve never actually read Dracula, but its definitely on my reading list now!

 

 

 

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A Crash Related Ramble

Never do I feel so confident as when I’m going great guns on a bike or tearing down a technical hill side like an ungraceful mountain goat, just about managing to keep my balance. Those moments are blissfully rare insights into a fantasy life which could resemble total self-belief while anxiety remains absent.

Reality does however bite when I dismount my bike or fling of my trail shoes. With this in mind, I hold those blissful moments before with added value. Only now as I relapse through a period of being anxious about those very activities do I realise how significant a role they play in my quality of life.

A wide spectrum of situations will undoubtedly make different individuals anxious and for me personally there are many. Public speaking, meeting strangers, driving in the city and visiting the dentist to name just a few.

Many of my anxieties need to be overcome if I’m serious in the long term about becoming a journalist or to indeed enjoy a good quality of life. And in truth many of them have been overcome several times. But life isn’t that simple unfortunately. So often its a case of one step backwards to make two steps forward and I’ve come to accept that.

Feeling anxious about an activity you’ve held as a remedy to detrimental mental health though? That’s a bit tougher to accept.

For so long riding a bike has been the love hate relationship which I’ve always enjoyed coming back to. I can’t exactly pinpoint my first experience on two wheels, but I can almost create the images in my head of a chubby blonde haired four-year-old on a bike with oversized stabilisers.

Likely pushed along gently by an incredibly patient parent or grandparent until eventually reaching that pleasing moment when I could ride unassisted. Sounds of encouragement coming thick and fast as I wobbled along at a snail’s pace.

Fast forward 20 years and the bowl haircut is gone, replaced by an even more horrendous hair style. This time inflicted by yours truly in a late night cider fuelled haircut session with some full sized scissors and a sink full of damp hair.

On a more serious note, that came last week when my anxiety felt as out of control as my ever growing lockdown mullet. Cutting my hair, however poorly, felt like one of the only things I could control on a visual level.

My legs are also thankfully stronger nowadays and I’m able to propel myself along at a much faster pace, thanks in part to getting rid of the stabilisers. Unfortunately however, in another addition to a comedy of errors I discovered I maybe still needed them.

It had been a surprisingly warm June day after the week previous had proved there isn’t really a Scottish Spring weather wise. It just seems to jump straight from winter to summer. Must be a baptism of fire for those poor calves and lambs.

Anyway, on a pretty depressingly unproductive day last week I decided to brush of the cobwebs, aiming for a wee spin out to Linn O’Dee. I wanted to add a few mild evening miles to the cyclometer. I wanted something, however small, to show for when I lay my head on my pillow later that evening.

I sped up to the Linn O’Dee Bridge, brushing past a father and son with an arrogant greeting as I sped past. I felt like Bradley Wiggins if he had a shit hairdo and no side burns.

I felt so good I decided to extend my ride slightly to the Linn O’Quoich. A car park further down the road heading back east where the tarmac comes to an end.

The road was unsurprisingly devoid of traffic and pedestrians until I glanced a couple leaning on their grey vovlo after reaching the brow of a slight hill. On seeing a potential crowd to my incredible Tour de France cycling skills, I decided my gratification levels needed an unnecessary boost.

As an inconsistent user of Strava and social media in general, I feel like I don’t look for that gratification and justification quite enough. Even if I guiltily concluded recently that this very blog is also seemingly often geared towards lazily gaining those two elements.

And so I hit the accelerator, pummelling my way down the other side of the slight incline, imagining I was time trialling.

Suddenly I wasn’t peddling anymore. There was no saddle beneath my lycra cladded buttocks. I lay sprawled on the tarmac, my long suffering bike slightly mangled beside me as a sat like a startled ugly deer for a split second. I had crashed good and proper.

Regaining some sense quickly, I leapt to my feet praying that the nearby couple hadn’t seen my wee incident. There prayers weren’t answered.

“Are you alright?”, asked the woman as I followed her voice to see the concerned Volvo owners giving me discerning looks from a safe distance. Fuck.

My go to response was nervous humour as I tried to mount my poor bicycle with some urgency. I joked about the number one rule of crashing being to always crash with an audience, before quickly realising my front brakes were jammed.

While fixing it I noticed the blood pouring profusely from my left knee and found some solace in my right knee’s rare avoidance of harm in an accident. I was likely fairly lucky not to break anything. Especially after coming down at some speed.

Instead of the fulfilment I’d hoped I would have felt after my ride, I spent the rest of that evening cleaning my wounds and trying to figure out why I’d so unexpectedly ended up on the tarmac.

Only once previously had I bailed from a road bike. That occasion being seven years ago and occurring in an almost comically controlled and deliberate manner. A swinging tractor’s trailer resulting from a mistimed overtaking attempt forced me to fall into a soft verge in slow motion.

There hadn’t even been any bruises that day and it hadn’t at all discouraged me from going out and doing the same the next day. This time however, was different.

This time there had been no obvious risks. I was sure I hadn’t pulled my brakes and the accident had taken place on a fairly straightforward section of road. Perhaps a pine cone laid by an evil squirrel had been the culprit. Maybe my front brake had jammed before the crash, but this seemed difficult to explain if I hadn’t touched the lever.

A week on and my bruises are now healing well and I’ve realised this crash shouldn’t have really been that big a deal. Yet, I also realised I’m now worrying about my recurring cure for worry. That in itself is worrying!

Forgivable confusion from that last statement aside and I’ve now suitably recovered from my bruising encounter with the tarmac. I’ve left the bike and its buckled wheel alone for the moment and am focusing on the running.

After saying I would, I eventually made it up the mighty Morrone on Tuesday and plan to do the same tomorrow after laying low for the last few days.

Hopefully I’ll be back on the bike soon. Able to banish any nervousness which comes with riding it. Wish me luck!

 

 

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Weekly Ramblings

Issue 9 – Wednesday 10th June

The Good

A slightly late Weekly Ramblings comes to you from a fifth week of lockdown spent in a slightly colder and cloudier Braemar. Later this morning I’ll be leaving the village to perform a socially distant visit of my Granny with my brother.

Armed with muffins, I’ll be taking Dad’s diesel Mitsibushi on a proper spin for the first time after embarrassingly being unable to figure out how to pop the fuel cap open earlier last week.

Apparently the car itself is slightly top heavy, meaning I’ll have to take the many corners between here and Ballater with care. This week it was finally given its MOT and is now road ready. I just need to remember it takes unleaded? No, diesel!

This week has also seen less lycra action out with a weetabix fuelled ride over Glenshee on Thursday in unseasonably cold temperatures. That ride definitely doesn’t rank as being one of the more enjoyable ones.

Indeed, neither was it one of my finest moments as I often loudly cursed the existence of a moderate North-Westerly wind all the way home.

As always though, there was a recognisable overriding feeling of achievement after completing a Rule Five ride for the first time in a while. More obviously enjoyable at the  however, has been my strive to find my hill running legs again.

Starting of relatively small, I’ve started going further and finding some more challenging climbs to test myself on. The Morrone Birkwood and forest beyond it has proved a good testing ground, with a multitude of climbs amidst colourful heather providing a strong backdrop to several outings now.

Next week I’ll be targeting a rare attempt at Morrone Hill itself and lets hope the Old Women of Winter doesn’t leave me needing temporary stitches in my knee this time. I’ll also be attempting once again to improve my poor diet habits in the hope of making the load I need to carry with me up the Corbett a bit lighter.

The Bad

In order to avoid making this segment a weekly rant, I’ll try and cut to the chase as quick as possible. As the title of this segment suggests that alone can be difficult for me at times.

On Thursday evening I sent a letter to the MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Andrew Bowie. Within the short-ish (for me anyway) essay I asked Mr Bowie about his views on: (a) The Black Lives Matter Movement and its significance in his constituency.

(b) What he thought about Donald Trump’s dangerous and perverse reaction to George Floyd’s death and the ongoing protests in his country.

(c) Whether he would be willing to call out cases of institutionalised racism in the House of Commons.

Now there has yet to be a reply, but I want to give my local Westminster representative the benefit of the doubt on this one. Maybe he’s been flooded by similar letters and is replying to them when he can. Maybe my email landed in his spam folder.

I also realise he’s likely been heavily involved in the political response to the Covid-19 outbreak, amongst other localised and national issues. It is therefore unfair to locate Mr Bowie in this week’s bad section purely for his failure to reply to my email.

Although, I would be interested to find out how many of those who have written to their local MPs have received a reply. Perhaps an Instagram poll later in the week will provide a vague idea of their response to those who did put pen to paper.

That being said, I have been slightly irked by the general response amongst Conservative Mps (and others) to the growing movement behind Black Lives Matter. This response from some MPs local to Aberdeenshire seems to be either pretty meagre or actually focused on choosing a different issue of the here and now.

This issue being the violence which has been perceived as marring the UK based protests. Protests which have been largely peaceful, with the tearing down of statutes and defacing of others being widely reported.

At this point let’s be clear. In no way I’m I defending the vandalising of the Cenotaph, an important war memorial to those who bravely fought and died for this country.

Instead, I’d suggest that many who have a political platform and a clear voice aren’t doing enough to back this pivotal movement and the toxic rhetoric and behaviour of those who still base suppression on a person’s skin colour.

Its arguably easier to discuss violence on the streets and protest related social disorder rather than attempting to tackle an ugly racist undercurrent within our society. I just feel this isn’t a time to pick and choose issues.

Some have clearly decided to give more airtime to the unfortunate and indeed, unforgivable incidents where British police officers have been harmed. They seem to have given this issue prominence over the systematic killing of black people at the hands of American police for generations. This to me seems slightly puzzling, if not a tad inconsistent.

The Ugly

My hair is pretty ugly right now, floating between a poor attempt at a surfer dude and a 1980’s lower league footballer. Getting a haircut is definitely one of the items on the post-lockdown priorities list.

A slightly ugly scenario also played out on Tuesday’s run when an oyster catcher became anxious about the threat a bedraggled bandanna sporting runner poised to its nearby nest.

Running down towards the Games Park I was suddenly bombarded by a flood of bird shit. This being accompanied by several rounds of good old fashioned dive bombing.

Although, this was an unnerving run in, my similar experience with a buzzard in a field a few years ago was definitely more intimidating. During that encounter I could feel the bird of prey breathing down my neck as I breathlessly sprinted towards the nearby trees. I will however, consider an alternative route next time for the angry oyster catcher’s benefit.

Hoping that this relatively harmless bird anecdote has distracted you from the slightly politicised section beforehand its time to go and fill up the car. I realise I’ve broken my unwritten rule of not being political on this blog, but I hope you realise these are unprecedented times. Stay safe everyone.

 

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Like Riding Through Treacle

It’s always difficult to get out of bed when you can actually hear the rain and wind battering your bedroom windows. Friday morning was no exception to this rule. Awaking early for my planned ride I thought, ‘it’s June, it can’t be that cold outside.’ Spoiler alert: it was pretty cold.

Not only was it unseasonably chilly, but cycling the strong northerly wind forecasted was also an ominous sign. I would be heading northwards back to Braemar after being dropped off in rural Perthshire.

Eventually hauling myself outside and into the car later than planned, my raynaud’s was already starting to kick in. On reaching the summit of Britain’s highest A-road I noticed with some anxiety that the temperature reading was hovering around a balmy 3 °C.

After being dropped off I was soon on my way. The first section of the 30 mile ride was deceptively easy. Me and my sexy lycra were sheltered from the wind with a kindly gradient to boot.

Even the first climb was relatively simple. I started to convince myself that it was going to take no time at all to cycle home as I powered up the incline like a heavy set Nairo Quintana. That being if the Colombian regularly barely digested three soggy Weetabix before a Tour de France stage. This was going to be a piece of piss.

On reaching a less sheltered section of the road this arrogance was deservedly dashed by a strong northerly wind rearing which finally reared its ugly head. I enjoy a cool breeze on a hot June day as much as the next guy. When its cold and I’m trying to ride a bike however, I’m not as much of a fan.

The long and winding road to Spittal of Glenshee ascends and descends repetitively and it was on these small bumps that I realised I should of sorted my lazy lockdown sleep pattern out. For all intent and purpose my legs felt like they were still snoozing.

Passing the remote village across the modern looking McThomas Bridge the ride became tougher still. On the approach to the steep Cairnwell Pass, a section of road known locally as the ‘Slide’ for the direct route it takes to the valley floor, there was now no shelter at all from the incessant headwind.

The road over this hill used to be infamous for being one of the toughest routes in Britain. The now retired Devil’s Elbow included a double hairpin which unsurprisingly  proved a challenge for many motorists before a newer road was completed in the 1960s.

Looking down at the hillside below where this sensational road formerly lay, I grinded away in my smallest ring like a persistent snail, trying to ignore the lactate acid screaming murder in my cold legs.

It was on this pain inducing incline that I began to do some thinking. Not an unusual pastime for me, but not a particular strong point of mine when there is a distraction such as palpable lower leg pain.

I started to draw some clumsy comparisons between life and my sudden realisation at that precise moment there was only one objective which I wanted to achieve. All I wanted to do in that moment was to keep turning the pedals. That was of a crucial importance if I wanted to reach the Ski Centre two kilometres up the road without coming to an anti- climatic halt. 

Keeping it relatively brief, there are two clear trains of thought which entered my head as I traversed the hillside in the rain and wind. The first is that life can be a real grind.

That patience and a persistent effort is likely to be key in achieving personal goals and finding a fulfilling happiness in your lifestyle, even if the process towards succeeding in these areas can be slow.  This can also definitely be discovered in another person’s happiness.

Secondly, I considered how it takes a sustained and often slowly building effort to change your views. To educate yourself or others. To constantly bat away any ignorant or outdated views that you may have held for a while, perhaps years.

As an individual and a wider society we should always aim to make progress. Even if that progress is difficult, painful and slow, perhaps often frustratingly so. There is always progress to be made.

Weaving across the now 10% gradient road I considered this second point especially and thought about how weak the old arguments of ‘how it wasn’t like that in my day’ are. Similar worn-out excuses equating to the mentality that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Everyone, no matter their age or experiences has the ability to change their views. Everyone should have the ability to arrive at a different less thought out conclusion than they have previously reached. Even a huge amount of patience, humility and effort.

Bike on the bike, it took me all but 17 minutes to reach the summit. My reward? The king of all eye hurting headwinds combined with icy rain. Cycling past the empty chairlifts of the ski centre I could barely keep my eyes open as icy rain blasted my frozen facial features.

Eventually I completed the descent into Braemar and this was where I experienced my highlight of the day, maybe the week. Earlier in the ride I’d been passed by a Co-op lorry and before entering the village I met the same green vehicle again, heading southbound this time.

The driver promptly flashed his lights at me, giving me a heart warming thumbs up as he sped past. This gesture was the perfect remedy to a life which has often recently felt similar to being in a social bubble, sporadically interrupted by a pandemonic social media feed.

During the current events an innocuous glance at my multiple digital feeds presents many voices in favour of positive change. However, many others seem to enjoy disregarding or shutting down the important debate and issues which have almost became all encompassing right now.

Obviously, these negative voices can often drown out the helpful and pragmatic voices of the moment. I guess, perhaps naively, that driver’s simple gesture helped restore some faith on humanity on a visual level. If that makes sense?

Black Lives Matter https://blacklivesmatter.com/

 

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Weekly Ramblings Returns

Issue 8 – Tuesday 2 June 2020

Introduction

Its been a long time since I tried to keep a weekly blog and in hindsight its confusing why I didn’t start my ramblings back up earlier in this long-lasting lockdown. Maybe I naively considered the comings and goings of life at home to be uninteresting or maybe there is a more prevalent unwillingness to delve into my personal exploits.

This when there are so pressing matters in the public sphere. In fairness, there are always more pressing matters, but this week’s media and social media coverage is arguably all encompassing in its significance.

Whatever the reason, when writing I did feel anxious about delving into the news of the last several weeks and the one particular story which has rightfully been circulating this past week.

Alternatively, I think the terrifying, but important events of last week should be mentioned on this platform. Unfortunately these most definitely belong in the darkest recesses of The Bad and The Ugly sections of this week’s ramblings.

I want to however, begin on the good which I’ve experienced on a personal level in a world which feels unequally depressing at the moment. I don’t want to avoid the more global societal issues which should involve everyone, but have decided to conclude the following ramblings with them.

The Good

As we pass the 70 day mark of this unprecedented lockdown there are some positives to be found on a personal level.  One of these being that my wild haired and physically stronger stay at home comrade hasn’t yet murdered me as I sleep restlessly.

Indeed, I don’t think its too much of a stretch to boldly my brother and I have almost enjoyed each other’s company, despite the numerous bad habits which he has to put up with.

With the slight easing of restrictions we have manged to kick a ball around in the park this week. This to our neighbours relief as they have had to put up with endless rounds of garden cricket. We’ve also provided good company for each other on cycle runs. I slowly becoming accustomed to the uncomfortable combination of wearing tight Lycra on an incredibly solid saddle.

Taking it in turns to cook meals, I have also managed to avoid food poisoning any of my current housemates. Perhaps even improving on the little cooking skills in my locker before Covid-19 arrived and eating slightly healthier. You quickly realise when eating an orange for a cheeky afternoon snack feels unusual that you’re lazy student induced diet was likely pretty appalling.

My gradual re-introduction into the world of road cycling has also been of benefit to my physical and mental health. Last week’s sunshine and balmy temperatures have been advantageous to achieving 200 kilometres over the seven days, most of these miles being collected in the short ride out to Linn O’Dee.

At a time when the guidance is to stay local the ‘Linn Loop’ is a solid ride which ordinarily takes 40-45 minutes to complete. With a small hill on the return to Braemar I’ve tentatively taken up Strava again in the search for my best time. Frustratingly, I have now equalled my best time twice, one measly second needed to get a personal record. Its motivation to keep plugging away at it I guess.

During lockdown I have also discovered Netflix Party, a tool which has been useful for binge watching Orange is the New Black with my girlfriend while she isolates in Aberdeen. There is some comfort in being able to relay your impressions of the show while watching it together. Although, patchy WiFi and a six-year-old acer laptop can make this is a frustrating process.

A final re-discovery has been in reading and last week I managed to eventually finish Ned Boulting’s On the Road Bike. I found this very readable account of the anecdotes and more outlandish characters of the British cycling scene to be both honest and insightful. Inspiring also to a part-time cyclist with some of the gear and no idea.

My current read is now The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, a book which unsurprisingly can prove complex and heavy reading. The author goes in hard on Facebook and Google, with some of the developments within sharing similarities to an episode of the dark yet brilliant Black Mirror. 

The Bad and the Ugly 

As the aftershocks of the horrific actions of a thoroughly isolated police officer in the United States and the Coronavirus death rate grows, it seems shamefully churlish to complain about my current circumstances.

The United States of America. A country which I think similarly to the UK enjoys seeing itself as exceptional and an effective practitioner of equal human rights. Unless you are living under a rock you have likely seen the evil and horrendous footage of a Minneapolis police officer unashamedly suffocating a unarmed black man.

You could say this has a detrimental on a country which prides itself on personal liberty and human rights. But the man in the White House is more focused on photo opportunities and holding a Bible uncomfortably like someone who claims to be Christian while having very non-christian values.

Personally, I was shocked by my lack of surprise at the video of the original incident. The footage itself was harrowing and shocking in how avoidable the tragic outcome of those 8 minutes, 46 seconds where George Floyd was pinned to the ground by his neck was.

But this is frighteningly not a rare occurrence. Mr Floyd didn’t deserve this. No one deserves this.

As someone who has undoubtedly benefited from white privilege, it is a sharp reminder I need to educate myself on where I’ve benefited from inherent racism. A racism which is likely less distinct than the unnecessary deaths of black men at the hands of merciless police officers or disgusting racial slurs.

Great Britain as a whole, urgently needs to discuss its colonial and imperial past and far from perfect present. This island nation is no beacon of shining light when discussing global inequality. Indeed, Scots who have seemingly enjoyed the tag of being viewed as a more liberal counter-balance to an England arguably struggling to find its identify need to do the same.

A lack of personal action against racism witnessed at school or in other sociable areas is likely linked to an anxious response to potential conflict or confrontation. It is shameful and fallible that it has taken this to spark this thinking process for myself on a personal level. This needs to go further than a shared hashtag on Instagram or a brief moment heart searching thinking.

Finally, the widely shared row of houses analogy which has been used to deligitimise the philosophy of the All Lives Matter movement in comparison to the Black Lives Matter movement is an important one.

If one house on a street of several houses is obviously on fire it makes little sense to aim a fire hose at the neighbouring properties. When it comes to racial inequality, and the in depth effects which this can have on an individual’s lifestyle, my house isn’t on fire. This isn’t about me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Up eh Road

Before setting out on my long-suffering Cannondale bicycle last week I first delved into my inconsistent Strava history. Strava for those unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately out of the loop, is an app which provides a relatively detailed account of how far or fast you have gone on a ride or a run.

According to my run-dominated profile, my lonely steed hadn’t been ridden for at least seven months, which is likely a long time in bike years. So, when considering how to keep my restless legs entertained during lockdown I decided to boldly go where my legs hadn’t been for a while.

The first two ventures on my bike didn’t take me far from home. This was partly due to the lockdown restrictions, but mostly because my runner legs weren’t pleased with this foreign activity. My backside was also displeased at taking an unacquainted battering from a hard road bike saddle.

Pressing on from unfortunate innuendos however, and I want to put a positive spin (see what I did there) on these two 30-mile cycles. Despite some unfortunate gearing issues and the incessant wind which seemingly blows down the two valleys which define Braemar’s environs, I could still ride a bike. That in itself was pleasing.

Next on the agenda was to discover whether yours truly and a mistreated 2014 Cannondale could tackle a good old-fashioned hill. Setting out on another planned local ride to Fraser’s Bridge and around to the Linn of Quoich, I climbed carefully out of the village and towards Glenshee Ski Centre. My unambitious plan was to turn off well before the climb at the top of the valley, taking a U-turn along the rough and bumpy golf course road and back into the village.

After riding for ten minutes into a slight headwind, the crossing over the 18th century crossing over the River Clunie came into sight. I looked up from my unprofessional position on my bike and caught a glimpse of wild lands which lay beyond. It was mild yet dull morning and low cloud enveloped the summits of munros such as Cairn an Tuirc, amongst others which I knew surrounded the nearby ski centre.

The right turn never came, and I could almost hear my brain arguing with my legs. If I wanted an insight into any leftover climbing resolve from last summer this was a primary opportunity. Though in all honesty, the climb up to the popular snow sports destination wasn’t actually that steep. I reckon it must average a 5-6% gradient from the Sean Spittal Bridge and its non-descript layby.

That is where I’d argue the climb begins good and proper for just over two kilometres. This is where you say goodbye to the valley floor and your hopes and dreams. It is a lesser climb from Fraser’s Bridge up until that point and can be a struggle in the prevailing south-westerly which consistently blows down Glen Clunie.

Passing through the barren landscape of very few trees and an occasional uninterested sheep, I finally reached the bottom of the climb. The wind dropped as a shifted down the gears. This was the moment of truth. Could I still climb?

The answer is complicated. Breathlessly slugging my way past the desolate ski centre with its deserted café and chairlifts, I eventually reached the ‘Welcome to Perth & Kinross’ sign (pictured).

The last stretch of the hill had been the most challenging, as I struggled to find a suitable gear on my worn-out chain set. Perhaps its worth pointing out here there often isn’t a correct gear. Climbing in granny gear is still unlikely to be an enjoyable affair for the mere cider guzzling student amateur.

I had however, survived the dreaded climb, also avoiding any serious incident on the steep descent back into the valley. Now I just need to pluck up the courage to tackle the other side as well. But’s that can be for another week…or month.

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Two Different Types of Lockdown

It was 17 days ago that I dragged the last item of my student belongings through the door of my Aberdeen flat. My mood was rather sombre as I carried my annoying elephant costume, which I regret ever purchasing, and placed it beside the dusty staircase. Having said my final goodbyes to my Jamaica Street accommodation, I turned the keys in the door for the final time.

The nine months I spent there had been for the most part enjoyable, but with the semester coming to an abrupt close and the other complicated outcomes of a global pandemic to consider, I realised it was time to move on.

Indeed, I hadn’t actually inhabited my flat since the nationwide lockdown began following Boris Johnson’s 8pm speech on the 16th March. I watched the announcement in my girlfriend’s flat and decided to stay there, being fortunate enough to isolate with company. A luxury many haven’t been so lucky to enjoy over the last 57 days.

During the first five weeks of the unprecedented restrictions I spent a ludicrous amount of time watching boats manoeuvre in the nearby harbour. This rather than focusing on a challenging, but doable web design project. I even became excited about witnessing the Northern Isles ferry’s arrival and departure on its reduced Covid-19 timetable. Sometimes the small things in life can keep you mildly entertained.

Throughout those first few weeks I lived for my daily opportunity to experience the outdoors, predominantly taking a liberating run down to the often-blustery beach. Often the limited exercise would be reduced to a short trip to the shops to buy essentials and cider. The cider likely negating much of the good work being done through the regular running.

Journeys to the supermarket where anxious affairs with many audible sighs being heard as customers grumbled at other customer’s apparent lack of adherence to the new social distancing precautions. At first, I was disappointed by the absence of patience, before quickly realising that some of these aggrieved customers were likely key workers, experiencing high stress in their jobs.

I was also admittedly irked by a gentleman in the queue one day who was standing so unnaturally close to me that I could feel him breathing down my neck.

Out with the organised chaos of Morrisons and days of warm spells were spent cooped up inside, with no garden to inhabit. The lack of a green area is of course a common feature of most Aberdeen flats and therefore, an extremely minor issue.

When it comes down to it, I know I have been fortunate to have company and to lead a lifestyle in relative safety. These considerations are likely why I hated myself for beginning to become jaded with my city surroundings by the start of the fourth week of pandemic restrictions.

My longing for a bit of greenery was fulfilled by runs around to the Girdle Ness lighthouse at Nigg Bay, gaining a picturesque view back across Aberdeen. This accompanied by short but breathless efforts up the steep Broad Hill beside Pittodrie Stadium.

I guiltily missed the countryside which lay just outside mu current concrete jungle surroundings. Again, this being offset by the company I was enjoying.

Though ironically, I now find myself in the countryside again, returning to Braemar after my girlfriend and her flatmate opted in for the NHS as students. With the tables turned I realised I should move-out, wanting to decrease the risk of cross-infection for her. I also realised that I would likely not see my girlfriend in the flesh for another several weeks.

It was also time to depart the flat as the unpredictability of the future effects of Covid-19 made me hesitant in agreeing to a lease into next semester and beyond. It was a Friday evening when I gathered all of my belongings into an overladen Vauxhall Corsa and made my way back up the valley.

I would be joining my family in lockdown and hoping that I wasn’t breaking lockdown rules by moving to a new house. I had already set out a two-week self-isolation period which meant avoiding the village.

The journey along the length of Deeside was dark and uneventful. I happened across a couple of buses and five police cars travelling eastwards, but otherwise the roads were spookily quiet. I remained convinced until I reached the confides of the Pass of Ballater that I would be pulled over by a rightfully inquisitive bobby.

Resting up that evening and considering my new quieter surroundings without the pleasant company of my girlfriend, I awoke the next morning to the almost foreign sound of birds singing. Having inhabited rural village settings for around 18 of my 21 unproductive years on this planet I’ve been lucky enjoy this sound of nature along with the eerie hoots of owls in recent nights.

Indeed, it didn’t take me long to conclude that a rural lockdown and an urban lockdown are two quite different prospects. The day after my return to village life I went for a run in the nearby woods, uninterrupted by vehicles or over socially distant pedestrians. It was hugely enjoyable despite the missing presence of some who I hold closest.

There are of course many who don’t experience living in the countryside are prefer inhabiting a concrete jungle. For me, gaining a taste of lockdown in the city made me realise how much of a luxury sitting in a garden at a time like this is.

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A Granite Paradise

The sand is warm between your toes as you stroll across a beach sipping a cocktail while lounging around in your swimsuit. The location is undisclosed as the waves lap the shore. You could be in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean or somewhere else warm. That doesn’t matter. The sun is shining and you’re at peace with the world.

Suddenly you’re hit by a wave of brain freeze and you return to reality with a bump. You’ve been daydreaming again. You’re clinging to a hot flask of coffee while trying to prevent yourself from shivering. Shivering despite the multiple layers you wrapped around yourself before you set out. The location is a non-descript bus stop on Union Street. Passing buses, cars and smelly dustbin lorries create a deafening cacophony of sound around you. Welcome to Aberdeen.

On a cold, wet November day a bitter northerly wind is often funnelled down Aberdeen’s main drag. A wind which can chill you to the bone and can make you feel instantly ‘jeelt’. As they would say around these parts.

Meanwhile, Councillor Marie Boulton is sitting in her warm office on the second floor of the Town House, watching as people scuttle across the rain-soaked pavements below like woodlice. It’s a Thursday afternoon in December and the Christmas market across the road is struggling to find much trade from potential passing customers. Most people are either at work or are deliberately minimising the time they have to spend outdoors.

This is the Granite City. Not perhaps a name that shouts out attractive architecture, tourism hot spot, or holiday destination central. It is, however, a name which accurately reflects the nature of Aberdeen’s mini skyline of quarried rock clad buildings.

The town house itself is a pretty unremarkable building with its tinted windows and multiple entrances. Entrances which seem to all be out of order. This rather drab sight, however, is offset by the impressive Marischal College building next door with its church spiers towering above the festive display below. The is the second largest granite building in the world and is principally used by the city council.

Councillor Boulton is the cultural spokesperson for the council. She admits Scotland’s third city still lags behind the more popular attractions of Edinburgh and at Loch Ness for example in terms of visitor volume and popularity. Despite this, she remains enthusiastic about the Granite City’s potential as a tourist destination. An almost curbed enthusiasm if you will.

“Before there was this perception that Aberdeen was a grey, cold, only oil related city and I think people almost expected to see an oil rig in the middle of Union Street”, she suggests.

Boulton insists this snap judgement now firmly belongs in the past. She explains that the city council are putting more emphasis on developing the Granite City’s sightseer trade, citing the recent reopening of the popular Art Gallery as part of the council’s “city centre masterplan.”

She explains: “It was a huge investment for the city. We got £10 million from heritage lottery funding and £5 million from the UK treasury to do the memorial hall which is an important part of the art gallery.”

The newly refurbished venue is certainly impressive with its wide range of art and scenic roof top viewing point. The nearby Union Terrace gardens are also being redeveloped and are set to be completed in 2021 to the tune of £25 million. They will join an already plentiful supply of parks and green areas in Aberdeen.

However, the city arguably suffered culturally before and while the art gallery was under wraps, with 2016 city council figures suggesting that only 16% of visitors to venues in the city visited cultural locations. Councillors and locals alike will be hoping that the Schoolhill venue attracts a wider audience to its 15,000 strong collection of decorative art pieces.

This sentiment is echoed in a vast but empty conference room in the Visit Aberdeen offices, a company which promotes tourism in the Granite City and the wider North-East. Their CEO Chris Foy says: “I think it’s the tipping point. I’ve been here for two and a half years and I think when I arrived it was a lot harder to promote Aberdeen as a city destination on its own. The gallery kind off changes everything.”

But how does the gallery compare to the Dundee V&A, for example? An unusual yet impressive piece of architecture which sits proudly on the River Tay. It’s grand opening in September last year was met with much fanfare and the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, described its opening as putting “Dundee firmly on the world’s cultural map.”

Foy reckons Aberdeen’s art gallery can compete with the City of Discovery’s offering. “You can compare it to the V&A. A great brand which is getting lots of media attention. But I think the substance that we have in that gallery really makes it stand out and it’s a complete game changer for the city.”

He also zealously describes the action his team is taking to promote the P&J Live arena and newly reopened music hall as venues which have attracted and can attract big names. An obvious example is the BBC Sport personality award which will be hosted by the P&J Live on the 15th December.

Returning to the Town House, and Councillor Boulton explains how a wider audience had attended a recent performance in the city: “I believe out of those who attended the Michael Bublé concert at P&J Live, 60% of the audience were from out with Aberdeen.”

On this basis, it would seem there is an upward trend in visitors coming into the city, though there are those who have concerns this apparent increase in visitor numbers isn’t being felt by other areas of the city. Boulton believes the new harbour being built in Cove Bay to the south of the city will solve this issue.

She expects that cruises will land there, bringing visitors to different areas of Aberdeen and of course the wider North-East with its castles, distilleries and wide-ranging outdoor pursuits. But are other areas other than the city centre itself actually experiencing an upward turn in tourism?

On the other side of the city from Cove Bay is Old Aberdeen. Founded around the time of the 15th century, this area is home to Aberdeen University and the impressive St Machar Cathedral which some locals think isn’t being promoted to visitors to the city enough. The area is busy during university hours but is much more peaceful and quieter than the bustling city centre on the weekends or outside term time.

Several of the full-time residents here meet every month at an open meeting in the Old Town House. This building sits at the end of the cobbled High Street, a narrow road which travels through the university’s picturesque main campus.

Tourism, or an apparent lack of it, is often on the Old Aberdeen Community Council agenda. However, it is discussed a lot less exuberantly around these parts, with a conversation at the last meeting being provoked by complaints that there aren’t enough public convinces in the vicinity for visitors.

Attendees were beginning to make their excuses to leave after an hour of productive proceedings when Dewi Morris mentioned the apparent lack of amenities. Looking over his spectacles the council’s chairman described how, “tourists are directed into the main centre of Aberdeen and that’s it. Our understanding is that even senior people on the council aren’t aware of Old Aberdeen and aren’t aware of the significance of St Machar Cathedral.”

It’s a hurdle which Chris Foy and Visit Aberdeenshire refer to as the “challenge of the final mile”, but the community group have other concerns as well. Wider concerns.

Some members aren’t impressed by the amount of attention to detail or funding that has gone into encouraging tourism in the city as a whole. Trevor, an older man who has sat quietly during the previous proceedings suddenly pipes up: “I don’t think our council have done a good enough job over the years of helping that (tourism). They’ve got lazy because the oil industry has been here and the city has, in some ways, made its money too easily.”

It’s a scathing remark and one which is met with no vocal dispute from around the table. The attendees seemingly share a displeasure at the council’s attempts to try and attract tourists to visit this historic part of the Granite City. In the less official surroundings of the Old Town House, the insistence of others that tourism is at the top of the city council’s priorities is being undermined somewhat.

Chairman Dewi, thinks the city council should walk a mile in their shoes: “Tourists are directed into the centre of Aberdeen and our understanding is that senior council members aren’t really aware of the significance of Old Aberdeen and St Machar Cathedral. We want visitors to the city to be able to stop here.”

It is clear that if Visit Scotland and the city council want to entice tourists into the Granite City there is no time to rest on their laurels. Despite the exciting prospects new and improved attractions like the art gallery, music hall and P&J Live arena will bring to Aberdeen, it has a long way to go.

Back amongst the bendy buses on Union Street, and it may be hard to see Aberdeen’s appeal as the cold tickles your bones. It may not be the Caribbean or the Mediterranean and a stroll by the beach barefoot is likely to be a bracing affair at the least, but Aberdeen might just be growing in its appeal. The critical hurdle to overcome is encouraging tourists to stop here and give this potential granite paradise a second glance.

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French Flair, Irish Intelligence and Scotland’s Silly Errors

This weekend was always going to be just that little better than usual as the crème la crème of sporting events got underway in Cardiff.

I speak not of the Super Bowl in Miami, but instead of the Northern Hemisphere’s rugby showpiece where long-time supporters and long-suffering girlfriends (or boyfriends) alike were treated to two days of sporting festivities to rival Christmas.

Three encounters in three European cites each earned their place on a rugby-esque Richter scale from a small tremor on Saturday afternoon to a rather more ground shaking affair the next day in Paris.

Wales 42-0 Italy: Wayne’s Wales get off to the best possible start:

The Principality in Cardiff was treated to five Welsh tries in a dominant if slightly routine victory for Wayne Pivac’s men against an Italian side which lacked cohesion and structure.

The Azzuri travel home with no points registered and a Six Nations losing streak which has now stretched to 23 games as the Six Nations opener proved a barely competitive match up.

This year’s meeting between the two sides included open rugby but was turgid in its outcome, albeit the hosts struggled to add their much-needed bonus point after having a George North try chalked off by the TMO in the final quarter of the match.

North was eventually able to add the all-important fourth try as he powered over from close range with the assistance of an Alun Wyn Jones push. The battle bruised 34-year-old leading his side from the front with endless energy once again.

This was followed by a Josh Adams score at the death to take the hosts over the 40-point mark which completed the 24-year-old’s hat trick. The World Cup’s highest try scorer (seven) once again proved a vital finisher as he crossed the whitewash twice in the first half to give his side a commanding lead.

Adams’ second on the half hour mark was noticeable for Dan Biggar’s majestic pass through his legs to the winger who finished the move from close quarters to give the hosts a 21-0 lead at the interval.

There were other stand-out performances within the hosts’ ranks, including that of man of the match, Justin Tipuric who worked tirelessly in the Back Row with the ever-present Aaron Wainwright and the returning Taulupe Faletau.

Tomos Williams also put his hand up for selection in Dublin next week after a fine performance at scrum half.

Meanwhile, Franco Smith’s Italy aren’t likely to find a trip to Paris any easier as they look to brush themselves off.

They will need key players such as Tommaso Allan and Jake Polledri to be at their best if they are able to prove more challenging opponents to the French on Sunday.

 

Ireland 19-12 Scotland: Similar Shortcomings for Scotland as Ireland hold firm in Dublin:

Despite the pressure being heaped on Gregor Townsend and his charges, there was little expectation that Scotland would leave the Aviva Stadium with a result.

And unfortunately, but perhaps predictably for travelling fans, this hunch proved true as a strong Irish defensive performance made Scotland pay for a catalogue of missed chances and errors.

Errors which have so often put pay to the plentiful desire and skill which Gregor Townsend’s men have offered in the past and offered again in Dublin.

The Scots showed desire in bucket loads as they looked to banish the nightmare start to last year’s World Cup which had ended in an embarrassing loss to the Irish.

Townsend made ten changes from November’s loss to Japan and his much-changed side played with plenty of flair and passion, but failed to convert chances into tries.

Punters will point to a Stuart Hogg clanger as the clear and obvious error and one that could have proved a gamechanger.

In truth Hogg’s mistake was rugby’s equivalent of an open goal as the captain dropped the ball over the line after a catalogue of hard, reward less work from his forwards who were impressive throughout.

But a measured approach to this rare error from the full-back is to consider it as one of countless Scots try scoring opportunities throughout.

Eleven times the Scots entered the Irish 22 without scoring and that will worry Gregor Townsend. Perhaps this had something to do with the absence of Finn Russell. We’ll never know.

In fairness his replacement, Adam Hastings, strung a solid if not overly impressive performance together at stand-off, but maybe just maybe, Scotland needed Russell’s unyielding tenacity to unlock a prolonged and tireless Irish defensive effort.

To give them their due, Ireland defended with brutal aggression and controlled the game well, Sexton’s clinical first half finish proving crucial in an enthralling affair at the Aviva Stadium.

It was of course unfortunate that the promising prospect, Caelan Doris was forced with injury early on, but his replacement wasn’t too shabby in the form of Peter O’Mahony. A player who was at his impenetrable and streetwise best for the hosts.

His team’s opposition could have learned a thing or two from his intelligent manipulation of referees at the breakdown where a long absent Rory Sutherland and debutant Nick Haining impressed amongst Townsend’s charges.

Ireland will host Wales in a battle of the best defences while Scotland will need to work on their streetwise factor when they host England on Saturday.

 

France 24-17 England: French flair overwhelms Eddie’s England:

Even after crossing the English Channel, Eddie Jones’ England looked lost at sea for large parts of their championship opener in Paris.

Le Crunch is always an event not to be missed and its inclusion in the opening round this year added an extra dimension to an already mouth-watering match-up.

England have enjoyed an illustrious five years under Jones. Two Six Nations titles have spent time in Twickenham’s trophy cabinet and three months ago Jones’ men were 80 minutes away from winning a second World Cup.

Cheslin Kolbe’s scintillating footwork and a South African team full of passion to the brim stopped prevented a second Webb Ellis trophy from returning to West London, but England had received many a coin for some absorbing performances in Japan.

These included a rarely witnessed performance of the utmost dominance against New Zealand after France had travelled home after a calamitous second half display against Wales in the Quarter-Finals.

And yet France were expected to prove tough opposition to a more experienced, more successful, but perhaps more predictable English side.

That being said, no one surely expected the 80 minutes which followed Nigel Owens’ first blow of the whistle in a cauldron like Stade de France which never quietened.

Vincent Rattez kick started the onslaught, taking an intelligent inside pass from Romain Ntamack to cross from close quarters on five minutes. A Manu Tuilagi injury did little to help in the aftermath of this opening, as his team mates’ white shirts became splattered with blood and mud in the light drizzle.

Then on 19 minutes Charles Ollivon took advantage of a moment of English confusion and crossed for their second. Jonny May et al thought the 26-year-old captain had knocked on in the build-up to the try and stopped in their tracks.

His team looked shell shocked, distraught and lost amongst the cacophony of sound provided by French supporters starved off success and the changing rooms couldn’t come quick enough for their visitors who found themselves 17-0 down at the break.

This was most unexpected from a French side which were significant in their youth and dominance in recent under 20 world championships. Led by a captain who had never previously started in a Six Nations match and with a commanding lead this was quickly becoming their game to lose.

However, the hosts’ collapse against Wales in similar conditions in last year’s opener will have been playing on the more conservative of French supporters’ minds. Last year they had been leading 16-0 at half time. The final score? A Welsh win by 21-16. They were far from winning it yet.

After an improved England were able to finally throw some punches, the visitors soon found their nightmare becoming worse. A strong French lineout was followed up by direct running from the ever-present Antoine Dupont who set up Ollivon for his second to give France a 24-0 lead after the conversion with 25 minutes remaining.

Surely, they had won it now and would settle to hold their opponents to nul points? That of course isn’t the French way and in all fairness to England they regained some of their shape at scrum time which improved tenfold after the inclusion of replacements like Ellis Genge.

Then Jonny May scored two ingenious tries, the winger creating nothing from something on both occasions, dragging his comrades to almost within striking distance of the French in just eight minutes.

For the first May somehow weaved his way between countless French defenders with the use of his boot after performing an outrageous chip and chase in the little room he had to play with on the right wing.

The second was almost equally as impressive as the 29-year-old ripped the French defence to shreds, using his lightening pace to gas Virimi Vakatawa from a similar position. The visitors had brought it back to 24-14 with 15 minutes remaining. Was another epic comeback on the cards at an increasingly nervous Stade de France?

Despite this the hosts’ defence remained resolute against stout English attack and the world cup runners up were unable to come away with anything more than an injury time penalty. The visitors claimed a losing bonus point through the boot of Owen Farrell who had spent the previous 80 minutes looking slightly off colour.

One round in and all bets are off already. Although, French odds will surely be higher in a Six Nations in which they could finally prove their potential is worth something more than a bottom half finish and will be big favourites to beat Italy on Sunday. The task is more stark for their English counterparts who travel to Scotland far from assured of a win.

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An Irish Guinness Please

With a sense of intrepidation, I climbed the narrow steps leading to the small Aer Lingus flight which would be taking my Dad and I to Dublin. I’d describe it as smaller than a small plane. The mini bus of planes if you like.

Boarding the propeller plane, I rembered I’d previously convinced myself that it’s important to feel at least a little nervous about flying. It’s almost as if I feel I’ll be tempting fate if I fly with stonewall confidence. A confidence that this miraculous and almost non-sensical invention with all its intricate moving parts will actually work.

The take-off was most likely textbook and I still found myself worrying, becoming increasingly nervous as the prop launched itself into the skies above Aberdeen at an astonishing rate. It was a beautiful winter morning and we got a good view of the Granite City as we turned to go inland.

Carefully combining an uncomfortable nap with unnecessary worrying about normal inflight sounds meant the journey  went quickly and it wasn’t long before we were lining up with the runway at Dublin International. While we descended, a flat calm Irish Sea glistened in the sunshine below and the pilot was able to make a smoother than smooth landing.

Arriving in the Irish capital I was struck by how much larger Dublin is than I thought it would be. Stepping of the bus in the city centre, I was greeted by the sights and sounds of O’Connell Street. A seemingly less miserable version of Aberdeen’s Union Street if you will.

From there we strolled down the street to the rather peculiar Spire. An 120 metre steel monument which towers over the surrounding buildings. Alongside its slightly absurd location and shape, it is unusual that there are little to no information boards at the base of the structure.

A quick Wikipedia search reveals it is also referred to as the Monument of Life or the An Tur Salais in Gaelic. I thought it resembled the top of Thunderbird One, but that’s probably just my left of field imagination. Judgements on its aesthetics aside, standing at the bottom of the Spire and looking up certainly made me feel rather dizzy.

It being a Sunday morning, I was slightly disappointed to not see the inside of the renowned General Post Office. Remaining as the Irish Postal Service’s headquarters, it is known for the significant role it played in the Easter Rising of 1916. To this day bullet holes remain in its impressive, but weathered columns.

Wondering away from the city’s main drag and we came across the grounds of Ireland’s oldest university, Trinity College. From there was decided an open bus tour was in order, forgetting to account for the cold breeze which would accompany this activity on an already chilly January day.

Managing about halfway around the bus tour, the old man and myself both simultaneously succumbed to the cold and hopped off when the bus returned to near the city centre. It was insightful yet delivered in a downbeat and slightly dutiful fashion. Though I’m quick to admit I would find it near impossible to juggle dozens of historic accuracies while attempting to navigate Dublin’s busy streets with a bus.

From the driver’s commentary I learned that around three million litres of Guinness are produced at the 64 acre brewery in the city. On several occasions we travelled past the famous black gates associated with the dark stout.

The bus also took us through the vast Phoenix Park which is home to Viceregal Lodge. This grande building set off Chesterfield Avenue being the Irish President’s house.

Passing the large brewery again, I was reminded of the only time I’d tried Guinness previously. It was at a summer test at Murrayfield on a warm Edinburgh day. The drink was presented in a plastic cup and was overpriced and warm.

However, following the tour we decided to warm up in a sports bar which was showing European Champions Cup rugby action. A half-pint later and I’d changed my mind about Guinness.

My girlfriend suggested I’m a changed man when I broke this news to her later that day, though the more realistic theory is that Guinness does really taste better in Ireland. It was also refreshing to see the rugby given priority over the football. This would be a rare occurrence in Scotland.

After enjoying Dublin’s fair city where I’m not at liberty to describe whether the girls are pretty, we set off into the countryside on the bus. Our destination was the midsts of County Wicklow and into Baltinglass.

Travelling through darkness for the best part of two hours, we were eventually dropped off in the small town where we’d be staying for the next couple of days.

The next morning we arose to a hard frost, wrapping off before driving into the Wicklow mountains to find the roads slick with ice. Experiencing some hairy moments on slippy roads, we arrived at the Glendalough Visitor Centre and the starting point of our planned walk shaken but not stirred.

Walking along the Upper Lake we made our way uphill and out of the cooling shade at the floor of the valley. For around 125 years the Glendalough valley was home to the a lead mine and this is indicated by the old ruins of a miner’s village. I can imagine this would be quite a haunting spot at night and this is furthered by the old graveyard we passed at the beginning of the hike.

Lunch at the head of the valley was followed by an often stomach churning walk alongside a ridge with steep drops to one side. This trail on the southern side of the lake amazingly encompasses around 600 railways sleepers ending in steep steps when it eventually descends to the valley floor.

Following this stunning walk we made our way to Dublin again, taking the coastal route to hopefully avoid anymore sketchy roads. The seaside town of Bray provided a pleasant place for us to stop-off for a hot drink. Although it was surprising to see ice creams being consumed in temperatures little over 5c.

We didn’t spend long in Dublin this time and experienced the city’s rush hour. This proved equally insightful as witnessed countless risky manoeuvres and several kamikaze cyclists on their commute home. I’m glad I wasn’t driving or worse, cycling.

Soon our last day on the Emerald Isle came around and I awoke this time to discover a thick mist blanketing the surrounding landscape. We had a relatively quiet day, travelling to nearby Carlow, a larger town of around 24,000 residents.

A brief tour of the town was carried out in less than ideal weather and if pushed I’d compare it to an Irish Inverurie. A place where your Grandmother likes to go shopping, but not somewhere that might be at the top of your destination list.

Poorly grounded judgements aside and the next day was our cue to travel back to sunny Scotland. Surviving the plane journey again through distracting myself from thinking about the physics of flight, I was pleased I’d visited Eire proper and pledged to return.

I had only visited a small part of this island nation, but would like to see more of the country in the summer when it will surely be warmer. Three days well spent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Man Up – Re-post

I originally posted this on the 15th May during Mental Health Awareness week. I thought I would re-write in for World Mental Health Day which was on the 10th October. Reading the previous post I thought my writing could have been more concise and less sweary, so I  decided to implement these changes.

It was with some misfortune that I woke up early one morning last week. This wasn’t merely unfortunate because of the early hour which I’ve become unaccustomed to as a lazy, half employed student on his summer holidays. Instead, the real misfortune lay in this student’s decision to watch television while eating his breakfast.

Recently the TV in my student halls has been playing up and we have only had certain ITV channels at our disposal. Of course, this isn’t a huge issue as there’s plenty of good quality content to find on ITV. However, at 6.30 am ITV 1 viewers are watching Great Morning Britain, the channel’s attempt to rival BBC Breakfast on weekday mornings. These viewers are greeted by the sounds of a certain loudmouthed and obnoxious presenter.

This presenter and journalist adores the outrage and attention he receives for his repugnant views. Perhaps, he should even be applauded for achieving a very similar form of notoriety to the likes of Katie Hopkins. Like Hopkins, Piers Morgan has successfully created a paradoxical situation in which the more discussion surrounding his controversial opinions is always a win-win for the 54-year-old.

On this morning I was sitting in my worn-out running shorts enjoying a bowl of piping hot porridge. This is typical millennial snowflake behaviour I suppose. Meanwhile, the discussion on GMB had moved onto the topic of mental health.

I won’t take the time to recount the exact details of the discussion here as you can probably view it on STV player or YouTube if your so inclined to. I also think the tail end of the televised conversation is likely the most fascinating and stinging part.

It all ended with Mr Piers Morgan concluding that as a society we all needed to “man up” a bit. This really hit home with me and here’s why. I don’t take issue with using the pre-mentioned words per say as I’ve often used them myself in jest.

However, there is one setting where I think these words and the advice to “man up” should be avoided at all costs. This is when speaking to people who are struggling with their mental health.

As well as those with diagnosed mental health conditions, I would also refer to anyone who hasn’t been feeling quite themselves of late. This is easily all of us at given times in our lives and I’m convinced that when his massive ego allows it, even Mr Morgan admits he’s feeling down in the dumps. Maybe he feels some sadness at the realisation that he’s almost like a puppet. A puppet for outrage who spends his waking hours shouting like a dying dinosaur at the younger generations because they experience human feelings.

It was the documentary maker, Michael Moore, who described Donald Trump and everything he encompasses as being like the “sound of dying dinosaurs” in 2016. That being the politically infamous year Morgan’s friend was on the precipice of becoming the President of the United States.

It’s a good soundbite from Moore but I remain unconvinced about its actual validity. As we now know, President Trump was riding on the crest of a populist wave which may return at the next US elections in 2020. Neither is it perhaps valid when examining the views of the former Daily Mirror editor.

Many of us like to believe we now inhabit a mutually tolerant society which treats issues like mental health with the relevance and respect which they deserve. When it comes to telling anxiety sufferers to “man up”, however, I fear Morgan’s misplaced advice isn’t coming from the mouth of a dying prehistoric creature.

For me this is hugely concerning as using this rhetoric is not only plainly unhelpful, but also dangerous. Although I am of course hypocritical as everyday I tell myself to “man up”.

Feeling sad Finn? Man up. Finding it hard to concentrate on the simplest of tasks Finn? Man up. Worrying yourself into an uncontrollable frenzy Finn? Man up.

Coincidentally, the rest of that given day wasn’t a good one from my perspective. From Piers Morgan’s perspective it might have been a good day. He probably went home and watched a film or read the comments section under his column on Mail Online oblivious to the countless others who are having a bad day. Though perhaps he was having a bad day as well. We’ll never know.

I spent a large part of that day playing out the man up battle in my head. This hadn’t been specifically triggered by the insensitive discussion on GMB that morning but was more because that always how I’ve convinced myself I should cope with an anxiety that I often experience. An anxiety which returns every now and then like an annoying friend your unable to quite cut ties with.

When I struggling to control the anxiety in my complex headspace the last advice I need is to “man up”. I can’t be the only one who tells themselves that their feelings of intense negativity are non-sensical and a waste of other people’s time. I know I’m far from being the only one.

In my opinion, manning up doesn’t equate to having resilience. Today this has seemingly become an equation that is promoted by those who forever hark for the good old days when we all had a stiff upper lip and just go on with it apparently.

There is no doubt freedom of speech is paramount to the foundations of our society, but I shouldn’t be labelled an ultra-politically correct snowflake if I call you out for being horrible. I think telling people with poor mental health to ‘man up’ is quite clearly horrible.

We are reminded during this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week that suicide is currently the largest killer of men between the ages of 15 and 35. Men who on receiving Piers Morgan’s callous piece of advice might not go to their local GP practice when they’re not feeling quite right. Men who will likely factor in feelings of shame and emasculation when considering whether they should open up to their friends and families. Lives are at stake.

This specific age group is often who the older generations seem to enjoy taking aim at. We are labelled weak snowflakes who can’t look after themselves. We are told we don’t have any resilience and any idea how to grow up to be breadwinners for our families.
I was lucky however, as my bad day passed and the next day was great. I went to the beach with my girlfriend and we had ice cream. The sun was shining and for once I was happy to just be living in the moment.

I’m not that naïve though. I realise there is another bad day coming and that I will try my best to face it with all the resilience I can muster. Despite my best efforts, I’ll likely telling myself to man up again and that I should stop being silly. I’ll beat myself up in inside because I’m feeling anxious and a bit miserable.

I guess my overall point is that we don’t need any help with identifying the degradation and attempted normalisation of how we are feeling. We have that part all but nailed on. Instead, we need someone to talk to. Someone who won’t belittle us because we’re not tough enough in their eyes. And by we I mean all of us.

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Away Days – Taking the Ferry to Shetland

As I left my flat on a grey Aberdeen afternoon, my legs decided they wanted to take me on a long, winding route to the harbour. It was a Thursday and I should have been attending a lecture like a good student does. However, there was a good reason for my absence as the time had finally arrived to go and visit my girlfriend.

Usually it would have taken me 20 minutes or less to walk to Leah’s flat which is ironically located near the ferry terminal. On this day, however, it was going to take slightly longer and was going to involve a huge test of my pretty non-existent sea legs.
My lack of sea legs had let me down when travelling to the Hebrides in the past and when boarding the Yasawa Flyer to the Fijian islands among other boat-related experiences. I didn’t entrust a huge amount of confidence in them at this point in time, realising it would be an even longer journey if I couldn’t stomach the often unpredictable North Sea waters.

You see Leah is on placement in the Shetland Isles, but more specifically she is on placement in Lerwick, the isles’ largest settlement and a town which is home to the northernmost Tesco in the British Isles. Obviously, this was slightly less exciting than the chance to see Leah again, but it’s a fact worth noting in my opinion.

I boarded the boat a good hour before she was set to leave on her 14-hour voyage. I was very excited, but also hugely nervous. Nervous because I had no sea legs. Nervous because I didn’t know how I was going to keep my ever-restless body entertained for 14-hours. And nervous because I had stupidly been reading up on the shipping forecast and it said it was going to be a little rough.

Just before 5pm the large roll-off role-on ferry left its berth and I was able to take some good photos of the old pilot’s house, my late grandfather’s former place of work. As we left the harbour’s sea wall behind, I realised I wasn’t too displeased at all to be leaving Aberdeen behind for a few days. The Granite City was looking as grey as ever and my mind needed sometime away from the urban sprawl.

Not long after passing the new and more modern pilot house I wondered if my grandfather would have thought I was pathetic for feeling slightly seasick already as we encountered the first North Sea breakers. Having approached my reserved reclining seat nearer the bow of the ship, I quickly realised I wouldn’t be able to stay there for long as a staggered around helplessly, suddenly feeling sick to the gills.

Eventually I was able to steady myself as I became more in tune with the motion of the boat, plonking myself down in the dining area, located near the vessel’s stern.

Occasionally I would step out onto the back deck, the fresh breeze helping as I watched the coastline north of Aberdeen in the fading light. I have no doubt it could have been a lot rougher, but the occasional larger swell would sometimes result in other passengers losing their footing to the cacophony of crashing silverware in the nearby kitchen.

As the Northlink ferry steamed away from the coastline, I was even able to eat something as I gradually began to feel less queasy. My concerns where transferred from my stomach to the adventures of Winston Smith as I dived into reading ‘1984’. I haven’t read many novels in recent years but had completed 200 pages of George Orwell’s terrifying dystopian masterpiece by the time we reached Lerwick.

More importantly, it kept me busy during a long sleepless night in the dining area. I had again attempted to no avail to return to my reclining seat, but despite the calming seas, I was unable to stomach any significant time spent away from my camp out near the vessel’s stern.

At around midnight the MV Hrossey had reached Orkney. I watched the lights of Kirkwall flickering from out on the deck as a sniffer dog smelled me curiously. I wondered how easy it would be to smuggle illegal substances into the Northern Isles, though this dog was more interested in my polos in my pocket.

After departing Kirkwall, the remainder of the journey was punctuated by short cold and uncomfortable bouts of sleep and reading. Unsurprisingly, ‘1984’ wasn’t doing much to lighten the mood as I sat alone, trying to ignore the noticable motion of the boat.
Throughout the night, I often wondered out onto the back deck, shivering uncontrollably as I watched the slight outline of the vessel’s wake as it cut through the icy cold North Sea waters. There was very little else to see except the frequent emergence of the stars in the night sky when the clouds would temporarily clear.

However, I found peace in looking out into the dark abyss as I searched for any distant lights of other boats, land or oil platforms in a natural darkness unlike any other I had ever experienced. There was something mysterious and slightly magical about it all as I looked out into the seemingly never-ending darkness. I almost felt like the world was my oyster, a feeling which had escaped me in recent months.

Eventually, the darkness faded into light as we passed the southern tip of the Shetland mainland, before Lerwick came into view on the starboard side of the boat. My poor stomach was finally able to relax as the Captain skilfully manoeuvred his boat into its berthing spot in the town’s harbour. I had somehow survived the journey without throwing my guts up. Perhaps I do have some sea legs after all.

Before I knew it I was on dry land again and with Leah, having experienced what getting the boat to Shetland is like. It had been a long, tiring journey while being an adventure which had reminded me about how exciting travelling can truly be. It was also worth every second as Leah reminded me when she gave me a big hug in the ferry terminal.

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That Road Trip Kind of Weekend

Last weekend was both enjoyable and surreal in equal measure. Over two days my girlfriend and I spent a huge amount of time traversing the North-East. We were able to show each other our local haunts from before we moved to the big city in search of fame of fortune. Well, to the moderately sized Aberdeen in search of a university degree actually but you get the idea.

The weekend, as it usually does, started on Friday evening when I picked Leah up from the slightly underwhelming student halls which we both stay in. Located quite near the city centre, I was pretty nervous at the idea of driving in the city, becoming even more of a country bumpkin when it comes to driving.

However, this part of the journey went relatively well as I carefully negotiated my way through countless traffic lights and lane changes before eventually reaching a nervous looking Leah at the entrance to the halls. I couldn’t tell if it was either getting in a car with me or the looming first meeting with my mum that was making her more anxious. I decided it was a likely a good mix of the two and I didn’t blame her.

Luckily, I was able to put her mind to rest (I think) as we reached my home village of sorts in good time. In fact, Braemar was looking very bonny in the fading light as the sun struggled to stay above the still snow covered Cairngorms mountains. We had made it in one piece.

The next morning the weather had changed drastically as even the smallest of local hills disappeared in low cloud, as heavy rain welcomed anyone who was brave enough to go outside. The next journey was to Banchory, my brother’s cricket being cancelled for obvious reasons. These reasons being weather related and not in relation to how dull cricket is (please write in).

Driving to Banchory involved some aqua planning at first, but the weather improved slightly as we travelled further down the Deeside Valley. I enjoyed pointing out the places I had worked along with both my primary and secondary schools to Leah. This in itself felt pretty bizarre as there had been a sudden blurring between my life in town at university, and my life at home.

Picking up my brother from my dad’s flat, I decided to give my poor girlfriend a more detailed tour of the Deeside Valley. If travelling through the rain soaked villages of Torphins, Lumphanan,Tarland and Ballater wasn’t exciting enough, the usually stunning views from the subtly named Queens View (near Tarland) weren’t at all visible.

Again, we made it back to Braemar in one piece, my driving duties for the weekend finished already. The only hiccup being an unfortunate change into third instead of fifth gear followed by a slight panic. My two unsympathetic passengers enjoyed this greatly, as my ego, bolstered by some good recent driving, was significantly deflated.

That evening we left Braemar for Huntly, my mum driving as she insisted it was the only way she would be able to stay awake. Are my only one who’s always found that logic slightly concerning? Anyway, we travelled the long road to Huntly to a party as I tried to convince myself I wasn’t feeling car sick. Nothing to do with mum’s driving of course.

So far, I’ve made it sound like we were forever on the move last weekend and although this isn’t totally accurate, we found ourselves awaiting a train to take us from Huntly to Keith later that night. Ourselves being my girlfriend and I, as my mum and brother made the winding journey back to Braemar. Their only company the darkness of the night and Magnus’s likely below par chat and tunes.

Arriving in Keith at just after 11 pm, I struggled to gather my bearings as Leah’s grandmother kindly gave us a lift back to her home village. Keith and its surrounds aren’t an area I know well at all, although all became clear the next morning as I peeked a look out an easterly facing window.

I could see the railway and many distillery barrels piled high beside the Inverness-Aberdeen line. There were some hills, but in comparison to Braemar the surrounding area was relatively flat. I found the fact you could see for a further distance quite refreshing. There’s something comforting about an open sky, even if the dull weather had continued from the day before.

It was after a lovely meal in Keith that we hit the road again. My girlfriend (not Jesus) taking the wheel for the second part of the road trip. We decided to go north towards the coast, with the small village of Sandend being the designated destination. After maybe ten minutes on the beach, with the wind blowing a hooley, we made the executive decision to return to the car. You wouldn’t have thought we were both raised in the North-east of Scotland.

After some thought we continued east along the coast, driving through Portsoy before I sent Leah along a nightmarish back road that I seemed to remember led to Whitehills. The road was winding, with little passing places but I was able to relax the driver with some well-timed Mcfly. While on the subject I feel pretty guilty I had control of the music, realising afterwards that someone controlling my music while I drove would likely be classed as a cardinal sin in my car.

Anyway, I wanted to show Leah Whitehills because that’s where I had spent the fist year of my life, in a house supposedly so close to the sea that the sea spray used to collect in the window frames on a stormy day. The only issue being that I hadn’t been to the small picturesque village in about ten years. So unable to identify where my old house was, we continued to the nearby Banff Links.

This is a place which has an equal amount of resonance for me as I remember spending many a happy day with my parents and grandparents here on family day trips back in my heyday (circa. 2006 maybe). My late grandfather pushing my brother and I on the swings. In those days I was a lot younger and I actually get motion sickness when going on a swing nowadays. I live a very crazy lifestyle.

We also managed to fit in a short trip across the bridge to Macduff, before heading back. My girlfriend wanted to show me the school she had attended and I was surprised to discover it has a smaller enrolment than Aboyne Academy (my school). I guess Aboyne must have a much larger catchment area.

Leah was even good enough to give me a lift back to Aberdeen that evening as a hugely enjoyable weekend came to a close. For the first time I had brought my life at university home and she had done the same. Surreal perhaps, yet there was a level of comfort in it. I think it was interesting for us to be able to pinpoint where some of our past individual memories were made. The places which likely shaped our two different backgrounds.

 

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The Maddest of Rugby Matches

What. A. Test. Match.

On Saturday England and Scotland met in the last round of the 2019 Six Nations to compete for the annual Calcutta Cup. From a Scottish perspective the outlook leading up to this final competitive game before the world cup wasn’t looking too bright.

A Scottish team savaged by injuries and coming off the back of three disappointing defeats had been tasked with winning at Twickenham for the first time since 1983. Ah, ’83, a long, long time ago. So long ago in fact, that my now balding dad would have been but 12-years-old.

Since then it had been a parade of losses (and one draw) at the home of the red rose. However, lets return to the less distance past. Specifically 5.30 pm on Saturday. A time when many Scottish fans, like myself, sat covering their eyes or had switched of the telly. Half-an-hour in and England led 31-0. It looked as if the Scots would be travelling back up the A1 after going down to a cricket score.

England were desperate to win this game and who could blame them. A defeat in a epic game against Wales had put their hopes of a grand slam to bed. And just before kick-off in West London, a Welsh victory meant the title was now out of their reach. The English had shown their aggression in the last round of games, tearing apart Italy after crushing victories in their first two games against Ireland and France

It also became obvious over the entirety of the Six Nations, that the English were even more desperate to beat the Scots. They had not enjoyed a raucous Murrayfield last year and were quite rightly riled up by the unsavoury behaviour of some Scottish fans after last year’s thrilling Scotland win.

For me, the humble and long suffering Scotland fan, it had been a difficult tournament. The lads had definitely shown moments of brilliance, but this had been compounded by poor discipline and an inability to actually get across the try line.

Scotland began the Championship with a good win over Italy, but had followed it up with two games which they had lost after dominating for large periods against Ireland and Wales. The French had also put the Scots away after there had been some hope we could stop a rotten 20-year Paris losing streak. It wasn’t to be.

So now, an injury ravaged Scotland found themselves on English soil, the 61-21 defeat of 2017 acting as a hellish reminder of what could happen if we didn’t turn up. Surely for Scotland the key would be game management and damage limitation. The odds were certainly stacked against us but there was some hope. This was quickly banished.

Within the first two minutes England were 7-0 up, poor Scottish defence contributing to a training ground move which Jack Nowell gladly finished off. Not a good start but I tried to convince myself it would get better.

Nope. Within 13 minutes the hosts led 21-0, Billy Vunipola and Joe Launchbury powering over. This wasn’t good.

The blistering Jonny May followed up on this lightening start and made it 31-0 on 29 minutes. During the week I had been happy, for lack of a better word, to comment on how we would be reflecting on a convincing English victory after the weekend. I hadn’t however expected it to be this bad.

Tempted to switch the TV off I continue to watch with a couple of flatmates, almost daring England to keep scoring. Scotland looked hapless and perhaps lazy in defence. My friend messaged me saying they didn’t deserve to be wearing the jersey. Perhaps a little harsh, but he had also just switched his telly off, not willing to experience anymore of what had become almost masochist viewing.

Then in the 34th minute the Scottish hooker and captain, Stuart McInally, charged down an Owen Farrel kick and scored an epic try, out-gassing two English backs as he rampaged down the pitch like a man possessed. Was this the key turning point just before half-time.

It certainly made me decide to keep watching as it showed there was still spirt in this side. Perhaps we could peg back another score or two while shipping less tries in the second half? That didn’t seem to unrealistic to hope for.

Kicking off the second half, Scotland looked brighter and the young Darcy Graham, a player full of potential, touched down in the corner in the 46th minute. That’s better Scotland, I thought, joking this was the start of a famous comeback as I considered getting the Saturday evening boos in early.

Then three minutes later, a superb chip and run by Ali Price set up Magnus Bradbury. I suddenly sat up and stopped scrolling through the endlessly boring world of social media. Perhaps something special was happening, as with 30 minutes remaining the Scots had pulled it back to 31-19 with three unanswered tries.

Then in the 56th minute Graham scored again and all hell broke loose in the flat. Well, I got excited and so did my German flatmate, who I’m happy to report is seemingly backing Scotland in the rugby. Maybe not his best decision but something a bit special seemed to now be happening at Twickenham. The score was now 31-24.

A few minutes later and I got very excited as eventual man of the match Finn Russel brilliantly intercepted Farrel’s pass to score again. We were now level and I was desperately looking for a stress ball of sorts as I struggled for breath. An old coat hangar would have to do. Could Scotland hold out for a draw?

Surely victory was still just beyond our grasp in this surreal rollercoaster of a test match. But then in the 75th minute, Sam Johnson produced a moment of magic, finding a gaping hole in the English defence and beating several white shirts to the try line. Scotland were in the lead and I’m not sure anyone could quite believe what they were seeing.

Could Scotland be heading for victory at Twickenham for the first time in 36 years? The answer? No.

An epic defensive effort from Scotland as the clock went red couldn’t keep out George Ford as England scored a converted try to tie the most epic rugby match I, and many neutrals, have surely watched. Fortunately the old coat hangar didn’t go through the window or cause my flatmates any injury as I flung it in frustration.

Although in truth I didn’t know how to feel. For a few wonderful moments it had seemed as if an unprecedented Scottish victory was in the offing. But then it all came crashing down, as for no lack of trying the Scottish defence couldn’t prevent the hosts from crossing the whitewash. This being after they had spent 40 minutes trying to regain their first half composure which had put them 31-0 ahead.

However, disappointed I felt when Ford scored, there remained a sense of pride in this Scottish performance. In the face of adversity after a dire 30 minutes, they had shown immense amounts of flair and character to put themselves in a winning position with five minutes remaining.

Perhaps, more importantly though, it had reminded me why I love rugby. What. A. Game.

FT: ENGLAND 38-38 SCOTLAND

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Very Late Tribute to Big Ben

I can’t remember the exact date when Mum texted me the news that my Grandmother’s dog had been put down, but I remember it flooring me. This sounds silly. I mean I’m referring to a huge fluffy golden retriever. The thing is that dumb dog was my best friend.

The reason I write about it now is I realise I never gave Big Ben a proper tribute at the time when he transcended to dog heaven about two years ago. I’m not religious, but dog heaven sounds more pleasant than whatever his fate actually was. Ask a vet if your curious.

I don’t want to call him my best friend because that wouldn’t be true. Humans tend to provide better conversation where most animals generally can’t keep up. I guess the difference is I liked Ben because he was a great listener. Perhaps not by choice a lot of the time but that’s by the wayside.

He would listen to my problems when I took him for long walks and he was always happy to see me. Even when his arthritis was really bad and he was almost completely blind he would be happy to see me. Tail wagging, tongue sticking out. He just looked happy to be alive.

It was this that actually kind of cheered me up as I sat feeling miserable in my Dundee student accommodation, having heard he had been put down. The last year or so had been difficult for me but when that dumb dog passed away I was reminded of how happy he was and this helped change my thinking. Thanks Ben.

In the moments after hearing that news I wanted to try and see my life in a more positive light. I desperately wanted to be happier again and try to enjoy living life as much as Ben did. I knew this meant taking some drastic steps in my own life and still often think about him if I’m feeling out of sorts.

I keep referring to Ben as dumb and I know this isn’t very nice. I see it as endearing though and there’s no point in pretending he was the Einstein of the dog world. Believe me he really wasn’t.

When my grandparents lived in the seaside village of Newburgh he would run for miles and miles along the beach and through the sand dunes. Running until my grandfather would shout his name over and over to no avail. I don’t think he ever did know his name.

There was also the time he nearly killed my grandmother, dragging her across the main street when a to scale statue of a butcher outside the village butchers spooked him. This along with the time he killed a sheep by chasing it off a cliff.

Having not witnessed the poor sheep’s heroic death I had always wondered why we had left Sandend so quickly that day. This along with the day he dragged my Mum across a barbed wire fence (she still has the scars) when he was spooked by a piece of shiny material.

No, Ben didn’t have the biggest brain but he did have the biggest heart of any dog I’ve ever met and might ever meet. In his own way he also looked after my grandmother when she lost my grandfather, providing her with company around the house. So here is it Ben, a tad late, but a tribute I hope is fitting to a lovely dog.

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Weekly Rambling

Issue 7 – Monday 4 March 2019

The Good

As the days gradually get longer and 2019 continues to speed past at lightening pace, the last days of the month felt very unlike February. With temperatures hitting 16 degrees in the Granite City it felt more like June at times this week.

However, despite the unseasonably warm temperatures us brave Scots carried on like usual, perhaps with a little less moaning. Though, if you want to moan about the relentless double figure heat then worrying about climate change might be a good start. Is that too political? I’ll let you decide.

Anyway, this meant I was able to cycle to uni with a shirt and shorts on, feeling the light breeze ruffle through my hair as I rode up Holburn Street and into the sunset. Well, actually onto Union Street, a danger zone of buses, buses and more buses. But I’ll get onto that a bit later.

The cycling has been mostly good though, being much more preferable to sitting in class drenched in sweat after running the three miles to Garthdee. I’m a runner by the way. No instead I just sit in class drenched in sweat with a bike helmet on my desk now.

I think the problem is I never take it easy, meaning I sweat buckets even when just sitting on a bike saddle for a short time. Swerving in and out of bus lanes and traffic at speed can be a fun but terrifying way of getting to uni cheaper faster and for less than the bus.

I’ve actually found this week I’ve been doing less running which is going in this section of this week’s rambling. Granted I would usually see this as a negative, but I think for a while I’ve been over training with little rest days. I have a big run planned this week when I head up to Braemar on Wednesday so I’ll how that goes.

In other news, there was no rugby so that was good. If you read last week’s rambling you may have the impression I’m a tad fed up of Scottish promise fade painfully away. Lets ignore my rant from last week though.

I think we’ll come good again as there’s nothing which works better than some good old Scottish optimism. The best and one of the perhaps rarest types of optimism in existence. I will admit it was a relief to not worry about the Wales game just yet though.

Attempting to ramble about something else than sport, I dressed up on Friday night as a character from ‘Grease’. You know the one with the leather jacket and the stupid hair? Danny! That one.

That’s right I actually went out shopping for something other than alcohol and food, venturing to TX Max (other stores are available) and putting about half a litre of gel in my hair. It was for a costume party my flat mate was holding and I think I just about pulled off the…Danny…Zuko (I have to keep searching his name) look, so I was pretty pleased with myself.

And don’t worry there was a Sandy there as well, but she didn’t need a man and I’m in pretty good shape already. I’ve only seen the film once but I admit I’ve heard the song a few times. You could say its catchy, but you could also say it hasn’t aged that well. I’d be tempted to say both.

The Bad

I was feeling pretty optimistic this week so there isn’t too much bad to report on. I think that’s the way the penny falls for me sometimes. I often feel the way I view my life at certain moments is often based more on my attitude than things which have actually happened to me. This is of course not always true, but I think is something which is perhaps important for me to remember.

Reminiscing about my time at school often brings back good memories of fun moments had with some great friends that I met there. This week while struggling to get a grasp of certain areas of my coursework I was reminded of some classes which I had on my black list at school.

This was a mental note of classes which I dreaded attending. Being someone who isn’t that technical, IT class was at the very top of this list. I was reminded of this while struggling to understand the Digital Media area my course which involves lots of very technical terms and knowledge of the internet.

I was reminded of a horrible moment when I prepared a piece of work for my IT teacher who after taking it of my desk threw it in the bin, claiming I must have copied it from the internet because I didn’t have the intelligence to write what had been typed up on the sheet of paper. That was low.

However, such memories are now desolate and of course unhelpful. My dream is to become a journalist and that means trying my very best when tackling the coursework. A struggle it may be but this time its only my own negativity and lack of self-belief which is a hurdle. I can definitely become a more technical person. I know its in me somewhere…

The Ugly

Cycling in the city can be dangerous. Very dangerous. I know this sounds like an obvious statement, but for someone who has spent their cycling years on rural back roads like yours truly, Aberdeen’s roads can be quite frightening sometimes.

When I first started riding the three miles to RGU I would take a longer, winding route, cycling down to Duthie Park before using the Deeside Way to take me as close to the university as possible.

Recently I have taken to cycling the faster route, perhaps out of curiosity, laziness, stupidity or a combination of all three. Union Street is seemingly the issue as bendy buses weave in and out of bus lanes, surrounded by a steady flow of traffic.

Before you accuse me of hypocrisy, I realise taking the bus is better for the environment than driving your car to which ever exciting Aberdeen destination you are trying to get to. I just think long bendy buses don’t mix that well with cyclists that’s all.

For me this problem is easily solved as I will just return to cycling the longer way to uni this coming week. I realise that means that last section was a pretty pointless ramble then, which makes it a fitting place to conclude my rambling for this week.

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Weekly Rambling

Issue 6 – Monday 25 February 2019

The Good

The last week seems to have gone past very quickly so maybe this will be a slightly shorter weekly update. Here’s hoping it is less of a rambling mess than usual.

So once again the last seven days have been pretty good. Not as good as last week because Scotland were playing rugby, but momentarily forgetting about that, its been a good week.

On Monday I returned from Braemar on the bus and I’m already missing being out in the countryside. It was a pleasant surprise to realise my Monday tutorial had been moved to Tuesday and meant I could spend an extra day up the valley annoying my brother.

Poor old Mags is on reading week. When he hasn’t been reading though, he has likely spent the last week harnessing his skills on Rugby O8, a PlayStation game which he uses to inflict pain on yours truly.

Anyway, it was good to spend an extra day with him, resting my legs after the previous day’s half marathon. Did I mention I like running? Joking aside, the running has been going well this week.

I’ve been taking it fairly easy and that’s actually been quite pleasant, as its provided me with quality thinking time. Don’t worry I’ll have the meaning of life figured out in no time. Perhaps more importantly though, I’ve found my running quite relaxing this past week, which is probably the most important reason why I run.

I also managed to get my bike up and running again by actually buying a decent bike pump. Now, I just need to oil my chain a little more, as I learnt when I dropped it at a busy roundabout.

University has also been going pretty well and is likely to get better for me and my classmates this coming week, as I will be cycling to campus instead of running. This means I will be slightly less of a smelly and sweaty mess when sitting in class.

However, a downside of this is I will have helmet hair which will affect my usually flawlessly maintained hairstyle. A hairstyle maintained through using women’s shampoo followed by a dollop of hair gel which always does very little.

Its also been a week of reflection as on the 19th February last year I travelled to Fiji for two months. Its been quite interesting reflecting on the happy memories that I was so lucky to make on the other side of the world with some wonderful people.

I’ll probably go into more detail about my memories of this time last year in a separate post at some point. I’ll keep you posted.

The Bad

Well apart from the incident at a roundabout and my dreams of starring in a hair gel advert taking a dent, there hasn’t been too much bad in the last week. I don’t like speaking about alcohol too much as I don’t want to admit to being a bit of a party animal.

But I am. Big time. Anyone who bumps into me while I take the Aberdeen nightclubs by storm with the world famous ‘Finn dance’ will back me up on this. Okay maybe not everyone.

Anyway, I’m rambling again. My original point I was going to make is that I’m never touching coke and vodka again. Its taken me two years too long to realise that, like most alcohol, it is horrible and I’m never going near it again… or at least until next week.

Purchasing alcohol is also expensive (I should work for AA) and means I have gone below the amount in my account that I agreed I wouldn’t go below when I started uni. This basically means I need to saddle up and get some Deliveroo deliveries done, while wasting less money on buying sweets and alcohol.

Lastly, I took a bit of fall while running the other day while passing two concerned citizens who watched me just about fall flat on my face. They both reacted in the most Aberdeen way possible. In their heads I knew they were concerned about whether I was hurt. I just couldn’t tell by their expressions or actions.

In all honesty though, I’m technically from Aberdeen (I like being cutting edge and pretending I wasn’t born in the Granite City) and I maybe would have reacted in a similar way.

The fact my lucky green hat* fell over my eyes and momentarily blinded me probably didn’t help, perhaps making the whole scene look slightly slapstick. I wouldn’t have blamed them if they had laughed.

The Ugly 

Being a Scottish rugby fan is hard. Like really hard. After watching Scotland play rugby for the best part of 15 years, I spent Saturday afternoon feeling low.

This was after watching a comedy of the usual errors which were synonymous of the your Frank Hadden’s Scotland. Errors that had seemingly been snuffled out under the tutelage of Cotter and then Townsend.

A 27-10 loss to France at the weekend proved this theory wrong and Scotland seem destined for a worse than average six nations performance. There is still hope of course, but wins against England and Wales look unlikely. Wales coming off the back of a sensational win in Cardiff against an in form England.

However, after the game I was more disappointed but not surprised by the analysis which appeared on the Scottish Rugby section of the BBC Sport website. There is a journalist who I won’t name who seems to savour every Scottish rugby failure.

His article which attempted to promote a non-existent nasty rivalry between Ireland and Scotland before the first round of the Six Nations would have been better placed in a tabloid newspaper than on the BBC website.

Anyway, I’m glad to announce that’s my rant over and apologise that this is another long post. Maybe I need to find another sport to watch. I heard Scotland have a good curling team.

*Because of my lucky hat I remained physically uninjured, although my dignity did take a bit of a knock. 

 

 

 

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Race Report: Kinloss to Lossiemouth HM

Location: Kinloss & Lossiemouth, Moray

Time: 11:00, 17 February 2019

Distance: 13 miles (approx. 21km)

On Sunday I ran my second half marathon race and was pleased to come away with a Personal Best, running the 13 mile road race in 1:32:35. Achieving this time was especially pleasing because I had failed to PB in the Lumphanan Detox 10K in January.

This was predominantly down to an alcohol fuelled Hogmanay and a lacklustre sleeping schedule in the days before that race. Gladly much less alcohol was consumed in the days leading up to this race, although my sleeping schedule was again slightly out of whack.

On the Saturday night I didn’t sleep very well, though I usually don’t the night before a race. However, I still managed to crawl out of bed at 6.15 am, which was good because race registration closed in Lossiemouth at 9.45 am.

Having this event marked in the calendar in advance, the car, which is owned in my absence by my Mum, was available. As expected the roads were quiet at that time on a Sunday morning and I made good time, arriving in less than two hours.

After registering I joined the other athletes as we were whisked away on buses to the start line in Kinloss. Surprisingly I wasn’t too nervous at the start line, having plenty of time to make the customary pre-race toilet trip.

I hadn’t put too much pressure on myself, as the Edinburgh Marathon is dominating most of my training plans at the moment. Put simply I just wanted to enjoy the race, which was taking place in a nice part of the world.

I often find the first part of the race the most difficult, as it includes a chaotic struggle for positioning and an attempt to find a comfortable pace. Finding a comfortable pace meant I ended up on my own, occasionally being overtaken by faster runners.

The first few miles of the race were ran along quite congested roads, as vehicles struggled to get past the 280 odd competitors. Although breathing in exhaust fumes wasn’t ideal, this is perhaps a sacrifice of designing a course which is fast and flat.

Happily the roads became quieter after Burghead, as the route started to follow the coast line, giving good views of the Moray Firth and the Black Isle. After Burghead, which lay near the halfway point, it wasn’t too long before RAF Lossiemouth and the sprawling town beside it came into view from the top of a slight incline.

After a long final few miles I crossed the finish line. During the race I hadn’t recorded my progress so had no idea which time I had run. I was more glad to have reached the finish than concerned about whether I had achieved a Personal Best.

I had a feeling I had ran a slow time, so was pleasantly surprised when I learnt that had been my fastest half marathon. A big thanks has to go to Moray Road Runners for organising and I would definitely be keen to return next year.

 

 

 

 

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Weekly Rambling

Issue 5 – Tuesday 19 February 2019

The Good

I am pleased to report that last week was a pretty good week overall, those concerned by the slightly moody nature of my previous weekly updates will be glad to hear. And no it isn’t just because Scotland weren’t playing rugby, though it may have helped.

To be honest I have been quite a moody person recently, though I would prefer to describe myself a dark and brooding. Although the fair hair does spoil this image slightly…

So I’ll get the running news out of the way first as this is obviously something that occupies a lot of my head space. This being when I’m not thinking dark and brooding thoughts which I often do when I’m actually running funnily enough.

Anyway, an event up on the Moray Coast was preceded by a week of running to university with a bag on my back in relatively mild weather for this time of year.

With temperatures hitting double figures in the Granite City I wasn’t lacking in perspiration when I arrived for class in the mornings.

There’s only a certain amount Lynx can do and for this I apologise to anyone who had to sit beside, or perhaps even in the same room, as me.

Some of my fellow students may be thinking the running to uni is an ego trip in showcasing my sporadic fitness regime, while others may be thinking its because I think I’m cutting edge.

Its actually because I don’t want to pay the bus fare but that can be our little secret. Also when I have insisted to my family that I am cutting edge in the past my brother’s reply has been that “you barely know how to work a computer Finn.” Unfortunately he probably has a point.

The pre-mentioned event was the Kinloss to Lossiemouth Half Marathon and included an early Sunday morning (by my standards) and a solo road trip.

I’ll hopefully have a race report written up with the details of the day by this time tomorrow, but can tell you it was a good day. I managed to achieve a Personal Best and met up with my girlfriend so Sunday afternoon was definitely the highlight of my week!

In other news, on Thursday we journalism students were given a talk by local BBC Scotland reporter Davy Shanks. It was an interesting listen and really put into perspective what the job of a broadcast journalist includes nowadays.

That evening I also ventured out to Ellon and spent a lovely evening with my Grandparents who I am grateful to have so nearby.

The Bad

Returning to a many dark and brooding thought its time to delve into what wasn’t so good this week, which in an essence was my anxiety. This may be a lot more serious than usual but here it goes.

I won’t go into great detail as it is quite personal to me, but feeling anxious is a big part of my daily life and something that I’ve become accustomed too, it being particularly noticeable to me since the start of this year

I would like to think I’ve equipped myself quite well to deal with it, but often it will become slightly overpowering. I realise everyone suffers from anxiety at some point and many struggle with it to an extent that it is difficult to get out of the bed in the morning.

This is very rarely the case for me and I won’t devalue what others go through by even drawing a comparison to this. Instead for me it has been a long term thing which I feel has often held me back or meant it takes a huge effort to push myself when doing normal day to day activities.

For example, driving to Lossiemouth to run a Half Marathon had been filling me with quite a lot of dread and resulted in sleepless nights for the week preceding it. It was something I wanted to do in theory but had to push myself hard to actually convince myself to carry it out.

And when I did arrive home safely on Sunday evening I knew all the dread and worry was well worth it. All the creative outcomes in my head about crashing the car, or stalling on the A96, or getting halfway through the race and having to abandon hadn’t come true.

Yes, there were some slightly hairy moments. Accidentally pulling out in front of a poor lady at a junction was one*. Not eating enough before running 13 miles was another, but I made it through the day and had enjoyed it for the most part.

The truth is there will always be hairy moments in my life and its about accepting that I’ll learn from these, while realising that they shouldn’t affect all the exciting things that I want to get up to.

So next time I’m lying awake in bed, heart racing and mind full of negative thoughts as daylight becomes nearer and nearer, I’ll try and remind myself of this, using this past Sunday as an example of what I can do when I push myself.

The Ugly 

My music taste has always been…eh…interesting. But during the last few weeks it seems to have hit even lower standards than usual. I’ve always accepted the fact that in a family where Moby and Genesis are gospel to some (I won’t mention any names) my music taste is often regarded as being the worst.

I would argue this is unfair but scrolling through my daily mixes this week, which Spotify so helpfully compiled for me, was a truly sobering experience.

I won’t mention any of the artists (some things are just too personal) but I can tell you that I would still rather listen to P!nk on repeat for three hours than sit in a car with my Dad and brother listening to Test Match Special.

If you’ve never listened to TMS (probably likely) then think about how boring cricket is to watch normally, and then remove the moving images.

*FYI – If you’ve angered a fellow driver giving them a wave doesn’t seem to calm them down much.

 

 

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Weekly Rambling

Issue 4 – Monday 11 February 2019

The Good

In all honesty I’m struggling to remember what happened in the last week that was particularly exciting. I mean I went running a lot. That’s not news. I went to university. That’s not news either is it but life isn’t always exciting so here’s what’s been happening this week.

Actually something did happen which was out of the ordinary this last week, which is exciting but doesn’t fit in with the negative mid-February vibe I’m feeling as I write this, so I’ll leave it for another time.

I guess I just want to go outside without layers (a rarity in Scotland I’ll grant you that) and feel a warm breeze on my face as I ride down country lanes on a unicorn. Is that really too much to ask? All that to look forward to in a few months I guess when the Scottish summer starts again in earnest.

Anyway, this is meant to be the good section of the blog so I’ll cut out the unfounded moaning for now. I got my exam results back and passed the first semester of university so was pleased with that.

Although I think in some areas of the course I was perhaps lacking in effort, so will thrive to work harder this semester, especially in areas of the course which I perhaps find intimidating and more challenging.

Speaking of this semester, last week we were shown around the awesome newsroom at RGU which we will hopefully as Journalism students get to use at some point. They even have a green screen on campus which is super cool.

This means my dreams of becoming the next Huw Edwards may come true yet, although I realise stepping into the shoes of the best thing to come out of Wales other than Scott Quinnel’s postcode lottery advert would be an almost impossible task.

But seriously if anyone can get me a poster of Mr Edwards to pin up on my wall I would love that. He is one of my genuine heroes. I would preferably be looking for one with a personalised message and signature but I’m not fussy.

There were also some smaller but no less significant things which happened this week. Meeting up with Dad after not seeing him for a couple of weeks was good even if I did eat all his cereal. If I wasn’t partial to a bit of Crunchy Nut (other brands are available) I would be running 35 minute 10Ks, but you only live once so…

Running wise I’ve signed up for a half marathon which is taking place this coming Sunday. This should be good fun as I’ve also been granted the car for the day which means I’m going to take a wee road trip from Braemar to Lossiemouth which will be a nice change of scene.

The Bad

Having a few beers with my mate was good but watching Scotland make mistake after mistake in the rugby was not so good. In an exciting game against Ireland we seemingly couldn’t keep a hold of the ball in the second half after showing so much promise in the first 40 minutes.

Rory and I were not pleased when Stuart Hogg was taken out off the ball by two Irish players, although its also pretty obvious the Scots were targeting Johnny Sexton amongst others, as my Irish flatmate rightly pointed out. The Italy Vs. Wales game wasn’t a great game to watch and I unfortunately missed the England game and score again.

Although in other news I’m pleased to announce my commitment to attending lectures has been second to none this semester. That’s right I’m giving myself a big pat on the back for making the arduous journey to RGU three mornings a week to attend a spattering of lectures.

This commitment meant I ran to university the other day, battling down a windy and wet Holburn Street to find that my 9am lecture had been called off. I should really get emails set up on my phone and start using the money I pay for cereal with to pay for the bus to uni. I’ll learn one day I suppose.

The Ugly

Last week I took the opportunity to have a good moan about the buses to Braemar and this actually surprisingly coincided with the news that services in and out of the village are to be stopped on a Sunday.

Hopefully this won’t happen as many villagers have made their opinions heard about this proposed move which might come into place from April. Although the buses may be quiet at the moment they are sure to bring lots of tourists into the village during the warmer months.

Also to return to a recurring theme, I’m still none the wiser about my feelings towards  nightclubs but continue to strive to push myself outside my small mindedness when Friday evening comes around every week.

The other night I wondered around aimlessly with a VK in my hand wishing I was sitting on a hill somewhere quiet while everyone went mad for ABBA. I usually do go mad for ABBA but wasn’t in the mood for some reason and was wondering if my flatmate’s confusion at why Scottish people go mad for them might be well founded.

(I watched the highlights of the England game and they were awesome. Any negativity towards their team is purely for comedy effect and you can’t help but admire the wheels* on Johnny May. I also realise a lot more than Huw Edwards has come out of Wales, though if your from the Valleys I think you should be really proud of him. Please don’t write in. – ed)

*wheels – a word hip people like my brother use to describe someone who is fast. 

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Weekly Rambling

Issue 3 – Monday 4th February 2019

The Good

Its that time of the week again. That’s right its a Monday which means its time for me to write a long sugar induced account in the middle of the night about the last week in my life.

I therefore apologise if this drops off in the latter stages as the five chocolate digestives (rounding down) I’ve just stuffed my face with aren’t likely to keep me energised for too long. But now that’s the most cynical section out of the way I have to admit that this has been quite a good week by my standards.

If you inhabit the stunning city of Aberdeen you’ll have noticed it has been given a magical white covering in the last couple of days, with snow making a rare appearance on the Granite City pavements and rooftops.

As I elegantly and effortlessly run down white pavements in my stylish running gear like a slightly slower Mo Farah, popular tourist destinations like Kittybrewster look even more magical.

More exciting and surprising than the prospect of snow during an Northern Hemisphere winter is Six Nations rugby which began on Friday Night with a great game between France and Wales. This was followed by an entertaining Scottish victory on Saturday and a game in Dublin which I didn’t watch and don’t really have any thoughts on.

Perhaps even more excitedly, and importantly, I finally started Uni again on Thursday with a class on Broadcasting. Every lecture so far has been interesting and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in again. I also didn’t get too lost trying to find new classrooms which was a bonus, though being a sheep and following the crowd did help.

I also rounded up the week with a bracing but rewarding walk up Tom’s Cairn, back in Deeside with three mad dogs and my mum. Who is also pretty mad.

The Bad

So I have to be honest about something. In the first part of the blog I was trying to appeal to the many people who love snow, by being upbeat about the white stuff which has fallen from the sky recently. The hope being they wouldn’t read on after that section because they have better things to spend their time doing.

I hate the snow. And the ice. And the sub-zero temperatures. Its just not my cup of tea. A cup of tea which I hold onto tightly when returning from the Aberdeen wilderness with no feeling in my poorly circulated hands. No gloves or socks seem thick enough when the mercury drops below -5 degrees Celsius, a temperature range which I call ‘Bloody freezing’.

Half-running and sliding around pavement corners, I probably look more similar to a dangerously unbalanced and human Bambi, a mess of arms and legs desperately trying to not break any bones. Unfortunately my dislike of the gym is still stronger so running in the icy conditions is a risk I’m going to have keep taking for now.

Also my dislike of the cold meant I didn’t do any more Deliveroo, which in fairness is a really poor effort as I still had quite a lot of spare time. The cold is a truly rubbish excuse and this coming week I need to get back on it and earn some pennies which have been spent on buying stationary and other important uni stuff recently…

The Ugly 

Br-exit eh?

Only joking! This blog is truly unpolitical as noted in the terms and conditions I have scribbled on a ‘Post-it’ note in my well organised and tidy journalism drawer. No what was equally as bad (or much worse, no political inclination shown here whatsoever) this week was sitting on an unheated bus for an hour.

I won’t mention the bus company but you can probably guess who they are. Having spent 2 ½  hours travelling between Aberdeen and Braemar on a largely unheated bus with no toilet in the past, they really need to do better. I realise this has nothing to do with the bus drivers by the way who have been very friendly whenever I’ve used the buses recently.

And having managed to time my inevitable sugar crash with a misdirected and pompous rant, that’s my summary of this week. Well done if you got this far but I don’t give out any prizes. Sorry.

 

 

 

 

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Weekly Rambling

Issue 2 – Monday 28 January 2019

The Good

And so its Monday again, a day often seen as being the worst day of the week. However, why not look forward to a new week which might have plenty of opportunities ahead. Though trust me as a student who hasn’t been studying in two months, I know exactly how difficult Mondays are.

For me this week has become better in the latter stages. Between Thursday and Sunday I was thankfully joined by my flatmates, which means I have company again and good company at that.

Thursday was also a good day because I did a really nice 12 mile run along the beach towards Balmedie in bright sunshine. The beach was almost deserted and I found the sound of the waves both soothing and relaxing.

I also completed two deliveries for Deliveroo without getting myself into a total pickle, which was good, and means I will hopefully get some more shifts over the coming week. Lets not mention the near collision with a pedestrian who was checking his phone while crossing the road.

If you don’t know me that well, getting into a total pickle is something I’m usually quite good at. Two examples I would use being when I found myself up a big hill in the dark with no head torch or during my last two jobs as a dish-breaker. So it was nice not to be in a total pickle for once.

Lastly, i managed to sit in a cinema for two hours. This was an achievement for me as I’m usually really bad for staying in one spot for that long or at watching films in general. I would definitely recommend going to see ‘Glass’ though as it was a good watch and James McAvoy is a brilliant actor.

The Bad

To be honest I didn’t have the best start to the week. Waking up at 5am on Monday after having a terrifying nightmare wasn’t great and probably explains why I am even more delighted to have my flatmates back.

During a very long-winded and weird nightmare, I was woken up when I was sure someone (or something!) was touching my arm. After several minutes of trying to calm down and  get my breath back I decided that some music might calm me down. ABBA if you must know.

My enjoyment of  ‘Dancing Queen’ was curtailed however, as soon after I was notified someone had tried to take quite a lot of money out of my bank account. Thankfully the transaction didn’t go through, but I did have to go a week without a bank card. Not the best start to day I’ve ever had.

The only other slight annoyance was my foot which seems to playing up at a time when I seem to be getting increasingly restless. I’ve been doing more running miles than usual recently in preparation for some challenging races in the summer.

However, I’ve also been running more because it helps me deal with this constant feeling of restlessness as it means I’m getting out and about and am blowing of some steam. This means I often fear injury or anything which prevents running. Although this time some ‘Deep Freeze’ and frozen peas seem to have done the trick for now.

The Ugly

Unfortunately sleep doesn’t seem to have been coming easy this week, and not just because I had that nightmare at the start of the week.

Creating a character to explain the feeling of something touching my probably didn’t help, but if you would like to know, Barry is a large hairy monster who is largely misunderstood by society. He is also the last of his kind (more details to follow).

Anyway, the pre-mentioned restlessness is obviously a factor, but so is the fact I tend to write better in the dead of night. It’s almost as if any creative ideas trapped in the recesses of my mind only manage to find their way out in the middle of the night when I should be in bed.

Which probably explains any spelling mistakes (my spelling is terrible at the best of times) and any excess rambling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Six Nations 2019 Preview

With the Six Nations only a week away we interviewed armchair expert and former Deeside RFC Under 8’s legend Finn Nixon…

What is the Six Nations?

The Six Nations is an annual rugby tournament contested between the best international sides in the Northern Hemisphere and Wales.

Who are the Six Nations?

England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.

And who is most likely to win? 

Last years’ Grand Slam winners, Ireland will enter the 2019 championship as favourites after an incredible victory over New Zealand in the Autumn. With three provinces in the European Champions Cup and an awesome starting XV they are surely the ones to watch.

Ireland are however likely to face a tough challenge from Wales who are on an unbeaten run of 11 games after a strong Autumn. An Autumn in which they ended their 13 game losing duck against Australia. Defensively they look very strong.

England are also likely to challenge for pole position after a disappointing campaign last year in which they finished 5th. Eddie Jones has begun the mind games in earnest but it will be interesting to see how the English perform in Dublin on the 2nd February after mixed performances in the Autumn.

What about the other nations?

France will have to improve massively if they are to challenge for the Six Nations trophy after losing to Fiji in Paris in their last game. Overall, they have been notoriously poor in recent years, last finishing in the top half of the table when they were winners in 2010.

Meanwhile, Scotland will be underdogs to win the title and would probably be pleased if they won three games. They would hope to beat Italy and should probably be aiming to beat France in Paris for the first time since 1999.

Italy won’t win the Six Nations but are improving under Conor O’Shea who will be hoping his side can cause some upsets. Perhaps at  Murrayfield where they have had success in past years but also maybe in Rome against the always unpredictable France in the last round.

What will likely happen?

The Six Nations are always unpredictable and it would be wrong to suggest that anything is set in stone before any rugby is played. We could perhaps predict Italy will finish with the Wooden Spoon though, an unwanted award they have been given since 2016.

As always the only prediction we can make about France is that Jacques Brunel’s side will be unpredictable. Prepare yourself for an incredible one-off performance in which they dismantle England, Ireland or Wales before being beaten by Italy or Scotland in a dismal performance.

From a Scottish perspective it pains me to say we are highly unlikely to beat England, having not beaten the Auld Enemy at Twickenham since 1983. Though you never know eh?

Also expect fireworks in post-match press conferences as Eddie Jones plays mind games, Warren Gatland looks eternally grumpy and Joe Schmidt seems far to nice (apparently he is terrifying on the training field!)

So what are your predictions for the final standings?

My predictions? Well thanks for asking!

  1. Ireland – 4 wins
  2. Wales – 4 wins
  3. England – 3 wins
  4. Scotland – 3 wins
  5. France – 1 win
  6. Italy

Ooh interesting so it comes down to bonus points and no grand slam?

Yes. I think Ireland will score more tries than Wales. This would make for an exciting final day as Wales and Ireland would be playing for the championship. I predict the Welsh will win that game but that won’t be enough for them to take home the Six Nations trophy.

And how would you want the table to finish?

  1. Scotland
  2. Ireland
  3. France
  4. Italy
  5. England
  6. Wales

What is your problem with Wales?

It is with a certain amount of guilt that I admit my dislike of the Welsh rugby side. Since becoming a Scottish fan they have caused me a great amount of pain. I have never forgotten that horrendous game which Scotland threw away in the dying minutes in 2010. Damn you Lee Bryne and that football-esqe dive!

Which games are you looking forward to the most?

Games in which England, Ireland and Wales are going to head to head are likely to make great viewing. From a Scottish perspective I would like to see us beat France in Paris, something I think we are finally able to achieve. It will also be fascinating to see if Scotland can challenge Ireland at Murrayfield.

And which games are you least looking forward to?

Scotland’s trip to Twickenham looks ominous as always, particularly after the 61-21 blowout in south-west London two years ago. I’m also anxious about the Welsh game at Murrayfield. My heart says Scotland while my head says Wales.

Thanks for your concise and intelligent expertise. I’m looking forward to a Scottish grand slam.

Anytime. That’s the spirit!

(Don’t worry I haven’t totally lost my marbles – Ed.)

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Weekly Rambling

Issue 1  – Monday 21 January 2019 

The Good

So what’s been happening in the last week? Well, I’m back in Aberdeen, having fled the cold but beautiful Braemar and been doing lots of running. You know, for a change. My training has however been increased as I look to improve my fitness for the Edinburgh Marathon in May.

This will be my first ever marathon and although I already feel a sense of absolute dread and meaningful regret, it’ll be alright. Its a great aim to have and will hopefully be followed by the Highland Cross in June.

And if my training is going well I may even consider signing up for the Larig Ghru Race, a 27 mile epic through the Cairngorm mountains from Braemar to Aviemore. Watch this space.

That’s probably enough about my unimportant hobbies which I never prioritise over any more important stuff like… University, which will be resuming again at the end of the month. This is quite exciting as one of the modules I’ll be doing this upcoming semester is Broadcasting.

As a journalism student I often naively forget that there is so much more to being a journalist than expressing yourself through the written word. In fact I’ve always held onto the idea that I want to be an anonymous disc jockey, damaging the airwaves in the wee hours when most people are sleeping.

However, I’m not sure this module will include radio broadcasting but it is sure to be interesting. Actually, looking through my ‘Your Top Songs 2018’ on my spotify makes grim reading and I likely shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a platform in which I’m allowed to play music.

The Bad

In an attempt to keep these posts light, I likely won’t bore with you any existential crisis’s or hugely negative experiences I am having. So on that note, I only have three small complaints about the last week.

One complaint is that I need to fix a bell to my bike and pronto as I am becoming tired of shouting at poor pensioners along the Deeside Way, trying to be friendly while not scaring the living day lights out of them.

My other complaint is that I’m fed up of being told I’m quiet. I know I’m generally a quiet person and don’t need you to tell me while interrupting a perfectly good daydream I was probably having.

Parties might not be an appropriate place for daydreaming, but I am always trying to improve my social skills and will hopefully become less quiet as time goes on. Although sometimes I’m tempted to remind people that being obnoxious isn’t much better.

Finally, ‘Game of Thrones’ (the book) is too long. It just is. Although entertaining, the last 50 pages of the first book have been a real struggle and would have been labelled by my late grandfather as “affa slow”.

For some reason I opted to read the books over watching the show and the sex and violence, which I’ve gathered is a significant reason why people watch ‘Game of Thrones’, isn’t as prevalent in the book. Although it still does make for interesting reading, even if I do worry about George RR Martin.

The Ugly

Alcohol, although a staple of many students’ lifestyles, has done me some damage recently. It has done damage to my head, stomach, ankle, dignity and stuck up attitude about not going to Mcdonalds.

I seem to be either drinking too much or becoming less tolerant to alcohol. Neither are good developments, especially as I try to increase my running mileage and…focus on my studies…more importantly.

Nightclubbing update – still finding it fascinating while trying to enjoy the experience. Apparently my dancing has improved ten fold. There is still time.

 

 

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Race Report: The Lumphanan Detox

Location: Lumphanan, Aberdeenshire

Time: 11:30, 2nd January 2019

Distance: 10K

 

Usually I stand at the start line of the Lumphanan Detox feeling a few pounds heavier perhaps, but confident and feeling physically fit all the same. This year was slightly different.

Yes, I still a good level of fitness, safe in the knowledge that my leg muscles were as strong as they’ve always been. As usual I had eaten well over the festive period and felt a little heavy, but this wasn’t too concerning. No, the problem was I didn’t feel good. At all. In fact I felt sick to the gills.

As the race started and the chaotic jostling for position began I knew I just wanted to get around in one piece. This surely wouldn’t be a year for tumbling any records.

Running past the crowds gathered beside the village hall I couldn’t help but smile about the fast approaching hill which comes within the first two kilometres of the race. This was going to be fun. This is likely the most challenging section of the 10 kilometre course and I feared what state I would be in when I reached the top.

So if you haven’t worked out why I wasn’t feeling too well yet, I’ll explain. First though I had another concern pre-race. After Christmas I had managed to cause more damage to my poor right knee by performing a swift and elegant fall down a hill. This piece of art happened while descending down Morrone which has become synonymous with causing yours truly pain. It is a demon of a hill.

Anyway, I had managed to put a new hole in my knee, while opening up the scab which had remained from my last big fall which I had needed stitches for. Over Hogmanay it had caused me some concern as it looked to be becoming infected again. Luckily, it finally healed and only caused some slight stiffness on ‘Detox’ day.

And the sickness? Drank too much on New Years (sorry Granny) which is never a good plan if you want to take part in a race soon after. I thought it would be fine because of the recuperation time but it wasn’t. It was seemingly accompanied by a two day hangover which I think was caused by a lack of sleep and not enough of the right type of food.

So now that I’ve bored you with the pre-race excuses ( was also worried about my brother’s fish. He’s away and it hasn’t been fed for ages!), lets get back to the race in which I fortunately seemed to feel better in as the miles flew by.

Knowing the course well is an obvious advantage because you know where you may gain or lose time, but is also good because it doesn’t feel that long anymore. This is the sixth time I have completed the detox so I know the route almost like the palm of my hand.

The struggle only really began within the last two kilometres when I started to enter a dark place in which I felt deeply unwell. Entering Lumphanan I wondered if instead of taking the right turn towards the village I could keep going straight ahead, avoiding the crowds and other runners which could potentially bear witness to my breakfast being thrown up again.

It may have been touch and go but I stuck with it and made it to the finish line, running a pleasing 41:46 which I wasn’t expecting when I woke up that morning. That isn’t far off my personal best so I was happy.

My poor mum was waiting for me at the start line with a jacket. Still concerned I may throw up my guts I waved her away all but telling her to f-off and slumped beside a fence for a few minutes getting my breath back. I had made it around in one piece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nightclubbing – what’s it all about then?

My first experience with drinking was three years ago and I can remember it vividly. I was 16 and most of my schoolmates had already had a taste of the ‘naughty juice’.

I remember stumbling around a friend’s field, being an utter and total lightweight, a category I would likely still firmly place myself in. Now three years on and attempting university for the second time, I obviously have much more experience with drinking.

Living in Dundee two years ago, and now settled in Aberdeen, it’s an activity which is no longer limited to damp Deeside fields and freezing River Dee ‘seshes’ (drinking sessions). These locations featured heavily in my early experiences with drinking, stumbling over my own feet as I tried to judge my surroundings.

Back then it was never a regular occurrence and it still isn’t really. However, it would be churlish to deny that for many students, especially excitable first years, drinking plays a significant role in their lifestyle.

There are many freshers who don’t like drinking and when I left the comforts of home for the ‘up-and-coming’ city of Dundee in 2016, I was one of them. This may have been mostly down to my lack of success in making many good friends, something I blame solely on my failure at being sociable. As my long suffering Dad always says, “its not rocket science.”

Anyway, while at Abertay University I got my first taste of nightclubbing, a new form of nightlife which I had never been party to. It was both terrifying, entertaining and, because I’m a bit weird, fascinating.

Its like my peers had chosen the loudest place to try and socialise with each other through the medium of bad dancing to the deafening thud of often below par music. I soon found the key was to drink and to perhaps drink to excess in order to enjoy this experience on any level whatsoever.

For me, rule one of nightclubbing would definitely be to not even consider entering a nightclub if you feel slightly sober. When breaking this rule I either break the bank buying drinks from a bartender intent on ignoring the small, yet incredibly handsome fair haired man standing at their bar or become thoroughly miserable.

Drinking enough before heading to the bright city lights of Dundee and now Aberdeen has therefore become a vital part of a good night out. This part of the evening, for the uninitiated, is simply referred to as ‘pres’ and usually ends at 11.30pm, when everyone heads for the nightclubs.

In Aberdeen, I have likely been out more than I did during the whole year I spent in Dundee, having both high and low points in my mission to convince myself that nightclubbing is a fun activity. Many nights have been fun, with good company and memorable moments cancelling out the repetitive music and my questionable dancing which often raises a few eyebrows.

My conclusion thus far is I remain wholly unconvinced by the whole experience. Looking past my lacking dancing abilities, I seem to spend most of my time in these dark, loud buildings either looking for or having shouting conversations with my friends, going to the bathroom or awkwardly standing about with a drink in my hand while others around me look at total peace with the madness.

I won’t however deny that on some level it is good fun. Unlike my year at Abertay in which I let my anxiety about social situations take control, I am slowly and surely pushing myself more. I feel that something as benign as nightclubbing is assisting in this greatly, however awkward I feel.

Maybe by the end of the year any negative views I currently have about this activity will have dissipated and I will become less cynical and more positive. Any partygoers reading this can only hope for such as I am yet to release the true party animal which lives inside.

Whatever happens I will strive to find a new conclusion about nightclubbing. Lets see what happens…

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A Half to Celebrate Freshers’ Please

The day before Kenyan super human Eliud Kipchoge claimed a new world record by a whole minute and 18 seconds at the Berlin Marathon, 369 runners gathered to participate in the annual Crathes Half Marathon on a sunny September day. These runners gathering on the beautiful grounds of Crathes Castle weren’t going to come away from their experience with the same plaudits as the 33-year-old Olympic Champion, but would likely be fulfilled by a sense of great achievement at tackling 13 miles, perhaps as fast as their legs could carry them.

Finishing a half marathon is no mean feat, and this course can actually prove quite a challenging one if your used to smooth, flat road running. Several rocky off-road sections and some slight undulations can really take a toll on the legs, especially towards the end of the course. Apart from the pain, which lest we forget is an important part of becoming a faster runner, the scenery is idyllic as competitors race down quiet roads in a fairly flat landscape with livestock as their predominant spectators.

I had signed up for the Crathes Half a couple of months ago, keen to compete at a distance I had never raced at. It was only until a week before the event I realised it would come at the end of Freshers Week, seven days in which first years at university – i.e. Yours truly – participate in a fair amount of drinking. Feeling slightly rough on the day before I knew I couldn’t go out on the eve of the race and was given a good excuse to visit my grandparents instead.

On race day I felt fresher (no pun intended) and I think was slightly overexcited at breakfast tucking into some sausages. Probably never a good idea before any physical activity. I thankfully didn’t feel too bad as I lined up on the start line at Crathes Castle with my poor taste of music pounding in my ears. I’ve never listened to music in a race before but I think it helped.

Kyle Greig of Metro Aberdeen was first around the course in an impressive hour and 10 minutes, meaning he surely would have covered the first 10 kilometres of the course in under 35 minutes. I didn’t expect to be anywhere near matching those kinds of splits and knew it was key I remained focussed on setting a sensible pace. As per usual this didn’t quite happen and I raced out of the blocks, averaging around four minute Ks for the first two miles.

I soon realised I wouldn’t be able to sustain that pace and slowed down considerably finding a fellow runner and staying by his side for most of the race. I’m not sure how my new pacemaker felt about this. I never asked. This worked well and I actually managed to overtake several runners in the last few miles, seemingly sneaking past them as they slowed on sections that had a gradual incline. Having been quite lazy with my running recently my legs hadn’t hurt this much in a long time and in a way, it felt good as a remembered how much I enjoy pushing myself to my physical limit.

Managing a brief and painful sprint in the last 100 metres I completed my Crathes Half Marathon in 1:33:08. Not too shabby for a first time outing at this distance on the back of an alcohol fuelled, sleepless Freshers’ Week! Kipchoge may have completed 26 miles in just a quarter more of the time I completed 13 in, but I bet he didn’t go home and eat a big pizza. There’s no argument that his world-breaking run was truly inspirational though.

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Away Days – NE England

Having been working (and cycling) away since I came home from my Fijian adventure, I was keen to get away for a while. A change of scene was needed and just about anywhere would do. I had thought about going abroad, but decided to leave that until the end of the month instead – I’ll write about where I went soon!

No instead I decided to stay in the sunny UK, taking my long suffering Dad along with me. He did the driving so he actually kind of took me with him.

Anyway we ended up deciding to go to Northumberland for no good reason whatsoever, apart from having never really been there before. Maybe that is a good reason for going somewhere.

Early on a Tuesday morning we set of on our perilous voyage down the East Coast of Scotland to Englandshire, stopping first just across the border in Berwick-upon-Tweed. I had only ever viewed this town from the window of a London bound train so it was nice to explore the old town walls which had protected the town from the English, the Scots, the English, and then… I could go on. Basically for a period in Berwick’s history it was difficult to figure out which nation the town belonged to.

Picking up a cycle map, I studied some of the local routes, looking for one which would be suitable for me to test my legs on, as we headed towards our campsite for the next two nights. We camped on the outskirts of a small town called Wooler, 13 miles south-west of Berwick.

Taken aback by how quiet the roads seemed, I hopped on my bike as soon as we had set up camp. I soon found myself heading north up traffic free, dusty roads, meeting nothing but the odd combine.

If you know me at all you’ll have realised riding a bike is something I already find immensely fun (mostly!). However, there is something about riding on new unknown roads which adds to this sense of enjoyment. Using my phone as a map I flew down small country lanes and soon realised I was heading back towards the mother nation.

With around an hour’s riding done I decided to make crossing the border into Scotland by bike today’s target, only slightly concerned about the dark clouds forming to the west. Several miles and much (phone) map reading later, I came across a pedestrianised bridge with a plaque reading “ENGLAND” stuck to one of the archways. I had found the border!

On the other side of this picturesque bridge (picture below) across the River Tweed, I was welcomed to Scotland. For some reason it felt more special to be riding across the border which holds much less importance than it once did many years ago.

Changing direction once I was in Scotland, I headed towards Kelso, before swinging south across the border again towards Wooler, using my phone to navigate the peaceful country lanes. Although there were no particularly long climbs, the roads were undualting, with fun to be had on the steep short climbs and the technical descents which followed.

That evening I compared notes with Dad about the local roads. He had gone for a shorter cycle, something which was encouraging as health issues had often meant he couldn’t enjoy exercise as much as he sometimes wanted to. And the next day we dicided to cycle across the causeway to the Holy Island, an island only accessible by roads for 12 hours a day. Spinning across the slippery seaweed soaken tarmac was a somewhat surreal experience as small lakes of water surrounded us.

After crossing we didn’t stay around for too long. A hot drink and a short look around and we set of across the causeway and back to the car. It was a cold day and the clouds looked full of rain. Yesterday I had managed to stay dry but today the heavens opened after we had returned to the campsite.

Sitting in the car I suggested we go to Newcastle or “N,Castle” as locals like to call it. The city seemed a sensible idea when the weather was this vile. Again I had only ever passed through this city on the train and was impressed but what I saw. During a break in the weather we wandered down to the river, where there was bridges galore.

Having enjoyed my first “Nandos” ever (shock horror) and many a “geordie” voice in Newcastle we overheard many more broad accents in the pub that night back in Wooler. That night my mattress deflated so I got up at first light. First priority was water followed by getting my lycra on and hopping on my bike again. It being 6 am the roads were empty, though it was very cold.

It quickly warmed though and I did a similar route to the one two days previous, adding some miles to make it a 50 mile effort. Not a bad mornings work. With the sun on my back and my legs taking me were I needed to go I felt lucky to be alive. Sometimes getting up so early can be of significant benefit and I felt set up for the rest of the day.

It may have been a short trip but it was definetly an enjoyable one and worth it to explore a new place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Daydreaming

Is daydreaming good, bad for you or a little bit of both? This is a question I have been pondering over recently, often when I’m actually daydreaming. Yes, some parts of my life are seemingly similar to the 2010 film “Inception”, though perhaps a little less complex and thrilling. Which is a relief because I’ve seen that film three times now and still don’t understand what’s happening in many parts. Maybe it is more similar to my life than I’m willing to admit.

Anyway, daydreaming has always been an activity which I spend quite a lot of my time participating in, mostly when doing other activities which are arguably monotonous or extremely ordinary. For example, when waiting for a bus, or walking my three crazy dogs. I would imagine daydreaming while doing activities like these is highly regular among the general population, unless your waiting for a bus on Bolivia’s North Yungas Road (“Road of Death”) or scaling Mount Everest with your dogs.

But does being slightly aloof a lot of the time have a negative effect on an individual’s life? Straight of the bat, I’m guilty of drifting off into my own head space at inappropriate times. At school I would miss crucial information being given by teachers and at work I tend to loose focus sometimes. In fairness I wash dishes. Its a job which I’m grateful and very lucky to have, but its not the most stimulating. Anyone who questions why your not enjoying washing dishes for six hours needs to have their head checked. As I said I am grateful to be employed though and it is worth it.

So in an attempt to stimulate myself a bit more at work I daydream. I imagine riding my bike in le Tour de France, overtaking all the pros on the climbs with ease because in my dreams I actually weigh like 55 kg and have a really cool, expensive pair of sunglasses on. Its usually either that or thinking about being back in Fiji sitting under a palm tree, with no concerns or worries. Sometimes I’m thinking darker more serious thoughts, but usually there pretty bright and fluffy.

This sounds pretty harmless doesn’t it? I mean its not like I’m daydreaming about shoplifting, writing left-wing political graffiti all over the walls of the kitchen or verablly offending one of the Queen’s swans (probably with the graffiti). I’m not very hardcore so don’t think I would do anything much worse than that. The issue comes when I’m mid daydream and another human being tries to interact with me.

Now, I like speaking to people. I’m not amazing at it but I enjoy it as I don’t think life would be much fun without interacting with others. However, deafened by the sporadic dishwasher (the machine not the teenager drying the dishes beside me) I’m slow to respond when someone says my name. Seemingly slow processing doesn’t help as my brain seems to go through the stages of response slowly. Almost like its in too high a gear for its actual speed and is grinding painfully and slowly up a steep climb. “Come on brain respond!” I’ll stop the cycling metaphors there.

Some point to daydreaming as being a bad habit because it almost removes an individual from the here and now. Living in the moment is often seen as being a key to happiness for many, but I personally see it in a different way. Yes there are times when you should definitely live in the moment. Times that are special, which can’t just be captured and remembered on social media, and perhaps shouldn’t be (an argument for another day).

There is no point in pretending that life for everyone can’t be painful at times. No matter how good a life you live, there will be moments when you’ll have to pick yourself off the ground and will find it difficult to carry on. Its during these moments in particular, that I like to daydream. I’ll think about happier times in the future or the past, or I’ll just make believe at an attempt at distraction.

So to answer to the question of whether daydreaming is good for you. Well perhaps its a little tricky. Sometimes life is incredibly exciting but in other times it is incredibly banal. Maybe appreciating these duller moments makes the exciting or happier times even better. Though, as someone who isn’t a physiological or even that deep a thinker, I believe daydreaming helps me.

Yes, I’m often unfocused and do way too much overthinking about little things that happen, but I need my own head space. I have no evidence to support this being an activity which is actually helpful to my mind health wise. I did start reading an article about it but then I started daydreaming again. I may not have managed to figure out what is happening in “Inception” but I always know what I’m going to buy from the co-op with my tips after work. Guess I won’t be becoming the first Scottish rider to win the Tour de France anytime soon…

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“Braemar Folk” – Doreen Wood

It isn’t difficult for Doreen Wood to reminisce about her happiest memories in Braemar as she has so many of them. Growing up in Braemar in the 1950’s and 1960’s, she loved the freedom that she and her friends had in the village. She describes how they treated it as a “playground” and is quick to add that this aspect of the village is still similar today. Long, bright summer nights were spent swimming in the rivers Clunie and Dee or challenging each other to races up Creag Chonnich.

In her first 18 years here she admits that she never really gave much thought to the remoteness of Braemar’s location. It may have become more prevalent when she started secondary school in Banchory but she and her fellow schoolmates just got on with it. Leaving an often snowy Braemar in the winter at 6.50 am and not returning untill around 5.15 that evening, female students likely felt the cold more as trousers were firmly disallowed by the school.

At 18 years old she left her family home to pursue a degree in Sociology. A home which had been built by her great, great grandfather, a joiner from Dundee married to a local woman from Crathie. It was this grandfather which built the house where Doreen spends her time in Braemar.

Her family was perhaps most well known for Joey, a monkey which her uncle had picked up while working in Africa. This however wasn’t the first time a monkey had inhabited Doreen’s family home with two already being killed off by the harsh winters. Becoming increasingly frustrated, her father contacted Edinburgh Zoo for advice on keeping such an unacclimatized creature in Braemar. Using their advice Joey was kept warm by blankets and a hot water bottle and lived in the village for 22 years, becoming something of a celebrity.

It was while returning from university in the holidays that she met her husband Brian while both of them were finding work in the “Fife Arms”. It was this hotel which she can remember watching the 1969 moon landings from. Her other memory of a major news event being playing badminton behind the mews, the night Kennedy was assassinated.

Moving to Stonehaven in 1975, Doreen had an absence from work while focusing on raising her children. During this time she did however participate in amateur dramatics before becoming involved in hospital radio. This was seemingly a good fit for her and she sought a job as a continuity announcer for “Grampian TV” in Aberdeen.

Unfortunately she wasn’t given this job, but “emboldened” by this experience, sent her CV to the BBC and was given a three month placement on a farming program, reporting on the state of the cattle and sheep markets.This was a stepping stone to bigger things, and soon Doreen was providing radio news reports, playing a significant role in a new Aberdeen based radio program.

It was when her mother passed away in the 1990’s, that Doreen and her husband returned to Braemar to look after the house she had left behind. When discussing any changes which the village has undergone she points to the significant increase in movement in and out of the village. For many centuries many people would stay put, but she believes the increase in people moving to this picturesque Highland village in the last 20 years or so has been hugely positive.

returning to her true home. She says she has a “total sense of belonging here”, which isn’t hard to believe while sitting in a house which was built by her great, great grandfather all those years ago.

Many locals will also know that Doreen plays an important role in the community, being at the centre of many of the events taking place at the castle. This popular tourist attraction was at risk of being sold off before the community took it over in 2004.

Since then it has been a huge success and Doreen says it is a “glowing example that we (Braemar locals) can do anything”. When considering the many tourists which flock to Braemar, many thoughts turn to the ongoing renovation of the “Fife Arms”, a hotel which Doreen reckons will go further in making the village even more appealing for visitors.

A perhaps harder question for Doreen was about her favorite pastimes and hobbies as she is a busy lady. After a short pause she remembers that she teaches yoga and enjoys a bike ride every now and then. Though she is quick to remind me that everybody seems to cycle in Braemar and did when she was growing up in the village.

 

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What is This All About?

Updated – 25/04/18

This blog is about giving an insight into my experiences of adventures which are always out there! Whether this be while running up in the hills, out on my bike, or in my new passion for travelling. A lot of time experiences seen as ordinary can be exciting and maybe slightly scary adventures.

At the start of this year I was in a hugely transitional period in my life. Though I think most of us are most of the time. Anyway, I had done a year at university and  wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue down the pathway I had chosen. I spent months at university seemingly lost, in a poor mental state and cut off from the rest of the world. I had given up the battle against my inner fears and had paid the price when I moved to a new city with new people.

When I arrived home I was relived. The last nine months had been a scary insight into what happens when you become unmotivated and let your anxiety take total control. After finishing first year I worked in my village until the welcome bells of 2018 started ringing. I washed dishes and earned money but that wasn’t what was important. Instead it was more important that I started talking to people again. Yes it took time, but after a while I was relaxed in the company of my colleagues. I started to feel like I had breath in my lungs again.

With this increasing confidence, I decided that I wanted to go travelling in the New Year. I didn’t know where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. I just knew that I wanted to prove to myself that I was brave enough and that I could push myself to do something a bit mad (by my standards anyway). I wanted to go on a solo adventure to some far off land where I wouldn’t know anyone and would be thousands of miles from home. New Zealand sounded far away enough…

At this point you’re maybe thinking, typical millennial off on a gap year to New Zealand to find himself. This is absolutely true, though I didn’t expect to find myself and having returned I haven’t. However, I have learnt a huge amount and have a better knowledge of the type of person that I want to be. I am in a hugely privileged position to have lived with my mother while I worked for the last six months, meaning I paid little living costs and was able to finance this trip. Thanks Mum.

In the end I didn’t end up in New Zealand, but somewhere equally as far away and perhaps even more magical. Read on to find out more….

This blog has been created with the following words in mind:

  1. Honesty
  2. Modesty
  3. Fun
  4. Adventure
  5. Resilience

 

 

Weekly Ramblings: Re-started

Issue 10 – Monday 26 October 2020

Don’t hold your breath, but I’m going to try and bring this shambles of a blog back from the teetering edge of vanishing forever with my sporadic and untimely weekly ramblings. For lack of a better excuse, my writing has been temporarily put on the back burner as my weekly schedule finally starts to fill up a bit more.

In recent weeks I’ve moved into a new flat, re-started a part-time job and most importantly, started my third year as a journalism student. This means I’ve been relatively busy, while also suffering from some untimely writer’s block and in honesty, a lack of self-belief in my writing.

Anyway, enjoy these ramblings and I will do my utmost to maintain a weekly dose of nonsense for the foreseeable future without too many grammatical or spelling errors hopefully.

The Good

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Autumn this year as it brings a tinge of much needed colour to the streets and parks of Aberdeen. When it’s sunny in the Granite City the orange and yellows of the many trees around town are a stunning site.

For someone who usually complains about the cold, I’ve also found the switch to wearing cosy jumpers quite comforting. This is either because my best fashion choices are geared for the cooler weather or because I’ve put on a bit of Scotch beef recently and want to hide it under a couple of layers.

In all seriousness, this short period of the year before the long Scottish winter brings good running conditions with it. The cooler temperatures are the perfect anecdote to the sweat fest of a summer time run. It also meaning I have a good reason to wear my lucky green hat again when its not too blustery.

Elsewhere, there’s been the chance to watch professional rugby on channels previously unseen by yours truly, being brought into the new flat by my cohabitant. This wasn’t part of the long and grueling screening process for choosing a flat mate, but just happened to be an added bonus.

 On Saturday we enjoyed a festival of rugby, with two internationals and the Premiership final between Exeter and Wasps. It was also good to see Scotland get off to a slightly clumsy, yet promising start to their Autumn campaign against Georgia on Friday. I could watch Finn Russell play all day.

More importantly, we are settling into the flat well and it’s been great to have my own place again, out with some small teething problems… 

The Bad

On moving into the flat about a month ago, we were slightly spooked by the irregular sounds of banging which we though were resonating from the attic. This would occur about once a day and usually in the evening as we wondered around the flat, making dinner and just being students.

It wasn’t until the start of this week that we discovered the actual source of the noise in a letter stuck to our foyer which had been written in red felt pen and lacked a signature. It explained that that the tenants below us had experienced rattling lampshades and had even apparently lost a bulb to our outrageous rampaging behavior above.

In all seriousness, we were pretty puzzled at their complaints, especially as we heard them assumedly banging on their ceiling (our floor) with a brush when I went to brush my teeth the other evening at approximately 9.45 pm. Out of curiosity I wrote them a letter, but there has been no reply.

 Anyway, Mum* thinks it because I stomp about a bit and now, I’m feeling slightly paranoid. Maybe I’m pretending I have a clear purpose? Maybe the neighbors have a right to be annoyed? Maybe they’re all 8ft tall and the sound is magnified because their heads are so close to the ceiling?  

A second slight teething problem with the flat is the inconsistency of our shower which has now gone cold until the plumber returns from his pilgrimage for a mysterious part. Previously, the shower had kept you on your toes as it went from hot to cold and back to hot. Now it’s just cold.

A definite silver lining is that cold showers do wake up the body for the day ahead, as I’ve found when waking up early to drive to work in Braemar. They are however, much more suited to the Fijian summer than the Scottish Autumn and it takes a fair few layers and the blasting of a heater to warm the body up once you’ve dried off.  

The Ugly

Being a dishwasher feels slightly perilous during these times of heightened attention to preventing the spread of infection. Even those who are less concerned about the spread of the virus are still taking precautions.

Therefore, it still comes as a bit of a surprise that so many customers leave their wet baby wipes on their plates and still insist on using their tables as a rubbish bin. This along with the inability to socially distance and wear a mask properly in many of the supermarkets has become a real bug bear for me.

Working in the kitchen again has definitely nailed down the importance of good hygiene in the kitchen and why its key to shave my pathetic attempt at a beard off to avoid the temptation to scratch my face.

However, I do have sympathy with the difficulty which some will still be having adapting to the bizarre changes which we have had to make to our lives over the last six months or so. Not all people can wear a mask, but if you can then surely you could at least wear it properly? I don’t want to see your big nose at the best of times.

Signing off,

Stomp, the T-rex dinosaur from Flat F   

*Leah revealed while I was writing this piece that she also thinks I’m heavy footed and now I’m feeling even more self-conscious.