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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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Caledonia One: Ellon beat battling Wanderers in enthralling encounter

Ellon  38(24) 

Aberdeen Wanderers  31(12) 

Ellon now sit second in the league table after an entertaining bonus point victory against a resilent Aberdeen Wanderers side.

The sides shared ten tries between them as Wanderers fought their way back into a game which the hosts looked to have tied up by the 50th minute after James Hainshaw crossed for their fifth try.

That score had made it 38-12, though within 20 minutes the visitors were back in the fight, assisted by two Scott Byers tries in quick succession.

Scores both sides of half-time prove crucial

Ellon were first to break the deadlock through a straightforward Caleb Jack penalty, but this was quickly followed by a Fraser Christie try which gave Wanderers the lead.

The centre latched onto an Ed Vickers pass at an angle and with pace to score beneath the posts.

The lead then swapped hands twice before the Meadows outfit started to pull away towards the end of the first half.

First Fraser Chalk crossed the whitewash, but this was cancelled out by a Sammy Alkhalof score in the corner.

However, it wasn’t long until Ellon regained the lead in style when Douglas Sharp picked a hole in a disorganised Wanderers defence to cross the whitewash. Jack doing well to add the extras from a tight angle.

Bradley Fraser then added another for the hosts, scoring off the back of a scrum to give Ellon a 24-12 lead at half-time.

Indeed, the Maroons and Golds also started the second half strongly when Angus Craig crossed to increase their lead after a fine piece of interplay with Mark Galloway.

The second rower made a powerful run through a disorganised Wanderers defence to score and Hainshaw’s try followed soon after from the back of another strong scrummage.

This would, however, be the last time Ellon found the try line as Wanderers regained some much-needed confidence when captain Carwyn Walker crossed after the hosts’ Douglas Sharp was sent to the bin.

It was then Byers who skilfully kicked through and gathered his own kick to score in the corner, before scoring an almost identical try minutes later to take his side to within seven points of the hosts.

This set up an exciting last ten minutes, but Ellon held their nerve to win a match which provided the gathering of supporters with plenty of entertainment on a windswept day at the Meadows.

This victory meant they overtook Dunfermline after the Fifers were defeated by runaway leaders, Orkney. The arduous journey to relegation strugglers Alloa is next up for the Maroons and Golds who will look to build on this performance.

Meanwhile, Wanderers managed to gain two bonus points from an encouraging display and will be confident they can bounce back against Glenrothes next week.

Ellon Head Coach, Craig Parslow: 

“We put a very young team out and at one point our back line was basically made up of 17-year-olds. It was a gutsy performance against a big outfit, but we did slack of slightly towards the end of the second half. We were a little naïve at times, but I’m really pleased with how the guys have been performing.”

Aberdeen Wanderers Director of Rugby, Russell Arthur: 

“We paid for that fallow period after half time, but I thought we played well in the opening stages. You can’t deny that comeback and I said during the week that Ellon would be a really tough place to travel to. I thought it was a spirited performance from the guys.”

Ellon: Shirron, Notton, Jack, Campbell, Chalk, Gray, Hamilton; Whyte, O’Brien, Galloway, Craig, Hainshaw, Brown, Rodger, Fraser

Replacements; Sharp, Aitken, Bridgeford, Fitzgerald

Aberdeen Wanderers: Webster, Alkhalaf, Christie, Scott, Buyers, Vickers, Fox; Barnes, Alexander, Strachan, Coull, Lawson, Liddle, Smith, Walker (c)

Replacements: Parkes, Knight, Dugan, Smith

Yellow Card: Douglas Sharp (Ellon)

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Caledonia One: Aberdeen Wanderers 29-5 Blairgowrie

Aberdeen Wanderers 29 (15)

Blairgowrie 5(0)

Aberdeen Wanderers brushed past Blairgowrie as blustery conditions and a heavy Groats Road pitch made the going tough for both sides. 

The hosts’ stand-off, Ed Vickers, scored 14  points, adding a fine try to three conversions and a penalty.

Ewan Smith, Mitchell Scott and Carwyn Walker also crossed the whitewash as Wanderers continued their good recent form with a bonus point win.

Blairgowrie responded through centre, Matthew Mitchie late on, but offered little attacking threat despite frustrating their opposition with some strong defence.

Wanderers make a winning return after a month on the sidelines

 

This was Wanderers first game since the 27th January due to weather related cancellations, but the Hazelhead outfit started brightly and Ed Vickers converted an easy penalty to give his side an early lead.

This was followed up by a Ewan Smith try on five minutes as the left-winger finished off a simple move from a strong Wanderers scrum.

Indeed, the hosts’ scrummage reigned dominant throughout the 80 minutes in a game where the set piece became crucial as the ball began to resemble a bar of soap in the Hazelhead mud.

Some fine interplay between Vickers and Mitchell Scott then sent the inside centre on his way as Wands looked to be on their way to a convincing victory.

From there it became rather quiet though as the home side struggled to break down Blairgowrie’s defence with a chance going a begging on 33 minutes when Vickers missed touch with his penalty as the wind swirled around Groats Road.

It wasn’t until the hour mark that the dead lock was broken after a multitude of scrums and chances missed through handling errors which were forgivable in the tough conditions.

Carwyn Walker and Gabe Liddle both put in impressive shifts in the back row and it was Walker who grabbed Wanderers third after another solid scrum.

The hosts’ bonus point looked imminent, but Blairs defence held solid until the 69th minute when Vickers added his side’s all important fourth try with a fine piece for running rugby before adding his third conversion.

In the dying moments of the game Blairgowrie were awarded for their efforts in defence with a try at the other end.

Matthew Mitchie found a way through after some sustained pressure in opposition territory to give his side something to travel home with.

Meanwhile, for Wanderers this win puts them in contention for third place and they travel to Ellon – who currently occupy that position – next weekend.

Aberdeen Wanderers Director of Rugby, Russell Arthur: “We had real problems finding players to play in the back line and made it more difficult for ourselves as we found it difficult to get the ball out wide. Full credit should go to a strong Blairgowrie defence who we often found hard to break down. I was really impressed by David Knights who has made the step up from playing in the back row for the Under 18s to starting on the wing today.”+

 

 

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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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Six Nations 2020 Preview: Ireland

When wandering down some of Dublin’s busiest streets its difficult to ignore the countless electoral posters which line the streets in their hundreds. Each one stars a TD or party leader front and centre. The subject of the personal political campaigns either smiling wryly or poising in an authoritative stance in order to gain voter trust.

Even when travelling out of the city, main roads and even country lanes are peppered with the same posters, battling each other for space on muddy verges. When passing through Ireland’s countryside around three weeks before the country goes to the polls, they are difficult to make out on a cold, misty January day. Election day is pencilled in for the 8th February as the current Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, faces a battle to retain his position in the Irish Parliament. On that same afternoon 23 of his country’s best rugby players will also face a battle in Dublin against Wales. Their victory is no more assured than Varadkar’s position as they welcome the Grand Slam champions to Dublin.

Lets park comparisons between politics and sport for now though, and consider the difficult selection that Andy Farrell had to make when he was deciding who would be wearing green this Spring. On the 15th January the former dual-coder, announced his 35-man squad and selected the experienced Jonny Sexton to be at the helm.

The group selected includes five uncapped players with the most eye-catching of these arguably being the English born Billy Burns. The fly-half struggled for game time at Gloucester after the Cherry and Whites signed Danny Cipriani in 2018. A fresh start proved appealing for Burns and he discovered this across the Irish Sea, finding an impressive patch of form at Ulster.

The Bathonian now has the chance to participate on the international stage, a goal he would have been unlikely to have fulfilled in the current English side. We could perhaps expect the 25-year-old to make an appearance of the bench when Italy come a calling in the fourth round. Unless the much-trusted war horse of Sexton has a nightmare, it’s unlikely he will find himself at Number 10 this time around and will more realistically be trying to wrestle the Number 21 jersey off Ross Byrne.

At 34-years-old and with 88 caps to his name, it will be interesting to see how Sexton handles the added burden of carrying the captain’s armband. With a solid record from the boot, there has been discussion surrounding an apparent drop in form in recent performances from the Leinster man, but much of this looks to have been exaggerated and perhaps, unjustified.

After all, 2018’s world player of the year has on countless occasions led from the front at regional level and on the international stage. His cold and calculated 83rd minute drop-goal after 41 phases against France not only left the Stade de France in a state of shock, but also kept Ireland in the running for the Grand Slam which they then delivered.

That year proved to be an historic one for the men in green as they followed a Grand Slam with a series victory in Australia, before triumphing against New Zealand for the first time on home soil. After a painful history of being knocked out of world cups with a whimper, it looked as though the Irish had finally peaked at the right time to make an impact at last year’s tournament.

Unfortunately for those watching on the Emerald Isle, this hope failed to materialise into clear cut success when Japan 2019 came calling. A less encouraging, but not dreadful Six Nations Campaign was followed by a hammering at the hands of a rampant New Zealand side in the Quarter Finals. This followed some unconvincing performances at the group stage after defeating a truly terrible Scotland side and doing what they had to against Russia and Samoa. Indeed, it was Sexton who experienced a galling debut as captain as his side went down 19-12 to Japan in Yokohama after looking like they would ruin the hosts’ party early on, before squandering a 12-point lead.

Andy Farrell will take on Joe Schmidt’s gauntlet with this recent drop in form in mind, but also with a clear focus on finding success in his step up from assistant to head honcho. His team selection certainly combines exciting and younger talent with some players from the old guard remaining central to his plans.

Farrell’s starting XV for the opener against Scotland encompasses debutant Caelan Doris who has shown his worth at Leinster and the uncapped Ronan Kelleher on the bench. Experienced faces such as Cian Healy, Ian Henderson and CJ Stander are also selected in the forwards as Ireland look to dominate their Celtic brethren up front, with Tag Furlong being an unstoppable force in the front row.

Meanwhile, the resurgent John Cooney will be disappointed to not be starting but is assured of replacing the weathered Conor Murray at some point during those first 80 minutes. With Bundee Aki and Gary Ringrose sitting outside Sexton and Jacob Stockdale and Andrew Conway on the wings, the hosts have no shortage in attacking firepower. They will also look to give the ever dangerous Jordan Lamour a lease of life at full back and it will be interesting to see how the 22-year-old deals with any attack Scotland can muster.

Ireland Vs Scotland – Saturday 1st February @16:45:

It is difficult to see Ireland losing this affair at the Aviva Stadium and there is likely to have been some quiet relief when it was announced they would be facing the Scots first up at home. The omission of two of their opposition’s most influential players, Finn Russell and Darcy Graham, will also give Ireland more confidence that they can come up trumps from this affair.

It has been ten years since Dan Parks proved the unlikely hero as he prevented an Irish Triple Crown at Croke Park with a late penalty to win the game 23-20 in Scotland’s favour. Since then however, Ireland have only lost three times (two in the Six Nations) in this fixture. They were dominant against their woeful World Cup opponents in September and have often left their plucky visitors bruised and battered in competitive, but controlled performances in Dublin.

A bonus point victory wouldn’t be an unrealistic target for the men in green, but they may face some battle from a Scotland side who will either fly or freeze after having to deal with a less than ideal preparation in the run up to this game. Ireland will likely push on and find gaps through brute force and skill. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ireland gain a bonus point victory. My prediction – Ireland by 15.

Ireland Vs Wales – Saturday 8th February @14:15:

This clash of Celtic giants has so often proved to be an entertaining affair and in honesty, the game I most look forward to viewing as a neutral. Always competitive and usually played between two sides contesting the Six Nations title and is very rarely not an enthralling contest. Ireland have claimed 13 of these 22 encounters since the inaugural Six Nations championship in 2000.

In last year’s edition, Gareth Anscombe kicked his Irish counterparts to death in the final round. But the games of recent times are more commonly open-ended affairs. During Ireland’s title run in 2018, an entertaining match ended 37-27 in their favour as Stockdale made a crucial interception to prevent a late Welsh attacking threat to score at the other end.

Indeed, the last time Wales found any gold at the end of the Aviva Stadium rainbow was in 2012 when they triumphed 23-21 over an Irish squad that won only two in that year’s championship. However, this year’s showdown presents another intriguing battle between two teams with new coaches at the helm in the form of Farrell and Wayne Pivac respectively.

Both sides are expected to win their opening ties which will perhaps provide them both with some more confidence if there was any in short supply before this match. Expect another open match with lots of running rugby and a great atmosphere to match the occasion. My prediction – Ireland by less than five.

England Vs Ireland – Sunday 23rd February @15:00:
The radio crackled as my father carefully navigated his way over the treacherous Cairn O’Mount in thick mist on the 24th February 2007. We were travelling home from Murrayfield after witnessing a thoroughly depressing Scottish performance as the hosts were resoundingly beaten 37-17 at the hands of Italy.

Suddenly the sombre mood in the car was lightened by the pure enthusiasm and excitement radiating from the Irish commentators on the radio as Issac Boss ran in Ireland’s fourth try in their 43-13 demolishment of England at Croke Park. It was rare to see an Irish side pile that many points on England, though the roles were well and truly reversed at Twickenham last year.

In that last meeting between the two sides, the English ran out 57-15 winners in a nightmarish world cup warm-up match. This followed a 32-20 English victory at the Aviva Stadium as the visitors overwhelmed their hosts in the first half with a barrage of attacking play. However, when these sides last met at Twickenham, Ireland were runway victors as they completed their Grand Slam campaign.

These occasions in themselves are clear examples of how volatile and unpredictable these match ups are, and I would suggest this year’s encounter will be no different. However, I have a feeling a confident England will dominate this encounter and will feed of Ireland’s failure to a get a grasp hold in the last two meetings between the sides. My prediction – England by 15.
Ireland Vs Italy – Saturday 7th March @14:15:

If you briefly delve into recent records of this fixture you will see a clear indication that the Italians have struggled against Irish opposition since their participation in the Northern Hemisphere’s biggest competition began. On six occasions the men from the Emerald Isle have scored a half century of points against the Azzurri and are known for giving the Italians a bit of a beating in Dublin’s fair city.

In 2018 it ended 29-10 in Ireland’s favour, while in 2016 Ireland were able to put 58 points on their Italian opposition. Sandwiched between these two fixtures was a resounding 63-10 win for the Irish at the Stadio Olimpico in 2017 and Ireland’s only defeat came in the shape of a 22-15 reverse in 2013.

In recent years this seems to have become a fixture which Ireland enjoy playing in and if their tournament hasn’t been going quite like they would have wanted it to, Andy Farrell and his men aren’t likely to take any prisoners against the Italians and a bonus point victory is likely to be in the offing. However, be prepared to see some changes come into force as the Head Coach may choose to rest some of his players for the Super Saturday showdown in Paris. My prediction – Ireland by 40.

France Vs Ireland – Saturday 14th March @20:00:

For Ireland’s final match of the campaign they travel to Paris, a city which used to be a huge thorn in their side but one that has proved a less intimidating place for them to travel to in recent years. Between 2003-2008 the Irish had to settle for a Triple Crown as they failed to overcome the French and even went 13 years without a win at the Stade de France between 2000-2014.

But now the tide has seemingly turned, and it is Les Bleus who find themselves without a triumph against their Irish rivals, their last one coming in the shape of a 10-9 victory four years ago. They have of course come close with the pre-mentioned Sexton drop goal raining on their parade in 2018’s championship. Ireland will however, carry the confidence of a convincing 26-14 triumph last year.

However, with this in mind they will perhaps find the going more difficult this time round against a French side with some exciting young talent which might just grow into the tournament as it goes on. With a finishing position in the championship in the balance, my gut says France will edge this one and recapture some of the stonewall confidence which they used to have when playing in this fixture.
My prediction – France by 5.

My Prediction for Ireland – 3rd place with 15 points

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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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Six Nations 2020 Preview: Italy

When thinking of Italy as a country or an entity if you will, the mind might likely conjure images of warm beaches, vineyards full of grapes and great food. For most of us these images are likely to be appetising if not slightly patronising to a more realistic outlook on the Italian national identity. For someone inhabiting Aberdeen in January it is definitely an appetising idea to escape Scotland’s winter for the warmer climes of Italy’s Mediterranean coast.

National stereotypes aside, these images are a polar opposite to the images conjured when Italian rugby is added to the equation. Italy enter this year’s Six Nations on the back of a 22-match losing streak which began after they beat Scotland in Rome, during another championship which us Scots would like to forget.

There’s been several of those forgetful years for Scottish supporters and Italian supporters are perhaps more likely than others to be sympathetic to our plight. Though they may even be a little jealous that the team they’ve beat the most in the tournament have at least recorded some, if little success in recent years.

Returning to the tribulations faced by the Azzurri, and their unfortunate run is perhaps more frustrating by the fact they looked to be making real progress under Conor O’Shea. The Irishmen said as much when he resigned from the role last November after four years at the helm.

The run of results during the O’Shea years may not suggest an obvious improvement in fortunes for this football mad nation, but Italy’s two regional sides, Benneton and Zebre have both come on in this time. This can be seen in Benneton’s third place finish in Conference B of the Guinness Pro14 last season which is coupled with much improved performances in Europe.

It is also perhaps encouraging for the development of the game in the Mediterranean country that 31 of their 35 player Six Nations Squad play for these two sides. This is alongside the talent of players such as Jake Polledri, who is a regular starter in the back row for Gloucester.

Despite the talent of other key players including Tommaso Allan, Matteo Minozzi and Alessandro Zanni, there is a certain talisman which the Italians are likely to miss. Sergio Parisse planned to retire at the end of the world cup but wasn’t quite granted his wish as in an act of god, Typhoon Hagibis prevented the 36-year-old from having the send-off he wanted. The Azzurri’s final pool match in Japan against New Zealand being cancelled.

However, the former captain and formidable Number Eight has suggested he could return to the starting line-up to face England, Scotland or both. This despite being omitted from Head Coach Franco Smith’s squad for the upcoming championship. With 142 international appearances to his name, the third most capped player in rugby history would almost definitely be welcomed back by the Italian supporters.

The former full-back and Harlequins Director of Rugby, O’Shea has been replaced by Smith on an interim basis as the Italian Rugby Federation search for someone to take the reins full-time. The South African faces a baptism of fire when the Italians travel to Cardiff for their Championship opener against the reigning champions and world cup semi-finalists. Perhaps the Bok couldn’t have asked for a more challenging start to his regime.

Wales Vs Italy – Saturday 1st February @14:15:

Italy haven’t beaten Wales since 2007 when a controversial referring decision prevented the Welsh from taking an attacking line-out at the death after Chris White changed his mind about how much time was actually left after James Hook had decided to kick for touch. Search the match on YouTube if you want to see a rightly fuming Gareth Thomas. That 23-20 win is one of two occasions when the Azzurri have triumphed against their Welsh counterparts, the other coming in 2003 while Welsh rugby experienced a rather torrid time at the start of the decade.

However, Wayne Pivac and the Welsh aren’t likely to take any prisoners this time round and the Italians will need a huge, if not historic performance to come away with a win on the 1st February. Although this statement sounds harsh, Italy are yet to beat any other side than Scotland away from home. The closest they’ve come to this achievement being in 2006 when they played out an 18-18 draw with Wales in Cardiff.

A losing bonus point would be a more realistic for target for Smith and his men, but this looks unlikely. In my view, a feasible outcome would be for the visitors to leak tries in the second half, with the positive note being a couple of tries created by some Italian flair. My prediction – Wales by 20.

France Vs Italy – Sunday 9th February @15:00:

Next up for the Azzurri is a trip to the city of romance, although the atmosphere in the Stade de France is likely to be less welcoming than the sites of Paris. Although this game is often overlooked and forgotten about by the

home nations fan base, last year’s outing in Rome was exciting until the very end. This being until the home supporters had to watch Damien Penaud seal an unconvincing French win in the 78th minute.
Italy have beaten the French in 2011 and 2013, alongside a closely run 23-21 loss in Paris in 2016. On this occasion however, its my view that a French backline which is sparkling with talent will overcome an Italian side which would love to travel back across the Franco-Italian border with an unlikely result. I have been wrong before though. Very wrong. My prediction – France by 15.

Italy Vs Scotland – Saturday 22nd February @14:15:

From the outset Italy’s goal has to be record a victory this year and put a stop to a slump which has provided them with four consecutive wooden spoons and the unwanted record of having the longest losing streak in Six Nations history. This goal must surely be achieved if they want to smother the debates raging around the role which the 12th ranked side in the world play in the championship. When the Scots come a calling in Rome, Italy will have hope that they can deliver that elusive win. And why shouldn’t they be hopeful?

In the 12 victories which the Azzurri have recorded since the turn of the century, seven of these have come at the hands of Scotland. Their largest victory in the Six Nations being a 37-17 victory at Murrayfield in 2007, which was of course the Nixon family’s first outing to the rugby. Through misty eyes full of tears, we watched Italy storm into a 21-0 lead after just six minutes, as two of Chris Cusitier’s passes were miserably intercepted by the poaching Italians.

Eleven years after that sombre Scottish display, Italy should have beaten us in Rome. The Italians led the Scots 24-12 with 60 minutes remaining at the Stadio Olimpico after dominating their final match of the 2018 championship. Despite this, they some how blew their lead as Greig Laidlaw’s men managed to grab a victory from the jaws of defeat as a late Laidlaw penalty meant the game finished 29-27 in favour of the visitors.
Scotland’s away form has been below par for a long time and Italy have recorded five of their seven wins against the Scots in Rome. I predict another close one in the third round, but I’m going to say less than confidently that Scotland will steal it in a similar fashion to that match-up two years ago. I reckon it’s going to be pretty tight. My prediction – Scotland by less than five.

Ireland vs Italy – Saturday 7th March @14:15:

The record books show the Italians have struggled against Irish opposition since their participation in the Northern Hemisphere’s biggest competition began. On six occasions the men from the Emerald Isle have scored a half century of points against the Azzurri and are known for giving the Italians a bit of a beating in Dublin’s fair city. In 2018 it ended 29-10 in Ireland’s favour, while in 2016 Ireland were able to put 58 points on their Italian opposition.

Sandwiched between these two fixtures was a 63-10 battering at the Stadio Olimpico in 2017. Not a fine day to be an Italy supporter, though perhaps they can find some hope in re-watching Italy’s 22-15 victory against Ireland in 2013. Again, however, it saddens may to say that the best Italy can probably hope for is to salvage a losing bonus point from their trip to the Aviva Stadium.

Similarly, to the Welsh game, I predict Italy will be good value in that they should be able to snatch a couple of tries but will also likely leak a few. This is a game Ireland like to go all out in and if their tournament hasn’t been going quite like they would have wanted it to, Andy Farrel and his men aren’t likely to take any prisoners in this fixture. My prediction – Ireland by 40.

Italy vs England – Saturday 14th March @16:45:

It could just be the fairy-tale ending for a stalwart of not just Italian rugby, but of European rugby and the game on a global scale if Italy beat the English in Rome. This is of course dependent on the inclusion of Sergio Parisse into the Italian squad and more significantly, on a perfect rugby display by the hosts.

During 20 years of Six Nations action, the Italians have failed to better the English. This despite running them close on a few occasions and in 2017’s infamous ruck gate performance where the Italians attempted to use an unconventional method to challenge England in that encounter. It certainly left their visitors slightly befuddled and as so often in these fixtures, Italy were still in the running until around the 45-50-minute mark, before the Red Roses ran away with it.

From this year’s game I expect to a see similar structure being played out with England running away with it in the second half while Italy cross the whitewash two or three times. Expect it to be less close if the championship is going down to the wire like it did on Super Saturday five years ago. My prediction – England by 20.

My prediction for Italy – 6th with one point.

Word Associations:

Tommasso Allen – Sad he didn’t play for Scotland.

Conor O’Shea – He will be missed within the Italian coaching set-up.

Scotland – There for the taking in Rome.

Sergio Parisse – It would be great to see him pull on a light blue shirt for a proper send-off.

Rome – I would love to see a game there one day, though not a Scottish one. I’d rather it would be one I could actually enjoy without biting through all my finger nails.

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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

What’s this I hear you ask? Well its an idea which includes telling whoever is unfortunate enough to have stumbled across this, some random thoughts on a weekly basis.

These thoughts will attempt to correspond with the previous week and will be posted every Monday. Also a quick warning this is likely to contain a significant amount of rambling which will hopefully make some sense.

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

What’s this I hear you ask? Well its an idea which includes telling whoever is unfortunate enough to have stumbled across this, some random thoughts on a weekly basis.

These thoughts will attempt to correspond with the previous week and will be posted every Monday. Also a quick warning this is likely to contain a significant amount of rambling which will hopefully make some sense.

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?

This is the post excerpt.

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

 

 

Caledonia Two: Aberdeenshire leave it late to beat resilient Ross Sutherland

Aberdeenshire 29 (14)

Ross Sutherland 26 (12)

Aberdeenshire finished off a successful season with the narrowest of wins against a tough Ross Sutherland side. 

This game was always in the balance, with Paul Harrow’s penalty at the death proving the difference in a tight encounter.

Harrow had opened the scoring for Aberdeenshire early on and both teams claimed try scoring bonus points, sharing eight tries between them at Wooside.

Scrappy start feeds into running rugby

 

The hosts’s stand-off opened the scoring on ten minutes from close range after a slightly hectic opening period which saw several handling errors in muddy conditions.

Ross Sutherland then responded almost instantly through Chris Watt who found a gaping whole in the hosts’ defence to score.

The hosts then hit the front again through Andy Forman who latched onto a Jamie Stephen pass, the Full-back doing well to set Forman on his way for the score.

Watt then added his second for Ross just before the break to make it a two point game again as the flanker made a good break to leave a disorganised Aberdeenshire defence behind.

Indeed, the Invergordon side started the second-half brightly as well, with centre, Ali Kennedy finishing of a good team try.

John Mann’s conversion made it 14-19 and it briefly looked like there might be a shock on the cards at Woodside if Ross Sutherland could maintain this momentum.

There was a momentum shift on 50 minutes, but it was in the hosts’ favour instead when Aberdeenshire centre, Malcolm White finished off a superb try in the corner.

Harrow then did brilliantly to add the extras from the tightest of angles and the hosts had the lead once again.

This try seemed to relight Shire’s attacking firepower and seven minutes later, Keiran Fulton did well to finish in the other corner for his team’s fourth try.

The tough conversion was missed this time round, but it looked as though the hosts could start to regain some control from that point.

Ross Sutherland wouldn’t give in though and Matthew Robinson’s converted try set up a scintillating finish as the sides drew level.

On 74 minutes the visitors had the opportunity to go ahead, but Mann’s penalty kick was just wide and it was Aberdeenshire who sealed the victory when Harrow’s kick sailed through the posts at the death.

The hosts had sealed their promotion to Caley One last week when they defeated Mackie Academy FP, but the withdrawal of their 2nds from Caley Four has proved a slight dampener on their successful season.

It was perhaps important for their confidence that they were able to grind out a win on Saturday, before their National Bowl Semi-final encounter with Dalkeith.

Meanwhile, Ross Sutherland have three games of their season left, but are unlikely to avoid relegation after results elsewhere didn’t go their way. They travel to Highland 2nds next week needing a win.

Aberdeenshire Head Coach, Barny Henderson: “It was good to get the win even if we didn’t perform as well as we can. We were missing a few key players, but we now have three weeks for the guys to recover from any injuries before we go into the semi-final. Its been difficult losing the 2nds team, but the hope is we can rebuild one for next year. I’ve been on the other side of teams pulling out a couple of days before games and we don’t enjoy doing that.”

Aberdeenshire: Stephen, MacLugash, Watson, White, Fulton, Harrow, Morris; Shrewsbury, Mackie, Littlejohn, Watson, S.Lafferty, Penman, Forman, Burton

Replacements: G.Lafferty, Davies, Carr, Dagaga, Falconer, Stuart, El Hidane

Ross Sutherland: Team sheet not available.