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.

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.

Race Report – Highland Cross 2019

The word ouch can be used to describe any race which I have previously taken part in. The Lumphanan Detox. Ouch. In fact it could be used in many different contexts in my day to day life.

Going over the handlebars on my bike and hitting my head. Ouch. Having my homework thrown into the bin by my IT teacher in a very public display when I was 15. Not forgiven or forgotten Mrs R. Ouch.

Even my easy run today in the sun was pretty sore at some points. However, there is no other word that so aptly sums up this year’s Highland Cross. It hurt. A lot.

My preparations for my third crossing hadn’t been ideal ( getting the excuses in early). I had struggled to train consistently and was gutted that I had decided to sit out the Edinburgh Marathon in May due to a lack of miles in the legs.

In the weeks leading up to the 50 mile duathalon I’d also struggled with the old foot injury which has occasionaly caused some bother for me since running became a hobby. It was touch and go as to whether I would be on the start line in Morvich, but luckily I recovered in the few days before the event. Phew.

This year the set up was different. Our team was composed of My Mum, Auntie Marie and yours truly. It was an absolute family affair and we were all staying in Inverness on the Friday night before.

As usual I didn’t sleep. The seagulls seemingly circled my Holiday Express room window as I tossed and turned throughout the mild summer solstice night.

I wasn’t however, anywhere near as anxious as I had felt before the Cross during the previous two years. I knew what to expect. I knew it was going to be tough.

The next morning I managed to  bypass the usual sickness which made eating difficult and had some porridge around 6.30am after seeing Mum off. She would be walking the route before hopping on her bike for the last 30 miles. This had been tempting as I stressed about my (lack of) fitness in the seven days previous.

Travelling with Marie and Stuart, who was participating as part of another team, we hopped on a bus at Beauly bound for the West Coast.

The journey lasted around two hours as we arrived near Morvich after travelling through some stunning scenery on the road to Kyle of Lochalsh. The rugged mountains, lochs and glorious sunshine acted as a good distraction from thinking about the pain which was now just around the corner.

At 11:00am a gunshot sent us off in a mad scramble for position during the first few miles of double track before the climbs started in earnest. I took it fairly easy, knowing I didn’t have the endurance to sustain such a fast pace that early on.

The heroics could be saved for the last few miles of the run when I thought it likely I’d have to dig deep. And man did I have to dig deep.

After 15 miles of endulating and challenging running I set foot on the Yellow Brick Road. A section of track which is always a struggle as I carried my tired body over seemingly endless track and then tarmac. I was desperate for the transition point to come into view.

I was desperate to get on my bike as my legs tried to convince me to stop. This Yellow Brick Road may not lead to the Emerald City, but it does provide the 700+ runners and walkers with a certain degree of courage.

Knowing the course relatively well this year was both a bonus and a curse as I found myself getting ahead of myself at some points. This meant some sections felt like a drag, albeit through some stunning Highland scenery. I shouldn’t complain really but the run was tough.

Eventually the transition point came into view as I uttered a celebratory “thank f***”. It sounds weird, but I just needed a seat. Even if that seat would be on an uncompromising bike saddle for nearly 30 miles. I don’t just wear lycra shorts to be fashionable you know.

At the transition point the staff, as always, were amazingly helpful as an older man held my bike as I changed my shoes and put my helmet on. He said some encouraging words as I set off down the twisty descent which begins the second leg of the crossing.

It was on this technical descent that I lost concentration and nearly came off on a nasty corner. That had been the second squeaky bum time moment of the day after I stumbled during the run.

Fortunately I was able to correct before I landed in a ditch at speeds in excess of 30mph. Once again, I’d been lucky.

Carrying on towards Beauly I was able to slipstream for a while before riding away from the competitors I had been working with in a short lived chaingang. My legs started to fail me on the last few short climbs as I struggled to stay focused on completing the last few miles towards the finish line.

My motivation wasn’t to beat my best time as by this point I was pretty sure this was now unattainable. Instead, my main motivation was finishing.

The extra motivation being that my girlfriend had travelled to Beauly especially to see me. Even after  had warned her about the lycra. Ultimately, this kept me going as waves of low blood sugar infused nausea and pain washed over me. Ouch.

As I tentatively rounded the last bend into Beauly my main concern was an unusual one. I knew I’d now finish and hopefully in a decent enough time.

Instead, I was concerned I would throw up the content of my breakfast when I arrived in the square. For this reason I was really hoping Leah wasn’t standing beside the finish line.

Fantastically my wish wasn’t granted and I was welcomed across the line by a beaming Leah who gave me a big hug before I wondered through the crowds to receive my medal. I had survived another year and hadn’t thrown up in front of my girlfriend and the other spectators. Life was good.

A flat coca cola later, and my nausea was gone as I watched Marie finishing in a decent time. Our team had done well as I unfortunately missed Mum coming in.

Mum had also done brilliantly as I met her after the event, interrupting her from a very messy but well deserved chocolate eating session. There must be something good in Granny Helen’s soup.

All in all it was another great crossing and I would love to return next year, perhaps with the same team if they can convince themselves to face the tough challenge which is the Highland Cross. Ouch.

Distance: 48 miles (77 km)

Time: 4:33:07

 

 

 

 

 

Man Up

It was with some misfortune that I woke up at 6.30 the other morning. Not merely because of the early hour which I’m not used to as a lazy, kind-off half employed student on his Summer Holidays which he doesn’t deserve. No. The real misfortune was my ill informed decision to switch on our flat TV which has been experiencing signal issues recently.

I mention these signal issues because the only channel available to my flatmate and I is ITV. Surely this isn’t an issue I hear you cry. There’s plenty of good programmes to watch on ITV. Perhaps, but at 6.30 am ITV viewers are greeted by the sounds of a certain loudmouthed presenter on Good Morning Britain. 

This presenter and former journalist loves the outrage he creates and could possibly be applauded for achieving huge notoriety in the same way Katie Hopkins’ types do. Like Hopkins, he has created a paradox in which more discussion about his views and controversial opinions is always a win for him.

That’s why I won’t mention him by name in this post. Though in all honesty it’s actually a pretty useless gesture on my part because you most likely know who I’m speaking about. Its a win-win situation for him anyway. You probably think I’m far too woke. Its okay. I know I am.

Where was I? Oh yes. I was sitting in my shorts in the kitchen enjoying a bowl of porridge like the millennial snowflake which I am, when the topic of discussion moved onto the topic of mental health.

I won’t recount the details as its probably on STV player or something. I also really don’t want to re-watch it on YouTube just so I can provide an accurate account of the conversation. I’m going to be a great journalist…

Anyway, it all ended with Piers Morgan (fuck it he wins again) ending the discussion by informing his many viewers that we all needed to “man up”. Now I don’t have any issue with the phrase ‘man up’ per say.

I would  be quite likely to use the phrase in jest if my mate or brother (mainly brother) hurt himself or was feeling physically poorly. I’m full of banter me. So don’t worry I’m not going to get all politically correct ‘millennial’ on your ass.

Actually hold that thought because there is one particular setting which I think the words ‘man up’ should never be used in. This setting being when speaking to people who are struggling mentally.

As well as those with mental illness, I’m also referring to anyone who isn’t feeling there selves. Which realistically is all of us at various points in our day to day lives. I’m sure even Piers Morgan wakes up and thinks fuck me I’m just a puppet for outrage who spends his waking hours shouting like the sound of dying dinosaurs about the younger generations because they can’t man up.

The comment about dinosaurs is taken from an interview with documentary maker Michael Moore in 2016. Moore was referring to a good mate of Mr Morgan’s. That close buddy of his being Donald Trump who at the time was on the precipice of becoming the President of the United States.

Its a good quote but I’m not sure it was necessarily accurate. President Trump was riding on a wave of populism which may continue in the next US elections. Who knows. However, I’m also not sure if it actually holds up when looking at the example of Piers Morgan.

Many of us, particularly young people, like to think we live in a society which is tolerant and treats mental health issues with the respect and relevance which they deserve. However, when it comes to telling anxiety sufferers to man up, for example, I don’t think Piers Morgan’s comment is coming from one of the last of some dying prehistoric creatures.

This is worrying because the pre-mentioned rhetoric is not only unhelpful, but also, in my opinion, dangerous.

Its at the point that I should point out my own hypocrisy. I don’t tell others struggling with mental health issues to man up. No, instead I constantly tell myself to man up.

Having a bad day Finn? Man up. Feeling so anxious that you can’t concentrate on any task Finn? Man up. Doubting yourself to the point of frenzy Finn? Man up.

It was perhaps an unusual coincidence that the rest of that specific day was shit. Well from my perspective it was pretty shit. Piers Morgan probably went home or read the papers oblivious to countless others who were having a shit day. Or perhaps he was also having a bad day. We’ll never know.

Ironically I spent the rest of that day telling myself to man up. Not because of anything which Piers Morgan or anyone else said, but because that’s how I’ve always coped (poorly) with the long term feeling of anxiety. Anxiety that returns every now and then like an annoying friend that you can’t seem to get rid off.

I suppose my point is that when people are struggling to control what’s happening in their headspace the last thing they want to be told is to man up. I can’t be the only one who tells themselves on an almost daily basis that what they’re feeling is non-sensical and a waste of time. In fact I know I’m far from being the only one.

For me, manning up doesn’t equate to being resilient. But, unfortunately it seems to be a phrase uttered often in freedom of speech discussion circles by those who forever hark for the old days when everyone had a stiff upper lip and we just got on with it (apparently).

Freedom of speech is massively important but it doesn’t mean I can’t call you out for being a dick. I’m not a snowflake who’s no platforming you if I think you’re being a dick. In my opinion, telling people with mental health issues to man up is quite obviously a dick move. Especially as we are reminded during Mental Health Awareness Week that suicide is the largest killer of men between 15-35.

Men who on hearing that might not go to the doctor or tell anyone how they are feeling. Lives are at stake.

I use this specific example not only because this is the age group I belong to, but also because this seems to be the group which those who take joy in labelling young people as millennial snowflakes take aim at. We aren’t strong enough. We aren’t resilient enough. We don’t know how to grow up to become breadwinners.

Anyway, that day passed and the next day was great. I went to the beach with my girlfriend. I had an ice cream. The sun was shining and I was happy to just be in the moment.

However, I know that there will be another shit day coming and I’m willing to face it with resilience. The reality is though, despite my best efforts, I’ll end up telling myself to man up. To stop being silly. I’ll beat myself up inside because I’m feeling miserable when I am so lucky in many aspects of my life.

And that’s why I don’t need to be told to man up or that I’m constantly getting into these ruts through negative behaviour patterns. I know and I already degrade and normalise how I’m feeling. I and anyone who feels anxiety likely doesn’t need help with understanding that aspect. Instead we need someone to talk to opposed to someone who will belittle us.

Lets be clear. This article wasn’t written as a direct result of watching early morning TV. I wouldn’t want to give Piers Morgan the satisfaction. It did get me thinking though so thank you Mr Morgan. I also apologise. This long ramble wasn’t meant to get particularly political, but perhaps sometimes it is necessary to do so.

 

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.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.