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February 2013

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Photo by Andy Dawson Reid“It is clear that one is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans; the other a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen.”

Chancellor of Cambridge University, comparing ‘soccer’ and ‘rugger’!
Date unknown (pre 1953)

Regular readers will be aware that, in addition to my deep love for the great game of cricket, I am also a long standing aficionado of the hooligan’s game. As a Scot I naturally and proudly follow and support the national side, which propensity – it has to be said – affords great training in the practice of stoicism.

Maybe it is just me (or maybe it is actually a national characteristic?) but it seems to me that those who follow Scottish rugby are possessed of the ability to maintain a degree of optimism entirely unjustified by the evidence. Regardless of how high-flown are our opponents – or indeed of how badly we were duffed-up the last time out – we absolutely and resolutely believe each time that the impossible is possible and that we will end the day victorious. It is a good thing – as a nation – that we are also blessed with the ‘wee dram’ – with which to console ourselves post-match.

And yet…

…every now and again the impossible does happen and we find ourselves victorious… against all the odds!

Last weekend saw the third round of matches in this year’s 6 Nations tournament (for the uninitiated – England, France, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Italy). Our reasons for optimism this time round were that the match was being played at home – at Murrayfield in Edinburgh – and that our opponents (the Irish) had lost some half a dozen of their best players to injury or suspension.

By half time any such hopes had evaporated and I had pretty much resorted to following the BBC’s match coverage from behind the sofa! The match statistics showed that Ireland had enjoyed some 78% possession of the ball and an 80% territorial advantage. They had made – in addition – a number of searing line breaks that had torn the Scottish defence apart. There was only one thing in Scotland’s favour. In spite of all their territorial and possessive advantages the Irish were leading by a mere 3 points to nil. For those rugby ingenues – again – this represents a single score of the lowest value.

No matter how optimistic one might have felt 40 minutes earlier, however, it was impossible to avoid the conclusion that Ireland were now likely to ramp up the pressure and to blow the home side away, a belief reinforced shortly after the break when the Irish finally crossed the try line to take the score to 8 – nil. We tensed ourselves for the opening of the flood gates.

And yet – again…

…half an hour later the Scots were leading by 12 points to 8 and holding on grimly in pursuit of a famous victory. It was as though the Irish really didn’t want to win. Though they had applied immense pressure they proved themselves incapable of finishing off any of their moves, whilst the Scots mounted an increasingly heroic defence. By the end of the match the statistics had barely improved – the Irish having had 71% of the possession and played 77% of the match in the Scottish half. Scotland had visited their opponents’ half pretty much only on four occasions…

…but each time they had done so – they had scored!

Some would look at such a match and say that the Scots were extraordinarily lucky to have got away with it. We – of course – see things differently. Our conversion rate from attacks was nigh on 100%. The Irish’s – by comparison – was not – and they had thus clearly not deserved to win.

Naturally I celebrated with a considerably less than ‘wee’ dram!

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“Take the attitude of a student, never be too big to ask questions, never know too much to learn something new.”

Og Mandino

I thought you might like to see what northwards of £18 million can buy you – should you be in the market for a science teaching block!

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhot by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidDSCF3006Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

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up-downThe colds from which the Kickass Canada Girl and I have of late been suffering are quite the most loathsome that I can recall. I am still struggling to shake off the residuum – in the shape of a vicious dry cough – nearly two and a half weeks after first succumbing to this pernicious pestilence. The Girl is following on roughly a week behind me and an entire month will thus have passed by the time that we have both fully shaken off this scourge.

Neither of us has felt throughout this period like doing anything much more than hunkering down and waiting for the storm to pass. This last weekend however – although it is still only mid-February and the mornings are yet frosty – there was a distinct intimation of the imminence of spring in the air. Closer attention to the world outside revealed that the first green shoots had started to poke their sleepy heads through the permafrost. Lambent spring colours may thus shortly bring relief to our saturnine winter gardens.

Once back in the land of the living it will be high time to make a point of getting together with old friends, some of whom we seem not to have seen for ages. I suppose that this negligence could be considered an ineluctable side effect of the customary brouhaha of Christmas and the dark days that follow, but that does rather feel like excusing the inexcusable.

The joyous sensation that the thought of such engagements engenders is – however – tinged at the same time with sadness… not at the prospect of rekindling old friendships, but on the recognition that other such occurrences will not be possible in the near future. Over the past few years the Girl and I have become rather accustomed to making frequent trips to British Columbia. In 2010 our wedding and the arrangements therefore prompted several trips to the province, including one extended visit for the event itself. 2011 – through a combination of circumstances both happy and sad – saw another brace of visits and, of course, once the Girl moved back to Victoria last spring I became – as regular readers will know – a regular myself on the transatlantic route.

All of which led us to becoming somewhat spoiled with regard to the access that we had to our dear and lovely friends in Victoria and Saanichton. One of the consequences of our recent decision regarding my 60th birthday celebration next January is that we will not now be able to revisit Canada until next Christmas. For me that will mean a gap of a year and a half – and more – without my setting foot in BC…

…and I miss the place – and I miss our friends…


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luckenbooth‘Tis the feast of St. Valentine – a day that can apparently trigger a wide range of responses. I am – as you have probably gathered by now – a romantic, but on this occasion I will do my very best to avoid inducing a surfeit of nausea.

In historical terms the ever resourceful Wikipedia reveals the following:

“The first recorded association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love is in Parlement of Foules by Geoffrey Chaucer. Chaucer wrote:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

(For this was Saint Valentine’s day, when every bird of every kind comes to this place to choose his mate.)”

Whilst on the InterWebNet I couldn’t resist getting just a tiny bit self-referential. I was deeply gratified – and not a little humbled – to discover that a Google search for “Kickass Canada Girl – Valentine” returns links to this unassuming blog as the top three items. The second such is for a post that I added at this time last year entitled – ‘My Canadian Valentine’. The subject of this particular missive will come as no surprise to anyone, and those who just have to (re-)read it will find it here.

Those who attended our wedding or blessing ceremonies back in the summer of 2010 will doubtless recognise the image that accompanies this post as being that of the Luckenbooth, which featured extensively on both of those occasions. The Luckenbooth – in the form of a brooch – originated in 16th Century Edinburgh. They were given as love tokens or as lucky charms to ward off witches and were purchased from the locked – or ‘lucken’ – booths near St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile. These booths housed mainly silversmiths and goldsmiths and were amongst the city’s first permanent shops. The Luckenbooth has since gained a reputation as the traditional Scottish love token and is often given as a betrothal or wedding brooch.

Last year’s Valentine’s day was tinged with a touch of sadness at the impending departure of the Girl for Canadian shores. This year’s is a celebration (if for economic reasons a slightly low-key one) of her restoration to my side. For this – and for so much else – I am most eternally grateful.

I will – naturally – keep private the true expression of my feelings for the Girl – but would like to take this opportunity to wish lovers everywhere:

…Happy Seynt Volantynys Day!

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ballotOne of the sadnesses of modern life… well – of my modern life at any rate… is that I don’t have time to read a daily paper. I am sufficiently old-fashioned that, whereas I find the BBC’s online news coverage to be completely indispensable in many ways, I do prefer to be able to sit down with folded newsprint and ink – preferably over a cup of something decently hot and caffeine infused.

These days I often purchase The Independent on a Saturday (my apologies to those Canadian and other readers to whom these titles are meaningless) in part because it has a decent listings section, but the mainstay of my print media habit is that doyen of the British Sunday press – The Observer. I don’t recall exactly when it was that I started reading The Observer, though it must have been either in the late 70s or early 80s, but since happily surrendering myself to the timeless tradition of devoting a sizable chunk of my Sundays to ‘the Papers’ I have seldom missed an edition. I follow The Observer now for same reasons that I ever did – the quality if the thinking and the quality of the writing.

Two recent articles caught my eye. The first piece concerns the documentary film ‘Inequality for All‘ – winner of the special jury prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival – whilst the second is from one of The Observer’s regular political columnists – Nick Cohen. Though ostensibly unrelated both pieces address a subject that has been much in my mind of late – the ever growing gap between the richest and the poorest in our society… indeed between the richest and all of the rest of us!

Directed by Jacob Kornbluth, ‘Inequality for All’ stars (if that is the word) Robert Reich – who was Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Labour and is now a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. The film is based largely on his book – ‘Aftershock’. Reich’s thesis is that in economic terms something changed dramatically in the 1970s. Though the world’s economies continued to grow strongly thereafter until the 2007/8 crash, middle and lower class wages did not – becoming basically static. At the same time, however, the incomes of the top 1% not only continued to grow, but did so exponentially.

Nick Cohen’s article references work by the economist Emmanuel Saez on the aftermath of this most recent recession. Antithetically to previous major recessions – the impacts of which were felt on incomes and stock yields for decades afterwards – by 2010 the incomes of the top 1% in the US were growing again at healthy rate. Not so the remaining 99% – the incomes of whom remain stubbornly mired even now. Yet again there is evidence of an increasing disconnect between the world’s richest and the rest.

If these trends trouble you at all I urge you to check out these – and related – articles for the full picture.

My own thoughts run somewhat tangentially to the main thrust of these articles. It occurs to me that – in large part – the increasing disillusionment with politics in the UK in particular – as reflected in the ever declining turnout at elections – is evidence of an electorate that is coming to believe that those who govern us actually do so solely in the interests of the 1%. Further – this would now seem to be true across the entire political spectrum, either because the politicos are themselves of – or have connections to – the 1%, or – rabbit-like in the face of the on-rushing ‘artic’ (Canadian: truck!) – they fear or are mesmerised by its power and influence. Either way, the middle and lower classes would appear to be – to put it impolitely – screwed! As Reich suggests (quoting an untypically prescient billionaire, Nick Hanauer) this is problematic because – contrary to received wisdom – it is not the 1% that actually generate growth (intent as they are on taking cash out of individual economies), rather it is the great mass of the middle classes (by spending it!).

History would suggest that were this trend to continue unchecked, at a certain point a revolutionary ire would finally be aroused, the formerly silent majority would declare that enough was enough and an insurrection – in some form or other – would almost inevitably follow. The difference this time is that the 1% – by becoming a global phenomenon and by disassociating themselves from any particular nation state – have thus essentially rendered themselves untouchable.

And if not the state then against whom should we rebel – and how?

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidExperiencing such a major upheaval to the accustomed flow of life has been a salutary and somewhat sobering experience. Having one’s long term plans disrupted is one thing, but undergoing such a dramatic change in circumstances is quite another.

The last three months have provided a tough lesson. From the position of having two salaries and the rental income from our Buckinghamshire apartment coming in to having to live on a single salary has required a considerable adjustment. That Christmas fell in the middle of the period concerned did not help. Fortunately the impact has been ameliorated somewhat by us having had some savings (for our eventual move to Canada) into which we could eat – by the knowledge that the situation would only be temporary – and by the fact that much of the rental income of late had in any case been disappearing into the black hole of repairs and maintenance for the apartment.

In these tough times, however, the experience has emphasized two facts all too clearly. First – we are extremely fortunate and should be very grateful that our situation will almost certainly allow us to ride out the storm without undue discomfort. Second – for all those who are not lucky enough to have the sort of buffer that circumstances have granted us, it is easy to see just how hard things can get – and how quickly they can do so – should the worst happen and a major source of income be taken away. Our heartfelt sympathies to anyone who finds themselves in this position.

The Kickass Canada Girl started her new job this week. Although this post will not really make full use of her experience and abilities it will certainly tide us over and there are signs that it may also lead reasonably quickly to something more suited – not to mention something closer to home! Were it not for the fact that her induction has – as decreed by Murphy’s Law – coincided with her inheritance of my hideous cold (see previous post!) she would doubtless be feeling pretty chipper right now. (Incidentally – I am delighted to discover that there is also an adage called Muphry’s Law – which states that “If you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written”).

After a fair bit of ‘argy-bargy’ it also looks as though we have found a tenant for our apartment (at one point we had two – then none and now one again!). Furthermore he seems willing to pay six months rent up front, which will certainly help to get us back on an even keel financially. As the contracts have yet to been signed and sealed I am still keeping fingers – and much else besides – firmly crossed.

Things do, however, seem at last to be looking up…

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidIs there any torment quite so loathsome as the misery engendered by the common cold?!

The question is – naturally – rhetorical by nature, so please do not furnish me with lists of your own (or others!) alternate afflictions. I am still suffering the agonies of my own particularly virulent strain of the aforementioned and thus not in the mood to accommodate those either soliciting sympathy or offering outrage.


There is a point – when struck by the first prickle in the throat and the first uncontrollable urge to cough at an inappropriate moment – that one raises one’s eyes to the heavens and prays silently to Asclepius that, on this occasion, one might be spared anything worse. There are times when this prayer is heard and answered. There are others when it is not.

Once the tickle in the throat turns to a stabbing pain when swallowing – or to an acuate agony on sneezing – all is lost. The next trial comes at night when, waking abruptly, one finds oneself unable to breathe and apparently incapable of containing the contents of one’s nasal cavities. Not long then until the sinuses fill and the excruciating sensation of having a steel band slowly tightened around one’s head and face takes the mind off lesser evils. It is at this point that one recognises that standard ‘girly’ tissues are simply not up to the job and it is time to trek to the store to stock up on the ‘man-sized’ equivalent.

This stage of the painful process can last for days, during which the constant need to minister to throat and sinuses leaves one’s body racked and exhausted, and the constant ingestion of an assortment of pills and potions plays havoc with one’s gastrointestinal tract. Then – if one is singularly unlucky, and just as the symptoms seem set to ease a little – the cold moves onto the chest! The tightening of the ribcage is at first accompanied by that dreadful, dry, hacking cough – the body’s reflex to expel something that apparently does not exist. Later on it will do so, of course, and one then finds oneself aghast that one’s organs could ever have contained such vile material…

Quite enough of that – I think…!

The true agony is not – however – physical at all. It arises from the realisation that – when all is said and done – one is not really ill… one merely has a cold! As a result (and with apologies to those of you who are bringing up small children and can thus not do so at any point) one can’t actually sanction ‘throwing a sickie’…