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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidIn the midst of last week Victoria was basking in pleasant sunshine with temperatures hovering in the mid teens Celsius. By Friday morning (at the point at which our kitchen ceiling and all of the insulation had been ripped out, leaving the main floor of the house open to the attic and the fresh air vents therein) the temperature had plunged to around zero.

On Thursday night a storm blustered its way across the Saanich peninsula and we suffered the first power outage of the season (the which lasted more than three hours!) as the lines were brought down by falling branches. When I was awoken in the middle of the night – by all of the lights coming back on – I looked outside to find the garden (yard) covered with a blanket of snow!

All of this caused no little consternation since I was due to travel to Vancouver on the Friday to join the Kickass Canada Girl (who had been participating in a work conference there) so that we might attend BC Place for the much anticipated rugby encounter between Canada and the Maori All Blacks. It was our further intention to enjoy a weekend of wild hedonism in Vancouver before slinking back – tail between our legs – on the Sunday evening. According to the forecast, however, the weather was clearly in no mood to co-operate with our agenda.

Further concern arose from the realisation that – as our retreat into the basement for the duration had been accompanied by the closing off of the heating vents on the main floor (along with the cutting of a temporary return air feed into the downstairs ductwork) – the heating thermostat, being yet upstairs, was faced with the futile task of trying to engender some warmth into what had effectively become an outdoor space, whilst in the process almost incinerating everything that was now below stairs. The only alternative seemed to be to turn the heating off completely and to let everything freeze. The thought of going away and leaving the house in either state for the weekend did not fill us with enthusiasm.

Fortunately – having some little experience with cabling – it was not a overly difficult task to disconnect the thermostat, to pull the cable back down into the furnace room in the basement (being careful to leave a draw-wire in place for later reinstatement) and to reconnect the thermostat temporarily to service the lower floor alone.

Mighty glad by the end of the (chilly) weekend that I did so!

The Maori All Blacks? Well – no unexpected tales there. They gave the nearly 30,000 strong crowd a great exhibition of the finer points of the game of rugby and Canada a lesson from which they should learn a-plenty!

And we had a great time…

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Image from Pixabay…say nowt!

Way back in the mists of time – around the midpoint of the 1990s – I was invited by a supplier to attend a grand gala charity dinner somewhere in the centre of England. The guest of honour at this sizable gathering was a very senior male member of the royal family who has something of a reputation for speaking his mind! Jolly good value he was too.

As it happened the event coincided exactly with the semi-final of a major football tournament; though not being a follower of the sport I don’t recall which. The major surprise on this occasion was that England was one of the combatants. I will hazard that the other was Germany. To the consternation of many of the male guests at the gala event the match started at around the same time as did the dinner.

For a period the Master of Ceremonies – who was keeping everybody informed as to the evening’s proceedings – also regularly briefed those assembled with progress reports on the match, leading to a huge cheer when England scored a goal. A while later – however – after announcing that the opposition had equalized all such reporting ceased abruptly, to the consternation of many of those present who started to fidget nervously. Word went around that the royal personage had let it be known that he did not want to hear reports of England losing to the Germans!

The event proceeded much as would be expected until some time later when I looked around the grand ballroom in which it was being held and realised – to my surprise – that I was one of the very few males still in the room, the which seemed now to be populated solely by members of the fairer sex. A short while later there was a loud groan from some distance outside and a crowd of dejected dinner-jacketed alpha-males trudged back into the hall. It turned out that a large screen TV had been installed in the kitchens so that the chefs might watch the game and all those who just couldn’t survive without knowing the score had slipped out to join them.

It also transpired, of course, that England had – as usual – contrived to lose on penalties!

Now – you may be wondering why I have chosen this particular moment to share this ancient anecdote. Well – I promised a few weeks back that I would not be giving a running commentary on Scotland’s progress in this year’s Six Nations championship. In homage to the Duke it is safe to say that if Scotland are losing you will almost certainly hear nothing about it from me.

If – on the other hand – they are winning, as they did yesterday at Murrayfield for the first time in a decade against the Welsh… then mighty congratulations are in order, a wee glass of good cheer may be raised and radio silence might be broken so that I can pass on my congratulations to my countrymen and all concerned.

Of course, things may then go quiet again for a while…

 

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Dea Flower Plant Nature Purple Thistle

OK – I promise that I am not going to keep up a running commentary for the next six weeks regarding Scotland’s progress in the Six Nations, but I really couldn’t let this opening weekend pass without raising just the tiniest cheer…

For those who don’t follow such things my last post – by way of introduction to the 2017 tournament – included the following in reference to Scotland’s opening match against the much fancied Irish at Murrayfield:

“Can they beat the dynamic Irish in the tournament’s opening game tomorrow? The head says ‘no‘, but the heart says ‘yeeeeeeesssss!’.”

There would have been times not so very long ago when – having played a blinder in the first half to lead 21 – 8 at the break and then having been on the wrong end of the inevitable Irish fightback – the Scots would have succumbed as brave losers by a few points at the finish. That they did not do so here but instead ran out 27 – 22 winners says much about their character, but also a great deal about the excellent work done by both coaching staff and players over the past couple of seasons.

Needless to say – for this week at least – the heart is very happy!

Next week – the French in Paris – and there cannot be a Scot alive (of any decent vintage!) whose pulse does not quicken at the distant memory of (soon to be national coach) Gregor Townshend’s back of the hand pass that put Gavin Hastings in for the last minute try that unexpectedly beat the French in Paris in 1995. Yes – that was a long time ago… about time for a recap methinks!

Elsewhere – the English did what great sides do all over the world. They played a distinctly average game against the French but even when they were behind entering the home straight somehow we all knew that they would find a way to win – as they duly did. Those who gripe about such things should recall that even the 2003 World Cup winning side occasionally survived similarly poor matches.

In Rome the Italians kept in touch with the Welsh until the last quarter before running out of steam. I’m not convinced that we discovered much about the Welsh in 2017 that we did not already know.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidIn Victoria, playing in really pretty atrocious conditions, the Canadians sadly handled the weather rather less well than did the Argentinians – to whom such conditions must be much less familiar. The match was all square at half time – 3 points apiece – but in the second half the Canadian game disintegrated somewhat as the Argentinians realised that if they persevered with their handling game sooner or later something would stick – which is pretty much what happened. Canada face Chile next Saturday – again at Westhills – and at the moment it doesn’t look as though the weather is going to improve much. Let us hope that the Canadian game does.

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Image from Pixabay“Rugby is great. The players don’t wear helmets or padding; they just beat the living daylights out of each other and then go for a beer. I love that.”

Joe Theismann

Hurrah! It is time once again for the start of the Six Nations rugby tournament. I say again – hurrah!

Now – for those of you who grumble that rugger is a minority sport played only by ex-colonial nations and is thus widely ignored by the greater part of the world, here (courtesy of the BBC website) is a most interesting statistic:

“The 123rd edition of the Six Nations, which begins on Saturday, is set to be watched by the highest average attendance per match of any tournament in world sport.”

Astonishing – no? Here are the relevant details:

Best-attended sports events

Event Average attendance per match
Six Nations 72,000
NFL (American football) 64,800
Fifa World Cup (football) 53,592
Rugby World Cup (rugby union) 51,621
Euro 2012 (football) 46,481

 

The figures apparently come from UEFA’s ‘European Club Footballing Landscape Report‘.

As to the tournament itself – expectations are, as ever, sky high. England – having gone undefeated throughout 2016 – would be championship favourites were it not for the fact the the Irish are also looking spectacular at the moment. In the autumn internationals the latter took the scalp of each of the vaunted Southern Hemisphere sides – including a famous and record breaking win against the All Blacks in Chicago. The fact that the ABs got their own back a couple of weeks later in Dublin and that the Irish only just scraped home against the Australians (who were soundly beaten by England) only goes to show just how close the outcome is likely to be. There is already much talk of the final game of the tournament – England/Ireland in Dublin in six weeks time – being the championship decider.

The Welsh managed also to win all of their autumn internationals whilst yet looking distinctly out of sorts. Always too early to write them off, of course, but there are worrying signs concerning their adaptability and current form. The Italians – having looked outclassed over the last couple of seasons – are under new (Irish) management. It may be far too soon to expect a complete turnaround but it is certainly worth keeping a close eye on their first game this Sunday against the Welsh.

The English host the French at home tomorrow – the latter continuing to blow sufficiently hot and cold that it is still impossible to know which side will turn up on the day. The English should have too much for them, though the opening matches are always difficult.

The Scots look a different side to those of recent years. Vern Cotter has worked wonders and hands them over to Glasgow’s Gregor Townshend (a true Scottish legend) after the Six Nations in good shape. Can they beat the dynamic Irish in the tournament’s opening game tomorrow? The head says ‘no‘, but the heart says ‘yeeeeeeesssss!’.

The coming rugby weekend is not confined to Europe alone but stretches all the way around the globe, seeing on this side of the pond the first weekend of the America’s Rugby Championship. Canada host the Argentina XV tomorrow evening at the Westhills stadium in Langford. Canada’s last year has been decidedly mixed in rugger terms (disregarding the wonderful womens’ Sevens squad of course) and Argentina should be too strong for them. Home advantage may play a part in the outcome, however, as may the weather… it has today been snowing determinedly across Greater Victoria, which may well result in a gritty old game tomorrow. We will be there!

So – go Scotland! Go England! Go Canada!

Plenty to cheer about there…

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidYour hair may be brushed, but your mind’s untidy.
You’ve had about seven hours of sleep since Friday.
No wonder you feel that lost sensation.
You’re sunk from a riot of relaxation.

Ogden Nash

To Vancouver for a weekend’s worth of hedonism!

The primary reason for the trip was the first of this year’s summer rugby internationals – between Canada and Japan. This match had the added interest of being the first ever game of XVs rugby at BC Place – a stadium more familiar with Canadian football and soccer.

We stayed in an old haunt – the YWCA Hotel – which is within a stone’s throw of the arena. As you can see from the accompanying photos (which were taken from our room on the ninth floor) it seemed almost possible to lean out and touch the ‘place’.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidThere is nothing fancy about the ‘Y’ but it is a most effective place to rest one’s head at a very reasonable rate if the object of the exercise is to live lavishly out and about in Vancouver rather than to treat the accommodation itself as the destination.

As for the rugby, the game was most enjoyable – for the Kickass Canada Girl and I as well as for the other 10,250 odd who turned out to see the spectacle. Rugby is still only just starting to grow as a sport in Canada and as much of the attention is focused on the VIIs game – particularly with the Rio Olympics (now featuring, as it does, 7-a-side rugby) on the near horizon – this was a pretty good crowd.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidHere are Canada warming up before the masses arrive for the match.

Japan are considerably higher than Canada in the world rankings and – having registered a famous victory over South Africa in last year’s World Cup – they might have been expected to record a straightforward win. As things turned out Canada would have had them beaten had they within their ranks possessed a decent kicker. They succeeded, however, in only one out of six attempts at the posts and that is no-where near good enough at this level.

The final five minutes of the match provided a fitting climax and – regardless of what had gone before – almost led to a Canadian victory. Needing two scores to win they camped out on the Japanese line and finally drove over with about a minute left on the clock. They wasted no time with the attempted conversion but set about winning the ball from the restart. They then kept the final move alive deep into injury time, driving further and further into Japanese territory until the whitewash was within reach.

The crowd – cheering itself hoarse by this point – believed for a moment that a famous comeback had been effected and the match taken, but the referee judged that the ball had been held up over the line and Japan won by two points.Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

Phew!

After the efforts of our vigorous supporting – and having had a post-match drink with a Kiwi rugby friend in an extremely noisy hostelry thereafter – our tender vocal chords needed soothing treatment from a nearby ‘nitro’ ice cream bar after the game.

At this fascinating establishment ice creams are made on demand on the spot, using copious quantities of liquid nitrogen. Sauces to top the resultant concoctions are presented in plastic syringes embedded into the ice cream.

Cool!

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid

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Image from PixabayAt the risk of giving the impression that this journal has drifted off into that territory more commonly inhabited by rugby blogs I do just have to post something regarding the penultimate round of the 2016 Six Nations’ Championship.

Since I wrote somewhat despairingly a few weeks back concerning Scotland’s crablike progress since last year’s World Cup – with particular reference to the manner in which they surrendered the Calcutta Cup to the English – I have maintained a (reasonably) dignified silence. I have thought not to trouble the gentle reader either with the Scots’ further missed opportunity against the Welsh or indeed the occasion on which they eventually broke their recent Six Nations’ duck with an appropriately convincing win against Italy in Rome.

I cannot – however – let pass without comment today’s epic demolition of the French at Murrayfield, the first such victory for a decade. Brilliant! Quite apart from the historic nature of the victory – and the most satisfying manner in which it was achieved – it has been a considerable while since the Scots enjoyed back to back wins in the championship. This will do their confidence no end of good.

The result has had the slightly unexpected side effect of handing the championship to the English (who had an equally gratifying if much more tense win against Wales at the Cabbage Patch) with a fixture yet in hand. This has apparently not happened since the five became six back at the turn of the century.

The final round of matches next Saturday might thus at first glance appear to have little import, given that the tournament winners have already been decided. I do not, however, believe this to be the case.

Wales – up first – will doubtless want to put yesterday’s lacklustre performance behind them by savaging the hapless Italians, past whom the Irish put nine tries yesterday (some of them gift-wrapped and delivered by express courier).

The Scots would love to cap their recent renaissance with a win in Dublin which would give them their best finish in years, but the Irish – who have themselves suffered a dismal campaign – will doubtless be inspired by their antics against the Azzuri.

The English – having won the championship without actually being there to celebrate – will doubtless want to rout the French in Paris to win a Grand Slam – which would be the first such since their world cup winning year of 2003. Were they so to do a great deal of the hurt and misery subsequent to their dismal exit from the last world cup might be somewhat assuaged.

For now, though, congratulations to the English on the championship – and even bigger congratulations to the Scots for their magnificent win against the French.

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Back to Westhills Stadium in Langford on Saturday for Rugby Canada’s last home fixture (the final two games are away in Argentina and Chile!) of the 2016 Americas Rugby Championship. This match was also the first ever rugby test match between Canada and Brazil! Exciting stuff…

As you can see, this is very different to a 6 Nations fixture:

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidThese pictures are – of course – somewhat misleading. The stadium holds getting on for two thousand and was on this occasion gratifyingly almost full. The grandstand – however – runs only along the south side of the ground, with the result that my photos give the impression that the match was played in the middle of nowhere.

Rugby in Canada – as in the Americas as a whole – is definitely on the up but there are things that we Brits take for granted that they don’t yet have here. This has much to do with the game in Canada still being amateur, along with the concomitant dearth of funding. As you can see to the right in the background of this view of Canada warming up for this week’s thriller…

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid…there is at one end of the stadium a big screen showing rugby. Unfortunately it is not equipped to actually show the game being played – let alone the now obligatory instant slo-mo replays that are demanded in the UK – so instead simply cycles random northern and southern hemisphere ‘highlights’ throughout the proceedings… presumably to add ‘atmosphere’.

In fact, no additional atmosphere is required because watching the national side in Victoria is a true delight. The crowd may be small but they are knowledgeable and the ‘craic’ is first rate. On both of our recent visits to Westhills we got chatting to families supporting their sons who were recent additions to the youthful Canada squad. Two of these made their debuts off the bench for the last ten minutes or so on Saturday. One of them scored the final try and the other landed a penalty – to the delightful and unbounded joy of all concerned.

That one of these young men was the first representative player in an age to have hailed from Nova Scotia only highlights how difficult it is to organise a national team across such a vast land mass. There are more clubs and players in Ontario than anywhere else in Canada, but the climate is less favourable – with unpleasantly harsh winters – which explains why Rugby Canada’s headquarters is about as far west as one can go – in Victoria. Lucky for us that it is so.

Fans here are as fanatical as they are anywhere:

Photo by Andy Dawson Reid…but in Victoria you can reserve your seat simply be dumping your toque on it!

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidBut of course – you are eager to find out what the result was…

Well – the Brazilians are quick and athletic and they didn’t give up without a fight – even though a fair bit of their play took place suspiciously close to the offside line. They don’t as yet – however – have the bulk or the necessary technique up front and it was no real surprise when Canada put their collective feet down and ran in seven tries, closing the match 52 – 25 victors. It was also particularly telling that all seven of those tries were scored by forwards – though that fact gives a misleading impression of the play, which was in the main adventurous and free-flowing.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidWatching rugby at Westhills reminds me more than anything of being at grounds such as Moseley’s ‘The Reddings’ or London Irish’s Sunbury back in the amateur days in England. Very friendly, very intimate and a lot of fun. Big days out at Twickenham are all well and good, but there is a lot to be said for the way that the game is in Canada now.

Mind you – my favourite ground remains ‘The Rec’ at Bath… at least when they are winning!

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Photo by Andy Dawson Reid…some you really lose!

I have reason yet again to be grateful to my adopted country – this time for saving the day on Saturday last with regard to the hooligan’s game (as played by gentlemen!). Rugby Canada prevented what I had billed in my last post as a BIG weekend of rugby from fizzling out into a damp squib.

I did not mention in that message that Bath Rugby – of whom persistent perusers will know that I am a huge fan – were also playing a home derby against Gloucester on the Friday evening. Having scaled the heights last season with a triumphant run to the Premiership Final they have thus far this season lost the plot completely. They were bundled unceremoniously out of the European Championship before Christmas and now languish in the bottom half of the Premiership table.

Friday’s result was no improvement!

For the first half of the Calcutta Cup game at Murrayfield Scotland gave the impression of a side with at least half an idea as to what they were doing. They spent much of the second half demonstrating that this had – in fact – been an illusion, losing in the end 15 – 9 to a somewhat raggedy-arsed England. Observers bewailed the fact that all of Scotland’s progress in the latter half of 2015 seemed to have been undone… very much a case of one step forward – two steps back.

Not good!

The French narrowly beat the Italians in Paris – by all accounts the result going to the side that were marginally less poor on the day – and on Sunday the twin tournament favourites – Wales and Ireland – did everyone else a favour by drawing in Dublin.

So – it was left to the Canadians to provide us with some rugby highlights which their young squad (six new caps!) duly did on a lovely crisp and sunny February evening in Langford, running out comfortable winners against a chirpy Uruguayan side by 33 points to 17. Both sides gave a fine example of imaginative running rugby and the small (1100) but eager crowd were sent home extremely happy.

This was the first weekend of the new format Americas Rugby Championship which provides second tier nations Canada, the USA, Chile, Brazil and Uruguay (with Argentina ‘A’s making up the numbers now that their first team play with the big boys of the Southern Hemisphere) with an opportunity to gain more international experience. The tournament is played over five consecutive weekends in a format not dissimilar to the Six Nations. Canada next travel to the US before hosting Brazil at Westhills Stadium again on the 20th February.

We will most definitely be there.

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Image from Wikimedia CommonsA BIG rugby weekend coming up…

This Saturday sees the start of the 2016 Six Nations Championship which is most eagerly awaited in the wake of last autumn’s Rugby World Cup – particularly given that none of the northern hemisphere sides exactly covered themselves with glory thereat.

I will – naturally – be up promptly (Pacific Standard Time) to catch the coverage of the Calcutta Cup from Murrayfield (for Canadians and non-aficionados: Murrayfield is Scottish Rugby’s base in Edinburgh).

Scotland’s Six Nations record in recent years has been dire but under their relatively new coach – Vern Cotter – they have looked altogether sharper than of late and arguably put up the best showing of the home nations in the World Cup. They were certainly robbed by a refereeing error of a rightful semi-final spot at the death of their quarter-final against Australia.

England have an even newer coach in Eddie Jones, who master-minded Japan’s excellent showing in the World Cup which reached its zenith with their memorable last minute victory against the Boks. The English also have a new captain in the much maligned Dylan Hartley – presumably appointed on the same principle as promoting the ‘bad’ boy to be a prefect.

All in all it should be a cracking game, with both sides having a fair bit to prove. At this stage I am filled with the Scot’s customary blind optimism, but we shall see…

Later on Saturday – after a suitable pause for refreshment – the Kickass Canada Girl and I will head for Westhills Stadium in Langford to watch Canada take on Uruguay in their opening exchange of the 2016 Americas Rugby Championship. I think it is fair to say that there was a time, not so long ago, when the Scots and Canadians might have been thought pretty much on a par in rugby terms. Whatever the truth of that particular notion there can be no comparison when it comes to attendance at the comparable matches. Murrayfield holds around 67,000 and for Calcutta Cup fixtures against the ‘Auld Enemy’ can be guaranteed to be near as dammit a full house. Westhills Stadium holds 1,718 and on the one occasion that I have seen a game there – the Canadian development squad in action – the crowd numbered only in the hundreds. Here’s hoping for a decent crowd for this important fixture.

So – on Saturday it’s “Go Scotland!” (subsequent weekends will find me also cheering for England again…) – and “Go Canada!“…

 

Addendum: Canadians and others may wonder why the winner of the England/Scotland game is awarded the Calcutta Cup. Wikipedia helpfully furnishes the history here and a picture of the splendid silver trophy – made from melted-down silver Rupees – can be found here. The original trophy is now too weak to be transported or man-handled, so both England and Scotland have replicas for use on cup days.

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photo by Gary Henderson on FlickrBy 4 o’clock (UK time) in the afternoon on Sunday last three of the four quarter-finals of the 2015 Rugby World Cup were already done and dusted…

…as was northern hemisphere involvement in the tournament!

Almost!

The English were not present, having a pressing engagement elsewhere for the start of the Aviva Premiership season.

The Welsh had fought valiantly against the English, against the Australians and against the human frailties that had robbed them of an in-feasible number of their stars. In the quarters the South Africans were just too strong – too wily – and found the means to shut them out at the last.

The fancied Irish also ran out of steam and out of their characteristic good luck, but in a rather more dramatic and emphatic fashion, being well beaten by an Argentine side that suddenly looks as though it does after all belong in the top-tier.

The French came up against the All Blacks. The latter – who had throughout the pool stages looked far from being themselves – mindful maybe of their embarrassing and uncharacteristic defeats at Gallic hands in the 1999 and 2007 competitions, now suddenly switched into overdrive, burying the French in a manner (63 – 13!) from which recovery will take some considerable time.

The remaining quarter-final pitched the form team of the World Cup to date – the Australians – against the lowly Scots. For those of the Scottish diaspora the omens – let alone the odds – looked anything but propitious. Before the game the bookies were offering 9 to 1 against a Scottish win, with the Australians as favourites to score the first try – the last try – to be leading at 20 minutes – at half time – at 60 minutes and at full-time. The minimum anticipated margin of victory was 11 to 15 points, with some suggesting that the Aussies might even better the total achieved by the All Blacks the previous day.

Had one of such a mind switched to the coverage of the match with a little over five minutes remaining he or she would have been quite taken aback to observe the Scots running in an interception try – and making the subsequent conversion – to take the lead – 34 – 32! For four magical minutes it looked as though the Scots might actually maintain this slender advantage, until an outrageous refereeing decision (and we rugger fans really don’t like to complain about match officiation) by South African Craig Joubert handed the men in yellow an undeserved penalty which gifted them a one point victory with less than a minute to go. Joubert further incensed the Scottish fans and commentators alike by sprinting from the arena immediately after blowing the final whistle, eschewing the customary hand-shake with the captains. This does all rather smack of an altogether different sport and is to be firmly deprecated.

No matter. What’s done is done. The Scots actually exceeded their own expectations of the campaign, and there is no small irony to the 6 Nations’ Wooden Spoon holders being the side to get closest to a semi-final berth. It is no secret that many Scots are well and truly sick to death of having to wear the ‘plucky loser’ tag. On this occasion – however – I think that it may be borne with considerable pride.

Bravo the Scots!

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