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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidIt has long been my habit to maintain a couple of decanters of spirits for everyday purposes. One of these is charged with whatever reasonably cheap brandy I can source locally (since it is intended for mixing with ginger ale or suchlike) and the other – the teardrop decanter in the accompanying image – with whisky. I tend to prefer J & B for this one – Justerini & Brooks being a familiar Edinburgh concern and this being their signature blend.

These decanters normally reside in some splendour upon the sideboard in our dining room. During the renovations they are perched on top of a bookcase in the hall/kitchen that forms the spine of our basement abode.

Yesterday found me once again vacuuming our cosy crypt in what is an ongoing effort to mitigate the ingress of the all pervading plaster (mud) dust. I had worked my way through the hallway and into the family room that is currently doubling as our living space and a warehouse for our goods and chattels. As I dragged the machine in behind me I thought I heard a noise from back in the hall. I stopped what I was doing and went to have a look. I could see nothing amiss so determined to think no more about it and to complete my chores.

This morning The Girl was herself sorting through some of the many items that are now vying for living space in our hallway. She picked up a redundant cardboard box in which some life-essential had but recently been delivered.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidWhy is there a decanter in this box?”, she queried. It took but seconds to determine what had happened. As I had moved the vacuum cleaner the power cord had caught around the decanter (the power socket being on the wall at dado height beside the bookcase) and whisked it off the shelves and into the open box below.

Here, of course, is where the luck came in. The box was still a third filled with packing material. The floor below is of concrete covered with a thin layer of vinyl flooring. Had the decanter hit the floor rather than the packing material in the box it would undoubtedly have shattered.

But that is not all. The decanter had come to rest on its side and the glass stopper had come loose and was lying in the box beside the decanter. I lifted them carefully out of the box and inspected them. As you can see the decanter was only about a quarter filled and – because of the vessel’s shape and the angle at which it had come to rest – not a single drop had been spilled…!

…and I feel sure that you know just how much a Scot hates to waste good whisky!

I think that calls for a wee dram…

 

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“I haven’t found anything to complain about. But being Scottish, it won’t be long.”

Peter Capaldi

Regular sufferers of these jottings will be familiar with my routine but wildly varying updates on the current state of Scottish rugby. My first item on the subject – way back in 2013 – introduced the eternal conundrum of supporting a national side whose fortunes have experienced more ups and downs than a roller coaster. The strangely stoic optimism that I believe is part of the Scottish makeup is essential if one is to be able to live in stasis with Kipling’s two imposters.

In recent times – however – the fortunes of the Scots have taken a most pleasant upward trajectory. Under the patient tutelage of (stern!) Vern Cotter and more recently Scottish rugby legend, Gregor Townsend, the side has steadily improved and positive results have started to follow. This very summer the Scots – having been largely ignored by Warren Gatland in his Lion’s selections for the All Black’s showdown – toured the southern hemisphere themselves. In Australia they took on – and beat – the number three side in the world.

Last weekend – in the Autumn Internationals – it was their turn to face the All Blacks in a Murrayfield encounter that many predicted would turn into a rout. The Scots not only matched the fearsome Kiwis for much of the game, but at times made them look distinctly ordinary. With time on the match clock almost expired the Scots trailed by a mere five points and their superstar fullback, Stuart Hogg, broke free down the left hand touchline. For a second it looked as though a match-winning try might be on until the All Black’s fly half, Beauden Barratt, scrambled Hogg into touch at the last moment.

Fears that the Scots (already missing a number of key players to injury) might have shot their bolt and be unable to raise themselves again this week for their rematch with Australia (who were themselves smarting from a somewhat exaggerated defeat by the English the week before at the Cabbage Patch) were only heightened when Stuart Hogg injured himself during the warmup for the match and had to be replaced.

It turned out to matter not a jot. Neck and neck as the first half drew to a close one of the Aussie forwards, Sepoke Kepu, essayed a rash challenge on Hamish Watson and was rightly shown the red card. Though there have been many examples of matches in which being a man down has not greatly affected the outcome, such was not the case on this occasion and the Scots showed admirable ruthlessness to put the Aussies away in a record 53 – 24 demolition.

For now at least the days of being tagged ‘plucky losers’ are a thing of the past. The Scots have shown that they now have strength in depth and that on their day they can live with just about anyone.

Lang may yer lum reek” – as they say north of the border!

Many congratulations!

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Photo by Andy Dawson Reid“Now I will believe that there are unicorns
That in Arabia there is one tree, the phoenix’ throne
One phoenix at this hour reigning there.”

William Shakespeare – The Tempest

To those who live in any degree of proximity at all to mother nature – be it through custody of some humble (or grand) garden (or yard!) or by virtue of residing on the brink of the barely-charted wilderness – the persistence of the myth of the phoenix will make perfect sense.

To the centrality of the bird (with its magical ability to fly all-seeing above our prosaic earth-bound existence) to mythologies from around the globe is added the life-giving power of the renaissance/resurrection connate in the cycle of the seasons. The added bonus in many versions of the myth of the cleansing/regenerative power of fire only adds to its potency and illuminates the Christian church’s desire to appropriate this pagan apologue (along with many others of course) into its oeuvre – however temporarily it may so have done.

Further idle musing upon the subject of the bird summons for me images of autumn – of the fallen dead leaves fueling November bonfires – of the blade-razed stubble burning in crimson swathes across the moribund fields as the chilled charred soil surrenders to the winter… and then of spring – the first tender shoots pushing their tremulous way through the dank, inclement loam, searching for the first warming kiss of the sun god’s life-giving rays…

But I fear that I digress – and this time I have not yet even begun…

This post – although appearing at an appropriate juncture in the new year – is not actually about nature at all, but rather concerns a quite different rebirth – though one just as keenly welcomed as is (or would be!) the spring itself – or indeed the fiery metempsychosis of the indomitable bird. Allow me to elucidate…

Way back in the early days of these dribblings I posted to this blog a miscellany of images which included one such of my favourite Greater Victorian supplier of meats – Orr’s of Brentwood Bay. I proselytized all too briefly regarding the extensive merits of this Scottish family institution at the time, but in a further post not two years later I found myself reporting the sad news that Orr’s was no more – having in the meantime gone out of business.

It is with great delight – therefore – that I can now report that Fraser Orr has again set up shop in the neighbourhood, this time even closer to us in Saanichton. We will once again be able to source Ayrshire ham, black pudding, Scotch pies, Forfar Bridies, Clootie dumplings, proper haggis and all manner of wonderful meats and other provender from the auld country.

Joy of joys! For this we are truly grateful…

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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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© User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0“Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.”

Rabbie Burns – ‘Address to a Haggis’

Hmmm!

A little more than a year ago we spent a most enjoyable evening at the Greater Victoria Police Pipe Band’s ‘Robbie Burns Supper‘. As may be determined from the scribblings with which I marked the occasion, a great time was had by all.

This year – for a variety of reasons – we decided instead to celebrate the ‘Immortal Memory‘ at home and duly purchased a haggis from a local purveyor of ‘meats and more‘, intending ourselves to furnish the neeps and tatties as accompaniment – along, of course, wi’ a suitable wee dram!

Now – we have greatly enjoyed much that we have purchased at the aforesaid emporium over the last year or so and we are jolly glad that it is within but a short distance of us. On this occasion – however – we were to be seriously disappointed. To be fair to them (though I’m not entirely sure why we should be so) they did not cook the haggises themselves but rather purchased them in from a third party.

On first sight the beast certainly looked authentic; I had no argument with the appearance and texture of the sheep’s stomach which forms the traditional enclosure. The puddin’ was most carefully cooked – as it should be – and then cautiously unwrapped. We rubbed our hands, licked our lips and cut into the casing…

What emerged proved to be something that tasted almost exactly unlike a haggis. To be fair – it tasted almost exactly unlike anything at all! It had not the texture of a haggis – it had not the consistency of a haggis – it had not the aroma of a haggis… Had it not been for the appearance of the sheep’s stomach there would have been no way to tell what it was that we had in front of us.

For those unfamiliar with this great (and simultaneously most humble) delicacy, the Edinburgh butcher MacSween’s describes it thus:

Now I find myself in something of a quandary regarding next year’s festivities. Do we take a chance on another locally produced puddin’ or do we revert to celebrating the occasion in a more formal setting?

Or do I simply bite the bullet and make my own haggis?

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Photo by Andy Dawson ReidI experienced an interesting echo of Britain’s colonial past this recent long holiday weekend. The occasion was my first visit to the excellent and hugely popular Victoria Highland Games.

That this was the one hundred and fifty third such informs us not only as to their date of origin but also as to the continuing popularity of the event. As was our colonial forebears’ wont around the globe the original intent of the festival would have been to recreate a much loved element of UK cultural life to ease the longing for home of the expats upon whom the empire depended.

Here – a century and a half later – I found myself standing on a grassy slope in Topaz Park, looking across a greensward teeming with pipers, drum majors, highland dancers, heavy lifters and hammer throwers (caber tossing was on a different day!) toward the smoky Sooke hills in the background and experiencing suddenly the strongest recollection of sitting on the grass bank at the Pitlochry recreation ground in Perthshire back ‘when I were a lad’, watching the proceedings of a ‘Highland Night’.

It worked a hundred and fifty years ago… it works now!

Some pictures…

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidIn the clan society section I found that my own – Clan Donnachaidh – has made a reappearance after some years missing from the west coast. I signed up – naturally!

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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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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