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February 2016

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Image from PixabayThose gentle readers who have become accustomed to my – er – ‘style’ will doubtless already have gathered that the recent ‘nostalgic’ post concerning my youth theatre past was an essential part of the extended meditation on the subjects of home-sickness and significance with which I have of late been grappling. Big topics both!

You will probably also have figured – had you been of a mind to plough through those tracts – that the object of my cogitation whilst beset by that malaise in the run up to Christmas was indeed that very period in my life. For reasons that I could not immediately determine I found myself exhaustively replaying memories of the several decades and more from the early 70s to the mid 90s during which I helped to run a local authority youth theatre in the south east of England.

When I was but a young man I desperately wished to become a professional musician. Others with whom I played did achieve this – some to great success – but it became clear pretty early on that I was not sufficiently gifted to belong amongst their number. When I got involved with the youth theatre and began to write musicals for them I took that very seriously as well, hoping – with my co-writers – that we might at some point merit a professional performance of one of these works. That didn’t happen either. Now that I write plays – having run out of partners with whom to write musicals – I still harbour hopes that I might eventually get one published. The odds are long, I know – but this is a dream that I still cherish.

Through my great fortune in having being given the chance to work with the drama departments of two of the UK’s greatest schools – each of which has more than played its part in the generation of the new wave of brilliantly talented young thespists – I have slowly come to the realisation that my true role lies in the encouragement and promotion of a passion for creativity in young people.

I am not qualified to teach in BC and I would not in any case wish to go back to work in education. It became very clear to me during my pre-Christmas funk, however, that my true role is in doing almost exactly that which I was doing more than two decades previously. I should be involved in youth theatre. I determined there and then that, should I not be able to find a suitable venture with which to become involved, I would just have to start something myself.

Things have been set in motion, about which much more anon. They best thing – from my point of view – is that I am once again beginning to get a sense of what I am here for…

…and that is a very good thing!

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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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2006-07-26 - 28 - Road Trip - Day 03 - United States - Iowa - Dyersville - Field of Dreams“You know we just don’t recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they’re happening. Back then I thought, well, there’ll be other days. I didn’t realize that that was the only day.”

‘Moonlight’ Graham – Field of Dreams

One moment in time…

Back in the late 70s – maybe 1977 – or even 1978…

It is late summer – towards the end of August. The location is Edinburgh – somewhere on the south side of the city… a city that is buzzing because it is festival time and the official festival, the fringe, the book festival, the television festival and the film festival are all in full swing.

More specifically the location is the kitchen of a rented apartment, perhaps somewhere off the Lothian Road. During term time this is student accommodation and the space bears the scars accordingly. For the three weeks of the festival it is rented at a wincingly inflated rate to groups of young hopefuls – performers, actors, musicians, jugglers, acrobats, technicians… wannabees… all itching to make their mark on this most public of stages. They dream of discovery – though the chances of so being are little higher than of winning the yet-to-be created lottery.

This particular group of young thespists and musicians hails from the south east of England and they are all associated with a local authority youth theatre from somewhere not far outside London. Aged variously between 16 and 25 they have made the long trek up to Edinburgh largely at their own expense because… because… well… that really is the question. Why are they here – so full of passion and energy and ambition?

They are doing a show – of course – but why have they gone to all the trouble and expense of bringing it to the Edinburgh fringe where – no matter how hard they work on publicity, pounding the granite cobbles thrusting flyers into reluctant hands – they will be lucky to play to a few hundred souls in a week.

The kitchen is awash with excited chatter – of shows seen – clubs visited – contacts made – exotic beverages imbibed. Summer nights north of the border hold the light longer than they do down south and the evening has only just entered the gloaming. As more youngsters arrive back from their latest adventures mugs of coffee are concocted from a large tin of cheap ‘instant’ and endless rounds of toast and marmalade are churned out by willing volunteers. This – along with the baked tatties from the local ‘Spud-U-Like’ – comprise the essential diet for this week of living wildly.

Why are they here? There are many reasons. Some are just here for the adventure – some to escape home for a while. Some are here because it is a chance to explore the festival – some because they love performing… acting or making music. Some just want to be with their friends.

Some of them are serious in their intentions concerning their art. They are hoping to get into drama school or music college and will then to try to carve a career from these most fickle of occupations. Some of them will succeed – in some cases only until they grow weary of the constant rejection, or perhaps on discovering that this was not after all for them – but others will enjoy long and rewarding careers in music, TV or the theatre.

But how can they tell – crowded expectantly into this clammy kitchen with its hot sweet coffee, its toast and conserves – what might be the true significance of this moment in time? Their conversations are full of plans and dreams, of crazy inspirations, of ambitions and desires. They have not yet drunk of the well of cynicism and regret. For them this is but a staging post on the road to the dazzling future.

‘Moonlight’ Graham was right, though. As we look back now on our younger selves from some four decades on, might it be – for some of us at least – that we suddenly see clearly that what we once thought to be just an impatient foothill at the start of our ascent was in fact the summit itself – and that that night would turn out to be the truly significant one?

…that night and a hundred others like it…

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Afternoon in Naples - Cezanne“A human being would certainly not grow to be seventy or eighty years old if this longevity had no meaning for the species. The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage to life’s morning.”

Carl Jung

In the final part of my brief series on the subject of home-sickness posted in the run up to Christmas last year I concluded that the malaise to which I had briefly fallen prey that November had been caused in the main by feelings of a loss of significance – a lack of purpose – and of the concomitant confusion concerning my place in the world. I further opined that the topic of ‘significance’ was itself… er… significant and that I would needs return to it in some future disquisition.

Now seems as good a time as any so to do.

As noted in the aforementioned post my emigration to Canada was not the only important event with which I was occupied last summer. I had also reached the end a forty year career in education. I consider myself to have been massively fortunate to have had the opportunity to work in two of the UK’s leading public schools (public in the English sense here) and I felt toward the end that in my primary career in IT (primary in the sense that it was that for which I was most highly rewarded) I had gone about as far as I could go. I had acquired something of a reputation amongst those peers whose opinions I most respected and had little need to prove myself further.

The English public school is an ancient and complex beast – particularly those amongst their number that focus on boarding. These institutions have fashioned an uniquely self-contained and multi-layered culture which incorporates not only the academic, the sporting and the artistic, but also their own individual ethos and mythology. Some go so far as to insinuate into the English language their own vocabulary.

Those who work for these august bodies can choose to hold themselves aloof from such aeon-aged Weltanschauung – or they can cheerfully subscribe thereto. It will surprise no-one that I opted for the latter course, throwing myself into as much of School life as was feasible for one who lived several hours’ drive hence.

I was also for a decade a resident (being joined there in ‘mid-term’ by the Kickass Canada Girl) of a small village in South Buckinghamshire – the sort of rural idyll in which everyone knows everyone else’s business in rather too much detail. I by no means ranked amongst the luminaries (and there were a fair few of them!) but most of them knew who I was.

I served the village for a number of years as secretary to its cricket club. To those for whom the notion of ‘village cricket’ stirs thoughts of amiable amateurishness – or perhaps summons up images redolent of bucolic quaintness – I should point out that within the appellation itself the words ‘village’ and ‘cricket’ get equal billing. Whatever the standard of the play and the good nature and friendliness of the participants, membership of such a club does expose one to all of the pressures and pomposities attendant to rural politics and personalities.

This whole slightly convoluted explication is by way of an illustration as to how the structures that I had (mostly) sub-consciously adopted to support my life in the UK had successfully furnished me with a sense of belonging – a sense of purpose. I knew my place. Nothing out of the ordinary in that, of course… we all do pretty much the same. Reaching the end of a working life can, however, lead to a dislocation from this sense of place as, of course, does moving to a strange country. Doing both at the same time virtually guarantees it and having to start afresh to rediscover one’s sense of worth from scratch can be intimidating. In my case one of the side-effects was my brief bout of home-sickness.

As might be determined from those pre-Christmas posts my response to the malaise was to indulge – as is ever my wont – in a little navel-gazing. Interestingly the topics to which I have alluded above were not the ones that featured most strongly in the resultant retrospection.

Those that were – however – must wait for next time.


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“The secret of success is to be in harmony with existence, to be always calm to let each wave of life wash us a little farther up the shore.”

Cyril Connolly

On a delightfully balmy mid-February day we parked the car on the outskirts of Sidney and walked along the seafront into the town. It was impossible not to marvel at the beauty of this exquisite enclave in which we are fortunate enough to reside. I therefore make no apologies for placing before the gentle reader – for his or her delectation – some selected snaps of this sumptuous shore.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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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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To Centennial Park in Saanichton the other day for a most pleasant stroll. The park has a deceptively ‘Tardis’ like quality about it and I have driven past it many a time without having the slightest notion of the manifold delights that lie within. On arrival the sky was dark and rain was threatening, so I decided that the Fuji x10 would not be needed and left it in the car. These images were captured instead on the Galaxy S6 – demonstrating quite how rubbish my judgement proved to be on this occasion.

Photo by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson ReidPhoto by Andy Dawson Reid

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