Did I mention shinty? No, perhaps I didn't - so it's time to put that right. Shinty is a unique Scottish sport, played mainly in the Highlands, but also by some of those Sassenachs down south in Glasgow and Edinburgh (Sassenach is from the Gaelic word for 'Lowlander' and has nothing at all to do with being English....). Some have tried to paraphrase the spirit on the sport with the disarmingly simple, but utterly incorrect description that it's like hockey, with nae rules. Actually, shinty has many rules - and a far better offside rule than football ever managed - this one's a beaut - there is an area, shaped like a D surrounding the goal - known, strangely enough, as either 'the D' or the goal area. If an attacking player enters this area before the ball does, when the ball does finally enter the area, the player is offside. In the words of Alexander the Meerkat, simples! Hence the interestingly named but beautifully written shinty blog at http://www.keepingoutofthed.blogspot.com/ - not mine - but in terms of writing quality, I wish it were.
Anyhow, I digress - My Saturday job is to write on shinty for the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald, and take the photographs for the paper (which I also put up on the web, when I get round to it at http://www.shintyworld.com/ ) Today I went down to Newtonmore for the second team game there against Kilmallie (near neighbours of Fort William on the west coast for the uninitiated). An entertaining game for the first half, which I watched, though the visitors capitalised on the few chances they created to take a 2-0 half time lead whilst the home side failed to capitalise on the rather more opporchancities (rip the late, great, Rikki Fulton) that they created. I left at half time to go to Kincraig (eight miles down the road) for the second half of the game there against visitors Lochbroom (from Ullapool, on the north west coast). Lochbroom were far too strong for Kincraig, whose mixture of ageing, but able players and enthusiastic youth has rather too much of the enthusiastic youth who run around a lot, but have a tendency to take their eyes off the ball and miss it altogether. Consequently, the defence leaks like a sieve as more experienced attackers take full advantage. Hence the end result - 7-2 to Lochbroom. But Kincraig soldier on in North Division 3, sometimes against all the odds, as their much bigger Premier League neighbours at Kingussie and Newtonmore inevitably get the pick of the talent.
And so to the picture above - it illustrated the basics of the game - the caman - or curved stick, and the quite lightweight leather ball, which has a wound worsted centre. But this picture also illustrates something else interesting - it's the old adage, once a sportsman, always a sportsman - the Kincraig player is none other than Andrew Freshwater - one time no 1 British skier, and currently commentator on ski-ing for the British Eurosport channel. And the picture below ...
well that just illustrates that, for the faithful, on a beautiful spring afternoon, even when your side's going down by a 7-2 margin, there's still something to smuile about, good company, and what we call up here 'the craic'.