Flagless And Fancy Free

I get to this time of the year and I think instinctively of Vanessa. On the first Saturday of November in 2014, Inverness Caley Thistle played at Celtic Park and there was a foodbank collection outside the ground before the game. That was the game where Vanessa and I got to walk out at half time with the LCFN flag. That’s why I still call it the Vanessa flag to this day. That flag’s now in Australia (for the second time), doing its bit to raise awareness of this horrible disease.

Roll the clock forward two years: this Saturday Inverness are once again playing Celtic at Parkhead and there’s another foodbank collection outside the ground before the game. It’s become a way of life in 21st century Tory Britain. They don’t do it before every game I should add: it’s just coincidence that these two instances happened to fall on games against my team.

The link between them is my wee pal Tara who masterminds the Glasgow North East operation that operates out of Calton Parish Church. Tara’s the driving force behind getting the stuff in, getting it stored (safely) and getting it back out to the punters who need it. It’s a sad reflection on modern day Britain that society desperately needs more Taras.

Now the Tara foodbank story feeds perfectly into my next bit (see what I did there) because another of my friends, Theresa (bless her), is doing LCFN a huge favour. Theresa works on the wireless (she’ll love me for saying that) where she has the most stylish and informative voice: old school, definitely old school: delivery spot on, nae hint of a rising inflection (don’t even start me on that…) and well, she’s just so soothing and reassuring on air. Off air: frantically random but happy. TT wasn’t the winner of the Random Poster gong in my 2015 Social Media Awards for nothing y’know.

Anyway, to bring these two stories together: Tara’s team is Celtic and they were away to Aberdeen last weekend. There’s a law in Scotland that says ye cannae drink on the buses and trains on the way to the football and some of the Celtic supporters buses got raided by the polis (big club, lots of buses, easy target etc). So the next thing you know, the Angus police twitter account has posted a photo of a stash of drink, also featuring a couple of its finest. The Celtic support ripped the offending twitter account a stream of hilarious retorts. Whilst the banter may have been well intentioned on both sides, I really don’t fancy the chances of those same supporters getting up that road wi’ a carry oot the next time.

So to this Saturday: having been a regular at the football for over twenty years, I haven’t been to a game in Scotland in over twelve months because I personally believe that the governing body are incompetent in their running of the game. But because Inverness are once again at Celtic Park, and because Tara’s team are doing another foodbank run, I decided to invest what would have been my match ticket money in support of Glasgow NE. I waded into Laldi’s at eight o’clock last night, when there were but two or three punters total in the shop, and armed with my wee list and a calculator, set about buying as much stuff as I could for my twenty five quid. I got some stash…

When I got home, I laid it all out on the kitchen table, in much the same fashion as the Angus polis had laid out their booze, stuck an Inverness shirt on either side of it, and grabbed the obligatory photo.

Then I tweeted it to Angus police, and the world, with the caption “Not going to the game at Celtic Park on Sat so I’ve turned my match ticket money into a wee stash for the foodbank collection”.

It’s the kind of stunt that might appeal to the dry sense of humour, as opposed to the rather more regimental “you’re nicked son” mentality. There is such a programme, of pure satire and much hilarity I might add, on Radio Scotland by the name of Off The Ball. It features two oddball characters in Stuart Cosgrove and Tam Cowan. Cosgrove is a man of many degrees, doctorates and professorships. A big cheese in Arts and Entertainment at Channel Four, he is an avid Scottish football fan, and a champion of the ordinary supporter. He’s both hugely knowledgeable of the game, and extremely funny at the same time. His sidekick, Tam Cowan is more of a West of Scotland stand up comedian, and not averse to poking fun at himself and his wee team (which is Motherwell by the way). Anyway, I digress…

I was at the BBC in Glasgow today because Theresa has kindly offered to take the LCFN flag to Italy this weekend. She’s also armed with wristbands (sic) and my excursion to Pacific Quay on the south side of the river was all about catching up and handing over the booty.

So while we were having a coffee in the wee cafeteria in the foyer, who should walk in but Stuart Cosgrove. “Look who’s just sat down” said I all starry eyed. “I think he’s having a meeting” came the knowing reply from my right. And she was right. But a word was had in the ear and after Theresa had disappeared back upstairs to attend to the day job, a friendly wave from across the floor confirmed that said meeting had now concluded. We got the ceremonials done, and a picture of Stuart and TT ensued with the flag, before I launched into the stash n stash tale. I knew that Stuart would know the Angus polis version of events, just as I was 99.9% certain that he wouldn’t know of the Celtic Park foodbank collection this coming Saturday. “Nothing wrong with a wee heads up”, thought I. The outcome is that Off The ball now have the corollary to the Angus stash and I for one will be dialled in on Saturday to see if wee Tara’s team can get a leg up the ladder on Scotland’s national wireless.

So, to backtrack in case you’re unaware, there are two LCFN flags. The Vanessa flag’s in Brisbane and I’ve had a hold of the other one ever since Eileidh brought it back from the States (question to self: was that before or after Anna n Krys took it on an adventure to Poland last Christmas? Cannae remember: let’s just say it’s well travelled). Well now it’s off to Italy and it may be there a while. I’m not at liberty to say why it might be there a while, but if the project that’s been mooted comes to fruition, then this correspondent for one will be very, very proud. And, I suspect, so will Theresa. She knows why it’s going: in fact I think only three people in the whole world know what might be about to happen. But I’m not going to spill the beans in case it doesn’t. Life can be like that. If it comes off, you’ll all find out in due course…

And so to the bike.

October was hellish. I knew right back at the start of the month that it was going to be a long one: not the month, just the layoff. But on Tuesday, another gorgeously lovely crisp autumnal day, I ventured out the door. You cannot even start to imagine how tiptoey nervous I was. I know full well that one mistake now, one hill pushed too hard, one sprint too fast, one ride unwarmed up, and that will be curtains for this year. The injury has been severe not because of what it is but where it is: the big driving quad muscle right in the middle of the front of my thigh. Jane calls it Rectus Femoris because that’s its proper name.

So on Tuesday I ventured out the door, was down on power and down on speed. Necessarily as this was my first time out properly in six weeks, I was also down on distance. A couple of minor twinges were enough to have me easing off, and not just on that ride: on the two days that followed, the bike didn’t even make it out of the shed. But the good news is that twelve miles for one day is already double what I managed in the whole of last month, and I lived to fight another day, which might just be tomorrow. Yes I know I have to take this in baby steps. Yes I know that I’ve become a wee tubby thing and that’s only gonna make it harder to get back, but I didn’t undertake this journey thinking that it would be easy. It’s not.

Now before I finish this week, I want to give a big shout out to the Australian Government. They’ve just donated $20m to help fund research into childhood cancer through the Zero Childhood Cancer Program. While our government sees fit to plough that money and more into bombing other people’s countries into oblivion, it’s fantastic that Australia is able to better use its financial clout in such a crucial way. And thank you to Jackie Rehn Barreau for once again bringing the story to LCFN.

But at the end of a strangely remarkable week, one that I didn’t see coming at all, it’s good to report that I’m once again Flagless and fancy free (to head off out again).